Tuesday, July 29, 2014

377 days - Blog #1 or the first one where I talk about theater

I am determined to write a blog today.  Because I said I would.  

In the year that will be documented, I intend to bring theater back into my life.  I could say it has been absent… but, really, it’s just a very lean helping each year.  A healthy dose, certainly.  Without too much excessive drama or headaches.  But I also haven’t had as much opportunity to stretch creative muscle.

This year supper club has been about Shakespeare.  Well, in my mind it’s about Shakespeare.  In reality, I think it’s more about my poor guests listening to me drone on with my theories… or stories.  But maybe it’s something I can come back to… like, say, when I direct a Shakespeare.

And I think that has been the conclusion of those conversations and the countless evenings during which I have listened to Shakespeare plays planning a dinner menu… when in fact, if I’m really honest, I’m blocking the play and wondering how I could cast it with the circle of actors I know or build a set at a theater that would have me.

Which brings me to the next point.

I’ve been back in Oakham for two and a half years now.  Barre Players is ten minutes from my house.  Not much is ten minutes from my house. (No, that’s not necessarily true, but that’s not what this is about.)  I haven’t lived this close to a theater since I was in Newton… and even then there were stop lights that could turn ten minutes into 25 if I was headed to rehearsal at that magic hour of offices unloading.

Barre Players is my home.  I suspect a lot of theater people will get that.  No matter how far away we move or go – or even if the theater itself moves and goes – it will always be where I fell in love with the art, found my voice, found the feet to stand on, beat my head against a wall with frustration, cried, bled, sweat, and left a piece of my soul.  But that, um, beating my head against the wall part?  Yeah, that imprinted in me – well, firstly a vow never to look back.  But that also came from the smugness of getting absorbed into the oblivion of the 128 Massachusetts bubble.  Then I came back with all the calloused scars of a theater life… the desire just not to waste my time, my life fighting stupid fights that don’t mean anything against the backdrop of children being killed, poverty, institutionalized racism… and things that are in my day to day like jobs that have some very real artistic challenges to solve and family with whom the minutes are so precious why lose them in that vacuum of the theater life?

But did I mention I live in Oakham?  I don’t even know if there is a demographic in this town for which I qualify… other than white.  I need to find some like minded people.  Or leave.  And that is still a possibility.  But I’m not ready just yet.  And those Shakespeare conversations started an itch.

I went to a meeting.  I was surprised at the lenses with which I observed things.  I’m not going to deny that 128 bubble smugness kept my spine straight… but also my tongue silent.  I went to another meeting.  I had drinks.  I said, yeah, I’ll help out with a show.  Publicity.  I mean I live on Facebook, so why ever not? (And if you live on Facebook even for 5 minutes, you should like the page.  Click that hyperlink and do it now so I get to 500 likes this week.)

It’s funny how going through the back door (?) – maybe it’s more of a side entrance – into theater production through marketing really frames my thought process.  Or, maybe you could say everything I am doing at work also contributes to the wheels that are turning… but it is making me think about the positives of theater.  What makes people want to give up time with families, with work, with sleep, with Facebook to sit in a seat for three hours to watch an inclusive group of people on a stage playing?  A lot of it is sentiment and nostalgia and camaraderie… because of course, half the audience is theater people.  So when you market a show, you have to appeal to those emotions.  To get at those emotions, I have to feel them myself.

I should note the show I volunteered to market is Aladdin, Jr.  Without trying to sound like a martyr, I do want to note how very very much I despise all things Disney.  And yet, I find myself on a weekly basis scouring the internet to come up with things to post.  My favorite thus far is this silly photo.

But that is a tangent that perhaps I feel the need to iterate and scrub my soul from the guilt of selling out.  Or giving in to those sappy teenage emotions of nostalgia.  I find myself tuning into WERS every Saturday now and clicking on my Pandora Broadway station.  I don’t think I have listened to musicals with such regularity since I was 18.  Or since I discovered Shakespeare.

