Dunkirk NY – In acting class, I play a little game I call “Transformation.” The rules go something like this:
“Two players begin to play an improvised scene. During the course of this scene, the players will simultaneously become aware of the possibiility that, based on their physical actions and positions, a completely new scene is available to them. Once the players simultaneously realize this, they will immediately abandon the scene they were currently playing, and transform into the new scene. They shall continue to do this for every transformative moment they experience.”
The game is designed to help young actors increase their perceptive skills, be more aware of the reality of the present moment in which they exist, and adapt to new possibilities and changes within the structure of any scene they play. The word “transformation” is important. I differentiate it from “change” by defining “change” as personally willing the scene to be different without assistance from any scene partner(s). “Transformation” requires the energy of two or more actors working in ensemble fashion to produce a moment that neither of them pre-ordained.
It is with this sensibility in mind that I have finally come to the realization that I need to transform this blog. For a little over a year now, I have been working through this transformative period in my career and life. Admittedly, this post and the following controversy had a lot to do with bringing me up short. At the time I was really busy and did not quite have the time or the energy to handle it all. Eventually I decided it was better to simply let the post lie and decompose of its own accord over time. Unwittingly, I took a year-long sabbatical, with only a few posts in between as weak efforts to get back to writing. I also turned 60 years old, and wrote about that here back in July. That life event has also had much to do with my current thinking.
Like all transformative moments, this transformation is not clean. In my theatre game, the point of concentration is not to recognize the new scene, but recognize the new moment. If you can recognize the new moment, the scene itself will evolve and make itself clearer over time. Sometimes this evolutionary stage takes little time, at other times it can take quite a while. For myself, I suspect I will exist between the fifth and sixth stage for at least as long as I continue to work. But I feel that I would prefer to embrace this transformation rather than fight it.
So it is that “a poor player” will go inactive. I could have chosen to reform this blog, but in the sense of transforming, I think it best to let go as much as possible of the past, and instead shape the present. I am transforming to a new blog – North of 60. This blog will have a different orientation to it. Some features that I believe will make it slightly different:
- It will not be “about theatre,” though theatre will be the subject of posts here and there. I am done, however, trying to “reform” theatre, or anything else for that matter.
- In the same way, it will also not be “about higher education.” These two points reflect for me the notion that I am no longer in any position to effect change in either realm. While I still believe that change in both realms are absolutely necessary, I will confer the task of making these changes on to younger strengths.
- The blog will accept no comments. I really do not wish to engage the internet any longer. I find the general level of discourse on the internet to be uncivil. Besides, taking the time to moderate comments is something I no longer wish to do. My apologies if that disappoints or even offends you. This is a read-only format.
- I intend to try and keep the blog more introspective. Initially, that was my original purpose with this blog. I got sidetracked along the way somehow.
- I intend it to be an examination of process without a specific product in mind. As I prepare for retirement and the point in my life where my life’s meaning will transform from how my work defines me to how I define my work, I will use this new blog to help me sort out that process.
I have noticed that the “theatrosphere” as it was once called has become a quieter place. My blogging associate Scott Walters has gone from Theatre Ideas to Creative Insubordination. I noticed this morning that The Playgoer (Ph.D) is trying to make a comeback, but with perhaps a smaller footprint. Even that venerable theatre blogger George Hunka had to transform his blog at one time (redux). So I am not alone in this phenomenon. This in itself reflects the ongoing transformation of theatre blogging as a whole.
No doubt North of 60 will take some time to find its voice and get itself grounded. You are welcome to “slip” into the sixth age with me. -twl
Dunkirk NY – I just switched from cable to DirecTV, so I have been able to catch up on Aaron Sorkin’s latest endeavor The Newsroom. I don’t much like it – not because it’s not well-written, or because it’s so smarmingly left-wing, or because not one character has the ability to talk at normal conversational speeds like the rest of us (They’re so smart! They talk so fast! They pick up their cues so well!) It’s because nothing will come of all this. The people who can afford to watch this show because they have the financial means to afford the HBO channel on their cable or satellite bill are the same people too busy or too self-involved to go out and change the system. They hold Mr. Sorkin up as a champion because he says the right things, says them very well, uses terrific facts, takes down the right wing, and soothes the consciences of liberals everywhere. Good deal all around. Mr. Sorkin gets to strut his stuff while picking up a paycheck, and we get to bask in the glory of his politics. Continue Reading »
Dunkirk NY – Let’s call it a sabbatical, shall we? I probably needed it more than I realized.
