Saturday, November 17, 2012

Play Friends

I accompanied my son to the Virginia Theater Associations’ middle school play competition and acting workshops this past weekend.  He was performing with his Advanced Drama class in a production of The Trojan Women, a Greek tragedy by playwright Euripides (not to be confused with the story of Obama’s most reliable voting bloc this month).  I was unfamiliar with the piece but knew that 14 year old kids taking on a production 2,500 years their senior would be ‘challenging’ at best.  I expected muddled diction, chaotic blocking, and unfocused performers more accustomed to mugging for their parents’ cellphone home movie productions than commanding an audience full of strangers with a mature stage presence. 
My low expectations were dashed as the performance unfolded.  It was outstanding.  The staging was sublime, the actors were loud and clear, and the pace was perfection.  I say without a hint of bias, it was the best middle school play I had ever seen, and none of the other performances I snoozed through that afternoon came close.  Bravo, children. 
I know what I am talking about.  I dabbled in the theater during my college years.  Shocking to think I was drawn to the stage, I know.  It wasn’t just the adulation of the crowds or the adrenaline rush of the risks inherent in live performance.  It wasn’t just the opportunity to meet girls who were anxious to explore the depths of newly discovered human emotions with a willing scene partner (although that was a benefit).  What kept me active in the theater for all 7 years (I graduated in 4, before you ask) were the friendships. 
For anyone headed off to college for the first time, I provide them with one truth to remember during those years:  The friends you make in college are the friends you’ll have for your entire life.  In the pressure cooker of becoming a semi-responsible adult, I believe that you are your most authentic self.  In an insular collegiate world of thousands of other kids experiencing the same things at the same time for the first time, amidst the fun and the education, bonds form that cannot be easily broken by the years or unfavorable geography.  The experiences shared by college friends cannot be duplicated in the real world of day to day living.  In college, we are straddling the line between the unguarded days of youth and the wary days of adulthood.  In college, we are still open to new people.  We can talk to our college friends about anything. 

Somewhere along the timeline, that changes. 
There were other adult chaperones on my son’s theater field trip.  Truth be told, I didn’t try that hard to make new friends with the other parents.  I went so far as to travel with a few books to occupy the free time between performances, books that I was not certain would capture the interest of anyone else.   I had two political tomes, one by Christopher Hitchens about the lies of the Clinton presidency, and one by Bill Press about the coordinated attacks of the vast right wing anti-Obama machine.  These are not exactly the kind of book topics that make for positive ice breakers with new acquaintances who may or may not share my perfectly reasonable world view. 
I chatted it up with them, made the obligatory small talk, and with luck, I might remember their names someday.  But the trip is over and I don’t know when I’ll see those folks again.  Why invest in making new friends now?  Besides, had I engaged any of them in a discussion of the books I had brought, Lord knows it could have been WWIII.  This close to Election Day (or Armageddon Day, depending on your world view), sensitivities were still high and people from both extremes could be unpredictable.  On an apartisan school field trip, I didn’t want to be that parent who caused a physical altercation that ended up with 1 million hits on You Tube.  Better to not make a friend than to risk arguing about Benghazi for 6 hours on a bus in front of optimistic 8th grade actors. 
I could have discussed these books with my college friends without fear or trepidation.  They would have understood my need to share and been interested, or at least convincingly feigned interest, even if they disagreed.  Maybe I just remember it that way, but to me, it’s real enough. 

I miss that.  We have to be so much more guarded now. 
I hope Thomas catches the theater bug.  He’ll make some great friends like I did if he sticks with it.  He already has caught the political bug from me and that is sure to drive away plenty of future potential friends.  He’ll need all the friends the theater can deliver should he choose to stay politically opinionated. 
I hope the one bug that will help him make friends dominates the bug that will drive friends away.  Either that, or I hope his generation finds a way to separate friendship from partisanship.

That would be a change to believe in. 

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