Marissa Skudlarek is at home crafting the Bayeux Tapestry.
It’s not something that we often talk about in public, for fear of seeming frivolous, but in private, most theater-makers have thought long and hard about whether they’d ever consider dating a fellow artist. Pros of dating artists: they’re more likely to understand your struggles and take an interest in your work. Cons of dating artists: they’re likely to be just as busy, overscheduled, and neurotic as you are. Moreover, if they work in the same field as you do—and theater is a notoriously small, incestuous field—they’ll know much of the same gossip, have many of the same friends, and, worst of all, they might be your lover in a personal context but your competitor in a professional one.
For all of these reasons, I decided years ago that I probably didn’t want to date a fellow theater-maker—certainly not a fellow playwright. Instead, for most of this year, I’ve been dating a musician, an upright bassist, named Colin. Jazz is his specialty, but he’ll play other styles of music (classical, country, pop) as needed. He’d always enjoyed theater and, now that he’s dating me, he enjoys having an incentive to see plays more frequently; I’d always enjoyed jazz and, now that I’m dating him, I enjoy having an incentive to appreciate this style of music in more depth.
In addition to all of Colin’s other good qualities, I felt like I’d achieved a “best of both worlds” situation with regards to the dating-another-artist question. It really is nice to be in a relationship with someone who understands the difficulty of working in a professional occupation while pursuing our art in the evenings and weekends. We can encourage each other, celebrate our triumphs, and commiserate about the hardships and indignities that this world foists upon artists. But because we’re not working in the same field, there’s no jealousy or competition. And, though our art keeps us busy, it’s not impossible for us to see each other. Colin typically has one or two jazz gigs a week; I always have writing projects, but those can be squeezed into odd hours. It’s not like I’m an actor, performing in three or four or five shows a week.
But then, in June, we went to see Prelude to a Kiss at the Custom Made Theatre Co. The theater’s artistic director, Brian Katz, was in the audience that night, and I introduced my boyfriend to him. And, as is Colin’s wont whenever he meets someone who might be in a position to hire musicians, he pulled out his business card and said, “If you ever need a bass player…”
And it just so happened that Brian did need a bass player, because he was gearing up to direct Next to Normal as the first show of Custom Made’s 2013-2014 season. Colin was thrilled at the prospect of this job. His apartment is walking distance from Custom Made, and bassists adore scoring gigs that are easy to get to (have you ever considered how cumbersome it is for them to lug their instruments around?). Moreover, for a jazz musician accustomed to cobbling together gigs in random locations, sometimes working with musicians whom he’d never met before, playing in an orchestra pit offers unprecedented stability. Next to Normal is running for seven weeks, four shows a week.
Everything was fantastic! Except for the fact that I was about to become a theater widow.
Are you familiar with this phrase? I’m on a quest to bring it to greater prominence. Even if you’ve never heard it before, you can easily grasp what it means—and our language, or at least the language of people who read this blog, desperately needs a simple way of saying “I never see my partner these days, because he/she is in a play and I’m sitting at home.”
If anything, I’d thought that I’d make Colin a theater widower at some point, if I got one of my full-length plays produced. But life adores its ironic twists; so here I was, a theater widow in spite of my vow not to date a theater-maker.
I’m coming toward the end of my widowhood now, and surviving it better than I had feared, actually. Sure, there’ve been times when Colin hasn’t been able to attend a party with me, or where we’ve had to go a full week without seeing one another. I’ve had a lot of my own projects going on this month, which have kept me busy and prevented me from lamenting my widowhood. But I’ve also had to employ all of my time-management skills and logistical-thinking abilities in order to figure out how to accomplish everything on my to-do list while also managing to see my boyfriend. For instance, last Saturday I volunteered to sell concessions at Next to Normal just so I’d have a guaranteed way of seeing Colin that weekend—and, because I’d already seen the show twice, during the duration of the performance, I sat in the chapel of the Gough Street Playhouse and worked on a play.
Right now, it’s Wednesday night and I’m over at Colin’s place, writing this. When he invited me over, I warned him, “I will definitely need to hunker down on your couch for a solid few hours of writing.”
I just told him that the subject of my column is how he’s made me a theater widow this past month.
“So wait: you’re using time you could have been spending with me to complain about how you’re not spending time with me?” he said.
I had to admit that I am. Such are the contradictions of life as a theater widow—of being one busy artist in a relationship with another one.
Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. You can hear her boyfriend, Colin, play the bass in “Next to Normal,” running at the Custom Made Theatre Co. through October 27. Find out more about Marissa at marissabidilla.blogspot.com or on Twitter @MarissaSkud.