Bryce Pinkham will be playing the roles of Brother Vaughn, Pete Davenport and Felix Barclay in The Orphans' Home Cycle
I’ve been thinking a lot about families lately. I guess it should come as no surprise considering our playwright and the content of these plays. I find a delightful irony in our situation here: twenty-two actors who, for the most part, have left their permanent homes and in many cases their own loved ones to bring to life this incredible story about family and the journey to find a home. Furthermore, the entire experience, onstage and off, is having the effect of bringing us all together as a theatrical family. This is not unique to our production of course, it’s part of what we get to do in the theater- form little families for a few months at a time. We eat and drink together, take trips to the movies, play poker, celebrate birthdays, talk politics, grocery shop, bake cookies, ride bikes, take yoga, and sometimes even talk about the plays. Our dressing areas become living rooms where we share stories of our own families, seek professional and personal advice, and build the companionship and camaraderie that we otherwise lack being away from home. For many of us, even pursuing a career in this profession has meant some amount of personal sacrifice to our own families. During one of the many hours of technical rehearsals, I listen as two of the men in our group discuss missing their sons’ recent tours of prospective colleges. I figure it must be hard being absent from family trips such as these and I ask what it’s like having to be away from home so much. “It’s hard,” one concedes, “especially when the kids are young. You want to be able to pull your weight and send money home, but it also hurts to miss things like family summer vacations.” Father number two chimes in “One thing working on these plays makes you realize is that family is the most important thing.” “Did you ever consider doing something else professionally once you had kids?” I inquire. “Yeah, I tried for a year, but I realized acting was the best chance I had to make money for my family.” Father number two is surprised when I tell him I hope to have a family some day. He says he doesn’t run into too many actors my age who are looking forward to that already. He surprises me by asking how many children I want. “It’s important to think about,” he rejoins in response to what must have been a wide-eyed expression of terror on my face, “especially if you are going to be an actor and do this.” His gentle interrogation strikes at the heart of what I find most terrifying about starting a professional stage career.
Considering the difference in earning potential, I find it no wonder that the theater loses many of its finest talents to its younger, more popular artistic siblings, film and television. To be sure, the financial allure of those media is hard to ignore, especially for the domestically inclined actors among us. However, it seems to me as well that what the process of doing a stage play may lack in fiscal incentives it makes up for in espirit de corps. It seems to me that there has always been something inherently familial about the theater. I am reminded of the Italian Commedia families who not only made their living traveling the countryside in search of their next stage, but who literally passed down the portrayal of certain characters to their children. Likewise, it surely must have felt like joining a family to be admitted into Shakespeare’s The Lord Chamberlain’s Men or Moliere’s Troupe du Roi. Be it literal or fostered, the bond forged between actors on the stage often has the strength one associates with family; out there under the lights, we depend entirely on one another, and I find this dependence usually makes its way offstage as well.
Unfortunately, (or fortunately depending on your take,) theater and the process that brings it about mirror life in many ways. Change, both expected and otherwise, is simply always part of the equation. Our families, both biological and artistic, are inevitably affected and transformed by that unapologetic plodder, time. Having recently been caught unawares by this unalterable truth, I have found comfort in the words of none other than our playwright. In the penultimate play of his cycle Horton writes, “A family is a remarkable thing, isn’t it? You belong. And then you don’t. It passes you by.” I believe Horton’s words certainly speak to the families we all come from, but also the ones we form in and around the theater. The transient nature of rehearsing and performing a play (or 9), each night a little different than the next, each moment passed in due time, is part of what appeals to me about the theater. It is this impermanence that television and film will never be able to offer. It is this mortality that calls for us to enjoy every fleeting moment with the plays and with those around us that in turn forms such lasting kinship among us. I am truly beginning to cherish our ad hoc family here and am constantly reminded why I have chosen to be a part of this crazy caste (pun intended). And yet, as Horton reminds me, like an actor’s work in a theater, this family will not always be. That’s just the way it goes. You belong. And then you don’t. I think there’s something beautiful in that.