EDITOR'S NOTE: This edition of Square One is by Ashley H. White
Dallas — On Friday night, we open our final show of our first Season, Blood Brothers by Willy Russell. It’s honestly hard to believe, but here we are.
This season was a long time in the making, and in one of our very first Square One Columns, we spoke about finding the right time, taking the time, not rushing into this, and how in 2015, we were told in many different indirect ways that it was not the time, so we held off.
I now believe, more than ever, that 2018 was the exact right time. Not only for the shows, casts, and productions, but because personally, IMPRINT, and the IMPRINT team is what got me through to this point in one of the hardest years of my life.
I’ve always been a fairly private person. A people person, for the most part, yes. But I’m always hesitant to show the real things. The things that aren’t necessarily highlight reel potential… So, this is going to be a bit difficult for me to write, and now is probably a good time for a content warning about illness and loss.
In April, my Mom was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. I was with her when we learned her prognosis. It was during the second week of performances of IMPRINT’s second mainstage show, Murder Ballad.
I remember being completely numb, driving back from Temple, gathering the IMPRINT management team and Joe in a tiny side room at the Margo Jones Theater while the cast was getting into their costumes and the crew was making preparations for the evening show. We sat around a table in that tiny side room and I told my IMPRINT family what I had learned. There were tears, not just mine, there was hand-holding, and there was a unified blanket of love and support.
“I’m going to need you guys.” I said. They all nodded. We had a solemn and somewhat frank conversation about the days and projects coming up—including running two shows at once this summer, and then ultimately finishing our season in October/Now. We spoke about how things may progress and how we can step in to support each other in times of need. At the time, I thought that was going to be one of the hardest days of my life. I’ll always remember it as a particularly difficult one, that’s for sure. But the weeks that followed turned out to prove me wrong again and again.
I won’t go into all of the details of my Mom’s illness here. Honestly, a lot of it is still too fresh for me to contemplate. But what I do want to put down in writing, forever on the internet is this:
My IMPRINT family, the shows we have produced, and this company and season kept me sane, above water, and embraced with love during the past five months. I’ve grown closer with the casts of each show than I ever could have imagined, and the consistent inconsistency of creating kept me both aligned and on my toes in a storm of sadness and worry.
Murder Ballad closed and Mom began treatments.
Her illness progressed very quickly. I wound up working remotely on the majority of pre-production for The Revolutionists and Suckers from the hospital room, where we spent several weeks in June and July.
When I think about that time, I hear the dull hum that only comes with hospital rooms and the smell of the paper masks I had to wear bizarrely juxtaposed with moments of wonderful creation and artistry. My summer was rooted in sadness, but mixed with these small moments of joy and connection through creativity that truly kept me going when there were times it seemed like it was all going to be too much.
I remember walking into the rehearsal room for The Revolutionists to laughter, hugs, joy, and so much love. One particularly hard day, I drove back from Temple just in time to walk into rehearsal, I was tired and emotionally wiped and I sat down, went to grab my script, and a cast member handed me a slice of cake she’d gotten me at Eatzi’s earlier that day. She said she just wanted to bring me something delicious. What she didn’t know was that I hadn’t eaten that day. The stress of the hospital had been too much and I hadn’t had an appetite. I was overwhelmed by this simple and sweet act of kindness. I looked up at her and she squeezed my arm and her small smile told me I didn’t have to use words—she knew. They all knew.
I’ve always believed it, but now I know it for sure—art heals the aching soul. And the connections we make through creating can be stronger and more beautiful than we ever imagined. That slice of cake was decadent and delicious, and that rehearsal room was solace. The moments in that room, in all of the rehearsal rooms I was fortunate enough to work in these past few months, there was incredible beauty in human connection.
Things progressed very quickly after The Revolutionists closed. Mom passed away a few short weeks later, in September. It was during the first week of rehearsals for Blood Brothers. The show that opens Friday.
Grief is indescribable. The closest I’ve ever seen accurately conveyed is in a photo of a sculpture (“Rising Cairn” by Celeste Roberge, in Portland, Maine). It is the shape of a human body, made of wire but it is filled with huge, heavy stones, weighing 4,000 pounds.
I remember feeling like I couldn’t move; like I couldn’t breathe.
Suddenly, the work was too much. The IMPRINT team stepped up and took over. They knew the moments that I needed to continue to be in action to survive, and they knew the exact moment when I needed to stop. And they were there the entire way. And I’ll always be grateful.
I’ve only recently begun to process what these past few months have entailed. It’s all happened so fast. I do know that without IMPRINT, without the casts of each of our shows and all of the others I was involved with (specifically looking at you, Straight), I wouldn’t have been able to survive this impossibly difficult journey. Thank you.
Sometimes people ask (and sometimes I even wonder) why I do this thing. Why do I choose this life in theater? The answer has always been there, but it’s never resonated with me more. I do it to survive. I do it because I can’t not. I do it because it reminds me, even in the hardest and darkest times of my life, that I have somewhere I belong. I do it to live.
Our second season begins in January. It focuses on and is dedicated to strong women, and my Mom was one of the strongest. When we chose it, she hadn’t even been diagnosed yet. I think there is a bit of kismet there, that the universe knew I would need a 2019 celebrating and screaming alongside a group of strong women raising their voices. Hers will be the loudest in my heart.
» Blood Brothers, directed by Joe Messina, runs Oct. 25-Nov. 11 at the Bath House Cultural Center in Dallas.
PREVIOUSLY IN SQUARE ONE
- Septempber: Should We Start a Theater?
- October: Taking the Next Steps
- November: Planning the Season
- December: Finding the Right Space, Part 1