Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Encountering “Unexpected” Genius

Last night, I was supposed to meet a friend in Tacoma, Washington at The Grand Cinema to see the movie “42”.  However, plans changed unexpectedly as traffic was unkind and we were delayed.  Instead of being upset about missing the movie, and not waiting for the next showtime, we opted for the very next movie “whatever it was”.  At the time, we didn’t realize that the movie we were going to see would be “Caesar Must Die” (Cesare deve morire), that it was part of a film festival with only one showing at The Grand, and that it was an Italian film about a theater program where prisoners learned and performed Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”. 

It was awesome!   … and I truly mean AWESOME.  Not only did we see the genius of Shakespeare’s play of Julius Caesar and his murder (in Italian and with English subtitles), but throughout the film, we witnessed the miracle of what theater does in our lives, whether through observation as audience or participation in the production process.  Based on a true story, it was clear that the men who portrayed Shakespeare’s iconic characters saw their lives reflected in the art.  They “got it”, and lives changed.

Theater has the power to bring us into community, into harmony and to understand ourselves.  This was never more evident in the story telling of this film … and I was never more uplifted than through this unexpected encounter with genius.  Serendipitous too, it was Shakespeare’s birthday!

Here is a review from the New Yorker
If you have a chance, see it!!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Encouragement and Appreciation

Last week, I had the pleasure of returning to my alma mater, Wesleyan College, as a guest composer/playwright.  In celebration of a centennial year, the college collaborated with the Morning Music Club of Macon, Georgia to present a musical review of our show, "Jane Austen's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, A Musical".

One of my responsibilities during the week was to give a speech before the opening performance.  I was delighted that after the show, I was asked to submit my speech to the Morning Music Club for their archives.  I called the speech,  "Encouragement and Appreciation" and share it with you now.

It is a great pleasure to be with you tonight, and to celebrate with you the centennial year of the Morning Music Club.  It is an honor to be here.

Throughout an artist’s life, there are several things an artist must be given.  Two of the most important things are encouragement and appreciation.

About thirty years ago, the Morning Music Club encouraged me by presenting me with a scholarship … and tonight I am encouraged even more by the fact that you have included my work in this celebration.  The very act of producing my work, validates my artistic life and I feel appreciation.

It is amazing to me to think how I performed on this stage for the first time in 1983 for my Junior Recital.  Throughout my artistic life, I have always held great reverence for the stage and what a stage represents. 

Some of you who knew me when I was 18 know that my earliest dream was to be performing artist, a pianist, and … in the years that followed, my life as that performing artist dramatically transformed into who I am today, a composer, a playwright, and an artist educator.  I now have the joy of working professionally within three artistic disciplines: music, theater and the visual arts.

I marvel at how all the artistic disciplines are connected, how they inform each other, and what they teach me.

The visual artist uses tools and materials— paintbrushes, pencils, a blank canvas, clay, paint, etc.  Through her work, the artist transforms those materials into a work of art, and when she is finished with a piece, the work becomes tangible--something lasting.  The cycle of her creative process is complete when her work is displayed within a frame on a gallery wall or placed upon a pedestal. 

The act of displaying the work is remarkable because an audience viewing the work can visit and revisit the work again and again, judge it, criticize it, admire it, and decide whether or not to develop a relationship with that work of art through purchasing it or displaying it.

Within the other three artistic disciplines, this isn’t possible.  The work of the dance, music and theater remain within the minds and memories of its creator, the performer and within the mind of the audience.  The dancer dances, the musician plays an instrument, the thespian tells a story before our eyes.  For the creative artist, it is the live performance that completes the artistic process as a composer, a playwright and a choreographer..  While recordings and videotapes are possible, they are mere shadows of their work.

Like the visual artist, each of these three disciplines requires a platform or a place to display.  And, that platform is a stage.  This is why a stage is so important.  This is why the stage in Porter Auditorium means so much to me.

Tonight, you will have a window into my life as a composer/playwright through a musical review of  “Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, A Musical” , which is a work I share in collaboration with Lindsay Warren Baker.

When Lindsay and I began writing the show in 2000, we wanted to create a show that we wanted to see.  Throughout its development, the show has seen several incarnations … productions, workshops, and staged readings.  We have researched, written and rewritten, cut songs, added songs, rewritten songs.  And today, we are under commercial option with producers in London who are working toward a West End production.

Throughout our process, Lindsay and I have generated and amassed lots of material.  In celebrating the centennial of the Morning Music Club, we prepared and created a production especially for  Wesleyan College and its Music Department.   (As a side note) We thought it serendipitous too that 2013 marks the 200th’ anniversary of the publication of Austen’s novel … Pride and Prejudice.  So … The show you will see tonight is a musical review of our work.  It draws, from both current and earlier work—work that helped create the commercial show we have today. 

Many many thanks to Nadine and Ellen—all of the young women involved, and everyone who made tonight possible.