Thanks Morris. These excursions into theatre in other parts of the world have been an instrumental catalyst for inspiration, challenge, and eye-opening possibilities for our students, not to mention the confidence built in navigating a busy city. --As you will see, I started my blog before COVID reached my daily life and finished it after a couple weeks of new perspective.
On March 5, I returned home from a 15-day excursion into cityness and theatre. Yes, you read that right: "city-ness". I did not realize how much I needed to get out of Rosebud in order to appreciate what I have here. You know, things like - a car, quiet, fresh air, work within walking distance, my own bathroom, bed, and kitchen. But there are also things that I don't easily encounter in Rosebud that were all around me in New York City and Toronto. Things like public transit, people without homes, super tall buildings, large bodies of water, noise, all flavours of smoke, pavement,and pizza by the slice.
One of the things I was struck with was the smallness of some of the theatres. They aren't all slick and state of the art. Okay, some of them are, like Radio City Music Hall and the new Mirvish CAA mega black box with a balcony on Yonge St., but others are quirky and awkward; tiny, found spaces repurposed to tell stories in the midst of clanking pipes and heating issues, ancient lighting and old velvet stained chairs. Walking through The Factory Theatre in Toronto reminded me so much of Rosebud. They make do with what they have and expand into their theatre space after they rehearse in a much smaller space with old Victorian windows. In Rosebud, we're allowed to rehearse in a beautiful church, also with lots of windows, and when we move into the Opera House we make adjustments for the levels, the doors, the lights and the raked stage. This experience opened my eyes to how every space has a history and can become a home for gathering to share story.
But regardless of how glorious or inglorious the space, the simple truth is that sometimes theatre works and sometimes it doesn't. Even well-intended theatre can flop; and this can happen anywhere... Similarly, any small theatre can have a production that soars and inspires and totally works. It inevitably starts with a story that resonates, then somehow in the generous telling of it,the hearts and minds of those receiving are captivated so that everyone is focused on the same moment of truth at the same time. When this happens,you can sense it, and you come away inspired, challenged, grateful, and changed.
Theatre totally worked when I saw the Canadian story Come From Away. The day before, Mentorship students and I had visited Ground Zero and the World Trade Center. This was a sobering, rainy-day experience that invited somber contemplation. It was a kind of pilgrimage for me to stand in the place that had been the center of such destruction almost 20 years ago. So, when the lights went down in the packed Schoenfeld Theatre and we started tracking the individual journeys of people flying on that fateful day on 9/11, I was already in. Tears slid down my face throughout the next hour and a half and I was so grateful. Grateful to witness some of my dearest values ring true for people in hard times. Grateful to have such rich culturally specific characters, music, awkwardness, humour, fear, angst, loss and love resound in my core. The stories were so particular, so human, and so full of longing for life and connection. There is something about a tragedy and being stuck away from home that makes you keenly of aware of your hopes and needs. And to watch the people of Gander embrace this challenge by coming together and do what they could to keep everyone alive was heroic and inspiring. I was challenged too, by the journey of those stranded, and the humility they had to embrace to receive the help they so desperately needed. I was undone how this awful circumstance forged an unlikely but necessary, beautiful community. I resonated with their pain and thrilled to their courage and grace as boundaries came down.
I love that theatre is a collaborative art that goes one step beyond the creative family to the generous sharing with any who draw near to receive; the audience.
I wrote the above section before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and the humans of planet Earth had their lives changed all in the same month.
It is now April 2020. I still love theatre, but I don't know when I will get to do it again. I'm stunned that shows I just saw in NYC are not running now. Even newly opened shows like The Minutes by Tracy Letts. I am one of comparatively few who can say they saw it on Broadway. I can hardly picture Times Square not being overrun with streams of people. Are the billboards still glowing and fighting for attention? Are the pigeons starving? Are the subways still running underground?
The world has changed, but have I? Hard to say yet. What I do know is that now more than ever I long for community. I don't want people to be afraid to draw near to one another and breathe the same air and witness the same truth. When and how will we be able to do that again?
In a way, we are experiencing our own Come From Away; only this time it is "Do Not Stray", or rather "STAY HOME". I don't want to fret about my family back in the States suddenly needing me, but I do. I acknowledge there are those on the front lines not able to stay home, but for those of us trying to make sense of the new normal, now I say, there is something about a tragedy and being stuck at home that makes you keenly of aware of your hopes and needs.
Like many of you, I don't know how our livelihoods will recover, or if our economy and environment will find a new way to dance together, but I hope they will. Because there is one thing that many of us can no longer ignore: we are all human and we all affect one another and we all need one another to work together to save our countries, our species, and our planet. Just like in Gander when the bus drivers had to lay down their right to justice and everyone came together to do the right thing at a time when most of the world stood still and watched, we are invited to this new unlikely but necessary and beautiful community. Now we watch and wonder, but deep down, we long for GOOD.
Wherever we are, and however we share stories in the future, no matter how glorious or inglorious the space, may we all come away inspired, challenged, grateful, and changed.
God give us eyes to see what you would have us see, wisdom to act upon what you would have us do, and courageous love to be who you would have us be.