Theater Lessons

This article appears in The Be Zine. To see the entire issue on theater, click HERE

What has Theater taught me? Ego indulgence and humility. Confidence and neurosis. Teamwork and competition. Empathy and retreat. Deception and honesty. The story of humanity in a microcosm. My story.

When I was a little kid, I learned that I could entertain and amuse my parents and my older sisters and get positive attention. As the youngest of four daughters, I was eager to exercise this talent to my advantage whenever my ego felt bereft. This helped me compensate for having fewer general skills and powers than my seniors. I couldn’t win at games or read or figure or run better than the rest, but I could sing and mime and look cute. I also was the only blonde, which helped.

When I was in second grade, I was very good at reading aloud “with expression”. I remember (and still have a written report about) my behavior when the class did a Reader’s Theater story about a snake. I told the teacher that I had a toy snake the class could use…provided that I got to read the lead role. Mrs. Richie declined my offer.

When I was in third grade, Miss White selected me to play Captain Hook in the musical Peter Pan. I was stunned. “I’m not a boy!” I protested. She told me privately that she thought I’d do a better job than any of the boys in the class. She could tell that I was a ham and would take risks to win attention and applause. And I did. In the final week of rehearsal, she gave me a monologue, a poem in rhyme that she would put into a particular scene if I could memorize it. I worked on it very hard. In the final performance, though, I skipped it altogether because I forgot where it was supposed to be inserted. To this day, I can rattle it off by heart. “Methinks I hear a spark, a gleam, a glimmer of a plan….”

The pirate theme lives on in my legacy.

When I was in seventh grade, I was double-cast as the lead in our pre-Bicentennial musical. I was the Spirit of ’75 for two performances (why the Music teacher and the Home Ec teacher chose this theme a year early is anyone’s guess). So was Kevin Bry. Yes, I played a man. Again. I vividly remember being in performance and feeling sort of bored with the dialogue the teachers had written to link together the songs the school chorus had rehearsed. So I decided to overact. “The sun still rises in the East….doesn’t it????!!” The audience roared. I think they were pretty bored, too.

When I was in High School, I took real Drama classes. I learned to dance, and I gained some confidence singing solos in the Concert Choir and the Jazz Choir. I became a lot more aware of my own vulnerability, too. I will never forget the Talent Show in my Junior year. I was in a leotard and character shoes, posed and ready to dance when the curtain went up. I was listening for our taped music to begin. And I heard nothing…until the audience started to howl and whistle. Suddenly, I felt naked and taunted. Then the music started, and I couldn’t concentrate on it. I was humiliated. My father and mother and boyfriend (who became my husband) were in the audience, hearing those students jeering at me. We all went out for ice cream afterward, and they tried to convince me that the performance wasn’t bad and the audience wasn’t being critical, but I just wanted to block the whole thing out of my memory forever. Obviously, I haven’t.

When I was in college, I was a Music major with Voice Performance as my Senior thesis. I auditioned for a part in a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta as a Junior. I hate auditions. I tend to choke when I know that someone is out there in those dark seats judging me. I am awesome in rehearsal – prepared, alert, willing and tireless. I was working hard, getting better at performance in my Master Classes and feeling more and more that my teachers and colleagues were actually rooting for me. But not at an audition. I was nervous, my mouth was dry, and my voice wavered. I could see my choir teacher in the house, talking with the casting director. I am sure that Prof. Lamkin was telling him that I was a very good soprano despite my weak scale runs in Mabel’s aria. I managed to land a part in the chorus.

That’s me, third lady on the left.

After graduating Phi Beta Kappa with my B.A. in Music, I auditioned for the Los Angeles Master Chorale. Worst audition EVER! Oh well. I found out that I was already pregnant. Got the role of Mother at age 22…and 24…and 26…and 28, and stayed off the stage for years. Meanwhile, my husband performed all over the country with a competitive Barbershop quartet and once at Carnegie Hall with the Robert Shaw Chorale Workshop. My children were on stage quite a bit, too. I was their coach. They were in all the school concerts and plays, took dance and music classes, and I watched and cheered and videotaped my heart out.

