Theodor Gabriel is a producer and dramaturg finishing his MFA in Dramaturgy at Columbia in New York City. He has worked as a freelance creative producer, dramaturg, and performer in Berlin (Germany), Western Massachusetts, and New York City. Before Columbia, he served as Associate Producer of Daniel’s Art Party, a festival of theatrical events which took place at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, where he'd received his B.A. in Theatre and Literature in 2016. He is also a graduate of the National Theater Institute Semester (2014) and of the London Dramatic Academy (2015).
In the middle of last month, September, I started a bullet journal. I’m over 35 pages in, and it’s been over a month, so I think it’s fair to say the practice is working for me. I like the structure of it, the mindfulness that comes with writing and rewriting tasks (which I was before, anyway, except I was rewriting things on sticky notes or envelopes or loose bits of scrap paper that always get lost, never feel organized, and that I can’t find in the moment I need them). This is not a post extolling the virtues of bullet journaling or saying you should try it. It’s also not a guide to bullet journaling, or even a record of how I bullet journal. There are plenty of those online, much better than I could make, though I strongly recommend starting at bulletjournal.com and with the official Bullet Journal YouTube channel. Ryder Carroll does a very good job of laying out the essential groundwork. Which makes sense, because he invented it.
In reading about the bullet journal method, and falling down a few too many YouTube rabbit-holes of people describing their approaches to or adaptations of it, I encounter many people struggling with how to integrate the analog notebook with their digital lives: alarm clocks, Google calendar, email, social media. These digital services are so fast, so convenient, and so easily accessible from one device that fits perfectly in your pocket, it’s hard to know why we should need (or want) anything beyond that one device.
For me, part of it is romantic. I still like old-book-smell, I like the way the pen feels on the paper, I like the ritual of sitting and writing by hand. I believe (perhaps naively) that the mechanism of hand-writing, the interface between brain and fingers and paper, accesses something cognitively which isn’t accessed by typing.
I’m on email constantly. I’m addicted to social media. I get lost on YouTube and Twitter. And I depend on Apple Calendar (which syncs to Dana’s Google Calendar) to keep track of what’s going on from week to week. I update and check my iPhone calendar at least three or four times a day. When someone asks me if I’m available the 28th, I check my phone, not my notebook. The bullet journal has not replaced my digital calendar. I don’t think it ever will. To me, that’s not the point.
I’ve found many people online describing ways to optimize their workflow between the two: when and how to update your digital calendar to reflect the notes you’ve been taking in your journal, or vice versa. But I don’t think I’ll ever find a workflow like that. I tend to work in the journal—it’s not really journaling, it’s just quick notes and to-do lists and reminders—in the evenings. I use the journal to unwind and remember what I need to do tomorrow, or this week. I don’t put all the events from my phone in the notebook, because I know I’ll be checking my phone all day tomorrow. I don’t try to synchronize these tools, because I see them as separate tools. I use them individually, separately, for what I need them for.
Of course, there is lots of overlap, because I’m using both to plan and understand my life, but I don’t feel pressure to make either one an accurate representation of everything. Between the two, I think, I get a pretty comprehensive look at what’s going on. I don’t need one, mythical, perfect, all-encompassing system. I need lots of imperfect systems with different strengths that I can use dynamically as and when they are helpful to me. They’re a team.
I promised there would be a post about Spoke’n Hostel, and here it is. Perhaps the pictures will describe it better than I could with words.
The whole place is filled with cycling memorabilia, and downstairs, not pictured, was a full kitchen, with beautiful hand-written signs saying things like “Please help yourself” and “everything on the counter is for guest use” and “please take anything in fridge.” Starving from the harsh ride in, we availed ourselves of every opportunity: coffee, toast, peanut butter, ice cream, cereal, frozen burritos.
A few hours later, our wonderful hosts, Jalet and Pat, arrived to make sure we had found everything: Coffee is here – we already made a pot, feel free to throw stuff in the dryer – oh we already did – at every turn, they seemed delighted that we’d discovered where things were and how stuff worked. They were kind and generous with everything.
In the morning Michael made more coffee and a massive pancake breakfast. Chase made enough scrambled eggs to sink a boat. I slept in luxuriously until 9am, and we didn’t hit the road until almost 11.
