America Day 67 – Altitude

“I’ve brought you some oxygen,” says Colonel Bill. “And some Gatorade.” I barely register. I’m standing for the first time in this 4000 seat auditorium looking out over the rank upon rank of empty chairs, many of which will shortly be occupied by someone in fatigues, watching the five of us throwing energy and words and meaning at each other.

It’s 5.30pm. We go up in an hour. I’ve been awake for 30 minutes after a power nap. I’m a little more nervous than usual here. And now he’s brought some oxygen. Why? Because this huge theatre is at 8,000 – 9,000 feet. Ok, I get breathless skiing sometimes. Every time I’ve ever finished The Cresta Run I’ve been hauling in oxygen as I fumble my helmet off after the finishing banks. But winter-sports don’t necessitate nigh on constant high speed targeted muscular speaking. I think I usually hold my breath and press my body down to the toboggan as I’m riding the ice. I only really learnt about breathing after I stopped doing tobogganing so I guess I’d have to go back to find out. Going back doesn’t appeal as I figure there’s no way on God’s earth I’ll ever come close to my times back then when I deeply cared about a few hundredths of a second, so it’ll both depress me, fuck my handicap and if I try too hard to get back to where I was I’ll probably only lose a few fingers or break my neck.

I can see why he brought us oxygen.

Up until showtime it had been a reasonably unstressful day. I’d been part of a Q&A session with lots of lovely academics asking strange questions about the way in which an actor approaches text. We ate free pizza and we answered as best we could. I found myself rolling out some of the same old stories, some new. Mostly I just let other people talk as the questions didn’t really make enough sense to me to be able to answer them adequately. I reckon about 20 percent of what I said was helpful. There were no ridiculous questions, which was a relief. I don’t think anything will ever top the woman at Steppenwolf who asked “How long was the show?” “Uh… The show you just watched?” “Yeah. How long was it!”

After the questions, Kelly from yesterday took us all on a tour of the campus. We can’t get in the chapel which is the famous bit, because it is being extensively refurbished. They’re taking the whole thing apart and putting it back together. But we get to see the dorms, and some of the other halls. The views are amazing and the sun had just burnt through a low hanging freezing cloud, giving the whole place a fairytale beauty, as ice has momentarily clung to all the trees like cold white winter blossom.


And then I stood in that theatre wondering if I was going to pass out in the middle of a scene.

None of us passed out, and it went down a treat. I probably inhaled twice as often as I would in a normal show, and I reckon I drank two litres of either water or isotonic stuff. I had a few hits of oxygen in the interval as well, although it’s really just a can of air. If you know how to use your lungs it doesn’t add much. I think it’s more for shallow breathers.

I am still loving this final residency. I would never have expected it. The classes looked terrifically difficult on paper, and they are certainly making full use of us being here, but morale is high, as much as anything else because of the astonishing beauty in this gated place.

Author: albarclay

This blog is a work of creative writing. Do not mistake it for truth. All opinions are mine and not that of my numerous employers.

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