Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Saturday Morning Club Inspiration

Performing in the Meeting House at Mystic Seaport Museum.
This year a dream project of mine became reality. I won the commission to write the five plays that comprise the Lantern Light Tour at Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut. The collection of 12-minute site-specific plays were to be organized around a common theme: Finding Your Place and all set in the 19th century seaport village on Christmas Eve 1876. A group of 15 travelers is escorted through five locations by a guide where they come upon scenes in various authentic homes, store fronts, and ships moored in the harbor.

For the first stop on the tour I created a scene in the meeting house where a women's group is about to start a dress rehearsal of a Winter Fantasia that will be performed on Christmas Day,  but their primary player is late. While the initial idea for a theatrical rehearsal-in-progress came to me early, finding the inspiration for what kind of group would be performing a play came as a result of learning about 19th century social groups. What turned up was my discovery of The Saturday Morning Club of Boston, an all-female group devoted to providing a social club for girls and young women beyond a sewing circle.

A Saturday Morning Club member in Shakespearean attire.

The historic group came to be known as the Sat Morn Girls and was organized by Julia Ward Howe in 1871 to provide a place for her daughter and other girls to discuss education, science, mathematics, arts, and pursue creative projects. These efforts included theatrical events that helped to raise money to sustain the club and to provide funds for community and social services.

For the Lantern Light Tour we have fun with the broad melodramatic acting style that was standard at the time, and the larger-than-life sets and costumes used to stage the plays lend some color and comedy to the evening. It's a fun opportunity to draw on history and bring it forward into our world. Lantern Light Tours and the other events and exhibits at the Mystic Seaport Museum give us a chance to experience history as a living thing.

I'm glad I got a chance to pay tribute to the women who made the Saturday Morning Club a real thing more than a century ago. It brings us together and reminds us that even with so much change, there is something essential about gathering together to share our thoughts and make art.    

Monday, December 10, 2018

Listening to Seth Godin

My relationship with Seth Godin goes back a while -- all the way back to what I consider my beginning as an artist-preneur -- when I got a job with Artreach, Inc. and the Second Step Players.

While working as the technical director of that socially-conscious-raising touring comedy troupe, I got a packet of offers all bound together that landed on my desk. I sorted through the info cards, and mixed in was an offer to subscribe to a new magazine called Fast Company - a business journal focusing on innovative ventures and change-agents. I subscribed. I figured that artists needed to know as much about business as anybody else cobbling a career out of nothing -- and I have continued to read the magazine ever since.

One of  the features that broadened my awareness was an article by Seth Godin from 2003 that became famous parlance: Purple Cow  (which was expanded into a book by Godin and a guiding principle for entrepreneurs who want to stand apart from the herd.) The title of the article was featured in a small box on the cover of the issue with a little picture of a purple cow with the words "Boring always fails - winners are remarkable - and purple cows are the future." I cut the square from the cover and framed it. It has been on my desk ever since.

I have a deep Seth Godin library that takes up most of a shelf, subscribe to his blog, and listen to the content he has available on iTunes. For the past several years I have been listening to podcasts when I walk my dogs or drive places or prepare dinner. So it was with great glee when Mr. Godin started showing up in my regular rotation of shows devoted to creative innovation to launch his new book: This is Marketing, You Can't Be Seen Until You Learn to See

I thought I'd begin revitalizing my blog with a shout-out to Mr. Godin because he's the reason I'm dipping back into this blog at all. Sure, it's crossed my mind from time to time, but no real action on my part. But I've been listening to these podcasts with him, a few of them I've listened to several times (yeah, it's that relevant to getting creative work done.)  In each one he encourages people to blog every day. And because I've been listening, and because his observations always benefit me, I am following the advice and restarting this blog. If nothing else, it forces me to practice touch typing, a practice that I need ... more on the typing challenge I set for myself last year in a future blog entry.

For now, I will post links to a couple of the podcast interviews, and a commitment to blog each day at least a little. Although I often go tech-free on Sundays and some Saturdays...

If you're unfamiliar with Seth Godin's work be sure to put Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? on your reading list. It is an amazing work for creative people.

