This is the text of the piece I performed at P.S. 122’s “Old School Benefit” last night, as part of P.S.’s RetroFutureSpective Festival. Tomorrow, P.S. 122 will close for renovation.
Hi, I’m Sarah Maxfield. I used to work here. I was a house manager – etc., etc., etc. (Anyone who has ever worked at P.S. knows that whatever your title is, “etc., etc., etc.” is implied and expected.) Back when I was house managing, I used to stand out there (and downstairs) every night taking tickets – or watching some usher take tickets – and nearly every night, at least one person would say to me, “You know, I used to work here.” And, I’d be like, “Awesome.… enjoy the show…” But now I get it:
I used to work here.
Standing there, I saw David Rousseve shape-shift. Standing there, I saw Julie Atlas Muz drink a glass of water… and then re-fill it. Standing there, I tried – naively – once – to prevent Salley May from bringing her dog Phantom into the theater. I learned.
Standing over there, I waited until the very last second before turning off the air conditioner. Sitting there, I watched the back of Lou Reed’s head, as we both listened to Antony and the Johnsons. Sitting there, I saw Tory Vazquez turn ordinary ketchup into grotesque blood-sport. I experienced the Wonder Twins in “Sparklevision.” I was introduced to Jim Neu, John Kelly, and Kenny Angel.
Sitting there, I got yelled at by Penny Arcade. (I wasn’t the only one – we had flipped the house.) Sitting there, more recently, I saw Ishmael Houston-Jones lick this floor. Downstairs, I watched in awe and admiration as Karen Finely, from the stage, threw someone out of the theater for an offending cell phone ring. Downstairs, I saw Will Power transform himself into an entire cast – a jazz band, a pick-up basketball game. Downstairs, I watched over the audience’s shoes – including Baryshnikov’s white sneakers – during Sarah Michelson’s Group Experience.
Downstairs, I folded programs with Carsin and Chris Brodeur, and countless other volunteers, ushers, and squatters-turned-audience-members. Downstairs, I met Ethyl Eichelberger. Ethyl died before I moved to New York. Downstairs, I met Ethyl Eichelberger.
Standing here, I introduced hundreds, if not thousands, of shows for audiences just like you, informing them about running times and fire exits – including the one behind me which will lead you to the courtyard that used to be run by the day care, and in which you will actually be trapped and die in the event of an emergency, UNLESS, someone remembers to bring the key to the padlock.
Standing here, I performed alone onstage for the first time in New York City. Standing here, I feel compelled to chain myself to one of these columns to protect this room with my body the way an environmentalist might strap herself to a tree to protest the logging industry.
I feel this, but I am not doing that.
I’m not doing it because I don’t think it will work. Instead, I’m going to try something, a little more subtle. I’m going to try to protect this room with your mind.
Look at this room. Feel your feet on the risers. Notice that pain in your back you’ve been ignoring as you shift uncomfortably in your metal stack-chair. Look at the ceiling. Imagine and remember the designers, technicians, interns who have hung hot metal from this grid. Sometimes at 4 in the morning. Often with no sleep. And always with lots of beer. They are still here. In this room.
Behind this curtain there is a dressing room. Imagine and remember the bodies, naked, changing, staying the same, seen and unseen. They are still here. In this room.
Look at these columns. Imagine and remember them brilliantly transformed into scenic elements. Imagine and remember them not-so-brilliantly transformed – ignored, in the way, crashed-into. They are still here. In this room.
Listen to the street. Imagine and remember the sirens, the shouting, the laughter, the moments of eerie quiet. They are still here. In this room.
Look at this floor. Imagine and remember the bodies that have tread this floor. Human. Canine. Feline. Goat. Imagine and remember them dancing on this floor, singing on this floor, shouting on this floor, sleeping on this floor – shedding hair, shedding skin, peeing on this floor, bleeding on this floor, living and dying on this floor. They are still here. In this room.
[Answering machine tape plays:] It’s Ed calling, and… uh…the gig is definitely canceled for this weekend. Um, as it was explained to me, on a message I found on my machine, um, uh, the show that goes up Friday and Saturday before Hot Keys, features a lot of men going into trances, slicing themselves and spilling their blood around the stage, and as it turns out, a lot of the people involved in this are HIV-positive, and, um, there was this concern from the people doing the show that this would not be a safe environment to put actors in, having the tainted blood around the stage. So, that’s why they canceled. Anyway, thanks very much for your help last night, and um-um-um-um-um, I hope your gig goes well, and I think we’re going to do it again in the fall, uh do it for the first time, in the fall – sometime when Hot Keys goes back up. So, anyway, um, that’s the poop, and I’ll speak with you later. Bye-bye.
In this room, I once got into a whisper-fight with Clyde Valentine during the first Hip Hop Theater Festival. Danny Hoch was performing Jails, Hospitals, and Hip-Hop. It was the last show, and we were already over capacity, and Clyde just continued to bring people in by the dozens. I whisper-shouted something at him about fire codes and sight-lines, and he said to me, “Sarah, they just want to be in the room. They need to be in the room.”
Look at these walls. These walls that contain the risers, the ceiling, the dressing room, the columns, the floor, the windows that let in the street. Expand your mind to meet these walls. Take this room into your mind. Keep going, and collect the first floor theater, the dressing room, the secret stairwell, the bathroom, the “lobby,” the box office, the basement (which is off-limits to your body, but not to your mind), the upper floors.
Take this building into your mind. Keep it.
We are still here. In this room. We are this room. This room is us.
P.S. 122 is dead. Long live P.S. 122.