Monthly Archives: August 2008

>The Flood

>Last night I came home after a long slog in rehearsal. Some folks were missing and still we attempted to be very good sports; all to extraordinary results. A storm was brewing in the City stirred up by hurricane Faye, and the humidity hung like bags of wet wool. I was grumpy. I called my husband on my bike ride home, who informed me he had ordered Chinese as a treat for he and our son.

I was excited, “Hey what did you get me? I’m starving.” My loving husband, the man I adore, began to list the items he ordered. It was clear he and Henry had ordered and he was marketing the leftovers to me. I stopped him, “ So you didn’t actually get anything for me right? OK I’m on my way ” Click.

Oh I heard my voice, a horrible harridan knife-like sound. I hated the sharp, cranky bitch that shared my spirit. And she tends to rear her head more in tired, hungry situations; and this was one.

By the time I made it home and into the breezier loft, I was calm. I kissed my man, fixed a plate of Chinese and prepared to watch the US Open with my tennis-crazed husband, who had Tivoed all of it. I ate my chicken and broccoli and an egg roll. I sat back on the coach and swiftly began to doze; it was 11 p.m.

I transferred to the bedroom with tennis still pinging back and forth in my ears and the next thing in knew I heard rushing in and out of the bathroom. What was my son up to at 4 am.? On his second trip in I asked, “Everything OK? “

“No, water is pouring into my bedroom.”

I walked into his room, and there was a waterfall. We short-term problem solved with buckets and towels, called the upstairs neighbor, and I beat on the door of the family living on the top floor where the wife is 9 plus months pregnant and they have two others under the age of two; only the husband woke up in all the hub-bub.

Henry and neighbor Charlie, wrapped in his wife’s robe, ran up to the roof and Charlie pried the door open with a knife. A torrent of water poured onto us. We slammed the door and waded through knee-high water to find the drain. Once located Charlie fished around and lifted off a rag that had capped the drain; and the water loudly sucked down the pipe clearing the roof in moments.

We went back downstairs with Henry content that he had saved the day. He had once upon a time, declared his life’s ambition to be a rescue dog, and tonight he had a go at it.

The loft was chaos, water still pouring, towels everywhere, buckets full, and books thrown out of harms way, filled the living room. Well at least the Times’ photographer came today to take shots; it would have been a disaster now. Not yet 5 am. And I threw a load of sodden towels into the laundry and thought to fire up the pot roast I promised for a real Saturday supper.

In my extra time awake I returned to the job of being a mother and wife, jobs I fear I have abandoned for the last few weeks all eclipsed by the work of directing, producing and attempting to make an opera. Funny how in times of crisis, big or little, what I turn to is the old fashioned tasks that women have embraced or been assigned for eons. I cook and clean.

Laundry washing and pot roast bubbling I retired to google, and email and phone donors and invitees, compile the days lists and ride out on my bike to secure my list of props: 3 push brooms, 3 sky blue yoga mats and reams of white paper. I ride back and forth on the bike gathering, redistributing post cards as I check on the locations to see the stashes are still high. Then I head off to the rehearsal loft to be astounded.

The chorus in nearly complete, there is finally some percussion in the little orchestra though strangely the clarinet and cello are missing, but thus is the style of rehearsal we have to put up with as we are paying so very little that it requires participants to take on other jobs to pay rent. We understand, but I can’t wait until we hear and see everyone and everything playing, singing moving across the stage together. Still the choral sounds, shored up with piano, violin and percussion are thrilling.

I no longer think I was insane to attempt to do this, but I have to hold back my enthusiasm at wanting it to be ready and focus on the tasks at hand. We have such a long way to go before our invited dress rehearsal on September 10, our Gratitude Performance. More to come on that, but for now enough to say, that we are moving forward. For today I am heartened by arriving home to excited men waiting on mashed potatoes, salad and pot roast, I hear them smack and moan loving the dinner and I think, “They are easy right?” Some times even disasters just require towels, buckets and pot roast and the rest takes care of itself.

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>A Month From Tonight is the Last Night

>I woke up this morning and blurted out to my poor, still asleep husband, “A month from tonight is the last night of the show and we haven’t even got it ready yet. How can something be over in a month that isn’t yet ready?“

“Okay, baby, how can you be seeing the end of something that hasn’t begun? Now that’s the real question.”

I don’t know, but it seemed huge to me. It made the project both loom and vanish, like a weird perspective drawing or one of those images that is a young woman if you view her one way, but then morphs into a hag, and all you do is focus on the dark, or the light space.

Of course all I can do is what I have been, putting one foot in front of the other, making long lists and ticking off as many items as I can. I spoke to a wonderful former colleague at the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs about help and or interest from the City in this project; composer Doug and I did a pod-cast in a smoke filled apartment where the occupants staunchly deny ever smoking, (whew we couldn’t live there we agreed) and I roasted a chicken, did laundry and made more phone calls. At dusk I headed off to rehearsal.

