I am still percolating on the ideas explored in the Phoenix Theatre’s production of “Well,” by Lisa Kron. This is the show I saw last Thursday. I spent less time reviewing shows this past weekend, and more time talking with family and hanging out with friends. I feel more well, more balanced, because of this.
Mind you, a lot of my “down time” was still theatre-related or storytelling-related.
When I talked long distance with my sister on Saturday night, for example, I found myself quoting Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. to her. In an interview that he gave to USA Today in 2005, just before he died, he answered the reporter’s request for advice by saying, “Please notice when you are happy.”
I told my sister, “I have noticed that I am happy when I am working on my theatre blog. Seeing shows, writing about them, hearing from other people who have seen the shows or worked on them…I still love my day job, and I have to make sure that I don’t just phone in my performance (to borrow an actor phrase) there, but this theatre writing is really feeding me!”
Talking with my sister fed me, too.
You already know that I went to see the opening of “Well” at the Phoenix on Thursday night, and a spur-of-the-moment second viewing of “Art” by the Carmel Community Players on Friday night. I went to see a middle school production on Saturday afternoon, and normally I would have gone to see another adult production on Saturday night, but by that point I was full. I needed some time at home to digest what I had taken in so far.
On Sunday, I participated in a video shoot for the Heartland Actors’ Repertory Theatre’s upcoming production of “Midwestern Hemisphere,” by Lou Harry and Eric Pfeffinger. The world premiere of this play will take place in the Indianapolis ArtsGarden downtown on Friday, March 28. It will be live theatre, not a movie, but video clips of a neighborhood meeting will run on TV monitors overhead at one or two points in the play. Ben Tebbe, the assistant director/stage manager, had put out a call on Indiana Auditions for volunteers to help people the shoot.
It was so much fun! No lines or blocking to memorize, and even though I like and admire the director, Michael Shelton, very much, I wasn’t concerned about impressing him, so it felt like play. Play with a purpose. And playing with people around whom I felt comfortable, even those I had just met. As I say, it was a lot of fun.
We shot two scenes. In the first, the neighborhood association is arguing about the potential health hazards of the clear, plexiglasss(?) dome that has mysteriously appeared over their community and sealed them off from the rest of the world. The leader of the group, played by Greg Shelton, draws on a white board to illustrate his points. Another man, played by Brian Hartz, jumps up to disagree, and soon we are all yelling and slamming our fists on the table and so on. Then another man, played by Matthew Roland, cuts us all off and goes to the white board himself, but soon we are all arguing again.
We shot this scene several times to give the video editor plenty to work with. It didn’t matter what we said, only what we looked like, because the video would be running with no sound. Roland said and acted something completely different for each take. His creativity delighted me.
One time he went to the white board and said, “Blah, blah, blah. Blah. Blah! Blah-blah!”
Later, when I was at home and relishing the whole day again in my head, I wished that I had thought to respond to him in gibberish, too. My friend, Priscilla Howe, who is a fulltime, professional storyteller and a master at improv, taught me a game called “Foreign Storyteller.” One person begins by speaking in gibberish and the other person interprets in English, drawing meaning from the first person’s facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice, and so on.
I have used this game many times in storytelling workshops with middle schoolers, and I love playing it myself. I am sorry that I missed the opportunity to play a version of it on Sunday.
But I am glad to be reminded that I have been meaning to take an improv class for YEARS now. I don’t know when I will find the time, but I still want to. Storytelling, good storytelling, is about being in the moment. Storytellers are not actors, but we benefit from many aspects of actor training.
In the meantime, I have written the essential kernel of improv on a card and tacked it up here on the bulletin board over my home computer. Actor Tom Robertson gave the kernel to me in a conversation after a show at the Phoenix a few months ago. He told me that improv, boiled down, is “just” a matter of saying, “Yes, and” to everything. Yes. And…
Speaking of Priscilla Howe, I am looking forward to hearing her tell a two-hour piece at the Going Deep: Long Traditional Stories Festival in Bethlehem, Indiana next month. There will be workshops, too. I love workshops.
After the video shoot, I went out with a couple of friends for a late lunch. We talked about theatre, of course, since that is what we all have in common. I learned two new expressions: “metrosexual” and “papering the house.”
When you say an actor is “metrosexual,” this does not mean, as I first thought, that he prefers to have sex on subways. It means he is heterosexual but values aesthetics in a way that is stereotypically homosexual. I know a lot of metrosexuals! Who knew?
“Papering the house” means that someone in charge of a show sends out an email to everyone he (or she) knows, asking them to come see the show for free so that the paying customers will feel free to laugh and enjoy themselves, and then will tell their friends that the show is a success, thereby bringing in more paying customers.
Learning new things makes me well, too.
After we finished eating, though, I could feel my compulsive side kicking in again. I looked at a clock. I could catch the final performance of “Proof” at Theatre on the Square at 5:00 if we paid our checks immediately. I loved this show the first time I saw it. I wanted to see it again.
But after I said goodbye to my friends and sped back downtown, I arrived at TOTS and found that the show had closed the day before. Drat!
So then I did another wellness activity and took a caculated risk. I went over to another friend’s home and invited him out for coffee.
I almost never do this kind of thing, mostly because I hate it when people drop by my house without calling first, but also because well, you know, because I am shy! But this friend is a very good person for me to take risks with, and he has a sort of butler who would tell me if my friend didn’t want to be disturbed, so I went there.
We did go out for coffee, and I asked him to tell me A Very Important Story that I knew he’d been working on. He told me, and his telling healed me. It put me in touch with some feelings of sadness that I hadn’t ackowledged earlier. His story is his story. It is not mine. I am illogically sad about that, but it’s okay.
Sometimes I ask for stories because I suspect that my deep listening will help to heal the teller. I don’t presume this, but I offer my listening just in case.
But other times I ask because I suspect that it will heal the listener (me.) Other times I ask just because I’m curious. I have to be careful, when I ask people for their stories, that I don’t become a story vampire, sucking out people’s stories just to be inquisitive. I think I stayed human on Sunday.
After dropping my friend back at his castle, I drove on home. I measured my blood pressure. It was closer to normal than it had been in a long time.
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com