People often fall in love in love scenes. Look at Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. If that’s too far in the past for you then how about Kit Harrington and Rose Leslie? You know what I mean anyway. So how could well-intentioned amateurs from a small community in the Hudson Valley hope to escape such attachments? The words of love scenes are so well written as to be very convincing, and when you speak them out loud… you’re sunk.
This very thing was happening all around me as we started doing our first shows with the troop of adult actors that were aptly called The Strange Bedfellows. One of those pairings happened quite unexpectedly, but turned out to be totally perfect.
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Hello, hello, welcome back. This is episode 249! Oh my goodness. Next one is going to be a big big milestone, so tune in for that in a couple of days. In any case, I’m still in Greece. I am in Paros. It’s a beautiful sunny day, and I’m gonna go out to the market later – the farmers market – and maybe find me some fresh fish and cook it up and smell up the whole house. Why not? This is the place for seafood. I’m on an island, surrounded by fish. I can’t wait. It’s gonna be delicious.
But back to my story. I’m going to take you back to the year 2002. 2002 – a palindrome year. We won’t have another one of those until 2112. That’s 90 years from now. My kids won’t even be around. That’s a sobering thought. Geez. You see? This is how intention and execution become wildly divergent. I start out with one thought and my quicksilver brain runs far ahead, so that the next bit that actually comes out on the page is so very different as to make me shake my head in bewilderment. Let alone you guys. I can’t imagine what you think. Well, you know, I’m going to keep going on that because here’s another branch of this train track of thoughts, and then I’ll return to my story. The word ‘divergent’ made me think of the word ‘variant.’ Did you know – because I didn’t – that modern day lesbians didn’t start using that word to describe themselves until the late 60s? In the 50s, with that scary postwar conformism sweeping the country and Freud’s work being very popular, they were called variants. Lesbianism was thought to be an emotional disorder, but not as much of a threat to the safety of humankind, apparently, as male homosexuals.
Yeah, this all came from some research that I was doing for my book yesterday – wondering what my mom and her college classmates at Vassar might have been calling themselves, if indeed they had the courage to speak up about their desires above a whisper. Well, that’s my divergence for the moment.
Back to 2002. The general energies in the universe seemed to be spurring us all towards action, creativity, and living life to the fullest. My kids were growing up funny and smart and strong. Savannah turned 13 that February, and Dakota would be 10 in May – double digits and full speed ahead!
My little theatre company, The Children’s Shakespeare Theatre, performed Macbeth in January – a challenging and exciting production performed in the round with slow motion dance-like battles that took place right beside the audience and made all the actions seem very immediate and terrifying. I was very proud of the show, and the kids were beyond thrilled with the outcome. Due to my Shakespeare and Company training, I now knew many different ways to make a production more complete. We had real steel broadswords for one, which made stage combat more safe, actually, and also more authentic sounding with all the ringing and clanging of metal. I had conceived of this Macbeth meeting not three, but 12 witches, a coven, partly so that almost every girl in the show could play a witch, and also to increase the level of Macbeth’s paranoia. Each witch also played a lord or some other part, but they had elaborate spooky makeup, which they wore throughout, so Macbeth seemingly saw witches everywhere he looked, and we (the audience) could see what he saw. I thought it was an interesting touch.
On the success of this and the past two shows, I was advised to put together a board of directors and start building this little side gig into a viable business. It would have to be such in order to get insurance and solicit donations. And, with the addition of steel broadswords, I suppose we did need insurance, but some part of me wished it could stay a small and intimate collection of playmates, who just wanted to create something exciting together. Over the next couple of decades, I would return again and again to this moment of divergence, and wish nostalgicly for the old days of simplicity, as more and more of the decision-making passed out of my hands.
Let’s face it, insurance is a bane on the world in general. I have felt that deeply in a personal way. It allows a disgusting level of litigiousness, because there’s the feeling that there’s money to be had somehow, from every little injury. People don’t take responsibility for their own stupidity anymore, and as a result, they get careless and reckless and more stupid. Sorry. There’s another one of those side roads.
So, anyway, for better or for worse, just like a marriage, CST became incorporated in March of 2002. And I had pledged to make this new venture work on a larger scale. I was formally awarded a salary of $10,000 a year. Yeah. Did you just choke on your coffee there? Yeah, it was laughable, but beside the point. I was doing it for love. So, you know, money didn’t matter. Hmm. I was gonna learn more about that in the years to come too.
Anyway, this was the first season that we presented two shows and thus we launched right into rehearsals for Much Ado About Nothing right after the applause from Macbeth was dying down. Savannah was starring as Beatrice. She had shown an incredible talent for acting from the start with her portrayal of Puck, and it was hard not to cast her in leads all the time, but she shone no matter where I put her, and she didn’t want the other kids to be jealous.
Meanwhile, the adult company – well, perhaps it was too soon to call them a company, they were more of a motley collective. They were coming along slowly with their various scenes. I was keenly aware that they were all professionals in some other field, and therefore they had big commitments, with work and families, that left them little extra time for leisure projects. You know – I forgot about that little side note that they had asked for this, by the way. But we had doctors, professional classical musicians, architects, writers, and even a couple of professional actors to raise the caliber of the whole attempt. I was a little intimidated, to be honest. So I bent over backwards to accommodate their schedules. This meant that I had some sort of rehearsal most every day between the kids and the adults. Most of the adults were only in one scene, so they could rehearse with just one or maybe two other people. You would think that this made scheduling easy, but no. This was before the days of texting, remember? So everything was arranged via email or phone calls? Remember those? Phone calls? Yeah, how did we all manage without being able to get ahold of each other every single minute of every day?
