Stochasticity

Yesterday, I finished my first month studying theatre at Concordia. It’s challenging in all the ways I’m unused to, and I’m finding the experience tremendously refreshing. Somehow I can’t imagine being anywhere else. Yet a year and a half ago it would have been hard for me to imagine myself being here.

In July of 2010, I quit a job that I’d held in various forms for almost seven year. It was good work in many respects, and I met too many wonderful people there to count. At the same time, there were fundamental problems in that workplace that I found both increasingly hard to ignore and quite impossible to overcome. To borrow a phrase, I quit because I realized that the job was no longer “the best use of my short life”[^1]. I won’t say any more on that subject; further details would demand so much context that I’d need to give up on the idea I’m chasing right now and pursue an entirely different narrative. And I’ve grown to realize that past a certain point, it’s unhealthy to dwell on the negative experiences of one’s past, especially publicly.

After I quit, I spent a couple of months floating around Halifax, packing up the six years of life I’d lived there. I knew it was the time for me to move somewhere else — somewhere new — but I didn’t yet know where that would be. I was certain of one thing; I wanted somewhere unfamiliar, but with familiar faces. That only left two possibilities: Toronto, or Montréal.

I’ve walked down a street in Toronto and run into three people I know within two blocks. Once, I went to meet up with a friend at a particular coffee shop and encountered two other friends there by chance. I think that’s bound to happen to you if you ever went to King’s College. Toronto was the solid option; Montréal, less so. I only had two good friends there, one of whom I’d met on the train (this does still happen) and the other of whom I’d met at a work-related conference of bearded Marxists in rural New Brunswick. The deciding factor was language, really. I had no idea what I was actually going to do when I left Halifax, but Montréal offered me a chance to pick up where I’d left off at the end of high school and become a properly bilingual Canadian. So on October 19, I arrived in Montréal with four suitcases, no fixed address, and not much of a plan; I was going to enroll in a free immersion program, and after that, who knew?

I found myself graduating towards theatre. I’ve had theatre in my life literally forever. My parents met on their way to the kick-off party for an MIT Gilbert & Sullivan Players’ production of Patience when they were both college students in Boston. When I was two years old, a small group of my parents’ friends came to stay with us while they developed a new play; it was at this juncture that I learned to speak in complete sentences. I worked mostly backstage through elementary, junior high and high school, then caught the acting bug at King’s when I was cast as the lead in Martin McDonagh’s Pillowman for the King’s Theatrical Society. The following year I found myself in rehearsal to play George in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? two weeks before opening after the actor who’d been cast in the part left the production for personal reasons. It was terrifying, and exhilarating. After the thrill wore off, I was left with an inkling that this was what I wanted to do, but somehow in combination with my thirst for political engagement. That’s what lead me to Concordia’s Theatre and Development program.

My two friends in Montréal both knew people in TDEV. The chances are fairly slim that this would happen; there are a maximum of sixteen students accepted into the program each year. But by some miracle, one friend’s friend’s roommate was in it, and the other friend’s co-worker was in it. I arranged to meet up with each of them, and they both offered me the wisdom of hindsight and told me that I would get something out of it if I had something to put in. It sounded right. I auditioned using a piece I wrote about quitting my job (how original), and got in.

Last week I started looking for a monologue for my intro acting class. I started by looking through the plays on the bookshelf in my apartment. Right now I have four: Pillowman, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Camino Real by Tennessee Williams (I had a small part in a production of Camino at King’s in 2008), and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard. I ruled out the first three on principle, opened the fourth, and read:

The sun came up about as often as it went down, in the long run, and a coin showed heads about as often as it showed tails.

I knew I’d found the right monologue: a subtle mixture of humour, anxiety and semantic detail, a challenge for anyone, especially as unpracticed an actor as I am. No easy road for me with this assignment.

Earlier in the week I read Ira Glass’ lovely and detailed tribute to Radiolab, and was inspired to look up the episode he referenced on stochasticity. I had no idea what stochasticity was. It seemed from the excerpt Ira discussed in his article to be a sort of luck, a crazy random happenstance that would lead two ten-year-old girls named Laura Buxton to meet thanks to a wayward balloon’s journey across the British countryside. So I queued up the episode for listening and put it on while I made supper this evening.

And as soon as we got through the tale of two Lauras, we arrived at a fascinating examination of the coin toss.

Can you tell if this is just the random act of an indifferent universe, or is there something truly miraculous about it? I don’t know, Robert Krulwich. I started listening to Radiolab while I was packing up my apartment in Halifax last fall; a year later, I’m listening to it while chopping vegetables in Montréal. I have a silly grin on my face. It’s too much of a coincidence. Or is it?

I think, when you get to the bottom of it, that I ended up exactly where I was going all along.

[^1]: Kai Nagata quit his job exactly one year after I quit mine, for oddly similar reasons. I feel like we’d have things to talk about.