posted by T.J. Elliott
In my own biography, allusions to 35 years away from active work in the theater receive comic treatment: “In those lost years, T.J. produced, directed, and performed among casts of thousands in a mélange of corporate telenovelas and tragic, comic, melodramatic, and semi-absurd organizational performance art.” But as Sigmund Freud pointed out jokes even self-deprecating ones like the above example can camouflage what is very serious in our lives. Freud noted in what had to be one of his lighter moments that “our enjoyment of a joke is based on a combined impression of its substance and of its effectiveness as a joke.” The effectiveness is not just getting people to laugh, but also at times a way for handling something that was uncomfortable or even painful.
In my case, I missed theater terribly, and explaining more than three decades away from it remains slightly difficult. The good news is that all of that earlier theatrical career — writing, performing, producing, directing, pitching, — proved enormously useful in my succession of straight jobs. In a wonderful example of consilience, a concept first introduced to me by EO Wilson of Harvard, a great deal of what I learned in those years of ‘semi-absurd organizational performance art’ enriched my subsequent playwrighting and indeed my understanding (limited though it remains) of how the world works.
I read and learned a great deal about the way the world works: everything from adult development to adult learning, from knowledge management to project management, from leadership to followership, from neural networks to social networks. From that latter domain, academic papers like this one about the concept known as the Strength of Weak Ties introduced by Mark Granovetter proved useful in those corporations and they prove useful today in trying to #maketheaterlive, which is our motto at Knowledge Workings.
Atticus Cain, who plays Mosiah Wilson in our upcoming production of Genealogy at Broom Street Theater opening next Friday, November 5, could serve as a textbook illustration of Granovetter’s points about how the weak ties in our network, the friends of friends of friends if you will, may prove more valuable to us than our immediate circle in many circumstances.
Ed Altman, who first worked with Knowledge Workings in Grudges when that Queenan-Elliott drama went up live on Zoom in May through July 2020, was in another streamed theater piece that summer, The Statement, hosted by Theater for the New City. Ed invited me to see the piece and that was where I first viewed Atticus. Thus, when I was casting my solo playwrighting effort, Keeping Right, for its live Zoom performances in December, Ed recommended Atticus to me for the part of Sven McManus. Perfect. This kind of connection happens all the time in every type of work, but in theater where the usual structures of workplaces are not available or do not apply being introduced to a powerful actor whom you otherwise would not know is a kind of mighty grace. You’re not sure how it works, but you’re awfully glad that it does work is often as evidenced. As Jeffrey Rush famously pronounced in Shakespeare In Love, “It’s a mystery.”
And while we are offering quotes, this one that appeared at the end of Atticus’ bio seems also apt: “I am a series of small victories and large defeats and I am as amazed as any other that I have gotten from there to here” – Charles Bukowski. We are amazed as well and feeling very lucky yet again.
And as to the getting “from there to here”: Atticus Cain was born in Memphis, Tennessee, raised in part in Kalamazoo, Michigan, with his loving grandparents. Atticus lived in a total of thirty-five states while growing up. When he was recruited to substitute for a fellow student in a play, acting arrived in his life. After graduating, he advanced to local theater, appearing in plays ranging from Shakespeare to Guare until he moved to Pittsburgh in 1995. Cain resumed acting with a cameo role on the CBS series The Guardian (2002). Since then, he has performed stage and screen roles in multiple cities, including Chicago, Pittsburgh, and New York, Productions include the aforementioned Keeping Right (2020), Wrong Number (2003), and The Stranger (2004) and his own self-written short feature, Opposition. Some of his favorite roles are Sgt. Waters in A Soldier’s Play by Charles Fuller, Dr. George Washington Carver, in Carver at Tuskegee by Kyle Bass, Alan Beaumont in Deadline, and Dr. Jacob Carter in the original web series Dark Therapy, the story of a therapist who treats supernatural monsters…and a few human ones too. Atticus completed conservatory training in July 2017 at the acclaimed Atlantic Acting school.
Very soon, we will post the link to the November 19th live YouTube stream of Genealogy benefitting Broom Street Theater. With that welcome addition, everyone will get to see how strong our weak ties can be.