Monday, December 24, 2018

Top Ten Moments of 2018

Harlequinade 2018, Talespinner Children's Theatre (Photo By Steve Wagner)

This year has not been easy, for anyone, and it concludes with as much or more difficulty as it began. Moments accumulate, though, good moments, for me and for my family, and taking the time to acknowledge them is an attempt to keep them bright just a little longer.

2018 was my fiftieth year, which began with an impromptu visit to Orlando (see here), and included a beautiful weekend of performances of my play The Way I Danced With You at Blank Canvas Theatre, and catching the national tour of Hamilton at the State Theatre.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles
(Chattanooga Theatre Centre)
My son played drums in several awesome sets with the School of Rock, and I ran the Cleveland Half Marathon with Fornadel. Then there was the election, the beginning of a slow crawl out of a dark pit. There was a lot to experience, and to celebrate.

Here are ten moments, in chronological order, which stand out to me at this time.

1. “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” at Chattanooga Theatre Centre

Since its premiere six years ago, and subsequent publication, my adaptation of Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles has become my most produced play. I am not yet widely produced, but a couple times a year a high school or community theater chooses this work, and I am grateful for that.

The year began with a rather stylish, intimate production at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre, and by all accounts it was a splendid evening.

The boy will bash.
To be entirely honest, I have a complicated relationship with this text. It’s Agatha Christie’s story, not mine. I have only adapted it for the stage. But I am glad that folks produce it. So I welcomed the way this company, as overheard on promotional interviews, appreciated the adaptation itself, and what I was able to bring to the novel.

2. “Noises Off” at Heights High

My daughter does enough for me to be proud of, apart from the sheer magic of her existence. She paints, she plays violin, she excels in the classroom. I have never asked her to consider the stage.

But, as her father did before her, she performed in her first full-length play as a freshman in high school. Following an enjoyable turn during the winter one-acts, she auditioned for and had a part in the spring play, Michael Frayn’s Noises Off.

Mom, a friend, and me.
(Cleveland Museum of Art)
3. Jesus Christ Superstar Live on NBC

Yeah, I like this musical. And having the opportunity to share it with my wife and children for the first time in an outstanding television production was really only part of it. We all gathered around the TV (WHO DOES THAT) at my mother’s house, where we got to view and then chat during the commercials.

At this stage in life I think of myself as the lucky one, one of the three brothers, the one who lives in the same city at mom. I get to see her a lot. Maybe not as much as I should, But we do visit a lot, go places, see things. She invited me to join her to see the Infinity Mirrors exhibit at the art museum, that was another high-point of the year.

Which is to say, I have loved spending so much time with my mother, getting to know her so much better. My father has been gone for close to three years. And while I am a little ashamed to admit it, I have had more conversation with in the past 34 months than I did in the previous forty-eight years. But that’s a good thing to know.

4. "Troilus & Cressida" for Cleveland Shakespeare Festival

Young actors on my deck.
(Troilus & Cressida cast party)
So I directed a little-performed Shakespearean problem play for the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival. That was nothing new. What was unique was working with a company of performers with whom I was not experienced, at that they were all so young.

And so I was inspired, for perhaps the first time in twenty years, to hold an opening night cast party. I mean, that’s not a big deal, in the larger sense, but it is for me. “Come over to my house.” It used to be a common refrain. With this crew, I even wondered if they would want to come. I worried I wasn’t cool enough. Isn’t that silly?

It was a great show, followed by a lovely evening. On the deck. Around the fire bowl. We were up rather late. It was a very nice time, and it is nice to have those.

5. Visiting Monticello

The wife and I love road trips, but with our schedules, and the increasingly crowded schedules of our children, most summers we speed to our location of choice (North Carolina, Maine) to begin maximum relaxation as soon as possible. I wasn’t having it this year, and suggested a stop on our way back from Topsail Beach.

Visiting Charlottesville and Monticello in 2018 was an eye-opening experience. You can read an account of our journey here. In summary, for better or worse, the whitewash is being stripped from our complicated American story, and the kids are ready to learn from it.

6. Music From the Big Love

After my wife and I had been dating for three years (not yet married) I did that thing that Gen Xers used to do for the people we were hot for -- I made a mixtape. Not just any mixtape, however. It was a chronological account of our time together to date, from 1994 to 1997.

I made her another in 2000. That was also novel. The one I created in 2003 was a bit challenging however, as something I had established as a music account of road trips, concerts and other good times needed to include not only stillbirth and 9/11 but also the birth of our first living child.

It’s a pretty amazing tape.

Since then, I have moved from cassettes to CDs to playlists, always a forty-five to fifty minute collection of songs chronicling our time together. This summer I talked it over with my thirteen year-old before presenting it to Toni. I asked him to remember what had happened the past three years.

David Byrne ft. Cleveland
(Jacobs Pavilion)
“The worst years of my life,” he said. And he was correct. The worst years of our lives. And I made a playlist out of it. We listened to it on the first leg of our drive to Maine this summer, and it went over very well. Because this is our life, and we love each other and we love music.

(Unavailable on Spotify: Hallelujah performed by Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton and COH-CAINE from "Oh, Hello on Broadway.")

7. David Byrne at Jacobs Pavilion

I’m not a live music person the way others are, but I do live a good show. My brother tipped me off that everyone at work was talking about how amazing the David Byrne tour was, and that I should catch it if possible. Even better, the tickets were a surprise from the wife!

I cannot remember the last time I was at Nautica (Jacobs Pavilion) it may have been BNL on July 4, 1995. For reals.

Me and Chennelle ... and Khaki.
(Parnell's Irish Pub)
You know, I had been a server at Fridays in the Flats in 1991, as they were putting the finishing touches on the (now) KeyBank Building. I had forgotten that the backdrop for Nautica is full Cleveland. The skyline. “Our two buildings,” as Mike Polk would say. It’s beautiful, and with the barges passing back and forth, like quiet, sliding office blocks, it’s really quite something.

Byrne and his Millennial-aged ensemble, each of whom carried their instruments, even the percussionists, constantly moving about the stage, kinetic and frenetic. The closing number was Hell You Talmbout by Janelle Monáe, which was momentous and astounding, and seemed to leave most of the largely white Gen X audience speechless, in more ways than one. But we said their names.

8. My Fiftieth Birthday Party

Toni and Chennelle threw me a joyful celebration at Parnell’s one August evening, which I have to admit was a bit of a blur. I am not at ease at parties, especially being the center of attention at one, but I wanted this. When I turned forty I was not in a good place and asked for something simple and small. We had a lovely picnic.

Oh, she said it.
This time we had a big people party which was lively and stylish and had a surprising number of young people, which is always preferable. The theme was "Dave's Decades," people were encouraged to dress in fashion from one of the past five decades. I dressed like me.

9. That Time My Wife Said "Fuck Mitch McConnell" Live on C-SPAN

10. "A Christmas Carol" Writing Contest

The year concludes, as it traditionally does, with Great Lakes Theater “A Christmas Carol” Writing Contest, which is open to middle school aged students in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.

This year was a particular joy, as we celebrated not only the award-winning work of six young writers (see video) but also the thirtieth year of the program. We connect three of the original six winners from the year 1989 with the folks at WCPN to talk the impact the contest had on their lives.

We are currently relaxing with family in Southeast Ohio. Once Christmas Day has past, the wife and I will be spending time at some local coffee shop or other, writing. Oh! To have enough leisure time to do more work.

Many thanks to all whose path I have crossed this year, you made my life the richer for it. Have a lovely holiday, if you can, and best wishes for a peaceful productive new year.

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