I am a lucky woman.
I am also slightly crazy- but I think that without the crazy, the rest wouldn’t be quite as good.
I am directing “Ragtime” with 35, 8th-11th grade students this summer.
Did you doubt when I said I was crazy?!
We spent four days auditioning, then 1 day of read through and then 3 full days of working on the prologue.
For those of you unfamiliar with the prologue of “Ragtime” it is a 9 minute 30 second monstrosity of music. It introduces us to an ensemble of rich white people, an ensemble of folks who live in harlem, a bunch of immigrants and 13 other characters ranging from Harry Houdini to Henry Ford. IT IS A LOT for 35 high school students and one strung out, over worked director working in a tiny blackbox theatre...
The end of the prologue of “Ragtime” is always the same. Ensembles of different people swirl around the principals- catching them up in the tide of history.
Not in my production- because my stage is actually too small to fit 30 students walking around...So I came up with something else..something cool..and it worked!
And I giggled with glee.
I thought about it today. I generally giggle with glee once a day over the summer- when I have the pleasure of working my ass off with some of the most talented kids in the world.
Everyone should have the pleasure of giggling with glee at least once a day in their work.
I am lucky.
So I taught this really wonderful class last night. My friend and I have founded a new class, we are calling it the Singer’s Workspace- and it is really something I am very proud of. The structure of the class is pretty simple, group of 3-6 people, brief warm up, then everyone gets a 20 minute work-session on a song of their choosing based on a theme (or idea) of my choosing. Last night the class revolved around impulses and the Tony’s. And the thought that if you want to win a Tony, you have to stop stifling your impulses and stop saying NO to your inner voice- say a very loud YES! instead and let it fly. I asked everyone to pick what they thought would be their tony song- and sing it fully impulsively, and we started from there.
I was shocked at the way everyone felt the need to qualify their song choice- 4 very talented women in class and each of them felt the need to tell me why this was not their best song choice for their Tony song. What is it about people, that even when we are given the permission, indeed the assignment, to shine- we find it nearly impossible to allow ourselves the freedom to do it. After each 20 minute work session I felt like each of the 4 women had a moment where they followed a distinct and clear impulse without judgement, and allowed themselves a moment to take recognition for being wonderful.
I am convinced this is the first key to success as an actor. to allow yourself to fully and without judgement follow your actor impulse is the first move. Once you have fully followed these impulses you can then begin to mold and shape them into a character, with actions and definable goals- but first you need to give them an impulsive inner life. And you need the tools to do this for yourself.
It is always amazing to me that the same tools that make you a better actor, make you a better person.
I am constantly amazed at how much work goes into my work...
I was at a conference kind of thing the other morning for non-profit management (exciting I know) and the woman at the podium was talking about the fact that she had made a great change in her life. And she was now pursuing her passion. And she talked about the challenge of finding that passion. She had a very hard time figuring out what her passion was--until she phrased it like this “what would I do as a job- even if no one paid me”?
Well Hell- I guess the answer is you’d be an artist! Because hell if I haven’t been working for free ever since I did my first play at the age of 7. And I am one of the lucky ones- at least I spend my days in service of my art as well- if in a different fashion.
Anyhow- after a long day of filling in numbers on a DCA grant for funding at work, I came home- tucked in my kid and sat down for a 3 hour budgeting session with my pet project...
I am following my passion, right?
I am, and it is exhilarating to sit down at 8PM and not pick up your head until 11, because you are so driven by the love of the project.
But sometimes- it really just makes for a long day.
on a side note- in case you were curious- the woman on the podium left her job to become a voice over artist- her passion is books on tape...
It has been a really crazy few weeks, that don’t seem to be ending. So much personal upheaval.
Through it all I am amazed that my ability to focus on what I want has actually become much more clear. it is as though the prism through which I keep an eye on my dream is casting less and less distracting visions around. I am zeroing in on the real stuff.
As I move forward I have been thinking about art and its usefulness. We are crafts-persons, artisans- how can my art (theatre) be “useful” in the day to day sense of the word.
The only thing I consistently hit on is empathy. Theatre, no matter what type, forces us to be empathetic- to look at the world through others eyes.
Does it follow that we as theatre artists have an implicit obligation to push that empathetic response and move it toward social justice. In this world of haves and have nots- can theatre help the cause of social justice- just because of its empathic nature?
I don’t know- but I think I want to find out...
It has been an exceptionally long week. There has been a tragedy at our periphery. A child in my daughter’s class has died. The girl was 3, my daughter is 4, I am 35, and it makes sense to none of us. I did not think I would be as affected as I have been by this event. I did not expect that for 4 days I would forget to eat dinner. I did not expect that to sleep I would need to take a pill, and that the tears would come at almost any moment- forcing me to wear sunglasses on the grayest of days this week.
As an adult, I am trying to make the proverbial lemonade. This event has happened at a seminal moment in my life- a time when I am standing on a precipice trying to decide whether or not to jump. Life is too short, and I must jump while I still have a chance. So I spent my dinner time this week getting this website in order. A first step... to what I am not quite sure.
This morning as I did some yoga (which I am desperately trying to get better at) I had a bit of a revelation. Artists live in the emotions that others live in a state of covering up. This sensitivity is a gift, not the hassle it has felt like all week. It is the reason I can look at a play and feel it so acutely as I read it. It is the reason I can sit in a room with a group of actors and audience and be transported to another world. It is the reason I feel so strongly about the power of theatre- the power of people in a group sharing a live experience.
My daughter’s teacher told us today that the children have been doing a lot of art work this week. They have all used art as a way to make sense of what is going on in their lives. They are making a play for their friend, they have painted pictures, I have even been told they’d like to make a movie. They have found strength in the group, and shared experience. Even the smallest children use art to confirm their humanity. To make art within a group, it is their therapy, their joy and their way of working though so many of their feelings. To create is a primitive instinct.
In this city it is easy to feel “less than”. To get caught up in who makes more money, who has more, why can’t I go to the best restaurant, why can’t I send my kid to that school, etc., when you do what I do. I make art, sometimes...sometimes I teach it, and sometimes I just sit at a desk and tell people why art is important. But today I know, my art is important. More than that, it is integral. Gathering people together in a room to share an experience that tells us about our shared humanity is primitive, and important. And it will never be irrelevant.