— From EF —

Sheba came home this morning . Not the “little Sheba” of the 1950 William Inge play — this is our beloved whale of a Dodge Maxivan, and she had gone across the street to visit the neighbors for the weekend. (We needed every inch of parking space for our Lear previews.)   I can’t tell yet whether she’s sulking.

Her oldest ancestor in this long line of Bishop & Fuller touring vans came into our lives in 1974, when Eli was a toddler and Johanna was still in the making. I remember the first road trip, to Mineral Point, Wisconsin — CB’s mom was visiting for the premiere of our commissioned musical, and she was in a panic that Eli might toddle up to an inner door handle, give a yank, and fall headfirst to his doom on I-94. Nope.

That van took the whole family to blessed semi-rural Pennsylvania, and retired to haul potatoes when we got a new one. The kids had naming rights, so we welcomed Cruisilia Van Vroom into the family and called her home on the road for years. Cruisilia was copper red, and when she retired, the naming mania had faded and her successor was The Blue Van. I got really good at ripping out a van’s interior and customizing for long haul travel, and learned some essential knowledge: don’t install fiberglass insulation while wearing shorts.

Sheba arrived in 1999, as we were leaving Philly for California. She’s burgundy red, and after we finished the first version of Inanna, the burgundy courtship robes the two of us wore became night-time window curtains in the back. Our double sleeping bag was the same color, and we would retire into what resembled a Turkish bordello.

But Sheba gets 15 miles to the gallon, and after three or four years of constant long-haul touring in the early 2000’s, we chose to stay closer to home. Sebastopol, after all, was what we’d been yearning for during our 33 years of exile. A big milestone came about a year ago, when I took out the 4 x 8 plywood platform that had held our foam mattress for many a sweet night on the road.

Last October, long-time friends visited from Hawaii. CB was rambling in Mexico, and I did my solo best to clean up what had become a very trashy front area of the house. The worst offender was a ton of fallen palm fronds.   I just hauled them into a stack and hid them in Sheba, intending to do a dump run soon. They’re still there. I think she’s pissed.

Take heart, Sheba, we’ll take your crud to the dump soon. Our lives suddenly have more space.

— From the Fool —

My grandma would have been mad if she knew I’d grow up to be a Fool. She thought you needed to learn a trade. Barbers must make good money, she thought, and all they had to do was stand there all day. There’d always be a need because people would always grow hair. She stopped saying that when the Hippies came along. They grew hair, but they didn’t go to barbers. Then she started talking undertakers.

She lived by the Bible. Not that she paid much attention to it, except when she had to. When some big question was on the table, like what to name the baby (who turned out to be my dad when he got older), she’d open the Bible and put her finger down somewhere and see what it said. Not so easy, though. First she came up with “Sarah” but decided that God hadn’t noticed the dangle on the baby. She found lots of other names, but they all sounded Jewish. She didn’t know any Jews except Abe Katelman at the hardware store and he always smiled and said hello so she knew he was up to something.

Finally she came across “John” and that sounded American. Turned out my dad hated the name ever since he got to kindergarten and there were two other Johns in his class and he couldn’t keep track of which one he was. I’m a lot like him, I guess.

But my grandma, when the doctor told her she had to have an operation, she took out the Bible and stuck her finger in. She got something about eating no shellfish. She drew a blank on that, so she tried again. Saul smiting the Amalekites didn’t spark any revelations. Nor did the angel opening the seventh seal, At first she thought maybe the seventh seal was her gall bladder and it oughta be opened, and she liked the part about “silence for the space of half an hour,” which seemed restful, but then all hell broke loose and that didn’t sound so good. Finally she hit upon “In the beginning was the Word.” She figured the Word was the doctor’s prescription, so she had the operation and lived longer than she really wanted to.

I tried it once when I was in my teens and I wanted to know if I’d be a great baseball player. But I hit the “begats” and that led to other contemplations.

— From CB —

Sitting this morning in my reading chair, waiting to go out for coffee, I was transfixed by the tree shadows cast against our front window. These days, when almost every waking hour is devoted to work on King Lear, I grasp those moments of sensory pleasure like warm water to cold hands.

Then it occurred to me I was seeing this beauty only because the window was filthy — an effective rear-projection screen but a grim front window. Put on the list to wash windows. And then my brain jumped back to King Lear and the people who come to see it.

They’re looking at shadows on a very dark, mud- and blood-stained window, yet they seem to see something beautiful. After the show, a woman said that at the appearance of Lear holding the dead Cordelia, “I nearly lost it.” She said it as if it were a wondrous thing to feel.

Story-telling can have a therapeutic effect or it can “send messages,” but for me the function is something more irrational. Lear’s story centers on the blindness of power, and we’ve lived for the past 70 years in a world where power can literally destroy humankind, but seeing our Lear isn’t going to change the way somebody votes. A flack for Monsanto or Exxon could come to our show, applaud, and still go back to work on Monday morning.

All I want is simply to implant stories that resonate. Theatre allows you to take dangerous journeys safely — and still keep the snapshots in that album behind your eyes. Lear takes you to a very dark place, and it might lead you to feel a more intense delight in the sun on the calla lilies next morning, but no story comes with a money-back guarantee. Long ago, we received funding to produce a video of a play about a man facing terminal cancer. When the sponsors saw it, they were terribly disturbed: it was “too moving,” quote unquote. We assured them that no suicides would result, as we’d only distribute it to trained professionals (presumably devoid of emotion).

Who knows, maybe they were right. We’ve had many responses from people who’ve found our work inspirational, memorable, impactful, but obviously that’s a self-selected sample. If I were expressing a specific message or point of view or style — if we could “brand” our work — I’d be much better known at the age of 73, but I’d already be dead of boredom.

When, as a freshman at a high school play contest, I saw the third act of Our Town, I suddenly found myself with a free travel pass — travel packages to every corner of the world, the wonders and sewers of Paris, darkest Africa and darkest London, the buffoons and heroes of Classical Greece, the sweet or bitter struggles of homo sapiens and homo stupidus — and I took all those journeys. I wanted to fill myself with the human race. Still do.

So I explore the story, present it with all the skill I can, give it life in those who receive it, and trust that “Truth is beauty, beauty truth,” and that its truth will nourish.


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© Bishop & Fuller 2015

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