Tis the season of commencements, transformations and coincidentally, the opportunity to interact with wise women. A week ago on Saturday, I had the great good fortune to lunch with a few of them. Colleagues from my previous life as a professional stage manager, mentors and friends.
I was reminded by MK that we had feted her on the occasion of her retirement five years ago, May 8, 2017, and that dinner in her honor was great fun. In our laconic, laugh-filled lunch, we covered 25 years of history in our 2 hours or so. It was great fun forgetting what we remembered, and remembering what we forgot. Life seems to go that way more now as it accelerates.
Friday, May 6th, we celebrated the graduating seniors from our various programs, production and design areas in our Design Showcase 2022. Please check out our graduates. I haven’t yet figured out how to clone myself so that I can participate in both the design critiques and stage management portfolio reviews that took place from 9AM-4PM. But we all gathered together for lunch between sessions. The photograph at the top of this post is of that illustrious group of current students, faculty, mentors, alumni guests.
There was a palpable feeling of celebration, fear, emergence and possibility aloft in all the spaces we inhabited. The staff had all supported the elegant exhibition space, complete with speakers for the sound designers, focused lighting tightly containing their tables and backboards, but featuring them as they stood in front of the tables to tell us about their passages through four years. But beyond the presentations, what was unique and moving this year, the first since we’d gathered in Spring of 2019, were the individual stories of survival and growth as artists through COVID and the post apocalypse.
Some moving snapshots: Jesus, moved out on his own, taking an apartment and the financial obligations that came with that decision, shared that he had been supporting himself for the past year as a security guard in Burbank. One corner of his display was a quilt of glassine window envelopes with sketches on them. These had been the material he chose during his shifts to flesh out ideas for his designs, or just draw in different styles. He then invited us to fill out our name and “what inspires us” on the colored slips on the table below and drop them into the envelopes. More than one person wrote something like “You do” or “People like Jesus.” Such an imaginative, authentic, and moving narrative which made real the universal artist’s struggles.
Other snapshots: In the morning session, each of the graduating seniors presented a ten minute showcase of their work, followed by a brief ten minute Q & A to the assembled team of professionals: Chad Smith, Technical Director from Center Theatre Group, Heather Carson, Lighting and Art Installation Designer, Tanya Orellana, Scenic Designer, and SDA Production/Design Faculty in attendance, Tak Kata, Sibyl Wickersheimer, Duncan Mahoney, Phil Allen, Jenny Guthrie, Josh Epstein, Ann Closs-Farley, Terry Gordon, emeritus Faculty Don Llewellyn, and myself. At some point in their discussion, each of which was personal, well-shaped, rehearsed and geared to highlight their journeys and successes, they also shared their vulnerabilities, their humanities, technical and personal things that they had struggled with while on the journey. As Head of Design Takeshi Kata remarked at the end of the session, we got a real sense of their individuality and humanity through their presentations. Their strengths are clear in their work. But it was the first time, for whatever reason that they had emerged from the COVID cocoon fully developed in their sense of themselves, flaws and all, and their unique human strengths.
I heard a phrase this past week that struck me as relevant to and descriptive of these graduating seniors. Humble + Hungry + Smart (from Patrick Lencioni‘s book “The Ideal Team Player”). Today I received a text from Head of Sound Phil Allen that our SDA Sound Supervisor, Stephen Jensen was at Masque Sound in NY putting his next show together, assisted by Naveen Bhatia, ink still wet on his diploma, and just over in the next area, Kelsey Halverson assembling her own show. Pretty cool manifestation of the Trojan Family at work.
This week has been exhilarating with event after event. Culminating committee meetings, the staff working hard to assemble the commencement stage in the Bing, final faculty meetings for the year, and multiple social events have convinced me that what is required in this burning the candle at both ends is just a willingness to be filled with what life offers you.
On Mother’s Day, my hockey coach son, Chris, and his colleague finished with their scouting trip to Anaheim and then we went to the Kings/Oiler’s Playoff Game at Crypto.com Arena. It’s been ages since I’ve been to a hockey game. I scored some tickets on StubHub, and off we went. I won’t say they were good tickets – top row of the stadium, but they were center ice and we couldn’t have been happier. Especially when they won 4-0.
Rehearsals for Commencement this past week:
Thursday night, I attended the gallery opening of my great nibling, artist Niki Ford, at The Lodge in East Hollywood. Kneeling at the Mouth by Niki Ford is just another step in the astonishingly creative path they continue to carve through the world. I know I’m not alone in my admiration for the unique visual voice with which they speak – it has already been identified as a “must see” on Artforum; this small but mighty show shares an arc of work by Ford that is stunning and which we’ve watched evolve from a celebration of two dimensional undulating line drawings to 3D vessels whose expressive imperfection seem to burble joyously from many mouths into the space.
But Thursday wasn’t over yet! Early Thursday morning, I’d had a text from my friend Rob inviting me to see Hadestown: 6th row center tickets. Though we’d been the previous week and sat in the balcony, I said “Of course.” I don’t know when I’ve had the chance to see a show twice from such different perspectives. It was stunning.
Friday brought the true commencement for the artists from our programs as they begin their march out in the world. The expression “cookies out of the oven” comes to mind when describing what it feels like every time we have a commencement. I don’t mean that they are cookie cutter cookies – you haven’t seen the variety of shapes of cookies from my oven. So much potential for beauty and change and self-expression. And we stood like proud parents on the sidelines as we lined up to process.
Amidst the celebrations, I continue to enjoy a life of friendship, culture and curiosity. This week I’m off to my 40th College reunion – the first I’ve ever attended. I know I’ll encounter many more wise women and men and look forward to seeing the campus after 40 years away. I’ve been practicing my “just say yes” methodology. It’s been paying off pretty well these past few weeks.