Monday, April 23, 2012

Going Solo to the Theatre--Not so Bad!

This dress was hanging out in the lobby.

“The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before.”
― Albert Einstein

  This weekend, the weather was hitting record highs for beauty, Flagstaff bonhomie was spreading throughout the network of outdoor trails, and everyone was so happy spring was here that they just didn't want to go back inside for some classic comedic theatre.  So it was a hard sell to get someone to go to "Arsenic and Old Lace" with me on Saturday night.  I tried a few friends, but everyone was busy or otherwise engaged with nature--so I went alone.

  I see movies solo all the time.  I practically don't even want someone with me when I go to an art museum.  I was already going to speaking engagements by myself when I was in college, and I've even been to music concerts alone...But I've never been to the theatre by myself.

  A quick, informal survey of my friends provided proof enough that going to the theatre was something most people preferred to do as a shared experience.  Perhaps it's because you pay more for the ticket.  Or maybe it's because there's a story to figure out together, or you need someone to talk to at intermissions.

  Either way, I felt like I was breaking some kind of unspoken social rule, but I figured "I'm an independent woman who can do lots of things alone"--and besides, as soon as the lights go out, it's not like you need your friends there anyway.  I think I'm good company, I get my jokes--so why not go to a play with me? (This sounds kind of Sybil-esque, but I do often talk to myself this way...)

  So I took advantage of being alone, and followed all my whims of fancy.  I sat in a different seat for each act.  I arrived a few minutes late (which is so much easier when only one person has to slip in.)  I actually got to read the actor bio's, and struck up a conversation with Bob Yowell, the director of the play.  It was kind of fun not having to worry if another person was having fun!  Turns out, there really are not many moments that you feel "alone" during a play.  It wasn't a big deal at all.

  The other thing about going by yourself is that you are really going for the art.  I went to this play because I knew that one of my favorite NAU theatre students was graduating soon.  I was excited to see what I think may be Tony Latham's last performance--I had seen him as a freshman in a Commedia Dell 'arte piece, and he made my son laugh VERY LOUDLY in "Something Happened on the Way to The Forum."  I feel like I know him, and have watched him evolve as an actor.  The play was delightful, and I enjoyed myself very much.

After the play, I went grocery shopping, listening to my Ipod and danced up and down the aisles.  It was another minor social taboo that I was breaking, and I was happier for not caring.

Arsenic stage, with the infamous stairs in the background.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Sacred in Little (Poetic) Things

Riding a bike is sacred.

"Poetry holds the knowledge that we are alive and that we know we're going to die.  The most mysterious aspect of being alive might be that — and poetry knows that."
Marie Howe  

"There is no there there."  
Gertrude Stein

I've gotten into some interesting conversations lately with friends about the "sacred".  I have always self-consciously defined sacred as "what really matters in life," measurable by death-bed wishes, or what-I-want-my-son-to-know.

My student assistant, Robyn, thinks of family bonds, love, and music as sacred things.  I agree with her.

But I also don't think that sacred has to be something BIG.  It can be the little things, the things that are mundane, everyday, but somehow special.

My friend, Darcy Falk, talked about it yesterday.  Darcy has a really special moment that she defines as sacred when she peels carrots.  She has been able to take this action, this peeling back of layers, and it reminds her of all the other times throughout her life that she has done the same movement.

She is able to stop, notice what she is doing in that precise moment, and it connects her to so many other times of carrot peeling, different meals, different kitchens... Usually she's listening to her husband play music.  So yes, it's a sacred thing.

For me, it's washing the dishes.  I love soaking my hands in the hot water, putting things right after a good meal, and putting my little kitchen into order.  It's mundane, it's boring, it's mine and I can do it, and it makes me really happy.

April is poetry month, and I also think that poetry makes things sacred.  Wait, scratch that.  I believe that poetry opens our eyes to the sacred.  Everything that we experience in this lifetime can be seen as important--as sacred.  The simpler, the better, because isn't our life made up of a string of simple things?  Why can't these moments in between the peak experiences be important to us as well?  Those extreme highs can sometimes exhaust me!

When new friends invited my son, Isaac, and me to join them for poetry night this weekend, I was excited to enter "moments of importance" with other people (and to have my son also experience that.)  One guy read a poem he wrote about hating his job.  The poor guy really hated his job.  

Isaac loved the story about The Dead Man's Hand, because it scared him- even though he's 15 and not supposed to be scared.  One woman read a poem about World War I, and while I can't remember a single line, I completely remember how she got choked up while reading it.  I will never forget her military sweater, her eyeglasses.

