[As my readers know, before I left for SETC, I invited my wife, Laura, to be a guest blogger in my absence. Unfortunately, she was unable to do so, but today she wrote the following post, which I am pleased to share with you.]
Why do I go to plays? Because I'm The Prof's wife. That would be the easy answer. But not the true one. Or rather, only the partial one. I grew up in the small town of Lexington, VA. My parents had to work with a group of parents to bring a dance teacher in from Roanoke, 55 miles away, so that a handful of little girls who were interested could take classes in tap and ballet. We had two colleges--but both were men's colleges, one of which was VMI. It was not an arts-rich environment. Nonetheless, I had a grandmother who was a drama queen. She had wanted to sing opera when she was younger, and after her children were grown she did a lot of little theater work. She was a diva with all the mental illness that the name implies. One thing she did, though, was give me the sound track for My Fair Lady for my birthday, and send me her old copies of American Theater. I think she had appointed me theater diva to follow her, but alas, my mental illness ran in the opposite direction. Painfully shy, I was never going to be the self-promoter that one needed to be in the arts. I feared putting myself "out there" for others to judge and possibly scorn (thanks, Don Hall).
When I became an adult, I noticed that my parents had become theater-goers. Who knew? They lived in a larger Virginia town by then, Lynchburg, which had a very active and innovative Community Theater. My parents went to many, many plays whether they "got" them or not. They just went. For a few years they lived in Northern Virginia where the opportunities for theater were greater. They often shared with me what they had seen and what they thought about it.
Then, I moved out to Normal, IL with my first husband and two small boys. That same first husband was pastor of a large Lutheran church, across the street from which was an interesting castle-like building that was home to the Illinois State University-sponsored Shakespeare Festival. They used our church for parking. It was hard to miss. It was hard to avoid. After living there for about 5 years, I finally started to buy tickets. I took my sons to a show here or there. It was magical. Shakespeare done well, under the stars. Who cared if the loud car drove by or the occasional plane went overhead? I was finally seeing and understanding Shakespeare live, spoken well. We loved it. After the first husband left, money was extremely tight. Sometimes food stamp tight. But every spring when the flyer came I scraped up money for 3 season tickets in the cheap seats and I and the boys would go. During that hard time, it was something that kept us together, that provided relief and respite. It was something to look forward to.
Then my oldest son tried out for -- excuse me, auditioned for -- his school's production of Superman. He was a fireman. He was cute. But his school was kind of unique and it would have been unusual for a child NOT to have auditioned. The next year he auditioned for Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. He was 13. He got the role of Joseph. I was stunned. I didn't even know he could sing. He was off to the races after that and theater became a much larger part of my life.
I met my current husband and the writer of this blog at a little league baseball game. Getting to know him had nothing to do with theater. I was as surprised as the next person to find out he was Associate Artistic Director of the Shakespeare Festival. He was surprised to find out that I was an audience member. Thus began a long and interesting marriage that involved going to plays with people in it whom we knew, then going home, pouring a glass of wine and talking about that play. That is as much pleasure as the show itself. But the motivator for going is that someone I know is involved with it. I've gone to very little theater where this was not the case. I'd just rather stay home.
So what theater do I go to? Theater with which I have a connection. Theater is not competing with film or TV for my time. I rarely go to movies and I don't have a TV. I don't rent movies, either. I'm interested in people I know, people with whom I have a relationship, people I care about. If they are involved in theater, then I'll go to their show. I am not seeking adventure, so being "challenged"--a euphemism, more often than not, for "insulted"--is not my idea of fun. I experience it as a slap in the face--and it hurts. I've commented on this blog twice--both times when I thought that audiences were being either insulted or let down. Don Hall has insulted me both times. I'm using the word "insulted" a lot. What I'm trying to say, I think, is that I am real person out there beyond the lights. I bring a lot of hope and joy to the theater. I come because I know someone or have some sort of connection to the show. I am not part of an amorphous mass that can be categorized. I am smart, funny, interested. When I am disdained or disrespected by the playwright or the director, I know it and it hurts, and it makes me loathe to take that risk again. I come with hope and joy, and I share it with all my heart from my seat. Can you feel it? I'm in there with you. Really. I'm not your enemy.
-- Laura Sue Walters