Tuesday, May 14, 2013

One Theatre World 2013

The One Theatre World conference came to Cleveland last week. Formerly a once every three year festival -- now biennial -- and produced by Theatre for Young Audiences/USA, OTW2013 coincided (on purpose) with the International Children's Festival at PlayhouseSquare.

I wasn't actually registered to attend the conference, I was fortunate enough to get an "all-entry" pass because I'm am a well-connected Cleveland writer person, and frankly I have been so wrapped up in annual gala benefit business and fringe festival business and two kids playing two instruments and playing on three different teams business to really notice the difference between the ICF and the OTW, anyway, I thought they were related not merely co-incident.

Regardless, by the end of the week, while I had experienced a couple great, international children's show, I saw all these excited theater people from everywhere walking places together with their Big Red Passes hanging from their necks, and the weather was perfect (unlike this weekend) and once more in my life I had the distinct and sinking impression that I was missing something.

On Friday morning I had the great good fortune to be crossing Euclid Avenue when I was and saw this guy who looked sixteen years older than a guy I knew sixteen years ago and the name "Marty" popped into my head and I looked at his Big Red Tag and it said "Marty" in large, readble letters, and I called out, "Marty?!" and recognized me, too, right away.

The first long-form improv we presented at Dobama's Night Kitchen was The Realistic World, and Marty was one of seven housemates in Tremont (people got confused ... no one was actually living together in a house in Tremont, it was a play we improvised.) The last I had heard of Marty, my wife and I were on the last night of our honeymoon in Fairbanks, Alaska. I saw a poster for a children's show posted in the Pump House. This play was directed by Marty Johnson. He is now Education Director for iTheatrics, the folks who edit and license all those "Jr." versions of hit Broadway shows.

This is the kind of thing I mean when I have the creepy feeling I am missing something. I knew there were workshops going on, but I just couldn't make time for those, but I was missing all the new, exciting people in my midst. Lucky for me to run into him, that was great catching up, and he introduced me to a few others and then I had to get back to my business in the Bulkley Building and that was okay.

But I cancelled previous plans for Friday evening, and the wife and I came downtown to skull around with our VIP passes. We stuck our noses into The Girl Who Forgot to Sing Badly so she could see what that was all about and then joined, well, everybody else to see ZooZoo. The Ohio Theatre was packed.

My goal was to catch Finegan Kruckemeyer's closing, keynote address that evening. Staff was scrambling to get everyone a seat, including all those like me (and many, many others) who had passes but no reservations. We were seated in a block of OWT participants -- right in front of Marty, as it turned out, and next to some kind folk from Pittsburgh, and behind Tim and Chris from Alvin Sputnik but I wondered allowed, given to delayed curtain, as to whether it were possible we might miss the address? The man sitting next to me motioned directed my attention to seats behind and to the right observing, "Fin's sitting right there, they can't start without him!"

If there is one thing I regret in life, it is that I have not had enough mentors. I cannot remember who gave me that advice, or when, but "Find a mentor, attach yourself to them, be near them, apprentice yourself," was once recommended and more than most I know I not only ignored this advice, but actively strove to achieve great things entirely unschooled and ignorant.

Joyce was a great inspiration to me, and I learned many things from her about management, communication, hard work, and unapologetically maintaining core beliefs. Daniel taught me honesty, responsibility, loyalty, dignity and joy. There were also many college professors and instructors who wisdom I heard, but failed to deeply plumb.

So having the opportunity to enjoin, engage and listen is to me (especially at this point in my life) some hard to come by by also deeply treasured. Attending a conference is like searching for a parent I never had.


Last Spring (as I noted last week) Fin led a session on playwriting which was truly eye-opening, and I had high hopes for his address which were entirely satisfied. How much can you learn in one 45-minute lecture? An awful lot, actually, when the speaker is well-prepared, interesting and impassioned, as Fin was. His main point, which was not coincidentally the summation of my last post on the subject, is that as creators of children's drama (a subset of children's literature) many have become to concerned with the why or the how, instead of being solely immersed in the what.

As one whose occupation is in theater education -- and for the last four years not merely the facilitation of theater education, but one who writes grant proposals for corporate, government and foundation support of such work -- I knew of what he spoke. The justification for children's theater can be the wet blanket thrown over the art of simply telling the story, letting the story happen, after which someone else can determine its significance, its learning potential, how it satisfies key educational benchmarks for achievement.

Speaking from notes but flowing as though these thoughts were spooling out from the top of his head, Fin launched into numerous lists of companies and artists from around the world who satisfy the what in their work, and unreeled a panoply of premises for stories like he was that Dream-tortured author from Sandman.

We had the opportunity to chat only briefly following the talk, there was a babysitter to release, but I promised to send him the revised draft of Slumberland once I get to it, which I hope is sooner than later. Last week's reading, the variety of shows I had experienced last week, and Fin's closing address made me more confident in this new work, which is good. It would have only been too easy to look at the professional delights before me and think, Good Lord, what is this piece of crap I have spent so much time on? I am glad that this is not the case.

Recently, my daughter's violin teacher moved from the Heights to Orange. The girl self-started, almost three years ago she asked if she could learn the violin -- which was odd because my wife and I do not have an instrument ... true, on my wife's side there are some fine musicians -- and we said, oh, ah, of course. She is a dedicated pupil and her mother has added to her world of responsibilities the care and tending of daily practice.

Her teacher is quite excellent, and while we were at first a little concerned about the new, forty-five minute drive to lessons each week, it was really only twice the amount of time it took to get her across town. One family friend suggested we find someone else nearby, that our schedules are so full as it is to be worth the trip.

I would have imagined that ten would have been too young to already be advising my girl to "find a mentor". Having already found one, however, the least we can do is drive her there.

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