Writing 101: 3 Songs, 3 Stages

Today’s Prompt: Write about the three most important songs in your life — what do they mean to you?

Brassai photographe
Brassai, Au Bistro, 1930-1932

I was always a romantic. I remember at ten, lying on the floor of my parents’ den, on my pudgy stomach, my cheek resting on the back of my hands, knees bent, clicking my heels together over my butt, as I listened over and over to the scratchy LP of Edith Piaf singing “La Vie En Rose.” She had the most evocative sound, the sound of someone who was loved hard and truly by many men. I didn’t know squat about Edith Piaf then. I didn’t know anything about anything at ten.  However, I was studying French at the private school I attended, and I strained to understand the words in the plaintive cascades of melody, as the phrases tumbled and rolled downwards, then climbed to tumble yet again. When the record ended, I stood up, walked to the stereo and picked the needle up and dropped it down at the start of the record again. Now I have all sorts of images to accompany this song in my mind, but at the time, I was a young girl living in the suburbs of southwestern Pennsylvania; Edith Piaf’s voice evoked the potential of an exotic life of travel and love and exploration. She was magical.Candycigarettes


Karla Bonoff’s “Lose Again,” is another romantic paean to adolescent love. The previous song evokes an adorable, ten-year-old wearing a beret while dragging on a bubblegum cigarette to mimic Edith Piaf.  Karla Bonoff represented actual heartbreak and the yearning to live through it. That’s just embarrassing anyway you play it. And yet, I must have listened to Karla Bonoff sing “Lose Again”, turgid by anyone’s contemporary standards, but elegaic to my ears as a lovesick high school and college student. A self-proclaimed feminist in college, I’m abashed now by the lyrics I doted on, which suggested that someone else would save and free me “from this ball and chain” of lost love. But this song was right up there with my top tunes for about 6 years. Besides, it was right in my range and I could sing along to the simple piano accompaniment. There was so much fragility and strength in her voice, the humanity clear in the cracks at the top of her range. It was the perfect romantic martyr ballad. I loved it.

What’s really odd is that for someone who loved music so much as a young woman, I’ve lost touch with my music in my “middle ages”. So to find the third song I had to turn to my “dusty” itunes catalogue. What I realized is that 60% of my music is still single female vocalists. Strong women singing. That seems to be the theme.  I gravitated to the three Tracy Chapman albums in my itunes; her gravelly voice and simple guitar chord accompaniment score the stories she tells with steady strength.

I am yours if you are mine.

Is it surprising that the three stages of my life are scored by romantic music?

Stage 1: The youthful pre-pubescent longing for adventure and a life of love;

Stage 2: The damaged recovery of young and inexperienced love looking for a more permanent home;

Stage 3: The deep emotional embrace of the simple giving of oneself to another on a daily basis, which is the gift of a long and happy marriage.

A romantic to the end. Thanks for this prompt allowing me to revisit my musical heritage.

Writing 101 – A Sense of Place

In April, I spend time in many  different places, doing many different things. Here’s a brief list of some of the places I inhabited in the first 8 days of this month:

  1. Bing Theatre – Attended Final Dress Rehearsal for Grease
  2. MCC Theatre – Two days of 10 out of 12s and a Dress Rehearsal of The Waiting Room
  3. My office – Assorted tasks related to this year’s productions and next
  4. Smart & Final – Buying food for the Meet and Greet rehearsals for “Waiting Room” and “Hide and Seek No More.”
  5. Spudnuts – Slinging Donuts
  6. GFS 106 – Lecturing on “Production Management” and introducing to my students, Sheldon P. Lane, PM of The Ebony Repertory Theatre
  7. DRC Conference Room – Meeting finalist candidates in the School’s search for a Critical Studies professor
  8. Massman Theatre – Attending first tech for “Hide and Seek No More,” an original play written by one of our MFA Y2 Playwrights
  9. Scene Dock Theatre Workroom – attending three production meetings for 5 remaining productions left in the semester
  10. Town and Gown – Dining with parents of prospective students
  11. My Couch – Sitting and recovering -arguably the least inhabited in April but most comfortable of my sites
  12. Lobby of Kaprelian Hall – Purchasing a tuna sandwich, my dinner, from the vending machine

I’ve bored you to death already.  I am doing a writing 101 drill through WordPress, where throughout the next twenty days (or remaining 18), we respond to writing prompts which we receive at midnight each night – or 12:01AM to be precise. Which is, in the month of April, just about the time I sit down to play a few mind-numbing rounds of solitaire before climbing into bed next to my lonely and abandoned husband. Today’s prompt – sharing a space with all that it evokes.

