Go To The Shoe Room [on Two Artists Tuesday]

When I managed the theatre conservatory at PCPA Theaterfest, I occasionally gave backstage tours. It was great fun because the favorite stop on the tour – on every tour I gave – was the shoe room. Visitors always enjoyed standing on the stage, they were impressed with the scene and costume shop, they delighted to watch the prop master at work, but the moment we entered the shoe room, they were transcendent. Wide-eyed and giggling, pulling period shoes from the shelves to show their companions, it was as if they’d entered a candy store. The magic was released through the shoes.

The shoes, I suspect, harkened back to a time of dress-up. Childhood. The shoes touched their spirit of play. They beckoned to be worn and, as any actor knows, the shoes will inform how a character moves. The sooner you don the shoes, the sooner you will “find” the character. The shoe room was a portal to possible-other-lives.

I am more enamored by sketches than I am by final drafts. I delight in watching master craftsmen and craftswomen work. Theatre artists do not create illusions, they provide access to other worlds, unknown paths. They invite us to the shoe room to try on another life, even for a moment. The process, to me, is more beautiful than the performance.

As we walked the paths of the Botanical Gardens, the technicians were preparing for the festival of lights. Walkie-talkies crackled. Connections were checked. Battery packs were carefully placed. Multi-colored light strands ran like rivers up the trunks of trees. E-candles on armatures floated in the waterways. Magic was in the making. During the daylight, the entire expanse of the Garden is backstage – exposed wires and explicit design. At night, the mechanics will fade behind the light curtain. Backstage will become fore-stage. The light will invite us into another world. The light will touch the spirit of play.

I have always believed that people, lurking behind those serious faces, really just want to play. It’s the reason I kicked off my shoes every time I entered a room to do a facilitation. Lose your shoes and it’s no longer a serious affair. Play threatens. Play is suddenly a real possibility. The spirit of play cracks even the most harden entrenchment. Play necessitates collaboration and sharing. Pirates and Princesses need mates and parrots and knights in order for the world to be complete. Lawyers will take off their ties and wear them as headbands when the shoes come off and the serious topics are approached in socks and bare toes.

I recently – as we all have – been privy to an endless contentious debate about what this nation needs to do to get back on track. I believe it is not so complicated. We can carry on our oh-so-serious-division, but the single rule should be that no one can open their mouth – politician, pundit, and pedestrian alike – before first taking off their shoes.

read Kerri’s blog post about LIGHT STRANDS

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.]

kerri’s albums are available on iTunes