Call me dramatic...
Back in January, I found myself in a tornado. Well, more accurately, Dorothy did, but I digress. I auditioned to play the Scarecrow in Don Mueller’s “Wizard of Oz” and, after receiving the role, I was caught in a whirlwind of phenomenal people who, like other actors before them, weakened the hold of my anxieties and insecurities.
Oz was not the first place I encountered Sagebrush Theatre Productions. In fact, I have now been involved with them for nearly two years, and these years have been some of my most cherished so far. In October of 2021, I joined the group for a Hallmark-esque winter play entitled “A Gift to Remember.” “Gifts,” as we called it, was doomed to fail, and was soon replaced by a speakeasy-style escape room.
In January, while I was suffering from COVID-19, then-Sagebrush board president Julie Kokoshka asked me to play a disgraced psychiatrist in Lisa Rowe’s “Psych,” which she planned to direct. I accepted, and by March 18 (opening night), I had fallen in love with the show and established a profound appreciation for the cast and crew who had accompanied me to that point. I walked out of the Strand the following Saturday disappointed it was over but knowing I had learned much from the production.
“Psych” allowed me to channel some of my personal and academic anxiety into something artistic, something I had not done in full since leaving high school amidst the 2020 pandemic. Moreover, it was something to which I could dedicate myself without any reservations. I could finally remove my pants and rant about toilet germs while feeling nothing but euphoria. I realize that is a peculiar, possibly unique sentence, but you kind of had to be there.
After “Psych” came “Dyskolos,” a Greek comedy by Menander. The play is somewhat obscure, and perhaps it is poorly suited to Evanston’s tastes, but it was a joy to perform nonetheless. The production followed my character’s attempt to marry a woman to appease a sadistic god, and a subsequent run-in with her father, the titular “Grouch” or “Curmudgeon,” who wanted to be left to his own devices.
“Dyskolos,” directed by Rebecca Hillstead, was another demonstration of my devotion to performance in spite of better judgment. On opening night, I was tested for COVID, but I thankfully only had a rather unpleasant cold. Not wanting to derail months of hard work, I pushed through the sore throat and, due to some bad landings, I may have set a personal record for consecutively scraped knees and mid-performance blood loss.
Finally, I joined the Oz cast under the direction of Chrystal Dunn. Though it will be my last show in Evanston, this has been my favorite performance yet. I have gotten to know a group of people almost as crazy as me, and I have found every rehearsal quite gratifying. Hopefully my thespian comrades can say the same.
Oz has benefited me as much as, if not more than, my previous Sagebrush productions. It is a musical, so I will be singing in public for the first time in a while; it has made me more comfortable with touch and interaction, which have long been difficult on account of my autism; and it has introduced me to a large group of new people. It has essentially attacked many of my inhibitions at the root.
An activity I blindly joined in high school has led me to discover people who have quickly become some of my favorites. These are people with a host of peculiarities and insecurities, and they display their weirdness with pride. As such, they are easy to talk to and seldom pass judgment about anything. They seem capable of pulling me out of a slump, even on those days I have awoken and decided to flavor my tea with pure, sugar-free cynicism.
They are empathic, fascinating, talented, shameless near caricatures of human beings who shatter the monotony of everyday life. The Sagebrush people are, to summarize, the kind of people I try to emulate.
And so, my recommendation to those Evanstonites interested in acting, lights, sound or other technical work is this: Contact Sagebrush to find a collection of hardworking people willing to abandon the real world for a destination more magnificent. As you get to know them, you will create something unforgettable.
Now, the first week of performances is over and only a few shows remain, so it is with much sorrow that I must soon say…
Goodbye, Oz people.