Had the most extraordinary experience last weekend while sitting at my desk in front of the computer. This is what counts as a full life when you’re 55 and living through the 2020’s. But I’m not quite as pathetic as I seem, as there were four others doing precisely the same thing. We were all gathered around the Zoom to record a pro reading of my new play Betwixt & Between.
Well, sort of new. I wrote the play last year and had a cold reading with my local playwrights group last September. I then consigned the script to my drawer of shame. It’s more of a manila folder in a filing cabinet but it’s the resting place for stand-up comedy ideas that I wrote at midnight and stupidly tried out the next day, half-started plays from classes that I shared way too early, and scripts that make me feel way too vulnerable to share with the world.
So, no big surprise that Betwixt & Between is about adoption. It’s the story of Lucy and her meeting with Eloise, her fantasy self, while sitting in the NY Bureau of Vital Statistics. And the caseworker who has to deal with the fallout. And Sabrina who isn’t who she seems. Plus a few drownings and a birthday cake full of bugs. As per usual, I was pretty sure I’d written a comedy, or at least a lot funny lines. But at the cold reading, no-one really laughed, and who I am as a writer if I’m not making fun of awkward painful situations in order to mask my real emotions? I had a massive shame hangover.
I discovered Adoption Knowledge Affiliates in 2015. AKA is a fantastic organization that provides support and education to adopted people, adoptive parents, and birth parents. I thought it was a long shot to submit Hot Dogs at the Eiffel Tower as a conference proposal. Pretty sure they did too, but the committee took a chance on me and in November 2015 the full-length version of Hot Dogs was born. Talk about preaching to the converted (convenient as the conference was in a churchy building), I’d never felt so supported and understood by people who immediately got it, got me.
So when conference submissions opened for this year’s online AKA conference I decided to propose a reading of Betwixt & Between. I thought they’d turn me down. And if by some chance they agreed then I wouldn’t immediately worry about my lack of a cast or a director because you know, leap and the net will appear. I like and hate this quote for its simplicity. Much like the Susan Jeffers quote ‘Feel the fear and callously leave Steve, your fiance of 10 years on New Year’s Eve anyway’, which I very much took to heart, it sounds a lot easier than it is. Also, I’ve taken trapeze classes and can recall needing to see the net already secured below before leaping off the platform. Read this old one from 2007 for more Trapezieness.
I was a tiny bit Ruh-roh when the proposal was accepted. Because there’s only one person I wanted as my director. And if she said no then the whole thing would go pear-shaped. The exceptional Suzanne Bachner had already worked with me as dramaturg on the B&B script last year and she believed in the play even when I didn’t. She also has a magical way of asking questions and making suggestions, which is why I’m playing the central character, Lucy. And she has the further advantage of being married to the incredibly splendid Bob Brader, who played against type to be our world-weary office worker. To play Lucy’s fantasy self, I contacted the brilliantly talented Genevieve Schroeder-Arce, who had been a stand-out as Eloise in last year’s reading, to ask her if she would return. And to play the caseworker, I invited my partner in swearing and comedy, the British actor, adoptee, and playwright Karen Bartholomew to join us. Karen and I only met last year via me sending her a weird ‘hello, you don’t know me but…’ email and since then we’ve never stopped gabbing and laughing.
Like the man from Del Monte, they all said yes and we had a full cast and director. And a schedule that needed to accommodate three different time zones, and a script not written for zoom, and a writer/performer who hasn’t acted with other people since a production of Loot in 2003. We set up two Saturday rehearsals and a recording session on Sunday.
Before 2020 I thought Zoom was a pretty fab program. But using it over and over again for the last year and a half for classes, work presentations, catch-ups, readings, and happy hours has been draining and disconnecting. I didn’t think I could ever feel connected to other people through it. And then Sunday happened. Staring only into a camera (albeit a fancy new one that clips onto my laptop) I have never felt so close to my Eloise and my Caseworker. Responding only to their voices while staring into the void/camera we somehow managed to block out the real world. Except for when Erik opened the refrigerator for too long and it started beeping.
And 47 minutes later it was over. And we were all a bit tearful. And the two Brits were far mushier than the others and should probably spend some time in the drawer of shame. And just like in the real theatre world, of which I know little, none of us quite wanted to say goodbye, as if we had been together in person for weeks, instead of online for a total of 9 hours.
And so it’s done. Almost. And I couldn’t be happier with my net. No, that just sounds weird. Sorry. And Betwixt & Between will have its official digital premiere on Friday, November 5th when it plays on the opening day of the Adoption Knowledge Affiliates Conference. And from there, who knows. But I believe that we’ll all be on a stage together someday.
So mark your calendar for November 5th, 6:30pm Central. Because you’re all invited and because I have no shame. xx