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02 | "My hands are covered in theatre filth"

"I spent the night in a beanbag chair"

When I was 20, a friend asked me to help him with a play he was directing, loosely based on the story of Joy Division/New Order. At the time, most of my friends were in college or university, but I wasn’t. I wasn’t really doing anything. The previous summer, I was bored and decided a good use of my scant hostess job savings was to try skydiving (it didn’t end well). When my friend brought me on, maybe he sensed that I needed something productive to sink my teeth into, something that wouldn’t result in a bone fracture. Maybe he knew how much I loved New Order. Maybe he just wanted someone he trusted to help him.

Either way, it was something I never thought I'd ever get involved with to that level, and much harder work than I’d anticipated, but it quickly became one of my favourite creative things I’ve ever done.⁠ It was better because it wasn’t the thing I thought I should be doing. 

Black and white picture of me shaking hands with a person whose arm is visible. I've got short hair that makes my head look like a lightbulb and I'm wearing a garish polyester thrift store shirt which is blessedly mostly hidden under a denim jacket.

I wrote this in my online journal entry at the time, January 2001:

It’s been six days since last I updated. It feels like two. Or ten, I haven’t decided yet. Working 16-hour days on a play has completely messed with my sense of linear time. If I didn’t have the date strapped to my wrist I’d be lost. But I’m fine. I don’t have to be anywhere until 3 today, which is something new and exciting for me, and I’m actually eating something that’s not Futures coffee or coconut macaroons or sushi takeaway. Tonight I don’t have to build any tables or trawl thrift shops for costumes or drive all over creation picking up set pieces. My hands are covered in theatre filth. I spent the night in a beanbag chair.

Last night was our opening and overall it went well. It just doesn’t feel like anything happened. I wasn’t nervous, I wasn’t excited. I was hovering somewhere in between. I was concentrating so much on making everything Work that I forgot to relax.

Relax. Wow. I still remember that word.

I’m going to go now and make a sacrifice to some god so that my cellphone will just stop ringing.

Every single part of that feels so removed from my life now. And where I used to feel annoyed about that realization, now I think it’s great. I think she’s great - weird, messy, hopeful person she was. I’m so grateful that I was down for trying new things, even ones that I would have never in a million years considered on my own.

Shortly after that play, I moved across the country. I halfway thought I might find theatre work of some sort there, but it turned out it wasn’t specifically theatre that I loved. Instead, it was that feeling of DIY collaborating with friends, working for hours on a hundred different things, creating something together by the skin of your teeth.

When I think of the play now, I don’t remember the technicalities. Instead, I remember midnight planning sessions at Tremendous Chinese Restaurant while we’re overworked and loopy. I think of the walk-on part created for me where I got to act a little goofy and do my hair like Robert Smith. I think of opening night, when one of our actors peeked through the curtain and whispered triumphantly, “There are upwards of seven people out there!” I think of “Road to Nowhere” by Talking Heads, the song that played over the curtain call, the opening notes of which still send a ripple of deep, pleasant nostalgia through me.

Program from the play.

PS: What I’ve been watching:

Maybe it’s a coincidence, maybe my subconscious forming thematic links in my life for some reason, but I’ve been watching a lot of video essays on music by the YouTube channel Trash Theory. The channel tends to cover bands/music I’m interested in, sharing compelling stories focused on a certain key moment or song. For example, he has a video about one of my favourite bands (and one I don’t feel is discussed much these days) the Sisters of Mercy: “The Smirking Revenge of The Sisters of Mercy & THIS CORROSION”.

I’m not actually much of a music lover and definitely not smart enough for in-depth discussions about it, so I enjoy the way this channel feels more like historical record than - funnily enough - music theory.

Thanks for reading,
- Sg.

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