Sunday, March 9, 2014

Local Habitation

As I have matured somewhat in recent years, I find that I like to stay at home much more than I used to. Oh, it is still good to have a change of scenery from time to time, but even short trips sometimes make me long for home where I know where stuff is. (Even though I do find myself saying, “Where did I put my…..” quite often these days.) Maybe I have a little “hereafter” problem. You know, I go into a room and say, “What am I here after?” At any rate, I think my nomadic days are over.

Some people retire and buy a motor home to travel. That’s fine. But what do they do for a sense of place? Maybe camp sites start looking like home no matter where these motor home nomads stay. Or, perhaps it does not matter what is outside the door or window as long as the interior looks the same. However, for me, I like to see familiar trees, flowers, shrubs and so forth outside in the morning. It is obnoxiously comforting to hear the same repetitive dove calling for a mate, unable to shut up. (If he wanted company that badly, he should have stayed with the covey.)

I was wondering about the lifestyle of those traveling Shakespeare actors that performed at Historic Washington State Park last weekend. This roving pod of talent occupies motels and they work out of a van and two passenger cars. The best actor in the group, Rick Blunt, said he was taking a nine-month sabbatical after this season to regain a sense of normalcy after many years on the road. I don’t blame him.

That kind of lifestyle, living to perform for audiences, sounds pretty good on the surface: a fresh audience every night, new cultural customs to observe, delicious local foods, being appreciated out in the provinces, you know. But it has to wear on them, and, according to Rick Blunt, the wear and tear of travel can be depleting.

Even though Shakespeare himself probably geared his writing for one place, The Globe Theater, that old troupe did take it on the road from time to time, to the palace or another nearby venue. I have read that a version of Hamlet even played on a boat out in the Thames River. But when the great playwright envisioned his acts and scenes, I feel certain that in his mind’s eye he saw it being performed at The Globe. That kind of familiarity with your artistic venue has to bolster your craft. Paul Green, the late great modern playwright, told me he went to empty theaters in New York and sat in the back row as he created plays. (Green and Richard Wright sat in such a place as they wrote the stage version of Native Son).

Shakespeare also had the advantage of familiar actors for whom to write. He knew the people he had in mind to play certain roles: whether a particularly talented African actor, a gifted set of twins, a morbidly introspective lad or a pompous fool. For the great bard, familiarity did not breed contempt, but just the opposite. Familiarity, not absence, made his heart grow fonder. Mine too.

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