28 March, 2013

Business with the sea...

Again in California
My knees dug in the shore
Pacific waters called again
And asked my soul for more

But there's no more to sacrifice
My heart is just a sieve
The land has stopped, sea appeared,
I've nothing left to give.

 And they say the tides can pull you
 No matter where you flee.
 It's life you must attend to

 So the waves won't let you be.
       No, the waves won't let you be
       When you have business with the sea...




 




10 March, 2013

Important Teachers: A List

I have been so blessed with truly remarkable teachers in my lifetime.

As discussed with Jean Gaede, whom I see often (at my Broadway performance of Master Class, and a woman who has flown over from America specifically for weekend performances of Fiddler and Carousel), that people should consider themselves extraordinarily lucky if they have even one spectacular, life-altering teacher in their lifetimes--I have been blessed with many.

I have also been blessed with some terrible teachers. And I say "blessed" deliberately for these teachers, though they may have taught me little (to nothing) of the subject on the “tin,” taught me an awful lot about how to educate myself, how to get by, how to be tough, patient, diplomatic, and oftentimes, flat-out do their job FOR them.
     ...You have any of those? Yeah. Those were valuable men and women in their own right. Thank you bad teachers: you mattered too.

So without further ado, the list (and thank you, Mrs. Zarider, who taught me to count…) in no particular order.

*

1. Joanne Devine & Barbara Zarider (1st grade - 1989-1990)
     Two new mothers who wanted to be a part of their young children's lives but still wanted to teach? Mrs. Devine and Mrs. Zarider decided the best way forward was to team up! Mrs. Z took Monday, Tuesday and every other Wednesday, and Mrs. D took the end of the week. Mrs. Z specialized in all things numbers, Mrs. D was a language and reading expert for the district. When I entered first grade at El Rodeo I was new in the area and at the school, most everyone else had come up from pre-school together and they took me under their wings and made me feel special and noticed and right at home. Nothing like the "tandem-team" that taught me how to read and how to count. I'll never forget them.

2. Tom Kearny (Science - Derby Middle School 1996-7) 
     Mr. Kearny was one of those teachers that comes along once in a lifetime—the kind you never forget, never forget what they taught you, and never forget that they taught you how to learn and love something that you never would have even considered loving so passionately were it not for their influence. Mr. Kearney was more than a science teacher, he was a poet-- one of those men who saw poetry in the clouds, in the water cycle and the stars, and you could feel that poetry oozing from him like a perfume. He was that teacher you become friends with... when you are twelve.


3.  Jean Gaede (Russian Literature & Contemporary Classics - Interlochen Arts Academy 1999-2001)
     When Jean Gaede and I first crossed paths, she thought I was a lightweight—and I suppose, at least on the surface, I very likely was.
     I had come to the Academy from the summer camp (where the attitudes of students are not at all academic), and a substantial adjustment must be made. I was also adjusting to being away at boarding school, a secret introvert masquerading as an extrovert, awake-in-the-dark-of-the-night nervous about my father's health, and, crucially, making an excellent show about how... none of that was the case.
     Pushkin first captured my imagination, then Tolstoy's short stories which invigorated my conscience, and eventually the haunting and pivotal Dostoevsky masterpiece The Brothers Karamazov. Brothers K was our turning point—I read all 1,000 pages of it (unlike many of my cheating classmates!), I "got it," and she knew it. Our eyes locked one day after my oral report on Ivan Karamazov and "The Grand Inquisitor" and we never looked back.
     Jean Gaede has flown over to London, and to New York to see every show I've ever done, and her influence on my reading life is irreplaceable.

