Tuesday, June 3, 2008


I spent twelve years of my life sitting in a hole in the floor. Okay, that wasn't the only place I hung out. I also whiled away certain hours sitting on benches (piano and park), chairs, sofas, floors, carpets, and grass. I nestled my ample frame into cars, airplanes, trains, tents, and one particularly fabulous canoe. There were notable achievements as well in the fields of standing and walking. So it's not like my life was limited.

My chosen spot, however, was aptly named: prompter's box, or simply, "the box" (that's what the cool kids said). Small and airless, it contained secrets. Gifts, sometimes - no, often, given and received. Inside, I was isolated, powerful, alone, necessary, anonymous, helpful, invisible...but that may have all been my imagination, which had plenty of time to run wild in the mostly boring hours. That said, I sat on the mountaintop a few times in that dusty closet; when I climbed out, its narrowness surprised me.

I never expected to be a prompter in an opera house, and I don't miss doing it, but it was a special privilege. With it came a secret, a surprise, a gift - the possibility of deep relationship. My relationship with music came easy, but that with other musicians - other people - has always been a trickier proposition, intimate and overwhelming. To climb down the rabbit hole with the words and music of genius, my friends all around me (above and below, on stage and in the orchestra pit), and to wait in attendance to see who might need a cue (a word, a note, a smile, a calm breath) was to experience quiet, focus, and connection for the first time. Eventually I could hardly wait to get out of that tiny space, but I had to go in to get out.

Thanks, you odd, exacting, dying profession.


Sunday, June 1, 2008

In with the good air...

My mom saved someone's life in church last week. When Pastor Tim paused in the sermon to say kindly, "is there a doctor or other medical professional with us today?" and Mom looked around hoping for someone else's raised hand, there was only enough time for most people to put the situation together before she was moving away, calm white head floating down the aisle above the seated congregants (old neighbors, new residents, denizens of my hometown strange and familiar). The elderly lady was slumped back in the first pew, unresponsive, and the church staff was looking for the defibrillator and realizing that no one really knew how to use it. Mom bent over the still woman and gently (no preamble, no announcement) sighed two quick breaths into her open, slack mouth. She told me later that these are called "rescue breaths", and that she was glad that if it had to be someone that it was this prim, neat woman. The eyelids of that lady's sweet, fragile face fluttered open, and suddenly she was sitting up. "I'm OK," she whispered, and soon the EMTs were there and the pastor resumed talking, and everyone sat with what had just happened (not happened) as easily as possible in church, at home, in the place I knew as my first theater.

People (have/will always) come together to try and explain this life to themselves and each other. They listen and breathe together in various spaces, at various times, with varying degrees of agreement and intention. Sometimes they save each other's lives, or at least wake each other up. Sometimes they change the course of what seems inevitable. It doesn't always happen in a way that seems very theatrical. When technique is beautifully at an actor's disposal, what she does can be so simple that you can almost forget about it a few minutes later, as though a dead woman has not just opened her eyes.

The thing I should admit from the start is that I believe in theater, in theaters, and in the miracles that happen there. I believe that, attending, we can save each other's lives.