So that brings me back to where I was before.   Shakespeare.  Directing.  And maybe this is where I come to the tie-in to the theme of these 377 days of blogs.  I intend to submit a play to direct.  At my theater home of Barre Players.

If you believe in that sort of thing, hell might have a sudden accumulation of ice cubes.  Or not.  Not really.  I was just attempting some lame snark at 9:30pm.

Anyway, I’ve been reading through scripts the past week.  I have a Shakespeare in mind.  I think I have a pretty good mind for it.  And it will be an option.  If I could make my way to Boston Common in the next ten days, that might confirm my idea.  But that might not happen.

What did happen is today I discovered a script with which I fell in love.  Brilliant dialogue.  And dialogue outside the parameters of decency for a Central Massachusetts stage.  Not to mention a plot that may be outside the comfort zone.  May be.  Maybe the theater audience has grown up just as I have.  I am going to have that benefit of the doubt and will keep you posted.

I have a couple other options.  I read a few farces, as those are often popular selections.  Except farces are formulaic.  There are always doors.  It’s always more about the choreography of timing than actual directing of character development.  Indeed, the characters often lack common intelligence.  Most definitely, the women lack common intelligence.  Not to mention clothing.  But I did find one that made me laugh… enough that I could live with it for a couple weeks.  Enough to give up all that free time I’ve come to enjoy?  I can’t say that honestly with a full heart.

And that’s when I got to thinking about what is offensive in a play.  In language.  So this play I love uses some harsh language.  Some language of hate (within context).  A scene of poetic intimacy.  But intimacy that could make some prim and proper matinee audiences squirm.  Like I squirm as the formula of a farce plays out with oblivious females taking off their clothes.  Or a dated comedy where the characters of color are servants and talk like dat.  But that’s quaint offense.  Because it’s historic.  And pure.  Whereas the content I appreciate is vulgar… even though it tells a modern story with heart.

And then I decide... borrowing my favorite motto from Don Draper, if you don't like what people are saying, change the conversation.  I am going to change the conversation.

So, no, I’m not going to tell you the plays on my mind.  Not now anyway.  Besides, this blog is already far too long.  But I have concluded in this day in the life approaching 40 that theater is still a great love of my life.  Because even in its contemplation of what could be, it makes me think.  

Monday, July 28, 2014

in 378 days I will be 40

In just under two weeks, I will turn 39.

So that means in 378 days I will be 40.

I’ve felt for most of my life… and thus most birthdays, that age is relative.  Maturity even more so.  But I do like to use the anniversary of my entrance into the world as an opportunity for reflection, a pause to see where I’ve been, to see if I know where I’m going, and take stock of this thing called life.  Then those thoughts ebb back into the tide of daily life and another year creeps by with obvious change or with the slow unseen wearing away of time.

I suppose I’m not the first person to feel the weight of the number 4 being added to my age.  I’m certainly not going to be the first person who takes to a blog to contemplate the last year of her 30’s and use it as some accountability towards a determination for obvious change… so the reflection at the entrance gate into the next decade isn’t a drowning in tears and a bottle of wine.

I have a list.  Of course I have a list.  A list of things to do before 40.  I will tell you about most.  Some I have to keep to myself.

I have an end point.  London.

And there are a lot of points before that.  Some are on the list.  Some are mundane.  Some might not even make it to publish.  But my intention is to capture at least one a day for the next 377 days.


I thought about starting a brand new blog on another platform... but fact is, this has five plus years of my writing.  My history.  The paving stones for the road that got me to this point.  But more so than any part of my history of writing, I will commit to writing every day.  Something of those points and lists and moments that will put me in the here (funny, I made the typo 'hear') and now and not just dread/anticipate/fear/get excited for/forget/lose sight of/miss the opportunity of the day I turn 40. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

the blog where I connect my leo mood swing to politics to a possible, maybe? novel?

I remember finding the script of Camelot in my high school library one study hall.  It was hard cover, but wrapped in that yellowed and already split with age cellophane they used to protect books in school libraries.  I might have already had the cassette of Julie Andrews and Richard Burton at that point… or maybe I got it soon after.  And it definitely added some clarity after that trippy Richard Harris blue eyeshadow interpretation I taped off of television.