When the class of 2012 graduated this past May, it dawned on me sort of unexpectedly that I have been teaching in higher educational theatre for 30 years. Even more revelatory was the fact that 30 years constitutes half my lifetime.
I don’t quite know what to make of these facts. I feel that somehow I should be wiser than I am; that I should know more about living, about how to make good theatre. I feel my career should somehow be more robust, more compelling, more complete. I feel as if I should be more well-known in educational theatre circles. Such is not the case. I continue to be a teacher of acting in a small state-run liberal arts institution in rural upstate NY. I wield no great influence anywhere, except perhaps in my own small sphere.
The flip side of those thoughts is that, even if I thought I had something incredibly phenomenal and insightful to say, I am not sure at this point that I would want to say it, or even that it’s worth saying. The reason is because I have serious doubts about anything I would say being able to make a difference.
I am grappling with the slowly dawning reality that my time is past, or at least is in the process of passing. If you study Jacques’ “Seven Ages of Man” speech from As You Like It carefully, you’ll notice a very subtle but definitive shift in the tone of the speech beginning with the phrase “The sixth age slips.” All of the speech above that part has a jovial if sarcastic tone to it, as Jacques seeks to entertain his listeners by making a joke about each of the previous “ages.” But when he begins to talk about the sixth age, there is a marked shift in tone; no more joking, no more wisecracks. The tone is haunting and replete with the character’s own melancholy. It’s worth noting that, at the end of the play, it is Jacques who refuses to return to the city. Perhaps he recognizes that slipping into that sixth age means there is no turning back to the former life. Continue Reading »
Dunkirk NY - I have not written for a long time, I know. Know why? Nothing interests me. Nothing.
Ever since finishing an enormously busy stretch of time from December-March, I have not been able to pick up my interest in much of any topic. Not teaching, not theatre, not technology, not writing, not hiking. Nothing at all.
This feeling has paralyzed me. I just can’t pick up my interest in topics or issues around me. Things do not seem important. Or crucial. Or urgent.
I have two things to which I can attribute this feeling. The first is the feeling that nothing much more will change, that I truly have no real ability to create change anywhere. My own life and career has reached a peak such that any project I can think of to take on will take more years than I have to complete them. At this point I can retire at the conclusion of two more years, so anything beyond that seems questionable. If I can’t personally see it through, why start it?
The second has a lot to do with futility. I think society has reached a point where there is so much futility in terms of affecting real change, whether locally or nationally. This über-connected society seems to believe that technology empowers them somehow, but in reality it is slowly imprisoning people in a soft, comfortable cage that offers the illusion of empowerment but instead only sucks information from us and pushes us to buy, buy, buy. Russ Douthat wrote about this in last Sunday’s Times. We are losing privacy, and we are losing personal connection.
And I think that is part of the equation as well. I believe I am losing a sense of personal connection. Facebook is a saccharine stew of feel-good platitudes; blogs seem so caught up in their own narrow sphere; Twitter seems ephemeral and shallow.
Burn-out? Depression? Age? I suspect a mix of all three. I also suspect that I believe I am in a holding pattern, waiting for the opportunity to make the next move in my life. That could be to retire to a cave. Or take up subsistence farming. Or wander. All I can say at the moment is, until something truly interests me, it is difficult to keep up a blog. -twl
Dunkirk NY – I had heard that Neil was in the hospital while I was doing The Hostage at Irish Classical, so I took one of my Sunday mornings to visit him before I had to make my call for the day’s matinee. He was glad to see me, as he always was, and we sat and chatted for a bit. He told me he was going into surgery that coming Tuesday, and he appeared quite confident that everything would be fine. Single bypass and an artery replacement seemed to be on the surgical agenda. I told him I’d check in on him after the surgery if it was OK and he said he’d let me know via email or Facebook. That was the last time I spoke with him before his death this past Wednesday.
The last time I was on stage with him was in 2009 in the Shakespeare in Delaware Park production of The Tempest. He played Alonso, the King of Naples. Kings were Neil’s forté. He played an assorted collection of kings, dukes, cardinals, archbishops, ministers and clergy. His voice had a ring to it that had some authority on stage, and because he was a man with a Falstaff figure, he had an unmistakeable presence. I believe it was Neil who taught me the phrase “It’s good to be King.”
