The Silk Sea--How I Became a Theatre Marine

It's hard to articulate just how much I love rehearsing this show. First week of rehearsals has me in paroxysms of delight, transports of sheer exhileration. The cast is magnificent, the director commands the heavens, the theatre is on fire with energy and talent, and my old friend the Silk Sea is back.

I first befriended the Silk Sea when I was eighteen or nineteen years old. I was in a doughty little production of "Pericles" down in the Bay Area, one of a handful of males imported by this same director for a production under the auspices of an all-girls' preparatory school. I stayed in a storybook cottage under the brow of a long ridge in the Marin peninsula, with a daybreak view of the fogbound City of San Francisco just outside my window. My days were spent in the libraries of the City, on my bike or on the buses, and my afternoons and evenings were spent rehearsing a beautiful, scrappy production.

One day, maybe 1/3 of the way through the process, Randall handed me a sheaf of directions. I was entrusted with an extremely important mission; he had custom-ordered a massive quantity of light blue silk to be fashioned into a vast, rolling sea, more than enough to fill the surface area of the floor of a large, ancient barn-cum-theatre, where we were performing. I don't know how to describe how large this Sea was in its beginnings; it was endless, it was Olympic-sized, it was the kind of big that makes everything and everyone else standing next to it look poky and unassuming by comparison. Balled up very tightly, it was about the size of my torso.

To find it, I boarded something like 7 different buses to get from my tucked-away cottage to downtown San Francisco. I walked up the rickety, narrow staircases of a dozen old Victorian office/warehouse edifices in the Tenderloin/Nob Hill stretch, following a trail of breadcrumbs and the bemused assistance of potbellied shopkeepers, world-weary immigrant store clerks, liveried doormen, angry young bike messengers and the ghosts of Barbary Coast pirates before I found the place I was sent to find.

Inside the crumbling belly of a dark and sooty old Beaux-Arts monster, I stumbled into a cave of musty and shrouded wonders. Like spiders perfumed with mothballs, a shadowy little herd of lesbian seamstresses with exotic and implacable accents ushered me past the bolts of rich, deep velvets and the ghostly mannequins painted with translucent saffrons and the elegantly billowing herringbone patterns masking the distant skylights, into an inner sanctum where an ancient and wizened little old spinster was stitching snaps into the opened seams of the Sea. Randall had specified that the Sea was to have three openings from which people could reach out and pop up from beneath its surface, and the little old spinster muttered the whole time about how strange that little man was (I think she was talking about Randall).

Her task finished, she laboriously gathered up the vast Sea into a compact shape (my torso), which she passed to the lesbian spider seamstress, who passed it to me. Papers and signatures were exchanged, seals were affixed, messages were inscribed, and soon enough I was back outside in the brilliant Bay Area sunlight. I remember a stiff headwind, and barely being able to see above the top of the Silk Sea, gushing out of the bursting shrinkwrap. Then there was some heartstopping swordplay against whole regiments of French musketeers, followed by a breakneck sprint across the rooftops chased by SWAT-team snipers, and then I lashed myself to the mast of my galley while I sailed past the Sirens and other sea-monsters, and then the guy let me get on the ferry even though my transfer was expired, and I made it to rehearsal with minutes to spare. (I'm exaggerating: I had to buy a new transfer.)

That evening the Silk Sea unfolded for the first time, and I experienced the first of what was to become many, many collective gasps of beholding. Since that time the Sea has waxed and waned, separated into several Seas and then reunited; its openings have torn and been re-stitched and then torn again; casts have come and gone, sometimes dozens strong, sometimes only five or six of us. I've been privileged to perform with this Sea in most of its incarnations. I've watched the stains and the dust and the tears in the Sea come and go. I am so happy to be swimming in it again.

And that's how I became a Theatre Marine.



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