Today’s blog is a “One From the Vaults” but in text form. It came to us from ensemble member Nick Hoop, who originally posted this beautiful love-letter on Facebook. We asked if we could share it here and he graciously agreed.
I miss it. I miss it tremendously!
I can measure time with theatre. I’m unsure exactly the precise instance it started to click that way, but when connecting the threads of personal growth, time, and moments spent in a theater, they begin to overlap and weave into what I presume is an early form of a feeling called nostalgia. I hear I’m supposed to feel that feeling more and more the older I get. I do hope I always have an inclination to look back, even when I’m moving forward. It feels more responsible than forgetting, I think.
But to look back into my life growing into messy adulthood means to also recognize the seminal experiences spent in the theatre that have stayed with me and govern my love for this art and the world as a whole. I’m not sure what kind of love I would have for live theatre had there not been such an embarrassment of riches here in Tampa; when would I have gotten the realization that utmost honest frustration can be riotous had I not seen Brian Shea’s dazzling breakdown in American Stage’s 2013 production of Yasmina Reza’s Art. Or when else would I have gotten the opportunity to watch a production of a play solely featuring Latinx actors had there not been Stagework’s 2018 production of In Time Of The Butterflies, a production whose praises went criminally unsung. And the kind of impact that a play like freefall theatre’s 2014 production of The Normal Heart can have on a young gay high schooler, watching a play about gay men devoid of frills or stereotypes, is unparalleled. I truly believe my appreciation is a product and testament to the homegrown, vital local arts community we have here in the Tampa Bay Area.
One can theorize why the community has such strength- I’d like to believe it’s the constant exposure to adversity. Between Hurricanes, I-4, a divided political landscape, higher costs and dwindling arts funding- we’re still kicking. We have consistently pushed aside all of the inconveniences that try to limit our growth. Ain’t nothin’ gonna stop us.
However, this whole thing? It really sucks! A universal standstill putting theatre’s on hold, several who’ve just experienced their highest grossing shows of all time, one who graciously houses four different professional companies, and another whose fearless leader has just passed away- it’s unimaginable. Yet in a community that constantly has to fight for visibility from news publications, a revolving door audience that has irregular attendance patterns, and parking spots during Gasparilla, this all makes some sort of a cosmic sense. I’ll be momentarily vulgar; we’re used to this shit. Yet what I find more devastating than this whole experience undoing years of growth is something less tangible; the moments in time, the stories that shift and shape the hearts and minds of our community. And I’m especially pained for the young artists who will not get to live in that one moment in time that will change the trajectory of their life. So in the time of our isolated frustration, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the moments in time spent in the theatre that caused a personal shift. I wanted to reflect on moments that I hold close to my heart, ones that gave something to me that I simply cannot quantify the gratitude I have for them. Because that’s how nostalgia starts, I’ve heard.
In the summer of 2013, Jobsite Theater presented a production of a play called The Lonesome West by Martin McDonagh. Remember that guy? He wrote that film about street signs where Frances McDormand is mad for 3 hours and then it’s over. (She won the Oscar, though. Well-deserved!) I didn’t know much about the play, but I assumed it was about cowboys (I was wrong). I had seen a few Jobsite plays before, but I don’t think I had quite “gotten it” yet. In the younger half of my time in high school, I was still embracing Les Miserables and perfecting the art of a perfect pop musical theatre belt (parenthetical included to assure you that I still have not.) So my love of theatre was rooted in something with more glitter and glamour, less blood and guns. But I have always been interested in trying anything at least once (it means what it means) so I didn’t have reservations. I didn’t have any expectations. And at the guitar tuneup of The Black Key’s “Unknown Brother,” lights slowly edging their way into every corner of an almost bare, brooding living room set colored with hues that suggested something sinister, Coleman (David M. Jenkins) slinked onto the stage, eyes stained with a dejected glaze, an ambiguous sadness and furtive exhaustion. He poured himself a tall drink of a clear liquid from a mason jar, and sunk into a dingy recliner. Father Welsh (Walsh?) Walked through the front door and spoke with a harsh, Irish dialect. What were they saying? And what had I gotten myself into?
There is something really beautiful about watching a group of actors onstage for the first time, without any prior knowledge of their personage. It’s an experience that cannot be emulated again (obviously) for once you’ve seen them in another role, aspects of who they are as an artist spill over into the next piece. You learn their quirks, their baggage, etc.
But these were strangers to me, beamed in from across the world and several decades ago, invading the Shimberg Playhouse and putting their frozen moment in time on display. The man slinking into the recliner was not David M. Jenkins, and the priest with the hollowed eyes was not Brian Shea. They were Coleman and Father Walsh (Welsh?) And they certainly weren’t acting- how could they be? I was less than six feet away; any trace of dishonesty could surely be spotted. I couldn’t find any. Soon, Matt Lunsford and Caitlin Eason joined them. There’s been a funeral? Coleman and his brother aren’t getting along too well? The plot thickens.
There’s a stove and a shotgun and talks of a dead dog (I don’t want to give away too much; this play does not deserve to be spoiled in any context) And soon, Coleman has armed himself with a shotgun. His brother stares down the barrel with fear and frustration. He seems to be terrified but underneath are glimpses of familiarity; he has gone through this before with Coleman, he’s “used to this shit.” There’s suddenly this weird crossover of threads in my mind, where the current feeling of helplessness and frustration for our community appears to overlap and intertwine with the look on Matt Lunsford’s face in that specific moment in The Lonesome West. We are terrified of what might come next … but the familiarity cushions the mind. We sit in this moment in time staring down the barrel, but adversity has gotten to us before. And just like Coleman’s brother getting ahold of the shotgun and making it through another fight, we’ll get ahold of this- we too will survive. After all, we have to. What else would we do, anyway? And how else will I measure time?