Leaving Room for Wholes: Part II - a Play with Gabe Walker & Esther Cohen

Micaela Brinsley

                                                          ACT I

                                                           MICAELA

What do plays mean to you?

                                                           GABE

I was thinking about this recently. Not even from the perspective of a director but from the perspective of the audience member. I recently saw my first Miyazaki movie. I ended up watching five of them over the course of two weeks.

(MICAELA makes a gesture with her hand as if to say, ‘of course.’)

I was watching them and really crying, having a pretty emotional experience. I was chatting with my roommate about it. I was a little high.

                                                           MICAELA

A necessary detail.

                                                           GABE

About how much I loved watching such masterfully animated things. In a way that made me really remember and think vividly about going and seeing a play.

(ESTHER looks at GABE, leaning her face in her right hand, as MICAELA tilts her head and watches GABE speak).

How ninety-nine percent of the plays… maybe a little less than that.

(ESTHER turns and grins as MICAELA raises her eyebrows for a second and smiles, both knowing what GABE’s about to say).

Maybe not.

                                                           MICAELA

I am so excited to hear what I think you’re about to say.                                             

                                                           GABE

Ninety-nine percent of the plays I’ve seen I’ve hated. Boring.

                                                           MICAELA

Yup.

                                                           GABE

Maybe fell asleep during. Parts of it where I was like, ‘this sucks. I don’t want to be here.’ Left during Intermission.

                                                           MICAELA

Yeah.

                                                           GABE

Had no respect for the work that was being done and was not happy to be there.

                                                           ESTHER

But there’s the one percent…

                      (GABE points to ESTHER enthusiastically.)

                                                           GABE

But then there’s that one percent of things that surpass…

                   (ESTHER shakes her head in agreement.)

There’s some gray zone between the ninety-nine and the one.

                                                           ESTHER

Of course!

                                                           GABE

But definitely one percent or less of plays.

                      (GABE takes a pause, struggling to swallow.)

I have seen. That have been such a captivating and enriching…

                                                           ESTHER

It’s transcendent, a good piece of theatre. There’s nothing… there’s absolutely nothing like it. Someone who has not seen a piece of truly excellent theatre has not lived.

                (GABE turns immediately to MICAELA and nods.)

                                                           MICAELA

That’s a statement.

                                                           GABE

I could not agree more.

                                                           ESTHER

It’s a quote!

                                                 (MICAELA grins.)

                                                           GABE

To be watching something and to be so entranced… everything else from your attention melts away.

           (GABE gestures in front of him like a priest at a pulpit.)

You cannot look away. You can’t even blink. Your eyes are just swelling with tears.

(MICAELA starts to laugh as ESTHER looks to the side and smiles.)

There are still moments…

              (GABE closes his eyes, trying to summon a vision.)

                                                           ESTHER

Moments of the shows we saw [together]!

                                                           MICAELA

I was about to say, as you were describing that Gabe, I was only imagining you during Angels in America.

(Both GABE and ESTHER lean forward, gesturing, speaking over each other. ESTHER’s voice is raised as GABE’s lowers:)

                                                           GABE

I know. It’s Angels in America. /

                                                           ESTHER

/ I was imagining Angels too! /

                                                           GABE

/ It’s always Angels. Y’all remember me during that play.

(MICAELA bursts out laughing. ESTHER puts her hands over her eyes).

                                                           MICAELA

I do remember! I was next to you!

                                                           GABE

That was a… quite an experience for old Gabe. Honestly I blacked out from some of it. I could not stop crying.

                                                           ESTHER

Do you guys remember the show Sleep at Yale Rep?

                        (GABE looks away in remembered awe.)

                                                           GABE

Yes.

(ESTHER’s eyes open wide as GABE moves his right hand in front of him.)

When the walls…

                                                           ESTHER

Oh!!

                                                           GABE

Uh-huh.

                                 (Everyone looks at each other.)

                                                           ESTHER

That’s what I love about theatre. I’m not that person who loves all theatre. Who thinks, ‘All shows are created equal!’ No, fuck that.

                                                           GABE

Most shows are bad!