We started the day today with a long but shallow climb out of Mitchell, which was followed by an even longer breath-taking descent. At every corner I wished I could stop and take a new photo; the views were stunning. The sun was out when we started, but by early afternoon the wind and rain had come back out to play. What’s going on, Oregon? Thankfully I’d kept my long layers handy, and I bundled up for the rest of the descent into the fossil museum.
That’s right, at the Thomas Condon Visitor Center we stopped just two miles off the trail to see the fossil museum. As it turns out, this region of Oregon is the biggest deposit of fossils in North America, making it a hotbed for paleontologists. It’s certainly worth a stop if you ever find yourself coming along route 26 between Mitchell and Dayville.
Were now comfortably spread out at the Dayville Community Church, where the pastor, whom Emma met yesterday, said we’d be welcome to stay. And indeed, as we came into town, just below the sign for the church was a small sign for “Bike hostel.” The place was open so we wheeled our bikes in and bedded down. It’s nice to know you can rely on strangers you’ll never see. Good night.
We were feeling good. The sun was shining (a little too brightly, it turns out, because even after applying and reapplying sunscreen I got a little burned on my forearms, thighs, and nose) and the terrain was mostly flat. This was a day I was sure we would make good time, maybe even make it all the way to Eugene, when… Bang! Emma’s tire went flat. She was running tubeless, and she had a gash in the side of her tire big enough that the sealant couldn’t seal it. I’ve never run tubeless on any of my bikes. I’d never fixed a flat on a tubeless tire. As it turns out, none of us had. We pooled resources. We went through two tubes – I think we pinched the first one – but finally got it rolling again. It took us nearly twenty minutes to get sorted, and even then, the tire didn’t quite seat correctly so Emma was bouncing as she rode, which meant she couldn’t descend as fast as the rest of us.
I was bummed about the lost time, but it turned out to be a blessing, because it meant we had to stop in Corvallis, a beautiful small town that is very quaint and extremely bike friendly, with three bike shops, wide roads, and bike lines everywhere. Every business, including the bigger drug stores and supermarkets, had abundant bike parking out front, and I saw about as many cyclists as pedestrians. Cool. The best part of Corvallis, though, was our host couple, Hector and Carol, whom Emma found through Warm Showers. They welcomed us into their garage, which was furnished with a futon, a sofa, and a cot, along with bicycles, exercise machines, bookshelves full of adventure books and guide books about hiking Ireland and New Zealand, a huge wooden globe, and a game of corn hole that Hector might have built. We played corn hole until it got too dark to see.
Carol kept apologizing that they’d been caught off guard, they were downsizing and hadn’t finished renovating, and they didn’t have much to offer. (We were just grateful for a space to stay out of the inclement rain.) In the morning we were greeted with a massive pot (two pots, actually) of coffee, homemade muffins, grapefruit and bananas, and huge helpings of farm fresh eggs. We were well fortified for the rainy day ahead. Thank you, Carol and Hector!
Rain. Again. I didn’t take any pictures because it was all I could do to grit my teeth and keep going the 48 miles from Corvallis to Springfield. Springfield is a small, blue-collar town, a sister-city to the better-known Eugene. Kevin and I made it to Motel 6, the cheapest lodging we could find in the area, and nearly collapsed. When Michael and Emma arrived, we all agreed that it was time for a rest day.
Our rest day, frustratingly, was sunny and glorious, for the most part. We treated ourselves to a big breakfast at iHop and watched the clouds gradually disappear through the window, replaced by warm sun and blue skies. A fifteen minute walk across an empty parking later, we found ourselves in a Cinemark and saw the new Dr. Strange. It’s a fun movie if you like action heroes, big explosions, and shallow speculations about sorcery and multiversal travel.
Later in the day, we headed into Eugene. The main mission was to resupply on bars and gels and other junk food to keep us going in the miles between campsites. But we also got a good lunch and walked around the town, where we found a coffee shop named after me (closed, of course), and some of the most extravagant donuts I’ve ever seen. (No photo, sorry, they didn’t last long.)
