You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand. — Woodrow Wilson
Absolutely beautiful night for sitting on the porch, listening to the Tigers and doing some journaling. The frogs and crickets are serenading me. It’s early August, not too hot, and I’d be happy to sit here for many, many days.
The house behind me is pretty quiet – I can hear Max and Maggie playing a game together in the basement, laughing quietly and enjoying time together. Another few weeks and they’ll be heading out, back to college, and I’ll miss the sounds of them laughing…. or fighting, or singing, or all of the sounds I’ve gotten used to hearing again since they moved back in waaaaay back in March, when the pandemic was just starting and we weren’t sure how long the interruptions would be. Of course I’ll be worried about them, and I still hate that they’re going, but they have leases on apartments, and most of their classes will be online, and so I have to trust they’ll be okay. Ugh.
Jeanne went to sleep a little early, she had a long, busy day. Some exciting things happening for her that’ll be announced soon enough. Yesterday evening the four of us took the dogs for a nice walk as the sun was setting, walking around the neighborhood. We were laughing, watching FlipFlop pull Max on his skateboard (which he LOVES to do!), and Sneakers was pulling on Maggie because she wanted to chase them… as we followed behind Jeanne said “Aw man… we aren’t going to get many more nights like these” and I knew she was right. The kids will be moving out soon, and who knows when or even if they’ll move back in. Sneakers is not doing well – she’s almost 16 and had a good life, but probably won’t be with us much longer, so we’re really trying to enjoy the time we have with her now. Even if you take the pandemic out of the equation, the constant shifting of sand beneath our feet will be bringing us to a new place again soon.
Can we take the pandemic out of the equation? I mean, all we can do is be as careful as possible, and wait. Wear our masks, wash our hands, Hope people do their best, and hope for a vaccine. And do our best to manage the change that keeps coming as time drifts on, gently dragging us along (and sometimes not gently at all).
Thing is, every time I can remember thinking “Aw man, this is the end of an era” in our family, or with friends, later I also found myself having nights like last night, or tonight, once again, where I wound up thinking “This is beautiful. I’m a lucky, lucky man.” So, even though everything is so up in the air right now, I have faith that as much as I love tonight, I’ll have more moments like this again in the future. Hopefully I’ll remember to take the time to recognize them.
For now, though, I’m going to enjoy the back-and-forth of this ridiculous ball game as the Tigers keep finding ways to give away the lead, and listen to the frogs and crickets reminding me to just breathe, and savor.
A Brave and Startling Truthby Maya Angelou
And when we come to it
To the day of peacemaking
When we release our fingers
From fists of hostility
And allow the pure air to cool our palms
When we come to it
When the curtain falls on the minstrel show of hate
And faces sooted with scorn are scrubbed clean
When battlefields and coliseum
No longer rake our unique and particular sons and daughters
Up with the bruised and bloody grass
To lie in identical plots in foreign soil
When the rapacious storming of the churches
The screaming racket in the temples have ceased
When the pennants are waving gaily
When the banners of the world tremble
Stoutly in the good, clean breeze
When we come to it
When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders
And children dress their dolls in flags of truce
When land mines of death have been removed
And the aged can walk into evenings of peace
When religious ritual is not perfumed
By the incense of burning flesh
And childhood dreams are not kicked awake
By nightmares of abuse
When we come to it
Then we will confess that not the Pyramids
With their stones set in mysterious perfection
Nor the Gardens of Babylon
Hanging as eternal beauty
In our collective memory
Not the Grand Canyon
Kindled into delicious color
By Western sunsets
Nor the Danube, flowing its blue soul into Europe
Not the sacred peak of Mount Fuji
Stretching to the Rising Sun
Neither Father Amazon nor Mother Mississippi who, without favor,
Nurture all creatures in the depths and on the shores
These are not the only wonders of the world
When we come to it
We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe
Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger
Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace
We, this people on this mote of matter
In whose mouths abide cankerous words
Which challenge our very existence
Yet out of those same mouths
Come songs of such exquisite sweetness
That the heart falters in its labor
And the body is quieted into awe
We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness
That the haughty neck is happy to bow
And the proud back is glad to bend
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction
We learn that we are neither devils nor divines
When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear
When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.