                                                 (MICAELA nods.)

                                                           ESTHER

For me there’s fifty-percent of shows that I absolutely hated.

                                                           GABE

I think that’s fair.

(ESTHER gestures to the air in front of her with her hands lined up next to each other.)

                                                           ESTHER

And then there’s another forty-five percent where they’re… good.

                                                           MICAELA

Yeah.

                            (ESTHER moves her hands to her left.)

                                                           ESTHER

And then there’s that five percent of pieces of theatre that are the reason I… wake up everyday.

                                                           GABE

Yeah.

                                                           ESTHER

And I’m living. To see more pieces of theatre like that and make pieces of theatre like that. A play for me, the goal, the reason I make plays and the reason I love plays is because I think theatre is the best way we have to speak to the complexities of the human experience.

                                                           GABE

Mm-hmm.

                                                           ESTHER

That’s why I do it.

                                               (MICAELA nods.)

That’s why I see it. Because it makes me feel more human and makes me a better person. Because I fully stand by what I said, that a person who hasn’t seen a truly excellent piece of theatre has not lived. It’s the pinnacle of human experience.

               (GABE nods as ESTHER thinks, looks at the ceiling.)

A really good play makes me feel less alone. That’s a really good play. Those really cool plays that I love, that I have on my bookshelf that I take down and I read, and I remind myself of what I love about theatre. And I have had the opportunity to work on those and the one that really comes to mind is doing The Wolves.

                                                           GABE

Mm.

                                                           ESTHER

My senior year. Which you all heard about!

                                                           GABE

Oh yes.

                                                           ESTHER

When I got to do The Wolves, which is one of those plays that make me feel less alone… To have that experience and to be able to share that experience with other people… To see someone have an emotional reaction to something you have connected with… what the fuck is better than that?

                                                           GABE

Yeah.

                                                           ESTHER

What the fuck is better?

                                                 (MICAELA nods.)

Nothing. There’s nothing that’s better.

                                                           GABE

As someone who has done…

                    (GABE pauses as he considers what to say.)

Quite a lot of psychedelics...

(ESTHER instantly grabs GABE’s knee and cracks up as MICAELA laughs too.)

There’s nothing quite…  

                                                           MICAELA

That’s so not where I thought you were going to go!

                                                     (GABE laughs.)

                                                           ESTHER

No, me neither!

                                                           GABE

There are moments of… I will never forget watching…

(GABE claps his hands together to try to remember the name of a play.)

The Mozart one.

                                     (ESTHER turns to MICAELA.)

                                                           ESTHER

Amadeus.

                                                           MICAELA

Ohhhh yes. Amadeus.

                                                           GABE

Yes! Thank you.

                                                           ESTHER

Ohhhh God. Amadeus.

(ESTHER remembers in shock as MICAELA slowly shakes her head back and forth in awe.)

                                                           GABE

The moment when the back orchestra started to move forward…

                                                           MICAELA

Yes!

(ESTHER puts her fingers over her eyes as GABE gesticulates back and forth with both of his arms.)

                                                           GABE

And he [Salieri] was tearing up papers… I remember my whole body / shaking.

                                                           MICAELA

/ Vibrating?

                                                           GABE

Nothing has ever taken me out of my body [like that].

              (ESTHER finally lifts her fingers away from her eyes.)

                                                           ESTHER

I’m having an emotional reaction just thinking about it…

                                                           GABE

I think about that moment all the time. No amount of drugs has ever made me feel…

                                 (ESTHER and MICAELA laugh.)

                                                           ESTHER

That is so true!

                                                           GABE

Never has anything like that happened.                                              

                                                           ESTHER

Right. For me it was when I was eleven and I went and saw Wicked. ‘Defying Gravity,’ where she flies…

                                                           GABE

Sure.

                                                           ESTHER

I have never felt like that in my life since.

                                   (MICAELA nods and smiles.)

I’ve been chasing that high since I was eleven, okay? I’ve been chasing that high.

                                                           GABE

That’s really what it is.

                                                           ESTHER

It really is! I’ve been chasing that high for fifteen years.

