Looking over my shoulder

I probably shouldn’t compare years. It doesn’t seem fair. Some years are better than others for their own reasons, and one year can have great successes for me while others seem to have been nothing but wasted opportunities.

Odd numbered years seem to be important to me, more than even. This, of course, makes no sense either logically or in fact.

Good years = 1985, 1989, 1992, and 2009. (No, that’s not a 17 year dry stretch.) Bad years = 1985, 1999, 2008. See? No sense. But it’s generally how I feel.

2012 was a fine year.

So before moving on to the (odd) 2013 future, I’m pondering just a few highlights of the art in and around my life for the past year:

  • One day out of the blue I was contacted by a local theatre looking for other theatres and/or performers to produce a late night show during the run of their own play. My schedule allowed for it, or so I figured, and I was suddenly producing, adapting and directing a play, to go up in mere weeks. Four classic tales, unrelated and yet thematic, with a talented (and hard working!) ensemble were worked staged and presented. We called it And Things in the Walls and it came together beautifully. It was exhausting.
  • In the midst of that chaos, I squeezed in the best theatre experience once can have: Pillsbury House Theatre’s Chicago Avenue Project. Take a group of young, eager, energetic neighborhood kids, help them write their own plays, and bring in directors and actors and produce it for their families, friends and neighbors to see. This is the third time I’ve directed for this program, and it warms the inside of my sometimes jaded heart. We should never lose the playful imagination we used so easily when we were 8 years old. I think those kids teach us more than we teach them.
  • It was great to spend time as a real hired actor on multiple occasions and projects this year, but one stood out. Last spring I shot an anti-bullying video where I played a guy getting more than picked on at his work place. The piece was used by a national anti-bullying project, about which CNN did a story that included the video. My Facebook feed lit up and I had a voice message asking if I realized I was on the home page of CNN. (I later learned portions of it were aired as part of their broadcast story too.) It was a powerful video that garnered many, many comments for months from everyone I knew. At first I was just glad to get a gig, shooting a little video for a day. But it’s nice when art (acting) and work (paid gig!) combine to make an impact. It’s on YouTube, but you can see it on their site here.
  • I’m always taking pictures.

    Crashing waves in Puerto Vallarta

    In 2012 both my cameras were stolen, although thankfully one was returned. And when I upgraded my cell phone to to the latest and greatest, the camera was a serious downgrade. (Thank goodness for Instagram, huh?) Still, I took this picture, one of my favorites, in one of my favorite places.

  • As always, I saw a lot of theatre. Some good, some…not so good. The Fringe Festival is always a mixed bag, but this year’s crop gave me two great inspirations. Make that three if you count the stuff I really didn’t like and would never want to emulate. But it’s always great acting that makes me most excited, as I wrote about back in May in what was likely my favorite production I saw in 2012: Compleat Female Stage Beauty.
  • And when it comes to pop culture meets drama: I fell in love with Downton Abbey. Well written, impeccably performed, beautiful to look at and compelling story lines. I mean, come on! Maggie Smith alone...”What is a ‘week-end’? Indeed.

That’s what’s over my shoulder back there, where I also was able to line up two productions to fill what’s in front me, thus getting me through the winter and well into spring, working with companies and people new to my resume. Not bad, 2012!

So far it’s looking like a lucky ’13.

After school arts

Tomorrow evening a group of Twin Cities professional theatre artists will gather together with a group of inner-city kids to begin creating unique and original theatre. I’ll be there as a director. I don’t know the script or even its writer. I have no idea who the actors will be, either the adult or the kid. But I’m thrilled by the prospect. The Chicago Avenue Project is one of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever worked on and I’m excited to be back.

Over the past several weeks (or more) neighborhood kids have been attending a sort of theatre camp after school at a sort of neighborhood playhouse. The week before last each child was paired up with a local playwright, and they met to talk about what kind of play they wanted to create. Now the writers have completed scripts and tomorrow it’ll all come together when the kid gets a cast mate and a director!

Many of these kids come from tough households in tough neighborhoods. Many lack a positive adult involvement in their lives. For some, a program like this is the thin line between falling in with the wrong crowd and not. These kids are like sponges, thirsty sponges. They’re full of ideas and energy and desire to learn and explore and express who they are. They’re polite and receptive, and sometimes shy. I can’t wait to see what develops this time.

Learning to Play Again

Stopped off at Pillsbury House to catch this year’s Chicago Avenue Project, which I mentioned the other day. I can’t say how much I love that program. The energy in the room was palpable. The kids were excited. The playing was inspiring.

There’s something about kids, untrained natural kid-playing kids, exploring and imagining, that is so refreshing and exciting. And the actors can get these kids engaged and excited and bring them out of their shells, in some cases.

Raw playfulness!

Why do we lose that?

Even though the whole program is about the kids, mentoring, supporting, and guiding them….the truth is, there’s so much that these kids can teach us.

Chicago Avenue Project

I was wasting time today on that social site where time goes to die, and came across an event for the Chicago Avenue Project, and so glad that I did because the performances are this week and I want to go!

The Chicago Avenue Project is an inner-city, after-school program for kids, and an extension of theatre classes the kids have been taking this Spring with Pillsbury House Theatre. CAP is a project that focuses on the kids, each kids getting a professional playwright, director and actor to work with in creating a short, 10-minute play—about the kid and the kid’s interest. After about a half-dozen rehearsals over a month or so, there are three public performances for family and friends.

A few years ago I was fortunate enough to be asked to direct a piece, and  while it may not have been the most artistic project I’ve ever worked on, it became one of the most meaningful experiences I’ve had. These kids are awesome, energetic, and frankly, hungry for positive impact in their lives. They live in a tough part of town, and have few positive adult role models. This program gives them a sense of self and of import. The personal growth I saw in some of the kids over that short period of time was unbelievable.

The program is based on the 52nd St. Project in New York.

Every city should have such a thing.

I can’t wait to see the smiles, the excitement of those kids, and what they’ve done this year.