Exit Stage Left [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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This is a love story. This is how the love story began:

I knew the moment Kerri looked up from her computer that we were in trouble. She had THAT look in her eyes. She spun her computer around so I could see: a photograph of a performing arts space on a little island up north. They were looking for a managing director. “We could do this together,” she said.

I was opposed to the idea. I’ve run theatres and theatre companies. For an entire era in my life, I seemed called to restore them when they were on the verge of collapse. This felt like a step backward. It would be the smallest company I’d ever worked with. It had obvious and ominous warning signs of rip tides and undertows.

However, I’ve seen THAT look in Kerri’s eyes a few times and I’ve learned that it is best to either get on the train or get out of the way. We interviewed. We visited. The first time we stepped into the theatre I saw something – beyond words – return to Kerri. She walked the auditorium like it was sacred space. She stepped onto the stage and fell deep into imagining. Life rushed into her. How could I oppose that?

Initially, we turned the job down because it made no financial sense. It made even less practical sense; we’d have to move on island for six months every year, take unpaid sabbaticals from other work. Kerri grieved. Literally. I could not understand the depth of her loss. To me it was yet another job with yet another non-profit that was cracking below the water line, which meant too many hours for too little pay featuring a bottomless to-do list and a board of directors resistant to patching the holes, let alone reconstructing a seaworthy vessel. Standard fare, par for the course, yada-yada.

Kerri wept. What was this about? The image of her walking through the auditorium, hands brushing the seats like they were magic blossoms, haunted me. “They’ll come back to us,” I told her, “no one else is crazy enough to consider this job.”

A month later they came back with an improved offer, still impossible but closer to feasible. They could find no one else that was crazy enough to consider the position. Love is a kind of insanity.

We took the job. That is how this love story began.

Yesterday was our final day on the job. Today is the day the story ends. In many ways it was exactly as my crystal ball predicted: a non-profit that was cracking below the water line, too many hours for too little pay featuring a bottomless to-do list and a board of directors resistant to patching the holes, let alone reconstructing a seaworthy vessel. I am a systems guy; the organizational system behaved like all systems behave. In our first 3 months we had 3 different board presidents. Big battles. No surprises.

Yet, my crystal ball missed the prediction in one very important aspect. The most important aspect. This was not merely standard fare. It was a love story. The incredible people we met, the adventures we shared, the mountains we moved, the dark starry nights, the ominous power of the lake, the deer, many lessons we learned…Kerri stood on the stage and fell into deep imagining. Everyday. Life rushed into her. Everyday.  This may be the day the relationship ends but we leave, she leaves, filled with new imaginings, her heart breaking, full of love for this magic space, brimming with life.

 

[Kerri made this as a parting note for TPAC]

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about EXIT

 

 

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Approach It [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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“Because we have lost reverence of approach, we should not be too surprised at the lack of quality and beauty in our experience.” ~ John O’Donohue, Beauty

There was a common thread that ran through the lessons my mentors taught me: how I treat my space is a direct reflection of how I approach my artistry, my work.

Whether they said it directly or not, they understood artistry as sacred, artistic spaces as sacred spaces. Places of communion.

Paul Barnes used to tell his acting students, “Never underestimate your power to influence another person’s life.” There is a responsibility when getting on the stage. There is a responsibility when designing for the stage. There is a responsibility for how tickets are sold. There is a responsibility for how the theatre is cleaned and maintained, the studio, the shop… Tom’s students were famous for sweeping the parking lot of the theatre because they believed the audience experience began with the approach to the building. The sweepers understood themselves as artists.

During our last days on island, Kerri and I began cleaning out the theatre. We began the process of introducing a new approach. We started our job mid-season and were asked to come to the island and watch and learn. All summer, as a watcher, I repeated this phrase: everyone wants to use the theatre but no one wants to be responsible for it. Responsible to it. Groups entered and dumped their stuff. When they left, they left their mess for Pete to clean and why not? (Pete gets it, he is meticulous, and loves the space. But he is a lone sweeper fighting the tide of a dedicated mindless approach.)

TPAC is understood as a place to be used. It is a space the community fights over. A territory to be claimed. It is not yet approached as a space where beauty is touched, where actions matter because they are capable of unifying, where artistry is understood, not as a personal domain, but the grace of collective creation.

Sitting on the empty stage, the season closed, Kerri and I sat and listened. “It’s time to make the space ours, ” she said. “I think I’ll clean out the fridge.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE END OF SEASON

 

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Take A Picture [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Our time on island was a polarity. The antagonism of the organization was balanced by the utter peace of the littlehouse. Just as we learned to roll with the quickly changing faces of our board, we stood in awe of the swiftly shifting personality of the lake. One moment it was still and the next moment it roiled and took great bites of the shore. It was (and is) a study of the degrees of change, the subtleties of ever-changing-movement.

Each morning Kerri walked to the water’s edge and took a photograph. Reviewing three months of mornings is eye-opening. So much life! So much variation and beauty and power. If I am ever again bored or delusional enough to think that life is dull, I will remember our morning photographs. Were I still working with artists or corporate types I’d make it a mandatory exercise to take a photograph at the same spot everyday for three months. The review at day 90 could slap awake even the most dedicated blindness.

It is the visual equivalent of morning pages. See what you do not see. Aim your focus and realize that, in fact, you have the power to aim your focus, to determine what you see and, therefore, what you study. And, therefore, how you story your life.

During our last pass on the island, Kerri, as is her custom, took her morning photograph. Later, she wandered out of the little house to capture a midday shot. In the evening, I found her by the water’s edge photographing the sunset. She created a panorama, a sweeping story of the day. “Everywhere I look, it’s perfection,” she said.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PERFECTION

 

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