                                                           MICAELA

Yeah.

                 (MICAELA looks up to consider her words.)

For me, the best plays are the blend of what both of you said. Ones where people who are watching it are transported into a different place so when they leave, they know they’re leaving from the theatre with it inside of them. You literally feel your body change. You know? So it makes you feel that things can change you.

                                                           ESTHER

Yeah.

                                                           MICAELA

There are plays that… I measure my life in terms of before seeing certain shows. You know?

                                                           ESTHER

Yes!

                                                           MICAELA

A show completely changing how I thought about everything. All of us are wanting… based on what you’ve said and what we know about each other… we’re interested in making things that are that. To get people to look differently or move differently or feel something. You know? That they haven’t before. That thing that we’re chasing, that thing that’s about feeling alive /

                                                           GABE

/ Yeah /

                                                           ESTHER

(Sings:) Feeling alive!!

(GABE smiles as MICAELA opens her arms in acknowledgement of the reference. Once she finishes singing, ESTHER giggles.)

                                                           MICAELA

There is, of course, a song for every moment.

                                      (GABE and ESTHER laugh.)

Those kinds of things we’re chasing had nothing to do with the things most of us were thinking about when we were trying to be directors!

(ESTHER nods vigorously and carves her index finger through the air.)

                                                           GABE

Yes.

                                                           ESTHER

Boom boom boom boom boom. Ding ding ding.

                                                           MICAELA

You know?

                                                           ESTHER

And also…

                                                           MICAELA

Yeah?

                                                           ESTHER

The most important thing is when Covid happened and when theatres shut down, the thing that I missed was not making theatre or doing fucking new play readings or hustling or applying for fellowships.

                                                           GABE

Nope.

                                                           ESTHER

You know what I missed? I missed seeing theatre. That is what I missed. And I didn’t see a fucking play for the last three months I lived in New York because I was too busy pursuing directing. Seeing theatre is my favorite thing on Earth to do. And if the new life I’m gonna be living now enables me to see more theatre… then it will have been worth it.

                                                           MICAELA

Totally.

                                                           GABE

You know what I miss? About directing?

                                                           ESTHER

What?

                                                           GABE

Getting to read a hundred, long scripts unsolicitedly sent by playwright friends.

          (Both ESTHER and MICAELA burst out laughing.)

Expecting immediate feedback.

                                                           ESTHER

Right.

                                                           GABE

Mm-hmm.

                                                           MICAELA

It’s something I miss too. I really miss that.

                                                     (GABE giggles.)

                                                           GABE

You don’t have to redact that.

                                      (MICAELA laughs again.)

Let them know! Let them hear me roar.

                                                           MICAELA

I’ll let them know.

                                                           GABE

And then I’m the asshole for not reading your fucking script. Sorry!

                                  (MICAELA shakes her head.)

Sorry I can’t help you get into grad school for free. Venmo me! Or offer to read one of my plays! Or do something for me. It’s like… this is so misguided… Don’t give me the honor to…

                                        (GABE shakes his head.)

I don’t need to go on.

                                                           ESTHER

Can we get shirts that say, ‘I Don’t Want to Read Your Manuscript?’

       (GABE giggles as MICAELA shakes her head in agreement.)

                                                           MICAELA

All the things we’re talking about, it’s not just about the plays.

                                                      (GABE nods.)

It’s not just about the play and the playwright, what we’re talking about. It’s about the experience.

                                                           ESTHER

Some can do it on paper. Some do. But not all.

                                                           MICAELA

That’s true.

                                                           GABE

The Ladder Monologue? Transcendent.

                                 (ESTHER looks at GABE and nods.)

                                                           MICAELA

There you go.

                                                           GABE

I remember sitting in the little deli eating some scrambled eggs, reading The Aliens [by Annie Baker] and getting to the Ladder Monologue and crying.

                                                           MICAELA

That has never happened to me.

                         (ESTHER looks to MICAELA in surprise.)

                                                           MICAELA

I have never cried because of a play.

(ESTHER raises her eyebrows in disbelief and leans back in doubt.)

                                                           GABE

Never?

