I had a performer’s dream the other night. I was in a play, nodding off in my dressing room during a long offstage hiatus. I heard lines on the performance intercom and bolted up, realizing I had little time to get dressed and ready for my next entrance. I threw on my suit and rushed upstairs to the backstage holding area, trying to focus, dislodge everything from my life, and think only of the upcoming scene and the creative work ahead of me.
I woke up. Yet another actor’s nightmare. They come almost nightly. It’s stressful, but then I get to decipher the dreams. They tell me how and what I am thinking. My dream maker is rarely literal — there’s metaphor and hidden meanings. Reviewing this dream, I realized it was a response to living on the Outer Cape in March.
All of us are waking up from the slumber of January and February, which I call the sled-dog days of winter. Before moving here, I had an image of winter on the Outer Cape like the cartoon of a man or a couple on a tiny island with one palm tree. Now that I’ve done a bunch of winters here, I know that we’re not so stranded. There is plenty of life, creativity, and energy. Yes, there are those cheaters who head for the Caribbean and Mexico, but the true Cape Codder slugs it out. Many say this is their favorite time of year.
But even in this mild winter, I struggle in the cold. Living in L.A., I basked in the year-round warmth. New England friends there would say they missed the seasons. “Not I,” I said.
Now I see their point. Seasons define our lives. It is similar in drama. A play has to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. The audience must have a journey. Life is a journey as well.
So, it’s March and I’m waking up. In his novel A Single Man, Christopher Isherwood says waking up begins with saying am and now. The cerebral cortex — that grim disciplinarian — has taken its place at the controls and is testing them. The legs stretch, the lower back is arched, and the fingers clench and relax. And now over the internal communication system is issued the first order of the day: Up.
The Outer Cape is waking up. The hotels and restaurants are stirring. This newspaper published a two-page “Late Winter Outer Cape Dining Guide” telling us what is open and when and who is planning on re-opening. The listings reveal no two schedules that are the same — there is no symmetry of cortex activity. My favorite entry is from Truro’s Salty Market Farmstand: “Opening April 1 (or maybe sooner!).”
The openings will be appreciated. One of this winter’s quips — Question: Where can you sit down with a friend for coffee between Provincetown and Orleans in the middle of winter? Answer: You can’t. (Apologies to PB Boulangerie and Fairway, but as those are the only two in over 20 miles I’m taking a quipster’s liberty.)
My dream maker is telling me that waking up is an experience to be treasured, an opportunity to rethink and redo. To keep the things that worked last year and discard those that didn’t. And I would bet even those who call our winters their favorite time acknowledge the struggle and isolation.
The winter cheaters are returning. The “Opening in April or May” signs will be coming down. Before a play begins, the actors in their dressing rooms get messages over the intercom: “This is your five-minute warning.” Well, this is your one- to two-month warning. Wake up, everybody. It’s showtime.
John Shuman is an actor who lives in Wellfleet. He was seen in last summer’s Provincetown Theater production of The Lady Hamlet.