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  • Writer's pictureJess Hutchinson

How to Begin Again. Again.

Updated: Jul 11, 2018

Originally published:

For the past five years, the idea of renewal has lived at the front of my awareness.  Until last month, I was the artistic director of a theatre company in Chicago made up of and privileged to work with the boldest, smartest, most passionate and compassionate artists that I have ever known.  Here's the sign out front of our space for last play we did together.

VOX PANDORA by Bilal Dardai

At New Leaf, we always said that the path to renewal was rarely the path of least resistance.  We put it in all the grants - renewal does not guarantee a happy ending; rather it offers the possibility of a new beginning.  Sometimes you have to go through a dark tunnel - a sleepless night, an impossible challenge, a test, a gauntlet - to find the light.

I can't call the ending of New Leaf happy.  Even though I am as proud of Arcadia as I have ever been of anything. Even though it feels like that production was exactly what we meant and exactly how I hoped we'd make that play.  Even though that production feels like the best I can do with the skills I have now.  Even though lots of people have said really nice things about it.  I would call this a successful ending, but I was - and am - far from happy about it.  I already miss those people. A lot. And I'm about to miss them even more.

In about a month, I'm going to put everything I own in a truck and drive that truck to Austin, Texas.  I will put all of the things I put in the truck into an apartment I have never seen.  Three days later, I will start orientation, and nine days after that, I will begin classes and the official pursuit of my MFA.  This is something I've wanted to do for a very long time.

But renewal - the possibility for a new beginning - is really hard.  It's awesome and exciting, going off into the unknown with a truck full of stuff and three cats and an inexplicably game for whatever comes next boyfriend.  That's all awesome.  But there's also walking out of the LPCC with a box of props for the last time.  There's pulling old show photos off the wall.  There's the image of our brilliant lighting designer on a naked stage.

There's packing.  There's saying goodbye to the people here I think of as family. There's the last train ride across the bridge into the Loop - you know that view, right? When the sun makes the river and the buildings and the whole city shimmer?  Yeah. That one. For the last time. That's coming.  And all of that has to come before the renewal really starts.  It's part of the package.

I can't wait to go to Texas.  I can't bear to leave Chicago.  I can't wait to work with new collaborators, learn new methods, establish new partnerships.  I can't bear the thought of not being in the rehearsal room with Nick, Jared, Michelle, Marni, Eleanor, and Marsha again.  I am so excited to put all my things in my new apartment.  I hate packing. So much. I will watch nine episodes of How I Met Your Mother IN A ROW to avoid packing. I did it last weekend.

So, the thing we never put in the grants about renewal: I think this is all part of it.  It's not just about going through the darkness until you find the light.  It's also about holding all these contradictions at the same time.  It's about being afraid of what you're leaving and being excited about what you're going to.

I recently saw a friend from middle school who was lovely enough to fly to Chicago from Washington DC to see Arcadia (can you believe that? I couldn't either. but he's lovely. and he did that).  Like me, he was an Air Force kid and like me he moved around. A lot. And he articulated something that I have been circling around for years.  In the pre-internet days of our continual placement and displacement, keeping in contact with our friends was most often an exercise in best intentions that became subsumed in the necessary re-orientation of our new place.  I think he and I sent each other maybe two letters once we both left California.  And we were really good pals.  But, the thing he articulated was that once we moved, it was like everything that happened in the old place was deleted, written over by new social orders, new rules of the road for the new environment.  Connecting with him again, having a beer and talking about middle school, we both remember flashes - different ones - of moments that built, in various ways, the people we are today.  But it's all misty.  And not just because it was longer ago than I think either of us care to mention.

Renewal demands we make space for it.  This new adventure is demanding I make space for it.  The end of New Leaf makes space in each of the ensemble's lives and in the Chicago theatre community for the next adventure.   But here's the thing I'm trying to grapple with - maybe we can make space without deleting.  There's the internet.  There's an archive of New Leaf's work.  There are airplanes.  There's Skype and blogs and phones. And just like we baked the shows at New Leaf into the oak-panelled walls during rehearsal, that thirst for renewal and the value of collaboration and the love I have for the artists I learned from is baked into who I am as a director and as a person.  I don't think I could delete those things, even if I wanted to.  

The first thing I will learn in graduate school is something I have learned before and something I will be learning forever.  How to begin again.  Again.


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