                                                           MICAELA

Maybe it says something about me.

                                                           ESTHER

You’ve never cried at a piece of theatre?

                                                           MICAELA

No no no no no. At reading a play.

                       (ESTHER and GABE quickly start nodding.)

                                                           ESTHER

Oh! From reading it!

                                                           GABE

Oh yeah.

                                                           ESTHER

I’ve cried from reading plays.

                                                           GABE

Yeah.

                                                           ESTHER

I could pull out a play right now. I’m gonna pull out a play that you need to read.

                    (ESTHER points to GABE and leaves the room.)

Keep talking.


                                                          Act II

                                                           MICAELA

Esther, I want to remind you that almost two minutes ago you said, ‘we should get shirts that say ‘I Don’t Want to Read Your Manuscript’ and now you’re saying, ‘Gabe, you should read this.’’

                        (GABE giggles and MICAELA joins him.)

                                                           GABE

I’m happy to read a published, finished play for my enjoyment.

                                                           ESTHER

(Offscreen:) A good play.

                                                           GABE

There’s a difference between a reading recommendation and a…

                                                           MICAELA

You’re right, you’re right. Yes /

                                                           GABE

/ And a play people write for validation.

                                                  (MICAELA nods.)

What’s the play Esther?

                                                           ESTHER

(Offscreen:) Every Brilliant Thing!

                                                           GABE

Oh I’ve read it. I love that play.

                                      (MICAELA looks at GABE.)

                                                           MICAELA

What play?

                                       (GABE turns to MICAELA.)

                                                           GABE

Every Brilliant Thing.

                                                           ESTHER

(Offscreen:) By Duncan Macmillan.

                                                           MICAELA

I haven’t read it.

                                                           GABE

It’s super cool, it’s a one-person show. It was in Boston. It was supposed to be incredible.

(ESTHER squeaks in a high-pitched voice offscreen, in an indiscernible language.)

It’s so tiny. I love that play.

                                                           MICAELA

What do you love about the play?

                                                           ESTHER

(Offscreen:) I know I have it!

                                                           GABE

It’s probably been… four years since I’ve read it.

                                                           ESTHER

(Offscreen:) Oh! I know where it is.

                                                           GABE

I loved the dramatic structure. You really should read it, Micaela. You’d actually really like it.

                                                           ESTHER

(Offscreen:) You’d actually really like it.

                                                           GABE

It’s a one-person play and it’s a show done in the round. Audience members are assigned different roles and given little slips of paper to say their lines.

                                                           ESTHER

(Offscreen:) Found it!

                                                  (ESTHER returns.)

                                                           MICAELA

That’s cool.

                                                           ESTHER

I played Sam.

                                        (GABE turns to ESTHER.)

                                                           GABE

Really?

              (ESTHER places a blanket over her and GABE’s knees.)

                                                           ESTHER

When I saw it at the Arden.

                                                           GABE

I have never seen it. It’s a play that I’ve just read.

                                                  (MICAELA nods.)

But it’s basically… oh God, the premise is…

                                         (ESTHER opens the play.)

                                                           ESTHER

This kid’s mom attempts [to commit] suicide. When he’s little.

                                                  (MICAELA nods.)

And he starts a list of every brilliant thing.

                                  (ESTHER flips through more pages.)

Here, I’ll read the beginning.

                                                           MICAELA

To try to stop her from doing it again?

                                                           ESTHER

Yeah.

(ESTHER begins to read from the play. GABE and MICAELA watch.)

‘The list began after her first attempt. A list of every brilliant thing about the world. Everything worth living for.’

And then he calls out numbers. And the audience member with the corresponding slip of paper says it.

                                                (MICAELA nods.)

‘1. Ice cream. 2. Water fights. 3. Staying up past your bedtime and being allowed to watch TV. 4. The color yellow. 5. Things with stripes. 6. Roller coasters. 7. People falling over. All things that at seven I thought were really good, but not necessarily things Mom would agree with.’

                                              (ESTHER looks up.)

Yeah.

(MICAELA nods as ESTHER goes back to flipping through the play.)

