A few weekends ago, my daughter made her stage debut at the Lee Strasberg Institute here in New York. It wasn’t a formal production — more of an open rehearsal for friends and family of the young students — but nonetheless there she was, at 11 years old convincing and entirely off book for both of her scenes and, I must add, I was proud, as any father would be. And, I must admit, simultaneously hopeful and melancholy. I have spent a good part of my writing life as a playwright and critic, with stints at the New York Times and the Guardian and elsewhere, though that was another world ago, back in the Pleistocene Era. Still, if theatre is in the genes, I suppose it’s been passed on to the next generation, which is perhaps where it belongs.
I don’t really know why children take to the theatre so, but they do; I didn’t get there myself until my teens. My daughter and her fellow students had been part of the fall youth workshop at the Strasberg Institute, learning method acting, stage fighting, dance, and a little camera work; after the scene study, she and her friends also participated in a round of improvisation. It could be that children have greater access to their imaginations and the ways in which their bodies can personify those imaginings. After these past few years, any sort of escape from this reality seems laudable. I’m 59 now, so I should add that I also envied them this access. Youth isn’t wasted on the young. They seem to know quite well what to do with it.
To make matters more personally confounding, Billie also came across an old play of mine in the bookshelves called Snow’s Day and asked if there was a part in it for her. I had to disappoint her; set on the last day of an aging professor’s career, the play didn’t have a role for, much less appeal to, an 11-year-old girl. But, inspired, I did pass along to her something more appropriate and considerably more successful, Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. This she liked, though the two characters she liked the least were George and Emily. Apparently cynicism, like a penchant for the dramatic arts, can be passed on through the genes as well.
Snow’s Day was the last play I wrote, about seven years ago, and I think it still might be the last play I ever write. I’d thought it might be my farewell to the theatre, but obviously I was wrong; somehow Billie keeps me in the game, at least as an admiring parent. (Billie has re-upped for the winter session at Strasberg.) It could well be that theatre and drama are properly young people’s passions — young at heart, if not in body, perhaps; but I can’t say that I’m young at heart these days myself, so am delighted to leave it to my daughter and her new friends, who certainly are. Nonetheless, her performance did poke the ashes a bit; I recently found myself re-reading The Cherry Orchard, and even made a few notes for a new play that would include, as a character, a 12-year-old girl. Maybe it’s a family business now, and Billie’s trying to pull me back in. Whatever happens, whatever Billie does, I’ll be in the stalls, cheering her on. And with luck, she’ll be able to score me a house seat on the aisle.