Then some neighbors invited me to help them start a Community Theater. I was tired of being in the background. I stepped up, and brought my oldest daughter with me. The next summer, I brought three of my children, my husband, and my mother-in-law as rehearsal accompanist. The next summer, it was just me, and my husband told me that he wouldn’t be able to solo parent while I was at rehearsal after this. Meanwhile, he was performing with the Chicago Master Singers and rehearsing every week. A few years later, my youngest daughter started taking theater classes with a group called CYT. The next summer, they did a community theater production, and I auditioned again and got cast. My oldest daughter played in the pit band. One of the performances was on my birthday, and the director brought me out on stage for the audience to sing for me during intermission. * shucks, folks! *

I ended up working for CYT and becoming their Operations Supervisor full time. In addition, I taught Voice classes and Musical Theater classes and Show Choir classes to kids aged 8-18 after work. All of my children and my husband participated at some point in the seven years I was employed there. I watched kids grow up in the theater, auditioning three times a year, growing in confidence and artistry, and questioning their identity every time.

“Who am I, anyway? Am I my résuméThat is a picture of a person I don’t know.” A Chorus Line 

Accessing emotions, improvising with another person’s energy – initiation, response, vulnerability, defense. Mime, mimicry, mannerisms, artifice and accents. Playing in the muck of human behavior. This is Theater. It can be devastating and edifying. You can lose yourself and find yourself or never know the difference.

I wonder if I should regret raising up a bunch of performers and encouraging them in this charade or if I should be proud to have modeled survival in the arena. I don’t know. It’s complex. We’re complex. And maybe that’s the entire lesson.

The Grandparent Project: Part Twelve

Welcome to the 12th installment of The Grandparent Project! This is an endeavor to revisit family memories with my relatives in California and my children in the Midwest by posting digital copies of my old snapshots and piecing together our shared history. It’s been a great adventure in itself as well as a reminder of the incredible journey we’ve already had. 

Today’s episode takes place in the year 2002 at Mammoth Lakes in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of California. Grandpa George was 69 years old and an avid hiker. My siblings and I can probably all agree that his model inspired us. I am glad to say that he may also have inspired my children. At the time of this visit, they were 17, 15, 13, and 11 and their cousin Cristina was 9. My mom and my husband were physically not up to hiking the trail we chose this time, so they stayed back at the condo (with Susan and Emily?) while the rest of us went to find Lake George. My father was always the leader, a very strong presence and authority and a keen map-reader. This was the first time I saw him falter in his sense of direction. What is now apparent is that he was beginning to come under the grip of Alzheimer’s disease. I am very glad to have pictures of him on this day. It was a gorgeous trek and fitting that it centered on a destination that shares his name. 

Some of us also went horseback riding on that trip…

We went through Yosemite National Park as well on the way back to the Bay Area. My husband and I had gone there on a date way back when I was still in High School. He picked me up at four in the morning and returned me to my parents’ house by midnight. I was thrilled to go, but it was a lot of driving. Returning to the park with my children two decades later, I couldn’t help feeling sad and disappointed at how much smog and congestion were visible. It makes sense that my California family avoids that particular area and chooses less well-known sites in the Sierras to hike.

I would love to arrange future family hikes in the Sierras. Let’s see how many of us can get out on the trail when we’re 69!

*Footnote photo – taken when we got back to the homestead in Los Gatos.  

Weekly Photo Challenge: Elemental

“Explore the classical elements of earth, air, water, and fire. How do you capture something invisible like air, or the movement of water? Or, more personally, is there a place you go to feel connected to the earth?”

Air, water and fire form a double rainbow touching Earth. 

Sitting on the ground beside a lake, the campfire behind him dancing in the air. 

Connected to the earth, from head to toe. 

Elemental

The Grandparent Project: Part Eleven

This online family photo album is all about visits between my family on the West Coast and my family in the Midwest. So far, I’ve chronicled 1985 through 2000.

In the summer of 2001, we took a road trip to the East Coast. While we were away, my mother-in-law passed away in her apartment. Three months later, the World Trade Center towers were attacked. We did not visit with our California family that year. 

The next summer, though, we had a marvelous visit! I found a trove of photos of the gang of seven cousins enjoying the Bay Area and each other. Here we are at the San Francisco zoo: 

And at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk…

(I know I took one that has all the grandkids together on this beach plus Jim and John and Sarah, too, but I can’t seem to find it.) * My sister Sarah found it!

…and bumming around San Francisco.

And as if that wasn’t enough, we also spent time hiking and horseback riding in the Sierra Nevadas near Mammoth Lakes with the grandparents. I’ll share those pictures in the next post.

Such a sweet deal having relatives to visit in northern California!