That’s how it starts. So it’s a one-man show. The end… See the end is what makes me cry so I’m gonna read it to you guys.

                                             (ESTHER looks up.)

Do you hate me reading plays to you?

                                 (MICAELA quickly shakes her head.)

                                                           MICAELA

No.

                      (ESTHER goes back to flipping through the play.)

Do it.

    (ESTHER continues to look for the section she’s searching for.)

                                                           ESTHER

Ohhh, it’s gonna make me cry.

(A long silence as ESTHER continues to look for where to start reading. Then, ESTHER looks up.)

I’m gonna cry.

                                                           MICAELA

Could Gabe read it?

(ESTHER takes a second to think about it and then hands GABE the play.)

                                                           ESTHER

Yeah.

                                            (GABE takes the play.)

                                                           GABE

From where?

                           (ESTHER points to a section of the text.)

                                                           ESTHER

From here to the end.

                                                           GABE

Great.

             (ESTHER looks up as GABE starts reading the play.)

If you live a long life, you get to the end of it without ever once having felt crushingly depressed, then you probably haven’t been paying attention. I wasn’t around, for the last time.

(ESTHER leans back against the couch as MICAELA leans back in her chair, both watching GABE.)

I was in Australia with work, and when I got the call I was on the beach. Dad wasn’t around either.

(ESTHER looks at the ground, listening, as MICAELA stays looking at GABE.)

The neighbor complained about the exhaust fumes and eventually the police cut through the garage door. Those pipes through the driver’s window. That surprised me, actually, because Mum hated driving. She had poor circulation and had always complained about her ankles on long journeys. They say it’s a masculine way to choose to die.

                                      (GABE shakes his head.)

But I don’t know what that means. There’s a pad and pencil on the passenger seat where she hadn’t written anything.

(ESTHER’s eyebrows narrow together and her eyes start to get wet.)

I drove Dad to the funeral. He sat in silence. The smoke blew in the window. I helped him with his tie.

                                         (ESTHER is in tears.)

After the service, leaving my mom’s friends and colleagues, I realized how much the list had changed the way I see the world.

                             (ESTHER looks at GABE, in tears.)

31. Birdsong.

                                 (ESTHER looks up, smiling.)

35. Hugging.

                      (ESTHER looks down at her lap to listen.)

341. Alcohol.

                                 (ESTHER looks up, smiling.)

577. Tea and biscuits.

                      (ESTHER looks down at her lap to listen.)

1092. Conversation.

The list hadn’t stopped her. Hadn’t saved her. Of course it hadn’t. I got a text from Sam.

                (ESTHER looks at GABE and gently takes the play.)

                                                           ESTHER

I’ll be ‘Sam.’

                         (ESTHER smiles and looks at MICAELA.)

We’re reading a play!

                                   (GABE and MICAELA smile.)

‘I heard about your mum, I’m so sorry. Give me a call. Anytime. I’d love to hear your voice. Love, Sam. P.S. I heard the other day that Beyoncé is related to the composer Gustav Mahler. It occurred to me that this is a fact that should be on your list. Truly a brilliant thing.’

(ESTHER hands the play back to GABE and points to the beginning of the next line. ESTHER smiles quickly at MICAELA and then looks at GABE once he starts reading again.)

                                                           GABE

I stayed with Dad for a few months after the funeral. We’d spend the days walking or reading or listening to records.

                   (ESTHER looks away to think as she listens.)

He’d fall asleep in his armchair and I’d sit at his desk as I’d type up the list. Starting at the very beginning.

                                     (ESTHER looks at GABE.)

1. Ice cream. It was a lot of work.

          (ESTHER looks away from GABE, starting to cry again.)

Several weeks of sleepless nights. Once I got to the end I kept going from where I’d left off.

                          (ESTHER looks at the play, smiling.)

826,979. The fact that Beyoncé is Gustav Mahler’s eighth cousin, four-times removed.

                 (ESTHER looks up, smiling and teary-eyed.)

I’d completed the list.

                (ESTHER looks at GABE as MICAELA smiles.)

I printed it out and left it in Dad’s chair. I drove back to London.

