Find Another Door [on Merely A Thought Monday]

dream copy

Roger and I used to discuss life and career. He would say, “There is a time of becoming and then, one day, you realize that you have become it.” He was right. I wanted to be an artist. For years I chased it. For years I practiced it. And then, one day, I realized I was it. Not because I’d arrived at a place called Artist, but because art was my practice. Art was my pursuit. Art called me.

It’s a paradox. You become the thing that you pursue on the day that you realize it is not an achievement. Becoming is a choice of practice, a dedication of your limited time on earth to an exploration. Follow the Siren long enough and she will claim you.

Long after his retirement, Tom continued to toss his hat into the ring for regional directing assignments. During his career, he was a force in the theatre. He was a master-teacher-director who opened the door to many of my peers, theatre artists, the people I most admire. I heard about Tom long before I met him. And, although he continued his passionate pursuit after his retirement, the world of opportunity could not see beyond his grey hair. Even his former students, those people I most admire, stopped considering his resume or returning his calls.

It was in the midst of recognizing that he had more to give but the old routes were now closed that he pulled me aside and said, “I need help telling a story.” And then he asked, “Will you help me?”

Our project, The Lost Boy, opened ten years later,  several months after Tom’s death.  The opening night audience was a packed house of Tom’s family and relatives, people who brought photographs of the lost boy, Johnny, to the theatre. They clutched them as they watched the play. After the performance, they stayed in the theatre sharing their stories until the management asked them to leave.

A dream. Tom’s practice: uniting people through telling and sharing a common story. Art in its purest form.

His final lesson for me: storytellers (artists) age but the force of their dreams does not grow old. They will inevitably hit walls and freshly closed doors and rather than sit down and throw up their hands, they simply turn, ask a few questions, and look for another way.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about NEVER TOO OLD

 

Johnny crop copy

 

 

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The Chili Boys in rehearsal for The Lost Boy. They wrote gorgeous music for the play. I will always be grateful to them.

 

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carrying on the tradition (and my heroes): mike and sabrina bartram

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50 minutes before stepping onto the stage. Kerri and I performed together for the first time.

 

bootsbythestage website box copy

Live According To Your Necessity

a detail of a painting I did in honor of Dawson's arrival on earth

a detail of a painting I did in honor of Dawson’s arrival on earth

“Depending upon the lens you look through, I have been a miserable failure at everything I’ve ever done,” I said. Arnie protested but we both knew it was, to a certain extent, true. And, since our conversation I have been gazing through that certain lens and feeling my failure acutely.

This lens is not new to me. I visit it each year as my birthday rolls around. It is a lens that most artists visit from time to time. To their peril. Recently, Chris, one of the most talented and hardworking actors I know, told me that now that he is far down the road of his career, no longer a beginner, he has surrendered the idea, imperative or illusion of economic success. “I work because I have to,” he said. It makes no sense and is impossible to explain to someone who does not have “that” impossible intrinsic driver. The incentives are internal. The rewards are internal. The achievements are mastery landmarks and not monetary rewards. It looks like insanity through the lens of a profit/loss, money=morality society.

When I look through the failure lens I’ve learned I need to visit Rainier Maria Rilke. I need to seek the advice of a master. “Nobody can counsel you or help you. There is only one single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would die if it were denied you to write. This above all – ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And, if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple “I must,” then build your life according to this necessity;….”

...closer in

…closer in

My life is built upon this necessity. No amount of comparing it to others is useful. No other lens is healthy. Since moving to Kenosha from Seattle, I am fond of telling people that in my move I committed economic suicide. That is a statement made looking through the wrong lens. Here is the truth: Since my move I have published my book, The Seer. I produced and performed in what I thought was the greatest heart-project of my life, The Lost Boy. It played to sold out houses and fulfilled a decade long journey and commitment to Tom. Two months later I did what I now think was the the greatest heart-project of my life when I illustrated and Kerri and I published Beaky’s books, The Shayne Trilogy. Beaky had an author’s reading a mere two weeks before her passing. Last year I authored drew and submitted with Kerri over 25 cartoon proposals to syndicates. We are completing work on our next play, The Road Trip. And, in the middle of it all, I’ve done arguably the best paintings of my life. I am meeting my question with a simple and strong “I must.”

What is failure? What is success? They are lenses and they matter not.

I am living and building my life “according to this necessity.”

The whole painting.

The whole painting.

 

Mix Beautiful Color

photo-6This magnet-sentiment was on Jim’s refrigerator:

It’s never too late to become what you might have been.

It is particularly poignant because both Jim and I are surprised, dare I admit, disoriented, after finally producing The Lost Boy. It was over a decade in coming. I’d stopped believing that it would ever find a path to the stage and, instead, would remain a good story for dinner conversation. Now that it’s out of the box and rolling around in the world of possible-next-productions, I hear Tom’s voice ringing in my ears, “Readiness is all.” It couldn’t happen until it was ready, until I was ready.

For the past decade, coincident with the development of The Lost Boy, I have been telling stories at conferences, with symphonies, during organizational trainings, and other random stage performances. I have inadvertently learned to tell a good story (or better stated while slaughtering all grammar: to tell a story good). 5 years ago I couldn’t have performed the play as I did last week. I didn’t have the chops for it. I do now.

