Local Theatre

by dpreyde

Last February I noticed a post on Facebook about an event going on in The Storefront, which was some local theatre

The event was called Sing for Your Supper, and it offered neither song nor food. What it did offer was the chance for aspiring playwrights to have their work performed in front of an audience. All you had to do was submit a short play (less than ten pages) and the folks in charge would pick the best five or six to perform.

Anyone who wanted to perform at Sing for Your Supper was instructed to show up an hour before the show began. They would be given a play they’d never seen before, matched up with other actors, and left to pull together a performance in the space of an hour.

I don’t really write plays, because they stand next to no chance of being performed and it’s impossible to make money off them. But it just so happened that a few weeks beforehand I’d written a short play for the hell of it.

I figured out how to format it, tweaked it, revised it, and sent it off to Sing for Your Supper. It was the first play I’d written since drama class in high school, so I assumed it wouldn’t be accepted. I promptly forgot I’d sent it off.

About a week later I got an email titled SFYS Event from some guy named Todd Andrews. I almost deleted it, but then something clicked in my brain.

I opened the e-mail and was surprised to discover that Todd was accepting my play. It would be performed at Sing For Your Supper. In two days.

I e-mailed back, asking if the space was accessible. Todd said yes. Able-bodied people don’t know shit about accessibility, so I found building plans for The Storefront online. It looked flat enough.

So Hannah and I went, not knowing what to expect.

The Storefront is a tiny theatre- it used to be retail space- consisting of a bar area at the front, and the performance area behind it. There’s probably only about forty seats. At Sing for Your Supper they’re filled with eager, impassioned alternative types, ready to love whatever they’re about to see.

Todd hosted the event with an actor named Dee Clark. I’d worked with Dee on a social skills video last year; she played the part of my sister. It was her Facebook post that informed me about Sing for Your Supper.

Todd and Dee had a manic, nearly coked up hosting style, riffing frantically off each other with speed, finese, and an almost claustrophobic need to please. The two were riotously funny, but I’m not sure I’d want to be stuck in an elevator with them.

I don’t remember most of the other plays that were performed that night. I do remember the first one; two middle-aged men wandered around the stage bouncing dialogue off each other in what was either a spoof or homage to Waiting for Godot. I had no idea what was happening.

My play was next-to-last. It was about the nicest person in the world, who also happened to be the world’s worst therapist.

It was strange hearing my words come from other people’s mouths. The play was altered. Words were differently emphasized, character beats shifted slightly, the play slanted away from me. It was like watching my kid pack up and move to college.

And people liked it. They really liked it.

I’d written the play as a comedy-drama, because I tend to find sad things funny in a way that puzzles people in real life. It seemed to puzzle the actors too, and they played their lines in a way which was more straightforwardly comedic. I’d written it as 60% drama and 40% comedy, and the actors flipped those percentages. But it worked so well I didn’t care. The audience seemed to laugh at every other line, and they were hushed in the places that mattered.

It was a narcotic thrill.

I wrote two plays the next month. One was a thinly veiled allegory about disability rights, based on the time Hannah and I were stuck in a hospital waiting room for three hours because she’s disabled.

The other play was inspired by a conversation I had with Hannah about whether there were some subjects that should be off limits to writers.

“I think the only thing that matters is whether a piece of writing is well done. Everything else is beside the point,” I said.

“Well, what if someone performed two hours of rape jokes?”

“I’m going to write a play called Two Hours of Rape Jokes.”

“Please don’t.”

I did. It was the next play I submitted to Sing for Your Supper.

A day before the performance, Todd e-mailed me to inform me that the play would be performed the following month.

“This month, unfortunately, we’ve been kicked out of Storefront because of a play that’s being performed there. We’re hosting SFYS at Bad Dog Theatre instead, but it’s not wheelchair accessible.”

This confused me. Was Todd under the impression I couldn’t walk?

I realized that when he’d introduced himself to me, I’d been sitting down. He’d never seen me stand up.

But Dee had; we’d acted together. Hadn’t she ever mentioned that to him?

Maybe Todd and Dee believed (correctly) that I wouldn’t want to attend the event without Hannah. That was a strange assumption to make- neither of them knew I had social anxiety- but I went with it, because it was accurate.

The next month, Todd introduced my play.

“Next up is Two Hours of Rape Jokes by David Preyde. And if anyone has a problem with that title, they can corner David after the performance.”

Again, the audience loved it, even though the play was pitch-black, in questionable taste, and concluded with a girlfriend shooting her boyfriend in the head.

At one point that evening Todd advertised an upcoming play at the Storefront by leading the playwright onstage with a leash. While explaining that the play was about bondage and S+M, Todd slowly attached clothespins to the playwright’s nipples.

My God, I thought, I can get away with anything here.

