“Wonder will always get us there…”

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

A good week for stories

 

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.

 

Opening Night for SILENT SKY!

So excited to open this show tonight. It’s the first production of our 13th season which, in itself, is a really cool thing. Plus, the script is a beautiful piece of writing by Lauren Gunderson. Moving, funny, inspirational – and based on real people and real events, which makes it particularly wonderful to work on.

There’s something special about doing a play based on an actual person, especially one who did some amazing things but doesn’t get enough recognition for it. Henrietta Leavitt helped change the way we see the universe today, which is a pretty incredible freaking thing. She looked at the men saying “Nope, you’re a woman, you can’t do that” and went and did it anyway, and made the world a better place.

It’s also been a fabulous process – starting another season with my co-founders John, Chris and Emily is always a special thing, but then you add in the amazing team of people I got to work with on Silent Sky and it makes for an even more wonderful event. The cast, the production team, the stage management team – everyone is at the top of their game, and it inspires me to be better. PLUS – when you mix all of that with the tale of Henrietta Leavitt, who saw the world and knew what she wanted to do to make it better, and DID it – it’s hard not to come out of that process feeling like you A) have work to do, and B) WANT to do it.

So – here we are! This autumn will be full of cool work, and I’m excited to do it. Jumping into that can wait, though… until Sunday, anyway! Now we celebrate, and keep trying to make the world a better place, through storytelling!

The Stoics… some quotes on life and happiness.

Caretake this moment. Immerse yourself in its particulars. Respond to this person, this challenge, this deed. Quit evasions. Stop giving yourself needless trouble. It is time to really live; to fully inhabit the situation you happen to be in now.
Epictetus

True happiness is a verb. It’s the ongoing dynamic performance of worthy deeds. The flourishing life, whose foundation is virtuous intention, is something we continually improvise, and in doing so our souls mature. Our life has usefulness to ourselves and to the people we touch.
– Sharon Lebell, translating and adapting Epictetus, in her book “The Art of Living: The Classical Manual On Virtue, Happiness and Effectiveness”

“Forget everything else. Keep hold of this alone and remember it. Each of us lives only now, this brief instant. The rest has been lived already, or is impossible to see.”
Marcus Aurelius, from Meditations, as translated by Gregory Hays

——————-

I really like these 3 quotes – the way they fit together. The Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius quotes, in particular, are so similar, yet they approach the “Now is the only moment” philosophy from different angles. Heaven knows I’m no philosophy expert. I like the pairing of the three, though, and I’m not exactly sure why.

Maybe it’s because of Lebell’s final sentence “Our life has usefulness to ourselves and the people we touch.” That sentence rings out, for me, and connects in a way that makes me hope I can make that true. If we approach life as Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius suggest – and embrace each moment as vital, and maybe all we get – then making those connections with the people around us, each moment, is key to living well, right? Practicing an “ongoing dynamic performance of worthy deeds”, as Lebell says, while taking care and effort to “caretake this moment” feels like a wonderful mix of how to try and tackle every day. Lord knows, it’s not an easy task by any stretch. I mean, on days when the bills are due and there are too many emails unanswered in the inbox, and you’ve had to skip lunch and really just need a nap, it’s hard to embrace a “feel good about NOW” mindset…

But then again, that’s probably when I most need to.

Breaking out of a funk….

Okay – This is fascinating! A few years ago, in Amsterdam, they had to excavate a riverbed that ran through the city. During the excavation, archeologists took advantage of the dig to see what they could find. What they found was an amazing array of things lost into the river dating from now and going back thousands of years, and they catalogued them all!

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Dice, dated between 1500 and 1200 AD! Some gambler lost THAT bet!

Check it out, this is incredible.  

