Joel de la Fuente and Jeanne Sakata –Photo by Lia Chang

In August of 2012, I received an unforgettable letter from my dear friend and HTT collaborator Joel de la Fuente, the incredible actor who was set to perform HOLD THESE TRUTHS’ NYC Off-Broadway premiere with the Epic Theatre Ensemble in the fall.  In preparation for this run, Joel and director Lisa Rothe had the opportunity to workshop the piece with the Chautauqua Theater Company
’s “Chau-Talk-One” Series”; where they would give a free public workshop performance, at the Bratton Theater.

This is truly one of the most beautiful and eloquent letters I have ever received, and I treasure it as a milestone in our  HOLD THESE TRUTHS journey, not just for Joel’s insights about and experiences with HTT, but because of its detailing of the complex, joyful, exasperating, unpredictable, and ultimately huge rewarding experience of one actor’s journey.

I’d love to share it with you now.

August 15, 2012
Greetings Jeanne!

Got back last night from Chautauqua after three plane cancellations in five days, exhausted but so grateful.  Your play continually challenges me, terrifies me, and basically pushes me into a corner so existential and profound, that I must take a deep breath, marshall myself, give over my faith to you, Lisa, and Gordon, welcome the help of anything else in the universe that will listen, and just plow forward, straight ahead, right into, and through, my fears.

What a rush.

There’s nothing better.

I wanted to take a few moments to share some remembrances and thoughts of the past few days.  It’s going to be a bit of a muddle, but as I sit here and see your postings online from all the way in LA, I am reminded that it must have been as strange to you being away from the play as it was for us having you gone.  You were very present, very missed, very appreciated.  I will try and share with you what the experience was like for me and hope this will give you some sense of what the weekend was like.

There had been another “Chau-tauqu-ONE” earlier in the summer, “Damascus,” by the terrific actor, Andy Weems.  It was, by all accounts, quite successful, and from that event, I had certain expectations:  the Bratton Theatre would be populated by about fifty to seventy-five wonderfully committed and engaged theatre-goers, including some of the talented conservatory students, and we would get some nice feedback on what worked and didn’t work.

In the meantime, my own process and preparation were in a strange place.  I had had a week to dust off the lines from the Prototype Production — which, to me, was a luxury of time.  I had focused, disciplined work time, and going into my Thursday travel date, I felt really confident of where I was as I headed off to meet Lisa in Chautauqua.  But Thursday’s flight was canceled, as was my first flight on Friday, and the remainder of that day was spent negotiating the insanity of a crowded, angry airport mob.  Suddenly, two days of rehearsal had been lost, and I was suddenly overcome with anxiety.  In our rehearsal on Saturday, we made great progress, but it felt as if I had no idea what happened between pages 20-35.  At any moment, I would lose my footing and drop lines I had always known, forget where I was in the play, lose focus entirely.  During the run-through for designers on Sunday, I must have called for line 40 times.  During tech on Monday I matched, and perhaps even surpassed, that number.

Throughout this time, we were able to do some wonderful work.  Having Lisa as a colleague, a third eye, a wonderful director, an intuitive empath, is, to me, something as necessary as the written text.  She is able to both embolden me while relaxing me; push me while giving me a sense of personal authority.  So on one hand, Lisa pushed us forward and deeper into your play; while on the other hand, I had this strange new sensation running simultaneously:  my mind felt like it was in brand-new slippery territory.  I’ve never felt so ambushed by the failure of my memory.  It was rock solid one moment, then utterly absent the next.  It was less the fact of this but more the principle of it that made me scared:  who was I that was about to do this play?  I did not know.

None of this mattered Monday night.  The Bratton Theatre did not get the seventy-five people I had hoped for; it got in excess of 250.  The theatre was jam-packed, and a line of people who snaked across and down the sidewalk were turned away.  The seat that was reserved for me in the house had been taken mistakenly — by a critic! — and a self-righteous audience member refused to let me sit in the reserved seat behind it, insisting that it was reserved for friends of the theater.  Resolving this issue drew enough focus around us that five or six people struck up enthusiastic conversations with me about the play, about SVU, about flights to Miami, you name it.  And as I felt my normal stage jitters and my newly-minted terrors I described above, begin to consume me, I found a way to just embrace it, and rather than go around it, do what we had started at the Prototype:  surrender and walk right through it.  I mean, at the end of the day, why not, right?

So when the sound cue began, the house lights faded, the loud thrum of the audience began to subside, and I rose out of my chair to head for the stage, things felt impossibly exhilarating.  In fact, recounting it for you now, I cannot put that feeling I had into words.  Perhaps it is the same sensation as someone about to jump out of an airplane?

And then began this period over the next 90 minutes or so during which I felt both square in the moment and perpetually floating outside myself just over my left shoulder.  I knowingly threw any knowledge I had of my lines into the abyss and trusted that they would be there while I attended to other matters in the present.  I skipped three pages, which I realized only when I went to sit in a chair that had been turned over (and had failed to be righted because I had skipped over that part), I called for line once, which was given to me in rhythm and without a moment’s notice by Lisa.  But even that did not really matter at the time.  There was a single conversation happening, a singular event between your play and two hundred fifty people, a phenomenon that floated in the air in the space between they and I, the utterly unique product of theater; and it was, quite simply, magical.

And when the lights faded after Gordon’s last words…  Jeanne, there was a second of perfect silence before the roar of an applause so organic, it was as if you had written it.  And an entire theater full of people, many of whom were over sixty-five years of age, rose to their feet at once.  They answered your play and they did so definitively, unequivocally.

In the talkback that followed, there were about a third of the people remaining.  The first person said it was the most perfect theatrical experience she had ever been privy to.  Another demanded to know how and when it could go to Broadway.

A soft-spoken handsome woman said she had been worried coming to the play.  She was a Canadian Quaker writing her own piece on what it was to be Quaker, and she was dubious of what she might see.  But when the play began, and her two favorite quotes were spoken on the stage right off the bat, her worries melted.  She regretted the fact that Gordon’s time in Canada was not represented more — she seemed to know –and be the beneficiary of–much of his good work there.

A high school girl raised her hand and in a shy, but insistent, voice confessed that she had known nothing of the internment, and she denounced the school system while praising the theater.  “This is why I love coming to the theater,” she said, and the audience applauded her.

Lisa was stopped on the street later by someone who demanded that she change nothing of what he saw that night.  “I don’t want you to ruin it,” he opined.

The Artistic Director texted me as I boarded my plane home to say that she had been stopped at least a dozen times by Chautauquans walking the grounds, all saying that it was the best thing they had seen in the Bratton Theater.

Forgive the length of this email!  But I do want to thank you again for yet another chapter in such a remarkable journey for me, personally.  I am so grateful that you are entrusting me with your words, and I aspire to serve them to the best of my ability.

Looking forward to the Fall.