Today we did the final two performances of Robert E. Lee and John Brown: Lighting the Fuse at Wayside Theatre. Closing a show is always a bittersweet feeling. The final bows are taken, the lights go off and immediately the technicians move in and the set starts coming down. while the actors embrace and say farewell as the period of life that they have spent together (in this case 7 weeks) comes to an abrupt end. Some move on to our next show here, and some we'll hopefully see here again down the road in another show. Tomorrow the next set for Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure starts getting assembled onstage and we pick up with a full day of rehearsals.
That rush into the next show makes the ephemeral nature of what we do even more powerful and poignant. Words written and said, images staged and executed, become but a memory, cherished by those who performed them, and hopefully cherished by those who witnessed them. Yes, every performance is different when it is live, because every audience is different, and those performers who do the work are just as human as those in the audience.
As bittersweet as it is, it is why I love the live theatre so much. You strive for perfection night in night out, giving it your all, hoping against hope that you, the words, and the audience meet in the same moment in time to create something magical. The minute you forget that's what you are after, is the minute you should get out of this business, in my opinion. Thanks to a terrific ensemble and production team, that made this production so special.
So, tonight we say goodbye to Robert E. Lee and John Brown: Lighting the Fuse for the second time. As a reminder we did this show in 2004 and this year's version is in essence a remount, but with enough substantial changes to make it brand spanking new. We also say goodbye to some of the great conversations that this play has generated with our audiences. So many find the historical events of the play revelatory, having forgotten or never been exposed to John Brown and his raid on Harpers Ferry. In today's politically charged climate, some are finding the play illuminating, and some are finding it scary, which as the play's author, makes me feel good about the work.
But this afternoon as we were all arriving for the final matinee, I had one of those conversations that left me wanting. A young African-American man came walking by the theatre. He was looking at the reviews we have posted out front of the theatre. He asked myself and a few other staffers what they play was about and I proceeded to explain that it was about John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry to free the slaves. He said he didn't know anything about that and that he thought Martin Luther King was the one who tried to free the slaves.
I wished we could have talked him into staying for the show. We've got so far to go in this country, and I fear we are increasing the mileage we have to travel with each passing year.
As an added bonus, here's what actor and fellow blogger, R. Scott Williams had to say about his visit to Lee & Brown.