Years ago, after being wowed by Jim Edmondson’s performance of King Lear, I asked him what he’d learned from doing the role. He replied, “I don’t have enough colors in my paint box to do it justice. Not yet.” This giant of American theatre blew my socks off with his performance, but felt that he fell short. He couldn’t yet fulfill the demands of the role. He knew there was more to grasp and his artistic arms were not long enough. He knew he was not yet ready. No amount of accolade or sock-less fans would change what he knew: there was more to the role than he could reach. More age, more life, more skill was needed. He taught me in that moment what it meant to be an artist. The compass is internal. The capacity is ever expanding if you work at it.

I now believe that, to produce The Lost Boy, I also needed to find the right reason before readiness was available. For years I thought I had an obligation to Tom. I thought I had to finish it for him and tell his story. That was only partially true. The real obligation was to myself. I had to finish it for me – and it took a good deal of readiness for me to see that. It had to become my play. And, in becoming my play, I can now see that I have a world of color in my paint box – and a world of color that I still need to develop. That is the name of this game of mastery. There is never an end. There are just more and more beautiful colors to find and mix and share.

 

Step Into The Field

photo-5[continued from “Jump!]

I wrote this phrase: “The one facilitates the journey for the many.” And, today, I would add: the one facilitates the journey for the many so that the many can experience the one. This little phrase is the point and the purpose of the theatre.

I’ve come to believe, at this stage in my artist life, that all processes of art-making are actually exercises in presence. And, presence, for me, has come to mean transcending any experience of separation. For instance, when I am fully engaged with painting a painting, “I” am nowhere to be found. Time disappears. There is only rolling creation. To use a cliché: something comes through me. Language is incapable of grasping what really happens and all we are left with is “something comes through” – a statement of separation.

A week ago today we were preparing to perform the closing of The Lost Boy. This play is unique in my experience for many reasons (it would require a book or two to explain the many layers of this cake), one of which was that we only had two performances: an opening and a closing. We hit our stride on the closing – and by that I mean we let go of thinking, preparing, adjusting…, and entered presence. We stepped onto the stage with no thought of “what’s first” and “what’s next.” The play happened with no effort. The Chili Boys played like never before. We were, to use another cliché, in the flow. I have never felt more alive, more connected, more present. It was fun!

50 minutes before stepping onto the stage

50 minutes before stepping onto the stage

Years ago, I had the opportunity to assist Jim Edmondson in a series of plays and I riddled him with questions. He introduced me to the notion that the art of acting was the art of presence (though he used a different language). He taught me that words like “focus” and “intention” are merely tools for cultivating the capacity to be present. Presence is the portal and the actors’ (artists’) job is to step into presence so the audience can join them. Literally, join with them in the field of the present, the place of common story. To be. Together, in a single story. And, although he did not say it this way, he taught me that “to be” is infinitely more powerful than “to become.” “To be” is not an arrival platform; it is an experience of the many recognizing itself as the one [could you ask for a better definition of art!].

Mike, our stage manager extraordinaire, came down from the booth and told us that our performances were different than the first night. We were more potent; we found nuance and greater depth. He was right. We were finally able to surrender to the work, get out of our own way, and step into the field of shared story.

Jump!

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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]

Get Back On And Ride

Guess what. I'm doing it.

Guess what? I’m doing it.

It is universally true that we must fail to learn. In fact, as absolutes and paradoxes go, the single universal lesson that we must learn is that there is no such thing as failure. To unlearn is, in fact, also to learn. Everything is a step forward when failure is out of the equation. I fell off my bike more than once before I learned to balance and ride. I made some terrifically ugly colors as I learned to paint. That is the nature of learning.

Over the past decade I’ve tried more than once to produce my play, The Lost Boy. And, like learning to ride a bike, I’ve fallen off with each attempt. The latest tumble came with a failed Kickstarter attempt. Sitting on the curb, my metaphoric bike akimbo, I asked, “What is it about this play?” It will not leave me alone and yet it has been more than difficult to produce. And, as it does, the learning followed the fall. And there is nothing to be done but get back up and ride.

And, as is also true, when you decide that you are going to do something, the way opens (note: that does not mean that there are no challenges). When we didn’t meet our Kickstarter goal, I had the option to let it go forever or, I had to decide that I was going to produce this play with bake sales, lemonade stands, or any other whacky idea that would get me to opening night. This play will not leave me alone and, as I learned in the fall, I will not leave it alone. The decision was already made and I needed the failed campaign to see it.

And the way opened. The University of the Pacific decided to donate the theatre and to help with some marketing through alumni networks. I laughed when, given their generous donation, I made my new budget. The amount I need (bare bones) to get to opening night is almost identical to the amount pledged in the failed campaign. So, taking what I’ve learned, I’ve mounted a new campaign and asked the previous pledgers to pledge again. And, since I adore paradoxes and don’t really believe in absolutes, I’m passing this link out in every way possible. Nothing is for sure – except that I will do this play in February in California.

The lesson, of course, is to ask for help and ask again (something I was not good at doing in the first campaign). The other lesson is this: a play that will not let you go is worth doing and it is worth doing whatever it takes to give it life. So help me give it life. Here’s the new Kickstarter campaign. Please support it if you can by pledging or passing the link out through your networks.

I don’t mind falling off my bike again because now I know that I will simply dust myself off and get back on to ride. Join me in California in February for the world premiere of The Lost Boy.

title_pageGo here to buy hard copies (and Kindle) of my latest book: The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, Innovator, Seeker, Learner, Leader, Creator,…You.

Guess what. I'm doing it.

And, in case you missed it, here’s the link to the new The Lost Boy Kickstarter campaign