For photo Friday I wanted to share another shot I took at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio a few weeks back. One of the things that Wendy and I love about the McNay is their commitment to the art of theatre. They have an entire wing of the museum dedicated to stage art and design.
On this particular visit their exhibition was on the ways that the visual arts have influenced stage design. The photo above is one I snapped of a costume designed for the musical Little Dancer which brings to life one of Edgar Degas’ most famous sculptures (left).
I loved the way the costume from the musical captured Degas’ original. When I walked into the gallery and saw the dress displayed in the distance I immediately thought of the sculpture that I’ve had the joy of seeing in person on a couple of different occasions.
Back in college I had an assignment for my Acting I class that took me to the local mall. The assignment was simply to watch people. Not just to merely look at them, but to really watch them. Acting is about creating believable characters on stage, so our assignment was to watch how real people walk. We were to observe how different people move and carry themselves. What are their quirks? How do they relate to other people.
I thought about that assignment as I read the admonition to be watchful in today’s chapter. I have found that people largely make their way through life’s journey unaware. People are neither observant nor considerate of others. I find people giving little thought to what is happening around them nor how they are engaged in what is happening.
Jesus was fond of saying, “They who have ears, let them hear.” The lesson is clear that there is a difference between merely hearing and really listening and understanding what is going on around you. We just finished going through the Book of Acts and it ended with Paul quoting the prophet Isaiah on this same subject:
“You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.” For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.
Today, I’m thankful for my education in theatre and the life lessons it provided, such learning to be watchful, observant, and considerate of what is happening around me. I am thinking about my progressive hearing loss, how each year the whole world sounds a little bit more like Charlie Brown’s teacher, and how important it is for me to consciously listen. I’m thinking about my need to be more watchful and aware of others, their circumstances, and their needs.
Wendy and I feel so blessed to live a community this size (roughly 10,000) that has such great cultural offerings. Last night we ventured out to the gorgeous, historic Pella Opera House to watch National Players touring production of To Kill a Mockingbird. The wandering troupe of 10 players had performed Shakespeare’s The Tempest in the morning to a house full of students, and exposing many to their first experience with live Shakespeare.
It had been many years since Wendy or I had ready or watched Harper Lee’s classic story of racial injustice. The National Players production was a great way to refresh our memories of the incredible story. We loved the production and our post show discussion raised three great take aways…
You don’t need a lot of window dressing. While we all love our Broadway extravaganzas, the truth is that great theatre requires very little spectacle. National Players had ten chairs, a few moving set pieces, and two pillars at the back of the stage. Yet, their performance effortlessly took our imaginations to a front porch, a courtroom, and a country road.
Transitions, transitions, transitions. I am convinced more than ever that one of the crucial details between great theatre and mediocre theatre is in the scene changes. For scene changes, the National Players cast sang a cappella versions of spirituals that both kept us in the period of the play while entertaining us as they moved the set pieces around. The changes were seamless. Rather than being an interruption to the action of the story, they became enjoyable bridges.
The script makes a difference. There’s no substitute for good writing. A great script can still inspire even when produced by rank amateurs. A poor script in the hands of the best professionals cannot hide its flaws. The adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird used by the National Players was a great script that told the story in a succinct way without losing its power or inspiration. Last night we had a capable group of talented professionals performing a great script, and we were blessed and inspired.
I hope that Kevin will find time on the Pella Opera House schedule to book National Players again next season. An evening of quality live, professional theatre in a priceless, historic venue for $12 a seat. I love this town!
One of the popular theatre events in London these days is a play entitled King Charles III in which the playwright audaciously imagines the reign of Queen Elizabeth’s son. What makes the plays so controversial is that the characters are still alive and the events depicted haven’t happened yet. Queen Elizabeth is stubbornly alive and remains on the throne. Her son, Charles, is still waiting to ascend to the throne of England that he’s been preparing for his entire (and, at this point, long) life. The play created quite a stir when it first opened and more than a few people questioned its propriety.
In a similar fashion, today’s chapter would have created quite a stir when Ezekiel first performed it. The chapter begins and ends establishing the fact that it is a lament . In fact, the last line (pasted above) is an authors note to the reader/performer that it is lament and is only to be used as such. It is a poem, perhaps put to music and sung, meant as a funeral dirge. But, the metaphorical subjects of the lament were members of the royal house of Judah who were very much alive.
Ezekiel’s lament was both prophetic and politically satirical. It was an SNL skit of his day. It would have offended, poked, and prodded the political power brokers of his day. He was trying to make a point: your days are numbered and we will all be lamenting your eventual downfall.
Today, I’m thinking about the power of satire, which I believe has been a part of culture since the birth of culture. Even God was not afraid of using his prophets to satirically poke at His ancient people and their rulers. It’s one of the things that I love about theatre in all of its various forms. It has the ability to provoke thought, conversation, and change. It’s too bad the institutional church of our day is so uptight. We could use regular doses of satire.
“You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen….” Ezekiel 2:7a (NIV)
Wendy and I have often conversed about our love of process as it relates to the theatre. As actors, we love the process of character development and scene exploration during the rehearsal period perhaps more than we enjoy performing in front of an audience. Don’t get me wrong. Performances are wonderful and intoxicating, but they are often a very momentary high. In the rehearsal process you grow, you make new connections, you explore new challenges, and delve to new depths in ways that stick with you long after the final curtain falls on a production.
I found it interesting this morning that God tells Ezekiel to speak the words given to him without regard to the results. Ezekiel was not to worry about whether people listened or not. He was not to concern himself with huge Billy Graham style calls for salvation. The only thing Ezekiel was to concern himself with was being faithful in the process of listening and speaking. The results were not his responsibility, nor were they an indicator of success or failure.
These things were rattling around in my head and heart this morning as I prepared to walk up to my office and write this post. I’ll admit that there are days that I question why I write these posts each day. It’s Monday. I didn’t sleep particularly well last night. My morning feels fubar-ed before it ever began. Arrrghhhh. Who cares? I confess that there are days when I feel quite profound and the response is the internet’s equivalent of crickets chirping. Other days I feel like I just puke something on the page in order to hit “Publish” and be done with it and someone, somewhere replies that it was just what they needed to read that day. Go figure. Whether you’re a prophet, a preacher, a poet, a playwright, a blogger, a writer, a songsmith, an actor, a filmmaker, a dancer, et cetera, or et cetera the truth remains: It’s about the process. The results will take care of themselves.
We let ourselves fall into these romances, these six-week love affairs with a piece of art, a cast of family members (often loved; sometimes hated; always family), a character, a song, a dance, a role.
We let these romances become our lives. They consume us. We think of them when we wake. We dream of them when we sleep. They are what we live for. But only for a moment; Never for too long.
The show closes, and the affair ends. We mourn the closing. But again, not for long.
On the horizon is another beauty, just waiting for us to fall in love and devote ourselves; To fall into another tryst with the art form with which we are so enamored. To dance again with our fickle mistress. But, only for a little while. Once again — she’s gone.
Note: I found this posted from a phone screen shot somewhere on the internet. I don’t know the source, and I took the liberty of cleaning up the grammar and usage of the original a bit. I thought it captured a sense of the love affair we theatre people experience with a role and the grief that is sometimes experienced at its passing with the final curtain.
It was Spence Ver Meer’s idea to get all of the men from Union Street Player’s production of “A Christmas Carol” together for a photograph in costume. I’m glad he did because they turned out to be fun photographs. I set up my trip-pod and remote control before Sunday afternoon’s closing matinee for this group shot. I used Snapseed to rough it up and give it a vintage, old photograph feel.