Open: Here for It, #323

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

Last night we opened my new play!

I love openings because they're the moment when we, the creative team, hand a play over to an audience. It is the beginning of a thing that has had so many other beginnings, from the first iteration of the idea to the first rehearsal to the first day of tech where all the pieces come together. It's also, perhaps even more meaningfully to me, the end of something. After opening, the play is set, so neither I nor the director or designers can change anything. So, opening provides a chance to get closure.

Opening nights are great times to fill up on chicken skewers at the afterparty and find out what's new in the world of Barefoot Wine, but they're also a time to thank each other and ourselves and to release. Priya Parker, who wrote the great book The Art of Gathering, put out an issue of her newsletter last month where she wrote quite elegantly about the importance of ceremony to let us know that something is done. We often neglect that part, moving quickly on to the next thing. Which is a shame because I like chicken skewers. And what if Barefoot Wines comes out with a new product, like the Panera energy-boosted lemonade that is life-threatening? I'd want to know!

"When we pay attention, we use ceremony to mark (or invent) notable transitions. We invite others to witness and partake and help us make something that can feel nebulous visible." -Priya Parker

Often, opening night audiences are enthusiastic and responsive, which is exactly the way I like to experience theater and exactly the way I like to hold ceremonies. To wit, the thing I remember most about the opening of my comedy Crying on Television at Everyman Theater was how loud the laughter was. It felt seismic. This is a testament to the work, sure, but moreso the artists on stage and the people in the audience who were there to partake in this artform and this company that they loved. Like funerals that invite professional mourners, all beginnings and endings should come with people who live theatrically as a profession and a calling.

As you may have read in my last book, I am always in search of that big theatrical feeling in every day life. I want every audience I'm in to feel as empowered to react as last night's audience did--laughing out loud and loudly; emitting audible gasps when served a plot twist, bursting into applause mid-scene. I love that theater lets us do this. I would like to live in a world where you could also do it at a Panera. Perhaps that killer lemonade will help with that.

If you follow my Instagram, you may have seen that I've become recently and deeply obsessed with the new musical The Notebook. It's one of the best things I've ever seen on stage. I saw it in Chicago completely cold--I had not seen the movie nor read the book. It affected me so deeply that I cried with abandon throughout and leapt to my feet before the last song even began. When I saw it again in New York last month, I cried even harder. My friend Laura Mayes, who I went with, bought me a box of the souvenir tissues that they wisely sell at concessions and I used the whole thing.

lol crying at the commercial

I keep telling people about this experience and sometimes people are like "Wow, you are not selling this as a fun night out at the theater." But the thing is, it's the most luminous, fulfilling, soul-lifting night. And I think it's because of the crying, not despite. The crying is cathartic not mournful, it's a response, like the clapping, laughing, and standing; the talking to the people in front of us at intermission; the post-show glow; the way that I listen to the cast album every single day. And when the curtain falls or the album ends, I get the catharsis of closure. This happened and it was rich and beautiful and made me feel something deeply, which is a treasure in life.

And then I start the album again.

An Army of Lovers, the play we opened last night, is about work culture--which can seem to thrive on a perpetual now, no beginning or ending. It's about resistance and activism as both work and community. It's about being in the middle of progress for a long time, perhaps your whole life, and finding a way to mark your place in the journey without feeling burnt out by the work. As a piece of writing, it feels like a major leap forward for me in a way that is both thrilling and scary (what if I can't do it again?!??? WhAT THEN?! Help me, Notebook! Make me feel alive!). So opening night serves as a kind of signpost. You were there, now you're here. You don't have to go someplace else yet. You're allowed to be still, root yourself, and feel it.

Question of the week

A sneak preview of my forthcoming advice column! Send me your questions anonymously here!

Dear Eric,
Ugh, getting divorced. Should I buy my new house close to work, eliminate my commute and have a bigger, nicer house? Or buy another house in my current neighborhood where I’m comfortable and have friends, community, babysitters, and city life and culture around? Current commute is about 30 minutes each way.
Uprooted and Commuted

Dear Uprooted and Commuted,

Being closer to friends is better than being closer to work. As you’re figuring out what comes next, I wonder if a future where you have more space and no commute is actually going to benefit you more than a future where you’re able to deepen your existing relationships in your community and make use of the support system you’ve already established. You’re going through a period of such huge upheaval; finding a new babysitter for a night when you really need to unwind sounds like a bridge too far. You’ve got roots where you are and while your divorce is going to change the nature of some of those roots, and even cut some off, there’s a beautiful possibility that many of those roots will only get deeper and more secure. I encourage you to give yourself that possibility. This bigger, nicer house could be lovely, but I’ll take a more modest abode filled with people, laughter, and life any day.

By the by, my girl Goldilocks just swung by with a third suggestion. Is it possible to split the difference and find a bigger place that’s midway between where you live now and work? There was a study published in the journal Transportation in 2001 that found that for most people the ideal commute is 16 minutes (chosen even over having no commute at all). Your mileage my vary, quite literally. But maybe giving yourself some drive time back while not burdening friendships with distance is your best option. Congratulations on starting this new journey in your life, even if it comes with some tough logistical and emotional twists and turns to navigate.

Let's hang out!

Come see An Army of Lovers, produced by Azuka Theatre and Simpatico Theatre at the Proscenium at the Drake, now through May 19.

On May 10th, I'll be at the Black Affinity Night at Army of Lovers! More info here!

On May 11th I'll be at Books in Bloom in Columbia, MD! More info here!

On May 16th, I'll be at the LGBTQ+ Affinity Night at Army of Lovers! More info here!

On May 18th, I'll be at the Gaithersburg Book Festival with Helen Ellis! More info here!

Help me, Notebook! Make me feel alive!,