I was driving back from Rochester, New York, and the first time I’d been sponsored by an actual theater, even if it was a small one. The Multi-use Community Cultural Center (called “Muck” by insiders) offered me a one-night stand in their black-box theater, in a converted Baptist church in Rochester’s arts district. I had no idea how, or if I would draw interest –- but I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to take my show on the road, and to share my stories in a new city.
Now, as I drove east along the New York Thruway in Upstate New York on a Sunday afternoon, I wondered if I’d made a mistake. Maybe the idea of taking the show to other cities was cool; the reality was more problematic. After all, it was a surprisingly long drive to Rochester, (more so since I hadn’t checked the exact distance), and two days earlier, I’d fallen into a funk during the long drive out with only the chatter of my mind for company.
As I drove, I naturally I began to dwell on my lack of relationship, boyfriend, significant other, and the fact that I am 56 years old, closer to old age than to youth. My show, “One Man’s Journey through the Middle Ages” is about being single and middle-aged, and so my ‘stuff’ about not having, (and not having had) a long-term relationship inevitably comes up when I take the show on the road.
Still, I managed to hold off a deeper funk once I arrived in the city. A Canadian friend—a man I’d dated and who is now (just) a friend, was coming down from Toronto to see the show, and another friend from Syracuse was coming, too. On Saturday morning two of the volunteers from the theater –- they were all volunteers, no one got paid –- took me on a two-hour tour of the smallish city, which was quite beautiful this time of year, with its many parks, art-deco buildings and cozy, Victorian-style homes.
I didn’t get nervous about doing my show but I did stress out about (not) drawing an audience, especially when it was ten minutes before showtime and the theater had only sold two or three tickets. Finally, a group of about 10 folks, (half of whom were connected with the theater), trickled in and I sprang into action.
Overall, the show went fairly well, though we had a few technical glitches. Between each scene the lights went down as expected, but the small wall sconces were turned off, too, which meant I was moving props and trying to change clothes in full darkness. Eventually, I gave in and called out, “I need a little light down here,” which averted the potentially larger problem of me sprawled out on stage, a la Chevy Chase when he used to imitate Gerald Ford on Saturday Night Live.
During the show, when the lights were up, I was effectively cut off from the audience; I couldn’t see past the second row. So I was reduced to relying on auditory cues, waiting for laughter, chuckles, a pregnant pause –- none of which came from the ‘crowd.’ Instead there was only silence, a murmur here and there.
Eventually, the show ended, the lights came up, and I asked the audience if they had any comments or questions. It seemed that the folks in attendance had enjoyed the show, and I left feeling pleased that I gave them my full effort, and left them feeling entertained, though I had doubts about one man who sat alone, stone-faced, through much of my performance.
By Sunday I was tired and anxious to get home. I got on the Thruway and headed east, zipping along at 75 mph, when I saw an electronic billboard, informing me that the Thruway was closed east of Syracuse. All lanes were blocked; we were to “seek alternate routes.”
For the next two hours, I circled Syracuse, trying to find out a way out, eventually landing on a two-lane highway that took me through rolling countryside that would have seemed quite pleasant if I weren’t trying desperately to escape from New York State. I circled back to the Thruway, which had reopened in my absence, and sped toward the Massachusetts border and on to Boston, arriving home at 11 PM