This week I wound up spending time at Beaumont Hospital in Trenton with an ailing family member. All is well, everyone is back home and doing well, but times like that are stressful, and worrisome, and one of the things that stands out the most when you look back is the giant amount of HELP and KINDNESS given by so many people. A big THANK YOU to the wonderful staff at Beaumont Trenton, you guys rock.
Between that event, and Thanksgiving and the holidays coming up, it’s a time of year that we all start thinking of others. Probably we start thinking of them in a way that we should think all year. I know I do. I look around and I think about how amazingly fortunate I am, how lucky I am to be loved by people, to have friends and family I can count on, and to still be here in my very own Bonus Levels. I also, though, am very aware that I could be doing more for others. Does anyone else feel this? The kindness of the Beaumont Hospital staff reminded me that a little effort can go a long way when people are in need, and sometimes it’s the smallest of gestures that makes a difference.
Everyone is busy, we’re all working too much and overwhelmed with life and plans and challenges and politics and that’s just the way our lives ARE nowadays. One of the ways to help slow down, make OUR lives better, is to help someone else. I don’t do enough of that, but I’m going to try to do more. If anyone wants to join me, here are some resources that a colleague recently shared with me:
- To volunteer at your local soup kitchen, click here
- To donate to your local food bank, click here
- To donate a meal to food-insecure senior citizens, click here
What a joy Silent Sky has been. Some shows just have such an affect on people – audience, cast, designers, crew – that you don’t want them to end. Watching this beautiful script by Lauren Gunderson do that to people over the last 5 weeks has been wonderful and, now that we have reached the closing performance, I find myself feeling the same way.
The sense of wonder, of exploration and perseverance from this show is beautiful and inspiring. The sheer joy it evokes, that sense that “Anything Is Possible”, is just so beautifully interwoven with the loving bittersweet reminder “But… we don’t have forever… so Savor Everything.”
Working with the entire production team on this show has been an amazing journey. Telling the story of Henrietta Leavitt, Annie Cannon and Williamina Fleming – true pioneers in their field who persevered and changed the world around them despite incredible resistance – has been an absolute gift, and one of the highlights of my career so far. I offer a giant THANK YOU to the many wonderful people who helped to make it happen!
Because the real point… is seeing something bigger. And knowing we’re a part of it, if we’re lucky. In the end that is a life well-lived. Because thank God there’s a lot out there bigger than me.
-Henrietta Leavitt, SILENT SKY by Lauren Gunderson
The last week has been so full of good storytelling and good theatre!
“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”
– Joan Didion
Last Friday I got the chance to see the beautiful production of Shakuntala, a gorgeous Indian folk tale by the ancient Indian Poet Kalidasa. Directed by award winning Fulbright Scholar Satyabrata Rout, visiting from India, the play was a beautiful and moving interpretation of the ancient tale. Storytelling, dance, song, tableaux, all were executed marvelously.
Then over the weekend I caught up on my current television favorite: The Good Place. If you’re not watching it, you should be. Whipsmart, hilarious, and beautifully done, it’s a real treat – the style of storytelling is just wonderful. Ted Danson is a freaking national treasure, Kristen Bell is marvelous, and the whole cast and production team are firing on all cylinders. Warning: Watch it from the beginning of Season One!!
Saturday, I got to see another Lauren Gunderson play, Ada and the Engine, at the Open Book theatre in Trenton. If you haven’t had a chance to get to Open Book, you should make the time. The show was just wonderful! A beautiful story, with creative and lovely staging and design work. My schedule doesn’t let me see nearly as much theatre as I wish I could, but I’m so glad I got to squeeze this one into the calendar.
(For more about Lauren Gunderson, CLICK HERE!)
Sunday was another treat: Milvotchkee, Visconsin at Kickshaw Theatre in Ann Arbor. Lynn Lammers and her team of artists put together another GORGEOUS production, as is their habit. This show, which takes the audience into the mind of a person suffering from Alzheimers, was heartbreaking and beautifully funny. The packed house went back and forth between laughing and gasping at the tragedy, the love, the humanity of the story. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house at the end, and the cast, production crew and whole Kickshaw team deserve the standing ovation they got.