The next play of mine they performed- the allegory about disability- concluded with two janitors deciding to throw an elderly woman’s corpse in a dumpster. Again, it was well-received, though there were times when the audience didn’t seem to know how to respond.

Over the course of that evening I paid close attention to the other plays, seeing what worked and what didn’t, and what people seemed to like.

I noticed that a lot of the plays were violent and grim, and I remembered something Hannah had said to me a few weeks before.

“I don’t think you’re capable of writing something truly happy,” she said. “You’re just not wired that way.”

I disagreed at the time, but had struggled to come up with a genuinely positive idea. Watching that succession of dark, violent plays made me decide to take up the challenge again.

I wrote a play in which a woman decides to propose to her girlfriend after only dating a few weeks. She’d had attachment issues in the past, and a long history of troubled relationships. I wrote this in the shadow of my impending engagement to Hannah, well-aware that while the details were all different, I was processing real feelings.

It was Hannah’s challenge that led me to write it, and the feelings behind our relationship that inspired it, but she was busy with work and wasn’t able to attend the performance.

Once again the audience seemed to love it, though I felt a lot of tension in the room throughout the performance. They were waiting for something bad to happen, but nothing ever did.

I realized that this was another parallel between the play and my relationship.

In September, I was out of town and unable to attend Storefront, but later that month I finished another play. It was my attempt at writing a Twilight Zone episode; I’d done the happy shit, and was back to creating other things. The play was more densely plotted than the others I’d written, and I was worried it was confusing.

I showed it to Allison, and she seemed viscerally uncomfortable with the entire thing, but unable to explain why. Initially she said it didn’t make sense, then admitted the ending explained it.

“It’s a terrible story,” she said. “But it’s well written.”

After further probing she compared it to the episode of The Twilight Zone where Burgess Meredith breaks his glasses. That episode devastated Allison so much that she never watched The Twilight Zone again.

I submitted the play.

Now, Todd Andrews is warm, funny, and genuinely invested in the idea of creating a community of artists. He’s also totally disorganized. He usually informs me that my plays have been accepted less than twenty-four hours before the event.

So I wasn’t concerned when Todd hadn’t gotten back to me by the night before Sing for Your Supper. The next morning, I wondered when the e-mail would come. Then it didn’t. Dee posted pictures on Facebook from the event that evening, so I knew it hadn’t been canceled. I was puzzled; was Todd so nonconfrontational that he couldn’t send a rejection, or had he not seen the e-mail?

I sent another e-mail, asking if he’d received the previous one. Both e-mails registered as sent. He didn’t respond.

The next month, I resubmitted the script. Again, there was no response.

I have a social disability, so when someone suddenly stops talking to me, I get paranoid. I start combing over the last encounter I had with them. What did I say? What did they say? What happened around us? Were there any hints I missed? Any protocols I flubbed?

Usually I don’t come up with anything, but that doesn’t mean that nothing happened.

I tried not to worry about Todd’s conspicuous silence, but it did bother me. I liked participating in Sing for Your Supper, and it disappointed me that I might have- for whatever reason- been cut off.

Here’s an interesting thing: it’s much easier being angry than sad, and it’s much easier being angry at other people than being angry at yourself. Over the years, I’ve developed an unconscious coping mechanism where “how could this be happening to me?” becomes, quite easily, “how dare they do this to me?”

That anger doesn’t really go anywhere; it just makes it easier for me to cut people off. Any time there’s a hint of rejection, I’ll walk away. I end up pretty isolated, but I honestly believe I’m happier like this.

During the last week of November, I submitted the play to Sing for Your Supper again. I figured if they were deliberately ignoring me, I should give them something to ignore. At this point I figured that Todd would never respond, and I was reconciled to e-mailing him the same play every month for the indefinite future just to be a passive aggressive asshole.

Then, the morning before Sing for Your Supper, he e-mailed me to say that they would be performing my play that evening.

Well, all right then.

Hannah and I had been planning on going swimming, but we went to Sing for Your Supper instead.

They performed my play first, and I wondered what that signified. How do they choose the order? Do they prefer to lead with a play they think is weaker? Do they like to close with the strongest play? Each of my five plays has been placed in a different slot throughout the night, and I always read too much into it.

The play was received well. The audience laughed a lot, seemingly at every other line. At one point, toward the end, they collectively gasped. I’d never made an audience gasp before.

The play that went after mine got a different reception; the audience sat through it in bored silence. The jokes didn’t land.

I felt like a parent watching somebody else’s kid fall on their ass at a skating competition.

During the intermission, Todd walked up to me, shook my hand, and said how much he liked the play. Then he asked if I’d seen Dee around; of course. He wouldn’t have bothered talking to me if he didn’t want something.

Maybe that’s the way people are. This might be a normal human thing. Maybe that’s why I don’t like spending time with people.

At the end of the evening, Todd took a moment to thank us all for being there, and talked about how important the idea of community was to him.

I could tell he meant it.