We began our relationship badly, theater and I. I was maybe 10 years old when I saw my first play—Fiddler on the Roof in a smallish theater in New Orleans. I was sitting in an aisle seat near the front of the house with an old lady on my right. (Where were my parents? I don't know.) Sometime during the first act, the old lady gasped, grabbed her chest, slumped into my lap, whimpered a little, and then went quiet. I didn't know what to do. Theater was church, as far as I could tell—you were supposed to sit quietly, not fidget, not draw attention to yourself, and certainly not fall gasping into your neighbor's lap. What was I supposed to do? Who was I supposed to tell? How was I going to get this lady out of my lap? I quietly panicked.
The ordeal probably only lasted a minute. Eventually, the Fiddler, soliloquizing downstage, noticed the problem. He asked if there was a doctor in the house, the lady was whisked away by some paramedics, and the musical resumed. (I never found out what happened to her.) My introduction to theater set an unfortunate tone. Branded into some juvenile corner of my brain, theater will always mean sitting alone, waiting for the lights to dim so something terrible can happen.
My most severe theater regrets are my own: that idiotic review I wrote of Bart Sher's The Servant of Two Masters when I was young and wanted to sharpen my teeth on something. (I didn't know they were baby teeth, not fit for chewing applesauce.) And just this month, I ran a review by Adrian Ryan that mistakenly attributed a quote to Intiman's Stephanie Coen—about Black Nativity "ready to wander in the desert until they find a home." (Knowing Adrian, she's lucky she got off with that instead of something about the actors being a "hell-bound gang of perverts, acting-school dropouts, fags, drunks, unemployable sociopaths" [Sept 24 issue].)
My regrets, on behalf of myself and others, are far too many to fit on this page—or 10 pages. So here are some of the more familiar regrets, large and small, that my brain keeps on heavy rotation.
• Seattle regrets that the board of the Empty Space couldn't see fit to cover a cash shortfall to keep its doors open, if even just for a bit. People miss that place and the way it hung between playfulness and seriousness.
• Seattle theaters regret their distrustful, opaque relationships with boards in general—the closing of the Empty Space, the firing of Matt Richter from Consolidated Works, the firing of Andrea Wagner from Giant Magnet. Yes, all those situations were unique, but the atmosphere between boards and everyone else turns so toxic so swiftly, it takes everyone by surprise. Seattle needs a board/staff couples' counselor.
• I regret that Seattle theaters spend so much energy paying obeisance to New York instead of cultivating the West Coast Touring Pipeline: Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
• All decent and sane people regret their collective failure to sort out health care for theater artists, artists in general, and people in general. The indecent and insane will come to regret this in 10 to 15 years, if not sooner.
• I'm happy some groups are tweaking and stretching the boundaries of musical theater—locals like "Awesome" (Delaware, noSIGNAL) and national groups like Les Freres Corbusier (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, which the Public Theater just announced it would fully produce, God bless them)—I only wish more companies would board that train.
• I regret not carving out more money and time to fly to Los Angeles for Romeo Castellucci's mammoth Purgatorio, which premiered at the Avignon Festival and crazily, improbably, came to the United States. It might have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I blew it.
• I regret, every year, that The Stranger has but one theater Genius Award to give.
• I still regret that March evening in 2005, when I committed a series of olfactory offenses against my fellow audience members of ACT Theatre during a performance of The Woman in Black: I ate a burger (with onions—idiot!) and drank a beer before the show. Then I dressed too warmly. Then I was late and had to run. I spent the show sweating out a revolting miasma of grease and onions, and THEN, when I crossed my leg, I noticed the horrible, shameful smell of dog shit coming from my shoes. Ugh. Apologies to everyone.