Archive for October, 2014

Threads In Theatre Tapestry

October 20, 2014

by Florence Ondré

 

My friend, talented actor, Ashley Grantham, posted on facebook, these profound and grace-filled words of newly passed actress, Marian Seldes, from one of her interviews with James Grissom for his book, “Follies Of God:”

“The theatre keeps presenting to me the wonderful experiences of learning to tell time and falling in love for the first time.   I get these experiences-these feelings- every time I work on a play.  I get to start all over and relearn things, and I get to meet new friends– family, really– to whom I can give and receive love.  And this rejuvenates me, and it keeps me strong to serve the writer, to serve the play.  I guess I’m saying that I am always loving and I am always bending  time, and that’s as good a description as I can manage of a life in the theatre.”

Reading this perfect description of work and purpose in the theatre, simply stunned me with the accuracy of what it is all about and how fortunate we are, both those of us who do this work and those who experience the soul and life touching in the witnessing.

Over the years, I’ve struggled with the my own high respect for all aspects of theatre and, as time moves on, feeling a bit like performing has slipped into more a personality contest; worth minutes of limelight and too light an affair of single dimension, than a craft with depth in the endeavor.

I think to myself as I read Ms. Seldes words of wisdom, garnered from years of experience and well-earned success, ‘Who speaks like this anymore?

Who waxes multi-levelly on ever-expanding understanding of the depths and heights of their work with such careful and honest thought?

Who shares, with such kindness and generosity of heart, the inner workings to inspire and give how-to-gifts to co-worker-family with regards to spending well the coin of their realm of time upon this stage of life?

Who ‘gets it’ on so many layers of understanding lessons come to fruition by humble work ethic and love of profession?’

To be able to ‘start all over,’  ‘relearn things’ and know family of choice shows up in family of work for the claiming, if one is lucky enough to be awake and aware; to go beyond what one can see and touch to ‘always being loving’ and ‘time bending,’ both of which we are all capable of if only we would be open to that inner viewing, knowing and relishing.  How fabulous is that?!  How fantastic is the possible zest and willingness to see our own lives and work and days filled with this kind of love, service to chosen craft and be in awe of the time-bending we do in our mortal moments?

For me, I have to go back to my roots to see how far I’ve come on my journey and what light of clean scrubbed-faced-wonder still lives and breathes in me and whatever work I do.  What integrity, such as the above, was in me at the beginning and what wisps of wonder waft through my being today?  What nugget of motivation fuels my creativity and how have my perceptions changed or remained the same?

Surprised by  MS. Seldes beautiful, oh-so-acurate description of acting as ‘bending time,’ the breath of complete understanding and new realization hit me like Cupid’s arrow to the heart. These wonder full words, cobbled together, describe the indescribable; the intangible.  The very reading of the words is an ‘aha’ moment.

This is what work in theatre always felt like to me….working in wonder.

In my early, tenderling, formative theatre years, I fairly glowed with this shining light and thirst for learning and giving; for exploring one’s nugget of skill to be willing to be of service to the skills and talents of others in cooperative creation.

In a world of so much great talent, it is easy to be have humility and keep practicing; working while still searching for one’s own best defining talent.  One can be told by respected teachers what they see before their wise eyes and yet have depth of understanding dawn down the road.

It is only later , I learned what my team of master teachers in my first summer stock, at Dorothy Shay’s Duke’s Oak Theatre, where I was a most grateful apprentice, meant in their end of season review and assessment of skills learned and strengths discovered.

As I stood along on the bare stage, with only a work light for company, I heard their individual report cards.

“You are not the best of the dancers.”  “You may not be the greatest of the actors.” “You do not have the best voice of all.”

Time stopped.  My young heart sank because I was the last of the apprentices to be reviewed and the others, with family lines tracing back to theatre royalty of Lunt and Fontanne, Windust and Ritter had received high marks for at least one of these areas of performance.

It seemed forever in moments, standing statued still in my leotard and tights, waiting for their collective summation.

My mind raced hurdles with fear.  Did I have a career ahead?  Would I be good enough in this life of endeavor which I’d always known since childhood was my passion and lifeblood; a part of me like breathing; a place in the world to contribute and make a difference with my own gifts; to be of service?

Or had it all been in my own head; a fantasy land from which they would flunk me?

Breathe and smile, breath and smile your tremulous teen smile.

“…but you have ‘it,’ ” I heard  director, Mary Ann Dentler, of Broadway’s “Peg O My Heart,”  say.

“It?”

After politely thanking the board of theatre owners and master teachers,  I exited stage right in confusion and disappointment.

What was ‘it’?  Could I put that on a head shot and resumé?  How could this be an attribute when ‘it’ sounded like the plague?

“How did you do?”  my enormously and validated, talented singer, dancer and actor apprentices, excitedly asked as I stumbled into the wings.  “What did they tell you is your best attribute or strong suit?”  “What did they say?”

In a soft, quiet, uncomprehending, green voice, I replied, “They said, I had ‘it.’ ”

They hugged me.

I never knew if they understood anymore than I, what this invisible gift from the gods was, they were simply my first family in the theatre. It was these dear ones I loved; who loved me back in that special energy of unconditional acceptance which I came to know as extended family with each show and cast I’ve been privileged to join.

A life in the theatre is endless learning and growing; transcending all barriers; ascending and plummeting the roller coaster of emotions.