(ESTHER tilts her head to look closely at the play as MICAELA focuses on GABE, tilts her head to the side.)

He never mentioned it directly, but when we spoke a few weeks later he said, ‘Thank you.’

                                                           ESTHER

‘Thank you.’

(GABE points to different sections of the page as ESTHER looks on.)

                                                           GABE

And he said, ‘I love you.’

                                 (ESTHER’s eyes turn red again.)

                                                           ESTHER

‘I love you.’

(ESTHER’s voice cracks and she puts her left hand on her left cheek.)

                                                           GABE

I told him that sentimentality didn’t suit him.

                  (GABE takes a breath as ESTHER’s eyes remain red.)

900,99

(GABE stumbles over his words and GABE, MICAELA and ESTHER quietly laugh for a second.)

999,997. The alphabet.

(ESTHER and MICAELA slowly nod along to the number as GABE reads aloud.)

999,998. Inappropriate songs played at emotional moments.

            (ESTHER smiles slightly as MICAELA closes her eyes.)

999,999. Completing a task.

                   (ESTHER and MICAELA smile in anticipation.)

1,000,000. Listening to a record for the first time.

                                     (ESTHER starts to cry.)

Turning it over in your hands, placing it on the deck and putting the needle down.

                            (ESTHER wipes her eyes, crying.)

Hearing the faint hiss and crackle of the sharp metal point on the wax before the music begins, then sitting and listening while reading through the sleeve notes.

End of play.’

(GABE closes the play and he and ESTHER look into MICAELA’s open eyes.)

                                                           MICAELA

End of play.

                            (ESTHER laughs as she wipes her eyes.)

                                                           ESTHER

Why does it get me? Every time!

(MICAELA and GABE laugh too as ESTHER finishes wiping her eyes.)

                                                           GABE

It’s a great play.

                                                           ESTHER

It’s a fucking great play.

(ESTHER shifts on the couch as GABE untwists his water bottle. ESTHER turns to GABE.)

                                                           ESTHER

It gets ya!

                                                           GABE

Yeah.

                                                           MICAELA

It does.

                     (ESTHER goes back to flipping through the play.)

It includes you in a journey through something. And you leave it with that language. Now, like, I’ll remember that about Beyoncé.

                          (ESTHER looks up, crying as she laughs.)

                                                           GABE

Mm-hmm.

                                                           ESTHER

Blaaaaaah.

                     (MICAELA laughs as ESTHER exhales loudly.)

It’s a great play, you have to read this one.

                                                           MICAELA

I shall.

                                                           GABE

It’s short.

                                                           ESTHER

Very short.

                  (ESTHER grabs the play to look at how long it is.)

Thirty nine pages.

                                    (ESTHER puts the play down.)

                                                           MICAELA

Okay.


                                                          Act III

                                                           MICAELA

Is there anything else you want to say about theatre?

                          (ESTHER grabs Every Brilliant Thing.)

                                                           ESTHER

I think we’ve covered a lot. The only thing I want to say is that it felt really nice to sit and read that together.

                                                   (MICAELA nods.)

And I will say that I miss doing that. With people like you, reading a play. That’s all I want to say.

(ESTHER’s eyes turn slightly red again as MICAELA nods slowly.)

                                                           MICAELA

Yeah.

                             (GABE looks at the ceiling, thinking.)

                                                           GABE

I wonder, ‘Am I a failure?’

(ESTHER puts her head on GABE’s shoulder as MICAELA nods.)

You know?

                  (ESTHER nods, head still on GABE’s shoulder.)

That is still, definitely, something… And I know that the answer is ‘no.’ I know that I’m freshly turned twenty-four years old. I know that I have literally no desire to return to the industry. But I still can’t shake that weird thing.

                                                  (ESTHER sits up.)

                                                           ESTHER

Will I never do anything?

                                                           GABE

Exactly. Am I not living up to this potential that people have seen for me?

                                                           MICAELA

Yeah.

                                                           GABE

And I feel like such a narcissist sometimes. Sometimes, talking to different non-theatre people in my life, who… There’s two things that when I’m talking about restructuring my career… I’m not angry at these people, but internally angry… When people say ‘Oh, you could always go back to working in theatre professionally,’ or ‘you can always apply for a job!’