On day seven the rain came back out to play. Drat. While the sun had been nice for our day off exploring, I sort of wished our next day of riding would be…y’know…dry. But no such luck. And it was worse then just rain. Looking ahead in the route, we were anticipating a giant climb – our biggest yet – of 5000 ft up and over Mt McKenzie. Unluckily, sources confirmed that McKenzie Pass, the only road through, had not been plowed. Furthermore, heavy snow was expected in the region, and our gear is not made for snow camping. If we were going to ride over McKenzie, we’d have to do it in one shot. None of us were keen on another rest day, and we were less keen on riding 50 miles up a mountain only to discover it was impassable and have to turn back.
Reluctantly, we rolled into the Eugene station and loaded our four bikes up on a bus that wold take us around the mountain to Bend, skipping about 94 miles of the course, so on the plus side we’ve made up for some of the lost time in our early days.
It was the right call. When we got to Bend it was – guess what – still raining. I was freezing and had been unable to sleep on the bus and had to pee because of the morning coffee we’d snagged in Eugene, so it was a quick and uncomfortable loading of the bikes and hoping we hadn’t forgotten anything before zipping down the block to a grocery store.
The rain did let up a bit, and it even got a little sunnier, but it stayed cold, and we were massacred by crosswinds. A tiny shoulder on the highway meant that whenever we were passed by a truck or RV (why does everyone in Oregon have a truck or RV?) we’d get blown around like a pile of leaves or sucked into the traffic lane. But we made it to Prineville in good time and found our campsite with about an hour before sundown.
The ranger mentioned that another cyclist had just gotten there before us, and seemed to be headed in the same direction. We bought some firewood, set up camp, cooked a quick dinner, and headed for bed, resolving to speak with this other traveler in the morning, if he was still there.
He was still there, as it turns out, and he was shooting for Mitchell next, just like us. He planned, like us, to stay at Spoke’n Hostel, so we agreed to meet him there, since he was keen to set out before Kevin and I were ready. It always seems to take me a bit longer to pack up camp than the others. We didn’t get going until about 10:30, and by then a heavy snow was falling. Snow turned to rain as we rode, though the day didn’t seem to be getting warmer. As we climbed the hills out of Prineville, it turned back to snow again, and then to sleet. It was accumulating now. My toes were numb. Kevin said he couldn’t feel his left foot. We kept riding. We were only fifteen miles in, with over twenty-five to go before Mitchell. I ate three of my bars and two packs of blocks, about three times what I’ll typically eat in a day. We weren’t getting warmer. It was still coming down. We kept pushing it, but our feet were screaming. It was starting to feel dangerous. How stupid would it be to get frostbite now? Around mile twenty-three we found a Christian Conference Center. They were closed, and nobody seemed to be in, but there was a mud room we could step into and get a little warm. We took our shoes and socks off and massaged our feet. I pulled out my dry bag of clothes and fished out some fresh socks. We put new socks on, adjusted our shoe covers, stamped our feet, and ate more food. Then we pressed on.
I tried to have the thought that this was a pretty awesome experience. How many people can say they’ve ridden though driving snow on unfamiliar roads? The climbs weren’t even that much to talk about. On a nice day, this would have been easy riding. But I was nearly at my limit. How hard would it be to flag down one of these pickup trucks and get them to take us the last fifteen miles to Mitchell? No one would have to know. As I started to really entertain that notion, we hit the descent. We passed the tell-tale “Trucks use lower gear” sign. Now at least I didn’t have to pedal.
The next seven miles were a breeze. Fresh socks make a big difference, but so do downhills. The snow and rain lightened up as we went down the mountain, but it was still cold, and the headwinds felt like they wanted to blow me back uphill. We found the famed hostel, which deserves a post all on its own – and it will get one – and settled in for showers and a game of Yahtzee, before being greeted by our hosts, Pat and Jalet, who had seen us on the road as they were running errands and made sure that we found the place. Pat mentioned that we’d avoided the worst of the snowstorm, because there had been lots of accumulation and even an accident on the other side of the mountain. It hadn’t felt like it, but we’d been riding away from the storm.
Today felt like the first real day on the trail. Yesterday was brutal. It was drizzing in the morning, and although we got an early start, the cold and the rain kept beating down on us. There was a fair amount of climbing to be done, too, and by the end of it, we were all fed up. We talked about abandoning the trail. What would it look like if we rented a car and visited national parks instead? Why not just loop back to Portland in the next few days and fly home from there? It was clear that we were done riding for the day. We nabbed a hotel room in Tillamook and decided to sleep on it.
