But I feel like now is the right time to describe the whole Walden experience. I was working on sound for this show, which ran twice. The first run was in a conference room, where ten people showed up. The other was in a "real" theatre, where there were between 350 and 400 people in the audience. Life in the theatre! Feast or famine!
Both shows were ordered by Northampton Community College (which insured Touchstone's paycheck on both nights. The tickets were free). This college has three campuses in the Bethlehem area and beyond. The first night, we went to the Poconos, about 45 minutes away, and the second night, we were closer to Bethlehem. Since this was a one-man show based on Thoreau's Walden, the props were sparse and simple: A small table, a chair, a stool, a music stand, a costume and boots. That was pretty much it, and it all fit in Bill's (the performer's) car.
First night: off we went, Bill, Emma (the flautist) and me, to meet with our ten audience members - at the time, we thought there would be more - and transmit Thoreauvian thought theatrically. The car ride was lovely. We were driving through woods and could see the trees changing color - from green to red, or orange and yellow. The light was bright yet subdued, in that very special autumn way. I enjoyed watching the scenery so much, I didn't even fall asleep! (detail worth mentioning, since I invariably fall asleep in moving cars - habit I share with my sister). Looking at all those trees also made me want to hike.
Anyway, we got there. We found the conference room, where groups of students were hanging out and being loud. Not the ideal setting to test sound cues, but hey, at least there was a decent sound system. The space finally cleared, the show started (late - always hoping for more people to show up), under fluorescent lights. Bill worked with what he had: a few people interested in hearing about Walden Pond. He sat amongst them, addressed a particular member of the audience, then another. He whispered, he shouted. Bits of text that I hadn't understood in rehearsal suddenly became much clearer. Bits of transcendental philosophy shared with integrity and enthusiasm. The show ended quickly, since only the first act of the play was performed that night. There was a talk-back session, where interesting questions were asked by the few students who came to watch.
Emma and I got a ride back with the philosophy professor from Northampton who had organized these gigs. He's a very fun guy, triggering lively conversation and laughs and driving us, by mistake, all the way to New Jersey.
Next day, 9 am (or thereabouts), the team met up at the theatre in the Northampton Bethlehem campus for a tech rehearsal. This was a completely different space from the previous night. We were in a pretty cool rounded theatre, with a proper sound and lighting booth, and lots and lots of fancy lights. Four of us were working on this evening's performance: Lisa, Touchstone's producing director, had joined us to work the lights.
The tech rehearsal was tedious, as are all tech rehearsals. It lasted longer than expected as do all tech rehearsals! The sound cues were fairly easy to handle, so I wasn’t too stressed out, but just stressed enough not to mess things up.
4.30 pm, and we were back for a run-through before the actual show was scheduled to start at 7.00.
Doors opened at 6.30. The theatre packed up, almost to a full house, and at 7.30 (late, again!) Thoreau came alive to talk about the woods, the meaning of life, and the importance of leading one’s life as one wants. Bill was starting to feel comfortable with the material, playing with intensity levels, bringing spontaneity within the confines of the text. Bill the performer was transmitting the 19th century American philosopher’s words to a group of 21st century people thirsty for some philosophical direction.
One of the final passages is particularly powerful, where Thoreau basically gets to the bare essentials of life in one paragraph. In the talk back session, Bill said that “this passage got me through some tough times”. And I can see how such a passage could help in times of doubt.
In Thoreau’s words:
“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them. If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer”.
Emma and Bill in rehearsal, in the fancy Northampton Community College theatre.
Bill in rehearsal, with a nice tree light effect
Performance time! Emma at the flute ..
...And Bill as Thoreau.