                                                           ESTHER

That always pisses me off too.

        (GABE raises his index finger as ESTHER shakes her head.)

                                                           GABE

Really makes me angry.

                                                           ESTHER

They’re so wrong. They’re so wrong!

                                                           GABE

Exactly.

                                                           ESTHER

They don’t get it.

                                                           GABE

Mm-hmm.

               (GABE raises his third finger along with his second.)

And the other one is ‘Oh, you can always go do community theatre. Or direct a play as a hobby.’ Which, that one less so…

                    (GABE swirls his hands in front of his body.)

But both of them still make me feel this weird sense of ‘I’ve left it in the Past.’ I honestly think it’s still the trauma I’ve associated with… I am not feeling ready at all to go and do a play. I think it would still make me feel really overwhelmingly sad.

       (ESTHER turns to GABE as MICAELA nods in sympathy.)

I hope that I’m not going to feel that forever. I honestly haven’t even… I’ve recently been feeling more of a pulse to go see theatre.

               (GABE rubs his eyes as MICAELA leans forward.)

There was a great play being done in Portland. It’s called The Aliens, by Annie Baker?

(MICAELA and ESTHER quickly smile at each other as GABE grins.)

I wanted to see it! I know the woman who directed it, I’m a big fan. And I couldn’t bring myself to go. I… I don’t know. Ever since I’ve left the O’Neill I’m just… It doesn’t feel dead but definitely it feels hurt. I don’t know how much of that is about theatre, how much of it is my ego, but…

                                                           ESTHER

Something I really love is going to have to bring me back. It has to be something really worth it.

                                                           GABE

I don’t really know if I feel super welcome in the theatre world. Anymore. I don’t think that’s an external thing… I think it’s mostly… I think it’s entirely internal.

                                                           MICAELA

To jump in to what you just said Gabe, I think there’s a sense that because we’ve chosen to opt out of things we know are toxic or dangerous or we don’t want to participate in, people look at us and dismiss our point of view, because they don’t want to confront that they’re looking past it.

                                                           GABE

Mm-hmm. Right.

                                                           MICAELA

Because they may doubt themselves and not know what career they want to go to either… the things we’ve been reckoning with, they see that they’re on the precipice of it. You know?

                                                           GABE

I think there is something too about the fact that we’ve all been doing theatre for so long. I’ve been a ‘theatre kid’ since I’ve been in fifth fucking grade. That was always what people used to identify me with.

                                                 (ESTHER nods.)

So the idea of that shifting for other people is kind of weird for some of my friends and family. It’s weird internally. I think what you’re saying is also so true. This idea that we are all pre-determined, such capitalist bullshit…

                              (MICAELA nods as ESTHER smiles.)

                                                           ESTHER

Right, that we’re destined for a job.

                                                           GABE

Maybe I’m pulling at straws here but I kind of imagine… What I’ve always felt, especially as someone who’s done more artistic stuff, [is] that to see me following this path helps other people. We all have our anchors but [people tend to think], ‘Gabe is so set in this way.’ So then for me to undergo what seems and what is such a big career and ambition shift… I think it can feel kind of unsettling.

                                                           ESTHER

Totally.

                                                           MICAELA

Going back to what you were saying Gabe, about feeling like you don’t belong in theatre anymore… That kind of statement, ‘I feel like I don’t belong,’ is such a dramatic and theatrical thing to say. But we only feel this so deeply because we had so much at stake. You know?

(GABE adjusts his glasses as ESTHER holds her chin with her right hand.)

It was our life not just because people told us it should be. It was our life because we made it that way. Our clock was on theatre.

               (ESTHER nods as she leans back into the couch.)

How we thought about the world was through this prism. So I have to remind myself sometimes that it’s okay my response feels so astronomically larger than whatever I can say to someone about how I feel. You know?

                                                 (ESTHER nods.)

                                                           GABE

Yeah. I was just doing a little reflecting on the second thing that made me angry. Which is the idea of doing theatre as a hobby.