That was how I first came to know the Arthurian legend.  I guess you could say it was even a minor obsession at one point.  I still have almost a whole shelf of interpretations from John Steinbeck to Deepak Chopra to Malory to the glorious Mists of Avalon.  The last of course, took it to a whole other level for me… and even though that story is rather unsympathetic to Guinevere, it drew that character in a whole new dimension.

I was in my early twenties when I read that… when I was still finding myself with idle hours at the end of the day waiting for a guest to wander the Great Hall of Higgins… but often floating between suits of armor and the sunbeams that captivated me with the dust that cartwheeled from some distant time and place.  I thought a lot about that legend and plotted out a movie I thought I would some day write, direct, and produce… featuring, of course, Kenneth Branagh.

I have thought of late about dragging it out of my dusty memory and making it a novel.  There were a lot of things about it I really liked.  A lot of things I lifted from the five or six books I had read and re-read… but mostly… the part that struck me (even at 21 when I had no idea this was going to be a reality I knew well) was the fact Guinevere did not have a child.  Now obviously, my real life does not translate to the expectation of a queen producing an heir… nor do I have a husband who successfully procreated with his sister.  But it is a part of that story that has been told… but not told completely, I think, with a lot of empathy.

Indeed, the empathy gets cast aside in favor of the adulterer bit.  So her barrenness is karma.  Right?  Well, yes, some stories play it out that way.  Sometimes it is the karma that Arthur brought on the marriage by hooking up with Morgan le Fay.  And that is the consequence of the whole Uther raping Igraine… well it’s all really a matter of interpretation, as all oral legends tend to be.

But my young feminist brain lingered on the sadness of a young queen failing to fulfill her most significant obligation.  Maybe because it really isn’t that far from the obligation we women are still handed today. 

That idea is much on my mind these days.  My sister had a baby recently.  I have a nephew.  He’s great.  Wonderful.  And the occasion of his birth gave me a chance to spend time with my nieces, who are growing into little human beings.  Little human beings who are starting to remember who I am and like my company.  That fills my heart.  It fills a hole or holes, even, in the place where I don’t have children of my own.

I’m not going to go on and protest about how I’m okay with that.  95% of the time I really am.   And if you want to have an honest, open-minded conversation about that someday, I could share thoughts that I continually ponder on the subject.  5% of the time it really brings me down.

I struggle to know if that comes from me… or primarily outside me.  That old as Guinevere feeling of inadequacy for being a woman who hasn’t fulfilled her earthly duty by bearing and birthing another human being.  I feel it every time I meet someone new and they realize my age and ask if I have children, because of course that’s what I should do at this point in my life.  Every time I feel awkward in my family or group of friends because I have nothing to contribute about motherhood topics, even though I’ve been a caretaker (but I know it’s not the same) of children for decades.  Every time someone posts on Facebook how hard it is to be a parent and how selfish I am for thinking… well, thinking I can rightfully claim exhaustion as something to complain about.  Or just plain old selfish for living a life as a female without producing a child.

Then… this week the Supreme Court made a decision about birth control.   I could get all legal and Constitutional and attempt some sort of intelligent argument about why this is a woeful misstep in the justice system.  I know there are parameters in this decision that are about rights and ‘freedoms’ and business wanting a loophole to not have to deal with health costs and maybe even some deluded concept of morality.  But isn’t it more or less part of that unspoken shaming of women that they are obligated to reproduce in order to be a good, upstanding citizen of society?  Or just plain good?

Maybe some will read this and argue that I am taking the news yesterday far too personally and emotionally.  (That’s my favorite retort of conservatives when they don’t want to listen to my attempts at another point of view.)  But maybe, yeah, this time I am.  This news is a sucker punch to my heart... because I’m tired of having my heart defined by what my uterus produces.  And I am pissed off that one greedy corporate leader can claim his goodness as superior to my intelligent choice to not bring a child into this world.

