When I was in college, I spent a year abroad in London. It was an amazing experience. It was there that I first fell in love with the theatre. In part, it was because I had access to some of the finest productions in the world. There were always great shows to go see somewhere in London. And the student discounts made it relatively cheap to see them too. My love affair was also stoked by some of the classes I had, one class specialized in Shakespeare and to this day I still remember some of the lectures, at least in broad strokes. But the main reason I fell in love was it was the first chance I got to do some theatre.
In that year, I acted in several plays, I directed one (a Pinter play no less), built sets, did lighting design and produced a play that went to the Edinburgh Fringe. It was such a great experience that, after I graduated from college, I returned for another six months, hooked up with many of the same people I had worked with before and helped produce a few more shows. When I left London, I wasn’t ready to go. I was sad, but I didn’t know at the time how to go about becoming a permanent resident there. I returned home and headed to Chicago, determined to make it in the theatre there.
About five years later, I had the opportunity to return to London. I was once again producing a show for the Edinburgh Fringe. This time it was an improv show. I arranged to stay in London a few days after the festival. I anticipated it being a great experience, but it was somehow hollow. It was great seeing some of my friends again, but walking the streets where I had once lived put me in a distinctly melancholy mood. It was like visiting a memory. It was a place I used to live and when I returned to the places I used to hang out, they were devoid of the people that made it special to me.
Similarly when I left Chicago for New York, I found some of my visits to Chicago to feel similar. However, I’ve learned through trial and error, that visiting should always be about the people and not the places. It’s always lovely when you can take someone along and show them what you love about a city. But often I travel alone. I now make it a higher priority to set up beforehand some opportunities to see friends.
I left New York three years ago and expected that I would probably be back soon. I’ve only had one chance to go back since then. I went to the Del Close Marathon in 2007, taught a bunch of classes and hung out. It was a good time, but not quite what I expected. I thought that I would spend many hours at the theatre watching shows. As it turned out, I barely spent anytime there. Like in the previous couple of years, the theatre just felt too crowded and hot and sweaty. Instead I played poker with friends and hung out at the UCB office instead. It seems not much had changed for me.
So now this weekend, I head back there once again. I’m not going for the Marathon, but rather for the weekend before and to perform on Tuesday night in a special Harold show. I have several people that I miss dearly that I hope to see and spend some time with. I hope to do some new things as well. After I left New York, I was shocked to realize that I’d never seen a show at the Magnet Theatre. I hope to remedy that this time around.
In any case, I hope that my trip won’t have that similar taint of melancholy that my trip to London had those many years before. We shall see.