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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Burn [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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The first fire. It came like a ceremony. We didn’t intend it to mark the passage, the end of the season. But, it did. The lake was angry. The air was cold and wet. Fall had arrived. We could smell it in the air. There was nothing to be done but gather kindling and bring in some wood.

We sat in front of the fire. It dried the wet air. We talked about the events of the summer. We lived a lot of life during our three months on island. We counted the contention, the fire in the organization, by the number of board presidents we’d served: 3 in less than 3 months. It must be a record! It was certainly a sign of the heat transforming the organization. So much ash.

The next night we closed the theatre, the final show was in the books. We locked the doors and stood under the stars and wondered what had happened. The fire burned us, too. We were transformed but will be the last to know how. We just knew that we were different now.

The next morning we began packing the truck for our move off island. We were quiet most of the day, moving. Carrying boxes loaded with the stuff of life. “Next time we will bring less,” Kerri said. “We will know what to expect.”

“Maybe,” I said. She smiled.

We lit another fire on our final night. We watched it burn. The ceremony was complete. This fire was for warmth. Comfort. We sipped wine. No more words necessary. No need to debrief or assign meaning to events. No need to ponder or make sense of things. Ash.

The lake was still angry. The air was still wet. With morning would come the next step, the first step.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about the FIRST FIRE

 

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Be Nothing [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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It might be my age. I am more and more conscious of the fleeting moment, a special-yet-inconsequential experience, walking with friends, and am overwhelmed with gratitude, struck by the profound in the ordinary.

“Be nothing,” Krishnamurti advised. In that way, we become capable of seeing the extraordinary relationships of everyday moments, seeing the intense beauty in ‘what is’ without the greying filter of ‘what should be.’

Kerri was walking ahead with Jay and Gay. They were laughing and gesturing wildly. Charlie, Dan and I were several paces behind. Dan is a great storyteller and he was making us laugh with a tale from his neighborhood. We strolled down the center of the road; on island there is little to no traffic. The sun peaked through the clouds for the first time all day, just in time for sunset. We heard deer snapping tree limbs as they leapt through the forest but could not see them.

I looked at my wife and friends and the rush of utter appreciation stopped me in my tracks. I knew that I was fully alive, nothing stood between me and this very extraordinary ordinary passing moment. Nothing.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about ROAD SHADOWS

 

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Capture The Beauty [on DR Thursday]

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The day was stormy, the lake was unsettled, steel grey and roiling. Kerri walked to the water’s edge with her camera. I opened my sketchbook and caught a quick sketch. Perhaps a notation for a someday-painting. Perhaps a gesture with nowhere to go.

A few days later I looked at this quick sketch and laughed. It is a metaphor for our time on island. Standing at the edge of a storm not of our making. Witness to the turmoil. It blows us to and fro. It messes our hair. The sand stings our faces.  We are taken by the colors of its violence. When the winds grow too powerful, we retreat to the safety of our littlehouse. We wait for the latest flurry to calm, the waves to soften.

It is tempting to want to be done with it. To rush through a month of life. Each day I remind myself to be in it, not simply get through it. Life on this day may be stormy. It might be upsetting. Stormy and upsetting are colors on the palette. They are worthy experiences. Amidst the chaos there are instances of utter beauty –  like the moment Kerri walked to the edge of a roiling lake and I looked up, caught my breath, and reached for my sketchbook so that I’d never ever forget.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about A SKETCH

 

 

 

 

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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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Constellate [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Just outside our favorite island gem, Fair Isle Books, is this poem by former Wisconsin poet Laureate, Bruce Dethlefsen. We have stopped at the shop more than once and reread the poem.

our lonely stars though bright
and strong will quickly fade

unless we string the stars
together   choose illumination
then in constellation hope is ours

bring on another day
sing light in common song
~constellation by bruce dethlefsen

It is a lovely poem and captures perfectly how we now see our work on this island. In our short tenure it has become abundantly clear that the people in our sphere most often work as “islands.” Islands on island. That is, although very well intended, few actually recognize the impact of their actions (or inaction) on others. It is part of the evolutionary dna of the place. Everyone works multiple jobs. Divisions and territory define the island arts organizations.

I have long held (and experienced again and again) that the arts cannot thrive in a community until the artists turn to a common center, recognize a shared purpose, and realize that one cannot thrive without the other. Thriving is a team sport. If one theatre creates a large audience then it creates audience for all. If one painter sells a painting, a market is created for all. Reaching into the common space, facilitating shared experience, is what art is meant to do.

If an arts community falls into the mistaken notion that its members compete for limited resources, they will inevitably define themselves by their limitation.  The center turns to a battle ground and the art is diminished. Dog-eat-dog has no place in the sacred space of art.

It is why we visit the poem. The necessary guide star is already here. “Our lonely stars though bright will quickly fade unless we string the stars together – choose illumination – then in constellation hope is ours.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CONSTELLATION

 

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