Monday, October 20, 2014

377 days - Blog #84 or what I learned from The Little Prince

One of the books I remember reading with my parents as a child was The Little Prince.  Now, as I revisit it in adulthood, I’m amazed that as I was sounding out words for myself, we were actually reading through that very adult story. I did like the pictures.  And even at five or six, one picture and its accompanying prose resonated pretty perfectly.

I think even at that early age (especially as one who was an only child at that point) I got very frustrated when people (grownups) couldn’t see the things I did/said/drew clearly.  It is the consequence, I think, of being smart.  And I say that without any ego.  When you figure out things more quickly or with a different level of understanding than the rest of your peers, it is frustrating.  And to this day, I still get flustered in the same way about such things as I did when I was that six year old first reading Le Petit Prince.

And sometimes that flustered feeling comes because I think people don’t hear me don’t want to hear me clearly because I’m a female.  Now before you get all excited about my whiny feminism (seriously, out of the 400 blogs I’ve written, how many times do I whine?), I really do think some things either aren’t listened to or heard differently from a woman’s voice.  Talk about something like numbers or facts… and what do you know?  Try to prove the validity of a different perspective with a list of points to consider and I’m giving a lecture.  And that is the LAST thing I want to do.

I think about how to speak, how to tell a story, how to convey facts without being dull or as a dominating soliloquy.  Maybe I stopped for a bit, as I haven’t given a tour in over two years (I miss it) and my public speaking has been limited to these every so sexy business meetings.  Nothing that gets me excited and informs my telling with contagious enthusiasm as did the labyrinth at Beauport or comparing children’s armor to buying an eight year old a sports car.  But, I still like to know what I’m talking about.  And I still like to express my opinion as a possible point of view, not an evangelical be all end all truth.

I really do get that there are other perspectives.  I want to listen to them.  I want to disagree.  I want to have some back and forth.  Intelligently.  Respectfully.  Peel back the layers.  I don’t want to be shut down as though my voice is complaining or lecturing or that my facts lack perspective… or power.

So I come home and want to stamp my foot and pout like that six year old girl who still understands the vexation towards adults who only saw a hat and not the elephant that had been consumed by a boa constrictor.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

377 days - Blog #83, three things I learned today

When I worked on the education side of museums, I remember reading once in an article on such things, that if a guest left remembering three things, your tour was a success.  Indeed, I’m sure it was phrased more like don’t expect people to remember more than three things… but I often wondered both at Higgins and Beauport what would those three things be out of the mouthfuls that I would excitedly share.

It is with that thought in mind that I approach this blog and will henceforth attempt any evening when I feel a lack of inspiration towards a specific matter.  (Because,really, I can only once indulge in a lambasting of a blinking cursor when Ihave writer’s block.)  What three things did I learn today?

1.  No matter what distance of time or misunderstanding, it is always, ALWAYS worth it to mend broken fences with a good friend.  The good will always outweigh and drown out the bad.  Or rather, sharpen into focus how silly and petty the bad actually is.

2. Cocktails in the middle of a Sunday afternoon are nice.  However, it means coffee in the early evening.  Especially if you want to be focused for the meeting to which you are going and have to present a proposal.

3. Not everyone is going to understand the importance of that proposal.  No matter how enthusiastic you are about the prospect and how well you know the merits of what it can bring about.  If one person neglects to bring it up on their committee agenda, it completely negates the fact you have a very well organized series of thoughts to argue and bring forth… and you could have skipped that huge coffee afterall.

Bonus #4. Sundays are always too short when you really aren’t looking forward to a five day week after a holiday Monday shortened the last.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

377 days - Blog #82 - a day's intention diverted by theater nostalgia

My intention for today was to finish clearing out the bedroom where I have been depositing the things for which I have no immediate purpose and make the space open for an office.  Unfortunately, I also set myself the task of purging those things as I go along.  Some things are easy.  I mean I know to hold onto them because I do use the punch bowl a couple times a year.  I hang my tablecloths that I rotate according to season in the closet.  I also keep my costumes in there (although I will once again attempt thinning out that box). Blankets for the colder months.  Curtains I switch out for the time of year when I don’t keep the windows open.  I also keep my file cabinet in that room (where it will likely stay) and store away important papers.  I have to revisit those papers and the expiration of their importance.  Like I just traded in my car that went directly to the auction block/scrap heap.  I’m pretty sure all my records of oil changes and maintenance are no longer necessary.

