Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Little Help From My Friends

When I returned from Vermont at the beginning of June there was a message on my voice mail offering an amazing gift. A friend who had registered for an Inside the London Theatre program through the University of California Alumni Association was not going to be able to attend. She was offering me her space in the class—morning discussions with noted critic Matt Wolf about the eight plays we’ll see and the London theatre scene, conversations with the actors, directors, playwrights and designers working with these productions, nightly discussions following the shows. I knew I would love this.

I grew up in theatre. Mama designed sets for Baldwin Burroughs at Spelman College. I appeared on stage for the first time when I was six or seven as one of the children in his production of The King and I and Mama's best friend was and actress.  Still I hesitated. I’d already spent the money allocation for vacation this summer—went to New Orleans for the last week of JazzFest, spent ten days in New York and another ten in Vermont. Spent most of the money I’d made from the consultant job I’d finally gotten after an almost five year hiatus. But new work possibilities are on the horizon. Go on Cynthia, I told myself, defy your home training, raid your savings account for something that’s non-essential.

Plane tickets to London were expensive. I would be going during high season and wasn’t booking 30 days in advance. I needed all my girl friends egging me on,
you deserve it … you can’t refuse a gift like this … girl you could die tomorrow, long life ain’t promised,
to get me to hit buy on Ovitz and purchase the non-refundable ticket.

This would be a new experience. I’d passed through London once my work with Cassandra took us there to launch her Blue Note Til Dawn album at the Jazz CafĂ©. Hadn’t gone to the theatre while I was there. Theatre was a staple of my New York life but I’d never done a blitz, never packed eight plays into 13 days.

And this came with bonuses. My oldest friend, the one who had provided shelter following Hurricane Katrina, a home after I fled the storm, ten days after purchasing my house in New Orleans. I stayed with her in Atlanta until she left to for her new job in London. We hadn’t seen each other in almost nine years.  Plus a newer friend, who’d left San Miguel and moved back to the States, was attending the class.

I wasn’t the least bit New York blasĂ©, gawked out the window like the tourist I was when my car drove through Central London past 18th century stone buildings, ornate ironwork, public squares. We were staying in the hub of things, in Bloomsbury, around the corner from the British Museum. Chuckled at the serendipity of staying next door to RADA. Our residence was next door to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Staying up all day was the best way to get my body clock into this time zone. Around 11:00, Karen, my friend from San Miguel, another woman in the program and I took the tube to South Bank. We walked along the Thames, looked across the river at Big Ben, explored inside the National, one of the UK’s most prominent publicly funded theatres, lunched outside Somerset House and visited their Return of the Rude Boy exhibit before returning to College Hall.

The 40+ people attending Inside the London Theatre this year—predominately left leaning Californians, mostly seniors, only one other non-white participant—had dinner together that night. Many had been coming to the program for years. I couldn’t wait to begin experiencing this program that brought people back year after year.