Threads

We’re starting the process of playreading again, and it makes me take a look back, see where we’ve been, what we’ve been producing. There’s a practical reason for that – don’t want too many of one kind of show over another, balance, how many actors, what does the set look like…but there’s also a look to see what the plays we’ve done are saying to me. Because it is all about me.

We’ve done a couple of shows that are really telling me to pay attention. Now I wonder what we should be doing as a society for people who have served their time, and when that time is truly up. I wonder what we are doing to take care of each other – are we providing services to people when they leave prison? Are we making sure people are able to transition from military service to civilian life? Sometimes these are not easy questions and the answers aren’t easy to come by – sometimes we’re talking about ugly, complicated situations. Are we asking our leaders to follow the rules, and holding them accountable when they don’t?

This is a time of year when a lot of needs are out in the open. Are we connecting to one another and truly trying to care for one another, with warmth, compassion, humor and kindness? Are we telling each other’s stories, to keep dreams and truth alive as we move forward? I hope so.

Ownership

I listen to Broadway show tunes all day (such luxury), and I have some kind of relationship with a lot of the songs I hear. I was in the show/lit the show/stage managed the show/directed the show…well, you get the idea. I was an active participator in producing the magic. So that explains why I love the productions I was a part of, but it does not explain why I would spend three hours of my life watching other people accept awards for shows I will never get to see in their original form. But watching the Tonys on Sunday night, I felt free to cheer, clap and occasionally sneer at what I was watching, and I had no obvious skin in that game.

How is it that we who love theatre have such a stake in it? We watch it, discuss it, read it, plan for pilgrimages to Broadway like the most rabid Cardinals fan waits for the Series. We OWN this slippery stuff, that disappears as soon as its created, and appears different to everyone who watches it. We know that whether the show is free or costs hundreds of dollars it”s still going to say something about us as human beings in a way that makes us feel. We try to explain to the unchurched that they can own it too and they just politely allow us our eccentricities.

We need to figure out a vocabulary that extends this sense of a relevant, living art form that is meaningful to everyone.

Old News

I’m going to see An Illiad tonight. It’s a story that’s part of our collective consciousness – we all know it as once upon a time…but we’ve all been touched by what rage brings us to, and how once we’ve gotten in it’s very difficult to get out again.

I was emailing with Sean about the relevance of theatre nowadays (because I don’t care what’s on your theatre marquee, all of us are trying to reach people who need to discover what they can get from an evening watching a play), and thinking about the classics. Then I dug this up.

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2013/05/unburied-tamerlan-tsarvaev-and-the-lessons-of-greek-tragedy.html\

The present leads us directly to the past. And when we watch it, we can see choices, and consequences, and draw parallels between what was written and what currently exists in our world. Even if it’s an evening of pure escapism, there’s an element of truth – we recognize ourselves in what’s happening onstage.

I’m still working on the drawing-people-in piece, because I think it’s important for us as a society to discover (and rediscover) the issues we’ve been mulling over for a human lifetime – who falls in love and dies tragically while others live happily ever after, who draws the line in the sand, how are we alike, how are we different. I think it’s more immediate, more real when you see it in a theatre setting. Not because the people are sometimes only inches away from you, but because you’re not pushing the pause button, rescued from the tension by a commercial, or turning it off to finish it later when you have time. At the theatre you can’t escape. And when the story is an ancient one and we still see ourselves repeating it…well, it’s very old news, indeed.

Here and Now

I’m a collector. Not a serious one. You might even replace “collector” with “hoarder” (although like any hoarder I don’t think I’m that bad). I like to collect things to read, things I have read that meant something to me, things I’m going to read when I have a spare millisecond…well, you get the idea. So, when the pile gets to the tipping point, I go through it and find all the things I meant to do something with…sometime.

And I just found a terrific article from The Australian, dated December 3, 2012. Yeah. I’m comforting myself with the idea that it’s still in the same fiscal year. And rereading it, I’m so glad I kept it. It’s full of wonderful nuggets, like the idea that theatre is a resonating space, “the orderly harnessing of tones, semitones, harmonics and vibrations.” Andrew Upton makes the point that theatre has harmony, dissonance, contradictory ideas…and inside the article he talks about the responsibility of both audience and actor, because the whole moment in time takes place right here, right now.

I was sad to see that The Village Voice let its theatre critic go recently. We have so few educated voices talking about why the arts are important, any time one of them is silenced, we all are a bit the poorer for it. The performing arts describe life as we know it, as we wish it, as we think it might be, and the opportunity to share in that…right here, right now, makes us better human beings.

Critical

We know what we like (and what we don’t like) and even though we’re not always clear about the WHY, it seems like we tend to believe we’re right about whatever it is AND know that anyone who agrees with us is a cut above the common herd.

Which is why this amused me.

It caught my eye, because Richard Serra is a sore subject in St. Louis. His sculpture is almost universally maligned, and referred to frequently in restroom terms. Anyone willing to admit they even tolerate it keeps his/her head down.

So I kept reading. And came away with a couple of questions for myself. Am I willing to try again? See something I am completely convinced I’m going to hate (yes, I’m referring to you, Baz Lehrmann) and keep an open mind? I’m skeptical. But that’s the thing about the arts in general. Someone picks a different tempo…a different time period…a different line reading, and it’s like you turned a corner down an entirely different street – in another country.

And after reading this article, I’m left with an entirely different yardstick, with Serra on one end and Dr. Seuss somewhere in the middle. Something to think about.