I also keep a small chest full of letters and journals from past lives.  But I didn’t even get to that today.  I got stuck on the red velvet storage box atop that chest, where I keep all my theater history that’s on paper – playbills tied up in ribbons.  Newspaper clippings of PR and reviews.  Notecards from appreciative cast members and directors.  And the odd trinket that was gifted with those cards.

I knew I was holding on to too much stuff.  But I had to go through every single piece of paper and card… and okay, I skimmed the programs.  I purged some.  Not as much as I probably should.  But baby steps, right?

Here lies the conundrum.  This is stuff I look at what?  Every five, ten years?  So clearly, I go on living life very well without it.  But opening up some of those messages clarified my memory to moments from twenty years ago.  Names of people who were dear friends in that moment that I let fade out of thought.  And that’s okay – but thinking of them reminded me of happy times, of threads in the tapestry of my life.  That’s great.  I mean I always lament that my twenties were a rough patch… but reading through signed programs I remember there were a lot of really great things.

Although before I get to that, I have the programs from the first two plays to which my parents took me when Worcester County Light Opera performed at Mechanics Hall.  The first was Oliver! to which we went because my dance recital that year performed music from the soundtrack.  I was five and yet I still remember that black unit set constructed in front of the pipes of the famous organ.  I remember the horror of understanding what happened to Nancy.  I remember falling in love with theater.  The next year the same group presented West Side Story on that stage.  Yeah, my parents took me to real kid friendly shows.  But that one was kind of special.  I actually remember my mother preparing me by explaining that it was the same as Romeo and Juliet – which to my six year old self was just excitement because I frequently requested that she play her record of Prokofiev’s ballet on the stereo.  I think I was disappointed when she took out the glossy album with Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer that sounded nothing like a Russian symphony.  I did love the play, though.  I remember being dazzled by the dancing.  And that’s not just because my youngest aunt’s boyfriend and almost his entire family were in the cast (they were pretty much half of the Jets and Doc).  I really enjoyed reading that cast list today and smiling at the fact all those Dufaults are now family.

It was also interesting to read through those programs and find names I recognized that are still active in the Worcester theater community.  That was over thirty years ago.  Definitely added some perspective on time passing.  It also added perspective when I contemplated that a lot of people I know in the Worcester theater community weren’t born at that point.

Anyway, the back page ad was also a bit of a startling revelation.  When was the last time a bank offered a 5 ½ % interest rate?  Also, how many bank mergers ago was WCIS?

So let’s skip ahead to high school.  I found playbills from dance recitals and musicals and the one act competitions.  There was a whole other level of competition to those plays – one that almost broke my confidence in my ability to act.  But then I found my first playbill from a Barre Players production where I got it back.  My whole history of Barre Players was wrapped up in those ribbons. 

Wow.  People I forgot about completely and then ended up googling to see if they still existed in this world.  There are still some mysteries… but it really reminds me of the intense flame of friendship that exists in the vacuum of a play… and how it can burn out so quickly after the set strike.  Well, at least in those teen/early twenties days.  

On the other hand, there was the Once Upon a Mattress program in that pile.  The play that brought into my life so many dear, dear friends.  Friends whom I may see once a year or on Facebook or at every supper club… but with whom I am definitely connected for life.

And then, I found a whole bunch of stuff from Our Country’s Good.  The initial press clipping.  Reviews (including one where we pretty much got panned by the now defunct Worcester Phoenix, but for two raves for individual performances – mine one of them.)  I also opened up a seemingly inconsequential card and found this message from Doug Ingalls.

I think about Doug a lot as I revisit my intentions towards Barre Players.  I think of all that he did for that theater.  I think of how that theater burned him out.  I think of how we all loved him and wanted to work with him.  I think of all that we lost when his life was cut short.  So, yes, there were tears when I read that note.

There were also papers from my time at Hovey – cards of thanks, playbills, CDs of the music, and a few postcards.  I remembered the adventures of the White Rabbit and all our mischief in that booth.  Seriously, tech was a party at that theater.  And the reminder of the forge where some friendships began.  I wonder if there had been a Facebook in the 90’s would those other friends be lost?  Or would I be scrolling through their status updates glad we stayed connected?

