I confess: I am a (tempered) Wendy Wasserstein fan. I downloaded the new biography of her within minutes of reading the review. The title is completely off, IMHO, but it is a good read. Why do I care?
As a junior in college (1980), my drinking buddy and I were in the student commons (drinking age being 18 in those days, I was 20) when we saw an auditions sign up sheet for a play I had never heard of: Uncommon Women and Others. Being the feminists we fancied ourselves to be, we gravitated to the title, and in our less than sober state put our names on the slotted list.
Next scene: It is 8:10 the next morning and the phone in my dorm room (yes, that is what we called it back then) is ringing. In a daze, I pick it up. "Where are you?" a young but authoritative voice asks. "Who are you???" I reply. "The Director of Uncommon Women and Others. You signed up for 8:00 audition. You're ten minutes late already!" I soften. "I am so sorry. We thought the title was so cool, we just put our names down for fun. I have never been in a play before. Please accept my apology?" "No. The least you could do is get down here now!!!"
So uncombed (well, I tried, but I have curly hair that gets a little wild), with just a sweater as a wrap (in the middle of a Rochester winter), I stumbled into the audition room. The director turns to his assistant, eyes wide. Not a word is spoken. He hands me a script. I read. At the end he offers a perfunctory "thank you" and out the door embarrassed I go. Never so surprised was I when someone called to say that my name was on the cast list. I was to play Holly ... the character (I would later learn) that most represented the author of the play, Wendy Wasserstein.
So being Holly for three shows was my first and only play. I had one of the best times of my life. Not being of the theatrical crowd, I could stand apart from the competition that often seeps into a small college theater community. Moreover, the character had that kind of relationship with the other characters in the play. Self-deprecating jokes protected her own insecurities and took the edge off of school girl envy. My parents were a bit shocked by the frank if not irreverent discussion of sex, notably when my character compared a diaphragm to a yamaka (they were nominally Catholic, but felt it was disrespectful to the Jewish religion). On closing night we had a fun cast party, and that was the end of my theatrical life. (My children don't buy that notion. By their reactions I suspect they find me theatrical whenever I am with them in public and so much as breath ...)
Why, you ask, is she going on about this memory? A NYT opinion piece by the author of the new biography hits the nail on the head in comparing how her subject operated in the world to how people create online identities.
The poignant recognition is how people "hide in plain sight." The psychological concept of layering personality takes on meaning. To which, as an observer of Internet, I would only add that there is nothing new here under the sun. The Internet only provides us with the opportunity to see it anew, in process and for all the world to see. We are, after all, just players on the stage.
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Anthropology Open Rank (Assistant, Associate, or Professor) of Anthropology in the College of Liberal Arts