“Me, a name I call myself….”

Do you remember The Sound of Music and that pesky song, “Me, a name I call myself…”? Well, I’m a bit worried about that, to be honest.

“This blogging business,” I said anxiously to some friends. “You don’t think that it is a little too much, well…me-me-me-ME?”

“That, dear Janet, is the definition of a blog,” they said.

That’s fine for those who love me, but what about the huddled masses who would rather not. I met a friend at a party last week, and she said I was “a blogger sans peur et sans raproche.” I liked that, because frankly it’s something I don’t hear a lot. As for George Stonyk, Linden House director, he said kindly: “Janet, you are born to blog.” (So now at least I have the title of my upcoming autobiography — “Born to Blog,” by Janet Uren.)

In fact, this conversation made me remember that, though the blog may by definition be a hymn to me-me-me-ME, a play is anything but. A case in point. Imagine if you will, a middle-aged actor. Yes! It’s me-me-me-ME! I am wearing a flowered skirt and a pinkish sweater with tasteful little diamond buttons all down the front. I am clutching a big medieval sword in both hands — it really was a very strange play — and ranting away about the execution of Charles I as I back steadily into the wings. One moment, I’m there in full view, flushed with lunatic fervour. And then I’m gone, leaving George Stonyk to prance around the stage pretending he’s a drum. (If you didn’t see this production, you are probably really regretting it now!)

While Mr. Bardolph prances, Miss Doufet (me-me-me-ME) is effecting what may be the fastest costume changes in theatre history. Fast enough to make my head swim, anyhow. And believe me, this is not the kind of thing you do alone. I had about six seconds to transform myself from a dumpy little lady with big ideas (height somewhat to the south of five feet) into the sombre figure of a masked executioner (seven feet in his stocking feet). In other words: nix to the flowered skirt and diamond buttons and “Hello darkness my old friend.”

Yes, it is dark in the wings — too dark to see the three fairy godmothers, clothed in black from head to foot, who converge on me like a choreographed hurricane. My job is to stand perfectly still, hold out my arms and make no trouble. Someone (it’s Barbara Merriam, stage manager, I believe) takes the sword from my left hand. A big black cloak folds around me back to front (that’s Janet Kiff-Macaluso, assistant stage manager, who is standing behind me). I fumble to get my hands through the slits on either side of the cloak even as a beard on an elastic band slides down over my face (coming from Marlene Spatuk, assistant director, on my right). The beard — which I am now trying to spit out of my mouth — is followed by a mask. And, finally, a big hairy wig is jammed low on my forehead, completely depriving me of sight. The sword is thrust back into my left hand, and Bob’s your uncle!

Released by my keepers, I shoot like a hairy black comet back on stage. George, who is getting tired of being a drum, is glad to see me. The audience, as far as I can tell, is stunned. As for me, I am literally dressed to kill.

You see what I’m getting at? It’s not good to be alone on stage, in the wings or anywhere else. Fellowship, that’s what we need on this long and bumpy road. Merry companions with whom to share triumphs, disasters and the odd stiff drink. Someone to help when you need to spruce up your appearance and have exactly six seconds in which to do it.

I have to admit, I suffer from a little streak of independence… (Did I say “little”?!!) I live alone (although, for many years, there was the single massive exception of Jake the Dawg). I work alone (except for my clients, whose irritating little habits I am prepared to tolerate because they send me cheques from time to time). But I do NOT make theatre alone.

Actors may get a lot of attention — the me-me-me-ME syndrome — but they are only the tiny tip of the iceberg. Nobody would have the courage or indeed the ability to go on stage without the assurance, for example, that Bob McKellar is up there in the lighting booth with an expression of composed intelligence on his face as he contemplates a lighting board that you couldn’t persuade me to touch at gunpoint.

Even writing a blog is not as lonely an act as you might think. The first blog I attempted was an utter failure. I wrote three long paragraphs of unmitigated drivel before I came screeching to a discouraged halt. The problem, I realized, was that I was talking to myself instead of to your average intelligent reader. (No fun talking to yourself: that’s why I have to have a dog in my life.) I hit the delete button and tried again: but this time I imagined that I was writing to amuse my partners in crime — the Linden House gang. It worked. The result is still drivel, but drivel I am proud to share.

The point I am making, not very coherently, is that we are in this adventure together — I and a group of about ten people with similar mental health issues. Nobody makes a play on his or her own, and I don’t want to. We are a band of brothers/sisters, and if I ever give any of my sidekicks cause to leave me, the gods will surely weep for me.

They are all so outrageously competent. Not that I let it get me down, but I am not like that. Just consider last year’s programs. That was the only last-minute job I kept for myself. I had this mad idea that we would be able to recycle programs that people left after every performance on chairs or the floor, thereby saving…what? A few dollars? Anyway, I resolved to harvest the left-overs and print just a few extras every day.

As plans go, it was a non-starter. To begin with, only about three people abandoned their programs on any given night. I don’t know what the others did with theirs. Maybe they ate them during the intermission. But there I was, still stubbornly determined to print the daily quota as we went along. A simple job? I agree. So how did I manage to create a new and different program-related catastrophe on a daily basis. One night I managed to get the whole supply of programs locked away in an office at the theatre. Another day, I forgot to place the order with the printer. The next day I remembered the order but forgot to pick it up. And so it went. (I sometimes wonder if I should try for admission to a sheltered workshop?)

Anyway, I mentioned this story to the gang, by way of indirect praise in my annual closing remarks. This is when I stand on the staircase above my living room and maunder on about the show while those with any kind of instinct for self-preservation shoot off into the kitchen to get another drink, leaving me to persevere with the stragglers.

“The only thing that went wrong with the production,” I announced to said stragglers, “was the programs — coincidentally, the only job I kept in my own hot little hand.” Afterwards, Marlene came up to me with a compassionate air and said: “Janet. Next year, if you like, I’ll look after the programs.” I closed with the offer and grappled her to my soul with hoops of steel. In other words, I said “Yes, please!”

In conclusion, dear reader, if you’re planning to come to Blithe Spirit next fall — and I highly recommend it — feel free to eat your program at intermission. There will be lots more the next night. Because, you see, we are a team, and Marlene is looking after it.

As for me-me-me-ME, I’m sticking to something simple — like acting.