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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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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Give It [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Janus is a Roman god with two faces. He looks to the future and peers into the past. He is the god of beginnings and endings, transitions, doorways, and passages. He is the god of gateways, the liminal spaces, the between.

Janus must certainly be the god that we dance with on this island, a community defined by divisions, married to its conflicts but also, at least rhetorically, desiring peace.

Kerri and I are the stewards of a performing arts center that is, as Julian Dawson said, punching above its weight. It is the symbol of division in the community, the epicenter of discord, the rope in a very ugly tug-of-war. All of the fault lines run through it. Yet, as Janus would remind us, it then must also hold the path to unity, the potential for common ground.

All in the community want the doors to be wide open; none want the responsibility that comes with access. They want the center, the art, to serve them. They do not yet comprehend that any alive and vital art space is, in fact, the opposite: a place of service to others. Arts spaces and the artists the enliven them are keepers of the commons, the stewards of the stories that unite.

In another life I ran an educational theatre company. It boomed into life the day that the artists, the students, grocked that art was in fact a gift given to others, something they brought to people, not something (like attention or fame or a spotlight) that they got from people.

This island, this center, will someday boom into life. They will discover that the rope in the tug of war goes slack when they walk toward each other. Pulling in opposition exhausts everyone. They will come alive when they cease asking, “What do we get?” and start asking, “What do we bring?”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about EDGES

 

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Look Up [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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An evening sky awash with salmon pink and orange. Walking down the middle of the road. Strolling home.  We heard the snap of twigs and stopped. The deer was very still, suddenly aware of us. We found ourselves engaged in an old Viola Spolin acting exercise: you look at us and we’ll look at you. Who is the audience? Who is the performer? Who is the watcher? The watched?

I’ve been thinking about Quinn lately. He taught me that there is a marked difference between concentration and awareness. Concentration is a narrowing of the mind. A blocking of other thought. Resistance. Awareness is an opening to experience. All experience. An embrace. It’s a thought straight out of Alan Watts, one of the many, many authors and thinkers that Quinn introduced me to.

Walking the roads and beaches of the island, learning the nuance of this community and the needs of the performing arts center that we now guide, for me, has become an active reminder, a literal exercise of awareness, a class in paying attention. Open, not narrow. Experience rather than judge or resist.

I can hear Quinn laughing at the younger version of me who thought he had to contain it, capture and command it. The one who thought he had to know what to do. The one with a knitted brow who thought that being good at something was a matter of controlling it. So afraid to not know. The mirth-tears would roll down Quinn’s cheeks. “Look up!” he’d say. “If you keep staring at your feet you’ll miss it!”

“Miss what?” I’d ask.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE DEER

 

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Begin [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Let the adventure begin – if we were all illuminated, this would be the mantra beginning each day. Every day a new beginning. Everyday an unknown. Stepping boldly into each day as a discovery rather than a known, a dry list of tasks to complete.

However, we are –  I am – not illuminated, so this declaration of adventure is saved for the days when the ships course is set to find the earth’s edges, when there are obvious impossible mountains to climb.

Today, Kerri and I begin a new adventure. We’ve moved for the season to Washington Island, Wisconsin. We are, as of midnight, the co-managing directors of The Trueblood Performing Arts Center. We have no idea what that means – the word “manage” implies that the systems are in place, the root is established, and that is certainly not the case.  The challenges are truly unique. They are island challenges. Dials need spinning. Perspectives need flipping. New paths need exploring.

The community is special. Welcoming. And, although art on this island is valued and appreciated, the community sits atop the hierarchy. People help people. People celebrate people. The island turns out when there is a triumph to cheer or a loss to mourn. That is what makes this place, this island, special. The fabric of the community is intact.

A new beginning. We have many, many lists but hold no illusions that what lies ahead is known, containable. It is lively. It is, in every way, an adventure.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about The Adventure

 

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