If you check out my life list, you’ll see there’s quite a bit of stuff I have to do. Luckily, thanks to my Under 30 Membership at the Vineyard Theatre, I am on my way to crossing #58 off my list: See every show/lab in an entire season at the Vineyard Theatre. Why the Vineyard Theatre? It’s a place with which I have a 15 year history — more than half of my life. It’s also where I made the decision, at age fourteen, to pursue a career in the arts.
I saw my first off-Broadway show at the Vineyard Theatre in 1996. It was a “silent movie opera” called Bed and Sofa. It wasn’t a typical production, but nor was my route to seeing it. A family friend, who also happened to be my occasional voice teacher, was starring in the show and took me with her to everything related to the production. I witnessed the labor and birth of a musical, from an in-studio recording of song selections to help secure grant money and solidify the project, to rehearsals, dress rehearsals, a preview night, opening night, and ultimately, the Drama Desk Awards, when the show was nominated.
I was there when the composer, Polly Pen, and librettist Laurence Klavan changed chords, adjusted the way words were pronounced and collaborated with the director, Andre Ernotte, and cast, Terri Klausner, Michael X. Martin and Jason Workman. I saw major artistic changes, such as the elimination of a whole character, the narrator, occur between the rehearsal period and opening night. The set, by G.W. Mercier, appeared to be built right before my eyes.
I learned how people collaborate as artists, how they pick and choose battles over their creative opinions, and how they compromise. I also discovered a lot about life in Moscow in 1926 — more than I’ve ever read in a history book. My days and nights at the Vineyard allowed me to set the compass of my destiny. It solidified my commitment to pursuing a career in the arts. I knew it would be a risky, rocky road, but it made me realized I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life.
After my Bed and Sofa experience, I saw a few productions at the Vineyard, sent donations when I could, and purchased memberships, but (due to work) was never able to commit to seeing every single production in one season. However, when I renewed my membership this year and added it to my life list, I felt a new sense of commitment.
I attended the first show of the season, Middletown, last week. The production is in previews and the cast and crew are hard at work fine-tuning it. Before slipping into my seat, I walked down to the lower level by the bathrooms and across from the green room. This picture hangs above the water fountain. It’s of my family friend, in a production she did at the Vineyard before Bed and Sofa. I snapped a picture of it and emailed it to her. I thought of the many lives that were changed in this theatre. Small productions that played extended runs and sold out performances. Shows that went on to play larger, Broadway houses; opportunities that arose from having a place to play, a stage to perform on, and seats to fill. Part of the idea of adding #58 to my list was to cross off a wish, but the other aspect was to pay tribute to a place where my 14-year-old self learned some of the most important life lessons: follow your dreams; live what you love.
I’ll keep you posted as I see more productions there throughout the season.