4. Robin Ellis & David Montee (Acting teachers and Directors of The Miracle Worker, Snoppy! The Musical, She Loves Me, Merrily We Roll Along and As You Like It - Interlochen Arts Academy 1999-2001)
     What is there to say other than that these two taught me everything I know, or rather, every practical thing I know about being in the theatre? David and Robin fostered a love of the theatre so strong that no amount of external real-life beatings could ever extract it from my spirit. They raised the bar and told me to rise to it—then raised it again and again...
     They "saw" me, they "got" me, and most pivotal of all they truly celebrated all that I was, had to potential to become, and could ever hope to be as an artist and a human being. All of this at a time in my life where every single moment was as essential and as relevant as breathing. I lived for their wisdom, humor, knowledge and guidance. They motivated me to work harder than I ever knew possible—help me discover another gear deep within me that formed the artistic being I am today.
     I have journal after journals full of their lessons that I still use today in my work. The memories of the shows we did together are ever-present and inexorable from my memory, they were the ground-zero of my existence as a creative artist. I feel that in the universe of their glow I truly became the artist I am today. I came alive at Interlochen, under their watch. There is no better, higher, or more grateful praise than that.

5. Judy Chu (British Literature - Interlochen Arts Academy 2001)
     Lady Chu is THE Lady Chu. Click on the link above for everything my heart could ever say. Need I say more?

6. Mark Saunders (RSAMD 2002-2005)
     Mark was one of those teachers that learns with tremendous joy alongside his students.With the exception of two final year projects (The Bite of the Night and Here Comes a Chopper, to be specific) when I look back at my time in Glasgow, the projects and experiences that stand out all have one connecting factor—Mark Saunders.
     He was the head of the student government on which I served as a representative for my year group, and we made great strides in their together. He was my movement teacher, and, having always been a keen "mover" his lessons ignited my imagination—from Le Coq's 7 movements, to Levels of Tension, to Elements, Buffon,  clowning and mask work. But it was working with him collaboratively—with him at the helm guiding a group. Though I played a small supporting role in Pericles (one of the Second Year Shakespeare plays), I enjoyed every second of it; as well as the Voice and Movement Project: a 10 week experience that serves as a culmination of all you have learned in both departments. It is devised, based loosely on a theme, and the source of extraordinary frustration for some, and joy for others. My group's offering was trans-formative for all of us.
     I'm also glad to say that I now see Mark annually in some city or another and it has become a great tradition of ours to explore the city we are in with as much vigor and gusto as we brought to the classroom.

7. Adrian Howells (Guest Artist and Director of Here Comes a Chopper - RSAMD 2004-05)
     Adrian's theory of teaching and directing is that everyone operates at their best when their "love tanks" all full! And of course he is correct. He is also the originator of the sentiment that in creation, "IT IS ALL ALLOWED." Sensitive, thoughtful, charming and profoundly creative in the most glorious way, Adrian is an artist first and lives artistically-- he taught me by example how to be an artist in the world, but he also taught me that magic lies beyond the comfort zone. When I look back at my higher education, Adrian's influence is rooted in the memory—so much of what I transformed into in Glasgow was because of him. I am honored to have been lead by him as a young person, and even more honored to call him a friend in the present.*

[*Update as of 2014: Adrian Howells sadly took his own life in 2014, at the too-young age of 51. Words fail to express the loss to my own little life and the world. However, I wish to send him every good wish, no anger, and remind him that even in his absence, "it is all allowed—" even leaving us too soon.]

*

This of course is a list of people who  had the "title"— not to mention the countless mentors, role models and colleagues that always have wonderful lessons to share.

Who are your greatest teachers?

06 March, 2013

The Death Bed

(7 weeks on)


A week or so after the incident with the cat Grey headed home for Thanksgiving, slated to return to his creative den as soon as possible to continue work on his model for NIDA[1] .

Left alone to our own devices, Kent suggested it might be time to start thinking about changing The Death Room— to look forward.

    “A new bed, for sure” he said, “perhaps some paint, a little classic Cath-ay DIY?”
    “Great idea” Mom said, and three hours later, Kent and I returned from grocery shopping to find that mom has discovered beautiful solid hardwood floors beneath the early 90s carpet, ripped all of it up, rolled it up and taken it out to the curb. By the time we got back she was already hard at work on the hallway, breathless, sweating and determined. All of this served to reaffirm a notion I already knew about Mom: once you put an idea in her head— there’s no stopping her...[2]

The three of us spent the remainder of the night ripping up that hideous death-beige carpet and hauling it out to the curb with the bathwater. By 3am we had disposed of the detritus of our former life upon the lips of our lawn filled with an odd sense of higher purpose— we were not scavengers rummaging through the ruins of a fallen city. We were excavators! Like Heinrich Schliemann! Below the carpets lay new, undiscovered Troys and we would be the team to peel away the rubble, reveal the past and simultaneously, the future, just like the anthropologists of yore![3]

When we woke the following morning, the artifacts were gone— taken to the same unnameable place all life’s mysteries disappear to.

