Isn’t Life a Terrible Thing, Thank God?

So a couple of months ago, I decided I didn’t have enough to do this year and got it in my head to Put on a Show on the island. Specifically, to corral enough islanders and Portlanders to mount a reader’s theatre production of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood sometime around Christmas.

(The seed of this was very likely talking about Under Milk Wood a lot while I was in Australia, as it is my favorite play and I love it beyond love, but meeting a fellow who had also read it and also loved it jarred me out of my usual “It’s only me who likes this weird thing!” haze.)

It was a thorny process–there are about 50 speaking parts in UMW, and I will tell you straight up, should you ever decide to do this insane thing, that you have absolutely no chance of getting 50 non-professional actory type adults with full time jobs and children to volunteer to read some weird Welsh radio play without getting paid for it just because you think it’s super awesome. Still, we started out ok, with about 35 people in the cast. Which, eventually, dwindled to about 13.

That meant a lot of doubled up parts (and tripled, and quadrupled) and justbeast juggling sound effects and Captain Cat and everyone working together to make it a going concern.

I had designed it to be as low stress and low commitment as possible–for everyone but me, as it turned out. I am not so good with the Executive Functioning thing, it is an Exciting Feature of my ADD. Turns out directing is ALL ABOUT Executive Functioning! I had to Make Decisions! And Design Flyers and Programs! And Advertise! And herd cats with people with very busy schedules and then also be First Voice, which is a fat part, to be quite honest. But it has my favorite monologue of all time, the opening one, which I read for my first drama class as a child and made my teachers squint at the 12 year old reciting Dylan Thomas from memory.

So I stressed and was afeared no one would come and hoped it would be what I’d always wanted, to be able to share this piece of beauty with a village not so different than Milk Wood. To make something out of nothing, to contribute to my community that I love so much, to add to the net beauty and interest of the world.

So on Saturday, our show went up at a 150 year old church on Peaks Island, to a full house, a (partially) standing ovation, and praise all around. We raised canned food (admission was one can) and money for the Peaks Island Food Pantry and gave them a good start on their winter work. Many, many people expressed the wish that it happen again next year, which was my fondest hope, to start a tradition. (I think UMW year after year would wear on folks, so I’m thinking a three or four play slate that would cycle through year by year. Skin of Our Teeth for next year, methinks.)

It was our smoothest run, and we had no tech glitches at all. The only real actor trip-up was unintentionally meta-hilarious: Our Second Voice tripped a line pretty hard, but the next line was Mr Pugh saying “What was that again, my dear?” –and the fellow playing Mr Pugh was Second Voice’s husband. The audience erupted with laughter and clapping–which wouldn’t have happened were it not a village where we all know each other, and all knew they were married.

We had some amazing readers, singers, actors, and even atheorist on the cello, because everything on this earth needs moar cello. I was so impressed with it all. And the audience laughed at the right times!

I’m not even sure if I could have managed something like this if I didn’t live in a place like Peaks Island, where everyone is so supportive of people being weird and following what calls them, where there was such joy in seeing people we all know become other people. Where you can just Put On a Show like people used to do, and have people volunteer to help you and play the parts, have a hundred folks show up, and tolerate your interest in Welsh radio, and feed hungry islanders in the bargain. It was really and genuinely special.

I’m so grateful that it happened In Real Life, not just in my idle Someday I Will Do This daydreaming instant messages. That I didn’t think about it ten seconds longer and decide it was too much to take this year. (It was. Doesn’t matter. Worth it.)

Thank you to everyone who acted and attended–you are all my heroes. I still can’t believe we really did it. We made a thing where there was not a thing. That, by any definition, is magic.

We are not wholly bad nor good
Who live our lives under Milk Wood…

 

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