Each play is a microcosm.  It can be tedious.  It can go too quickly.  It can be a moment that seems like an eternity – both in the scary and the very real, very I’m living it moment.  That box of papers had a lot of touchstones to those moments.  Some I was more than willing to toss.  I actually had several duplicate clippings (thanks to my grandmother and a few appreciative co-workers).  There was some stuff not worth remembering.  But there were people – names of people I wish I could talk to now.  Liz Hodgen.  Phyillis Southwick.  Vicki Hopkins.  Graham Rickert (who wrote me a very sweet letter… huh).  Kids who were in my directorial debut, with whom I was a kid.

And then, as I started to tackle that file cabinet and pulled out the theater folders, I found a bunch of other clippings.  Including this treasure of a small town editorial.  

It is really such a little thing… but to read that last sentence, “She must be a very talented person.”  I was 19 then.  Twenty years ago.  I’ve grown so much.  But maybe I don’t give that younger me a whole lot of credit.  I really don’t.

I keep her in a box.  Maybe the key is not about throwing it away.  Maybe it is about not keeping her in a box.

Friday, October 17, 2014

377 days, blog #81 - 20+ questions about community theater

A little while ago I was trying to collect some thoughts for a meeting on Sunday night.  I wrote a question on a piece of paper that I intend to ask, as well as some answers that run through my mind.  What makes a good successful community theater?

I’ve visited a variation of the question already in this series of posts and will likely come back again before the year ends.  It is something on my mind and a way through which I continue to evaluate how I split up my time and creative energy amongst the many projects that keep my brain whirling.

So in good brainstorming fashion I found that one question inspired many more questions.  I suppose it is something I’ve mostly taken for granted in the years I’ve participated in this civic art.  It should be obvious.  Good is when a theater puts on a show (that I like) in a standard of quality (based on my personal interests and emotional interpretations of the script) and features talent (of people I like, but not enough to appreciate the different emotional interpretation of a script without thinking a little bit that it’s wrong).  Successful is when there is a standing ovation and a full house (of people I like in the theater community) and there is a glowing review or five in the local media. 

And yeah, those are some very noticeable gauges of success.  But they are short-lived and often have a second edge to the blade. 

There are some very real, very bottom line measurements.  Like, did the ticket receipts exceed the royalties and costumes and stipends and set and advertising expenses?  Is there enough beyond the show expenses to pay the bills for the facility?  To put aside for some larger capital improvements and purchases?

There are intangible gains.  Did the show attract new people on the stage?  Talent that left with a good feeling and will come back for another go… and bring friends?  Or at least bring friends for the audience?  Was there new audience?  Did the repeaters feel like it was a good investment to come back?  And not just because they had a friend in the show.  Is the audience diverse?  Does it appeal across ages and interests and backgrounds and ethnicities?  Will they go away and tell friends to see this show while they have the chance?

Did the show itself take risks?  Did it produce those financial rewards without having to rely on a cliché like Annie or Neil Simon or whatever other musical is newly released for public consumption?  Did it use the medium of entertainment to ask a tough question about the world?  Did it push the boundaries without being tacky or offensive just because you can? 
Did it give a senior citizen in a wheelchair a day in new scenery and a chance to laugh?  Did it give a five year old an opportunity to gaze up at tap dancers and plant the wish to someday be one of them?  Did it create the perfect chance for a new couple to sit and hold hands together?  Did it fill a parent’s heart with pride?  

Did the volunteers build a set that took you to another world?  Did the lighting change the sense of place and time?  Did the sound sculpt the story into a three dimensional, multi-sensory piece?  Did the scene changes step to a perfect choreography?  Did the ushers smile and make a warm welcome?

Did it make Shakespeare understandable?  Did it make the audience mouth the words silently along with the chorus?  Did they tap their feet with the beat?  Did they boo the villain?  Did they laugh until their stomachs ached?  

Did the cast bond into friendships that seem like family?  Did the crew feel a part of the family and yet maintained a knowing independence?  Did the director help the actors grow?  Did the teenagers feel safe and accepted?  Did the seniors find a way to fill all that time left empty with retirement and the youngest child moved off to college?  Did a child find a voice?  Did the cast and crew showcase their baking talents in the green room?  Did the cast party end seemingly too soon, but in just enough time to promise to come back for the next show?

Did it serve or create the community?

A lot of questions… with so many possible answers.