Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Baby Boomer Comes of Age Again and Again

I remember when I got my own phone line in my bedroom.
A pink, princess phone with a cord just long enough to reach my pillow.
An ancient right of passage.

Busy signals, party lines, and parent's bellowing, "get off the phone" eventually were replaced by the beep of call waiting.

In the movie, The King's Speech, the impediment that might have remained a behind the castle -gate secret is broadcast live over the air waves thanks to radio.

Silent film actors, whose flickering, expressive faces
in black and white close ups
are catulpulted to stardom
then rendered speechless in talkies.

TV sets replaced radios.
Now my kids don't even own one.
They watch the computer.
DVD's replaced VHS tapes, TIVO replaced VCR's, On Demand replaced Netflix, Netflix replaced Blockbuster.

Why go to a reunion to catch up with old classmates when you can log on to Facebook?

Remember turning pages of a book?

Remember the feel of a glossy magazine in your hands?

Scrolling has replaced flipping.

Texting has replaced calling.

The wall has replaced email.

Twitter has replaced the AP wire.

Google has replaced the encyclopedia.

Spell-check has replaced the dictionary.

An e-card has replaced the Valentine.

I am convinced that I am the last generation to wash the black ink off of my hands after reading a broadsheet.

Gone is the blue ink stain on the inside of the middle finger.
I wonder if grammar will go the way of the palmer method? Who uses cursive anymore?

Phone calls to and from Europe were once considered an extravagance. My cedar chest is full of letters written on thin, onion skin stationary in envelopes stamped with Par Avion in red, white, and blue.

My scrap books are full of telegrams sent to me on the opening night of my plays. Break-A-Leg typed out on yellow paper with Western Union across the top.

My students now rehearse their scenes holding their droids.
I asked them to write down their notes.
Instead of a pen, they pulled out their cell phones.

I paused in wonderment.

Paper almost seems silly.

Remember when lap tops were considered portable?

Who needs one when you can pull out your ipod on the plane?

I remember growing up in Anaheim where Disneyland was just down the street.
The "Carousel of Progress" previewed the wave of the future - sleek, stainless steel kitchens with washing machines and dish washers.

Even Disney couldn't keep up with the rapid changes of this communication merry-go-round!

I'm still a Facebook hold-out. One of three I think.
But, like my parents who surrendered to the separate phone line for me,
I have embraced some of the new modes of communication.
Blogging has replaced journaling. It's easier on my pre-arthritic fingers.
Texting has become my communication mode of choice with my kids. An instant, in the moment connection.

But nothing will replace a good, long, deep, conversation, eye to eye, heart to heart, with old friends around a table where we can debate whether the tie will go the way of the hat.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Ode to Ambra

Her name is musical
Her laugh is melodic
Her life is song

From beneath the stage
she emerges
this goddess of the night
holding a cup of coffee
poured from her thermos - a constant companion
clip board in hand
pins, labels, and tags
and she, herself, the cushion
next to me
in the darkness
with eyes to see
what needs fixing.

With big, broad strokes
she writes the words of the wardrobe world

OK she will say
and return to her labor
buttons, elastic, velcro, and lace
cut from the same cloth as her mother
generations of generosity
the hum of her sewing machine late into the night

Schlepping loads of costumes
Hauling mounds of laundry
without complaint
this good woman of the theatre
whose hands have
till the job is done
ready for tomorrow's run.

Patient saint of the pit
this leading lady
has no understudy.

For Ambra
the show must go on.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Lessons in Self - Care

I took time to exfoliate this morning. It was an act of the will. Yesterday, I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an exercise bike. And some foam yoga blocks. And a stretch strap. This, after I tried to pull on the jeans I bought myself at an after Christmas sale.

I'm a full immersion kind of person. My problem is I don't just fully immerse myself in one thing. I immerse myself in multiple projects at the same time - all demanding my full creative energy. As I lose myself in my work, I tend to lose - well - my self.
That is, I forget about my self. I eat badly. I don't exercise. I forget to rub cream into my elbows. I don't stretch. I don't walk. I forget to floss.

Then there is the scattered thing. So immersed am I in whatever I am doing in the moment, I lose things. Well more specifically, I lose my keys and my glasses.
Fed up with spending so much time looking for my glasses, I bought myself a pretty Brighton chain from which to hang my glasses around my neck. This was, in truth, an admission to getting older. I have resisted getting one of those chains because they seemed "old lady-ish " to me.

And I mean how many things can one wear around one's neck? I tend to wear long necklaces. I like scarves. I have a hearing impaired student for whom I hang a microphone around my neck and when I remember, I wear a lanyard attached to which are keys to a lighting shed, costume cage, and storage facility. Adding my glasses just seemed a bit much.

But the fact that I was losing my glasses at least five times a day, I felt it a necessity. One time, during rehearsals for our Christmas program, I'd misplaced my glasses - searching high and low for them. I even sent an email plea out to the entire faculty describing my glasses in the event I'd absent mindedly left them in the bathroom, at the postal machine, next to the fax machine, or on a chair somewhere.
Eventually they turned up -inside an army helmut on top of a rolling costume rack. A student found them when he went to put on the helmut.

