Last night I attended a production of “Little Women” at the Headwaters Theatre in North Portland. Where is that? Don’t ask. But it is there. You must trust me on this.
In a basement theatre next to the tracks in N. Portland, Oregon, amidst the mud puddles, gravel, and the grain elevators, there exists a theatre in a re-done historical building of “industrial chic” at the edge of the river. Who did this? Who was so determined to create a place to tell stories that they found this and made it that place? And furthermore, there was a troop of chosen singing actors, a team of directors and set builders, and unknown others who put together this Broadway musical based on the life of Jo March. Why were those singers drawn to the project? I asked myself again and again. Why would they sing a musical with canned music and a makeshift set and do so with their whole hearts?
Who were they? Why did they choose what they did? What drove those singers, the fine director, and all the others to be there day after day, rehearsal after rehearsal? Why bother to tell the story? I asked myself: What is the story behind this heroic theatre effort here in this place? Who was so determined to make a place to tell stories that they acquired and repurposed space? I am so glad they did. A story they told, of one Jo March who told her story and we will never, never be the same because of that story: “Little Women”. That story, People!
Let us tell our stories. We must. We must understand ourselves. Come on! Fly over here. Let’s go to work. Our lives depend on it.
This morning I am still struck in the heart with a lightning bolt of painful inspiration. It is the electric, shivering truth: that we as human beings are bound from hell to tell our stories. We do not give up. We have an incredible drive to tell our stories. We are driven to understand how we as a motley, stumbling, glorious human being got to where we are today. Using our voices, our bodies, our intellect, our resources and passion, drawing on our hard, diligent work, our creativity: all of these to craft and tell the stories of our feeble, incredible humanity. Last night they told of how Jo March finally get her story told. How did that happen? This story of a family of sisters and a wise, struggling Marmee to make a life, to live a story. And, what does it mean to you? What? What happened, what is going on? What do we do next? What? Who? Why?
Every day singers come to my studio to craft their tools so that they can tell stories. They scrimp and save to afford lessons; they work day jobs to pay for their passion. They carve out time in busy, crazy schedules. They subject themselves to hours of audition preparation, and auditions. They craft tools, they go through hell. Yesterday, one really fine singer with whom I work found out, after hours of auditions that she is not in the last call backs for a lead in a big musical production. The lead. She was up for the lead! The lead she did not get this time. Was she heart-broken? Yes. What she angry? Yes. Was she frustrated? Oh, yes. Did she say: “What’s next? What’s next?” Yes, she did. She really did.
Last week-end hour after after hour after hour, very young singers stood bravely next the grand piano and with their pianists sang stories at the OMEA competition. They made themselves vulnerable to my adjudications so that they could tell stories better each time. They sang stories of a dying swan, of a love lost, of a boy with flashing eyes, of a love so strong that the name of the beloved one was carved on his heart. Why? Why must we tell these stories?
Where does this get us, these stories? We ask in a French opera: “Who was Herod”? What was he made of? In a vulnerable moment we hear him sing about his dreams. My God! Herod had dreams of beauty and being heroic. For an hour yesterday, I heard Mimi’s story from “La Boheme” of how the sun, the very first sunlight of spring that shines through her garret window in Paris, is hers. It belongs to her. What a concept. I heard a singer tell of what it is like to be in love in the moonlight. I heard a singer craft the most moving story that says: “I’m gonna love you like nobody loves you! Come Rain, or Come Shine!”
What is this drive in us to tell stories? I am so moved by the idea as I write this that it has, too, carved itself on my beating heart. I am touched and inspired by it. What is it? What IS it? It is such a beautiful obsession. To tell about who we are, how we got here, and where we might be headed.
Did you see the NOVA program this week on OPB? Every season, brave butterflies emerge from their pupae in glorious dignity and predestined determination. They spend time strengthening their wings and nourishing themselves and then, they are off for their long, obsessive flight on their destiny. Every day, these beautiful creatures die, fall victim to predators, lose their habitat. But, some make it. Thousands of miles from Canada to Mexico. They make it and in their brave and mysteriously delicate lives they have dared to tell us their story. I am who I am. I am a little butterfly. I am beautiful. I am obsessed. I make a difference. I am who I am and it matters.
I will do anything to support the monarch story tellers who show up at the door of my studio and say:”I need tools. I need nourishment. I have to…I have to tell our stories! ”
And, I say to you, each one: Never give up. Do what you have to. I will do my part with my years of experience, my great schooling and all the background I have gathered in my performance life and teaching life to do so: and, with your name written on my heart I will say to you: Let us tell our stories. We must. We must understand ourselves. Come on! Fly over here. Let’s go to work. Our lives depend on it.
Oh, and by the way. Do you have financial resources? Why not share them with our theaters and singers and dancers and help us tell our stories. You life depends on it. It does.