Unexpected Gifts at the Indiana Repertory Theatre

"A Christmas Carol" at the IRT - photo by Julie Curry.

Christmas Eve…

Last Sunday I had been sick in bed for more than three days.  My body ached, my soul ached, I couldn’t write, and I couldn’t seem to stop crying.

But on Sunday afternoon I dragged myself out of bed and spent time at a party with friends whose love always makes me feel safer and stronger.  If not healed, exactly, then on the mend.

LtR - Matthew Brumlow, Cora Vander Broek, Mark Goetzinger, Lilia Vassileva, Ryan Artzberger, with Milicent Wright at the piano.  Photo by Julie Curry.

So then I thought, “Hopie, why not see if you can make it in to see the 5 o’clock performance of ‘A Christmas Carol’ at the Indiana Repertory Theatre?  Just to see it, not to write about it.”

I told the man behind the box office counter at the IRT (I think his name was Daniel) that I wanted to do that thing where you show up less than an hour before curtain and get your ticket for half price.  The down side to this bargain, of course, is that you take your chances on where you will sit.  Daniel turned his computer around so that I could see that the show was very nearly sold out.  However, there was a row of four seats near the very back where I might or might not have some elbow room all the way through the show, or a seat in the center near the front in which I would definitely be squooshed by other people in all directions but where I would have an otherwise premium experience of the show.

“Well,” I said. “I’m not going to write about the show, so I don’t have to worry about taking notes, so maybe I’ll try that seat in the middle.”

Ticket Office Manager Molly Wible was behind the counter, too.  She said, “You’re not going to write about the show?”

“No,” I said.  “I seem to have come down with writer’s block, among other things.  Has that ever happened to either of you?”

“Oh, yes!” Molly and Daniel said together. 

I wish I had thought to ask them what kinds of things they write, but I was still focused on myself.  I said, “What do you do when that happens?”

Daniel said, “I just keep trying, just keep showing up.”

Molly said, “I make a necklace or do some other kind of creative thing for a while.”

“Yes,” I said.  “And go to a show just for the pleasure of it, without worrying about what you’re going to say about it afterwards.  I’m hoping that will do the trick for me.”

Molly said, “If you’re not going to write about the show, you should ask Keith if you can watch it from the Observation Booth.  You’d have a lot more room.  I watch shows from there all the time.”

“Keith?” I asked.

“Keith Hunter, our House Manager.  If you like, I’ll go with you to talk with him.”

“Yes, please!”

Keith graciously gave his permission, Molly led the way upstairs, and I found myself in a dark little room with a glass front and maybe a dozen chairs.  It was at the very top and back of the house, behind the balcony seats even, and level with the cat walk where the spot light operators work, but it had a good view of the Main Stage.

There was already one person sitting in the dark little room.  “This is Patrick Clear,” Molly said.  “He is in ‘Love Letters,’ which just opened on the Upper Stage.  Patrick, this is Hope Baugh.  She writes a blog called Indy Theatre Habit.  I’ve got to get back to the Ticket Office.  Enjoy the show!”

I hugged Molly goodbye gratefully and felt my way over to a seat near the window.   I hadn’t yet seen David Alan Anderson costumed by Murell Horton as the Ghost of Christmas Present, but later, when I was looking at the photos for this show, his bountiful gorgeousness in the photo below matched how I was feeling about getting to sit in the Observation Booth:

David Alan Anderson in "A Christmas Carol" at the IRT - photo by Julie Curry.

Patrick mentioned his wife right away, though, which made me roll my eyes and think, “Please.  I’m not going to jump your bones until I at least have my coat off.”  But then I thought that maybe he was trying to reassure me that I was safe with him.  It was, after all, a very intimate, dark, little room.  Or maybe he was just making conversation.  Anyway, after I got settled in, I did feel safe with him.  I found myself wanting to tap him for healing and/or advice, too, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it.

He asked me about my blog and I dug out my card for him to read later.  I said quietly, “I’m not a critic.  I’m not a theatre expert.  I just like writing about my responses to shows.  I share how the shows make me feel and what I think of them.  But in several other parts of my life recently I have been told not to share my feelings at all, to just forget about my feelings, that they don’t matter, and that I should stick to ‘just the facts.’  It’s messing me up as a blogger.”

“That’s the opposite of what the other character says to me in ‘Love Letters!’” Patrick said.  “She tells me I’m only writing to her what I’ve been thinking and doing, not enough about what I’ve been feeling.”

