For the second day in a row, I find myself in the playhouse before the sun rises. As I walked in this morning, I noticed that I was seeing a different community than I usually do when I arrive for a typical workday.
Usually, I operate in the downtown community that convenes at 9 and departs at around 5 all going to other communities–at the Y, or at the park, or at the brewery. One member of this community, the service dog-in-training at the Commonwealth Attorney’s office next door to the ASC Education suite, has grown from puppy to adult since I’ve been here, changing his vest size along the way. Sometimes the members of this community (including me) wander out for a coffee or a bite, and while the faces behind the counters at my coffee shops and lunch haunts have changed a bit in the 10 years I’ve worked for this company (another community in and of itself), I learn new names and still see our fellow downtown folks frequenting them. Over the years, this little community has grown even within its boundaries, just recently adding three new places: The Green Room, Blu Point Seafood Co, and The 101. The few blocks from Frederick to Byers Street and Coalter to Johnson during the work day are a comfortable, predictable place. A place that I consider my daily community.
I join other communities when time and situation demand it. For instance the family walking their big black and brown dog yesterday morning at 6:45, and today–and who I will likely see tomorrow, Thursday, and Friday are members of a different community. The hotel staff who are between shifts as I arrive to open the theatre greet me with a little surprise, as we are not used to seeing one another and they have another set of expectations that didn’t used to include me. The International Paper participants and their facilitators, and my own team who have arrived from New York, North Carolina, and elsewhere make up more of this hybrid collection and as they descend on us, we are further enriched.
The catering staff at Mill Street Grill, Donna at Aioli, our friend David Webster from Groove Cat all return for this annual gathering and we once more serve one another. Each one of us is in a slightly different emotional or life space (some new engagements, pending retirements, new family members) than the last time we met, but able to re-up the relationship with ease and joy. For this week, I am with my leadership community.
I look forward to the other communities I will move into and out of in the near future. Our Blackfriars Conference community, for instance, arrives in a little less than two weeks. We will welcome the speakers and keynotes, the staging session participants, and colloquy members. We will spend all of the daylight hours thinking about and communing with topics of Shakespeare and Performance. Some of these community members came to us from adjacent or similar communities–other conferences, or NEH Institutes. We always want this community to grow and stretch the seams of the playhouse. As the years have passed, we have lost some of them–dear friends like Russ McDonald, David Bevington, Tom Berger, Barbara Mowat, and so we work to find young scholars who will rise to their place and continue the conversation in new and fruitful ways. The community has changed as some of these young scholars must rethink leaving young children at home for the 5 days the conference lasts, and as retirement places priorities on something other than preparing presentations that might result in a bear stealing your paper.
The community Lia has formed with Staunton Parks and Rec brings new blood into our world that may one day join one of our other communities, as we prepare children to play on our stage and embrace Shakespeare intellectually. As the Fall Repertory Season opened its final title last week, I felt a shift in the community of the troupe, as eyes began to turn to the next project or next season and hearts are already preparing to separate from what we have known as a stable circle since last May.
The communities we form in theatre and with Shakespeare are fleeting in an odd way. We always start them with an end in sight–the show will open, and, inevitably close. The Conference has a beginning, and an end. The week or day of leadership demands immediacy and depth that requires us to leave our familiar and comfortable world to see what we can become with new inputs and processes.
We discover who we can become for each other–getting to know people we work with in a different way and understand that all of us bring challenges and–at the same time–beauty in diversity to the puzzle we can only solve together. As a small community in a larger one, this group, more than in any of the other communities I am grateful to be part of, reminds me that giving time and attention to a small gathering in a large world can invite dramatic change.
And maybe that is what communities are about, finding the way that like-minded people coming to mutual understanding can lend support for big vision and big change. I will miss seeing that big brown dog and these friends in from afar when things go back to normal, but I will treasure the possibility of getting to know new aspects of the world in which we live and look for ways to change it by engaging with those I have the fortune to encounter in the shifts life invites.