Among the many things I loved about how I spent New Year’s Eve, here’s what I enjoyed the most: Imagining what people from, for instance, Seattle might have to say about it.
“You did what?” I can hear them saying. “No. No. That can’t be right. We’re talking about Spokane, correct?”
Look, I lived in Seattle for 11 years. I am painfully aware of the fact that people in Seattle believe we have no culture whatsoever, outside of gun culture.
Yet I defy anybody in Seattle to have spent a more literary New Year’s Eve than this.
Here’s the scene: Thirty of us were gathered in a stylish loft apartment. The lights dimmed. The music faded out. And the first words spoken were: “ ‘The Real Thing,’ by Tom Stoppard. Act One.”
Then, for the next 2 1/2 hours, we were transported to London and immersed in a story about the BBC, West End plays, cricket bats, London-to-Glasgow trains, war protesters, art, writing and life.
It was a play-reading, in the downtown Spokane loft of Nike Imoru, with a cast of local actors. Most of them are professionals – but none was paid for this. They did it strictly for love, as a New Year’s Eve present for their invited friends.
They called themselves “The Floating Fourth,” because the core group consisted of Imoru, Dawn Taylor Reinhardt, Patrick Treadway and Juan Mas. At one point I remember thinking, “My God, their British accents are amazing.”
And then I realized there was an excellent reason for that. Imoru was born in London and has been a college professor at two British universities. Reinhardt grew up in Manchester, England, and has taught theater around the globe. The rest of the cast – Treadway, Kevin Connell, Victoria Gatts, Dan Anderson and Damon Mentzer – were equally adept with the subtle distinctions between English and Scottish accents, because – well, because they are talented and because they took the time to, for instance, research the way an Englishman would pronounce the name “Procol Harum.”
I was actually part of the cast, in a way. They invited me to be the “narrator,” which meant that I read the stage directions. This was the only part of the play I was qualified to do, since the stage directions required zero in the way of (1) accent, (2) characterization, (3) emoting, and (4) talent.
The experience certainly gave me renewed respect for the work of actors and directors. They did not have to do three intense rehearsals in the weeks before New Year’s Eve – after all, they only had to read it, and only for a roomful of friends and colleagues. But they had no intention of doing a half-baked version.
First of all, they have professional pride. Mas, the director, has been a longtime mainstay of Spokane’s film production company, North by Northwest. He has 28 credits on the Internet Movie Database, ranging from director to writer to production manager. Imoru is a Shakespearean scholar and former Interplayers artistic director. Treadway is one of Spokane’s finest actors and artists. Connell is the principal of Gonzaga Prep and a veteran Shakespearean actor and director. The entire cast has tons of experience onstage and in films.
Mainly, they wanted to immerse themselves fully in Stoppard’s words and ideas. They couldn’t accomplish that without working hard over many hours. Stoppard is among the greatest – and most intellectual – of English playwrights, famous for “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” and “Arcadia.” You might also remember him as the Oscar-winning co-writer of “Shakespeare in Love.”
Maybe this all sounds a little uppity to a Spokane crowd. I confess that some of my Spokane friends ribbed me about it and asked me if I planned to sport a black beret (yes, Ralph Walter, I’m talking about you).
Yet for those of us there, it was exhilarating to escape, just for an evening, into a London salon. When it was over, we walked back out into the Spokane streets, feeling just a little bit more like citizens of the world.