This week, along with continuing to present Silent Sky, the beautiful story of Henrietta Leavitt currently at Williamston Theatre, we are also rehearsing the staged reading of an absolutely delightful, charming new musical titled Belinda. Based on the play by A.A. Milne (of Winnie The Pooh fame), this adaptation by Alisa Hauser and David Mallamud is a ton of fun, and I’m really looking forward to sharing it with our audiences on Monday night!
AND we are deep into pre-production work for A Hunting Shack Christmas, the next show I’ll be directing. It’s ridiculous and raucous with a heart of gold. So much fun.
Plus, in the never-ending search for plays to include in our next season, I’ve had the chance to read some really lovely stories over the last couple of weeks. We’re also planning our 12-hour play reading marathon (late November, Williamston Theatre), and I’m having a ton of fun piecing that together.
“Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.”
– Hannah Arendt
Storytelling. Whether it’s to entertain, inspire, invigorate, reflect or question, it doesn’t matter. It’s a wonderful, powerful thing, and I still believe we can use it to make the world a better place.
“Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.
One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.
As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.
He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”
“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man.
To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”
Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”
At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, “It made a difference for that one.”
― Adapted from the original by Loren Eiseley
It’s been a long week, but a good one. I’m getting closer to being healthy again, which is nice, and we just finished tech week for The Usual: A Musical Love Story, which is a lot of fun! (And despite the fact that I keep calling it a sweet, quirky little musical , it’s pretty BIG in a lot of ways, which meant that tech week was a busy, challenging, fun and rewarding process!)
It’s interesting though, I was asked a couple different versions of the question “You’re really doing a musical comedy about a romance between nerds?”… And my answer, of course, was YES! I think folks are thinking pocket-protector-wearing tape-on-glasses and pants-hiked-up-to-waist nerds, in a very typical “Revenge of the Nerds” fashion – and I can see where they’d get that, but it’s the 21st century! Nerds are in! Geek is chic! The old definition has gone out the window, and those nerds of the past have grown into adults with real world lives and problems! I mean, it’s a musical with songs about computers from the 80’s, sex toys, being a geek and Switzerland! What’s not to love about that?! But sometimes folks want to hear WHY? It sounds SILLY – Isn’t it theatre? Art? Where’s The Message?! (Capital M, trademark, glowy halo around the word, and a gentle rolling timpani playing as you say it – “The Message!?”)
So, I often find myself struggling to give a good explanation about the “Why” when it comes to “Why did you pick this play over that?” or “Why on Earth would you do THAT one?”. Often, the answer that I really want to give is simply “It spoke to me”.
I avoid that answer more often than I should, I think, and I think it’s because it’s a more “touchy feely” answer, and less quantifiable to many people, but the truth is that it’s often the biggest, simplest reason. I don’t often refer to myself as an “artist”, but I am one. The people I work with are artists, what we make is art, and there’s an art to doing it well. And, I think, one of the constant truths of art is that when it works it DOES speak to you, and often in ways that are hard to define. (One of the big challenges of what we do is to MAKE ourselves define it, through the process, as clearly as possible, so that we can excavate it off the page and breathe life into it on the stage. Sometimes, though, it’s just a gut feeling: “This moment works better like this” or “That moved me. The other way didn’t”.) And, of course, there’s no way of knowing if the fact that something spoke to ME is enough to make it speak to others, but you take the risk and you build it and share it because, well, that’s what artists do.
It’s late. I’m rambling, and I’m sleepy, but from a great week of working with great people on something I love. I never know if a show is going to please audiences as much as it pleases me, or if every experiment is going to turn out to be a giant success or an exercise in weathering public disapproval. What I do know, is that when I read something, if it speaks to me, I have to pursue it, and then I always hope to share both the creation of it AND the final product with people who I HOPE get as excited about it as me! On the way home tonight I was thinking about that, and realized that I needed some quotes about it!
Art is man’s expression of his joy in labor.
-Henry A. Kissinger
The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.
Art is the unceasing effort to compete with the beauty of flowers – and never succeeding.
-Gian Carlo Menotti
The work of art may have a moral effect, but to demand moral purpose from the artist is to make him ruin his work.
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Art is what’s left over after you’ve defined everything else.