The next morning – this morning – the skies were still cloudy but the forecast was more promising. We set off comfortably at 10:30am, deciding not push ourselves at all. We struggled up two massive climbs before lunch, and stopped after about 30 miles in Beaver. The sun was starting to peak out from the clouds, and were feeling pretty good. We pushed on. At some pint we realized we’d missed a turn, cutting a significant loop – and another climb – out of our route. After the setbacks of yesterday, we were all happy to continue on this shortened path and head straight for Grande Ronde, the next town with promising campsites.
And that’s where I am now. We’ve set up camp, eaten dinner, and the others are settled in for the night. I’m nuzzled in my tent now as I write this. It’s after sunset, but it’s not fully dark yet. It’s that beautiful ghostly purple twilight time of day, when the trees look more like shadows than trees. We calculated over lunch that the next several miles are very flat, so we might even make it all the way to Eugene – 90 miles from here – without too much trouble. The two climbs we hit this morning saw more elevation gain than we will all day tomorrow, even with the extra mileage.
I’d like to push for it. It will be good to have another win. And the weather is in our favor.
I’m on the plane now. Just finished up the last minute packing this morning, and had more than one logistical scare. As I pick up all this gear, and notice the amount of Stuff I have, I remind myself how lucky I am. I’m so glad to have worked at REI for as long as I have, and to have the opportunity to get such incredible discounts on top-of-the-line equipment like what I’ve bought in the last year. But there’s also a little piece of me that feels wrong doing it this way. I feel guilt around my privilege in this. I think to myself I ought to be really roughing it out, working with nothing but some rope and trash bags and duct tape and figuring it out. The first adventure cyclists didn’t have anything, and their route was not established, and they couldn’t possibly have known that what they were doing would lead to a cult alternate lifestyle obsession. But they did it anyway. I don’t have that grit. I am humbled and grateful to be where I am. And I’ll be in Portland in 6 hours. Bring it on.
Well, it happened. Against all odds, somehow, I got into Columbia. I’ve been here a semester, and things are booming.
I’m working as a Literary Manager for an International Festival of New Plays, produced by Columbia’s School of the Arts Faculty. I’ve acted in several student productions. I’ve made friends with a Playwright in the program and directed a scene from one of his plays—which I hope to produce in full one day.
I have three recommendations pledged from faculty members for a Fellowship for which I plan to apply in the next ten days.
Things are rolling along.
I mention this because I just reread my last blog post from the beginning of the semester. I was terrified. I had a fear that coming to Columbia would somehow pull me out of the professional world of theatre-making, where I had just made a reappearance through Daniel’s Art Party. That fear has proven to be ill-founded. I’m am now more deeply connected to professional theatre practitioners than ever before.
I am Dramaturg. I am Columbia. Hear me roar. It feels good to be home.
Today is my first day of Orientation at Columbia. I am over the moon, bouncing-off-the-walls, stupid excited about it. I have to leave in about 10 minutes, as soon as the laundry is done.
This morning as I was sending some emails, I came across an old journal brainstorm to myself, which I must have written at a stressful moment in the application process. It was titled simply, “What for?” I will reproduce it below:
What the fuck do I want it for?
The goal is to one day—well, not one day, today, tomorrow, as soon as possible, however I can—have a voice in the theatre world, which means to me that I am directing, producing, or otherwise creating exciting, new, explorative work in the world of theatre, either in America or in Europe.
There are lots of things that could look like. It could look like running a theatre company, curating seasons, directing a show or two per season, hiring other artists and collaborators.
It could mean working freelance as a director or dramaturg, hired by whatever (probably small) theatre needs me next.
It could mean working freelance as an actor, running the gauntlet of the audition world. This option limits me to working in the states, and would eventually burn me out unless I was also in some way creating or generating work of my own (see above).
Dramaturgy and dramatic criticism is probably a really good thing to study towards any of these goals. The scary thing—it’s a commitment thing again—is pulling myself out of the professional working world for those three years. I’ll be 23 when I go in, if I’m accepted this year, and about to turn 26 when I come out. That’s three years that I’m not working. Three years that I’m not acting. Three years without audition experience. But 26 is still young. Heck, 36 is still young. And acting—on its own—is not the path.
How do you eat an elephant, Theo? How do you hike the Himalayan mountain range? One bite at a time. You walk, every day. You take the GRE.
