Tuesday, December 18

I wanna hold your hand.

So, last week I was out at Penn State University, for a workshop production of my musical Ordinary Days. It was staged in this gem of a space, a former cow-showing palace (I know, how fantastic!) converted into this great thrust stage. For the non-theater readers, a thrust stage is one that has audience on three sides, so from the audience, you can look out and see other audience members across from you as well.

The other tidbit to know for this story is that the penultimate song in Ordinary Days is a song called "I'll Be Here," which is a bit of an emotional doozy, especially in the context of the entire show.

So, during a talkback after one of the performances, a girl raised her hand and said (and I'm paraphrasing here), "This is going to sound cheesy, but after 'I'll Be Here,' I looked out at the audience and so many people were touching -- arms across shoulders, leaning together, holding hands -- and, I thought, that's the reason we do theater."

And, sentimental fool that I am, I didn't find that cheesy. I thought it was cool.

My friend and collaborator Sarah has a great story about her favorite theater experience. It was a play staged in a barn in Iowa in the middle of the winter, and each audience member was given a foil-wrapped baked potato to hold, to keep their hands warm.

What makes Sarah's story so great is that it's simply a physicalization of what can happen in theater. We get a little gift to hold in our hand and keep us warm.

The thing that struck me about that particular performance of Ordinary Days was the tangible sense of communion that can only happen in live theater. That, somehow, an invisible hand reaches through space and across time from the pages of a script, through a group of actors and into an audience. There was a particular confluence of events, a layering of awarenesses, that made the communal energy of that performance especially potent -- that the audience was largely friends, teachers, and colleagues of the student actors, and that somehow the real lives of the students, their backstories and their dreams, intersected with those of the characters they were playing. So the audience was really watching these real lives, filtered (if you will) through the Pantone-hued gel of these fictional lives. And I guess fiction is reflective, so this fiction-coated reality shone back like a little mirror on the lives of the audience members.

It's neat that theater does that. That it lives and breathes, literally, right in front of you. That we come together physically in the making of it and the watching of it. It's like the girl said in the talkback, it's why we do it. It's why I make it, why I go see it. In its best moments, it guides us out of our lives and into another world, but there is an invisible hand, as warm and comforting as a baked potato, that leads everything back to ourselves. And somehow, after being touched by that hand, we aren't quite the same as we were before.

Tuesday, December 11

OD in PA.

I'm in Pennsylvania for this, the first staging of my musical Ordinary Days.

Find yourself in State College this week? Performances are Wednesday @ 5PM and Saturday at 8PM at the Pavilion Theater on Penn State's campus.

Thursday, December 6

Sweet nothings.

Life, like peppermint candy, comes in full circles.

Today, I was indulging in a Starbucks Peppermint White Mocha on what happens to be my birthday, and the confluence of these two events sent my thoughts leaping backward through time on a candy-coated trail of remembrances.

A little less than a year ago, my wintertime Starbucks obession was the Gingerbread Latte. I would grab one every day on my way to a workshop of The Glorious Ones, where I watched Graciela Danielle turn actors into trees in a rehearsal studio in Chelsea. Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, the authors of the show, had invited me into the workshop, since they were mentoring me through the Dramatists Guild.

Pretty much every day, I'd come in from the cold with my Gingerbread Latte, and, before rehearsal started, I'd take out my notebook and scribble some lyrics bouncing in my head from the project I was writing under Lynn & Stephen's guidance. A quick glimpse back at my notebook reveals the following snippet:

Sometimes I wish I were invisible
Able to vanish without quite vanishing.

Which never made it into the show, except to inform this:

The city tends to make me feel invisible.
Which, of all the superpowers,
Is the one I'd like to have,
But it isn't very handy
When you're trying to get noticed
As a pioneer of visual art.

But I digress.

So, tonight, as my Birthday Present To Myself, I have tickets to see The Glorious Ones in production up at Lincoln Center, where I'll get to see those actors turn into trees with costumes and lighting and sets! And, next week, I'm headed out to see the first production of Ordinary Days, the show that, less than a year ago, was nothing but scribbles in a notebook and notes in my head.

This all brings me back to my first birthday after graduating from college. I came home, tipsy from a night of partying, to a message on my answering machine from Lynn Ahrens. I was drunk and 22; needless to say, I freaked out.

A few weeks before, at the suggestion of a friend, I had participated in a series of master classes at the now-defunct Musical Theatre Works. At one class, I presented a couple songs for Lynn and Stephen. After the class, I dashed out to use the bathroom, but Lynn grabbed me by the arm before I could make it out the door. She wanted a CD and my phone number; I had both, so I gave them to her.

And then, her phone call, on my birhtday, which introduced me to the musical theater producer up at Lincoln Center, which, tonight, is presenting Lynn and Stephen's latest, which I'm going to see for my birthday, after drinking a Peppermint White Mocha, the winter speciality from Starbucks, whose other winter specialty is the Gingerbread Latte, which I drank last year, on my way to the workshop of Lynn and Stephen's latest, which I'm going to see tonight, for my birthday.


I think I've forgotten where I was going with all of this.

Perhaps, like all full circles, this post has no point.

(Rim shot.)

Sunday, December 2

Golden rules!

I went to a Special Sneak Preview of The Golden Compass movie last night. It's a pretty great film adaptation of the novel, but really, it served as a welcome reminder of how freakin' awesome the whole "His Dark Materials" series is.

If you haven't heard of "His Dark Materials," please finish reading this paragraph, put down your mouse, shut down your computer and RUN-DO-NOT-WALK to your nearest bookstore and purchase all three books. It's a trilogy of "young adult" novels -- The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass -- by British author Phillip Pullman. I use the term "young adult" in quotes because, while it's geared to the same audience, it makes the Harry Potter series seem like "Go Dog Go."

Reading "His Dark Materials" will, quite literally, change your life. I won't give anything away, except to say that every page of the three-book series is mind-alteringly brilliant. The story is epic beyond belief (and even more epic than you think, once you get to the end), the characters, both good and evil, are richly textured, the philosophical implications mind-boggling.

The trilogy expanded my world-view and imagination to such an extent that, along with three other friends equally overwhelmed by the series, I bought plane tickets to London to see an unfortunately lame-wad stage adaptation at the National Theatre. The film version does the magic of the story much more justice.

I read an article about the film, which opens in wide release next week, that said they've only made the first film in the trilogy, and are waiting to see if it's a hit until they make the final two. So, if you believe in anything good in the world, go see, and fall in love with, this movie. Then read the books and have your life changed forever. (The movie's good, but the books are much better, of course.)

Note: I was not paid by either Scholastic or New Line to write this post, but am happy to accept payment.