by Amy Simon

It's Sunday, August 10th 2008 and I'm in the Green Room with Annette Bening, talking about how Norman Lear's original copy of The Declaration of Independence got stuck at the airport. How did I get here? Back up a month.

It's Sunday, July 13th 2008 and the phone rang. "I might have an opportunity for you. Can you come to The Broad Stage Theater in Santa Monica tomorrow at 11AM? The assistant director needs some administrative help. We're opening in a few weeks." I knew all about The Broad, which is spelled like Brawd B.R.O.A.D., because I am a theater junkie, have been in the theater business my whole life and I read in the paper that Dustin Hoffman was The Artistic Chair. OHMYGOD. I so needed a job and so couldn't find one. Divorced for four years now, and after 14 years as a stay-at-home-mom,I had hit that "maternal wall" I'd read about researching motherhood for my play "Cheerios In My Underwear" and I started building a brand new career writing - about motherhood and family life and stumbled on my real passion - women's history, and my work has just started getting published but in the meantime I so needed a job!

The Broad Stage is the brainchild of Dale Franzen, former opera star, arts educator and visionary, and Director of the Broad, ten years in the making, and she - tenacious, indomitable, awesome woman - made it happen. I am all about and totally inspired by pioneering, trailblazing, history making women - like Dale - like Victoria Woodhull - the first woman to run for president - like Anne Hutchinson - the mother of the first amendment - like Elizabeth Cady Stanton - who authored the 19th amendment and especially Abigail Adams whose "Remember The Ladies" speech I wrote about for Women's History Month and was the first women's history piece I got published and paid for. I love Abigail Adams. Why do we know more about Paris Hilton than about Abigail Adams? So wrong!

So Monday morning, I show up and am basically hired on the spot as a part time " administrative consultant" and spend the rest of the day falling in love with and taking care of my new awesome and brilliant and overloaded boss Denise who keeps looking at me like I am Ed MacMahon. She is not used to being taken care of. I am by nature very solicitous - my boyfriend's love me - I'm a Jewish mother - very very comfortable taking care of people. The end of my second week, Dale informs me that Stephanie Solomon, the main writer of American Voices, an original piece starring Dustin Hoffman that will open the theater on Sunday August 10th needs an assistant - someone to help her with the script and be an administrative liaison between her and Dustin and the theater. I can hardly breathe. I am dying. Just three weeks ago I was at Apple One Temp Service, struggling through a skills set test.

I go to the first table read on Monday at Dustin's production office.". The offices are nice and there is a big lunch spread. I meet Stephanie and we hug. I don't know anyone but recognize Richard Schiff. A very sweet young black actor offers to throw away my empty sandwich plate. He is very handsome and I will inadvertently get to see him in his underwear. I meet the director, get a script and before I get a chance to look at it - Dustin comes in. With a plate of cookies, that he tries to pawn off on everyone. He is adorable and handsome, short, sweet and utterly charming. The atmosphere is immediately charged with electricity. He proceeds to put everyone at ease. I immediately fall in love with him. We go around the table introducing ourselves - it's a mixture of lucky students, and professional actors - Ben is an actor AND the asst. stage manager, I say I work at the Broad Stage and I am also an actor. Who isn't? I get a laugh. The table read begins. I finally look at the script. "American Voices: Spirit of the Revolution, A work For Chamber Orchestra and 13 actors", conducted by Kent Nagano and a 17 piece orchestra. Dustin is the narrator of this Our Town like play and the cast of characters - which is genderless playing multiple roles - includes James Cromwell playing James Madison - George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Richard Schiff as James Otis - John Adams and Thomas Paine. Nate Parker - the handsome young black actor - as Patrick Henry (turns out he was in The Debaters and a protégé of Denzel Washington) - Rosario Dawson as Hoboi-Hili-Miko of The Creek Nation and Annette Bening as Thomas Paine and and and ABIGAIL ADAMS. Oh my god. I cannot believe what I am hearing. The play is brilliant - right up my historical alley and OHMYGOD - there it is - Abigail Adams' Remember The Ladies speech. I'm dying I'm dead I'm a corpse.

