What’s in a photo?

The cast of TOMORROW MORNING, by Mildred’s Umbrella Theatre Co. 2004

Sometimes a photo pops up on social media, and at first glance, it’s just a random photo of random people. To anyone who wasn’t there, that’s all it is; completely unremarkable. It’s a fairly boring photo of some attractive people sitting passively  and fairly expressionless, posing for a group photo. It almost looks like one of those school class photos from elementary school in the way it is laid out. 

However, if you were there, you might be transported to the moment of the photo. There are humans involved, and if you were there,  and in the photo, you know exactly what was going on with at least one of them.  

This photo was an early play done by my theatre company, Mildred’s Umbrella Theater. It was  an original play called TOMORROW MORNING. It was written by our playwright at the time, John Harvey (top left), with input by myself (in the jean jacket) and Greg Dean (down right). We had just had our first successful show a few months before, and we excitedly cranked out another one in a very tight window of time when we had the space again. 

The play was about a train taking a group of people to the Auschwitz museum, but they eat some drugged food and a wormhole opens in time , and they find that they are really going to a concentration camp.  Two of the actors were waiters who turned into Nazis at the end, and one was a singing angel on a separate platform that watched in horror as the events unfolded, and reacted in song.  The idea was really ambitious, and we didn’t have enough time or resources to fully realize the project, and it was kind of a mess when it opened. It had some really good moments, but we needed more time to make it what it deserved to be.  We learned a lot from that show. Here are some photos from the show. they aren’t the best. We were just learning to be digital at that point, but you can tell that the show was far more interesting than the cast photo.

If you just look at that cast photo with us in our street clothes, it looks like a passive cast photo, but there is so much going on when I look at it.   There are so many stories here. 

  1. I think I was coerced into sitting for this photo, and was really about to lose my mind trying to get the show up and not kill anyone. I was pissed off at everyone by about this time  (you can see the tension if you look closely). Not that it was anyone’s fault. I just was acting in the play, and producing the whole thing on a shoestring. Back then, I always ended up dealing with the set, and picking up slack in every area of the show, so I was super stressed out every time we opened anything. 
  1. A few  people in this picture don’t speak to each other anymore. There are 2 friendships and one romantic relationship here that ended  very tragically. 
  1.  There is one person in the photo that none of us talk to anymore. Several of us have that person blocked from our lives in every way.  
  1. Two of these people are now married to each other and living in Europe. I keep in touch with them. 
  1. One of these people now lives in New York, and another lives in Austin. I still talk to them online. 
  1. Of the ones who still live in Houston, I am still very close to two of them. I run into two of the others once in a while, and we say hello and remember each other fondly. 

When we are all gone, this photo will go back to being unremarkable. A photo like this means nothing if you weren’t there.  

You’ll survive, sad girl.

I came across a picture of you online. You are the me of I2 years ago. You are standing in an art gallery, next to a carved, wooden horse, wearing your favorite blue dress with the seahorse embroidered on the skirt. You are there because you directed and produced a play in that art gallery. You are smiling, but you are miserable. You aren’t even really sure you will survive. I’m here to tell you that you will. Eventually. 

You started a theatre a few years before with nothing but dreams and fairy dust. It consumes you, but it never makes you full. You are the only constant, but nobody seems to see you. They only see the people you are putting in the light. You don’t want to kill it, so it’s killing you. You try to walk away, and people say,  ‘No! We need you’. You’re afraid that if you leave, you’ll have to leave behind your self-worth, which is tied to that theatre like a battered hostage. The money you work hard to raise pays everyone else, but there’s nothing left for you, so you also have to work in other places for money so you can live. Twice, you worked 48 hours straight with no sleep so a show could open on time. You once went seven years in a row with no vacation. 

Three months before this picture was taken, your marriage fell apart. One week before the photo was taken, a rebound relationship that you fell into in a panic crashed and burned, leaving you feeling like trash. You have friends, but you’ve been away from them so much working that they often forget to invite you anymore. You turn to unstable types that make a point to be where you are to get a piece of what you’ve created. They wear the faces of friends, and your head is such a mess, you can’t tell the difference. It’s just nice to have someone to talk to sometimes. When this photo was taken, a person you thought was a friend had just turned on you. She had sucked all the blood she could from you and found you not to be useful anymore. While you stand here smiling, she is tweeting about what garbage you are. You think she might be right. 

You are ashamed that you are falling apart, that you are spending all your time working or drinking wine alone That you lash out at people in messages That you cry almost every day. That you have wondered more than once if anyone would care if you just weren’t there anymore. You stay on that lonely island that you created because it seems like all you have, and if you leave it,  it will die. Or maybe you will die. Everyone else will go wherever they all go when they don’t need what you have to offer them there, and you will be stuck where you are, holding an empty bag. 

You need rest. You need help. You need therapy. There is no time for any of that. You are a wreck. 

I am here to tell you that it will get better. Not right away. You still have a few more pretend friends to deal with and a couple more shitty relationships, because all you really want is love and security, and you keep missing the mark. The universe will finally lead you to someone worthy, and you will marry him. Your real friends will forgive you for all the years you were crazy. They will welcome you back with open arms. Others will shut you out and never forgive you, but you don’t need those people. They think they are nicer than they actually are. 

You will never find a fairy godmother. You will never be fully appreciated for your sacrifice. But you will find a way to find your worth in other ways. You will find ways to make it not matter so much. 

I look at you, pretty, blue-dress girl, and I give you a hug in my mind. You are in the last days of your youth, and you can’t even enjoy it.  You have done something great, whether you or anyone else can see that you have.  I’d never want to be you again. You are a sad, lonely wreck. But you’ll be ok eventually. 

%d bloggers like this: