Sometimes it helps to be just a little bit lucky.
This notion obviously isn’t new to me—I am continually aware of my great fortune to have been around the right people at the right time to start TimeLine in 1997, and how that unlikely connection altered countless things.
Timing—and perhaps more important, being open to what pops up around you—can be everything.
How Wasteland ended up on our stage (performances start October 12!) involved its own bit of fortuitous timing—and a willingness to adapt. Playwright Susan Felder sent me the script last winter. That delivery was followed by an impassioned referral from my long-time friend, collaborator and TimeLine Associate Artist William Brown, director of such TimeLine shows as To Master the Art and Not About Nightingales. “You need to hear this play out loud. It will knock you out,” he said.
As luck would have it, a last-minute change for the February edition of our TimePieces play reading series allowed us to slot in Wasteland swiftly, with Bill directing it.
I have known, liked and admired Susan for many years (mostly as an actor and director), and I wanted to be very clear to temper her expectations, noting that our season planning for 2012-13 was pretty much fully set. “I don’t want you to get your hopes up that the reading is a tryout to get your play into next season,” I told her. “Plus, the other shows we’re lining up are all things that we’ve been cultivating and planning for two to four years. Things almost never just pop in this quickly.”
And then we did the reading.
It was a rather informal, only modestly rehearsed, yet totally magical night, led by actors Nate Burger and Steve Haggard. Bill’s prediction turned out to be totally spot on. This play did indeed knock us out. It seemed to knock the entire room out. The packed house was on the edge of its seat, holding its collective breath. As soon as it was over I turned to a fellow Company Member and said, “I can’t ever remember that much tension in this theatre, over 13 years of producing in this space.”
Then and there, our best-laid plans were thrown up in the air.
Late into that night the TimeLine Company Members huddled upstairs in our rehearsal room. Our initial plan had been to finally, formally sign off on what we thought was the full slate of four plays for our 16th season. But this damned Wasteland had crashed the party with an urgency to have a full production. Soon.
A couple of hours later, after much shifting and re-drafting of the season line-up, we had crafted plans to produce Wasteland now, in the midst of a hyper-polarized election cycle.
What struck us that night about Susan’s haunting and powerful play is that, while it’s set in the heat of the Vietnam War, it has as much to say about today as it does about that infamously fractured and politicized era. And that despite its backdrop of seemingly bleak human disconnect, Wasteland is at its core a play about hope. And connection.
Thrown together but in separate cells, two soldiers are faced with the realization that they’re all they’ve got. No matter what obstacles divide them, no matter what literal or ideological barrier exists between them, somehow, some way, a connection must be forged.
The first step should be simple—listening. But most of us seem to get tripped up trying to take that first step, particularly when the person on the opposite side is, in some way, other than ourselves. Why listen when dismissal feels oh so much better? Besides, listening goes against everything we’re fed in today’s social/political arena, where the tendency is just to get louder with your own point of view.
I readily admit that I too have room for improvement. But I am incredibly grateful that last winter TimeLine had the wherewithal to listen to Susan and Bill’s pitch and to adjust on the fly. We made something seemingly impossible possible—rethinking a pretty solid initial plan.
Susan’s gift of Wasteland is a stirring, stunning achievement, especially for a first-time playwright. We can’t wait to share her play with you this season amid a collection of three other plays that all take TimeLine to places, eras and cultures that have previously been foreign to us.
Wasteland gives me a great deal of hope, about so many things. Perhaps most of all, I hope it will get all of us talking. And listening.