Last week I went looking online for photos from Pacific Repertory or Grovement’s theatrical productions in the 1990s. There were a lot of these: the Shakespeare Festival, the Human Chess Game, a bunch of other stuff – and I was in as many as I could get through auditions for. It was a huge part of my life for several years, and influenced who I am and how I act today in ways I probably still don’t really understand. Anyway, at work we were creating ‘life path’ slides for ourselves, to talk about significant personal history, and this seemed like a thing to include – so I went looking for photos.
I found nothing.
I mean, I found some WPA photos of the Forest Theater, where a lot of this happened, being built in the 1930s. I found a few news stories of Grovemont Theater’s being renamed to Pac Rep. I found photos and posters and reviews and all kinds of stuff for productions after, say, 2009.
But for all the years before that – nothing.
This got me thinking. As a high school kid, I was doing one of the most intentionally publicly visible things you can do – being on a stage, with makeup and lights and my voice carrying to the back rows of a packed house – and the whole thing left no public record, not of me, not of anyone else, not of the show itself. Whether I was great or terrible, however large or small my part, however large or small or thrilled or bored the audience – nothing.
There’s a certain kind of freedom and satisfaction in this. Sure, I’d been hoping for a photo of myself in my Star Trek uniform, defending the galaxy with a coffeepot and a clipboard and the greatest knee-high boots I’d ever seen (the Human Chess Game tended heavily ridiculous), or a full-stage shot of all of us gender-bent broadsword carriers brawling it out onstage at the end of Richard III (we used to practice the fight scenes with our eyes closed… when I say that teenagers have terrible judgment, I’m usually remembering myself). But on the other hand, I’m also free to remember those summers as I remember them, rather than as they were documented. If a particular post-rehearsal conversation lingers as monumental, okay. If I still vaguely regret the passing of O’Keane’s (O’Keen’s?), the bar we used to go to after shows, and the most amazing croissant and avocado sandwiches I’ve ever eaten, well, that makes sense. I remember the afternoon heat, and the scent of Coppertone Sport that even now smells to me like summer, and the baking-hot trailer where we changed into costume, and sneaking into the nearby hotel in full makeup to use a real restroom, and the cute older guy who ran the gelato place remembering all of us years later, and the kicked-up dust in the historic garden where we did a bunch of the Shakespeare, and the feel of that twenty-pound broadsword in my hand, swinging around to clang against Camille’s or Donovan’s equally-swinging broadsword, and Greg teaching me lighting and how to throw a dagger into a tree and make it stick and that’s it’s pretty much fine to test a 9-volt battery with your tongue, and stage falls, and the smell of sage burning in an abalone shell because after all this is the California coast and if you don’t smudge before the show, how will you bring the universe to you? and the sheer raw thrill of being onstage, with the lights and the audience and squinting out into the unknown dark and that word passed on from the stage manager –
and the indrawn breath –
If I had photos at the time, would I remember it all so well?