Tuesday, November 01, 2011

tour diary #12- lyth and the end of the road

October 29, 2011

We wake impressively early and the view out of the window is remarkable.  All around us stretch stone walled green fields, the occasional sheep and the horizon on all sides. 

The Lyth Arts Centre was founded 35 years ago by our host William Wilson and it stands as one of the most successful labors of love I’ve ever seen.  The original stone schoolhouse, which houses the box office and lobby of the center, has been renovated and expanded to include an ample bar with a roaring fireplace, a sixty seat state-of-the-art performance venue, a kitchen and dining room out back for William and visiting artists, dressing rooms and storage spaces, all self-sufficient and up here at the end of the world.

We load in at eleven, walking all of thirty-six steps from our lodging to the theater.  William (or Willy as Pete and Catherine, old friends, insist on calling him) interrupts us, insisting we stop and have soup and bread.  Camilla glowers but must finally give in, so we break and eat.  Back to it after lunch and we’re done by 2:30, hours to go before our final show.

Tim and Nancy and I climb into the van and drive over to John o’ Groats, the northernmost village on the British mainland, about 12 miles away.  

The peculiar name honors Jan de Groote, a Dutchman who started running a ferry service here out to the Orkney Islands in 1496.  Besides its location, the place doesn’t have much going for it, even suffering the indignity of a Carbuncle Award in 2010 naming it “Scotland’s most dismal town”.

But we’re charmed.  The place is tiny, maybe 300 souls with an old working harbor and a bunch of tourist shacks down by the water.  There’s an old hotel which has been scheduled for demolition and someone had the great idea of hiring some artists to cover it in graffiti.  It’s a bizarre sight, like an East Village squat dropped down out of the sky, fully alien but beautiful and funny and we walk around the whole thing, chuckling and snapping pictures.

We walk out to the end of the pier and two seals surface about thirty yards out, keeping their place in the strong, constant swells.  One keeps bobbing up and staring at us, his dog-like snout and black eyes studying the two Americans and the Londoner so far from home.  And then we drive to the lighthouse at Dunnet’s Head, officially the northernmost point of the island.  You look out and can almost see the Viking longships coming down from Scandinavia.  The lighthouse is unmanned now, like most in the country, all computerized and run by someone hundreds of miles away at a desk. And Romance is bled a little whiter from another tiny cut.

We’re back in time for naps and then over to the theater for a dinner of chicken and rice and ratatouille, sitting around a formal dining room back behind the kitchen talking with William and Mark and their friend Jane who’s up from London.  The performers warm up and it’s 7:30, so rather than hang out in front of the venue as I usually do, I walk the thirty-six steps across the parking lot and am at home, hanging out in the kitchen, checking email, wishing it were always so civilized and simple.

Our audience arrives and William seats them individually.  They fill the theater with the buzz and laughter of a group of old friends and Pete and Lisa and I sit in the back, soaking it in.

It’s golden from the very opening.  Tim parts his curtain and the audience, as one, breathes out a welcoming laugh.  They’re ours before we’ve said a word.  The show rolls out like a magic carpet and we all take the ride. Tim’s amplifier gives up the ghost right before Born to Die and they do an a capella version to the audience’s delight.  William bustles invisibly about backstage and finds a spare speaker, Tim plugs in and we’re fine.  A perfect ending in a perfect place.  The audience stays afterwards, the performers go out to mingle and Camilla and I begin the last load-out.

The others join in and we break it down, fold up the curtain, coil the cable, stack the chairs, do our jobs. 

When we’re all packed and done, Camilla turns immediately to me and I find myself in her arms. 

“Thanks for all the hard work”, she whispers and I’m in tears, both then in the moment and now as I type these words.

It was hard.  And it was work.  And that’s what makes art worth doing.

We celebrate again, into the morning.

I’ll miss these people and I’ll miss this country, though I’ll be glad deep in my bones to get back home.

But I don’t think I’ll miss this show, because I’m already working on the next draft.

And it will be stronger and funnier and take more risks, and the fat will be trimmed because I’ve had the rare writer’s privilege of watching it over and over, in different places and in front of very different crowds and now I know it better than I ever could have if I hadn’t have joined the tour.

I’ll make it better for Nancy and Catherine and Tim. And Pete and Camilla and Ali and Kevin.  For every technician who lent a hand and every person who listened and clapped.  And even more so for those who didn’t.

I’ll even make it better for Buckie.

In fact, god bless Buckie for making all the rest of it sweeter.  And if I'm ever there again, I'll try to do better and trust that Buckie will do the same.

In the end, we both did the best we could.

1 comment:

Peter Michael Marino said...

Beautiful! Congrats!