A Moment of Soul-Searching

Kurt Owens as Mr. Lockhart in “The Seafarer” at the Phoenix - photo by Julie Curry

One of my writing heroes, journalist and teacher Donald Murray, said that writing is a way of making meaning.  Of making meaning, not just recording it.  It’s true:  I never really know what I think about a show until I write about it.   I discover what I think about it as I write about it.

Another of my writing heroes, playwright James Still, says that he used to wish he could write quickly and facilely, without risk or passion, but that now he would stop writing if the only way to do it was self-protectively.  My reviews are not as significant as a play, but I am passionate about them in my own way.  Therefore, I do want to produce them in a timely manner but not at the expense of supporting my ability to write them creatively, if that makes sense.  Part of creating a safe space for risk-taking is allowing enough time.

Also…I am continually surprised and touched by how seriously people take my reviews.  I’m just one person.  And I still don’t really know much about Theatre with a capital “T.”

Yet actors come up to me months later and quote back to me something I’ve written about them or about one of their colleagues or about what I have written over time about their home theatre.   I guess there is something especially powerful about the written word, especially when shared in public.

Paradoxically, this humbles me.  I love that the conversation about the art continues long after the individual performance is over, but it also makes me want even more to write as honestly, respectfully, and lovingly as I can.  Words matter.

I thought about this a lot at the celebration of actor Mary Potts’ life yesterday afternoon.  It was a wonderful event; I felt privileged to be there.  In one of the slide show portions of the program, there was a quote from one of Mary’s journals.  It was something like “Praise from a theatre reviewer is like the hangman saying you have a lovely neck.”

I laughed out loud when I read that quote in the slide show, but her many theatre scrapbooks were on display, too, and I noticed that along with the programs and notes from fellow cast members, she had saved the reviews from every show she had been in.  It didn’t seem to matter if the reviewer had mentioned her specifically or not, or if the reviewer had praised the show or not.  I think that for Mary, the reviews were part of a larger acknowledgment that something special had taken place.

Which means that somebody has to write them.  More and more, I feel that one of my life’s callings is to say to theatre artists, publicly and in writing, “I see you.  I appreciate you.  Don’t give up.”

I feel a little silly writing that publicly, but there you go.

All this is to explain why I have decided not to stress about the fact that I am four (five after this afternoon) shows behind in my review writing.  It takes as long as it takes. 

And somebody (me) has to keep up with the day job and the life maintenance stuff, too.  I can’t get to the theatre if there is no gas in the car or money to buy it with.

Forthcoming reviews:

“To Kill a Mockingbird” at the Indiana Repertory Theatre.  Go see this if you are in the mood to revisit a classic in a fresh way.  It continues on the IRT’s main stage through February 21, 2009.

“Enchanted April” at the Indianapolis Civic Theatre. Go see this if you are in the mood for something romantic.  It continues through February 15, 2009.

“The Seafarer,” at the Phoenix Theatre.  Go see this if you are in the mood for something rich and earthy yet spiritual.  It continues on the Phoenix main stage through February 28, 2009.  Thursdays are Cheap Seats Nights.

“Jazz Orpheus” told by storyteller David Gonzalez via Storytelling Arts of Indiana at the Indiana History Center.  This was only for one night.  Too bad, if you missed it.  (2/19/09 – And I’m sorry, but I am not going to write a review of this show after all.   I didn’t enjoy it very much, but I think that was mostly because I was already annoyed at the world because of “drama” in my personal life, and then I arrived 20 minutes late because I thought the show started at 8:00 instead of 7:30.   I hope to catch another show by David Gonzalez another time, and will try to write a calm, fair review of that one.)

“Durang-O-Rama” by InterAction Theatre at the Indy Fringe headquarters.  I’m looking forward to seeing this at 3:00 this afternoon.  Tickets today are only $10.  If it is sold out, I will walk down Mass Ave. to see the 5:00 show of “The Marriage of Marcus Tyler” at Theatre on the Square.  If there’s time today, maybe I will see both!

Several other shows that I would like to see opened this weekend.  If you saw any of them, and/or if you want to tell me what you thought about any of the above shows, I would love to read your review.  Leave it in a comment here if you like, or start your own blog on SmallerIndiana.com, or post your thoughts in the “You Review It” forum on IndianaAuditions.com, or join the Monday morning online discussion in Lou Harry’s Arts & Entertainment blog via the Indianapolis Business Journal (ibj.com).  I visit all of these regularly.

Thanks for reading!

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

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