Posts Tagged ‘Repertory Theatre’

Rest Cure

March 9, 2010

Imagine anyone going to New Orleans to rest. Perhaps I wasn’t in my right mind when I planned this getaway. I know I wasn’t in my right mind. My mind was fuzzy with fatigue – my planning automatic, based on other trips and better reasons. Still, it was a change of scene; something good must come of it. If nothing else, I would be exchanging one set of difficulties for another. Change is good. Right?

On arrival, the city seemed welcoming. I turned off of Claiborne and drove down funky Jackson Avenue to St. Charles with its graceful and unchanging charm, streetcars looking the same as they looked when I first lived there in 1965. Young ballerina, Leif, was far more at home in this city than this tired older woman of 2010. Still, that first afternoon, as tired as I was, I walked the Avenue, not counting the blocks. My eyes scanned the buildings, pristine mansions, one of which was home to June Havoc for the two years she directed Repertory Theatre. I thought I recognized a duplex shotgun, half of which once bore the name of Thomas Sidney Antiques. I recalled the delicious interior, crowded with beautifully rendered tables, desks, and chairs brought over from England by the rosy-cheeked blue-eyed Thomas. He was married to my cousin, Margaret, and several mornings a week I sat across from this sweet older lady and polished silver. We spoke of art and literature – and, of course, dance. She had once studied dance with Doris Humphrey and hoped I would one day forego the Ballet for Modern. At some midway point in our polishing, we would have tea and biscuits. Thomas and Margaret were very English in their habits. I still love the thought of those mornings with Margaret, am still thankful for the reprieve from being driven dancer, and I was paid five dollars for every three hour visit. 

The hotel where I chose to stay is called The Prytania Park, and prior to Hurricane Katrina, each room was individually furnished with antiques and brocade drapes. The dark wood gleamed from freguent polishings. One opened the door on a lemon-scented atmosphere, an old world charm that was very New Orleans. Even today, the initial impression is gracious and welcoming. The courtyard is still intact. But on this trip, I opened the door on fresh paint and contemporary furniture of a pale yellow hue. Even so, the window looking out on Prytania was hung with heavy brocade, and sunlight spilled through lace to land on the fluffy white bedspread. I was optimistic, until I lay gratefully drowsy beneath this spread, for I hadn’t remembered the squeaky old floorboards of the second floor rooms, nor that every footfall could be heard loud and clear by the first floor inhabitants. For two nights, my sleep was wholly dependent on when my upstairs neighbor slept. My every bathroom trip was prompted by the frequent nocturnal perambulations of an unknown human foe.  Needless to say, my days were colored by my nights. and on the third morning of my getaway, I got away from New Orleans and came home to rest.

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Bursting Through

February 5, 2010

In my mid-twenties, I had the good fortune of being a member of June Havoc’s Repertory Theatre in New Orleans. I was an unlikely candidate for “The Rep”, the others being real actors, mostly from New York. I was an Isadora Duncanish dancer, mother of a five-year-old, married to a talented graphic designer/hippie husband. I came with baggage. But, remarkably, she agreed to an audition. Wearing a transparent purple tunic…my long hair streaming free, I danced. We were alone in the rehearsal room at the top of the extraordinary theater. It had been a synagogue, and the place had retained an aura of holiness. I tended to view  my dance as a spiritual calling; soaring gestures were my reason for being. But June was a practical, down to earth, I mean business sort of woman. I can’t imagine what kept her sitting there throush my long and emotive flight. She sat with straight spine, legs apart, feet flat on the floor, hands braced on her knees. Her remarkable eyes zeroed in on Leif. She seemed my opposite, unyielding in her focus. How could she possible be moved by my airy fairy improvisations. Yet she was.

For the first few months I was on probation. No pay, and I must prove my dedication – my willingness to take direction. My first test consisted of playing the part of a “bingo girl” in a production of Skin of Our Teeth by Thorton Wilder. What this meant was dressing in a flesh-colored fishnet body stocking, twined with green sequin vines. Papier mache apples floated upon my breasts. I was instructed to burst through one of the life-sized letters spelling out “BINGO” at a crucial moment and race through the audience chased by an aging actor with who knows what on his mind. That was it.

I have long forgotten the reason for this bizarre display, but it took an amazing amount of courage to burst through that paper night after night. And I passed my test and came to appreciate my director’ s unusual way of doing things. Eventually, I understood her faith in process, and even realized her appreciation for my particular talents. For the rest of the year I received my weekly paycheck, and more importantly, I starred in “The Elinor Glynn Liquid Memorial Love Regatta” , dancing my kind of dance. Toward the end of the season I was given the theatre on an off night for a solo concert – highly publicized and under the auspices of June Havoc and “The Rep”. 

All of this was wonderful, an interlude of glorious fulfillment, but today the part that calls for my remembering is my youthful willingness to suspend my dancerly dreams and become a bingo girl. She gave me lessons in the art of “bursting through”.