A quick plug for the fall show being put on by Princeton Triangle Club in a couple of weeks, called Heist Almighty. November 10th and 11th at McCarter Theater, in Princeton. Tickets here.
I wrote and performed for Triangle when I was an undergrad, and I'm pretty comfortable saying that without Triangle, I don't become a writer. There's a current point to this post, which I'll get to, but I'll catch people up briefly if I haven't written about this before.
I wrote songs as a kid, for no particular reason. Sang in a bunch of choruses in high school. So when I got to Princeton, I auditioned for some a cappella groups. I'm an okay singer, but the a cappella groups were on a level beyond the high school choruses, and I didn't get in when I auditioned in the fall. Auditioned for the Glee Club and got in. Hated the Glee Club. We sang classical pieces, things that I found extremely boring, and -- partly because the rehearsals were structured in a way that people didn't really talk, and partly because I was a shy little freshman -- I didn't really end up making any Glee Club friends and feeling like it was a terribly worthwhile experience. I actually fell asleep during a number of rehearsals, because they were in a very comfortable, very dark auditorium, and the music was very, very slow. When you are falling asleep during an extracurricular activity -- and I was not sleep-deprived -- it is perhaps a sign this activity is not for you. I tried out for the a cappella groups again in the spring, and again was rejected. And then, one day in the bathroom stall, I saw the Daily Princetonian, open to an advertisement for the Triangle Club, looking for actors/singers/writers for their upcoming show. I'd played Oliver in a summer camp production of "Oliver," after 6th grade. I'd played Kenicke in "Grease" in 2nd grade and had to ride down the aisle of my school auditorium on my bike, with training wheels. That was the sum of my acting experience to that point.
But I wanted to do *something* musical at Princeton, and the Glee Club was boring and the a cappella groups didn't want me. And I had been writing songs since I was a kid and never had anything to do with them, and figured maybe if they needed writers.... The audition instructions were to prepare a musical theater song. All I knew was the stuff from Oliver that I'd sang 7 years earlier. So I practiced one of those, and also brought a song I'd written which seemed sort of musical theater-like, not that I knew anything about musical theater at all. I saw "Me and My Girl" on a 4th grade school trip, the highlight being that the windows in the lobby went right to the floor and if you stood right up against them it looked like you could step right off the edge of the building and fall into traffic. I remember nothing about the actual performance. That was the sum of my theater exposure at that point. Keep in mind I grew up in New York! My mom, as far as I'm aware, has never been to a Broadway show. I keep trying to fix that. This reminds me to make another attempt sometime soon.
So I auditioned with my song, and somehow the musical director (not a student -- Triangle hires professionals to direct, music direct, and choreograph) -- who is thanked in the acknowledgements of my book, so you know where this story is going -- saw something in me and cast me in the show, told me when the next writers meeting was, and, actually, ended up putting the song I auditioned with into the show. I benefitted to a significant degree from good timing -- the writing process at the time was quite disorganized, and at the time of the auditions, eight weeks before the show, only a fraction of the show had even been written, and there weren't more than one or two interested writers. Given that -- and a motivation and willingness to crank out songs pretty quickly, along with the willingness of the musical director to turn my "sung-into-a-tape" melodies into actual lead sheets, with notes and chords -- I was able to get 5 songs into that year's show, and almost a sketch. I'd never written a sketch before, but volunteered at a writer's meeting, wrote about a dozen drafts that would each get put into rehearsal by the director the next day, and then I'd go back and revise... it ended up getting cut.
The following year, the club made the writing process significantly more formal, hired two writing professionals (one was the musical director who I'd already been working with), and created some structure, with meetings and assignments and deadlines. Only two of us -- a senior at the time, and me, then a sophomore -- had any experience writing for the previous show, so we ended up writing most of the songs in the next show, and I got to start writing some scenes. And my junior and senior years, I wrote a whole bunch of sketches and songs, and had figured out how to write my music down instead of having to sing it into a tape, and really felt like I'd figured out something I really wanted to do. I also performed in the shows, but, honestly, the reward of that for me was a lot more about making friends and being a real part of something, and having an activity I could care about and would take lots of time (and to some degree would help me get my material into the show) than it was about actually enjoying being on stage, although it was definitely fun.
And as a senior I didn't really know how to turn what I was doing into an actual job, but somehow interviewed with a software company that liked the theater experience and wanted creative people to do marketing stuff for them... and I kept writing fairly prolifically on the side, which made me realize maybe this was more than just a passing interest... and law school because I was scared to not have a backup plan... and here we are.
Long digression, I know. Sorry. So, anyway, a few weeks ago I was elected as one of the Triangle Club's graduate alumni trustees -- I'm sure pretty much entirely because I wrote a book, and it's cool that I wrote a book -- and on Friday I got to do my first trustee-related thing and went down to Princeton to watch a run-through of the show. It was cool, even though I still sort of feel like I could be an undergrad. I mean, it's weird. Because the freshmen now are class of 2010 (2010!) and so that would have been like someone who was class of '90 when I was a freshman, and class of '90 would have sounded crazy old.
So I guess I'm crazy old. It was weird -- during the intermission between the two acts, I was waiting on line to use the bathroom, and there were a couple of undergrads waiting too, and there was a voice in my head that started to make itself known. Like, "You should introduce yourself to them. Because they probably think you're crazy old, and when you were an undergrad, it's not like you would have ever introduced yourself to one of the trustees, but I guess it would have been cool if they were friendly to you, and these undergrads probably think you're just unfriendly, especially since you're pretending to check your voicemail even though you're pretty sure you don't have any, but actually you're just trying your best not to seem unfriendly but still really just don't know how to engage a stranger in conversation, and want to be friendly, but still feel like an undergrad and, I don't know, it's probably fine anyway that you're just waiting to use the bathroom, and why are you thinking so hard about nothing, since it's nothing, and you're just crazy."
Okay, this post is really long and isn't about Triangle at all I guess. It's really about me feeling like I don't know how to make small talk with people I don't know, without someone else taking the first step, and how maybe when you're 12 that's excusable, but I should probably have solved this by now.