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Starting a Career and Starting Conversations

Equity in the Arts
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In the following piece Amelia Parenteau, playwright and former Lark apprentice, reflects upon the experience of her first production.   She examines the combination of coincidences, connections, and countless hours of plain old hard work that brought her to this past summer's NYC Fringe Festival and the staging of her contemplative play, LIMINAL.

I spent last weekend with my little brother, a senior and philosophy major at Boston University. He comes to visit me at least twice a year here in New York, and we enjoy long, rambling weekends together where we walk and talk and splurge on our meals. I relish my sisterly duty of rising to the challenge of his endless arguments about every single way we humans haven’t quite figured it out here on earth.

This past weekend, walking down St. Mark’s Place, my brother was stuck on finding the precise word for life’s endless coincidences; or, more specifically, finding the English adjective that encapsulated the idea of “it’s a small world.” (We both agreed that the Germans probably have the right word). He had adopted the word “worldly” to express this sentiment, using as his examples that time he saw a fellow BU student, whom he had just met the prior weekend, on a family vacation in Puerto Rico, or how frequently we bump into people we know on public transportation. What are the chances?

He rejected my suggestions of “coincidental,” “fortuitous,” “fated,” and “circumstantial,” preferring the broader mystery of “worldly.” Lacking a better retort, I dropped it. And yet, now that my brother has returned to Boston, and I have returned to my New York grind, I find myself circling back to the “worldly” idea as I reflect on my experience producing Liminal in the New York International Fringe Festival this past summer.

The development of this play involved quite a few “worldly” coincidences, generated by the beautiful cyclical energy of connections that thrives in this city. For instance, I found the meat of my play’s story after a conversation I had with my dear friend and mentor, Gus Schulenburg, at The Lark’s Season Opener Potluck in 2013, then workshopped it twice at Lark Roundtables, and now here I am, reflecting back on its journey for The Lark’s readership.

Liminal was not only tied to The Lark, but also to the NYC Fringe Festival from its very start. I worked as a Box Office Manager the summer I moved here and started drafting it, spending countless hours between curtain times typing away in the cool basement of Jimmy’s No. 43 on East 7th. I still feel a swell of homecoming every time I pass that bar, even though I doubt any of the same staff still works there.

And then there are my “worldly” people, who happened into my life just at the right moments. My director and good friend, Daniella Caggiano, cast me in Sarah Kane’s Crave in my first month at Sarah Lawrence College. She has been a tremendous mentor all along, passing down her student theater company to me, recommending that I work at the Fringe Festival the summer after I graduated, and now, taking my very first play to its very first production with Bedlam Ensemble. Daniella also hooked me up with the sublet that allowed me to meet Rachael Balcanoff, another good friend and very talented actress, who played the lead in Liminal this summer.

Fortuitous happenstance aside, the true magic of this play came from the generous commitment of our cast in bringing these characters to life. As a privileged, white twenty-something from Connecticut, I was initially quite self-conscious about taking on the voices of characters whose experiences did not reflect my own. Terrified, really, that I would get it wrong and be called out for my ignorance and unwitting prejudice. And yet, with the support of this team of outstanding actors, I found the characters’ individual voices as I saw them take on lives of their own. My actors amplified each line to a funnier, subtler, more nuanced version of what I had written, finding life in the characters that I had hoped was there, but had no proof of until I heard it aloud.

I make theater because I want to help people tell their stories, to represent the voices of the voiceless, and to start conversations that will lead to real social change. I believe in the power of theater, in its communal, creative nature, to help people open their hearts and minds to new perspectives. Several of the characters in Liminal were composites of people that I observed in my first months living in New York City. The homeless character, Charlie, was based on a real man I saw every morning, getting on the A train at 145th Street. We always said hello, and I always wished I had the courage to really talk to him. Writing his life seemed like the next best thing, or at least a step in the right direction towards the adult I was hoping to become.

My time as an apprentice at The Lark taught me about the potential to be found in helping people grow through love, nurturing their individual needs, and creating a truly supportive community. There, I was inspired not only to pursue my own writing, but also to recognize the profound importance in bringing unheard perspectives into the mainstream. I’ve always been idealistic, and The Lark proved that those ideals can manifest themselves in a sustainable business. Hope isn’t reserved for the young and penniless. Only for the worldly.