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.

How Will I Behave Here?

This essay originally appeared in The BeZine’s September issue, for which I was Contributing Editor. 

“Environmental Justice” is a rather fancy framework – two words with seven total syllables to convey a concept. Let me give you a simpler structure – one question to ask yourself as often as possible. How will I behave here? Five important words make up this question, and each one can continue to yield insight the more time you spend with it.

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Let’s start with the subject – ‘I’. Bringing awareness to how you think of yourself is a huge step in understanding – not just for environmental justice, but for Life in general. Know thyself. What are you biologically? How do you fit in the ecosystem or the food chain? Do you have a beginning or an ending? What does it take for you to survive the middle? Who are you psychologically? What has influenced that and what makes that change?

The direct object in the sentence is ‘here’. What is the Here that you relate to ? I suggested in the writing prompt Tell Me: What IS Environmental Justice? that our contributing authors may look at the environment from a perspective of Nature, Place or Community. As you ask yourself this question on a daily or more frequent basis, Here will be increasingly specific.

Now the verb: ‘behave’. It’s the act of acting; perhaps it’s all verbs in one. What we do matters. In my work as a volunteer at a Nature Center, I learned a short maxim for Environmental Education. It was made up of 4 words beginning with ‘A’: Awareness, Appreciation, Attitude and Action. Action is the outcome of our character. A lot goes into making us who we are, but it’s who we are that will most influence what we do. There are those who hope to influence action from the top down and employ legislation, incentives and consequences. There are those who hope to influence action from the bottom up and employ education, compassion and liberty. Behavior is often the event that gets a conversation started, the outward and visible sign of internal forces. We see video clips in the news and wonder, “Why THAT behavior?” (the Oregon rock tippers, graffiti in National Parks, buffalo calf rescuers, photographers disturbing marine life, etc.)

The word ‘will’ in the question can be both a verb tense and a noun and makes a great pondering point. What is your Will? What do you desire, hope for, intend, long for, want, choose and champion? You get to bring all your personal energy into this question. You will behave in some way. You will act or refrain from acting one way or another, and this will make a difference.

Finally, we’re left with the very first word: HOW? This is where we’re invited to expand our imaginations and reach toward infinity. This is where creative people can lead and model and catapult the status quo toward a more distant target. It is also where we can entrench ourselves in habits, in conservative approaches that allow for little or incremental change, in comfortable measures of disturbance offset by self-congratulation. This HOW will be the expression of our will and our identity.

So, think and ask: How will I behave here? That is how you will engage in Environmental Justice.

And you will engage, whatever you do.

Ponderosa pines smell like vanilla! (photo credit: Steve Wiencek)

 

Priscilla Galasso

Text and photographs © Priscilla Galasso, 2016. (unless otherwise noted) All rights reserved.

THE BeZINE, Vol.2, Issue 12, Environment/Environmental Justice

This is what I’ve been working on. Besides editing, I wrote 3 pieces and Steve wrote one. Please click on the Be Zine link and enjoy all the contributions! I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about sharing. This is a hugely important arena, encompassing life, health, and EVERYTHING!

THE BeZINE

September 15, 2016

The Environment is a complex array of interconnections and interbeing (as Thich Nhat Hahn would say). Steve & I have various metaphors for this. He likes to refer to “his bowling pins”. He imagines setting up a toy set of pins on a lawn and bowling at them. When they scatter, you set them back up exactly where they landed and bowl again. This takes you all over the neighborhood in endless permutations. I think of “trophic cascades”, changes in an ecosystem that originate at an extinction or other dramatic altering of balance, similar perhaps to “the domino effect” but less linear. However you try to wrap your brain around it, the nature of Life on this planet is intricate and incomprehensible. We are wise to approach it with the utmost humility. Because we are intrinsically involved, however, we must not fear to engage. We are already…

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Tell Me: What IS Environmental Justice?