Relationships

Sometimes I feel like people will never understand why the arts are important. If you’re not a member of the choir, there’s just no way to explain how the arts impact everyday life. Then I hear about a new arts immersion program which is making children more likely to come to school so they can learn. That’s huge. But there are also the smaller ways just this season has changed me.

Does it make me a bad person because I’m not a fan of Vincent van Gogh? My eyes involuntarily roll when someone talks about his genius. But I find myself listening more to news about him, and about other painters, since WEPG presented Inventing van Gogh. I’m looking for ways painters, potters and other creative soulds enrich the everyday. (I read today that the creators of Ragtime are writing a new musical about Degas’ Little Dancer, which made me think of COCA…but that’s another story).

I’m paying attention to stories about the incarcerated since This Wide Night made me ask the questions about how big a debt to society is. These questions about justice, and what I’m prepared to give up in its name, are really big ones and they have an impact on daily life in ways I overlooked before. I’ll really be searching my belief system when we start working on Lonesome Hollow – it’s that kind of show.

I’m a musical theatre geek, and catching Rex Harrison doing a song from My Fair Lady had extra resonance for me today, because I got to watch GBS fall in love involuntarily during Engaging Shaw. “Slings and Arrows” at Steve and Marjorie’s is more fun because I get to be in on the joke, and it makes me think of the season of Shaw we watched there.
My ears perk up when I hear mention of string quartets now, and I wonder if there is as much drama inherent in one as I saw during Opus. I’m enjoying seeking out quartet music, and thinking about dusting off my viola as a result. I like being consciously more aware of art as it intersects my life, and theatre reminds me to seek the experience.

Collaboration

OK, so…collaboration…the act of a bunch of people putting their two cents’ worth in. It’s messy. It’s not controlled. If someone else’s choice is the next best thing…that means we’re going into uncharted territory, especially when it’s directly contrary to where you thought you were going. You could do it. You could do it now and on the plus side it would immediately be done, AND maybe be perfect first time out of the box.

But that’s not what we’re doing here. We’re collaborating. So that means he says the wrong thing…she says it later…but we’re all working together to create something. And that something is more than what we’re doing individually. We’re making it together. It may take more time, or you wishing you could just push the button at the right time, but when we do it together, it’s more than just the fact that I did it.

And when people see it, they don’t know whether it’s because of my intervention or because of your brilliance…the end result is amazing. We did it. And for the average Joe on the street, we did it. It’s awesome, we wept. So, we need to take a minute. Do the calculations. Together, what came out of our collective baton is worth a huge 100% cotton handkerchief. We made something that we stopped and said, “I am moved. I am glad I am moved. This is theater and I was there.”

Encouragement

The weather’s been cold, the news depressing (sequester, anyone?), but there are some bright spots. Truly. Yes, there are more expenses than there is money, but theatre people are incredibly creative – can’t afford a theatre? No problem, invite a bunch of friends to your (or someone else’s) place and put on a show in the living room…or kitchen…or both. I saw a new term the other day – microtheatre. Small, pop-up events.

Other people are doing onsite theatre, writing their own stuff, and creating a vibrant culture that covers us all with a blanket of creativity. It’s really exciting that when you have a vision, a desire, a story to tell, that somehow there’s a way to get it out there.

Some people are using crowdfunding (and that’s amazing – people who don’t even know who you are believe in you enough to contribute). I saw a story about someone who listed all the expenses, like a wedding registry, so you could choose to buy the show a prop…or an instrument…and you knew that what you were contributing would be put to good use.

Last night was the inaugural Critics Circle awards, and a couple hundred people were in a room, looking at each other, reminding one another of the year just past and that there’s more theatre coming up. I told Cindy and Kay today that I’m going to watch more theatre, starting now. It will remind me of how amazing and fun watching a story unfold really is.

Can’t wait to hear about Humana!

Interpretations

When you have a factionalized account of real people, you have a choice. Disappear into the role so completely (makeup, wig, prosthesis) you look like an eerie sort of twin, or choose the characteristics…walk, rhythm of speech, dialect…and make those the basis of your character. Both choices are valid, witness many awards given on both sides of that particular aisle.

But it gets to be problematic when the people watching think you made the wrong choice. Then they’re done. You’re doing it wrong, and that’s the end of it. Which is unfortunate, because they don’t let themselves experience the moment…maybe you don’t buy Meryl Streep as Julia Child, but maybe you do, or you enjoy the performance so much you forget what the real person was like. I’ve worked with Steve Davis for so long now that when I catch a glimpse of Elvis while channel surfing, it feels a little off, somehow.

In Engaging Shaw, we are presenting the words and style of four real people, whose words are alive, not only on the page, but on YouTube (yes, you can find GBS on the Internet). So, the fun and creative magic has been in the choices we made, and the reward is in the audience laughter.

Imaginary Conversations

I have a lot of them, especially about blogging. I write entire passages that never make it from my brain cells to my fingertips. It’s been a month of playing mom, which is something I don’t get to do nearly enough of. Just sitting back and watching.

And then something catches my eye and I think, “oh, yeah…let’s talk about fundraising, or whether in your face theatre actually needs to be in the aisle or seat next to you in order to have an impact, or how to get the next generation (or even the current generation) of people exposed to theatre that makes them want to dive in again and again and see it as the amazing art form it is…”

But it doesn’t get any further along than that. It will, though…just you wait.