Spy: Here for It, #261

Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?

Back when I was in college, there was this pair of plays running in England called House and Garden, both by Alan Ayckbourn. I was obsessed with them even though I had no way of seeing them, I barely knew what they were about, and I was getting all of my information from the Entertainment Weekly Bullseye and the internet (which at that point was two tin cans strung together with a scrunchy). All I knew was that House took place in a manor house and Garden took place, well, see if you can guess. Yes, that's right, it took place on the deck of the ship carrying George Washington across the Delaware.

The trick of the whole thing was that they were had linked plots, took place at the same time, and were performed, I believe, in adjacent theaters, or maybe two theaters in one complex. And they'd be performed simultaneously so when an actor would leave the house in House and go out to the garden, they'd have an entrance in the play Garden. And so on. What that meant, in practical terms, was that actors were racing up and down staircases like a production of Noises Off! going from one theater to another and back. (I had a bit here about worrying about the cardio of it all but then I remember that professional actors can do anything. Once, in a workshop, I was worried about a scene I'd written where an actor had to deliver a whole monologue while doing Baltimore Club music dances. I asked the actor about it--we were over Zoom, so he wasn't doing it and I was concerned that if we ever got to leave our houses again, I'd discover that I'd created an impossible feat. He was like "Honey, I tap danced across the ceiling in Mary Poppins; this is no problem." Whenever I am thinking of quitting early on my workout I think of the phrase "Honey, I tap danced across the ceiling in Mary Poppins" and get inspired. I still quit early, but I do it in a better mood.)

With regard to House and Garden, I was obsessed with the synchronicity of writing (can you imagine having to time out two plays like this? Madness!), and the extraness of the whole thing. I think I briefly ruminated on how to produce it at Columbia, which had just opened up a new student center with a large main theater and a smaller downstairs event space and Blackbox theater. I was always planning on producing ridiculous, complicated events back then when what I really needed to be doing was going to therapy and producing a term paper.

Anyway, I bring up House and Garden because I've been thinking of it lately as I bounce between two states and three different productions of my plays and I've started to feel like an actor racing up a backstage staircase. (Say, Madame Garden or Dr. House. I don't know the names of the characters but I'm sure this is correct.)

This week I was in Philly doing final callbacks for a role in Backing Track, then I came back down to do a design meeting for Crying on Television, and then had a marketing meeting and worked on the program note for The Folks at Home. It's a really thrilling moment, and one that I've never experienced before. But I've definitely had to train myself to remember what fictional world from inside my brain we are talking about before I jump from Zoom to Zoom. I tell ya, recalling things that I thought up and wrote down and care about deeply is not one of my spiritual gifts. This also happens sometimes at book events. People are like "I loved the chapter where you started writing for ELLE." And I'm like "I did what now? ELLE the magazine?!!"

This is why I couldn't be a spy. That's the only reason. The rest of it, no problem. (I don't know what "the rest of it" means. I guess, like sliding across cars and going to black tie events.) But remembering what lies I told to what people and what backstory I made up? Impossible. There have been Zooms where I've been meeting with designers and they've asked about minute details in one of the play and I've had that panicked moment that I haven't felt since my two disastrous sessions of Conversational French in my first year of college where I wonder "do I try to fake it or do I say 'uh, excusé-moi, but I'm going to have to go re-read the scene you're talking about because I don't know what happens in this play that I wrote and have rewritten roughly 12 times.'"

Fortunately, and I mean this, I'm the least important part of these processes at this point. All of the plays are cast (with phenomenal actors), they have stacked design teams, three incredible directors, and theatrical admin staff working on selling tickets, and buying ad space, and coordinating interviews for me, and creating COVID-safe procedures (one person's whole job is COVID safety, testing, and communication; it's like a TV production. So many swabs in my nose! Incredible.) And all I have to do is sit in a rehearsal room and remember whether I am in the house or the garden or crossing the Delaware.

Let's Hang Out

Individual tickets are on sale now and both will have a live-streaming option for those who aren't local or aren't venturing out. I'll let you know about live-streaming when I have more details!

Backing Track
A comedy about community, falling in love in a world falling apart, the magic of mixtapes, and more.
March 3 - April 10, 2022
Arden Theatre

The Folks at Home
A comedy in the style of Norman Lear's groundbreaking 70s sitcoms about a couple, their in-laws, a full house, and the American dream.
March 17 - April 10, 2022
Baltimore Center Stage

Crying on Television
A comedy about transformation, sidekicks, and the impossibility of making adult friends.
May 31 - June 26, 2022
Everyman Theatre

This week on 'Previously On...'

I wrote about two Sundance films that took very different approaches to the vulnerability of memory, plus a rundown of the top pop culture stories of the week.

“Too Old, Too Tired, Too Talented”: The Week in Pop Culture
M&Ms, Emma Thompson, Megan and the Machine, and more

Wed. thread

This week's paid subscriber bonus post was all about NFTs, a thing I have never heard of and will never google.

Wed. thread: In which the grift is nifty
A humor newsletter from R. Eric Thomas!

Random Thing on the Internet

I am always thinking about Toni Collette in The Sixth Sense, aren't you? Someone I follow on Twitter pointed out how iconic it is that her whole Oscar clip for the film was just reaction shots. They were like, "YOU'RE SO GOOD WE DON'T EVEN NEED TO SEE YOU DELIVER DIALOGUE." Amazing. She didn't win the Oscar, but she did in my heart.

ELLE the magazine?!!,