For more about his recent work and book, check out these podcast episodes and see what you think --

And you can always read Seth's Blog -- he's a flippin' pro!

Friday, January 23, 2015

My Date with Lost in Space

What you have to understand about me and Lost in Space is that it was my first favorite show. It was the reason I knew what day of the week it was and why I learned to tell time at age five. I had no concept of cancellation. While I had outgrown the notion of small beings that lived in the TV set and understood it was a transmission of fictional visual stories, I had no idea that we would not all grow old together. The Lost in Space crew and I would continue, and I would look in on them every week with the stories getting better and better. That was the contract, or so I thought. Lost in Space was my first lesson that things, even the best things, end.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Page Turners (or not)

This is my list and stories regarding 10 books that influenced me. 
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: This gem came to mind first, although I have never finished it. It was assigned in my high school English class, and I did enjoy reading it at the time. Unfortunately, I experience a reading disability that went undetected until my early adulthood. After I figured out how to deal with my reading deficit I was better equipped to read longer works. I have a copy on my shelf that I purchased to get the whole beautiful classic read from cover to cover. 
The Art of Happiness by His Holiness the Dalai Lama: An amazing read by one of the keenest open minds of our lifetime. This book is an introduction to the practice of loving-kindness and taught me a lot about the positive difference I can make in the world.  
Dune by Frank Herbert: This makes the list because I am busy revisiting this series of books over the summer (in addition to rewatching the less than successful film adaptations.) My revisit has me reading more deeply this time around. I'm noting the juxtapositions of scenes, points of view, and phrase repetitions. Dune was the first place I ever encountered the concept of jihad. At the time that I first read the book I had no idea that two decades later that concept would be so present in the world. Talk about prescient. That, and the focus on environment control and reformation, this book is as vital as ever, and just as effective. 
In Search of Duende by Federico Garcia Lorca: This slender book accompanied me when I was part of a playwrights boot camp at The Atlantic Center for the Arts for 3-weeks with Paula Vogel. I thought it would be a good airport read. What I didn't know was that I would spend half a day reading it cover-to-cover to prepare to write my first bake-off play. The ideas in this book, and the samples of Lorca's poetry infused the play-world that I created that week, becoming the backbone of my play Minotaurs. Toreros.
D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths by Ingri d'Aulaires: A great big bright book that came home with me 4, 5, maybe 6 times from the library at Gallup Hill Elementary school. I couldn't get enough of these stories. I still can't.
The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell: The book of myth and universal meaning for the grown-up me as described by a great humanist. 
The White Dragon by Anna McCaffrey: This was one of a bunch of pocket paper backs that were stocked in a spinning rack at the Convenient Store at the bottom of Pumpkin Hill Road in Ledyard, I bought it for its cover. The cover was amazing to me, created by fantasy artist Michael Whelan. It turns out that The White Dragon was a later portion of a larger series of books that takes place on a far away planet called Pern. I started reading this book many times as a teen, but did not get beyond its first few chapters on any attempts until perhaps five years later. The Science Fiction Book Club (remember book clubs with their monthly features and automatic mailings?) offered the first three books in a single volume as an introductory gift, so I joined. The hefty book had horrible cover art on the dust cover. So horrible that I had trouble picking up the book. The dragons looked like they had the bodies of moths tinted a rancid yellow, and the riders wore hideous clothing painted in garish colors. It was dreadful. I removed the awful thing and sandwiched it on my shelf between other things and did not rewrap the book until I had finished them all. I went on to read two trilogies and several additional books in the series. When will they ever make it a good movie?
The Peanuts Cookbook by Charles Schultz: This was a Book Fair purchase at Gallup Hill Elementary School in Ledyard. The year before I had purchased the classic Happiness is a Warm Puppy. This year I was hoping for an enviable but expensive pop-up-book...but having only $5 that would remain a dream. Instead I bought this slender, square shaped book about the size of a small piece of toast. It was magical. As I recall, it contained a lot of recipes that included peanut butter, like putting it in a sandwich, or putting it on a cookie. Everything had a cartoon on one side, like snoopy in a chef's hat, or Charlie Brown holding pancakes. But only one of the recipes did I commit to memory. It's the only one that I remember involving use of the oven, and it did not employ peanut butter: it required jelly. The recipe was for jam-filled tarts, and involved creating pie crust from scratch using five or so ingredients. That crust recipe had many uses over the years, well beyond the simple jam tarts I was making when I was ten. That book was more than a collection of fun pictures by an artist whose work I adored, it was a book that inspired action, experimentation, and discovery.
Watership Down by Richard Adams: This taught me a profound and disturbing lesson, not because I read it (I have never read it) -- because I lost it. The summer before I lost Watership Down my father took my sister and me to the little library at the center of town. He got us signed up for library cards and we all checked out books. I took home two pocket paperback collections of Peanuts cartoons and read them cover to cover. Who knew the grown-up library contained fun books? What a lesson that was. As was the habit with my family, we returned the books late and paid our fine. The next summer my father again brought us to the library, and we checked out books. I brought home the doomed Watership Down. After this, details became uncertain,as I had no idea where I put that book after I got out of the car. When my father rounded us up for the late summer return and fine payment trip, I had nothing to show. The consequence of this lack of book was that there was never again a trip to the library, because now we were enemies of the system. There was no way my dad was paying for that book. Sure, the library sent us notices and bills for the book started arriving the following year, but as long as we kept ourselves out of the library, no one could touch us. Perhaps three summers passed with no trips to the library, or many other trips for that matter. A summer arrived that signaled the time to pack everything and leave. My parents had gone their separate ways and we were selling our home. When we cleared out the things collected over a decade in our garage, there -- crushed beneath the metal grooved edge of our rolling garage door -- was Watership Down. It was a destroyed mash with splotches of black mold making the green cloth cover all but unreadable. My mother didn't know what it was besides a rotted lump. But I knew. I threw it in the great plastic maw of a bag that would be hauled away. Here was my neglectful nature, here was my trust that my parents might fix things, here was a thing that I had pledged to return no worse for wear that I allowed to go unattended, unread, and dissolve into mush. O Watership Down, how I failed you. 
The Preppy Handbook by Lisa Birnbach: A handbook filled with irreverence in earnest. A book that manages to encapsulate my fashion sense and my sense of humor. Brava, Lisa Birnback, brava.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Reason and Unreason in The Bacchae

