Theatre Stuff

So just how long can a mid-life crisis last? I ask because the whole solo-show thing started more than a year ago, and there were simmering personal issues before that, and even coming to Chicago might been just the first step toward that headlong plunge into middle-aged angst. And it all started because of theatre.

I wrote my first play more than 20 years ago, spent a year in grad school trying to learn the craft, and kept taking workshops, writing sporadically, and scoring the occasional amateur reading or production. Finally, I came to a crossroads: At 44, I decided that if I really wanted to get better, see what my potential truly was, and maybe, finally, have a whiff of success, I had to be in a theatre city. And Samantha had her own theatrical aspirations. So, after a little discussion, we headed off to Chicago.

(An aside – about 18 months earlier, Toronto was actually our first choice for a new home, and that decision was fueled more by my disgust with the impending war in Iraq than my wanting to pursue theatre; being in a good theatre town was a nice bonus. In the end, I’m glad we opted for Chicago over Toronto for a lot of reasons. And my advice, if you’re ever thinking of moving to Canada – do it illegally. The immigration process was a bitch. After spending more than $1,000, sending in a stack of papers, and waiting more than a year, those Molson-swilling poutine eaters still hadn’t made a decision. And they wanted more money. And a new FBI report. Oy…)

Making this move was not easy. We had a house we really liked in a town we really liked. (Yes, it was still Connecticut suburbia, but you could quickly get to downtown Hartford – for what that’s worth – and there was a nearby bus route that could actually take you places you might want to go. Something I appreciate much more after living in a real city.)

All our friends and family were within a few hours of Connecticut. Samantha’s job at UConn, though wearing on her, had great perks for me (health insurance that nicely covered all my stress/hypochondriacal-related ailments! Free season’s tickets to UConn football and basketball! A never-ending supply of UConn t-shirts and other swag!).

Go Huskies!

Go Huskies!

On the other side: She had no new job lined up in Chicago. We – I – knew just one person there, whom I had worked with for years but never met. Neither one of us had ever lived in a city of such size. And folks seemed to eat a lot of beef.

So, on reflection, maybe this casual uprooting, this abandonment of so much security in the face of so many unknowns, was a sign of the chaos that was to follow. (It was also, of course, the kind of thing only two people without kids could easily do. I might have more on the joys and sorrows of middle-aged childlessness in another post.)

Today, though I can easily say that the move might have been crazy, I have never regretted it. Chicago is a tremendous city, though not without its problems and oddities (more later on all those too). Yes, the theatre did not work as I had hoped – which I blame strictly on myself. A lack of craft and perseverance and an inability to schmooze effectively were part of the problem. I hope to figure out what else was at work, correct it, and make another serious stab at playwriting. Just probably not till after Alaska.

But even if the theatre thing did not come up roses, I’ve learned so much here. The Chicago theatre scene is filled with talented, energized people who have an ability to see beyond simple naturalism and explore all that drama (and musicals) can be. Most of them are young and well-schooled in theatre. I, well, am neither. But I appreciate those new approaches and melding of styles, and I’ve seen so much more theatre than I could have in CT, and all that has spurred me to take a couple of baby-steps away from the comfort of the kitchen sink, which my plays always seem to cling to.

Because I’m a blogging troglodyte, I haven’t figured out how to put a list of links in my sidebar (anyone who can offer advice, that would be dandy). But I want to thank some of the people I’ve met in Chicago theatre who made an impact on me in one way or another. You’ll find them and their pertinent links, where available, under “Theatre Folks” in the Pages section. They’ve all helped me see that giving up a lot to come to Chicago may have been part of my crisis, but it was also a wonderful and rewarding thing.

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~ by mburgan on September 20, 2008.

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