Misfits don't fit in. Except where they do. Like, in Salem's theatre community.
There was a lot to like about today's City Club program, "On Stage: Salem's Vibrant Theater Community." But what I'm going to focus on is one thing Lisa Joyce, executive director of Pentacle Theatre, said.
She told us that misfits find a home in theatre, because everyone is welcome there.
I absolutely loved those words. And now, having written that five word sentence, I'm having trouble explaining why. So for the moment I'm going to take a detour around my personal feeling about misfits and return to it later in this blog post.
Elsewhere in her presentation -- Jay Gipson-King of the Chemeketa Community College theatre program and Vincenzo Meduri of Enlightened Theatrics also spoke -- Joyce talked about how Pentacle Theatre had put on some plays that explored LGBTQ themes.
She noted that some audience members had expressed concern about those gay-friendly performances. I was curious about this, so spoke with her after the City Club program concluded.
Joyce told me that it seemed to be a generational thing. Meaning, it was a few older Pentacle Theatre attendees who felt it wasn't right to present homosexuality as acceptable, since they apparently thought this was an unnatural "lifestyle choice." Which, of course, it isn't.
Young people, she said, have a different attitude toward LGBTQ people. And the theatre community, she added, is a haven for gays. So that was one aspect of what she meant by misfits.
Salem, along with American culture in general, has a way to go before all forms of gender and sexual identity are accepted fully. Narrow-minded churches are partly to blame, since gay youth are told that they are sinners bound for hell if they don't change to become god-fearing heterosexuals.
Which is impossible. Even for an accomplished actor. Life isn't a play. We can temporarily embrace a role for a theatrical production. But we can't change the essence of who we are.
So it's fitting that Salem's theatre community embraces misfits. Joyce, Gipson-King, and Meduri all talked about how being part of a theatrical production has so many wonderful benefits.
Being part of a diverse team. Trusting yourself and others. Being fully present in the moment. Embracing difficult emotions. Understanding that there are no stars, just different people doing a wide variety of essential jobs -- acting, directing, set design, costume design, lighting, sound, makeup, ushering, marketing, and so much more.
But back to misfits.
I don't know what it is about that word, misfits. Every time I've typed it, I've felt something well up inside of me, a strong emotion that defies easy expression.
Well, Lisa Joyce spoke to me about how being part of a theatrical community has helped LGBTQ people come out as who they are, rather than disguising themselves behind a facade of societal normality. So maybe if I simply let words spill out of me right now, they'll say something authentic about my own sense of being a misfit.
Which goes way back, as strong feelings often do. Understand: I'm not equating my life with that of a gay person, or a person of color, or an otherwise marginalized person. I'm an old white heterosexual guy, with all that entails.
However, I was raised by a divorced alcoholic woman, my mother. It was tough, especially in my teenage years, when her alcoholism took a turn for the worse. I felt different inside, like I was a stranger in a strange land of children who had two more-or-less normal parents.
So that was my first taste of feeling like a misfit. I'll skip ahead fifty years or so to right now.
Where, just as in my high school years, I appear normal on the outside, but feel like a misfit on the inside. Why? Because a bit over two and a half years ago my bladder decided to go on strike, for reasons that aren't exactly clear -- but the result is: having to, as the saying goes, pee in a "differently abled" way.
Namely, by using a catheter, a plastic tube thing that I insert into my urethra five times a day. (I've written about my condition so rarely, I couldn't even spell "urethra" correctly at first.)
This isn't something that I feel comfortable talking to people about.
At first I was clinically depressed, even somewhat suicidal, after learning that I'd have to do the catheter thing for the rest of my life. Since, I've written a few blog posts about my bladder problem, but by and large only my wife knows about the many struggles I've gone through.
So I feel like a misfit, even though my rational mind says things to me like, "Many people have worse medical problems" and "You should feel lucky that you're otherwise healthy."
Still, I feel like I don't fit in the big wide world of people who can go into a restroom at a restaurant, movie theatre, or wherever without it being an adventure (sometimes it is difficult for me to insert a catheter, a problem common to many men who have to use one).
Thus I avoid lengthy meetings, movies, gatherings, and, yes, theatrical productions, where I feel trapped by the uncertainty of not knowing whether a bathroom visit is going to have a happy or disturbing ending.
Anyway, I've explained a bit about why that word "misfit" resonated so deeply with me when I heard it today. I know what it is like to outwardly look like one sort of person, and to inwardly feel like another sort of person.
Of course, I believe that all of us, at least at one time or another, feel like we don't fit in.
My bladder problem just has given me a much better appreciation of what it is like to have a permanent attribute of one's self that isn't easily shared with other people. So when Joyce spoke about the theatre community welcoming misfits, I immediately resonated with her words.
Misfits of the world, may we all live long and prosper. And look forward to a day when that word falls into disuse, because everyone is viewed as fitting in.