“…the only true crime against the Greek gods was to dishonour them denying their power.”  David Wiles, Greek Theatre Performance

What is reasonable?  Is it reasonable to assume that a young woman claiming to have been impregnated by Zeus, even though that hardly ever really happens nowadays, might be lying?  Is it reasonable to be suspicious of a new fad that causes women of all public strata to gather together on drunken binges in the woods?  Is it reasonable to question the motives of a new arrival to town, who appears to do no work or have any skills but claims to be the new god?

The Bacchae of Euripides points toward the young king Pentheus being unreasonable, but I don’t think that’s the case.  I think that reason is what got him into such big trouble in the first place.  He reasons that Semele, a resident of Thebes and alleged mother of Dionysus, was lying when she said she had been knock-up by Zeus.  She was done in by a thunderbolt, after all.  His arguments and resistance to the self-proclaiming god seem somewhat reasonable.

Is Agave unreasonable?  As it turns out she spends most of the play sans-reason rather than unreason.  She’s bonkers, driven that way by the god bent on destroying the insolent royal house.

Cadmus is full of reason.  He’s got reason to spare as he sets out to appease the god and tries to talk his grandson Pentheus into doing the same.  Too bad Penteus’ reasoning kept him from listening.

Then there’s the god himself, Dionysus.  He’s pretty unreasonable.  He’s not willing to budge on this issue of worship and respect.  But Dionysus has come late to the table of Olympians.  It’s not just the respect of the human population that he’s had to manage; he’s had to prove himself to the pantheon of Olympus as well.  Because he’s a god, however, I don’t think acts of reason or unreason apply to him.  Because he’s a god he operates on a non-reasonable level. 

Miracles are happening in this kingdom.  Women scratch the ground and up comes milk.  These same women are suckling fawns in the forest and thrusting their thyruses into the ground and producing fountains of wine.  These women are also capable of tearing full grown bulls limb from limb and tearing great trees from the ground.  Miracles are never reasonable occurrences; they exist outside of reason.  Belief in miracles requires faith.