They were simple observations, these poems, some brilliantly worded, some not.  But still, somehow they were important to those who were gathered together.  WE were important to those who were gathered together.

In an interview, Marie Howe talks about the concept of "ordinary time" in the Catholic Church, times in which there was no "high holy season" where nothing apparently miraculous is happening--and yet miracles really are happening.  My definition of sacred is ever-evolving--but I think, like Howe, it may start to encompass the moments when I feel fully alive, times of ordinary time.  Times that I have sat still and noticed things, times that don't exhaust me but really replenish me, take nothing from me but give me everything.  That really sacred thing that is right here.

Flowers are sacred too.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Quintessential Flagstaff

Betsey Bruner in a rare appearance in front of the camera at the Recycled Art Exhibition.

I spent the weekend engaging in quintessential Flagstaff things; First, I went to the NAU Art Museum opening of Portland artist Sherrie Wolf, with her show, "Historyonics."  I do think it's a Flagstaff phenomena to be interested in all things Portland, and you MUST check out this show before it closes on June 2.  It represents WHY we are drawn to Portland artists.
So next, there was Artwalk (need I say more?)  And then I bought a bike (a piece of artwork in and of itself.)  But the most utterly Flagstaff thing I did was go to the most utterly Flagstaff show; The 10th Annual Recycled Art Exhibition.  

This show has been going on for a decade at the Coconino Center for the Arts and features art that is made from recycled materials. Their website says "Artists from all over Coconino County come together to promote recycling through this creative, fun and inspiring exhibition. It's one of Flagstaff's favorite exhibitions each year!"

Robin Cadigan, gallery director for the Coconino Center for the Arts talked to me about the show.

"I often hear from people that visit the gallery that they are not creative, and have no artistic bone in their body. But they are there, in the gallery looking at and appreciating art. There is something about recycled materials and found objects that seem to be accessible for people to create with, even if they don't consider themselves artists. There is a challenge in using discarded items and repurposing them," said Robin.

"The Recycled Art Exhibit seems to inspire people to work on a grand scale. We have several 5 foot pieces this year, more than ever before. This large scale work is exciting to install and engages viewers in a different way than a small work sitting on a pedestal."

I think the Recycled Art Exhibition captures a certain zeitgeist of Flagstaff aestheticism.  We are people who love our natural world.  We are also a creative, scrappy community--we work with what we've got.  To be able to create art out of something that promotes this is the epitome of our cultural representation. 

Recycled Art will be open through Saturday, May 12th, Tuesday- Saturday 11am-5pm. There are free workshops every Saturday at the Coconino Center for the Arts. 

happy faces.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Opera and Kids

This brave mom brought her entire school to the opera.

Opera is where a guy gets stabbed in the back, and instead of dying, he sings.  ~Robert Benchley

  What a lovely thing it is to watch children enjoy something new.  I got to indulge my affections for the younger generation last week when I went to the NAU Opera school performance of Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicci at the Prochnow Auditorium last Thursday.  I was there with around 400 grade school and high school students.

  Nando Schellen, NAU opera director, has always believed in treating children equally and giving them the gift of opera at a young age.  It's never too early to learn the language of love! he seems to say.  So he has been providing free school performances to the students of Flagstaff, Sedona and the entirety of Northern Arizona for the 12 years that he has been here. "This is our future audience," said Schellen.

  I saw 2nd grade students from Haven Montessori skipping across the street while holding hands, wearing little ties, vests, and easter dresses.  They were excited.  I saw students from Sedona High School wearing high heels and prom dresses--and they were excited too!  "It's my first opera," said one girl.  She felt special, "sophisticated."

  Janelle Maycumber, a member of the Flagstaff Home School Network, brought her five sons--ranging from preschool to high school age--for the second year in a row.  "We attended last year and decided to come again," she said.  "It's a little taste of culture for my family."

  As the kids settled into their seats, the opera began.  It wasn't the quietest crowd; there was a baby clamoring, and sometimes I heard a wee bit of shuffling and whispering.  But at certain poignant parts, like when a good Sister would sing "Death is more beautiful than life," the hall was utterly still.  Because these kids got it.  They may not have had the patience for the entire opera, but they were completely open to accepting those moments when the beauty of drama shines through.

  And I enjoyed watching them enjoy it.

Lovely FALA students enjoying themselves.