BWW Blog: Adventure, Contemplation and the First Inklings of TSC
As I approach an anniversary of sorts in the creation of Tennessee Shakespeare Company eight years ago from Massachusetts, I found myself this month getting asked by a number of new audience members during our recent production of The Taming of the Shrew (which I will write about later) how the company was forged.
I never have the same answer for that since it started in different degrees depending on whose kindness I was greeting. But the reality is that in July 2006 I took a few rooms in a 19th century Victorian that had a hot plate and a large bathtub. I wrote poor poetry and short stories for five hours every day, and for the other five hours I studied and wrote the company onto paper.
While this was happening, I wrote about my good friend and me and our boat docked in Boston Harbor: the Pilar II. I was 39 years old, and we were busy taking practice runs up and down the dangerous east coast and repairing engines for a run down to Key West. This was where life was for us at the time.
I wrote the following, which is all true, after a few particular experiences. And though I crafted much of TSC while on the water in that Boston Whaler and though I've made a home of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, it became clear to me that terra firma afforded me the next career move in Memphis:
Portland Fog to Rockport Whales
He was hardly visible from more than 30 feet across the rocking waves, but the Coast Guard skipper calmly yelled that we should give way for a something-or-other passing through momentarily.
Captain Bob and I heard the vessel's fog horn nearing, so we happily idled in the chop.
Our GPS had lost its fix, and I suspected we had been unwittingly circumnavigating the rocky harbor of Portland, Maine, for the past hour. The final hint that we should turn back for safe harbor came when the something-or-other attached to the horn appeared before us, ranging roughly the height of the Boston Hilton. It was a cruise ship from another country and it wasn't stopping for us.
"Captain Dan," Captain Bob yelled, "we have no business being out here right now."
"Captain Bob," I yelled, "we have no business being out anywhere on the sea at any time."
Neither Captain Bob nor I are captains. And though we've discussed it a lot, we've never taken any mariner courses. We have a number of water-proof pamphlets stashed about for ready access aboard our 33-foot Boston Whaler, but when a suffocating fog descends upon you, one of your engines goes out, your satellite goes down, and a moving ship the size of a hotel is bearing down on you, reaching for the nearest helpful literature is low on the priority list.
I only recently learned how to zip up the plastic windows surrounding the pilot's deck. Captain Bob just learned how to dock the vessel into strong prevailing winds. He usually gives the wheel to me in such situations. After all, he bought the boat and has taken pains to outfit it. I take on the responsibility of learning about everything he buys and then teaching him. It works pretty well...except in the fog.
Since we were boys, Captain Bob and I have had a few dreams. We wanted to be train engineers, cross-country truck drivers, garbage collectors, and boat captains. After we read all of Hemingway's works during the 1990s, we narrowed our objective to the seas.
Once Bob made the purchase of the used Conquest with a walk-around bow and a cabin that sleeps several sailors and mermaids, we decided to clear our schedules for a journey down the eastern seaboard to Key West, our home away from home.
Though it may not sound like it, Bob and I are not complete idiots. We've been making a number of practice runs out of Boston Harbor for the past two years, north and south, learning by doing.
Bob and I have been the recipients of some bad luck on land in the past year or so. We have always assumed we were two of the good guys, but clearly we did something terribly wrong along the way. We figured the rest of the year on the seas, alone, would be an ideal time to consider this. Perhaps even chart a new float plan for 2007.
We are both in the middle of our lives, though neither of us thought we'd get here. The last time we made a long journey together was when we were in our 20s on jeeps and motorcycles racing into Yellowstone National Park. At that time, we were into the Beat writers. Bob was Neal Cassady and I was a poor imitation of Kerouac. We took those roles only because I could remember every outrageous thing Bob did, and Bob couldn't.
We didn't die or get arrested on that trip. This has served as encouragement for us in anticipation of our autumn sea voyage. Few friends believe we'll make it south of Long Island. We might not. But that's alright with us. It's always been more about the journey than the destination for Bob and me.
After disregarding our better instinct in Portland, we found ourselves in cloudless sunshine, chased by gamboling dolphins, 18 miles offshore and headed to Africa. I had fallen asleep in the stern and Captain Bob was perched behind the wheel, grinning into the salty breeze, enjoying the view.
We quickly corrected our course and found ourselves led by gentle, surfacing whales into Rockport, Massachusetts, achieving dockage at sunset, high on the pilings beneath the frequently photographed Motif No. 1. And there we slept in the scent of lobster, a full moon rising on still harbor waters, dark rum serving as dinner: two men chasing the dreams of boys.
Next port of call: anchorage off Cape Cod, arming for pirates.