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Weird Name, That - Vernal & Sere

By: Sawyer Estes

In 2015 I was riding the New York City subway back home late one night.

Typical claustrophobia - people flanking me on all sides, that knock-kneed resting position, eyes buried blindly in a book.

I was fairly miserable in the city. Lasted all of ten months. To put it plainly it was my first encounter with an overwhelming alienation -- in my small hometown in Texas I'd pretended it, maybe fancied it, but it was false through and through. Back home I had a name, my neighbors also had a name, and we exchanged these names at the supermarkets, waved hello and goodbye in passing cars, and bought each other drinks at the Sonic Drive-In.

In New York I attempt not to let them knock me as the train rattles on; I avoid eye contact longer than a gasp; I descend further into the book that is Beckett's collected works.

In his short story First Love, a phrase flares like a match. It is before I am ever thinking of leaving New York, before I could fathom living in Atlanta, before I met the creative partners who would change my life, before I knew we'd form a theatre company, before before before. All that.

"Stand Clear of the Closing Doors, Please."

My eyes continue to read Beckett.

"But why these particulars. To put off the evil hour. I saw her face a little clearer, it seemed normal to me, a face like millions of others. The eyes were crooked, but I didn’t know that till later. It looked neither young nor old, the face, as though stranded between the vernal and the sere. Such ambiguity I found difficult to bear, at that period. As to whether it was beautiful, the face, or had once been beautiful, or could conceivably become beautiful, I confess I could form no opinion."

Take a leap forward by seven years and ten productions, and you'll notice how we continue to conceive of shows which put our company in the position of this curious, beleaguered onlooker of Beckett's. It is a strange task, often elusive, and regularly unrewarding - to stare into the face of that which defies classification or strict definition. It is alienating. It is like standing on the ledge of a cliff on tiptoes; you are neither here nor there but might fall at any moment.

I find our best work comes forth from the precariousness of this position. When we enter into a rehearsal process thinking one thing and exit the final curtain realizing how mistaken our old selves proved to be. There is danger there, and the transformation never comes easy. But it sure makes the work come alive.

I often hear cries to explain our work or take a more firm position on things: chants to do a talk-back, make a political statement, stop being so damn ambiguous. This is understandable. It is natural to organize the world and file it neatly away. It keeps us safe, these tidy little binaries -good from bad, beautiful from hideous, happy from sad, life from death, grief from joy, sacred from profane, old from new, life from death, classic from contemporary. The list goes on and on.

But as I look back at these photographs of moments that the team and I have built over these past seven years, I am once again lit with that initial spark the phrase Vernal & Sere put inside of me.

I cannot tell you which are beautiful and which are ugly.

Neither can I tell you which are profane and which are holy.

I do not want to make sense of them or make them make sense.

Like Beckett's figure we simply stand in observance - stricken by the wonder of it all.

"To be a whacher is not a choice. There is nowhere to get away from it, no ledge to climb up to --"

Vernal & Sere Theatre's tenth production is The Glass Essay by Anne Carson.

It opens 09/15 and runs through 10/01.

Tickets are on sale now.

Say cheese.

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