Category Archives: The Meaning of Art

To Change the World

That’s why I do theatre.

To change the world.

I was reminded of it this week in two very different, yet parallel experiences.

Sunday night: 2 minutes to places.  The basement of Gallery 119 which serves as our dressing room for Hamlet.  About to enter a theatre with a mere 6 people in the audience, this cast of strong amazing women didn’t bat an eyelid.  They continued their prep.  Laughing, last minute touches to the eyes, a little powder on the those, shoveling down the last of dinner, making fun of each other, bending to squint into poorly lit mirrors.  They were here because they wanted to be; because we had a story and we wanted them to tell it, and they know how and do it with flare.  And I remembered why I began this incredible adventure called theatre.

Today, Wednesday afternoon: Girls, Inc. in Lowell.  A classroom of peanuts.  Three feet tall and five feet tall.  Big and small.  Round and straight.  Every shade of brown, peach, pink, and tan known to man.  And everyone of them watched with wide, anticipating eyes.  They wanted to know who Hamlet is, is the story real, why is he fighting, why does Laertes say goodbye to Ophelia, is Ophelia still there, she dies without getting to love Hamlet, how do you do that kick, where does he go, what does he do.  And one little girl “I guess it’s like how we learn things everyday without even knowing.”  “Yes,” I said, “that’s a good way to put it.”  These girls, our future, I tell stories to make their world a better place.

I am but one person.  But I have the power to call together hundreds to put a story on stage.  I have the power to arrest a classroom of children and teach them to know where they are in space.  I have the power to make an audience sit up and pay attention.  I have the power to help others do the same.

This is why I do theatre.

I like this kind of Rough Week

I’m wearing the clothes I thought I’d be excercising in, but I never made it to my living room and its DVD player because my daughter arrived  home an hour earlier than expected and had missed her morning apointment for a flu shot.  So we went to the doctors instead of working on my cardio.

My hair was washed.  Yesterday.  It was also styled.  Yesterday.

I had a taste of Hamlet rehearsals yesterday when we rehearsed a scene for a private fundraising party.  So my head is stuck in Hamlet clouds.

I went to a different fundraiser on Tuesday, for New Exhibition Room, and laughed so hard I cried.  The night included irreverent love songs by a threesome who looked far too preppie and sweet to be spouting that kind of vocabulary, two pieces by my new favorite Goddess: UnAmerika’s Sweetheart, a burlesque dancer with more grace in her little finger than I will ever ooze from my entire being, hosted by a character actress whose specialty is playing an 87-year old ex-vaudevillian.  Not to mention the Steamy Bohemians.  I was going to stay for the first half hour and ended up being sad when I had to leave after it ended.  I would have like to stay and play but my head was pounding for a visit to her bed.

I have entirely neglected my “day job” as I struggle to keep up with the marketing material for GANemeed.

And I’m about to be late picking up my child who’s angry at me for putting her in aftercare and sending her to her dad’s house extra this week.

It’s been a long week.  I look like I’ve been sleeping in a sack.

SR on a bad day

But I am inspired.  Excited.  I can’t contain my wings.

Now, if I could only fit the whole sleeping, eating, exercising thing in, this Rough Week would be perfect.

To Do Good Stuff

Mama: Okay, I’ll sit with you for three songs and then I’ll run downstairs and get my computer and sit in the big chair and work while you fall asleep.

Avi: What work?

Mama: I’m designing a postcard for my theatre company and I have to finish it tonight.

Avi: You go to the theatre?

Mama: Yes, I own a theatre company.  We don’t have a building yet, but we are a company.  I’m the boss.

She giggles and I smile.

Mama: Is that funny?

Avi: Yes.  She giggles some more.

Mama: But you know what we do? We hire women and girls.  We help them become better theatre artists, and stronger leaders, and change the world.

Avi: And Do Good Stuff.

Mama: Yes, And Do Good Stuff.  Just like….do you remember who’s birthday it is today?

She points to herself and smiles slyly.

Mama: Martin Luther King, Jr.  He was a great man who changed the world.

Avi: Why do we say it’s his birthday?

Mama: Because he was a great man.  He worked very hard to help all people be treated well, no matter what color skin they have.  And we want to remember him so we always celebrate his birthday.

Avi:  And he was born this day?

Mama: Yes.

May we all remember this birth that changed the world, honor the women and men who continue and broaden his work, and honor the births of new movers and shakers.


Go Read ‘Living Oprah’

It’s 10:30pm and I just finished Living Oprah by Robyn Okrant.  I picked it up right around the new year.  I had a couple hours to myself, the first in a while and I found myself, of course, at the bookstore attempting to convince myself not to buy anything.  I failed.

And then I failed even more when I spotted Robyn’s book.  I knew it’d be coming out.  I’ve been reading her blog on and off since she started her social experiment.  I was actually privy enough to be on her big email list announcing her new experiment.  At the time, I thought to myself “what a fun idea” and “how nice to hear from Robyn, even by way of a mass email, because I really liked her and was always a little bit sad I wasn’t brave enough to get to be more than just a colleague.”