When we break I tell Stephanie about my love for her script, and obsession with women's history and Abigail Adams. She seems impressed with my knowledge and passion. After, Dustin tells a story about working with Schiff on a movie - turns out it was Last Chance Harvey. Dustin LOVES telling stories and he is a master at it. Everyone hangs on his every word. He decides suddenly to take the cast and on a field trip to The Broad and the next thing I know I am walking down the hallway with Dustin and he is asking me "so Amy what do you think of the script". I go off on one of my women's history rants which he seems to appreciate. The field trip is fun and the next week we have the first rehearsal at the theater with all thirteen actors. There's James Cromwell. I introduce myself and point out the food. I am a veegan he says with a big smile. Oh! The farmer from babe is a veegan. Funny. Annette Bening comes in. She is gorgeous without a drop of makeup. Everyone is there except the director. Something happened and now Dustin is the director. All the actors are milling around and I mention to one that I have some books in my car with letters from the period including letters from Abigail Adams and would you like to see them? "Oh", she says - "yes and I bet Annette would too". So I get my "American Woman Activists Writings" books and I offer them to Annette and say "here, theses are my books if you would like to take a look". "Oh" she says, did you write them?" I pause for a brief second thinking - Hmmmm. But instead I say "no but I bought them and I read them." She laughs. The rehearsal begins and everyone participates in the interpretation and discussion of the script - what it means to their character, to them personally, as Americans, as patriots, everyone's opinion is welcome and respected with Dustin setting the tone. He creates and nurtures an atmosphere, which is artistic and creative and open. When Cromwell reads Thomas Jefferson (and he looks so Jeffersonian) "We hold these truths to be self evident" you can hear a pin drop. The same for Nate Parker who is brilliant reading Patrick Henry's speech. "I know not what course others may take; but for me, give me liberty or give me death!" I can't do it justice. Everyone in the room is hyperaware of the meaning and relevance. It's August 2008 - Obama is the Democratic nominee - we all are talking about politics and the country and the theater and this play. It's just like I thought it would be when I was a theater major in college! I am having one Oprah Aha like moment after another! We take a break and one of the actresses who plays a soldier named James Collins has to leave. "Oh", says Dustin. "Amy will take her place". So I take a seat between Cromwell and Rosario and when it's my turn I read as I think about Iraq and Afghanistan. "The dead and wounded lay scattered in every direction over the field; numbers lay cold and lifeless; some were yet struggling in the agonies of death, while here and there lay others; faint with the loss of blood, almost famished for water, and begging for assistance. I could not reconcile to my feelings".

And I could not reconcile to MY feelings.

Dustin calls rehearsals for every day, complains that he has no assistant or stage manager so I volunteer and for the next four days I am by his side - his buddy, his sidekick his sounding board, his navigator because the theater is big and mazelike and he is a Jew with no sense of direction and literally cannot find the bathroom - even though they named one after him - really. I am stage managing 13 actors, and carry around a big beige canvass bag that I brought from home - my traveling desk containing my notebook - the ever changing script, rehearsal schedules, water bottles, and the all important contact sheets plus office supplies for the cast - three hole punch, and red pens and yellow highlighters which Dustin requires. It is heavy and I lug it everywhere and I don't care because I am happier than I have been in years. I literally cry all the way home every day. There's me and Dustin and Dale and Stephanie and the Technical Director on the Broad Stage figuring out the blocking. He is so happy to be in the theater. He loves the theater - just like his character Michael Dorsey in Tootsie. He tells another story - "I remember when Anne Bancroft was working on her first Broadway play -- what was it"? And I say "oh the William Gibson play "Two For The Seesaw" - I worked on that in my acting class." He is impressed. I have cred. He loves me. He loves everyone. And he tells stories all along the way. "When I was working with Olivier" and "when I was working with DeNiro" and not showing off - just so happy and humbled to share his lucky life with us. I love being part of the Broad Stage team. Everyone is talented, professional, dedicated. No one has seen their families, done their laundry, slept. And no one works harder than Dustin. "Amy - call these actors and see if they can come in early I want to work with them separately before rehearsal". He and I just clicked. I know what to do, I know my way around the theater, I know and understand the material, how to work with actors and I am not intimidated by his celebrity and am comfortable telling him where to go and how to get there and he likes that - he likes me taking charge of him and I do respectfully. There's me and Dustin and Stephanie, outside on the patio discussing the script. It is hours after Dustin was supposed to have left but he stayed and stayed and I am bringing him food because he is hungry and I know what he likes and when he needs to eat. We are arguing over a passage in the script about "the people" who debated and Dustin is asking what people and Stephanie who is so smart is saying "the men and the women in the town meetings and taverns" and I pipe in - 'oh no, the women DID NOT participate in the town hall meetings - they did NOT have say in the government" and we are arguing and I get my books out of my car and make my case and just like that I have script input and they change it. They recognize my contribution and the next day send out an email acknowledging me as the "feminist historical monitor." The script is constantly being changed - sometimes hourly and I am the one to get the actors the changes and we have all grown so close now as you do when you are working on a play. We have marathon rehearsals scheduled and oh it's Dustin's birthday so I come in with homemade cupcakes. "Amy" says Annette from across the room - "did you make these?" "Yes I did". "You are so sweet". Big hug.