Last Friday, as we began reading the opening description of the set for Death of a Salesman, I again found myself without my glasses. The two pages of tiny italicized print were a blur. I carried on with class, talking about visualizing the space, ground plans, and stage directions as I moved about the classroom lifting papers, bending down to look under tables, and digging into boxes of props. Finally, one of my students said, "Mrs. Barth, what are you looking for?"
I said, "My glasses."
He said, "I thought you bought a chain for them so you wouldn't lose them."
"I did," I said. "The glasses kept falling off the chain," I explained.

I would find them dangling from one end of the chain as the other end of the chain hung loose.
The chain is now in a tangled mess inside an otherwise empty glass case.

I eventually found my glasses - under a purple, feathered boa.

I don't like being scattered. I don't like being completely out of shape. I don't like feeling out of control. How many times do I need to learn this lesson?

So I exfoliated this morning. I used my moisturizer. I walked. My Weight Watchers menus are planned. I bought a new style of plastic containers for my lunch - with fitted lids that attach so they won't get lost. I am recommitting to yoga. The exercise bike is the newest addition to our bedroom ensemble.

And I'm going to untangle the darned glasses chain and try it again.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

For All You Musical Theatre Junkies
This article is a fun must read for anyone who loves musical theatre. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

In Defense of Musical Theatre

Recently I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about "cultural resolutions." It profiled the goals of artists - musicians, writers, and film makers for the upcoming year. I scanned the list and my eyes landed on Robert Redford's name. He said that he wanted to spend more of his time "making art." Having invested so much of his energy into developing the Sundance Film Festival - he said he is ready to create his own work again. As the year turns over, I find myself reflecting on my work and the artistic life I live.

My book shelf contains three DVD collections - Ken Burns' JAZZ, Michael Feinstein's THE GREAT AMERICAN SONG BOOK and Stephen Sondheim's 80th BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION IN CONCERT. Resting on my bedside table is an enormous tome entitled FINISHING THE HAT - Stephen Sondheim's collection of lyrics and critical analysis of the genre of musical theatre. Since Sondheim is my favorite composer/lyricist I have paid a lot of attention to what he has had to say during his various interviews and appearances. I will admit, I have not found it all to be terribly encouraging or inspiring.
Once again I find myself confronted with just another version of the cynical statement, the theatre is dead.
So what in the world does that mean for a drama teacher?
Is musical theatre irrelevant?
Is there any reason to explore the history of the genre? Does Agnes De Mille's ballet, the advancement of the book musical from early revues or the rhyme scheme of a song matter?
Should we care?

There is much to say on this topic. As a teacher, I know without a doubt that the process of creating theatre is a valuable. Collaboration, imagination, hard work, discipline are all skills learned through the rehearsal process.

But what about the relevance of musical theatre as an art form?

If Sondheim sees himself as a dinosaur where does that leave the rest of us?

Well here's what I say. In the simplest terms, musical theatre is another form of storytelling. We act out our stories. We sing our feelings. We dance to communicate.
And the genre itself continues to evolve.
I say evolve because I believe that in order to remain relevant it is important to reach the younger generation.

Case in point. I gave my two twenty-something children tickets to see AMERICAN IDIOT - the Green Day musical that received terrible reviews on Broadway. Why would I do such a thing, you ask? I did so because I knew they loved Green Day.
I chose not to go myself. Instead I went to see Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones in DRIVING MISS DAISY.

Now, my kids are sophisticated theatre goers who can dissect a scene and analyze a play's direction as well as any critic.
Over our post theatre drink at the Algonquin, I quizzed them on the show.
It had hit my daughter's twenty-six-year-old sweet spot. She related to every story point, lyric, and scene because it told her generation's story. The Millennial Generation.
I found myself thinking that for her, American Idiot had the effect HAIR must have had on the flower power generation.
She was moved.
It was relevant.

I think it is easy to sit where Sondheim sits and say that musical theatre has lost is relevance because on some level at eighty, we probably believe we have lost ours. It becomes harder and harder to keep up especially in today's lightening fast -technologically driven age.

So I'm putting a stake in the ground here in 2011. Musical Theatre is very much alive.
I couldn't go to work in the morning if I thought otherwise.
As a theatre educator, I must passionately promote its relevance and expose the younger generation to its power to move us.

So next week, when I return to school, I will be holding auditions for the Stephen Schwartz musical, CHILDREN OF EDEN.
A new generation of students will be exposed to the inventive story telling of the first nine chapters of the book of Genesis and will explore through music and dance the complexity of fathers, family, obedience, and rebellion.
And they will have to figure out how to become aardvarks, anteaters and antelopes. A highly relevant task, wouldn't you say?

After all, Sondheim himself wrote, "The art of making putting it together."

And one more thing - for anyone reading this - go to the theatre and take your kids.
It matters.