And it was at rehearsal, where the chorus chanted, the child intoned and the soprano emoted that I realized we had something extraordinary on our hands. It was magical; the sounds and interplay of voices, and I allowed myself to see it through the eyes of our lighting designer, who came to rehearsal for the first time last night. Burke Brown sat truly moved by what he heard in the dingy florescent light of a scuffed wood floor loft space on Great Jones Street.

We made something, even without the glorious artifice of light and the focus and import a real theater provides. Everyone played or sang and the simple truth was that there was passion and clarity.

I rode home to eat my chicken and see my family, and as I glided south on West Broadway, the swells in the toney cafes were much more silent. I passed the second restaurant where the blare of television was the news, not MTV or European soccer, instead it was Barack Obama. I heard his voice giving the acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention. It was syncopated because it lurched from bar to bar ebbing and flowing as I rode home, but it was clear “We must, I promise and I believe.”

I felt as if, perhaps, we in the rehearsal room had made a few of those promises and we going to keep them.

>The Birthday Boy

>Birthdays are sometimes harder, maybe deeper for the mom than the kid. Or am I imagining this in a hyper-exhausted, need emotional support kind of a bog and fog way?

My youngest kid is 20 today, and we haven’t been having an easy time. So does that make me feel older, less competent? Yes, it does. And I am steeped, working on a piece that takes place in my family’s life nearly 7 years ago, right before September 11 happened, makes me reflect back on when and how it got so hard between me and my son.

I know that moms and boys need to have a real separation. I know that, but it is tough when I see it as a strident separation. I love this kid and feel as if time is passing so so fast. And yet I bet he thinks that time is slogging and he wants his real life to jump-start and begin, but instead it is another birthday during the dog days of August, when few friends are around. It is another end of summer waiting for school to start, or dreading its start. He is back to college on Monday and it feels very weird to me this time because we haven’t found our way back to each other.

Everyone fights, but this feels different, and so today when I saw the homeless woman on the corner, I saw me. When I saw the couple fighting in the super market, I saw me. I viewed myself in every negative, sad or difficult image of women that I passed as the day unfolded.

We went to dinner, my son and husband and I, our daughter is still in France. It was quiet. The men seem fine not really discussing the elephant in the room, meaning talking about sports, and repo guys, or heat, or the menu. And all the time I am screaming in my head, why is this so difficult, why isn’t it loving and kind. And my husband tells me it will change and he will come around, if I keep believing.

And so I do. I bring cupcakes, which melted into a box puddle and I had to steel myself to not cry at the table, as I felt they were the metaphor for my relationship with my Henry. Melting and not what it should be. Sweet but needing time to maybe pull together in the refrigerator. Is that what time does to relationships, a kind of re-forming.

I had to head to rehearsal and Henry was walking the same way. I started to walk with him, but he made it clear he was going onto the phone. I piled onto my bike and cried all the way to the rehearsal loft. I miss him.

Maybe it won’t always be this way, but for now it is and he heads off to college to be more of a man very soon. The music really transported me tonight, and every time the mother in the opera sings, “I’m worried about Henry, about the kids in school,” I think, yes I am still, still worried and still love him so much.

>Today was a long week

>When I clumped into rehearsal last night I said to Composer Doug, “Wow, this was a long week!”

He said, “Wicki, it’s Monday.”

“I mean today, today was a long week.”

I said it as if it were a perfect clarification for the way the day had gone.
Interviews at the crack of dawn, followed by a fun photo shoot, with both photographer and subject astride our steeds zooming on the cobblestones.

Followed by surliness at home, quick on the heels of the Times calling to do a story,
a run to radio station WBAI where posted on the wall are George Carlin’s immortal seven words you can’t say on radio. They seem so mild, now compared to what is on radio, television and coming out of my mouth regularly. You can hear the interview right here:

http://www.callingtheopera.com/audio/CallingAug25WBAI_interview.mp3

I had a benefit meeting; endless emails from lost cast members, questions, coffee, iced tea and caffeine in as many forms as they will deliver it to you. And when I arrived at rehearsal it seemed like a welcome sea of calm. There was Dominique, the gorgeous 19 year-old volunteer stage manager and prop person, who I thought had taken a powder and retreated into the land of SOHO retail, but there she was radiant, and with a notebook and ideas, ready to work.

FOR FREE!!!

I can’t say that enough as it astounds and heartens me. This bevy of volunteers coming in to save “The Little Opera That Could,” as one of the choristers’ mom dubbed us.