But we were not empty, we were lighter somehow.

The top floor of 1367 had been stripped bare to make room for new life, and we dressed that morning with a purpose— we were going to buy a new bed.

*

Art Van on Woodward at 14 Mile was the first and only thought that sprang to mind. It was constantly blaring its name on radio and local television commercials, and besides, it was on the same strip of Woodward as Dairy Deluxe, which gave it street-cred, not to mention 0% financing til 2004... Word.

Art Van as it would turn out, was above a Mercedes dealership, to be entered by sky-scraping escalator which crested onto a cavernous warehouse of fluorescently lit sofas, dinettes, media stations and bed frames (ostensibly, a well-furnished piranha tank).

Mom, Kent and I were each splayed—snow angel style—on a series of mattresses,
     gazing upward at the humming lights.
No, this was not a party at Elton John’s house— this was Art Van.

    “Too firm over here—” Kent called out.
    “Al?”
    “S’okay. A bit squishy.”
    “I’m on one of those individual coil ones over here,” Mom said, “the one from that commercial with the glass of wine and the bowling ball.”
    “Oh yeah!”
    “How is it?”
    “It’s great. It’s just right," she pronounced, “It’s a Sealy...

Just then Mort, a start middle-aged gentleman whose comb over, jacket, smile, and every gesture indicated that he was an Art Van salesman, leaned over into my vision, blocking my view of the fluorescent lights like a malevolent dentist, and, hands clasped behind his back, chimed,
    “Anything I can do for you?”
He smiled a slow motion smile like a cartoon drawing from the 80s.
Nobody moved.

    “We were just waiting for our porridge to cool” I said.

Mort’s smile was as frozen upon his face as our extremities were to the mattresses, only our eyes shifted, locking on him.

    “We’ll take this one” Mom said.

Throw in three bowls of porridge and a blonde girl and we’d have had ourselves a fairy tale ending.

   “Excellent” said Mort, straightening upward, eying us still. “You’re certain of the Queen?”
    “No doubt about the Queen” Kent smiled at Mom. Plus downsizing from the King-sized Death Bed felt right.
    “And we’ll take this frame” said Mom, “I like it— it looks like a sleigh.”

It did—a chestnut, caramel-stained Queen-sized sleigh.

    “I’ll draw up the papers” said Mort, as he turned on his tiny feet, hands still behind his back.

As Mort trotted away, comb-over blinding us, we turned to Mom, who was deep in thought.
    “A new bed…” I said.
    “Yes” she said, running her hand along the hip of the frame.
    “Happy?” Kent asked in a low voice.

Mom thought a moment before answering. Of course she was not happy, her one and only love was gone— gone almost as callously as the upstairs carpets. Our family was evil and the government unhelpful. She was lost, abandoned once again, and living in Detroit with a gaggle of equally lost teenagers. It all crossed her mind, you could see it in her face, and in the thoughtful hand still caressing the chestnut bed frame.

At last the hand stopped, Mom paused and clutched the wood, felt its solid weight. She focused on the bed—her brand new Queen sized chestnut sleigh bed, with thick orthopedic mattress, box spring and 20% Thanksgiving discount, all fit for a Queen.

    “Happy...” she said.

This was a step.
A Baby Step, as Bob would say,
     toward the next stage of our new life,
and that made her happy. 
That fact.



[1] The National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney, Australia
[2] do not get between my mother and a power tool
[3] There was also an element of peeling off the used layer of a lint roller… But I’ll stick with Trojan excavation metaphor for now. However grand.

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