Just found out that I will not be able to attend the Double Edge Theatre spectacle this Summer. Working very long hours at Red Gate Farm overnight camp. Still trying to work out two weeks between camp and Columbia orientation: hoping to see Mothers and Sons at Shakespeare and Company, and Annalise’s new play with the Clementine Collective (Brooklyn). Philadelphia 8/11?
Columbia looming. 50 pages remaining of Antony Sher, then must begin reading Brecht tomorrow. Excited to re-immerse in a theatre world. Very inspired by Moss Hart’s Act One last week. Reading reading reading…
When I got back from Berlin, that August, things seemed to be taking off for me in a way that they hadn’t in a very long time. By the end of the year away, I’d felt lost, drowning. Unable to find work, I was losing sight of what had driven me into the theatre in the first place. Now, though, with my grandmother’s death and all the relatives in town, I had plenty to distract me for the moment.
Then I got a fateful text: some old friends from college who hadn’t heard yet that I was back in the States reached out to me in desperation. They’d lost an actor, and would I be willing to jump in? The show opened in less than two weeks. I hopped on a bus to Great Barrington, reading the script—actually two scripts—on the way, and jumped headlong into a world I’d nearly—accidentally—left behind. I was thrilled.
Back in New York, after that show, tensions rose with my parents. I’d never been sure New York was the place for me anyway, and with Allen still in the apartment and no room for me to spare, 77 Bleecker Street was not the place for me. Not proudly, I fled back to Great Barrington, back to comfort.
From there I popped down to Philly with Dana, and spent a week there with her parents for Thanksgiving. I tacked on a trip to D.C. to visit Cecily and her family, who had recently settled there after finishing their stint in Nicaragua, and ended up staying with them for two weeks while I got to know their social sphere and tried in vain to crack into the vast theatre landscape of that city.
When I’d outstayed my welcome with the Wernicks, fearing New York City and the prospect of living with my parents, I found myself again in Great Barrington. Word got out that I was back in the area, and soon I had roles in the main stage production, as well as two senior thesis performances, even though I’d graduated two years earlier.
The landscape at Simon’s Rock is so fluid and unconventional that many people thought I hadn’t graduated and was back there to study. Others thought I worked for the college. It was a strange time for me. On one hand I was needed, and felt that I could offer something to my peers. I was working in theatre, and was even paid a small stipend for the main stage role. On the other hand, I was crashing with my girlfriend in my college town, unemployed, afraid to face my parents. At $15/hour, her lifeguarding income seemed unattainable to me. I felt bad relying on her support, but I did not see another option.
Graduate school, once a lofty nowhere-land, now seemed a real possibility. I began applying in earnest.
Christmas and New Year’s I survived with the Vorfreude of the upcoming rehearsals, the stress and exhilaration of applying to programs for which—I thought—I was colossally under-qualified, and a Village Harmony tour.
It was January and I was back in Great Barrington with Dana, waiting for the semester and my ridiculous rehearsal schedule to kick in. And then I met Ken.
Well, no. It wasn’t quite that simple. I attended a memorial service for Becky Fiske, a former professor, advisor, and mentor at Simon’s Rock. There, I encountered Ian Bickford, the provost, who told me about Daniel’s Art Party, a name which would become my salvation.
“We’re transforming the DAC,” he told me. “We’re hosting a joyful arts festival up there.”
I told him that I would be around anyway and that I wanted in. He put me in touch with Ken.
Ken Roht is a genius. He is a powerful mind and a force of nature. “Humble” is not a word that comes to mind, nor yet is “arrogant,” or “egoist.” He is brilliant, creative, eccentric, and capable of moving mountains. I think he knows it, too. When he talks of his past, his abilities or accomplishments, he is blunt and matter-of-fact, neither boasting nor modest. There ought to be a biography written of this man. I couldn’t have known it at time, but my world was about to be turned upside down.
I’ve spent about a week in D.C. with some dear friends, exploring the theatre scene and applying to jobs. I’m excited to discover what the holiday season holds.
I had a wonderful time with the youngsters at Woodstock Union High School in Vermont, leading my first workshop with that age group. It was not without its hiccups and learning moments, but still very rewarding.
Coming up after the holidays, I’m still very much looking forward to the tour with Village Harmony, but also stressing about applications for graduate schools, which will be due around that time.