Then Edisa floats in. NO she really floats; she is ten feet tall, also amazingly beautiful and with a spirit virtually imbuing her with a beatific halo. I love her energy and vision, it provides a clarity and a boost to my seat-of-the-pants approach to, I wanted to say this piece, but the truth is more like my entire life. I feel as if this work, this opera is all about opening all of us up to deep collaborations.

Often it seems as if we are without a boss, a head, a director, but in the end we all unite and I hope will ascend.

>A Life Of Its Own

>Yesterday at rehearsal it was the choristers, the group of kids who sing in the opening and closing of the opera. This group of kids who lends their voices to infuse this piece with an authenticity that cannot be artificially created by electronics or adults. The voice, the energy, the bobble-headed trueness of children is a sharp knife in the sometimes-doughy presence of grown-ups, as we are referred to by these pint-sized singers.

This opera was easy to cast and imagine as it is driven by truth. I was the mother in this piece, I am now the writer and director, but I know what actually happened and as much as possible I am trying to make it adhere to the reality of September 11 and the month following. I had children, I have them still, but they are big now. I went to my son’s school and there were also other children present. I took 11 of them home with me. We walked, ran and hunkered in the streets of TriBeCa and now the opera needs children to give voice to some of the simple things that occurred.

There are constant roll calls that these now choral kids sing, in rounds, or spoken, pitched semi-singing. We started with four kids; three dropped out, all from the same family. We promoted an eight-year-old girl, Madison, from background to a lead role, that of the son. Why not? Lisa the head of the Church Street School of Music and art knew of Cecelia Gaul, who sings in the chorus of Trinity Church and this new girl joined us. It turns out she is a friend of Madison’s, cool small world piece. Cecelia’s mother knows the choirmaster at Trinity Church I have met with Rob Ridgell and after Cecelia’s mom, Yachi, called Rob, the chorus spigot opened and the flow of kids began. Scarlet and Dante followed. (You can’t make up names and children this wonderful.)

Yesterday I began to see how this piece now has a life of its own. It has people who believe and love it who are no longer from my circle, although we now co-occupy spheres. I sat and watched as fathers tan from tennis, or pink from walks, watched their children perform and listened with a kind of awe that comes from marveling at their aplomb. “It that a rest and do I come in on the up beat?” This professionalism melts during the break to a jumping contest for the light strings and conductor Carl picks up on this competitiveness by creating a “pitch contest” at the end of the final movement.

All of this has nothing to do with me. Oh blessedly. This was my harebrained idea, but it has transitioned far from my initial vision. It is the child who is deciding that study and practice is a great thing rather than drudgery. Calling is leaping to its feet through the passion of a group of Downtown organizations, parents and their hugely talented children. It is being midwived by many, including a young composer and conductor, Carl Bettendorf who has taken on private coaching and helping at every turn. There are new musicians who have thrown their lot in with us and singers, who are practicing while walking the streets or, like Gretchen Garvin, sing while working in their store.

Calling has a life of its own, and I have fantasies and expectations for its future, just as I do with my children, but it also pushes me to view and love it in the present tense. For right now we have a group of nearly 20 people who have come together from Europe, across American, Canada and Asia to make this piece. Somehow the universe has plunked down a most diverse group in this show as if to shore up the idea that America, and the hope of the world is in the actuality of all of us, so different and yet so united working toward a common goal.

>Being Perfect

>In the midst of all this opera hubbub (what else can I call it) I stumbled into an email conversation with a young downtown mother, who is also a big time Conde Naste editor. She and I are connected through other friends and my daughter, who baby-sits for her. It began as an email in passing, HEY WHAT ABOUT NURSERY SCHOOL? And it segued into being a discussion about the desire of mothers, especially the over-educated, over-wrought, over-worked mothers’ desire to be perfect.

Perfect does not exist, unless it is in the Japanese notion of Wabi Sabi: beautiful ugly. Unless it is in the perfect notion of nature, where things have a moment of pitch perfection and then the leaves fall off, the peach over-ripens and we move to the next season. When did we begin to believe that mothering could be an undertaking where perfection, a no-faults expectation, could be expected or even sought?

My new email friend’s son is just a year old and already she feels she is not enough for him. My son turns 20 next week and he often tells me in vibrant, blue tones how I have failed. I have a litany in my head that ranges from when I zipped his neck in the snowsuit, to making him attend a reading seminar on his birthday before he began High School. I forced him to go to a free summer school program for under reading kids that extended into Saturdays during the fall and spring of second and third grades.