And my mind floats back to Guinevere again.  I think because I’m starting to realize I can’t sum up all my complex emotions and rationalizations in one succinct blog.  Maybe Arthurian legend has been done to death… but maybe… sigh, with a little water in my eyes… this is where I connect to it. And sometimes... that's just what a writer needs to do.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Mississippi Burning or a lesson I started to learn at age 13

I think anyone who reads what I write with any regularity knows I have a love of history.  Indeed, if you pay close attention, you might appreciate how emotional history makes me.  I often reflect on things that happened on the date in which I am currently drawing breath and speculate at what energy still hangs in our earthly air from those significant moments of human existence.

Today is the day after a day I promised myself to think upon.  I confess I used yesterday to prepare, cook, and entertain for a dinner party of a much frothier theme.  So I cast aside the half century anniversary of an event in American history that has always given me pause.

I am sad to say my attention to it was because of a Hollywood film.  Although I recently watched it again (before Netflix took it out of rotation) and marveled at the boldness of the story so soon after it happened and so unfiltered without concerns of the Faux News outrage machine.  I had a habit in junior high of watching the tapes my parents rented from Rutland Video each Saturday multiple times.  Maybe that was my way of getting every penny out of the $2.50 fee because a Saturday rental meant you had it an extra free day of Sunday.  I remember (what on earth did my parents think of this?) watching Mississippi Burning multiple times before we returned it to the store.

 (I cry even more at this clip now)

That was 1989.  I was still a typical oblivious teenager for the most part.  Definitely a goody two shoes, but unconcerned with the problems of the world outside my cozy middle class family life.  But for some reason the story of segregation in the South when my parents were my age… and the subsequent fight to put it to right… fascinated me.

Maybe fascinate is the wrong word.  Mostly it makes my heart hurt.  But not that heart hurt that makes me want to curl up in a ball and hide from the world.  The heart hurt that a child feels … a need to understand why… a need to unravel the pieces so it can be put back together in a better way.

Very shortly after that film, NBC produced a television movie about the people who were killed.  The fact it featured the guy who played Amadeus (Tom Hulce) and the lawyer from LA Law (Blair Underwood) and the girl from Dirty Dancing (Jennifer Grey) were only bonuses.  I taped that one.  I watched it a lot.  I thought… and didn’t think… about if I were a college student that summer of 1964… would I do what they did?  Then I wouldn’t admit to myself I wouldn’t have the courage because I liked that oblivious middle class world.  Now I like to think my answer would be different.  Of course, it is different because I don’t have to make that choice.

Instead I make my choice to bring up the conversation.  About race.  Except the only consequence I face is rolled eyes or the awkward silence at my dinner table or someone blocking my posts on Facebook.  I don’t have to worry about being chased down a road in Mississippi for speaking my opinion.  Some might declare that progress.  I agree.   Kind of.  Mostly not.  I think that notion of progress is another version of a teenage bubble of self-satisfied middle class oblivion.

Those young men went to the south to help register votes – among many other things.  But anyone who reads the news knows we have taken a huge step backward in terms of voting rights.  Mostly in the south.  Does that qualify as progress?  Could I look at Micki Shwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman today and say, yes, what happened to you was worth it because it is so much better today?  Could I look at their families and qualify their loss as a payment in the betterment of American society?


The very fact I fear the eye roll or the Facebook block or the… awkward silence with my friends to mention the question of race as a problem of present day society validates that so very much.

But… this reflection on fifty years isn’t about me.  It isn’t about my discomfort.  My cowardice or the perception of marginal bravery to approach a topic.  It is about saying I remember those young men.  I have thought about them since I was 13 years old.  And I still question like the child I was still very much in 1989… how can I take those broken pieces of humanity and put them together? 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

May 11th

I have the memory of a birthday cake.  I’m pretty sure my mother made it.  Her chocolate cake.  Maybe it was chocolate frosting.  It may have had some words on it, as her cakes often spelled out in the ruffles of another layer of frosting from her cookie press.  I was young - enough that I was near the cake and the person blowing out his wish… because, when you are little you want to steal that magic of blowing out birthday candles.  And it was my grandfather’s wish, so obviously that magic was pretty powerful.

