They say the Island is a breeding ground for ticks and some other creepy insects bearing bad news. So while I was looking this way and that, I didn’t see it coming and got bitten by the theatre bug. The next thing I knew I was joining the play readers group and the board of the Vineyard Playhouse. I have to say the attack has been most rewarding.
Theatre stimulates the brain and nerves and keeps them from turning into imitations of pasta. It provides a chance to have something live and literate makes you take a closer look inside yourself, a chance to play with your emotions. Play in every sense of the word. I like seeing plays, reading them and discussing them. I even started writing them.
For many years I thought theatre wit George S. Kaufman said satire is what closes on Saturday night in New Haven. Then I found out I’m the one who added New Haven. He wasn’t making a comment on out-of-town try-outs. He was lamenting the curse of a genre. Well, I am happy to announce that reports of satire’s demise were premature. And never mind, New Haven. Because satire is reborn on Wednesday mornings in Vineyard Haven. Satire, absurdity, romance, political drama, tragedy, you name it. They all come alive at the Peter H. Luce Play Readers, the group that meets every week of the year at the senior center.
Participating in this group has provided me with another form of community on this Island. It also offers the opportunity to learn more about cultural history. The group’s doors are open to everyone. Each week several members perform a table read of a selected play. Each of the cast is given enough time in advance to instill a modicum of personality into his or her character. The rest of us become the audience. After the reading, everyone has a chance to engage in analysis. Occasionally this activity calls to mind a quote from playwright and gadfly Wilson Mizner: “A drama critic is a person who surprises the playwright by informing him what he meant.”
Most of the time, we have a wonderful time. For this washashore, these sessions are golden opportunities to develop friends away from those people who reach out to friend me on Facebook and then haven’t a clue who I am when they actually meet me.
Another enjoyment is discovering the true meaning of a play as a concept and an art form. Constructing a play is truly a work of just that — construction. There’s a reason the author of a work for the stage is called a playwright and not a play-writer. That’s playwright as in cartwright, wheelwright or boatwright, a craftsman. You build sets, scenes, moments. You move characters across a stage like pieces of furniture. You structure your plot and development.
As I learn how to structure a play, I’m also learning how to structure a playhouse. We have taken our 1833 building back to its studs and back out again. Renovation of the Vineyard Playhouse on Church street in Vineyard Haven has been an exercise in preservation in every sense of the word, starting with sanity. Nothing like running around with your hand out while trying to put on programs and keep an organization going. Absolutely stimulating. Maybe that’s why it’s called a theatre bug.
Theatre lovers and generous donors have been answering the call and soon we will open the old doors to a whole new venue. The show must go on — and it will next spring — with a new stage, new seats, new dressing rooms, new lobby, new everything. The downstairs section is now open for musical performances, artwork and talks.
As this washashore sees it, the playhouse has proved to be another Island resource of commendable community spirit. Its Fourth Grade Theatre Project educates and excites whole families, luring them into the world on stage. Once there, you’ll find a breeding ground for future actors, playwrights, directors and all those who want to feel comfortable and confident in front of a crowd (valuable in a whole host of professions) — all year round. That theatre bug can be truly infectious.
Oscar Wilde, who had something to say about anything, once noted: “I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.”
Arnie Reisman and his wife, Paula Lyons, regularly appear on the weekly NPR comedy quiz show, Says You! He also writes for the Huffington Post.