Saturday, July 14, 2012


Director Anne Bogart says that "disorientation is good for art."
 Her directorial technique, called Viewpoints has become for me this summer both a metaphor and a guide.

Recently I've been a tad disoriented.  Like a gypsy, my personal belongings scattered in satchels, suitcases, and moveable crates, I wander from place to place seeking equilibrium, grounding, home. Uprooted and mobile, my adventure has spurred moments of surprise, insight, and the occasional sore back. Emotions ebb and flow by the hour sometimes. Frequently frustrated by not being able to find something, I realize that habit and comfort are twins.  When forced to change our habits, we are uncomfortable. But it is in that very discomfort that discoveries are made. The looming question about whether the risk outweighs the gain takes on greater significance with each passing day. Patience and trust still tipping the scale while fear and uncertainty hang in the balance. Risk is a choice, sacrifice a by-product, and freedom a result if one can hold on long enough to see it through.  This is the inner dialogue that runs through my head. What life and loss have taught me is that there is no one to rescue you.  You must rescue yourself.  Resilience is everything.

I spent nearly a week cast a drift in New York,  walking the neighborhoods in the East Village, SoHo, and Chelsea. I elbowed my way through Times Square a midst hundreds of sticky, hot tourists, and found relief under an umbrella in Rockefeller Center as I massaged my aching feet and nibbled on overpriced hummus, while gulping an Arnold Palmer. Alone in the world, anonymously, I sat in on a talk by a casting director at the Atlantic Theatre Company in a studio full of young, aspiring actors hoping to become directors themselves.  With no skin in the game, no delusions of discovery, I observed the speaker, wearing shorts and the casual confidence that accompanies one whose stories are laced with the names Bob De Niro and Sharon Stone.  I left the room after the 75 minute talk, feeling better about myself as a director and teacher - a quiet, personal moment of acknowledgment that my life and experience in the theatre have added up to something.  I may not be able to drop the names of famous stars, but I know I could have taught those kids a heck of a lot more about directing than what they got as they  hung  on to every word, digesting the "wisdom" of a guy who had little to give.

I crossed the street to the Chelsea Market and took in the sights of the beautifully designed space. My walk led me out the other end and up a flight of stairs to the High Line.  At 7:30 at night, the air had cooled enough to make it a perfect summer evening.  Romance was palpable. Lovers nestled and kissed against the panorama of a dramatically textured sky at sunset while jazz floated along the walkway scoring the scene like a Woody Allen movie.  I don't think I've felt as much joy in discovering a place in my life. My heart soared, my spirit lightened, and I thought that without a doubt, I had found the happiest place in New York City.

The discomfort of a life in New York sans doorman, air conditioning, and lots of money is pretty tough to handle. Blocks to walk to the subway. The blast of hot air as you move below ground, the blast of cold air as the doors of the train open, the hassle of carrying everything from groceries to laundry up five flights of stairs to a hot apartment on the fifth floor, make daily life challenging.  Not for the faint of heart to be sure.

But discomfort is good for art.

 I took myself to A Streetcar Named Desire with Blair Underwood. An all African American cast was just too enticing for me to ignore even though my money might have been better spent on a Tony- winning production. My curiosity was too great for me not to go see how this classic Williams play that I teach every year was reinterpreted with a black sensibility.  I was struck by the very startling discovery of humor found in lines that I had always read as pathetically tragic. Subtext obliterated, the text came through with astonishing clarity. Somehow, it worked.  Not in every moment - but for the most part, I was able to accept what I was seeing.  Interpretation, risk, and boldness of choice - daring to take on a play with the ghosts of giants hovering over the boards - Tennessee Williams' words came to life for a whole new audience. I got what I came for.

Flying home to not going home, I continued my journey of detachment.  Tethered only to friends and family and a belief in the potential for small business and entrepreneurship, my adventure simmers deep within me.  Punctuated by A Conversation with Stephen Sondheim at the Segerstrom Hall, my theatrical muse continued to be inspired as I listened to his sage words and basked in his quick and clever mind.  Again, the take away for me was the willingness to risk.

Sondheim, on stage,  quoted the late Oscar Hammerstein, "You must be willing to fall off the top rung of the ladder, not the bottom."

I'm not sure where we are on that ladder - so often a metaphor for "success". When the top of that ladder is still out of reach, there is no choice but to keep climbing rung by rung on the way to somewhere. One step at a time. Holding on. Risking the fall.

It's good for art.