I feel lame writing that.  Because now that she has graced a dozen or so TV talk shows, radio talk shows, newspapers, and magazines,I feel like I have to tell everyone how I personally know her.  Like I can finally claim I know someone famous.  This is a big deal.  In a weird way.  I think I’m the only person in professional show biz who doesn’t actually know anyone famous.  I can’t even claim I’ve met a famous person.  But, I “knew Robyn back when.”  Although, she probably wouldn’t claim to be famous; I’m going to say she is, just for kicks.

Anyways, I was at the bookstore preparing to go pay too much money for my armload of guilty pleasures (one of which I’m currently sitting on so that I am at the proper height for my keyboard. go figure.) when I spotted her book.  And, it wasn’t just sitting anywhere.  It was on the second table as soon as you walk in the door, smack dab in the middle of the “New Year, New You” section.  There she was, smiling up at me.

And now I’ve read her book.  It was really good.  As an objective reader, I can honestly say that if you like autobiographies and clever writing, you’ll enjoy this book.  You’ll probably like it even more if you’re a woman.

As a biased reader, I can honestly say that I loved this book.  I loved it because I knew Robyn before this all began.  I knew her when she had frizzy hair that framed her entire head with a life of its own and it looked singular and gorgeous even when it was messy.  She’d come off the Chicago street lugging that weird awkward yellow bag that she’d detached from the back of her bike.  Her cheeks were always red from cycling, her eyes shone.  She has a booming, raspy, deep, dare-I-say, sexy voice.  The kind of voice I’ve always wanted because it is far more expressive than my tiny child-like soprano that gets tight and giggly at the most inopportune times.

She was a power house already.  She oozed confidence and made me feel inferior in my inability to crack out witty comments.  She seemed to know far more than me about pretty much everything.  And the day I got pulled aside from rehearsal to “have a talk” about how I wasn’t really improving (we were doing an improv spoof) I turned bright red and almost cried because I wanted to succeed at this thing that terrified me more than anything.  And she spoke to me with her deep action-taking voice while I shrunk into my chair.

I didn’t get fired.  But she did push me in unexpected ways, like making us run the entire 1 hour show (okay, maybe it wasn’t the whole show but it certainly felt like it) and told me I had to be in every single scene no matter what.  And still make sense.  Oh, and talk.

This improv show…she created it, and it’s the show that changed the course of my entire acting career.  I showed up to audition for a spoof of Lord of the Rings. I had some improv experience, enough to know I was pretty good at carrying a character but not so good a quick, witty comments.  I felt confident at the auditions; I’d done my research.  I assumed we’d be creating the script from improv in rehearsals and was ecstatic to get cast.  The only woman in a cast of men, most of whom had a helluvalot more improv experience than I.  We were, after all, in Chicago, the boarding school for modern improv.

And then I showed up and discovered that, actually, the entire show would be improv.  All the time.  Every night.  I think I froze and forgot to breath for an entire minute.

I don’t get nervous before I perform.  But opening night of this show, I thought I was going to puke backstage.

And here she is, smiling up at me from the center of a prominent display in Barnes ‘n Noble.  A women I have admired since I met her.

And then I got to read about her year.  And I understood with personal clarity the theatre life she described, the references to improv shows, her very tall and quiet husband, and her friend Scott.  I know Scott too.  And I learned things about her that I never knew since we were never really friends.  She, of course, had no reason to tell me these things.  So I read them in her book.  And came to realize that, yet again, here is a woman I found entirely intimidating who is, in fact, just as human as I.

She has her pains, her loves, her fears, her shames.  And, maybe, if I’d stepped back–or stepped in—or did something to recognize that she was just like me–maybe I could have been her friend.

This is significant for me because I’m currently very good friends with another beautiful woman who I met in college but was never brave enough to truly befriend until school ended.  She was just so smart; I felt stupid whenever I listened to her because I didn’t know what she was talking about and didn’t want to admit it by asking.  As we grew closer after college, I discovered that she, like Robyn, is just like me.  She has her insecurities, her ego, her shame, her loves, her hates.

As it turns out:

It is not for me to judge myself in the eyes of others.

Interestingly enough, this is pretty much what Robyn discovered during her social experiment.  If we spend all our time trying to live the life that others tell us, we’re too busy to be us.  And we’re too busy trying to predict what others think of us.  Our bodies, our brains, our successes, our failures.

I’d rather just be me.  Just like Robyn would rather just be herself.  Okay, well, let’s be honest, she got a book deal and national exposure.  This may have started out as a personal experiment, but it’s much bigger.  I wonder if anyone reading her book who doesn’t know any part of Robyn’s life will be as impacted.  I’ll foist it on my mom and see what she says.