Returning the Favor and other Slices of Life

Returning the Favor
Returning the Favor
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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

My brush with greatness

There aren’t many people that I really want to meet. I’ve worked in entertainment for a dozen years or so and seen the best and worst of some of the biggest “stars” in the biz, so my starfucking days are well behind me.

Anne Bogart is one of the people I very much wanted to meet. Her book A Director Prepares is a seminal work on directing for the stage, at least in my less-than-humble opinion. She crystallized thoughts for me that I had been working on for years, and finally made sense of them. It’s kinda like the first time through Harrington on Hold ‘Em, when you read about the M. You’ve always known that when your stack gets small relative to the blinds, there comes a point when it’s push and pray, but Harrington explained it in a lucid way that you could digest and apply. Bogart does the same thing with concepts for stage directing. I geeked out enough at the book that my tattoo actually comes from a chapter in her book on decisiveness and making strong choices. That chapter in particular put into words a lot of the way that I have tried to live my life ever since I watched Robin Williams climb onto a desk and recite Walt Whitman. Yes, Dead Poets Society was a huge influence on me.

So when I read that Anne Bogart was going to be a keynote speaker at SETC, I decided that I needed to actually attend the keynote address. I’ve been going to this conference for 13 years now and have never attended the keynote. I skipped Christopher Durang, skipped Ming Cho Lee, even skipped Edward Albee. But I made sure to be there for Anne Bogart. And, in typical fashion, I went one further. I emailed the Executive Director and said “Hey Betsey, any way I can crash a dinner party or something? I really want some face time with Anne Bogart.” Betsey replied that since her schedule was very tight, it was likely impossible but she’d see what she could do. So when I got buttonholed in a hotel hallway with the question “You still want to meet Anne?” my answer was “uh, yeah.”

So that’s how I ended up circling the pickup gates in my rental car at the Orlando airport while intern Angelique waited inside holding the printed placard “Anne Bogart – SETC.” Yup, I was chauffer-boy, hangover and all. But it got me face time, and a nice 20-minute conversation with one of my theatrical heroes about the state of theatre in the Southeastern US. And she signed my book, too. And she liked my tattoo and didn’t think I was too much of a psycho stalker. I hope.

Her talk was great, if compressed. She had prepared an hour of talk, then 30 minutes of questions, only to find out that she had an hour, total for her presentation and questions. But she was witty, candid, brutally honest, and incredibly inspiring. She talked about how important it is as an artist to do the work that gives you goosebumps, the work that really drives you. She also told a story, that I’ll probably butcher here a little.

She had a friend who was working as a writer’s agent in NYC, and beginning to have a bit of a crisis of faith in her career in theatre. So her friend, whose name I can’t recall but we’ll call Jane, heard that Mother Theresa was in Manhattan, and waited outside her hotel in the rain for Mother Theresa to come out to her car. Mother Theresa comes out, in the middle of this rainstorm (btw, we actually don’t know if it was raining or not, but it makes the story better), looks at Jane there on the sidewalk and say’s “What’s wrong?”
So Jane tells her about this crisis of faith, that she’s unsure of the value of her work, that she wants to come work with Mother Theresa in India, where she will know she is doing something worthwhile. Mother Theresa looks at her and says “In my country, we have a famine of the body. In your country, there is a famine of the spirit. You must continue your work.”

It was like she was talking right to me. Since we lost our building I’ve been very down on theatre in my community, down on theatre people, down on the artform in general. But now I see a little more clearly. I must do my work. I must do the work that gives me goosebumps. I must produce and create and direct the shows that can change my world, one seat at a time. I left that ballroom feeling better about theatre than I have in years. What I do is important, it matters.

So on the way home from the airport I rolled down the windows, cranked up some OG Ice-T on the iPod, and took more inspiration from the New Jack.

I’m back motherfuckers. You shoulda killed me last year.


Joaquin "The Rooster" Ochoa said...

Ten years ago
I used to listen to SCREENWRITERS flow
Talkin' bout the way
They rocked the CROWD at the THEATER
I liked how that shit was goin' down
Wanted to rock the audience with my own sounds
So I tried to write PLAYS
Somethin' like them, my boys said,
"That ain't you FLAGSTAFF,
That shit sounds like them."
So I sat back, thought up a new PLAY
Didn'T fantasize, kicked the pure
Facts. Motherfuckers got scared
Cause they weas unprepaired
who would tell it how it relly was?
Who dared?
A motherfucker from the SOUTH fool
Where the Crips and the Bloods play
When I wrote about parties
It didn't fit
Six in the Mornin'
That was the real shit


Maudie said...

I miss those sorts of confabs (I remember my SETC experience back in grad school which landed me 14 callbacks and no jobs, lol). Thru 9 years of running a performing arts facility and 8 years with an theatre company, the conventions and gatherings always renewed me and kept me going a little while longer. Good on ya John - do the work that lights your fire!

iamhoff said...

Outstanding choice for inspriation. OG is one of my favorite discs. Rooster, thanx for the flashback. I had to pull the disc out and throw it into the player. Midnight, baby!