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[personal profile] lillibet
I had a unique theatrical experience tonight.

A few months ago a friend asked if she and another member of the team could interview me, but more especially Alice, for a devised piece they were working on around the theme of fear. I didn't feel like they were getting much from us, until they asked me (after Alice had left the room) to tell a story* of a time when I should have been afraid, but wasn't.

Tonight was the one performance during the run that I could make, so H. and I headed over to JP. I didn't really know what to expect and it certainly had the potential to be awful, but it was a really interesting, well put together examination of many different fears in modern life and how we cope with them. There were three stories that threaded their way through the piece, that might even be one story, viewed from a certain angle. H. worried that it would be very political, and the events of the past year were definitely touched upon, but it was operating on a much deeper level than the nightly news.

I didn't know whether or how they might use the material from our interview. Early in the show my friend portrayed a girl who was Alice, in part, though not many of her words came through. And then toward the end of the second act, one of the other actors began to tell my story.

It was a new experience, watching someone else tell that story, in my own words. Her emotional tone was quite different from mine--I tend to tell it as an existential puzzle, while she was more anxious, which I think was probably a stronger dramatic choice and one that makes sense given the text. I didn't feel particularly emotional about it, but there was a sense of curiosity and wonder, seeing another woman essentially act me out.

I think this is the purpose of theatre, distilled: to enter a dark room not knowing what to expect and to find yourself there on the stage.

The Fear Project runs until May 13th.

Since I'm planning to make this public, I'll change the names and identifying details--I'll use the names that they chose for The Fear Project, but otherwise this story is my own. I don't tell it often, because I'm not entirely comfortable with making it my story, when it is so much about another person, but her story is part of mine.

Back in my college days, there was a guy I knew from campus parties at a school neither of us attended. Evan (let's call him Evan) was a magnificent bassist and a large, charismatic black man, different from anyone I'd known, supremely cool, and utterly fascinating. One night, during yet another party, a group of us were gathered in the courtyard, standing in a rough circle. He joined the other side of the group, kind of dancing back and forth, too wired to stand still. At a lull in the conversation he suddenly said "I'm gonna do it. Yeah. Gonna do it," and then lunged across the circle and kissed me, deeply, before turning and striding off into the darkness.

There was another woman among our group of friends--I don't know if she was there that night. We'll call her Jessica, Jessica White. I doubt you could have picked one of us over the other in a crowd. We were both average white women with shoulder-length hair, a little chubby, I think she also had glasses, but wore contacts more often than I did. A few months after the party where Evan kissed me, she left school and fell out of touch. Her absence didn't go unnoticed--one of the bands at her former dorm had a song called "Where Is Jessica White Tonight" that was a hit at house parties.

A couple of years later, she came back. She was very different--subdued, sometimes manic, seeming much older than me now. We hung out some and had dinner together and she told me what had happened to her. She had started dating Evan and he had convinced her to drop out of school and move to the Bay Area with him. He was dealing for a living and she was soon hooked on the crack he sold. He didn't knock her around, much, until she got pregnant the first time, when he threw her down the stairs. She miscarried and from there things turned really bad, she said.

When she got pregnant the second time, she called her parents from a pay phone and they told her to go to the airport. There was a ticket waiting for her that took her back to the East Coast, where they helped her to get an abortion, got her into rehab, helped her to transfer to a different school--the one I'd recently graduated from--and return to the area.

Jessica graduated and went on to grad school, talking about her dream of teaching. She got her master's in education and a great job at a good school in New York. The night before she was to start work, she took her own life. A mutual friend who'd stayed in closer touch told me that he thought she had worked so hard to make everything feel normal again and just realized that it was never not going to hurt.

I wonder: why didn't that happen to me? When she told me her story she kept saying "y'know?" Domestic violence and drug abuse and depression...y'know? And I didn't know at all. I had been in the same rooms, with the same people, and I'd had plenty of adventures and opportunities for catastrophe, but nothing even remotely like that. Jessica was a great person, with a light shining from within--much like I suspect I was myself at that age. She didn't deserve any of what happened to her. I don't deserve that it didn't happen to me. It just did. And whether or not being afraid would have helped either of us, I wasn't.
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