Belief in a new god, acceptance of miracles, these require acts of non-reason.  For that reason, I do not see any of the characters in this play as unreasonable.  I see them as embodying various degrees of reason until the absence of reason that transforms into faith and acceptance (albeit, too late) of the new god.

Friday, November 22, 2013

History isn't just a thing in a book

The following is from a handwritten note, sealed in plastic with newspaper clippings, given to me by my mother when I was an adult. She was twenty-years-old when she composed this.
Nov. 22, 1963

I was at home with Dick when I heard of the president being shot. My mother (your grandmother) called me on the telephone.

“Turn on the radio, the president’s been shot!”
“Was he killed?”
“I don’t know. Your father just told me. He had heard it on the car radio. I’ve got to go now and listen for more news.”

We hung up the phone. It was 2:30 in the afternoon. I put on the television and almost immediately the news came over.

“Official news from Washington has just disclosed that at approximately 12:45 PM Dallas time President John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States, died of a gunshot wound at a Dallas hospital. We will continue broadcasting as news comes in.”

I sat in our living-room – stunned.

I remember saying to your father, “Who could do such a terrible, ridiculous thing to such a man, what did it accomplish?”

“Some crackpot who didn’t know any better probably,” he said.

The hours that followed that night were spent clinging to our television set. Gradually we gathered the news and learned the story of what had happened and what was going to happen now.

President Johnson was sworn into office that evening as the world mourned.

As the days passed we watched the sad funeral and the widow in her grief and gradually we came to realize that this great man was no more.

I had been a Kennedy supporter since my high school days, when he was elected to office. My biggest regret is that I never had the privilege to vote for him as I surly would have done in the next election.

For three days after his death the television suspended all programing.  All stations carried continuous news and photography of the events of his death and funeral. The radio carried only religious music and news with all advertisements suspended. All stores were closed and business and industry came to a halt in grave mourning and respect. The whole country crowded churches for special services in his honor.

All through this period of mourning two thoughts constantly passed my mind. First was the horror of a wife, not unlike myself in many ways, seeing her husband shot down at her side and being left with nothing but memories. Second was this statement I heard on television the day of his death, “A final touch of morbid irony was that all presidents elected in a zero year, have died of natural or unnatural causes in office.”

It seemed to me that fate had a large role in this Tragic event after I heard that statement.

I have written this little note to you and for you, my child, to remind you that history is a living thing and not just names in a book. This tragedy you will learn of in school, but we lived it. And in a way so did you. You see, I was carrying you at this time.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The saucer and the cup

Last weekend I traveled into Northeast Connecticut to check out the leaves. This year the color is glorious. We haven't had a hurricane like the two years past to either rip the leaves from the trees entirely, or coat them with a layer of salt off the sea to turn them all grey. Instead, we've had warm days, cool nights, and loads of color.

While up in the Quiet Corner, we found a tea shop - Mrs. Bridges Pantry. We sat down for some tea and house-made scones and a chicken-curry pasty or two.  The tea was served hot in a pot, and we shared the brew in proper small cups. With each cup was a saucer, perfectly fitted and matched to the delicate china pieces with impossibly small handles. You can't help but feel polite handling one of these.

Today, my thoughts are returning the the saucer.  The point of the saucer is to give the cup a place to land, but it is also there to catch any spillage from the cup. Perhaps I dribbled a bit of the milk, or stirred too vigorously with the spoon, or neglected to leave enough room when I plopped in a sugar cube?

Today, over a large go-cup of tea with a secure lid, I engaged in a discussion about directing work, teaching students theater, and working with new actors with a director and instructor from The National Theater Institute.  We each talked about coming to the work as a director, giving the actors or students as much as they can handle, and then giving them just that little bit more. That little extra that causes discomfort, and how to keep them focussed on the work to a good result.

Sometimes it's a good thing that there is a saucer, otherwise the spill would stain the lace cloth on the table.  Most times the saucer just adds to the experience: that little clink when you put the spoon on its lip or the way the cup and the saucer sing when they come together.

The saucer and the cup - quite the team.