This post is by company member Rebecca Mason-Wygal. She still lives with her mother and is currently on tour.
I still live with my mother. This is not something that I normally advertise. But I usually find that saying something extremely embarrassing about one’s self serves as a good icebreaker.
I’ve been a proud member of Coeurage Theatre Company for about a year and a half now, and have been fortunate to have appeared in two productions with them (understudying a role in Under Milk Wood’s extended run, and collaborating our original piece, Hats, Nudes & Immortality). But sadly, I haven’t been home long enough this year to substantially work on any of the myriad of successful projects they’ve launched in this, our second season. In 2011, I have been home (home meaning the room I’ve occupied since I was 5, with a closet full of stuffed animals, and walls I painted pepto-pink in the 5th grade) a grand total of 20 days. This has been a struggle for me, personally, as I have a warring duality of a nomadic spirit, and a heart fiercely loyal to the ones I love – however, my friends, especially those at Coeurage, have been astonishingly supportive. Sometimes I have to be reminded that I’m ‘living the dream’. And the dream for me has never been the big stuff – I adore those personalities that want nothing less than the whole enchilada, whose 5-year plan involves Broadway and Oscars and sitcoms with their name in the title, but that’s just not in my chemistry. If I’m working hard, I’m happy. And I’ve been working my ass off, so I can’t complain. 2011 started off with booking my first national tour out of New York City. It was a 1-hour play about the holocaust intended for 4th-8th graders, but this was it! This was the height for me. This was EXACTLY what Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne dedicated their LIVES to. And, yes, perhaps they were performing Shakespeare, and Coward, and I was doing educational theatre, but STILL. THEY performed with makeshift sets in high school gymnasiums when they weren’t playing lavish opera houses, and they LOVED it. And so did I. I got to follow the super-shiny, state of the art Van Wezel Performing Arts Center in Sarasota, FL (who’s schedule that week included Harry Connick Jr., Kathy Griffin, Gladys Knight, Englbert Humperdink, and us) with a high school gym in Ocean Township, NJ. After playing to noisy kids and fire drill bells in Wasau, IL, we got to work on the palatial stage of the Rialto Square Theatre, who’s elaborate proscenium and crystal-chandeliered lobby reminded one more of Versailles than of Joliet, IL.
My favorite part, however, was the travel. If you visit enough AMPMs, you’re going to start waxing poetic about the trucker fare – self-heating ‘foodstuffs’, whose big draw is the advertisement of its ‘3-YEAR SHELF LIFE!’. And stumbling into a Days Inn after driving 13 hours from Pennsylvania to Wisconson, or getting snowed in at a Super 8 in upstate New York, I’d never been closer to the ‘rock star’ ideal in my life. I got to tread the same boards as Liza Minnelli, Rufus Wainwright, Jerry Seinfeld, Brian Setzer, Randy Newman – my biggest heroes, people who exist to me only as legends, figments of reality. It was thrilling. But in the back of my mind I was worried. I was worried that being away from my friends and our company for so long would put me out of their mind, and make them question my dedication to what we were creating at Coeurage.
In April, I had a week off. I scraped together some money and flew home (back to my dog, and my brother, and my family that I am half a person without). But at the top of my agenda was seeing bash: latter day plays, the current offering at Coeurage Theatre Co. I went with the purpose of seeing my friends, of catching up on what I had missed. I ended up with way more than I bargained for. I know our company is talented. Our actors, our designers, our management. But watching our (still very young) company tear their hearts open that night invigorated me with a renewed passion for what we were doing. Every time I see a Coeurage production, I am reminded that what we do has value. That taking risks is the only way to find those rare moments of transcendence. That, when you surround yourself with talented, creative people, then sheer positivity and unrelenting optimism is enough to keep you in business. And my own personal work ethic – which I pride myself on; please recall earlier when I said that nothing satisfies me more than working my ass off – is put to shame by the dedication and work I see our members putting into this company. My cumulative life’s efforts are nothing compared to what our board and company members have done to get Coeurage Theatre off the ground and keep it running, and I am honored to count myself among their ranks.
So, as you can imagine, returning to New York to finish that contract was rather difficult. I wanted nothing more than to stay in Los Angeles with palm trees, and sun, and Coeurage Theatre, creating NEW and POWERFUL art. But this is what I signed up for. When I decided to go into theatre, I wanted it to make me travel. So I took what I had gotten from my friends at Coeurage, the idea that whether you’re playing to a black box of 30 adults, or to a 3-tiered balcony of 1500 people, the point is the same. The point is to make visceral, engaging theatre that has an effect on your audience. I accepted my little student comment cards appreciatively (“My opinion about the play is I think it’s the best in the world and I am so happy I got to see it.” they read). I swooned at the antique Opera Houses with centuries of history within their walls, and thought of Lunt & Fontanne whenever we played a school cafeteria (what I would have given to have seen them play Design for Living in a high school gym in Whitwell, TN). But my aim remained constant – to produce affective theatre.
I just hope my friends and family are proud of me. That competitive spark they say is inherent in this profession is definitely there, but not in that clichéd All About Eve way. It comes to me more like, when I see my friends create something beautiful, I am overwhelmed with pride at their accomplishment, and only want to do something to make them feel the same towards me.
So, yes, I live with my mom. I am a quarter century old, and all my stuff is at my mom’s house. And someday (soon) I hope to have a bookshelf in an apartment of my own, where I can make my bed as infrequently as I do at home. But my ‘hotel year’ has been pretty fun, and I’m gonna work on keeping it going. And if that means that I keep living out of suitcases, so be it. I’m working hard and I’m happy.