When I was in graduate school, I once attended a dance recital that was being
held on campus. The performers were undergraduates of all ages who
had been choreographed by the dance M.F.A. candidates. The skill level of these
performing non-majors varied across the board. But I very distinctly recall one
dancer in particular… She was sixty if she was a day, silver wavy hair pulled up
in a half ponytail. Her overall coordination was, to be polite, limited. And
for each number she appeared in, she was pretty consistently a beat behind the
music, once even forgetting to exit the stage with the rest of her ensemble and
running quickly to catch up with them. But every single solitary moment
that this woman was onstage, she wore a smile and a bliss that just seemed to
set her whole presence aglow. No one on this earth, before or since, has
experienced the kind of joy that this woman was having that night twirling
around, shaking her jazz hands, sometimes with the beat… sometimes ahead of or behind it. Not only were we incapable of taking our eyes off of her, but it was impossible to
not be infected and feel the joy right along with her. Of all of the theatre
that I’ve seen in my life, this performance went down in the books as one that I
will never forget for as long as I live.
Two musician dearhearts of mine recently had their own separate “gigs,” if you
will, that I was lucky enough to attend. On a Thursday evening, the gorgeous
soprano Jasmina Halimic was part of a recital of Slavic Opera at the
Bohemian National Hall. She was far and away the superior singer
(I am both biased AND correct), but overall I have to confess that I find people
capable of such technique and power to be of a separate and grander species from
the rest of us… AS, I realized that night, occasionally do they. Case in point…
there was a moment outside of the hall as I was getting ready to bid my
farewells when I found myself in an awkward moment of silence with one of the
tenors, who was looking at me in a very strange way. Not as though he was
mesmerized by the beauty of a movie star, as a parking attendant had shouted at
me on my walk towards the venue (I did, I looked really good). But more like a
bellhop who’s just schlepped your suitcase up four flights of stairs and is
waiting for a tip from you. So, to break the silence I said “You were really
wonderful tonight.” His response was a haughty laugh and a smirk that seemed to
say ‘Well, yes, I know. Aren’t you sweet, little grasshopper.’ with a slight
bow and tip of a cap that he was not, in fact, wearing at the time. It prompted
within me this urge to say ‘Well actually, I was being polite. The truth is
that next to someone like my friend, you sounded like you had tiny flesh colored
peas for testicles. How’s that? Is honesty more up your alley, Tophat?’ I did
not, in fact, say this. I looked far too elegant to whip out Midwest
bitch-slap. I merely noted his appreciation of the praise and not of the song,
kissed my gorgeous, talented friend, and headed home.
The following evening, my composer/conductor pal Daniela was playing for a
production at the Manhattan School of Music. The opera was L’incoronazione
di Poppea, and the singers in question were of the undergraduate age range.
So young, and obviously less skilled than the performers I’d seen the previous
night, yet still extremely gifted. As I sat there, watching their cherub faces,
I noticed what seemed to be a freedom about them as they moved and sang about
the stage; a lightness, a spring. It was a very gay and slightly caffeinated
energy. And suddenly, just like that happy dancer years before who missed her
exit cue, I found myself infected by their joy. Oh, how I wanted to jump up
there and play as well! I delighted in the almost clown-like nature of Fortuna
and Virtue, the geeky pig-tailed enamored Drusilla, a Poppea who walked like she
wore the most beautiful gown reserved for only the best divas of the department.
As I spied back on my own college theatre experiences when I was that age, it
occurred to me what I was seeing: These students were yet untouched by the
muddy, shark-invested, unfair, treacherous, foul-smelling, heart-breaking, manipulative, bowel-ridden waters that can sometimes be the business side of this profession. They were just using what skills and talents they possessed at the time, and having fun. And in watching them, I became acutely aware of something: Despite all of the boots I’ve worn out wading through the afore mentioned waters, my instinct and desire was to join them. It was like rediscovering that what I do as an artist is still joyous to me.
These undergraduates and non-majors are not meant to imply that pleasure and joy
are to be associated with less skill. There was an interview with Maggie Smith
that went viral several months ago. And it was during this interview that the grand
Dame was asked whether she was proud of the success of “Downton Abbey.” She
didn’t respond right away, and then apologized saying “Sorry, I just realized
that I’ve never actually seen it.” “Well, if you’ve never seen it,” the
civilian continued, “then what pleasure do you get out of doing it?”
Dumbfounded at the thought that the reason wasn’t obvious, she said, “Well, the
joy of acting!”
Oh, how I'd love to jump up and play with Maggie Smith as well :)
I don’t know where this need to put on someone else’s shoes and be their
advocate comes from, but, here it is! And it’s hard work; harder than
anyone who hasn’t done it can imagine. I’m also not so jaded that I don’t
recognize that people of all professions encounter disappointments and
roadblocks on the path to their dreams. Part of the work for all of us
sometimes has to be mustering the energy it takes to remain positive, not
concern ourselves with other people’s expectations, and have faith. There may
come a day when this work no longer brings me enough satisfaction and joy to
keep calm and carry on. But… it just so happens that today was not that day.
So, I’m going to go ahead and sign off now…. because I’m exhausted, and I just
got this new play that I’d like to read.
Pisticci ~ Italian on La Salle and Broadway. So delish!
“The Heat” ~ This movie was HIGH-larious! I almost peed!
“Unfinished Song” ~ This movie was so beautiful, real, and sad that I pretty
much wept through almost the entire film. Vanessa Redgrave and Terrence Stamp
Leave a Reply.