I found out a few years ago my grandfather had a tough time with his birthday.  Something that would escape a six or seven year old delighted by the luster of a row of birthday candles and cake.  And maybe that's why all my fuzzy memory recalls is a cake.

His birthday always came around … or every once in a while ON… Mother’s Day.  So there was already an excuse for the Brennans to gather together.  As years went on there were other May birthdays – even one he shared with a cousin.  But I never knew until years after his death that it wasn’t necessarily a happy anniversary.

In 1965, my great-grandmother was at her brother’s house (now the house in which my parents live) playing cards.  She had a heart attack from which she subsequently died.  It was on May 11th, the birthday of her youngest son.
A few months ago I was looking up draft records in WWI to figure out something for my book.  It led me down the rabbit hole of internet genealogical records… and a trial membership on ancestry.com.  I found a lot of random information – mostly dates and addresses.  But knowing the few things I know about Worcester and Worcester history, I found them kind of fascinating.  There was a census record from 1930, where she is listed as living at 90 Oliver Street.  Age 35.  A salesgirl in a dry goods store.  Two sons, George age 13 and Vincent age 10.  Living with her parents.  Because (what isn’t in the city document but my memory) she was a divorcee.

I never met Rose Alba.  My grandmother had stories of love and appreciation, as well as the perspective of a daughter-in-law who had to live with her husband’s mother for so many years.  My favorite story of Rose is how she would bake pies.  Two pies every week.  One for the house of seven children and four adults (who didn’t get pie, I wonder).  And one for my grandmother’s widower father.  I have some of her cookbooks.  I know they are hers because the pages with pie recipes are crinkled with grease and water stains and a few ancient grains of flour embedded in the paper fiber.  

She married a jerk.  Maybe that’s putting it lightly.  We found out 70 some years later that he impregnated a teenager while they were married.  She divorced him.  In the 1920s.  Then, apparently, moved back in with her parents with her two sons.  That’s… well, even if it is just a detail on a yellowed piece of paper… that’s pretty brave.

My grandfather sent her the money he earned in the military, a detail my grandmother shared with me as we went through pictures of the cellar parties a couple years ago.  Money that went into buying a multi-family house where my grandparents started their family… and had those parties.  I went by that house last night on my way to a theater that is two streets over.  There is an accountant’s office on the first floor, where they lived with Rose, her sister, and five children in three bedrooms and one bathroom.  Someday I am going to go in that office and see the walls and rooms… and maybe tell them about how my great-grandmother would have to bring coffee and sandwiches down to the cellar so everyone could get home and find some sleep in order to get up and go to church the next morning.

I think about that house, those pies, that May afternoon the year my mother graduated from high school… and think about a mother child relationship that was so strong, so determined, and so full of love… it seems a cruel twist of fate it ended on a birthday that often fell on the day when so much of the world celebrates mothers.

I would have loved to sit at the ping pong table with Rose Alba with her coffee pot (which may be the one that sits on a shelf in my kitchen).  I don’t know if she would have approved of the fact I am not married or a mother… or considering her sister (who was herself secretly divorced), maybe that wouldn’t matter.  My grandmother once told me that my mother had the ticks of her grandmother… her Nana, as my mother is now called by my nieces.  I wonder if I, too, have them.  I don’t know what they are… but I see the physical features in my mother… and then in me.  So maybe I do have a bit of that French Canadian Rivers genetics without any effort at all.

My mother is named after her daughter, her second child, who died before the age of two.  It makes me appreciate Rose’s strength more… but also adds some poetry to the inheritance of those physical traits.

Tomorrow is my grandfather’s 95th birthday.  It falls on Mother’s Day this year.  It’s supposed to be a beautiful May afternoon.  And, I think, the perfect day for a birthday cake.