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Saturday, October 22, 2011
The Interview, Part 4
ME: If you have to ask that question, you would never understand the answer. The allure of New Orleans for me was the allure of theatre - that's true; but I never realized how theatrically saturated it would turn out to be - and in ways I never imagined. I would say that, while New Orleans is a theatrical city, it is not a theatre town.
TQ: How so?
ME: Well, look around you. Nearly everyone in the city considers himself or herself to be a "character," an "icon." It seems whenever a person walks out of his house and onto the street, he is presenting himself as a "character" to be reckoned with, the central player in his own improvisation. You and everyone else are supporting players in his performance piece. But - and this is the big "but" - you and everyone else are also the central characters in your own scenarios. It's unbelievably complex. Now, what happens if your "character" is one who makes theatre? How do you appeal to these people, how do you get them to plop their butts in a seat and endure the duration of your construct while putting their own on a back burner? That's hard. (In fact, I recently attended a performance where certain "characters" in the audience actually threatened to usurp the performance they were ostensibly there to see, stepping out to buy drinks or pee then returning during the action, or adlibbing responses to the dialogue.) I've had a little - just a little - success with literary types and people who are into the visual arts; but practically none with theatre people. They've pretty much ignored what I do.
TQ: That's unfortunate.
ME: Do you think so? I'm not so sure. Remember, we're all "characters" doing our own thing. I have ideas, they have theirs. Mine are just better. That's a joke. Don't print it.
TQ: If you say so. You used the phrase, "makes theatre." Obviously, now, you're assuming the role of director rather than actor. When did that shift occur?
ME: Well, I guess I always wanted to direct. [Laughing] No, that's not how it was. I just began to not enjoy acting as much as I had in the past. It bean to bore me. Then, of course, my job started to take over my life. It was demanding more of my attention and my time. The acting just fell to the side.
TQ: What job was this?
ME: My job at the Unemployment Office. That job was always meant to be temporary, you know, something to keep a roof over my head and food in my belly until I got my break and became a "real" actor. Imagine my surprise when I realized I loved my job. I loved it. You would think it would be a depressing place to work, the Unemployment Office, but it never was. It was joyous. Everything I ever learned, I learned at the Unemployment Office. Or, everything I ever learned was either reinforced or jettisoned while working there.
TQ: What kind of things did you learn there?
ME: I'll mention two. The first thing I learned was to listen. Everyone has his own secret language, a language that underlies any cultural or class difference. If you listen long enough and patiently enough, you begin to learn that language, and you can begin to comprehend that person's real need and point him in the right direction to fix his situation. The trouble most of us encountered was that we learned the basics of the law over the years, and we tried to fit each person into one hole or another which seemed to fit his situation. The problem with that way of thinking is that no person is a peg, and there is only one "hole" that is particular to him in that one particular circumstance. You learn that by listening. The second thing I learned was when I began to advance and started supervising and managing; and that was that the workers under you are actually capable of performing their jobs. They won't necessarily - or even usually - do it the way you would do it. They will develop their own ways of doing a task. That can be off putting at first because you believe you can see flaws in their process. But their way is just as valid as the way you once found to do the same task for yourself. I'll tell you a little story. When I first had been promoted to the Manager's job at the West Jefferson Job Center, I took myself up to the reception desk early one morning to observe how the staff handled the first rush of the day. It was chaos. I started issuing directives to do this and not that. The usual stuff. Then I happened to catch the look in my assistant manager's face as she stood next to me. The look was full of pity, and it stopped me in mid-breath. What that look was saying to me was, "We know our jobs, and we can get this done. Learn our language now." I shut up and walked away. I began to manage that office from a supportive, rather than a directorial, position. That was my graduation. That was the day I was handed my diploma in Direction.
TQ: I'm not sure I follow you ...
ME: Then you haven't been listening.