By trade, Neil was a lawyer, though I cannot remember a single instance of him talking about the law unless someone asked him. All he ever talked about was theatre, art, literature. My first encounters with Neil were during the time he served as Executive Director of Shakespeare in Delaware Park, in the early 90s. Neil was a born-and-bred Buffalonian, and he worked hard to save the festival when the University of Buffalo cut off all its support. He was not going to let Buffalo lose their beloved summer festival, “the second-largest outdoor Shakespeare Festival in the country” as he would remind anybody who asked. Even when he stepped down as Executive Director, he stayed on to act in several more productions, becoming a fixture.
But for me personally, Neil’s place in the Buffalo theatre community will be remembered for his personal generosity and genuine affection for actors. Neil loved actors, and he made it his personal business to see to it that actors were treated well under all circumstances. When an actor came from out of town for SDP, the actor stayed in Neil’s house. If he went out for a cocktail after the show, he was always buying your drinks. He was a self-styled “man about town,” always socializing, having lunch with this person or that, going to various events. He held some wonderful cast parties at his “family compound” out in East Aurora. For a time, his brother Danny ran a restaurant and bar below Neil’s law office, and it became the post-Flynn theatre watering hole in Buffalo. And every mid-January, you could bet you would receive an invitation to the annual post-New Year’s Eve brunch that Neil threw at the Roycroft Inn (he called it a “recovery brunch”). I went to several of those, as we gathered to celebrate the year past and get on with the coming year. Neil was always at his best in the presence of actors, regaling them with his enviable wit and charm.
I have a hat Neil gave me one day during a tech run of The Tempest. I was forever jealous of Neil’s cool hats. Being bald, I have to wear a hat pretty much at all times, and when you do tech rehearsals in the park they are outside in the sun. Neil had on this cool Panama hat, and I remember remarking to him, as I was sitting there in my bucket hat protected against the sun, that I could never carry off a hat like that, since I did not possess the grace and charm that Neil had. So he asked me what kinds of hats I did like, and I mentioned that I was looking for a summer newsboy cap of some sort. Sure enough, next day Neil arrives to rehearsal with three lightweight newsboy caps for me to try on. One was straw. I laughed and told Neil it was OK, I did have a good job, and could buy my own cap, but he was insistent I take one. I took the straw cap.
I wrote the following in the Buffalo News comment section on a Gusto Blog entry, and it seems just as appropriate to finish here:
What made Neil Garvey so absolutely special in my heart is that he loved actors. Loved them. Loved them in a way you don’t see too often. He took actors into his heart, his soul, and his home. He fed them, watered them, and was generous in his praise to any actor no matter how small or large the part. Educated, erudite and witty, he regaled actors with stories that would make you guffaw in delight. He was truly “The King” of Buffalo theatre, one who delighted in spreading his generosity to all his friends. Dear God, I will miss him so. Who will ever love us actors as Neil did? -twl
Dunkirk NY – My friend and fellow actor, Neil Garvey, passed away this past Wednesday. He was 56. What I have in my heart to say right now is too much to be able to write in the short time available. Tonight is opening night of High Plains Fandango, so I have many things to accomplish in the midst of a continuing hectic schedule. My time finally frees up come Monday, and I will share with you then some thoughts on this kind and gracious man. In the meantime, you can read this profile on Neil’s contributions to Shakespeare in Delaware Park in the mid-90s. There is one thing I can say about him that will take no time at all – he loved actors. Loved them. Loved them in a way you don’t see often. Buffalo theatre will not be the same without him. -twl
Dunkirk NY – Over the past six weeks I have made the conscious decision to lower my internet presence because I have not had the necessary time. It’s not that I’ve had that big a footprint anyway. Nor was a big footprint anything I’ve ever actively sought out. But the demands on my time since the holidays have been rather large. Those of you who do theatre can appreciate the time demands if you try to do two shows at once, which I was doing between January 17 and February 5. When classes started up for the fall semester that only added to the work load. It was clear to me that the most superfluous activity I had going was my web life, and so I deliberately decided to halt working on the blog until the beginning of March.
Much thinking has come from this hiatus. Some of that thinking will find its way into this blog, and some will remain with me. But perhaps the most significant thing I am thinking about right now is the place of theatre in my life. For most of my adult life and a significant part of my career, theatre had played a central role. In this interim, I have been considering whether or not the time has come to reduce – or even eliminate – the amount of time I devote to the art of theatre.
Nothing will happen immediately, to be sure. I cannot simply walk away tomorrow. But I can begin to take some steps in that direction. Having reached the age of 60, one of the things that means more to me than anything else now is time, and how to spend it. Perhaps theatre is not the best use of my time anymore. As I gain more time to write about some of my reflections on this issue, I will do so. -twl