My second interview as a playwriting candidate at the Soulpepper Academy is a fantastic disaster.
The morning of the interview, I decide to walk to the theatre.
Soulpepper Theatre resides at The Young Centre For The Performing Arts in Toronto’s distillery district which is a charming pocket of niche commerce that happens to be located within a less-charming overall area of Toronto’s East End.
I should not have walked to The Distillery before my interview.
Whenever I feel anxious about going anywhere, I walk.
Subconsciously, the walks are just pockets of time where I can slip into anxious delusion and converse with myself. Out loud. About anything.
As I talk, I am trying to prepare.
But, I am unfamiliar with the East end of Toronto and the neighbourhoods steal my attention.
My anxiety blossoms as I keep my curly doll head down in fear and compassion for the local social ecology of need.
I will not be prepared for this interview.
If you recall, I wasn’t prepared for first interview.
This time, I feel like I have studied.
I’ve rehearsed. When Guillermo, the scary playwright interviewer, mentions Mamet I should be right there with my opinion, I love Mamet for his rhythms, for the magnetism between his characters, for his undeniably American use of combative discourse to bring to light, however problematically, issues of gender, race and class and I know that because one time at Soulpepper I saw American Buffalo blah blah blah blah blah art discussion, ass kiss blah let me into your school/club blah blah.
I did study. A little. Not really. Mostly all I have done is repeat the same three answers to myself, over and over and over again.
Anxiety distances us from reality. It keeps from working, from getting through things, from saying “I don’t really know if I can do this but fuck it let’s go, let’s try.”
I did not do that.
I read the words “second interview” in an email and I think “this must be a mistake” I think “I can’t do this” I think of writing back “It’s ok, you don’t have to do that, but thanks”.
I have to jump in.
But I don’t.
I get to the theatre. I recognize the same lobby cafeteria (and need I mention again that I hate cafeterias). A floating staircase, winding down the centre of the atmosphere and landing right in the middle of everything indicates that where YOU are standing as YOU walk in to the Young Centre is just the receiving ground of something more divine.
I tell the box office that I am here for a playwriting interview.
Soon a woman comes down the stairs and says hi, follow me.
I follow her up the stairs.
From the lobby, I would think that whoever climbs these stairs would be floating but I am not floating, I cannot float because eight-balls are pumping through my veins, dark, heavy and terminable.
She tells me to sit in one of the chairs by a door marked “library” and she asks, as if I truly am just here because once in a while they need people to be here, she asks me if, when I go in, can I give Albert his lunch.
I don’t remember being told who will be interviewing me but I remember knowing that Albert Schultz is their artistic director of Soulpepper and he’s someone who people talk about.
I look at this woman and I don’t know if she suddenly notices that I am sweating or if I am starting to cry but she says “never mind” and walks away.
A few moments later, a young man walks out of the room with a back pack and makes his way down the stairs.
I start preparing answers in my head. How am I? Good. That’s all I can think of.
Cool, I have no answers.
I start having a conversation with myself about how I have no answers. The conversation turns into an interview: Are you thinking of leaving? Why? Where will you go? Where will you be drinking after this interview? What will you drink? How fucked up will you get?
The door opens.
“hi there, I am Albert, come on in”
A big smile. A big man.
I have heard of him before but never anything about how familiar he would look, perhaps because he is definitively “a white man in charge”, decorated with loosely textured lazy moss hair, lining even his neck.
No awkward pause, straight away, “Someone is looking for you,” I blurt in the face of uncomfortable authority.
“For me?” He answers me with exaggerated gesture, as if we are on a publicly broadcasted children’s show.
“Someone is looking for you.”
He should laugh. I am a creep.
“She has your lunch,” I finally say.
The woman shows up and hands him a bag, she then says, “I was trying to get her to hand it to you but she was too shy.:”
And they laugh.
Albert says to “come on in”.
Two other men are in the room. Guillermo and an old white guy. Albert explains to me that the old white guy is a very credible designer.
I have no idea why I am being interviewed by a designer. I hope he doesn’t speak.