“I’ve seen a community theatre production of ‘Love Letters,’” I said.  “But I can’t remember…how does it end?”

I could hear him smiling in the dark.  “Oh, I’m not going to tell you!  You might want to come see it and then it would be spoiled for you.”

“I do want to see it,” I said.  “I was supposed to come on opening night but I was sick so I had to cancel my media pass.”

“That’s too bad. I hope you can come another night.  It’s a fully staged production, you know.”   (I.e., it is not just two people reading their letters aloud from podiums, the way most theatres do it.)

I did know this about the IRT’s production, and I do want to see it, very much!

I asked Patrick if he ever had a creative block, and if so, what he did about it.  He laughed and said, “The muse needs to show up at 8 o’clock no matter what!”  But then he said, more seriously, that with acting, “there is a whole structure around you. Writing is so solitary!”  He thought it would be very difficult.

“Do you not write yourself?” I asked.

“Oh, I used to be a puppeteer in St. Louis,” (I think that’s where he said it was) “and I would write the occasional script for that, but that’s all.”

I wasn’t in note-taking mode as we talked, so I can’t repeat most of what he shared with me, but it was just what I needed.  He sang me a little song that made me laugh with delight, and we talked some more about the whole facts-vs.-feelings thing.

I said, in my head at least, if not this clearly to Patrick, “I do a lot of fact-checking for my blog and I understand the importance of being able to write differently for different audiences and purposes.  But I think that when I was told to ONLY write about the facts and to forget about my feelings, my feelings’ feelings were hurt, if that makes sense.  I get some of my best, most reliable information from my feelings.  It shouldn’t be facts VS. feelings.  It should be facts AND feelings.”

Patrick said that intuition is important, and that nurturing it, carving time and space for it rather than forcing it or taking it for granted in terms of one’s creativity, is important as well.  (Something like that.)

“It is real,” he said.  (That is a direct quote.  My feelings and I went “Ahh!” and felt re-validated when he said that.)

I am not doing our conversation justice, but it was a pleasure and a blessing to hang out with Patrick Clear even for just those few minutes before “A Christmas Carol” started.

Patrick said that he would have to leave a few minutes before the show ended to catch some transportation to his home in Chicago. (I think that’s where he said he was going.)  He was in the Observation Booth because he wanted to see as much of “Carol” as he could because he had never seen the IRT’s production of it before and he had acted in productions of it himself several times at other theatres.

While we were talking, over the intercom we could hear a voice saying, “Five minutes, please…five minutes” and then, a little later, “Places, please.”  I assume that the voice was the stage manager’s.  It was pretty thrilling, I have to say, to hear that voice and imagine all of the professional actors and crew members taking deep breaths or whatever they do backstage to get ready to go on.

Then Richard J. Roberts, the dramaturg, came out on stage to give the curtain talk.  The glass (Plexiglas?) wall formed more of a barrier than you might expect.  It was odd to watch a live theatre show from behind that clear barrier and know that no one else in the theatre could hear me laugh, for example, or clap, or gasp, or sigh with pleasure.

I don’t think I would want to watch every show from the Observation Booth because one of the things I like best about live theatre is that the experience is usually not buffered much.  I like being physically close to the actors when I can, living the story with them.  However, there was, as Molly had promised, a blissful amount of elbow room. I can’t thank her enough for offering this treat to me.

And the show itself?  Well, you already know that I’m not going to Write About It, not a full review of it, not even if I am visited by the ghost of someone I know, the way Scrooge was:

Charles Goad (L) and Mark Goetzinger (R) in "A Christmas Carol" at the IRT - photo by Julie Curry.

I promised my feelings I wouldn’t.  But I will say, just between you and me, informally, that the show was wonderful.

It was leaner than I remember from the past two years – faster, less-populated…something – but with nothing essential left out, and therefore completely satisfying because it had been so perfectly distilled.  (By the way, it was directed by Priscilla Lindsay, who is also Patrick Clear’s co-star, which is another reason I want to see “Love Letters.”)

Charles Goad made Scrooge’s transformation as fresh and infectiously joyful as if it truly were the first time Scrooge had ever woken up and found that he still had a chance to celebrate Christmas, and to become the man he truly wanted to be.  Chuck has been playing this role at a million performances every year for ELEVEN YEARS.  I have only seen him perform it three times, but each time it has been a sparkling, virginal gift.  How does he manage it? I wonder.

I was fascinated by Ben Tebbe’s new-this-year portrayal of Bob Cratchit and Constance Macy’s portrayal of Mrs. Cratchit. 

