Monday, February 20, 2012

Something's Bound to Linger

I think every show I have ever been a part of has had a “Super Sunday.” All of our college shows, the Company shows, all of the high school shows I’ve directed. Oddly, I don’t really remember Super Sundays from being in high school. Not sure why that is.

Anyway, today’s was very long. Some disappointments – one important actor who does not even kind of know his lines, costumes arriving two hours late, and one student who gave me serious attitude to my face – which almost never happens to me there, so it was very notable. Mostly, though, it went as I had hoped it would…working out the set changes, a few moments of major advancement for a few people, some good laughs, and a very satisfied feeling after a very long and tiring day. I have a twisted nerve or something in the arch of my foot which had me limping like a fool all day, but otherwise, no complaints.

I have a new musical director in this show – in this very intricate, complicated, difficult Sondheim musical, and he is just…I don’t even have the words to really capture it. His name is Dan, and he is so incredibly calm and steady, straightforward, on-the-level, clear-talking, peaceful, realistic and really just glad to be there. He’s been my accompanist for three years, and just became musical director in this show. He’s not gushy or emotional or effusive, ever, but he is the perfect example of a person whose still waters run deep, who will tell you how he feels under the surface if you ask him the right way, and it’s always good things. He loves the kids so much in a quiet, supportive, paternal way that reveals itself in unexpected moments – a rescue on a lyric, the plunking of a melody for a struggling singer, a calm acceptance of a ripped microphone cord without a twinge of a guilt trip. It is a delight, and a relief, to work with someone in this capacity who operates completely without ego…because it’s never about him. It’s about the kids. I love him for that.

My other teammate is my technical director, Brooks, who works way too long and way too hard for his own good. He gets a little crazy at this time of the year and I often have to talk him down from of the rafters, and off of the very enormous Little Giant ladder very late at night. We have found a way to communicate with each other after seven long years and a lot of trial, error and misunderstanding. He didn’t like me at all when he first met me. He thought I was just a flighty, shallow rah-rah cheerleader type, lacking substance, and I very much had to prove myself to him. Now, though, we understand each other very well, and he is always able to conceptualize what I want – a tower, a tree, a sewer with only lighting effects. Can we fly Finch down from the ceiling? Of course we can. Can you make me Juliet’s balcony? Of course I can. Can you build me a two story English manor house, with seven slamming doors, and then take it apart in pieces to spin around? Um…well…sure. Yes, I’ll do that for you. And then he somehow makes it happen, and I am always very grateful, and cognizant of how important it is to express that gratitude. He always goes so far and above the call of duty, with creativity and, most of the time, a sense of humor.

It’s a happy little crew there at this very special school, and I only hope that we can keep building on this good thing we’ve got going.

This will be the best show I have ever directed. I know I’ve been saying that all along, but every single day, I’m more and more certain. I hoped, of course, that it would be more than just an enjoyable performance, played to a supportive audience of loving parents cheering on earnest, plucky kids giving it their all. What I hoped is that it would be a transcendent piece of theater for every cast member, and maybe even some of their parents… something that would elevate the experience of the kids in a meaningful way that they would carry with them, that they would allow to alter their perceptions and become a part of how they view themselves and the world.

It’s happening. I can already see the glimmers. Not to everyone, of course. Some of them are just going through the motions, a show like any show, a time to hang out with their friends. And that’s okay. But some of them…they get it. They know what’s happening, and are being mindful and present. I am working hard to balance praise with criticism for the group in general, and trying hard to not just consistently gush about the same people all the time…but it’s not easy, to tell the truth. It takes a lot of focus to make sure I hit every one with compliments, and not save them all for the kids who regularly take my breath away – my Cinderella, who’s just luminous, graceful and lovely and charming, and the first one off book, which I always appreciate. My Narrator, whose voice and demeanor make him perfect for storytelling, and who started off as a very goofy, child-like freshman, and has become a man in four years before my very eyes, poised and confident and kind. My fierce and funny Witch, belting sustained b-flats and giving everyone shivers. My hilarious Stepsisters. My Harvard-bound, accordion-playing mathlete valedictorian playing Granny and the Giant with absolute sincerity. And my Baker. My favorite ever, quite simply, who is able to show the full gamut of everything he does best in this role: singing like a true musician, expressing a sly, clever sense of humor, and showing an ability to access, with sincerity and mindfulness, a depth of human experience that is well beyond his years. He is so smart, and he truly understands his character’s journey. He takes the whole thing seriously, which helps everyone else to take it seriously, too. He is a leader, and I feel so proud that through these little plays we did together, he was able to learn that about himself. It wasn’t just this, of course. He would have learned it anyhow, somewhere, but he got to practice it here. He has been a leader by example, choosing to be the best of himself, just because it’s the right thing to do. He had a mentor, someone like a brother, leave him halfway through the wood, and he had to figure out what to do with all of those feelings and reverses. He could have just brushed it off, or he could have gotten all dark and angry, but he chose, instead, to take the best of the lessons and let them make him stronger. So, now, others have watched him, and learned from him, and will be the better for it. And I believe, more strongly now than I ever have in my life, that those ripples of genuine kindness and dedication and commitment linger, and are bound to be heard. I have learned so much from this student, which is why I think he is so special to me. I was supposed to be the teacher, and he has ended up teaching me.

I will soon be having a very important conversation about teaching that will have an impact on my life. In preparation, I was thinking about the many different teachers I have had, and how you never know when you will meet someone who will become your teacher. Really, the moment a person becomes a teacher is the moment when the student decides to learn from him…or her. A thing I have been enjoying lately about life is that I am finding so many teachers and learning so much. They come in unlikely forms sometimes, so I have learned to recognize and appreciate these kindred spirits when I find them. At this particular vibrant time in my life, they seem to be presenting themselves in rapid succession, and I determined not to miss a single one.

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