The Pursued, the Pursuing, the Busy, the Tired
And so it was on day one of the Playshop when I found myself in that cramped apartment on that boiling morning, frantically attempting to figure out some way to get that colossal curtain in place on the 26th floor before everything began. A graveyard of plastic bags too small to swallow the behemoth surrounded the curtain-maker, who then spotted twine on her desk. Eyes brightening, she swiftly snatched the material and scissors and snipped off two pieces. She, her husband, and I all bent to the ground and bunched together the thick black satin, and she then bound it together, tying it off with a strong bow. Her son—his video game long ago abandoned for the entertainment occurring live in his own living room—watched as I gripped the knot and hauled the curtain over my shoulder. I thanked my fast-thinking vendors, took a deep breath and trudged down the five flights of stairs and out into the oven that was Mott Street.
Strangely, the street was carless (and cab-less), and with no time to spare, I simply marched down the dead center of the road. Regardless of the absence of automobiles, there’s something otherworldly and timeless about that area of Chinatown—the streets curve, there’s hardly a sign in English, street vendors banter with customers across ice counters covered in fresh fish. An old man with a biandan across his shoulders nodded at me in solidarity as he passed; a few rickshaws whizzed by. With each step, the day’s swelter began to overtake me and silently I cursed myself for wearing a black shirt. The black satin curtain on my shoulder seemed to pulsate with the heat . . .
I slogged through the day’s thick humidity, eventually slipping out of the time warp of Chinatown and crossing into a more gentrified corner of SoHo. The sudden change of setting brought back the urgency of my task (not to mention a host of strange looks from the surrounding sophisticated shoppers), and I powered on, my melting mass parting seas of Canal Street tourists. I finally entered our office building on Broadway, looking like I had stepped out of a pool rather than off a street corner. Twenty-six flights up the elevator, and just minutes before the actors arrived, I handed off my haul to a team of men, who, in a few magical moments, sent the curtain soaring up on a golden rod that fastened to the ceiling. Shining in Sisyphean satisfaction (and sweat), I bounded down the stairs just in time to greet actress Carey Mulligan, offering a hand rather than a hug due to my soggy state.
In any job, there are moments that test your will and bring you to your proverbial knees; there may also be sublime moments that thrill you. If the satin beast had challenged me, its perfect counterpoint came exactly a week later, on the last day of the Playshop. For our final day, Baz isolated specific scenes to workshop with the actors, which we staged in various areas of the office. My boss dispatched me to where they were prepping the latest scene, to be a momentary on-set assistant. As I was moving props and clearing the area, Baz turned to me and asked what I was doing.
“Well, put that down,” he said, “and come block out this scene with us.”