The little "soft opening" has so morphed into a big deal with everyone and their mother calling for tickets. I answer the phone and it's Denzel Washington's manager asking for tickets for Denzel and I hand the phone to Denise saying "I'm wearing my red dress". The show day itself is ambitiously planned with a 1PM dress rehearsal with an invited audience, a 4PM show for the educators and Santa Monica College, there is a 6PM cocktail reception and art unveiling, the big 7:30 final show which KUSC radio is taping - can it get any more complicated? Yes. Norman Lear's private original copy of the Declaration of Independence printed the night of July 4th 1776 - one of two hundred - is being flown in to be displayed in the lobby. And there's a big party after with all sorts of celebrities and LA royalty coming but all anyone can talk about is Warren Beatty. And they are still pounding nails.

Twenty-four hours 'till opening and we spend the morning blocking. Annette Bening is experimenting and playing around with her lines and speeches -heavy stuff - including also a great scene with Schiff playing John Adams to her Abigail where they argue brilliantly. Her voice is the most gorgeous instrument. I am busy as a bee finding toilet paper and taking care of everyone getting Dustin his water and making sure he doesn't lose his glasses or cell phone and even standing in for him while he directs and then we break until the actual run through for the first time with Kent Nagano and the orchestra - and Annette reminds Dustin that she can't be there so he says "OK, Amy will go in for you".

Yeah. So there I am with the cast and they are all so happy for me and tell me how I deserve to be up there and Rosario Dawson is so great and remembers all the blocking and cues me when I forget and Dale and all sorts of people I work with are in the audience and I do it. I read Thomas Paine's gorgeous words. I AM Abigail Adams arguing with Richard Schiff's John Adams "If a form of government is to be established here, what one will be assumed? Will it be left to our assemblies to choose one? And will not many men have many minds? And shall we not run into dissentions among ourselves? I am more and more convinced that man is a dangerous creature," ...I love that speech and I feel like I am on acid - it is surreal - and then and I read the speech - "In the new code of laws I would desire you would Remember The Ladies and be more favourable and generous to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited powers into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies we are determined to foment a rebellion and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation."

After, Stephanie says "you did great" and Dustin says "Amy, I didn't know you could act so good."

I cannot reconcile to my feelings. But they felt pretty good.

Dustin tells me I am the cast understudy and I cannot help thinking that a few months ago I was in hell working as a prop girl on the set of a Baby Einstein video fetching toys that I couldn't find or put together for well paid hand models.

Sunday - show day - arrives. I fly down the 10 and there is another revised script. "No, I tell the writers - we are NOT making new copies. The actors have all been making notes on their scripts - I will just tell whomever is affected the changes and they can write them in". They obey me. Me. It is show time and I am right there taking care of my Dustin. I have two favorite moments from show day. One - all week Dustin needs his bananas and gave me a long lecture about the properties and benefits of potassium so I made sure there were always bananas on the hospitality table and it's 3:45 - places - and I am backstage with my red pens and highlighters and labeled water bottles when one of Dustin's two assistants comes panting up to me in a panic "Dustin wants a banana and there aren't any. Calmly, I tell her. Go downstairs to Dressing Room A and in my beige canvass bag you will find a banana. She does and I am a hero. Great moment. We get through the first two shows and I am in the wings on the floor with my book taking notes and now we have one more show to go and my Dustin is exhausted. I see it in his eyes. There are people everywhere and I take his hand and say come. I know where you can take a nap. Upstairs in the brand new green room there is the one and only couch. Up we go and there is Annette - asleep on the couch. Nate and Ben on the floor. Dustin will not disturb them. I take him downstairs determined and on the stage it is quiet and empty. I see the piano with its big cover and like Scarlett in Gone With The Wind, I dramatically sweep it off the piano, lay it on the floor and make him a bed. Go to sleep I tell him. He obediently does and I pull up the piano bench, sit and guard. He is out like a light. He is 71 years old. People walk by and I shush them and point. They are impressed and quiet.

The whole glorious day and night are a big success. Everyone does great, the party is fabulous. And let me tell you, when Warren Beatty looks at you and he looked right at me - everything just fades away like in the movies. What a night.

I drive home delirious. I cannot help thinking about the last two years and how my divorce and jobsearch have left me feeling - humiliated and depressed with my questioning every life choice I had made. Here I am, a not young female stage character actress in a youth obsessed TV and movie town who writes - not screenplays - not pilots - but womens' history and I end up on stage with Dustin Hoffman playing Abigail Adams - yes the stars had aligned to offer me some fantastic karmic payback - an intense harmonious convergence happened where every life skill and past experience I had came to serve me so perfectly.

I'm not very religious but I will say, if God were a woman she'd be a Broad.