Last night, the Giddies took me out to see Mike Birbiglia's show Sleepwalk with Me, which was showing in the tiny, 100-seat UCB theater for $5.
I liked Mike's work from This American Life, but I had already heard his sleep walking story. I was sort of gearing up for a fine enough show and a good time, but you know, it would be like dinner at a friend's relatives house. Lots of listening and sitting and some laughs as folks recounted stories from days passed, stories you've already heard before.
Instead, for $5, I got to experience a transcendent piece of art.
I remember the first time I stepped onto a real stage, it was in a little playhouse on the Presidio of San Francisco. The stage had been painted to look like the 100-Acre Woods and the theater's Winnie the Pooh cast was running a workshop for our Girl Scout troop, teaching us the difference between stage right and stage left.
But then they turned on the lights.
The seats faded into black haze. The world was suspended in time and no longer existed outside of the amber glow I stood in. The heat from those lights warmed my bones and I felt this profound sense of peace.
I had found my home.
As I watched Mike's show last night, I realized I haven't been home in many years. Sure, I've been doing projects right and left and seen shows right and left, but not for love of the work. It's like I've been doing the fast food drive-thru version of theater and laid out before me was a five star meal. And I realized perhaps my discontent with my acting life is that I'm tired of eating $1 burgers, even if they come with a cool plastic toy.
Through the ages, folks have talked about the theater being a sacred space. Theater, at its best, is holy. As Mike unfolded his story last night, there were moments where 100 people held their breath at the same time, where 100 people sat forward on the edge of their seats, and 100 people burst into laughter in a great big group soul cleanse. As I left the theater, colors were more intense and the world looked different.
I have been privileged enough to have shared in the world of last night several times in my life, to have been involved in projects where the audience's heart beats in time with yours. It is home. Those moments of grace are what have fed me these twenty years on the stage.
But I woke up after last night’s show, not even realizing that I have been sleepwalking through this life. It was as if you hopped on a plane to San Francisco and touched down and walked around for years, but then one day, after searching up and down for the Golden Gate Bridge, realizing that actually, you are in Prague. Not a bad city, but not where you had been trying to get to.
I realized that LA is filled with a lot of noise. Deals and applause and a whole population of artists, myself included, who have sold out their craft to the dreams of a pyramid-like, get-rich-quick scheme. It took a show like "Sleep Walk with Me" to wake me up. It took watching a performer so profoundly committed to telling the truth to see the truth in my own life. He did not shout to the heavens nor blow things up in a pyrotechnic spectacular. His show was him, a book, a stool, and the quiet truth. He told a story no one else on this planet could tell. He did so with commitment and awareness. Nowhere in his bones was an apology of "less than" as he looked at things most people would only recount with a few whiskey shots under their belt. It was a show filled with profound, mature humor and love for his experiences, a warm embrace of all the small heartbreaks that add up to a glorious masterpiece of life. It was that exquisite "broken hallelujah" that Jeff Buckley sings about.
Today I feel an immense sense of peace. I saw my home off in a distance. I shared space with "My People", and I have not seen the members of my tribe for awhile now. I know that I will lose this sense of connection, because that is what happens, but I'm trying to hold onto it. I'm hoping that writing it all down here, lamely trying to capture the holy epiphany of last night, it will help me remember. My whole future depends upon remembering the truth that was revealed in that tiny little brick theater for $5. I get so overwhelmed by the noise--- my crazy head was starting to think perhaps I should resign myself to a life of making labels and typing memos. Was it Einstein who had that quote about how a fish will think himself stupid for not being able to climb a tree? The sand I have been drinking for water is not water. I am in Prague and am thousands of miles from my home. I have been gorging myself on McDonalds french fries and last night was reminded that there is a higher calling, there is sweeter meat to fill my belly. There is something I can do that no one else can and I have been too... not enough... to commit to that thing. Instead, I have been worried about the size of my thighs and their failure in providing me financial security in a world of film.
That is not my home.
Profound quiet in the warmth of 1000 watt light bulbs as 100 of my closest soul mates breath in and out in sync with me...
That is home.
I am tired of eating McDonalds in Prague.
Today begins the adventure in getting back.