I have embarrassed him endlessly by introducing girls, by asking him to accompany me to theater events. I took him to the Broadway Show The Puppetry of the Penis when he was 13; he tells me he still has nightmares. I have yelled in public, I yell at home. I didn’t push him to be adventuresome in eating, I cooked special meals for everyone because I felt so bad that I had to leave his father and put him and his sister through all that. So I didn’t push enough. Even though we paid for him to live in Los Angles for his junior year of high school, found a tennis coach, a thing he said he wanted, he still feels as if we didn’t visit him enough. Now please remember that this is a very hard working family comprised of two freelancers, with little back-up. We struggle, but have fun doing it. So the fact that his stepdad and sister and I made visits out there, some of us more than once, seems huge to me. But in the end I do very little right.

It is not perfection and it is never enough. This summer he yelled at me, by email, saying I never gave him good advice. This was as he endured two weeks in the South of France. I KID YOU NOT. I have gotten him tutors, helped get him jobs, edited papers, found him a semester abroad in Scotland working at a castle, I have taken him to his driving test again and again and paid for classes. I paid for music lessons and fancy sneakers and I sit up with him on occasion eating Cheetoes after a night of beer drinking. After the LA year, he wanted to drive across country so I contrived to get a story so that the expenses would be off set, and we did drive across country and had a blast. At least I thought we did.

We do enjoy each other from time to time, but underlying it all is the raving notion that I am not perfect, I am so far from perfect and I see it in him. He is gruff and has not learned the dual art of apology and appreciation. I suppose, like my friend with her toddler son, I expect perfection from myself. And when I see my failure at that goal evaporate I am stung and stunned. In fact it happens every time.

I know I am occasionally judgmental and short tempered, but I have tried with all my gumption and power to love this kid, to shower affection on him and to see who he really is and love that, not who I want him to be. BUT . . . he comes home today and I know I will see again my terrible imperfection reflected in his eyes and words. Running away tonight to rehearsal will almost be a respite, a cowardly retreat I know.

>How to conduct oneself

>Yesterday was a lesson in old time values that one does not usually see bundled together and they are: Dentistry and Musical Conducting.

I went back to the dentist for what I thought was the completion of my dreaded root canal. Instead he got in there, cleaned the bad hole for the second time and lo and behold there was still–this man does not mince words–PUSS. He further went on to extol the virulent nature of the infection by graphically describing the fact that this infection, (as stubborn as its owner) had begun to eat away the bone in my jaw.

“Really, they don’t teach you a better way to say this stuff in dental school?” I moaned from inside a rubber dam with clamps and a sucky thing in my mouth. I also found out that both SHIT and FUCK couldn’t be said with your mouth wide open. -IT and -UCK are all you get, but that didn’t stop me form uttering them as he continued on his graphic tale of tooth aliens. Finally he filled in the hole with gross tasting medicine, told me not to chew there or even brush hard for 3 weeks and to take an antibiotic that might give me diarrhea so violent that if I let it continue could result in a colonic ulcer.

Oh my god, this man was clear. And still on course, I rode my bike home down Fifth Avenue from 50th Street, after stopping at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, how could I not, it’s across the street. Is there a patron Saint of teeth? Is it George Washington?

It made me realize in brilliant relief that in another time, I would be on my way to dying from this tooth infection or would walk around in terrible pain with half a jaw. All so so scary.

I dutifully went downtown, got my dreaded prescription filled, and bought myself 15 bucks worth of sunflowers–not part of the recovery plan, but wildly necessary. I made the promised risotto, met with Liz the costume wonder and then rode to the first music rehearsal where the assistant conductor Carl Bettendorf was to preside.

OK WOW. Who knew that music was so precise and magical? I have been in the land of improvised for way too long. These musicians, clarinet, violin, cello and piano representing very American, Slovene /Swiss/ Australian and German backgrounds all sat together for the first time with flowing scores and Carl, who looks about 12, held sway, and they played. BEAUTIFULLY. I mean the music flowed out and they rarely stopped. They paused occasionally and discussed fermatas and notation. It was so impressive. Maybe more so in my fog of drugs and pain, but I was bowled over to see this young man, large and more than in charge.

Composer Doug sat fixing the main score, lead diva Nicole, the mother, asked to be cued for her part, which she read and sung silently nodding and noting all the while. After a full hour, no stops, no diversion, no dithering Carl called for a break. Which he sort of got, but he had so super-charged the musicians that most of them played their parts; sawing, blowing, plucking out the difficult sections only to resume with more gusto.

I begged to leave as this half way juncture, not because the proceedings didn’t mesmerize me, but rather I was fading and needed dinner and a bed. I got half of that wish and worked feverishly until early morning.

I woke up with visions not of sugar plums, but something better for now, visions of Carl in his baggy cargo pants standing in a bare loft space on Great Jones Street conducting musicians who played the notes that Doug and I have been dreaming of for years now. I was so full of gratitude and the belief that these amazing people will bring to fruition a project, an opera. And because music can be read, sung and recreated globally as its own language, I think we may be able to leave something that could ring in small corners for a while.