Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A Job Well Done

A Conversation About Race 
Among Poets—Part 2

From left: DD, Judith, C.J., Maddie, Betty, and Jack

           I don’t know what moved me more, the ringing applause or the smiles of delight on the faces of my fellow poet-actors as we took our bows last Saturday night, May 16, after our second and final performance of “A Conversation About Race Among Poets.”
            (For background, see Part 1, below.)
            We’d attempted something difficult, and apparently we’d pulled it off. It was hardly noticed, of course, in the wider urban frenzy of things-to-do on a beautiful May weekend. I suppose over the two nights we attracted no more than thirty-five paying customers.
            But they stayed afterwards. They engaged with our poems, they understood the flow of the show, and they shared their perspectives, not just about the show but about race in America, in Ferguson, in New York City, in Baltimore. In Norfolk, Virginia.
            The conversation continued well beyond the last poem.
            And we’d done it. We’d accomplished something worthwhile.
            I find it hard now to put my script away. It’s loaded with nostalgia, after long hours spent compiling it, breaking it down into theatrical beats, finding the staging, learning my own parts, practicing and polishing and practicing some more, my script going with me to work, to the beach, to rehearsal. It was at the center of my life for the past few weeks, a living thing, with all its penciled notes and edits in the margins. I leave it lying on top of the pile on my shelf of current projects. Can it really be over?
            The freshness of this reminds me of some of the early successes I enjoyed when I first began doing plays in my hometown some 35 years ago. At that time I attracted a company of amateur actors, and we went on to surprise audiences with a new kind of communal theater which, however, could not sustain itself, emotionally or financially. 
            Yet it’s such a wonderful, life-affirming experience, that creative excitement, that spirit of selfless sacrifice which infuses the starving artist with exuberance far into the night! How quickly it dissipates as soon as the real world returns to focus. Then you realize you can’t really live on wonderful feelings. You have to have a practical, daily life to return to, where you can renew contact with the source from which that creative excitement sprang in the first place. You have to sit with that for awhile. You have to learn how to re-create as part of the process of creating.
            Boredom can set in quickly in the re-creating cycle, particularly for a white male who’s worked all his life, or at least for the better part of it. I always like to have a project going, and this last one caught me emotionally. That’s because it wasn't just about race. There was a message running under it, about women—women of all races.
            Realizing that, I began to wonder if gender inequality—males dominating females—is an even more deeply engraved habit in human consciousness than race discrimination, or racism. You don’t have to be white to beat your wife or rape your neighbor.
            Actually, you don’t even have to be male.
            Anyway, our project ended on a high note. Everyone was pleased. We got a great review on Facebook. And we fulfilled my criteria for the success of any production.
            First and foremost, we got along well together, making it easier to take creative risks by exposing ourselves to one another’s scrutiny.
            Second, the material was varied, interesting, often evocative, and the performances were well rehearsed and polished.
            And finally, the audiences were stimulated and supportive of our effort, and that made everyone happy.
            Three for three is as good as it gets.
            Now, reabsorbed back into my daily routine, reflecting on what was, scanning my mind for a clue to what’s to come, taking care of my daily chores and responsibilities—not too difficult in my relatively uncomplicated life—I sit, I breathe, I inflate my bicycle tires and bury some compost in the garden. Soon enough it will be time to do another show.


At 3:31 AM , Blogger kate loving shenk said...

Awesome! The ongoing-ness of life is captured here, reflecting the creative process perfectly. I wish we could have seen the show!

At 7:10 AM , Anonymous CJ Xpression said...

Beautiful words DD! My script sits on my dining table...I can't put it away just yet either. Fantastic weekend indeed! :)


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