We’ll linger on #6 for a bit, the beautiful classroom where we teach the students who take THTR 130, Introduction to Theatrical Production, a class which meets at 8:00AM every Tuesday morning. Ask any of our students and they will be quick to tell you how much they love love love the 8:00AM class meeting time. THTR 130 is a very large lecture class with a lab; the class is divided in half each semester. Half of our students attend lectures about the literal nuts and bolts of assembling scenery, lighting and sound elements and costumes. They do their labs in our theatres and shops, building and painting scenery, hanging and focusing lighting instruments and sound speakers, and sewing costumes. They do these labs three hours a week for a total of 36 hours.

The other half of the class comes to lectures on the design areas and stage management. Their labs are intensively focused days surrounding the tech and performances of our School of Dramatic Arts plays, where they support the execution of the designers’ work by running the boards for lights and sound; learn how to run a mop around the stage (a surprising number of students seem to have never met much less used a mop or broom); help actors with quick changes; do hair and makeup; or execute scene shifts on stage.

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The seats stand at attention under the curved wooden ceiling holding multiple projectors.

Our lectures on design and stage management take place in a room in the Grace Ford Salvatori Hall, which, last summer, underwent an epic makeover. The happy result of this remodel, which we eyed with greedy anticipation throughout the summer, was neatly marching rows of fold-up seats, and desktops which retract into the backs of those seats.

The walls, off white, circling the room, are able to be written on, with markers provided in cups around the room; this feature  allows students to break into smaller groups and work on projects before reporting back to the group.

The biggest boon of the classroom is the multiple projectors which face the front white board and the 5 large monitors wrapped around the sides and back of the room. When I saw the projectors and screens being installed last summer, I panicked a little. This would change the game of teaching in this classroom. We all know form follows function, but in this case, my form was being challenged by the enhanced functionality of the room. My lectures now required visuals worthy of the space.

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Fortified with coffe and my laptop, I await the onslaught of students.

As a stage and production manager, I appreciate good paperwork and am enamored by its beauty, but the majority of the students in the class are actors, not stage managers, so the wealth of screens called upon me to raise the bar in all my presentations. By embracing my new “secret” life as a blogger, armed with a cell phone that transfers its pictures to my computer via a wave of my magic Airdrop, I can now confidently illustrate my Keynote presentations with photos taken “in the field,” during techs.  In the still limbo of the empty classroom at 7:40AM, I snapped a few shots to share the feeling of potential learning that could be achieved in the room. And as the students began to trickle in, I appreciated all their efforts to be present, many of them having been in the tech rehearsals the previous night until 11:00PM. We waved at each other, greeting and acknowledging each others’ service to our collaborative art of the theatre. My colleague, Duncan, likes to say the first day of the class,

 “None of your parents made you come to theatre school.”

IMG_3896And few of them knew exactly what the day to day would be for their student thespians. This room, and this class, are indeed an intro to a life in the theatre. Not everyone is cut out for it. It is hard work. Hard, with long hours, late nights, and early mornings, but rewarding, resonant work. So yes, I complained on FB last night that I was getting too old for these 15-hour long days. Guilty as charged. But at the same token, I get to do what I love. Make theatre every day from dawn until way after dusk. And it feels great.

When I get an email from a former student who just got promoted at her job, or I sit next to a freshman stage manager who is running his first tech and doing a fantastic job, I relish what my life in the theatre has taught me and my privilege in sharing those skills and experiences with the next generation of theatre artists.