Complete The Ritual [on KS Friday]

One of the strangest rituals in directing plays comes in the closing hours of tech rehearsal. It is the final button, the cherry on the sundae; the last detail before the addition of the audience: choreographing the bow. The mechanics of gratitude. The curtain falls. The audience claps. The actors return to the stage to accept the appreciation. It’s important, in that moment, to know what to do and where to go. It’s important to know when to bow and when to vacate the stage.

It’s a mechanical moment made generous – made real – when the audience arrives. After having been led through a story or gifted with a performance, the curtain falls, the audience claps in appreciation. The actors, relieved and filled with gratitude, return to the stage and bow in thanks. Appreciation meets appreciation. The strange ritual of the previous day becomes the point of the whole exercise. Without the other, audience and performer, the storytelling is empty. We complete each other. We acknowledge in appreciation this absolute truth. My story is nothing without your witness. Your story is incomplete without my story. You applaud for me. I bow to you.

A major purpose of the artist is to remind the community of this truth. We are nothing without each other. We are capable of walking into impossible questions, when, together, we gather to share and complete a story.

Artistry is a service industry. It is humbling. It is meant to be humbling.

I sit staring at the screen. I am rewriting a script, a piece I performed with a symphony in 2008. I was terrified until the conductor lifted his baton. I remember very little after the first note was played. I came back into my body the moment the music concluded, my story told. The applause. I’ve never felt so small. I’ve never felt so full. Both.

The conductor wants to perform the piece again in 2022, only he asked that I revise the story, something that will speak directly to the issues of our times. The mechanics of writing. A strange ritual, this staring at the screen. I know the story I want to write. I wonder if I am up to this task. And then, I remind myself that this question, “Am I up for it?,” is the wrong question. It leads me to believe that I am alone in this creation. Of course I am not up for it! But, together, with the musicians, the conductor, the audience… Someday, after the mechanics, the rehearsal, the revision, the final button of preparation, we will gather and together, we will walk into impossible places, ask questions too big to be answered. Together, we will join hands and share the experience of a story. The curtain will fall. The audience will clap. The performers will bow. We will remind ourselves, as this strange ritual completes itself, that we are nothing without each other.

[I love this sculpture. Kerri keeps it close by her piano. The Bow by Duke Kruse.]

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Jump!

photo

The set for The Lost Boy

Once, I stood on a ledge. I wanted to jump into a river several feet below but I was afraid. I’d watched kids do it all day. They told me in excited tones that it was only a 70-foot drop. I’m a bit afraid of heights – okay, I’m a lot afraid of heights – and from the ledge it looked to me more like 1000 feet. I jumped but have no memory of it. After investing in my fear for many minutes, I remember making a decision, standing and walking toward the edge. I remember bobbing to the surface and laughing aloud.

I learned a great lesson that day: if I put my focus on my fear I will be paralyzed. Before taking the big step off the ledge I sat on a rock, and told myself that I was afraid. I was stuck. I couldn’t move. My mind was atwitter with all the reasons I couldn’t do it. When, finally, I realized that, if I put the same amount of focus and energy into jumping as I was investing into being afraid, the jump would be easy. It would be inevitable. It would be a decision, a choice. And, it was easy. The jump was as intentional as the fear was irrational. It was enlivening.

The Chili Boys in rehearsal

The Chili Boys in rehearsal

Last week we performed my play, The Lost Boy and through the process I revisited my ledge of so many years ago. The opening night served as a touchstone of growth. A play is made complete with the addition of an audience. Boil a play down to its essence and there is an actor and an audience. One is exposed and vulnerable, the other is safe within a group. That’s what makes it work: the one facilitates the journey for the many.

The actor gives and the audience receives – and, if the actor is doing his or her job, the audience gives and the actor receives. It’s a loop. It is a relationship. For the actor, this dance of giving and receiving can be either a terrifying proposition or an exhilarating experience. It all depends upon where the actor places his or her focus. If the focus is on pleasing the audience, the play will be a miserable affair to perform. The audience will play the role of judge or worse, the enemy. It will be a ledge alive with irrational fear. If, instead, the focus is on the action of the play, the simplicity of doing, the experience will be alive and invigorating for everyone involved. The audience will be allies on a single journey with the actor. The actor will be present so that the audience can also experience presence.

When Kerri and I stepped onto the stage last Friday, there was no ledge; it was all jump…

[to be continued]