In other news, we’re about to open the final show of our 12th season at Williamston Theatre.  We started previews last night of Memoir and it’s the kind of show that the word “Delightful” was invented for!  Work has been wonderful. I had the chance to direct a terrific show, Significant Other, at the MSU Summer Circle.  That was an absolute treat.  Script was fun, it was outside and fun, and the cast and design team were top notch – truly a bunch of young professionals now graduated with MFA’s and heading out to what I know will be great careers in the industry.

Despite work being really good, and family life being wonderful (one kid in college, one graduating high school, and an amazing wife keeping me sane), it’s been a challenge finding the motivation to write – either in my personal journal or here, on this site.  It’s been frustrating, because I’ve been in a bit of a slump.  A handful of life things and personal things, stuff we all deal with, have been weighing on me.  Along with those, the incredibly divisive and vitriolic political mess here in the U.S. has just left me feeling burned out, and I’ve also (either because of that stuff of just along with it!) allowed myself to get more chubby and out of shape physically than I’ve been in a while, and that’s been frustrating – it’s also just not good for me, especially with the variety of health issues I already have –  so that’s been weighing on me too. (Hah. “Weighing.” Literally!)  So all of that has meant that lately I’ve found myself MISSING that sense of loving life that I normally have – and have had for especially the last few years, now that I’m in my extra-innings of life!

Fortunately, life and family and friends and the universe have been there giving me reasons to perk back up.  Spending lots of QFT lately, which has been nice, doing some more bike riding and exercising has been good for me.  I’m now prepping to direct our fall show, Silent Sky, by Lauren Gunderson, which is a GORGEOUS piece of theatre and I am absolutely thrilled to be working on it with an amazing team of people!  That, and a handful of other projects which are coming up, are pretty exciting.  I *am* getting nervous because in a couple of months my son is heading to Germany for a year long Exchange Program: I’m thrilled for him, but I will worry the entire year he is gone!

OH! Plus – I’ve got a little vacation time coming up. More on that later, but it’s going to be a wonderful trip and I can not wait!

So – thanks for reading! And if YOU’RE having any kind of slump, like I’ve had, hang in there.  Look around, find your joy and embrace it.  Then go help others find theirs – I think that helps!

 

My Son!

As amazing as it sounds, my son had his last day of High School today! I’m so proud of him. Up next for him: a year in Germany, for his Gap Year Student Exchange Program, before he goes to college. I think the current plan is to come back after that and go to college for music composition and production.

I am super proud of his abilities as a musician and a composer, and jealous! I can’t wait to hear his music as he grows, and studies, and his talents expand even more.

Here’s a link to his Sound Cloud account, where he has a number of his songs posted. Check it out!

One of his songs, Jump, has over 11, 000 listens! His song Again was just chosen by the head of the Chelsea show choir, Company C, to be included in their Spring performance, where it was played with choreographed dancers performing to it. That was a pretty amazing honor for Max!

So, in honor of my son’s last day at school, here is a pic montage designed to make me cry.

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The last week…

Currently having a blast directing Steve Spotswood’s Doublewide at Williamston Theatre. Man, this beautiful play is thoughtful, funny, heartbreaking and beautiful. It ticks so many boxes for me: Makes you laugh, cry, think, want to call people you love. And the team I get to work with in making it is pretty damned awesome. I’m a lucky guy.

Here’s a screenshot of the scenic rendering by Kirk Domer…

And here’s shot from rehearsal of the thing in action…

And here’s a pic from later that same day, after rehearsal when the scenic crew was hard at work!

This is one of those shows that has a good handful of locations, but a couple of them are the anchors where the majority of the action takes place. Thanks to a great production staff, we’re having a blast embracing the theatrical expressions of those locations instead of trying to do hyper-realistic scenery. This is something I’m wanting more and more as I get older – I don’t know why, but the more I do this the more I want to get away from super realism. Film and TV do that, but I love when theatre does what it does best: Make us imagine.

For more info, check out the Williamston Theatre website!

Every time…..

Every time this shows up in the mail, I think of my Dad.