The Grandparent Project: Part Ten Addendum

This online family photo project allows me to pool and share snapshots with my children here in the Midwest and my family of origin in California. Yesterday, my sister in San Francisco sent more photos of our visits up to the year 2000. 

Khalsa trip to Cary 1995

I love her caption to this one: “desperate characters skulk at the airport –in 1995, way before TSA”

One year later…

Our basement became the slumber party headquarters, and our two cats got lots of attention. Here’s Phantom in the spotlight:

The next year, the Galassos went west again. Here’s Rebecca celebrating her birthday in San Francisco in 1997, showing off new front teeth and a Kids’ Klub membership card. Cousin Amrit’s birthday was the next day. The Kids Klub was quite creative. Here’s the Headless Emily costume they made:Visits to the Khalsas’ place always included board games, music-making, neighborhood visits to Haight-Ashbury shops, and lots and lots of laughter. I’m so glad and proud that our kids created a safe, happy place of interaction with each other. Having the skill to develop a trustworthy social circle is very important and became life-saving as they grew into their teen years. 

Thanks, Dharam, for sending these great photos!

The Grandparent Project: Part Ten

Family Cluster 

The Grandparent Project is my online family photo album, connecting my West Coast family and my Midwest grown children in shared memories. GranneLouise has seven grandchildren in all, spanning eight years. Here’s how they all looked in the year 2000. So, this is the Millennial generation of our family. 

Like many families, we also have a coincidental grouping of birthdays. Our “Cluster Month” is August. My husband and I, my brother, my brother-in-law, my grandmother…and I think my grandfather, too…all have birthdays in August. I’m going to take a stab at assigning the exact dates, and I’ll let my family correct me where I’m wrong. Jim’s is the 26th, mine is the 21st, David’s is the 18th, John’s is the 25th, Grandma Marion’s was the 1st…and Grandpa David’s was the 23rd. (*confirmed by GranneLouise) 

I also have a cluster of photos from these middle years of our kids’ lives up to the year 2000. If you want to see the gallery of pictures in a slide show of full-sized images, just click on the first one and advance one by one. 

This concludes the first 15 years of grandparenting. The next 17 years saw fewer cross country visits as all our lives got more complicated, so my photo records of those years are pretty sparse, but the stories are pivotal. Moving toward adulthood brought challenges and opportunities that shaped the character and personality of each of these young people. I think they’re all super special, and I’ll share that in the next Grandparent Project post. 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Textures

Nature loves to combine textures with remarkable contrast.  

Spine-prickly and petal-soft:

Cold, smooth, and rough: 

Fuzzy and rigid: 

 

Smooth, rough and bumpy:

Wet slippery, dry and grainy: 

 

Everywhere you look, Nature feels wonderful.  

Textures

The Grandparent Project: Part Nine

My family of origin is in California; my grown children are in the Midwest with me. Getting us all together is tough. This summer, I’m hosting a kind of a family reunion on this blog by sharing photos and family stories featuring my mother’s seven grandchildren. 

My parents were incredibly helpful grandparents, especially during those hospital episodes I’ve mentioned. When my husband & I reached our 10th wedding anniversary year, we decided to splurge on a trip to Europe. Mom & Dad offered to take care of the four grandchildren…provided we let them do it at the family beach cottage in Michigan. My parents were quite familiar with dealing with kids in that setting. After all, they’d spent many summers there with their own. So, with Uncle David’s help, they treated our brood to two weeks of fun and frolic on Lake Michigan, making “Cottage” memories with the next generation. 

I have to admit, I was a little jealous of that vacation. I had so many great memories of the Cottage that I wanted to re-live myself. Fortunately, we were able to take the kids up there ourselves several times over the years. Our last trip there was right after our oldest graduated from college in 2007. GranneLouise, Aunt Sarah and Uncle David were able to join us for that. My husband Jim died the following February. 

 One day I would love to see if we could have a reunion at The Cottage with all of the clan. I think that would make a fabulous Cousins Day! 

Speaking of cousins, here’s a special Cousins Day with Amrit on her birthday:

And some with Cristina: 

Reading stories aloud has to be one of the best parts of being a grandparent. My dad liked it so much, he volunteered at the library to read to other people’s grandkids. I got to watch him in action during one visit. He was reading Dr. Seuss, and he let me fill in some of the parts because he knew I still had it memorized. I’m looking forward to reading aloud to some of my own grandkids one day.