I think this might be a love story
Once upon a time, I was the faculty liaison for No Shame theater – a monthly late night venue created by college students where groups of (mostly) students could perform five minute pieces without censorship. Almost nobody memorized their lines; people would have scripts in their hands, acting their hearts out. I’d occasionally write a sketch, get some student actors to join me, and perform.
On your way to the classroom where No Shame took place, you passed “The Pit.” This was a recessed lounge area, where writers without actors would meet up with actors without scripts. I was often called to on my way past the Pit – when a writer needed someone to play “Dad” or “Grandpa” or “Loan Officer” or “Elderly Man.” All informal, all cool.
Once upon a time, I had a script, and my student actor cancelled on me, so it was time to go into the Pit. And I said, “I have a role for a woman who can do comedy.” “I can do it, Doug.”
She knew my name and who I was, but I had no memory of seeing her before. She was close to my six feet tall, with broad shoulders and dressed feminine without being girly. She seemed a bit older than the other Pit-dwellers – I figured she must have been a grad student. “I’m Ariel,” she said, just slightly condescendingly. I handed her the script, and said, “You’re Janet. Can we run through it?”
Most people from the Pit didn’t run through their sketches. They’d get the scripts, read through it in their seats before the show, and perform it for the first time on stage. I liked to practice a bit first. Even though No-Shame was a stupid, low-stakes show, it was still a show, and doing well was important to me. So Ariel and I found a place, and we read through the sketch. It was … fine. She would do.
We entered the theater, and she went off to sit with her friends in the front, and I took my spot alone in the back row. Eventually our act was called and we took our scripts with us on stage. And…
She was brilliant. Her comic timing was perfect, her acting was perfect, every facet of her performance was amazing. When I write sketches, they are often inspired by some deep sadness that I deal with by making it into comedy. Nobody notices. But she clearly did – she knew exactly what was happening under the sketch and brought it out. And WE were brilliant. Something in the way she performed my stupid sketch made ME a better actor. It was like a Jacob’s Ladder spark going between our souls.
Five minutes passed. The audience went nuts. We made eye contact. “Good job” said one of us, and she went to sit with her friends in the front, and I walked to my spot alone in the back.
The next month, I didn’t ask anyone I knew to do my sketch with me. I was hoping, not really consciously, but kind of in the soup, I was hoping that she would be there in the Pit. I walked into the Communications Arts Center, and she left the Pit and greeted me at the door. “Hi, Doug. What have you got for me?” Not “Do you have anything?” but “What do you have?” She knew what was going on. I handed her the script, we went to our spot, ran through it twice, mediocrely, and then got on stage and the magic happened again. Just like last time.
I’ve told you everything I know about her. Her name was Ariel, she was tall, and about grad-student age.
Month Three: I walked into the building, she walked right up to me and said the same thing, “Hi, Doug. What have you got for me?” I handed her her script. Then she said, “I have something for you this time.” Her sketch was in a completely different style. It was more like poetry than a Comedy Sketch – more savory than sweet. Artsy. Something you would think she’d want a 20-year-old to perform with her. Someone skinny artistic with a 3 cm ear plug and a goatee. But nope – she wanted Ol Doc Shaw (although she never used my surname) and we ran through both of them in our quiet place. And she went to sit with her friends, I sat in the back, until my sketch came up, and then later when hers did. And we were brilliant. When we did her sketch, I acted in a way I never have before, and I was perfect for the part. We made each other perfect for the part.
And then, in the next month, for the first time, I wrote something specifically for her. It wasn’t ABOUT her – it was actually about my 4 year old daughter, and my fears about her growing up. But on the surface it was a sketch about a Dad and his daughter who had been home for her Freshman Year Thanksgiving break and was packing up to go back to school when her Dad found a baggie of pot in her luggage. Hilarious. And perfect for my sketch soul mate. In my mind I heard her performing the lines, I wondered how she would bring the character to life. Where she would stand, how she would move.
And I walked into the Communication Arts Center and she wasn’t there. One of my good friends and a brilliant actress was in the Pit, and I did the sketch with her instead and it went really well.
I never saw Ariel again.