November 04, 2022

My COVID-19 Memoir Redux

Edward A. Lebowitz, MD

Edward A. Lebowitz, MDIn March 2022, after two years of pandemic-related cancellations, my solo show “Dave, Muhammad, and I at The Americana Hotel,” was selected again for the San Francisco Fringe Festival.

Fringe festivals occur worldwide throughout the year. Many actors and monologists make their living traveling from one to another to perform. They’re unjuried, so it’s no accomplishment to get selected; they pulled my name from a hat. Although it sounds hit or miss, audiences like it. Fringe festivals have been going strong for 75 years.

I wrote this show during classes at The Marsh, a San Francisco and Berkeley solo performance theater, and I performed 20-minute segments at the end of each 10-week workshop. I never performed the whole play for an audience, however, so, when I had the opportunity, I took it.

The first thing I needed was a director. I met one over coffee, we hit it off and he asked to read my script. I’d written italicized staging and voicing directions for every line of dialogue, which made the script too confusing to understand, so he asked me to act it out in his basement before committing.

My teacher at The Marsh had suggested physical movements to illustrate my dialogue and to deliver my lines loudly and, often, with rage. So, in my new director’s basement, I ran around gesticulating wildly and shouting angrily for an hour. He looked stupefied. Instead of turning me down though, with grace and patience he explained that solo performance is no different than a conversation between two people with one telling a story to the other.

The director liked my script, which is a coming-of-age story about a young man who becomes a doctor during the tumultuous Vietnam War era when medical school provided at least five extra years of draft deferment beyond the four received for undergraduate school as well as an opportunity to study and build a future. This is a journey many readers of this column know well. For the director to take me on though, I’d have to abandon my histrionic presentation. What could I do? Well, it was the end of June, I’d be on vacation most of August and the fringe festival would start in early September. So, I agreed.

We had three, four-hour rehearsals in July. On vacation, I practiced my new conversational delivery before a mirror every day, and we had three more rehearsals when I got back. The fringe festival scheduled my four performances over two weeks in early September.

Never have I wanted anything so much that I also wanted to end quickly once it started. I didn’t have stage fright — practicing radiology prepares you to speak before groups. What I feared on a mundane level was that I might stumble over my lines or lose my place. On a more substantive level, I feared audiences might not get it. As a writer and actor, I was asking them to sympathize with a character who’s got it good while many others have it bad. Based on the audience reaction, comments and review, I’m thankful to say — I believe I got it right.

Now, onto a new retirement project!