– Nonfiction by Rainee Angles –
I’m a theatre person. An actor, a designer, a director, but predominately a theatre educator at a rural community college in southern Ohio. When COVID-19 blanketed the planet last March, our theatre company was three weeks to curtain. The world shut down, and theatres went dark. We left everything ready for the next rehearsal … costumes draped on show racks, props on labeled tables backstage, the set meticulously dressed for Act I. One year later, all is the same. It looks like we just left there yesterday, but it has actually been over 365 days. We are waiting for our return, our call time, our “places, please!”
One year later, and I am still reaching and teaching and zooming and emailing from home … but no theatre. I used to teach during the day and rehearse at night … effectively filling my day with busy, busy, busy. But no longer. I finally have some free time on my habitually hustling hands. I have cleaned and renewed. I wrote a play. I learned to play guitar (well, thought about it). I have connected to my teenage son more than ever. Spent some quality time with my husband and other family members in my small, sterilized circle. There is a great deal of positive to come out of navigating a pandemic. But there is also a great deal of anxiety, anger, and sadness. Loneliness. I miss the theatre. I miss my people.
In April of last year, I purchased a treadmill to try to stay in shape since I was no longer running circles around the auditorium. I parked it in the living room, right in front of our flat screen, so I could mindlessly watch television while sweating out my toxic reaction to the shutdown, the slowdown, my showdown with this new existence. I set the goal of walking 10,000 steps a day, and I cued some binge-worthy comedies and dramas to get me through this intermission. I watched almost every series I had not been able to watch over the years … because … you know … rehearsal. One year later, I am running out of options. The only show left in my cue is Grey’s Anatomy. Sixteen seasons of Grey’s Anatomy.
I had been avoiding this series selection for a couple of reasons. First, it is sixteen seasons … and everyone knows we are going to be back in the theatre any minute! I don’t want to start what I can’t finish. Second, it is a medical drama …which is probably very soap-opera-ish, and the theatre snob in me (shame on me) is shunning the genre. I once auditioned for a soap opera, The Bold and the Beautiful. News flash: I was not bold or beautiful enough to land a callback. And many of my theatre peeps teased me about it for days. I am not sure if they were teasing me about actually auditioning for the soap opera or because I did not receive a call back (shame on them).
Anyway, I eventually took the plunge. I am five seasons in … and … wait for it … I love it. I can’t wait to leap on the treadmill and push play. I am connected to the characters. I am invested in their careers, their relationships, their successes, and failures. I find myself repeating cheesy phrases like, “You’re my person” or “I’m dark and twisty.” I laugh out loud. I ugly cry (not recommended at high speeds and inclines). I am at one with this show. Does this make me shallow? Unrefined? Have I finally slipped into a catatonic “telly” coma with no cure? Doctor Grey?
As difficult as it is to admit, I think this show is solid therapy for me. I have been so busy creating cathartic moments for audiences that I have not taken time to actually “feel” my own feelings. Five years ago I was diagnosed with Stage III C breast cancer. I had a lumpectomy, five months of chemo, including one month of the “red death,” a double-mastectomy, and seven weeks of radiation that severely seared my skin … until it fell off. Yet, I kept working. I kept rehearsing. I kept circling that auditorium. And now … now the lovely, fun and quite fictional Izzy Stevens has cancer. And I can’t stop crying. I am experiencing her denial, her anger, her nausea. I embrace the empathy, pathos, and my own cathartic release (Aristotle would be so proud). I mourn for her. I mourn for me and everything I lost: my strength, my hair, my breasts, my time. I didn’t take or make time to do that five years ago.
I’m watching Dr. Bailey cradle a child who only has a few more breaths left in her, and I’m thankful for my son. I haven’t spent much time with him over the years because … you know … rehearsal. But I am now working on that. This year I drive him to school every day and pick him up … those few minutes each day are a gift. A gift from COVID. And I am thankful. I am thankful he is a healthy young man. I am thankful I am still here on this earth to make that drive each day and listen to his summary of the day’s events, or nag him about homework, or share some incredibly awkward, yet satisfying silence. I am thankful for you, little man.
I’m watching doctors and interns and loved ones mourn losses. We have lost a few people this year … over 500,000 in our country alone. Three million worldwide. Colleagues. Family. Friends. Strangers. I attended three funerals but was not able to attend funerals for many more. I am reminded that my first vivid loss was my mother, who was killed by a drunk driver when I was eleven. My fifty-year-old self is reminded that it was a very traumatic event … that my brother and I experienced a horrific trauma at a very young age. And we still mourn her. We still miss her. And that’s okay. It is okay to experience loss and grief and sadness. This has a been a rough year – take the time to feel it.
Grey’s Anatomy might as well be titled Grey’s Humanity. Each time I step on that treadmill and push play, I am reminded of my humanity. For an hour I get a chance to literally walk away from the virus, the science and statistics, the politics and lunatics, the ugly that exists in this world, and I connect to these characters … Big Grey, Little Grey, Christina, George, Izzy, Alex, McSteamy, McDreamy and more … these characters who remind me to feel, to live, to love. As Grey would say, “At the end of the day, when it comes down to it, all we really want is to be close to somebody”. Isn’t that the heart of humanity? COVID robbed us of that. Mourn the loss, and then pull up your big girl panties and prepare to walk another 10,000. This is as close to the theatre and my theatre peeps as I can get right now, and I am going to celebrate all the emotions and memories prompted by this magnetic (and somewhat melodramatic), medical miracle. Because… you know … eventually I will be back in rehearsal.
Quote from Grey’s Anatomy Season 3 Episode 10: “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” 2006.
About the Author – Rainee Angles
Rainee Angles lives in the small town of Hillsboro, Ohio with her thrill seeking husband and son racing team. She wears many hats, but the most prominent are those of mother, wife, director, designer, actor, writer, teacher, and unofficially the best meatloaf maker for miles. Ms. Rainee currently “professes” at Southern State Community College, but has taught both high school and college courses for almost thirty years. Her interests include theatre (of course), dancing, horror films, and eating at remote small town eateries (aka the local dive). Her dream is to someday write a play that eventually makes it to Broadway … even if posthumously.
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