“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.

 

THINK!

 

Come then, and let us pass a leisure hour in storytelling, and our story shall be the education of our heroes. -Plato

“Don’t make me think for myself! Don’t make me feel something! Tell me WHAT to think! Tell me WHAT to feel! Don’t make me ask QUESTIONS and explore the answer!”

Sad.  I get sad when this is the response to things.  Especially things I’ve made, or that other storyteller friends have made.  Sad, and frustrated.  In today’s world, the ability – or interest? – in THINKING and exploring something seems to be fading away.   So many people seem to be looking to get the easy answer:  “Tell me how to feel!”

Listen, I love a nice, simple, clear-as-day episode of Matlock as much as anybody… I’ll happily sit and laugh my way through an episode of Three’s Company… but not everything should be that simple.  Not everything CAN be that simple.  They’ll yell – the people who shun imagination and critical thinking, they’ll complain – but we can’t give in, those of us who are artists and storytellers, we can’t give in and allow everything to be dumbed down and oversimplified.  There is room for all sorts of storytelling – and we can’t allow the people who want every moment of life to be spelled out in snack-sized sound bites to take away our ability to SAVOR NOT KNOWING.  To revel in asking the question.  To go home at the end of the night NOT having everything laid out in a mindlessly digestible form, but having some things left unanswered rattling around in our brains, forcing us to analyze them using our imagination, our own sense of curiosity and wonder, our own life experience.  It’s from THIS that we understand our life, and the world around us: From the sharing of moments and ideas, and reflecting on them, discussing them.  NOT from having ideas explained and answers handed to us, but having ideas presented and the questions asked!

One way teaches us to be thinkers.  The other teaches us to be nothing but consumers.

Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.
-Hannah Arendt

Storytelling is ultimately a creative act of pattern recognition. Through characters, plot and setting, a writer creates places where previously invisible truths become visible. Or the storyteller posits a series of dots that the reader can connect.
— Douglas Coupland

 The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.
— Brandon Sanderson

I Like This

In the Russian tradition of Stanislavsky, the actor says “I will tell you a story about me.” In the German tradition of Brecht, the actor says, “I will tell you a story about them.” In the Vietnamese tradition, the actor says “You and I will tell each other a story about all of us.”

– “In Vietnam, Telling Stories About ‘All of Us,'”
Ron Jenkins, New York Times, August 11, 2002

A Nice Week – And A Moment Of Thanks

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” -Phillip Pullman

This Thursday, we had our first preview performance for The Woman In Black at Williamston Theatre.

I got up onstage just before the show to make the pre-show announcements, (“Hi! I’m Tony, turn off your cell phones, thanks for being here, turn off your cell phones, we have some folks to thank for their support, and if you have a cell phone please turn it off.”)

As I was talking, I said “Welcome to the first performance of our 8th Season!” and the packed house erupted into applause, cutting me off.  I smiled and looked out into the crowd, making eye contact with a lot of people who I’ve come to know over the life of Williamston Theatre.  (We have a lot of patrons who LOVE coming to the first couple of previews, they love the talk-back after the show: knowing that we’re still in rehearsals they’re participating in what is still a work-in-progress, and they enjoy the fact that they may contribute to what the piece ultimately becomes.  We love them!)

So, I’m standing, seeing all of these people applaud and cheer, and had a moment.  Just a quick “Wow” moment, but it was there.  One of those lump-in-the-throat,  I had better talk now because if I don’t I may not be able to in a minute kinda moments, because I was again reminded of how lucky we’ve been.

Starting our 8th Season.  Wow.  42 productions – well, 43 now!  Lessons learned.  Friends made.  Families made.  Hundreds of jobs provided to artists.  Many awards won.  And – most importantly – lots of stories told that have moved people.

“People don’t want more information. They are up to their eyeballs in information. They want faith–faith in you, your goals, your success, in the story you tell.” -Annette Simmons

So many people to thank for making all of that happen – board members, actors, volunteers, my 3 co-founders John and Chris and Emily, our families, donors, our apprentices, our stage managers, designers, directors, the MSU theatre department, Williamston business owners, the list goes on and on.

We’re not done growing, I hope – and in fact as the applause faded and I spoke, I laughed and said “Thank you – we’re as amazed as you are that we’re still here!” because in many ways, we are!

So, this post is a Thank You.  And an acknowledgement of the huge amount of hard work and faith and dedication that so many people have given to help keep a dream going.  It’s also a reminder, too : Sometimes, in the middle of all of the day-to-day running and grinding and putting-out-metaphorical-fires, take a minute… take a minute to look around and appreciate where you are, who helped get you there, because it’s important.  Remembering why you do what you do, why all the hard work is worth it – no matter what it is you do – that not only makes life worth living… it keeps it beautiful.

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” -Joan Didion

Friday Quotes: Storytelling

“Do they care?  That’s it.  That’s the only thing that ever matters.  Do they care?  Is it interesting, are the jokes funny, are the characters relatable, are the scary parts scary?  The more you do, the more you realize there’s only one thing you can do… we still have the same mandate, which is Make ‘em care”. 
-Joss Whedon

“Artists use lies to tell the truth. Yes, I created a lie. But because you believed it, you found something true about yourself.” 
-Alan Moore

“You can fix anything but a blank page.” 
-Nora Roberts

“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.” 
-Sue Monk Kidd

“It is your obligation to speak things that have truth, because this is your life’s work.”
-Judith Black

“Rule one of reading other people’s stories is that whenever you say ‘well that’s not convincing’ the author tells you that’s the bit that wasn’t made up. This is because real life is under no obligation to be convincing.”
-Neil Gaiman

‘Fringe’ exiting on sci-fi high | Variety

My current favorite show on TV ends on Friday. Here’s a nice article about it from Variety.

I love this show, it’s become one of my favorite sci-fi shows of all time. As a big fan of science fiction, that’s a big thing for me to say. One of the things I love about it the most is that the heart of it, like so many good stories, is about family and love. Then, you take those things and add in weird alternate universes and time travelers and creepy mysteries and incredible characters being brought to life with fabulous performers and writers who aren’t afraid to take risks and turn the whole thing on it’s head once in a while… that’s inspiring. And good storytelling.

‘Fringe’ exiting on sci-fi high | Variety.