As a Contributing Editors of The Be Zine , we are currently accepting submissions for the September 15 issue (submission deadline Sept. 10) that will focus on Environmental Justice, which is also the theme of our 100 Thousand Poets (and friends) for Change virtual event on September 24. In order to propel the discussion into deeper focus from the outset, we invite and encourage contributing authors to ponder a few things about their perspective and their voice on this topic.

When we talk about Justice, it is sometimes assumed that people will agree on what is ‘the right thing to do’. However, as with anything else, our decision-making about Justice is influenced by our values, by the things that we deem ‘special’, ‘important’, or ‘sacred’. I propose that there are (at least) three categories of valued environments, or ‘Holy Ground’: Nature, Place and Community. Think about these three different arenas and how you see Justice being applied to them.

For example, if Community is your value, you may feel that Environmental Justice has to do with how people are impacted and how human activity creates change. If Place is your value, then questions about Justice probably will involve a particular area with borders of a physical or conceptual nature. It may be that feelings of injustice are felt in terms of ‘This, not That’ or ‘Us, not Them’ or in a desire to see a Place resist change. If Nature is your value, then you may see Justice in more fluid terms as the balance of resources between producers/consumers and prey/predator is in a state of constant flux with perhaps no ultimate goal.

So, as you sit down to write about Environment Justice in your unique voice, identify your values. Perhaps use the lenses of Nature, Place and Community to focus. What is important to you? Why? How does it affect your decision-making? What factors impact this ‘sacred’ ground? How do different cultural models or systems impact your cherished home? What feelings arise in you – what empathy for Living Things or Living Habitats? What fears?

Thank you for spending time with these concepts and these questions. Your presence, your life energy, your embodiment of love is a gift that we are privileged and honored to receive. Please, share your thoughts, your words and pictures with us!

— Priscilla Galasso and Steve Wiencek

Dream What You Will and Will What You Dream

(This article is featured in this month’s issue of The BeZine. See the issue here.)

I took a quiz recently to test my Bible knowledge. I used to be a bona fide college campus ministry staff worker. I studied my Bible…religiously. So, I wondered how much I’d retained after having dropped the Christian label 6 years ago. I got one question wrong: “In a list of the 9 fruits of the Holy Spirit, which one is NOT in the basket? Kindness, Peace, Forbearance, or Hope?” Turns out it’s Hope.

“Hope is a mannequin. Love is a battlefield,” sings Bobby McFerrin’s voice in my head.

Hope is a deceitful kind of thing. It sounds like a marvelous, Puritanical virtue. I think it’s a slippery slope. Hope is passive. “I hope it won’t rain.” There’s nothing you can really do about it, one way or the other. You’re stating a wish, a sort of desire or thought without any teeth. “I hope my insurance will cover this.” You’re placing the burden of responsibility or action on something, someone other than yourself. “I hope in the future.” You’re making present moment decisions while not being present in the moment.

On the other hand, I think Will has gotten a bum rap, as in “the willful child”, “not my Will but Yours be done”, “keep your servant from willful sins”, etc. I much prefer Ralph Waldo Emerson preaching Self-Reliance to that doctrinal negation of determination. I think it’s important to know what you want, what you like and why. At the same time, I think it’s very important not to get attached to those things. Some people will defend their desires because they feel that their identities are shaped by them, and they want them to be. In a Universe of impermanence, that can be problematic. What if the thing you desire is altogether unattainable? Or even unapproachable? Your identity becomes “the person who is not going to get what they want – ever”. Sounds like a life of frustration and suffering to me.

To be able to say that I think this thing is good, that I want to use my energy and resources to practice and promote this thing, while I acknowledge that much of the success of this thing remains out of my control, is Self-Reliance. Furthermore, I no longer believe that the success of this thing is in the control of a supernatural power. And I’m OK with that. I don’t need to have a guarantee that this thing will succeed eventually in order for me to feel my efforts are worthwhile. I can have a moral conviction of the value of this thing without supernatural endorsement.