I think back to when I was in high school, and told him I wanted to go to college for theatre. I was ready to be told I should find something more stable, I was ready to be lectured about responsibility and the future.

Instead, all he asked was “Do you think you can make a living at it?” When I said I thought I could, he just nodded, and said “Okay. Great. Your mom and I will help any way we can.” And that was it.

So when my membership card from SDC arrives I, naturally, get a sense of pride that I’m following my dream and making it work, and I’m thrilled that I’m contributing to the world the way I’d hoped to… but I also feel like I’m keeping a promise to my Dad. I know he was proud of me, of all his kids, but putting this card in my wallet every year makes me feel worthy of the trust and faith he had in me on that afternoon, sitting together in our kitchen, over 30 years ago.

On Tuesday I start rehearsal for Doublewide, a play about a guy who spends his life working in a factory and doing everything he can to provide a good future for his family.

Thanks, Dad. This one’s for you.

Random Thoughts on a Sunday

Okay, the weather is cold outside, but soon it won’t be. Soon the Tigers will be back, and MLB will begin the marathon of a regular season. There’s fear in Detroit, though – the Tigers will be in a big rebuilding season, and the new predictions for Wins/Losses just came out. It’s not looking good for the Tigers. Click here to see the dismal prediction.

I heard a great quote from a TED Talk by Susan David: “Discomfort is the price to a meaningful life.” She gave a very nice talk about dealing with negative emotions in a positive way.

Speaking of negative emotions: Is it just me, or is Facebook almost unbearable lately? No dialogue, no fun, just people deciding they’re authorized to tell everyone else what they’re allowed to believe, like, say, or do. Maybe I just need a break from it, but right now it’s just a tiresome repetition. One that I know I’m just as guilty of as anyone else. I feel like we all need a reminder (me included) that maybe our best option is to embrace the connections from our similarities and shared opinions, and embrace non-judgmental curiosity about our differences. *sigh* I just know I’ve enjoyed not being on it as much lately.

On a more positive note: I’m so proud of the team at Williamston Theatre, and the response we’re getting from audiences for the current production of Our Lady Of Poison. Shannon Ferrante led a terrific staff and cast, and did marvelous work. 27625370_10156102918764629_6048259823109898447_o.jpg

Right now we are deep into pre-production for our next show at Williamston, Doublewide. I’m having a blast working with this production team, and even though we have a few weeks of Our Lady… left, I’m raring to jump into rehearsals! I really hope folks enjoy this show, I think it’s a beautiful and honest exploration into life in this part of the world, and the struggle to find a place in it.

Speaking of Doublewide, here’s a Work-In-Progress of the scenic design by the amazing Kirk Domer. I’m not going to explain anything in it yet, it’s just a sneak peek.Doublewide Rendering - House Left - Draft 2-11-18 No Walls for Tony

I can’t remember if I posted these before? The last show I directed, Beau Jest, was a ton of fun. During the show, which took place in the late ’80’s, a little camera was used by a couple characters to take pictures of other people in the play with them. We used real film in a camera, and got some of them developed. Here, for fun, are some of them!

Ah, there are Pat Loos, Vanessa Sawson, Michael Lopetrone, Sandy Birch and (barely) Fred Buchalter! The quality is awful because they were under stage lights and it was an old camera, but I love that you can also see audience members in the background!

Random TV Thoughts: The Good Place is so freaking good. If you haven’t watched it, start at the beginning and binge. Star Trek Discovery has become a pleasant surprise for me, and I’ve really enjoyed Agents of Shield also! Tops on my list, and I’m late getting to it, is The Great British Baking Show! Jeanne and I have just started watching it, and we’re in love! Thanks to everyone who recommended it. I now desperately want to take some baking lessons.

Lastly – because it’s time to work: Man, I am so excited to see the Black Panther movie coming out this week. I just think it looks terrific, for lots of reasons, and I’m really looking forward to seeing it.

Hope you’re having a good weekend, everyone. Stay safe, and spend time with people you love!