Constance Macy and Ben Tebbe in "A Christmas Carol" at the IRT - photo by Julie Curry

Ben plays Bob as a boyish dreamer, very loving and not at all worn down yet by cares.  You can tell that even though Bob works hard at his job at Scrooge & Marley’s, Mrs. Cratchit gently carries the emotional and psychological weight in their relationship right now.  You can’t help wondering that if nothing changes in terms of their poverty, will she eventually become bitter about this imbalance?   But you can also see why she fell in love with him, and why she doesn’t mind being the matriarch.  And anyway, no one can really understand someone else’s marriage.  I’m not saying I know anything real about the Cratchits’.  It was just fascinating to see it portrayed in a way that felt both authentic and new. 

I love that there can be many right ways to tell an important story.

2009 has been an especially challenging year for me, in many ways.  However, thanks to the love of my family, friends, and co-workers, AND thanks to my involvement with Indianapolis-area theatre, peripheral though my involvement may be, I now feel re-determined, like Scrooge, to live in the past, present, and future, and re-equipped to look to both my facts and my feelings for what I need to live my life.

Elijah Bush (L) and Ben Tebbe (R) in "A Christmas Carol" at the IRT - photo by Julie Curry

Merry Christmas to you, if you celebrate Christmas.  And either way, I would like to quote Tiny Tim:  “God bless us, every one!”

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

Follow @IndyTheatre on Twitter.com for at-the-show observations.

P.S. – “Charles’ Dickens’ A Christmas Carol,” adapted by Tom Haas, continues on the Main Stage of the Indiana Repertory Theatre through December 27, 2009.  “Love Letters,” written by A. R. Gurney and directed by Janet Allen, continues on the IRT’s Upperstage through January 17, 2010.  For more information and to make a reservation, please visit www.irtlive.com or call the Ticket Office at 317-635-5252.

P2S2 – All of the photos above were taken by Julie Curry. (www.JulieCurryPhotography.com)  Roll your mouse over each photo to see the actors’ names in the close-ups.  I would have been happy to include a photo or two from “Love Letters,” too, but the fact is: I have not received any yet. 

But guess what!  My program from “Carol” is also the program for “Love Letters.”  It reminded me that Patrick Clear played William Seward and Jefferson Davis in the IRT’s production of “The Heavens Are Hung in Black,” by James Still.  Yet another reason for me to try to find a time to see “Love Letters” before it closes.


8 thoughts on “Unexpected Gifts at the Indiana Repertory Theatre”

  1. Press releases contain facts. They aren’t terribly interesting. Write from your heart and head. Enjoy what you do. Deny the block. And have a great 2010.
    –Lou (trying to fight the block on a novel I’ve been trying to finish for five years)

  2. Thanks, Jim. I think the IRT does do the 1/2 price thing for all their shows. An acquaintance told me that it’s something most professional theatres in New York do, too. I want to say it’s called “rushing,” but I’m not sure about that. I think you have to ask for the bargain, and it’s only available if you go to the Ticket Office LESS than an hour before curtain.

    And you really do take your chances on what kind of seat you’ll get.

    But for someone whose personal arts budget has been cut (and whose hasn’t?), it can be a way to get in to see professional shows that one wouldn’t otherwise get to see.

  3. Thanks, Lou. I actually enjoy reading press releases, but I wouldn’t want to have to write them. Anyway, I appreciate your kind encouragement. Happy 2010 to you and yours, too, and may that 5-year novel-writing block dissolve!

  4. Happy Holidays, Hope! It was my pleasure to help and I’m so glad you enjoyed the show! No matter how rotten I feel, A Christmas Carol always makes me feel renewed. It is such a powerful story of redemption and hope, I walk away feeling as though I am a better person.

    Rush Tickets are available for each and every one of the IRT productions! As you say, it’s a calculated risk in terms of seating but I say it just adds a hint of suspense and excitement to your theatregoing experience! They are available in-person at the Ticket Office one hour before each show.

    Many happy returns for 2010! May your pen always have ink, your keyboard be ergonomic, and may you always find a miracle when you need one!


  5. Thanks very much, Molly, for the kind words and for the official explanation of “rushing.” Thanks, Adrienne, for the laugh! And thanks, Daniel, for leaving a comment on my “About the Reviewer” page!

  6. Hope- Definitely get over to see “Love Letters” if you can. It’s wonderful to see it as a full stage production. Hang in there and I hope you had a Merry Christmas!

Leave a Reply