And, when you can touch an audience, even when you are not the best singer, dancer or actor; yet reach into hearts in the dark and move  people to tears and laughter and give them pause for thoughtful looking within, there beyond all wishes otherwise, is the best gift one can bring and give in the theatre, “it!”

You can study til you’re blue in the face, but this odd nugget is what you are either born with or not.

…The incandescent warmth of connection; tender, always loving, time bending, in the ever-expanding family and leaps of learning…. honest to goodness, ‘it!’

 

 

 

 

 

Butterfly Angels

October 18, 2014

by Florence Ondré

 

A classmate from high school, Sue Floyd Turner, posted a lovely picture of a person looking at a butterfly fluttering closely by, on which a quote from Doreen Virtue, read, “Butterflies are often messengers of love sent from Heaven above.”

In this month of the 2 year anniversary of superstorm sandy, where so many thousands of us remain displaced; out of our homes with not much more than empty and broken promises in a recovery system that has failed us cruelly, life has become a ‘before’ and ‘after.’

‘Anniversary,’ what a disconcerting name for an event not engendering much singing, dancing or huzzah celebration.

While stunningly still struggling to survive in hardship and basic deprivation as deeply devastating as the storm at landfall 2 years ago, it has been hard to know if Angels are anywhere near.

We tens of thousands feel forgotten; yesterday’s news, receivers of  “Aren’t you done, already?” “Thought you were back home because the yard looks nice.” “I thought everything was fine by now,” comments.  We’re a people of the invisible in between; halfway to or nowhere near a land called ‘rebuild; trying to appear as some semblance of  lost ‘normal.’

In all the overwhelming, with deadlines and more cut offs and losses of help to get back home and frustrating feelings of hopelessness, I realize as I stopped and read this post, that I have noticed the occasional butterflies wafting by in odd circumstances and places.

‘Stragglers to the winged migration,’  I’ve been thinking, as I push on to the next meeting, pound through redundant paperwork, sit on phones trying to track down information to open the channels of funds earmarked for rebuilding which still remain tied up in  mismanagement and blood red tape… and send light to be of some support, inspiration and oddball humor to as many as I can.

Sitting in sunset silence in the backyard of my gutted house; letting my eye and heart wander; remembering which flowers and trees were planted where, before, I can practically smell the lilac tree;  creator of Monet lavender and jade moments,  which grew, over the years, to lush health and  tallness like my sons who played with their friends there; growing up with the roses and blueberry and raspberry bushes; the garden where the great zucchini, big enough for 5 boys to have to line up and hold, took reign over string beans, tomatoes, broccoli and carrots and gave giant sunflowers, as tall as the first floor of the house, a run for their money…the grape arbor that shaded the patio where our golden retrievers lay for cool shade and the evergreen, with soft, sweeping-the-ground arms, that covered the hiding place, buffalo-wallow-like retreat of Bailley, our dog blogger.  The sheltering boughs of the years-before-us, Russian olive tree which created a secret garden corner nook where children, big and small, could look up to see soft silver fur on the underside of green leaves and peek through bird and squirrel nests to see patches of blue sky and scudding puffy white clouds to play ‘who-can-find-the-angel’ in them…the puny peach sapling, newly planted only days before destruction; the least likely to survive and the surprising sole survivor of the flood, produced a prodigious portion of precious peaches this season.

In this back and forth memory lane, I am less sad and more comforted as I pull my focus back to present and see the empty canvas, waiting to be a new work of art in nature.

As I wipe the tears from my face, a lone butterfly comes flittering by: kissing the fluffy stalks rising from the gift given by next door neighbors,  after the flood receded; a small clump of dune grass replanted in hope for life.  For the first year, it drew in upon itself and faltered in the spot where our robust butterfly bush had made its honeyed home; busy with buzzing bees and beautiful butterflies, before the sea drowned it.  Yet, this summer, this dune grass plant tripled its size and grew strong stalks; wide, lengthy, variegated  leaves and white, fluffy, feathery arms high   in sea breeze and whipping-winds, interpretive dance, above the cedar newly reposted, salvaged, cedar fence .

It is odd what died and what lived; what withered and what thrived.

My human focus, needing to be on surviving myself, took me away from the garden and as I sit still, now, in its energy; noticing, I realize that this backyard haven was the first place: the first piece in a puzzle of gigantic loss, where I let go.

This design is no longer mine.  Everything grows or not in its own perfect way, without me.

What lives, lives. What doesn’t doesn’t.

And, just for today; just for these moments, I am grateful for it all as I sit in the simple silence of what might be…whenever it will be.
And I send thanks to Sue and Doreen for reminding me that Angels come in many forms to gently light upon our awarenesses like butterflies, uplift, lighten burdens and show us, in all the world changes and crushes, that we’re not alone or forgotten.

We are guided and loved.

… and, ooh,  ooh… just as I typed these words on my laptop at my makeshift desk, there’s a butterfly right outside my window here in Mt. 6 Manjaro; the top floor, high rise apartment shelter I fondly have dubbed thus, from the early days when I had to climb 7 flights of stairs up and down several times a day when there was no electricity, elevator, heat, water or sewer.

There she is with her rice paper wings, saying hello and farewell;  readying to make an arduous, miraculous journey of her own from New York to Mexico…from start to finish.

How will she do it?

How will we?

On Angel’s wings perhaps.

 


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