We said goodbye to our production of ACT'S Christmas Carol 2007 last Sunday, with much relief among the elder members of the cast and with much regret and not a few tears by the younger. I put my script in my bag, packed my makeup, toothbrush and paste, my opening night cards, took down my "Bah, Humbug!" sign which hung above my dressing space (an opening night gift from my first production in Dallas, directed by Jon Moscone), scanned the room one more time, lugged my stuff to Fred's--the lower lounge at ACT--and walked into a mob of parents, children, Graduate students, and assorted ACT alumni happily stuffing cake into their gobs and watching the spoof the young company put on for the delectation of all.
It was a fine experience for me this year if grueling but it's a good feeling to know that you helped make it fun to do every night for the grownups as well as the kids--that you can make even a fable like Carol into a genuine creative experience where the actors feel empowered to make choices and one that genuinely seems to touch people. I had one person tell me she hated Christmas time and didn't want to come to the show but was pulled in regardless and another dear friend whose Mother was visiting and found himself in the midst of Mama Trauma--both thanked me for helping them to remember the spirit. That's a rare gift to be able to give.
It's difficult to do this show every year; I walk out of rehearsals or the show itself and see the homeless on the streets and feel I have to give something or find myself an utter hypocrite. I manage an uneasy truce between my conscience and my common sense--give what I can and remember I need commuter fare.
I remember a Christmas Season about 20 years ago when my wife and I, relatively new to the area, went shopping in San Francisco. We'd gotten all or most of our gifts and, pretty worn out, were standing on a corner on Market St. My wife Cass became a bit depressed by all of the homelessness in the midst of all the bounty (she has a generous heart, among other attributes) and began to cry quietly. I gave her a long hug and told her I loved her, said some mildly soothing words--the type of things we say to each other to ease our consciences, that help us look the other way and feel less shame.
And then a voice that sounded like rocks on a washboard and a good 20 decibels too loud scraped out nearby. "Hey, you folks OK?" I looked over my shoulder and saw that the voice issued from a small, tattered, nondescript man, standing there with a concerned look on his face. "Yeah, we're fine thanks! Thanks a lot." I said, hoping to politely dispose of him and get back to soothing.
And with that he reached into his back pocket, dragged out a battered wallet and plucked from it's barren interior an equally battered dollar bill. "It's my last dollar, but it's yours, you folks take it, OK?" pressed the bill into my hand, turned, and simply walked away. At this my wife burst into tears again and I, weeping wife in one hand and bill in other, watched his figure recede and vanish in the holiday herd never to be seen again. True story. And it kind of didn't matter that he was possibly mildly inebriated, functionally insane or both--a bum gave me his last dollar. I hope I never forget that.
And so, many pictures with many children later, having stuffed my own gob with cake and swilled all the ginger ale I was able I picked up my bags, my theatrical detritus, wound my way to the BART station and encountered a young actress who tendered a final lovely compliment, and the experience was complete.
Thanks to all, and have a fine New Year.