it is 2am. the closest (and only) place open is the Club Diner in Lowell MA.
we have been together for 19 consecutive hours.
and every single day for the past four weeks.
(and every single summer for the past ten years)
we are coated in a thick layer of sweat, topped with a thin layer of sawdust.
we have to be back here in five hours.
at 7am, 200 students and 50 staff members will walk back through those double doors
and the six of us are chiefly in charge of them all.
but all of the sets are built.
we want grilled cheese.
and we’re still not sick of each other.
….Club Diner it is.
when i rise for work, my fitbit clocks 3 hours of sleep that night. i don’t know how i am even alive.
my skeleton operates a ’93 buick regal for 15 minutes, with one stop for a medium iced coffee
i pull into my parking spot in the (empty) parking lot
i am first.
i am back.
i am exhausted.
i feel like a goddamn superhero.
something special has happened. the metaphorical radioactive spider has bit me.
i am running solely upon Camp Counselor Energy ConcentrateTM – and i am, undeniably, my purest self.
(a little queasy, yes.)
my reactions are quick, my empathy-muscle is sensitive, i have boundless patience for children and adults alike. i walk with purpose, and high five every single person i pass. i know every face, i say every name. my rehearsals are driven and focused, my workshops flourish. i am on fire.
i look to my left and right – my fellow staff are on fire too. everyone is pulling each other up by bootstraps (in this case, converse shoelaces) and carrying one another across the finish line.
and the kids haven’t stopped smiling in six weeks.
200 kids, six weeks, four musicals, one shakespeare in the park, 15+ dramatic works, and a full-fledged technical track – an enormous bite to swallow, and every year (riiiiight around Grilled-Cheese Night) we reach a threshold- maybe this is the year we won’t make it.
and every year, for the past decade at the Summer School for the Performing Arts– we’ve pulled it off.
the results are unbelievable – unbelievable theatre, unbelievable response, and best of all – unbelievable change and transformation in every single child who walks back out those doors.
we raise the bar high, wring ourselves dry, and the job gets done.
i’ve heard it said a lot recently: we have to stop romanticizing overexhaustion. and i agree. especially at the rigorous university level, the idea is pervasive: that to be successful, artists must work themselves within an inch of their lives. consistently replacing sleep with coffee and taking bigger bites than one could swallow is unhealthy, unproductive, and probably not worth it.
there is something so beautiful, so pure, so unmistakable in a group of Nauseous From Exhaustion artists propelled forward by passion alone.
isn’t it remarkable?! the superhuman lengths to which our body can go when we really, really care!?!?
i’ll never be over it.
i stood in rosencrantz & guildenstern rehearsal the other night, and just before our first stumble through of 60 pages, i was suddenly overwhelmed by that familiar, specific brand of exhaustion. i havent been sleeping well or eating right, and i have more lines to learn than i ever have in my whole life. in those threshold moments, it feels like it would be sooooo easy to give in, deflate, lose energy.
yet, every time, i feel my SSPA-self return.
god, i love that version of me.
the version that triumphantly and endlessly cries the refrain:
i’ve been here before. i’ve done way more with way less. i can do this.
this love is certainly irresponsible and irrational – i know artists who cease to function on less than 6 hours of sleep per night. they get things done on time, and excel with the comfort of knowing that their health and inner stability are intact. i envy them.
i will never be that. i have come to terms with it.
but that person within me?
that person i become in those moments of utter emptiness?
no matter the deadline,
the hours of sleep,
the greasy hair,
the greasy 2AM grilled cheese,
or iced coffee after iced coffee,
she literally, never lets me down.
i’m not special – i believe that every single artist has their own version of Camp Counselor Energy ConcentrateTM within.
if you are like me – up late, dead tired, craving grilled cheese, experiencing waves of hopelessness – look for that person within.
if you’re lost, check very center of your gut – where the seed of passion to do this thing with your life began. thats where they live, always.
trust that person, and the work will get done.
they will settle for nothing less.