Every Day a New Way // by Theresa Flanagan
How do we heal when we rely on theatre to heal us?
I have stage managed many shows. Crossing Brooklyn, by Jenny Giering (music) and Laura Harrington (book and lyrics), remains one of the shows that I’m proudest of. And I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.
Crossing Brooklyn is about Des and A.J., a young married couple, both teachers, struggling to come to terms with each other and the world in the aftermath of September 11th. The luminous Jenny Fellner and Bryce Ryness led our company in these roles with generous hearts and a true ensemble spirit. Our director Jack Cummings said in rehearsal that he thought it was important that the characters were teachers because “teaching is the most idealistic profession.” (A statement I fully agree with, although I would argue that making art is a close runner-up.)
Most of us working on the production had been in New York on September 11th and we all had our own unique experiences that day. As we rehearsed this musical in 2007, we shared those experiences and realized that, although six years had passed, we were all still healing.
Designer Sandra Goldmark’s set for the show involved a number of long bungee cords that were stretched and hooked into the stage, using geometric shapes to create various locations. In the rehearsal studio, without the actual bungees and hooks, we used tall canisters of salt. It took a supreme amount of focus for the cast to remember which salt canisters they were meant to move next and a supreme amount of imagination to ‘see’ the invisible geometric shapes creating each scene. This type of collective concentration is enough to bond any group; combine that with the collective belief that we were creating medicinal art and we had something special.
Crossing Brooklyn has been on my mind as our country (and our world) suffers another profound communal experience.
We may all be experiencing a moment of trauma together, but our abilities to move through it are individual. In the musical, the character of Des can’t bring herself to move beyond her apartment and the park in her neighborhood, while her husband has returned to teaching and struggles to understand why she is so stuck. At the start of this pandemic, I felt extreme anxiety about the virus itself, about how our country was responding to it, and about the temporary loss of theater. Des assesses her state as “Better than yesterday, better than last week, you should give me gold stars”; my daily goal has been to answer likewise.
So many of the themes of our gorgeous musical are in constant play these days…The battle between love and impatience is one that I imagine many of us can relate to while in quarantine…Experiencing an event that takes us away from ourselves…Reaching a limit—in a relationship, with ourselves—and then navigating where and how to go from there…Learning to reconcile the different ways in which we process what we’re going through and the different ways that anxiety manifests itself…Living daily with feelings of isolation, grief, panic, guilt.
As I think about how relevant the themes are, I miss the production dearly. Exploring those themes during our process, with laughter and tears and moments of huge frustration and profound solidarity, felt restorative and important. Presenting those themes to audiences of New Yorkers felt noble and necessary.
I yearn to be in a rehearsal studio of theater-makers, healing ourselves while striving to make something meaningful. A.J. offers up the suggestion to “turn yourself around, reset the compass” but what to do when theater is that compass and we cannot gather as a group?
I offer up a mantra from the lyrics of Crossing Brooklyn as we figure out where to go from here:
“Every day, every day a new day.
Every day, every day a new way,
a new way to begin again.”
I foresee it taking a long time for us to reset our compasses, but I believe that creating art (that idealistic act) will be an excellent way to begin again.
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