Albert tells the other men the story about me being too shy to deliver his lunch and they all laugh and it makes me re-evaluate everything about myself, my looks, my voice, my intelligence, what is it about me that is so laughable, that is so unimpressive that, when I show up for a seemingly important interview, instead of being offered anything at all for my comfort, I am being asked to participant in a secretarial chore?
I am sitting in a coat with a bag and I am very warm and I suddenly have how to put my things aside.
“You can put your things anywhere.”
I oblige in slow motion.
Albert is clearly in command of this room. Guillermo is basically staring after the table and the old white guy is smiling at me.
“So, how are you?”
I forget my answer.
I start interviewing myself in my head again. “Why aren’t you answering him? Don’t you want to get into this school? Why do you want to get into this school?”
I am now in two interviews at once: One with a panel of three men, and one with my anxious insides.
My brain is on overload.
I am panicked and when the brain panics, the body panics. I need to leave but I am not leaving and so a film of pain starts winding itself around my heart.
They ask me questions and I answer as quickly as I can, about where I see myself in a matter of years, what I want to get out of an arts training program.
I give them the right answers that have nothing to do with me.
I am stuttering. My pulse is hammering the back of my throat, every word must sound undulated, I must be vibrating.
I am deafened by my own heartbeat, putting effort into controlling my volume for fear that I will be in a tiny room with three men and yelling at them uncontrollably.
My head has stopped interviewing me. She doesn’t need answers anymore. She has read the room and she knows: We need to leave.
Albert Schultz says that I am the age and “just life stage” that they are looking for. He then says to me, “ok, now what we want you to do is pick a play, any play, from the twentieth century. And make sure its something you connect to, something you know really well.”
I don’t know.
Heat, every part of me is heat, I want to yell “EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE”, but instead I say “any play?”
Schultz says, “Any play, it can be a play from, you know, more recent, whatever.”
Pens start stabbing my brain in a million little places and the lights flicker and Guillermo turns into a beam of grey nothing and the old white guy’s lips are cracking and Shultz has his chin down, his eyes wide, he needs an answer.
OH NO OH NO OH NO OH NO
First of all, that is not a twentieth century play.
Second of all, I have read Oedipus at least six times and I still can’t remember exactly what happens and in what order.
Schultz says “That’ll work. Oedipus by So……”
“Sophocles”, I guess.
There is sand in my mouth. My cheeks are gone. My tongue is numb.
This is it: The brain panics, the body panics, the soul is choking itself, desperately trying to die.
My brain is shouting STOP TALKING and my mouth responds by becoming an Egyptian tomb.
The ask me why Oedipus is still a relevant play, to this day.
And I say, unforgettably, “Because it’s still true.”
I cannot remember the events of Oedipus. I wouldn’t remember on a good day and now I have challenged myself to remember on a day where ease isn’t even eventual.
The old white guy, who to me is now just a beam of light with a white haired head, says, “what is still true?”
I say, “the things that happen.”
Old guys says, “But what happens? You have to say what happens.”
I answer the remainder of their questions with exhales, allowing the old guy to launch into a lecture of how I must know the depth of material I am describing if I want to insist that it is true. I exhale dead air and nod, I exhale dead air and nod, I exhale dead air and nod, thinking how the hell am I going to get down those stairs.
How do I get out of here?
My coat is beside me. My head is turned and I am staring at it.
There is strain around my neck and around the corners of my eyes, I need to cry so badly, I need to burst but I can’t and so tightness in the head, neck, chest and shoulders accumulates until I am sure I look like a freshly sprouted tomato, the kind that just fell from the vine.
“Well, thank you,” says Shultz.
I race out of the Distillery District, walk up to Front St.
I sit on a bench in front of a church and I smoke, surrounded by the people I’m afraid of.
I smoke more. And more.
I walk home.
Two weeks later, I am directing an absurdist play, I am in rehearsal when I get a phone call from a Montreal phone number.
For some reason, I pick up.
“Rachel, this is Brian Drader from the National Theatre School, we read your application and we’d like to invite you down to Montreal for an interview, what do you say?”
I reply, “What?”
Brian repeats himself. He’s going to send me more information.