                                               (MICAELA nods.)

When I say that, I think ‘how silly, of course I could.’ I think what made me angry and what’s now making me a little sad is I realize that at least where I am right now, I could not just do theatre as a hobby. Because to do something as a hobby means you’re just doing it because you love it and enjoy it and you want to be spending your time doing it. I think it would be really hard for me to go back and do theatre right now, or direct a play or work on a play. Without that external career ambition.

                                                           ESTHER

That’s very true.

                                                           GABE

As a resume builder. It’s become entangled for me in that way. I just don’t know if I will ever be able to separate it.

                   (All quietly smile at each other in agreement.)

                                                           MICAELA

So we’ve been doing this for a while. Checking in about how we’re doing. Jokingly but not quite… calling it Directors Anonymous. You’re now in the same place, sitting together.

                                      (ESTHER and GABE smile.)

So how would you characterize these conversations about theatre and directing and recovery… how have they anchored you or not, throughout the year?

                                                           GABE

I’ve obviously talked about theatre, generally, with my therapist and other friends and people in my life. But I have not been able to so specifically trauma dump all of the very specific, weird director things in my brain. Anywhere else like I can in this setting.

                                                           ESTHER

I have nothing to say.

               (GABE blows kisses towards ESTHER and MICAELA.)

                                                           GABE

So big thank you to both of you for that.

                                               (MICAELA laughs.)

                                                           ESTHER

Nothing to say in addition to that.

                               (GABE laughs, takes a drink of water.)

That is exactly… It has reminded me that I’m a theatre person. The only place where I can talk about it.

                                                           MICAELA

And we cultivated this space, virtually!

                          (ESTHER leans forward in enthusiasm.)

                                                           ESTHER

I know! This is a really cool virtual space!

                                       (GABE leans forward too.)

                                                           GABE

It is!

                                                           MICAELA

We built it.

                                                           ESTHER

Because we’re directors!!!

                                                         (Blackout.)

                                                           MICAELA

(Offscreen:) Hi, my name is Micaela. I’m a recovering theatre director. I’m also the editor of the Wonderings column for La Piccioletta Barca, of which this is a part. I have a strange origin story, creatively and in terms of how I think about myself, in that I do not feel as if where I come from belongs to me. When I was younger I often felt confused and frustrated by the disconnect between how I felt and how I was perceived. As a result of this fissure within my sense of self, I developed an interest early-on in listening to other peoples’ stories, of their threads of origin. This column is one such place where I feel lucky enough to learn from a range of different people about their varying experiences.

I began directing theatre two years after I moved to the United States, when I was seventeen. Up until that point I had often performed in theatre productions. I quickly became obsessed with directing, I believe, out of a wish to make spaces for others in ways I wish someone had made for me. I ignored what I needed almost out of revenge against the people who I felt hadn’t understood my point of view, had excluded me from identifying with any feeling of belonging. I also held out an optimistic hope that the rehearsal spaces I led would be places where others could have their wishes fulfilled, where they would feel able to access parts of themselves they’d neglected before.

I stopped directing theatre when Covid hit and was forced to sit with myself, as we all were. Among many things, it revealed how much directing had become a mechanism of self-defense, an excuse to ignore myself. Now I am in a healthier place with my relationship with control and do not wish to pursue directing professionally. At least, not in a traditional way. I view my training as a kind of gaze, an architecture which guides me as I engage with the world. It does not feel like a weapon I use to hide myself anymore.

I’ve been lucky enough to edit this column while I play with my own constantly-evolving artistic compass. I felt it was right to invite two people I know and adore to share theirs.

                                                        End of Play

Micaela Brinsley

Micaela Brinsley is in the process of trying to figure out how to stop thinking of everything in life as a performance. I was trained in the theatre and am curious about examining experiences no language or theory can completely describe, and trying to find ways of using the tools of text, performance and movement to work through that struggle. I recently graduated from the Performance Studies department at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts and grew up moving around, mostly between the United States and Japan. I also work as a developmental editor for LPB; please reach out if you're interested in speaking to me about your work.

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