August 2002 the people at Dobama Theatre were kind enough to let me use their theater on Coventry for a staged reading of a new, autobiographic work I had written about my experience losing our first child to pre-eclampsia and stillbirth. Titled I Hate This (the play without the baby) what the people saw that night wasn't very different from the finished product, with me slouching about the stage tell our story ... I didn't have the piece memorized, there were various music stands about on which to balance the script as necessary. I was even wearing the green sweater.
The audience was invitation-only, but I did invite a lot of people. Friends and family, yes, but also a large number of theater people, writers, actors, directors, producers, from around town. I have never felt the need to create an "event" like this for a new script before, and I probably never will again. I was forgiven for my grandeur, everyone knew what had happened, though sure most didn't know these details, they wanted to support me and my wife, and to be a part of it.
One of the attendants was (then) CPT artistic director Randy Rollison. As it happens, his company was already in discussion to cancel the second half of their previously announced 2002-2003 season because of financial difficulties and to create a plan for the future -- which, for anyone who has been paying attention, was a decision which has worked out for them extremely well -- and was formulating an idea of still satisfying their mission for the rest of the season of providing exciting new work.
Having witnessed this reading, he asked if I wouldn't be interested in participating in a series of new works which they would call "Big Box" which that year meant inviting artists already in process of a new project, giving them a couple hundred bucks and use of the space. I said yes, absolutely.
The final weekend of February 2003, a scant one month from the birth of my first living child, we put this show on its feet. Following each performance we provided a talkback, where the audience would get to ask us very personal questions -- my wife participated in these -- and pop the lock on prenatal demise.
Saturday, March 1, 2003
Sorry the audio is so poor.
The day before the show opened, the Plain Dealer ran a piece by Tony Brown -- a preview piece. The show hadn't opened, so he couldn't review it, but he had read the script and talked to me (I remember the interview, I was on break between classes presenting the residency program at Bay High School, hanging on the phone in the English Lit. office) and produced an article which felt like an actual review. It helped a great deal in getting the word out, and encouraging people to take the risk on seeing the show, and I have always been grateful to him for that.
It also meant that folks heard about the show who do not live here. I received a letter from a man who lives in North Carolina, who had read the piece online, and wanted to thank me for sharing this story which had much in common with his own. He and his ex-wife had lost a boy at 30 weeks. Our sons even shared first names, only he lost his boy in 1987. He told me a story of planning a lunch at his son's grave that last September when he would have been fifteen. At the last minute he impulsively bought a stuffed animal to have a present to leave at the site. (We do those things.)
As he placed the gift on the stone, he thought he heard a fifteen year-old boy say, "Dad! That is such an age-inappropriate gift." It was reading that letter that I understood, maybe for the first time, even after coping with this for almost two years, that it would always be this way. This will never end.
My correspondent did add, however, "Life is good."
My daughter just turned ten. My first-born child will soon be twelve. And life is good.