Sunday, February 27, 2011

Why I Don't Do Facebook (a rant)

It's Oscar day so last night I broke down and watched The Social Network. My daughter and son both told me I should see it. They both also told me I'd hate it.
They were right.

When the movie ended, I stood in the middle of my den and pontificated for at least fifteen minutes. In many ways, seeing the movie validated my choice not to do Facebook.

In my relatively conventional and uncontroversial life, I have waged very few rebellions. The last time was when I cancelled our season tickets for USC football games - an act of retaliation for a deferred college admission decision - that single act of rebellion cost us one entire tunnel section when we returned to the fold the following year and cost me relentless teasing by my family at every home game as they eyed Tunnel 6 recalling that once upon a time we were just that much closer to the 50 yard line. Arguably my rebellion cost USC nothing. But still, I stood my ground!

My other rebellion is against Mel Gibson movies. I refused to see Passion of the Christ and much to my dismay, now will no longer show his version of Hamlet in my drama class because of his anti-semitic views. Mel Gibson is a jerk.

In the sea of rebellion taking place in the Middle East, my paltry little fights seems a tad absurd. But with so much attention being given to Facebook these days and the revolutionary way it has transformed society, I believe my stand is an important one. Here's why (and it's not because Mark Zuckerberg is a jerk):

My husband said he believes Facebook has not taken anything away from society but has in fact added something. I completely disagree. While Facebook portends to connect people and allows for instant "communication" - a point I do not argue as it is amply evidenced by the revolution in Egypt and now the rest of the Middle East - I, however, believe it is actually diminishing communication. Real communication. Interpersonal communication. Authentic, deep communication. One on one communication. Grant it, the days of family gatherings in the parlor, sing alongs, and musical recitals died out long ago thanks to radio and later, television and letter writing died out thanks to email, I believe Facbook is and will continue to radically alter humanity.

Let's face it. I'm a theatre educator so my profession and art is inextricably tied to human interaction - a raise of the eyebrow, a touch of the hand, the subtext communicated "behind the eyes" communicates from the heart. On Facebook one can poke, like, and write on someone's "wall" granting the illusion of connection - surface, superficial, and meaningless. How much thought or time goes into to these empty gestures? None. How many of those so called friends will show up at your funeral? No, they will instead, write on your wall. It's faster. Easier. And these days, as acceptable an expression of sympathy as sending flowers. Not to mention, cheaper.

Today there are still adults - young and old - who remember life before social networking. One day, there wont' be. The generations pre-Facebook will be like pre-historic cave dwellers whose primary means of storytelling were the pictures they scratched on the sides of their caves.
Words, reading, language, art, culture, will continue to diminish. And some day, no one will remember. The theatre, will be irrelevant if not non-existent. Its would-be audience deluded by the illusion that they are engaged in real inter-personal communication with real friends .

Is it any wonder that an anti-social, spineless, opportunistic, duplicitous, friendless, judas invented this thing?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

I've Got a lot of Livin' to Do

There's music to play,
Places to go, people to see!
Everything for you and me!
Oh, Life's a ball
if only you know it
And it's all just waiting for you
You're alive,
So come on and show it
We got a lot of livin'
Such a lot of livin'
Got a lot of livin' to do!

From Bye Bye Birdie

Last night, I sat in Disney Hall, and watched and listened to Michael Feinstein perform songs from The Great American Songbook. When he sang this song, I found myself moved and energized. An unlikely source of inspiration - and yet the lyrics hit me right in the gut.
I like it when clarity strikes. But when it comes whirling at you from the likes of a charismatic, piano playing crooner, it's simply thrilling. Michael Feinstein's enthusiasm is contagious. I might just as well have been at a tent revival meeting as Disney Hall.

As I sat in Michael Fenstein's audience, I was grateful that I knew the lyrics to most of the songs he sang. I knew the composers. I shared his passion for the music and appreciated his style. He brings together many of the elements of my life.

It seemed that growing up, I lived straddling generations - my parents were of the generation that lived through the depression and WWII. I came of age in the 70's. They were living the quintessential American Dream. They came from humble roots in Kentucky and Ohio and built their lives, their business, and their family on optimism and hard work. The songs that now are billed as The Great American Songbook provided the score for my parent's lives. And mine. While my friends listened to rock and roll, I listened to Frank Sinatra and musical theatre. The contrast between the music of my generation and my parent's separated me from my peers. I was older than my years because of the music I listened to. I was never completely sure in what world I belonged.

I belonged in the audience last night at Disney Hall. It brings me comfort to know that Michael Feinstein straddles those worlds. Somehow, I understand myself better watching him perform. I grew up around piano bars. My parents danced to those romantic melodies and said things like "They're playing our song."
My father had me singing Begin the Beguine, Summertime, and How are Things in Glocca Mora before I ever even heard of the Rolling Stones.

Maybe one of the reasons, A lot of Livin' to Do struck me last night is because it straddles those worlds too. Birdie was the first "rock and roll" Broadway musical. Tame as it may be, the very story line confronts the clash of generations through music. That song, coming out of Michael Feinstein brought it all home to me.

I'm finally old enough to be singing those songs.

Thirty years have passed since grief first came to reside in my heart. I was twenty-two. As I approach my fifty-second birthday, I've decided to adopt "A lot of Livin' to Do" from the musical Bye Bye Birdie, as my theme song for the next thirty (or for however many years I have left.)

"Life's a ball if only you know it...."

If only you know it....
A good reminder to "show up" to your life.

I am keenly aware of the passage of time. Every day I look in the mirror and see my hair graying more and more. My upper arms are starting to remind me of my mother's.

There are things I want to do. Places to go. People to see.
Just like the lyrics say.

You're alive so come on and show it. We've got a lot of livin' to do.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Musical Notes

I pull the red scrap book from the shelf in the garage. The silver fish that have made it their home scatter. I open the yellowed pages. There, tucked into programs, flyers, rehearsal schedules, dried flowers, and telegrams are the little cards that come in floral bouquets scrawled with pre-show messages in familiar handwriting.

I turn the pages. There - written in large, bold handwriting, are instructions from my father turned drama coach: Amy! Discipline!!! (underlined three times) and the schedule of our practices for The Unsinkable Molly Brown, thirty-five years ago.

Amy Darling We love you reads one in my mother's hand.
With you on every word and note tonight reads another.

But the one I seek is deeper into the pages.

To Amy who will make them forget Bernhardt, Duse, and Modjeska - Love, Bob. I was eleven.


Yesterday would have been my brother's 70th birthday. I was prompted to dig in my garage to find some remembrance of him from my early days on the stage because I was imagining the card he would have written this month to his eldest granddaughter, Hannah who stars in her first musical as Anna in The King & I. I remembered that card and hoped it could somehow be re-cycled. It is, however, glued tight onto the page.
But it won't stop me from re-cycling the message.

My brother was always in my audience. And he will be in Hannah's. I will look up to the stage and see her through his eyes just as he watched me when I was her age.

As I turned the pages of my tattered scrapbook, memories of my family came flooding back to me. My brother's wit and keen insight. My father's direction. My mother's support. We may not have been the Barrymores but the theatre pulsed through our veins.

I need only open my scrap books for evidence of why I became a drama teacher.

Greater, still, to find evidence of a happy life.