As of today, I have now been fully vaccinated for over a month, and, in many ways, it’s everything I expected it to be. A visit from a New York grad school friend spiraled into a spur of the moment road trip, and the slow return of full-fledged in-person theatre has been downright marvelous to behold.
Since I spend so much of the rest of my week toiling alone at a computer, I’ve always had the impulse to jam-pack my weekends with as much running around as I can handle. Of course, my pent-up energy after so much enforced time inside had me even more eager to explore than usual.
After a venture to some Thursday night beach yoga, next up on the agenda was my first outing to Delray Beach’s The Coop Comedy for their monthly Friday night stand up show. Known by day as the Tradition Tattoo parlor, this unconventional venue got us off to a raunchy start even before the show, as we were suggestively told to enter the space through its back door.
The stand-up comics who performed only continued the racy trend with some audaciously hilarious material. But unfortunately for me, my mother took one comedian’s jokes about his mother’s repeated attempts to set him up with dubiously appropriate potential partners as an invitation to let him know that I was single after the show (I promptly scurried away before any further conversation could be had.) And now, probably also unfortunately for me if I make it into her material, she’s thinking of performing her own comedy set at their next weekly open mic!
Then, on Saturday morning, it was off to Bob Carter’s Actor’s Workshop and Repertory Company, my first South Florida theatre home. There, I’d taken some of my first acting classes, nabbed some of my first starring roles, and had my first short plays performed to exhilarating standing O’s. I’d arrived to volunteer at their work party, which they had organized to clean out and rearrange the place as they prepared for their upcoming reopening.
It was great to be able to catch up with some theatre pals who I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic, especially my former director, who expressed interest in considering some of the scripts I’ve been working on for Actor’s Rep’s upcoming season. Exciting stuff!
Then, since I’d already made it most of the way to Clematis Street, I figured that I may as well swing by the Pride on The Block event that was taking place there that afternoon. Though being bisexual hasn’t always felt like a terribly important part of my identity in comparison to say, being on the autism spectrum or a theatre obsessive, I still suppose I had as much right as anyone to join in the celebration at hand. A multi-colored extravaganza of vendors, drag shows, and décor awaited me, as did the opportunity to purchase a wristband that would allow me one drink each at several nearby bars and restaurants.
Some of these cocktails were even themed for the occasion, so a rainbow Bacardi Jell-O shot, smoking mojito, and a glittery prosecco later, I met up with my mother to stop briefly at Rosemary Square and catch a high school friend’s musical performance in the plaza and then grab a greasy dinner at Flanigan’s. Meh, I’ll get back to worrying about calories when I’m done celebrating the end of the apocalypse!
But the next morning, I wasn’t quite so hungover that I couldn’t make my way to my scheduled appointment to donate blood at a mobile center nearby. After having donated a few times before when drives happened to be taking place at my high school or college campuses, I got back in the habit during the pandemic, curious about the results of the free COVID antibody screening offered with each donation and feeling like this, at least, was some small way I could help somebody in such broken times.
Even though I still have quite a fear of needles under most other circumstances, I’ve now learned that the insertion is unlikely to hurt longer than a brief pinch, which doesn’t stop my anxiety from ratcheting up as the moment approaches. This time, they couldn’t find a vein in my left arm even after a bit of digging, which, again, was more unsettling to my squeamishness than actually physically painful. After they gave up, it was all I could do not to run out of the van screaming while I had the chance, but instead, I gamely surrendered my right.
All proceeded smoothly from there. If anything, I stuck it out more so I could look like a good person on social media than to earn my promised gift card reward, but there was, too, a genuine sense of duty that made me stay and force myself through that small conquering of fear. After all, I’d made it through the pandemic not only physically healthy but more or less emotionally intact, so who the hell was Ito not undertake this simple but life-saving good deed?
It was fitting then, that the next stop on my roller-coaster weekend was at a reading of an audio play in development that was about, among other things, a blood drive happening during the pandemic. In Blood Sisters by Andie Arthur, a young woman coming to terms with her own sexuality as she volunteers with dying AIDS victims is eventually inspired to organize a blood drive where lesbians could donate to help their ailing gay “brothers.”
This was the first of two audio plays on the afternoon’s double bill commissioned as a part of FAU’s Theatre Lab’s Fair Play Initiative, which supports stories by LGBTQ playwrights. The second, Versace Era by Juan C. Sanchez, drops in on the South Beach community as they react to the sudden shooting of the titular figure.
Both readings centered on intriguing concepts that were explored with far more nuance, depth, and humor than I would have expected from the relatively early drafts, which talkbacks revealed were written in less than a month. And the look into two of the darker periods of queer history they offered brings me, I suppose, over to a realization about how lucky I am to find myself a part of a world, and of a community, where pride month strikes me more as another excuse to party than as a rebellion against a more conservative mainstream.
A recent article that considered the trajectory of the AIDS epidemic and speculated about the trajectory that COVID-19 would ultimately take also got me thinking about the potentially precarious nature of the relative normalcy I am now privileged enough to be enjoying, as well as the fact that so many of the systemic issues that contributed to the devastating nature of this crisis and ensured that its burden would fall disproportionately on lower-class and minority groups remain unaddressed.
Though the many differences between this pandemic and that one, including COVID’s much greater transmissibility, make any direct comparison short-sighted, the fact that lower vaccination rates among poorer and non-white Americans echo the high rate of new HIV infections in those same demographics is still definitely worth paying attention to.
It also feels like a stark reminder that just because I can now go mostly back to the fun-loving hustle and bustle of my comfortably white and middle class life doesn’t mean that I have any right to turn a blind eye to the large-scale oppressive forces still at work in our deeply flawed society.
When there was nothing else to do anyway, spending afternoons helping distribute groceries at a food drive or walking miles to stand strong for black lives felt more like no-brainers than like sacrifices; but what about when, on any given weekend, there are whirlwinds of carefree adventures to be had?
Theatre and writing are also both such time-consuming and absorbing endeavors that devoting myself to their pursuit often provides an easy excuse not to engage with other worthy causes. And while much of my work is fueled by my desire for social change, does that mean that it’s ok to prioritize it over more direct activism or charity that stands a better chance at helping people in the here and now?
Maybe taking the time to give back is something I’ll have to keep reminding myself of as the darkest days of 2020 slowly begin to recede into the distance. But for now, I’m glad that I at least managed to carve out a few minutes of my Sunday morning to surrender a bit of blood to some worthy recipients. And the fact that this time I finally tested positive for those all-important COVID antibodies, which means that my Moderna vaccine worked as intended, makes me all the more enthusiastic about enjoying all that post-pandemic life has to offer!
Ilana Jael earned her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Sarah Lawrence College and a BA in Writing and Psychology from Florida Atlantic University’s Wilkes Honors College. She also served as co-founder of the student theatre troupe “Theatre in the Raw.” She has been dabbling in both playwriting and acting since high school. A few favorite roles include Rebel in Columbinus (Bob Carter’s Actor’s Rep), The Fearful One in The Cave (G-Star School of The Arts), and Amanda in The Glass Menagerie (Theatre In The Raw). Her one-act plays Goodbye, Karma’s A Bitch, Certainly Not About Him, and Open Heart have also been previously performed at Actor’s Rep and/or at Florida Atlantic University. More recently, Ilana appeared in and created the original musical ZeeZou’s Stardust Extravaganza with Area Stage’s Miami Queer Theatre Collective. Her short plays have been produced virtually by New City Players, Theatre Lab, and Femuscripts. She is also a current company member of New City Players, and you can check out her theatre blog at ilanaintheatreland.com!