We have house cats. House cats use cat pans. Every morning, early enough to see the glory of the rising sun, I leave Conrad to sleep another hour and come downstairs to start my day. At the foot of the stairs I unlatch the gate that keeps the cats from coming up to bounce on our bed, say hello to the sweet beasts, and hope that I can close the gate before one of them sneaks through. Then I head to the laundry room to take care of the cat pan. I will do this again before going to bed; it’s a regular ritual.
In its way, it’s a lot easier than the diaper ritual was. Modern litter makes it easy: shake the pan and the turds rise to the top. I wish our political system were so efficient. Actually, what I really wish is that we had a better turd patrol. These days it looks as if we can clearly see the offending objects but we don’t have an effective scooper. I paid more for mine than for the plastic ones, because the salesperson said, “Get this and it’s the only one you’ll ever have to get.” He was right.
Today we have a cat pan that the founding fathers never envisioned. We do have a scooper, but it is in the hands of those who do not wish to be scooped. Imagine that: “No, go over there and get that one. I’m above the law.” Meanwhile, the level in the pan rises and the stink increases. Would you put up with that?
Day by day the documented events hit the news, and day by day there seems to be nothing to do about it. It seems that we do have a Constitution, or at least we did, and day by day we see violations that would warrant the attention of the law. Nothing happens.
Hey dudes, you must have bought the cheap plastic scoopers that break easily. This pan is overflowing and smelling pretty rank. Could you invest a little more and get something that works?
As of two weeks ago, we’re laying our theatre to rest. This is our curtain call.
Simple reasons: For 46 years, The Independent Eye has been the center of our lives (apart from kids & one another), but it’s no longer functional. We’ll continue to do some performance, but we don’t need the corporate structure to do it; it’ll save Elizabeth a bit of bookkeeping and some kerfuffle when we pass.
Intention is to do some local performing and to undertake a “Bishop & Fuller Final Tour” back East when the plague lifts.
We’ll continue the website, as a rich archive, and the sale of our DVDs. We’ll keep the records worth keeping and try to figure what to do with 20 bins of large puppets. Our lives will be devoted to writing fiction & memoir.
The long chronicle can be skimmed at http://www.independenteye.org/chronicle, along with countless photos, scripts, audio, etc.
Yes, it’s long. We hived off from our first ensemble, Milwaukee’s Theatre X (having migrated from college teaching), in 1974, moved to Chicago, focused heavily on touring. Then to Lancaster PA in 1977, grew roots; uprooted in 1992 to Philadelphia and California in 1999. From Song Stories, Sunshine Blues and Dessie (1974-76) to King Lear and Survival (2017-19), touring has always been our heart (wearing out three Dodge vans, now a Prius), along with collaborations, residencies, running multiple “seasons,” a small bit of freelance work, brief sojourns into the mainstream, and a bunch of public radio. Always doomed or blest to fly under the radar.
Nearly 4,000 performances in 38 states. 104 productions, countless workshops, two children. And the dedication of dozens, hundreds, thousands of actors & artists, trustees & donors, tour hosts & collaborators & media workers, and above all, audiences who must’ve said, “This sounds weird but let’s risk it,” and came to the show.
How do I (we) feel? All sorts of ways. Of course there’s the same grief you’d feel at the passing of a beloved, even though you’ve known from an early age that people die. There’s retroactive pride in the work, and also in living a life so counter to my cautious, guarded temperament. And there’s a sense of “Enough, already!” A completion. We’ve done everything possible to avoid becoming an institution (though I have enormous respect for those who do), and we’ve surely succeeded in that.
I miss directing intensely, and an audience. I miss haggling with Elizabeth over an audio edit at 2 a.m. I have scant hope of our novels gaining traction, though I believe they’re worthy of notice. And I believe in the ocean, its gulls, its smell, its quadraphonic voices, and its endurance.
Let’s talk about Sheba.
Actually, her full name is Sheba Bigbutt. She’s a wine-red 1999 Dodge Maxivan and she brought 1/3 of our worldly possessions out to California when she was a brand-new sparkling baby; the rest of it came in what we called the Rent-O-Saurus. At that time she was the newest incarnation of a line of maxivans that had carried us all over the country from 1972 to the present. Those vans carried actors and kids and lighting equipment and sets and props and coloring books and midnight dreams all over the country. Sheba is the last of the line. In the early 2000’s she carried Conrad and me to the gigs back east that paid our bills; we loved California but couldn’t make a living here.
Eventually we got too embarassed at taking this lady whale to the Safeway and found a cheap little used red Honda CRX we named Rover, and Sheba only hit the road for long-haul gigs. Then, little by little, the long-haul gigs got sparse, and Sheba sat in the driveway, loved but lonely. I’d walk by her and pat her on the nose, but she didn’t get out much. I still have the wine-red curtains we’d put up inside for privacy, but the plywood platform we’d sleep on, elevated above the theatrical gear, is long gone. She’s a big empty shell we stuff with palm fronds and other junk to go to the dump. I still love her and pat her nose.
Well, now she’s got a starring role again. Fire evacuations are a different gig in the era of Covid, and we can’t repeat last year’s luck of finding friends to stay with, cats and all. And there’s always the question of the inevitable but unpredictable earthquake. We thought, after some late-night brainstorms, of equipping Sheba as a refuge. Not to go out on the interstates, heaven forbid, but as a traveling homestead wherever we need to go in an emergency. She’s getting petted and groomed again.
We’re assembling an emergency stash as we did last year, but this time with the goal of taking Sheba and the Prius to somewhere on the coast where we can park and live for maybe two weeks, cats and all. So far we have assembled essentials: our tent camping stuff, an ample supply of water, a big Rubbermaid tub of non-perishable food, and a suitcase with a change of clothes, money, documents, a hand-crank radio, and a pouch waiting for our backup hard disks. The cats have their own suite: two crates, a litter pan, and boxes of food and litter. I’m about to check out shoulder harnesses and leashes, and I’m sure they’ll have their own opinions about those as we try them out in advance.
The new big cooler is waiting for two weeks’ worth of pre-cooked frozen dinners; I’m cooking each night’s meal double or triple and freezing the portions. If we don’t have to evacuate, I’ll have treated myself to a big library of cook-free dinners.
Oddly, this doesn’t feel dire. We’ve always loved our camping trips, the feeling that we can provide for ourselves outside the common norm. Sheba is our beloved companion again, and I swear that when I walk past and pat her nose I can hear her purr.
A weekly view of the world we
wake into every morning.
Books and Media by
Bishop & Fuller
AKEDAH: THE BINDING
a novel of promises broken or kept
a novel of blue-collar ghosts
a novel of puppets & renewal
50 Years in the Making
A Memoir of the Creative Life
35 Snapshots for the Stage
A Novel of Dystopian Optimism
From Inanna to Frankenstein