Anyway, just another little side note here: I’m going to change the names of some of these people, if I bother naming them at all that is, because they are not my family. And you know how the world is. We just talked about that. That said, many of these parents were quickly becoming good friends of mine, as our circles were now interwoven on many points. That’s how it is when you start doing creative projects with people. Art – and particularly theater, I think – leaves you exposed and vulnerable as the artist. When you show others those places in yourself where you feel pain, shame, and even love, and they embrace those parts of you along with the rest of you, you become automatically closer because it feels like you all know each other on a deeper level than just casual friendships. This is why I think I opened a can of worms in a way by throwing them all into scenes together.
Amateur actors are often confusing real life with acting, especially when it comes to love. Look at all the Hollywood couples they get together after filming together. Okay, so nevermind that ‘amateur’ thing I just said. By the way, amateur is a lovely word that comes from the Latin root for love. So an amateur is not a bumbling clod who knows nothing, but rather one who does something for love. We Strange Bedfellows were amateurs, in that best sense.
One of my new Bedfellows buddies was a little zealous in her experimentations with love, shall we say? She was a lively and complex character, married with two kids in my company. And we started hanging out quite a bit. She delighted in hearing about my escapades with Match.com one night stands, which was all I seem to be having these days. (Don’t worry. I’ll tell you more about those in the next few episodes. There are good stories there for sure.) But one day as I was regaling her with another sex-capade – she loved hearing about the sex in particular – she confessed to me that she was having some brief affairs on the side as well. I was shocked, I must say.
Although while single I could understand dating multiple men at once, there was still the side of me that felt that marriage was a commitment of monogamy, a promise based on trust. I know that seems old fashioned, but there it is. I had never cheated on Dave, nor he on me, and therefore our breakup was without that sort of bitter blame at least. I had a couple of newer friends who were suffering badly because their husbands had been having affairs. It’s messy and painful and cruel. If you don’t want to be with someone then tell them, but don’t make another person the foil that destroys your trust. That’s not fair to anyone.
In any case, now that I knew her secret, I became the guardian of it, and she told me all about her secret encounters. She even brought one of them to my mom’s house for one of our family dinners. She claimed he was a ‘friend’ that had just come from Europe on a visit. I was shocked again, because I was the only other one in the room who knew the real state of their relationship. One day she even called me in the morning in tears, and said that she thought she’d met the perfect man who she could really fall in love with. This turned out to be another one of the Bedfellows, a man almost 20 years older than her, with whom I’d cast her in a scene together. This was the first of the actual affairs that I heard about in the Bedfellows, but it wasn’t going to be the last.
I started to get uncomfortable with my role as confidant for these indiscretions. I pittied her husband and her kids. One day, I just came out and asked her why, if she disliked her husband so much she just didn’t get a divorce. She replied, perfectly matter of factly, “Well, because then I’d be you.” Wow. So yeah, more on her later.
As the spring approached, and word of the Bedfellows rehearsals started spreading, more people came out of the woodwork to ask if they could join in the fun. I just kept adding scenes and the show was promising to be quite a lively evening, if we could pull it off. It was at this point that I took a crazy step that changed so many things in big ways. One day, Dave asked me what all this adult acting was all about. He was still in a very dark place, and not really connecting with the larger adult community in the same way that I was. So I ignored that mean little voice inside me that said not to do this, and I asked him if he’d like to come and do a scene in the show. I could not picture him as an actor in any way, because he was essentially shy and self conscious about his voice in public speaking, but I felt that helping him to find joy and community was more important than worrying about his level of talent. So I urged him to join the Bedfellows. After some back and forth, he agreed. Then I had to figure out where to put him where he wouldn’t have too many lines to struggle with, but where he could have maximum fun.
Our friend Mary had also recently asked to join the silliness. So I put them together as Helena and Demetrius in the lovers’ scene from Act Three of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I figured they were friends and therefore there would be a built in comfort level already that would allow them to be a little freer in their expression. I had unconsciously paved the way for two people who had been friends for 18 years, to suddenly see each other in a new light. As other Bedfellows were struggling with newfound strong feelings of attraction for inappropriate people, Dave and Mary, both single, fell in love speaking the 400 year old words of teenage lovers lost in a forest in Athens. I didn’t see any of it, but other friends who were in the scene told me that they watched the whole thing develop right before their eyes.
It was not until after the show closed, that Mary said she wanted to have coffee with me one morning. She came over and we got a couple of cups of coffee and sat down on the couch. And in a very blunt manner she said, “Well, Dave and I are dating.” And I was like… “what?!” I was completely taken aback. Never saw that coming. And I had to be quiet for a moment and not utter the first things that came to my brain because I was like, wait, but you were one of the bridesmaids in my wedding. And I’ve known you forever. And when did this happen? And then as I thought about it more, I realized she was perfect. Perfect for this transition between Dave and me because we had all been friends since the very same moment. We had met in art school. And but for some lightning bolts, perhaps Dave would have fallen in love with her back then. And he had loved her all along as a friend, so this made total sense. Besides which I saw it as an advantage for myself as the third wheel there because she had loved my kids since they were born, and she would be an amazing stepmom, if it came to that. So with all of those thoughts swirling in my head, I nodded and said, “Wow, okay, that’s awesome. And thanks for telling me.”
Yeah, it was awkward and later awesome. And you know I watched it develop, and I’m so grateful for their union. I’ll tell you more about that as we go along. Thank you, thank you, as always, for listening to my crazy rambles. I love you guys. I’ll see you next time.