Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Busy World is Hushed - Blog 5 - David Dickinson

This is the final in a series of five by actor David Dickinson - playing Thomas in Actors Theatre's The Busy World is Hushed.

My Father’s Airplane

The airplanes discussed in the play are another personal connection for me to my own father. The fact that we have a British Spitfire on the set with us is really exciting for me. My father was a pilot in WWII and I’ve always been fascinated with WWII vintage airplanes. In fact, growing up I made model airplanes which I hung on the ceiling of my room. My dad flew a P-38 in the south pacific. So I had a model of the P-38 set prominently in my room. I also had a model of a Spitfire. My dad always said it was one of the most respected airplanes among pilots. I also had models of a Japanese zero, an American P-51, B-29 and a B17. All of these were hung together in a huge dogfight in the corners of my room. So to have a Spitfire as the model plane on set made me so happy. When I hold that plane I think of the connection and shared love of those fighter planes I had with my father. I also think about how Thomas’ father’s hands touched that plane. It is a craft. I used to go to the New Mexico State Fair to see the model planes on display. It was always fascination to see the detailed painting on those planes. I would also hand paint the planes that I made and hung in my room.
The respect for the model plane is also very telling for Thomas. Most of the time Thomas is boisterous (as our director has encouraged me to make him) and in the apartment he is like a bull in a china shop. But when Thomas touches the plane, it is the one thing that slows him down and calms him in the play. The display of the plane to Brant is one of the points in the play where Thomas shows his vulnerability voluntarily after telling the story of his father’s death. It is one of my favorite moments in the play.

The Busy World is Hushed - Blog 4 - David Dickinson

This is entry four in a series of five by actor David Dickinson - playing Thomas in Actors Theatre's The Busy World is Hushed.

My Father’s Bible

When I leaf through the bible as Thomas on stage, I see the scriptures and it reminds me of my father’s bible. My dad’s bible was almost like a spiritual glove that had been worn so many times you could see the stains from the oils in his fingers. He used the same bible to write his sermons each week and the markings in the margins and highlighting were all in bright yellow and very neat. He kept it in a case. It is funny, but in our family a bible was a personally symbol: personalized and marked in a way that was unique to them. My parents, my siblings and I all had our own bible. My mother’s bible was always a mess because she would read it in bed and the pages would get all bent and dog-eared. She marked her bible with a ballpoint pen: blue lines everywhere! My dad used a yellow highlighter and was very careful not to bend the edges of the bible. So when I leaf through the bibles on stage all of those connections come to mind.
Finding my fathers’ bibles as Thomas is a seriously meaningful event. To a minister a bible is “The Sword.” I don’t remember where it is, but somewhere the there is a verse that says something like “the word of God is like a two edged sword and cuts to the heart of man.” To a minister who to seminary, a bible is very meaningful. It is customized and personal to help them find the passages that are most meaningful to them. But it also leaves very little gratification in finding answers about personal traits of the man.

When Hannah says it is her markings in the bibles of Thomas’ father, all of that personalization goes away. Once she uses his bibles, the bibles are no longer the pure essence of who Thomas’ father was. It even upsets me, David, to think that my mother would mark in my dad’s bible. It is like marking the most private territory. I’m having a hard time articulating how upsetting the thought of my mother marking my deceased father’s bibles is to me. It would be like tattooing my father’s dead body. While that sounds harsh and a bit morose, that is really how it feels to me. The respect I have for what my father marked is profound to me as a son. And if it were tampered, especially with a BALL POINT PEN, I would feel so much disrespect. This is why the speech Thomas has about 20 different translations of Leviticus is so upsetting to me. Hannah means well, but she just stole any possible feeling of connection Thomas could have with my father.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Busy World is Hushed - Blog 3 - David Dickinson

This is entry three in a series of five by actor David Dickinson - playing Thomas in Actors Theatre's The Busy World is Hushed.

My Father’s “Seminary”

I remember finding one of my father’s notebooks from when he went to Ambassador College in the 1960’s. (This was the closest equivalent for him as a minister trainee in his church as going to seminary for an Episcopal priest.) What struck me about it was that his handwriting was similar to mine. He mixed printing with cursive the way I do. I know the ministers who taught him. I would take some of the same courses 30 years later when I attended the same school in his footsteps. There was fervency in his notes of discovering truth. I could sense that thrill that you have a connection to God through special knowledge… which to me is another seductive trap of religion. A trap that Thomas despises, yet for me and Thomas, seeing that fervency in our fathers is also comforting in some way. Even though you may not agree with what he believed, you understand the excitement of the discovery he was making. I take all these memories of seeing my father’s notes and connect them directly to Thomas

The Busy World is Hushed - Blog 2 - David Dickinson

This is entry two in a series of five by actor David Dickinson - playing Thomas in Actors Theatre's The Busy World is Hushed.

The Absence of a Father
I lost my father when I nineteen. His absence in my life as I went off to college created a huge hole in my life. I’ve had so many questions about life that made me search harder because I didn’t have that male perspective as I went from adolescence to manhood. Multiply that by one-thousand for Thomas. As a son, when you lose your father you think of all the things you never asked. All the stories you know have a dark side to them because you can’t know your father’s perspective. What was my father really like away from home? Did he ever do things that he would be ashamed to tell me? What are the myths of the stories I have been told? Even if he were here, I’m still not sure I would know, but I could at least ask. Something about widowhood makes a woman protect her deceased spouse, especially in front of her children. The funny thing is children can usually feel the truth even if it is not discussed.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Busy World is Hushed - Blog 1 - David Dickinson

This entry is one in a series of five by actor David Dickinson - playing Thomas in Actors Theatre's The Busy World is Hushed.

Being a PK
Most every play I perform in I am able to pull things from my past, but Thomas hit very close to home for me as a character. I share a lot with him, but most especially my experience as a preacher’s kid or “PK.” Just like Thomas, I grew up with parents who read me bible stories. In fact my favorite story was of David and Goliath. I had this little picture book and I can still see the picture of the Philistine giant with the stone in his forehead and David with his sling standing over him. I thought it was just so cool that I was named David too. In the play Thomas says that his mother had him convinced he was the second coming of Christ. I know the feeling. My mother named me David after the king and James, my middle name, after King James of England who had the bible translated into English. At least that’s what I always thought: maybe that’s one of my own myths! Anyway, I guess that everyone’s parents try to make their children feel special. But the feeling of being connected somehow exclusively to a figure in the bible (and especially Christ) is so seductive for a child and a parent. All of us are searching for meaning in our lives and I think that Hannah’s desire to make Thomas her personal savior is a way for her to connect to God. And as a child, being told that you are more special because of knowledge you are given or a spiritual connection to God from your birth is seductive for a young mind because it feels so good and comforting. It also makes you feel different and set apart. In my experience, in this type of a situation religion is twisted so that instead of connecting humans together, it creates that idea of loneliness and separation.

Hannah embraces the idea of loneliness seeing it as a blessing. I have seen that separation in my own life, and I think this is part of the larger conflict between Thomas and Hannah. Thomas has been away from this perspective long enough and is now old enough to form an outside opinion about life. He believes that meaning is here and now: life is to be experienced, in the woods and in the city. Hannah keeps talking about that distant shore as if “real” life is there and not here on earth. Instead earth is only a place for being burnished in pain. From my experience, when a child tries to change the belief of a parent, things usually don’t go so well… I don’t want to ruin any surprises, but Thomas has an uphill battle coming home and he knows it.