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I suppose I should mention that my philosophical transformation began after my husband died. My identity was shaken. I lost Faith; I lost Hope. “How very sad!” I hear you cry. Let me add that I was then asked repeatedly by a dear friend, “What do you want?” “Who do you want to be?” and I eventually found myself. I became aware of delusions and habits of thought that I’d never examined before. I discovered my will, my values, my feelings and my ability to accept change, adapt, and practice living gracefully and gratefully. I know good things intuitively, and I have learned that I am trustworthy.

And I believe that everyone else could say the same. See, I do believe in something.

Faith Means Making Choices

This article appears in the July issue of The Be Zine. To see the whole blogazine, click HERE.

Faith.

“Firm belief in something for which there is no proof.” Merriam-Webster

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We all act on faith. Each of us, every day. We make decisions based on ideas and concepts for which we have no proof. We take action based on insufficient evidence about the cause and the effect. This is unavoidable. When are we ever going to have all the information about anything? The more we learn, the more we realize how little we know. The more we experience and the more we learn of others’ experiences, the more we realize that possible experiences and conclusions are infinite. None of us is ever in possession of “all the facts”. We are all guessing.

Similarly, we all have delusions. We all look through various lenses, have particular blind spots, and wear custom-made blinders for one reason or another. Sometimes these serve as coping mechanisms to protect us from overwhelming stimuli. Sometimes these simply magnify our ignorance.

Let’s try on an example.

I have to make a decision about how to commute to work in the morning. I have been told that taking the freeway is the fastest route. After all, the speed limit on that road is 55 mph. However, it’s always under construction in the summer. But is speed the best value to consider? Maybe I should not burn fossil fuels and ride my bicycle instead. I will then arrive at work sweaty and tired. There is a bus, but buses are full of germs. But my friend takes the bus, and I could ride with him and chat…And so on.

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The point is, there are a number of ways to get to work and a number of reasons to justify each one. Those reasons may be weighted by experience, by social influence, by practice, by value and by preference. We each make our choices, our decisions, based on incomplete data and bias, but the point is WE MAKE CHOICES. And that is our great freedom, a right of autonomy.

We have the opportunity to make new choices at any time, although they will also be based on incomplete data and bias even when they are made in an attempt to incorporate new information. The dynamic of deciding and re-deciding is perhaps the greatest activity of life for our species. It’s what our big brains are for. But it is a process that does not have a product. We will never get it all figured out. Dogma is unsupportable in the long run, even if it seems beneficial in the short term. We will never, ever arrive at what is absolutely “right”. Perhaps a better pursuit is simply what is “better”.

Where faith turns into action or behavior, we make moral judgments. Based on your beliefs in the moment, you chose what to do. Was that action beneficial? Did it cause harm? If you decide the action was harmful or that acting in that way did not help you to be the person you want to be, you can choose a different action…AND you can choose to change the beliefs that justified your action. A flexible framework allows a lot more options.

Back to our commute example. What if…

Believing that getting to work quickly was the most professional, responsible thing to do, I set off on the freeway. Soon afterward, I ran into road construction. Flag operators stopped my car. The minutes ticked by. I got frustrated, angry, eventually enraged, and I expressed this state of mind by shouting a curse at the flag man and punching the accelerator as I was allowed to move forward. In the process, I rear-ended a car in front of me. Now I have caused insult to the construction worker on the scene, injury to the car and possibly the person ahead of me, and acted like a person I do not wish to become. I can decide to be more careful not to act in anger in the future, and I can decide that getting to work quickly is not an important value so that I’m less likely to feel frustrated when I can’t fulfill that value. I can examine my beliefs and thoughts as well as my actions and make changes in both in order to practice non-harmful behavior more effectively.

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This is a simple example. My real life is much more complex. At one point, it involved decisions I made about raising teens to adulthood while my husband was dying of a chronic illness. I realized that acting on my faith sometimes caused me to harm them and to become someone I didn’t want to be. So, not only did I stop the behaviors, I stopped believing the underlying principles that motivated them. I kept wondering if I was “losing my faith”, a phrase that sounded so negative and irresponsible. What I was actually doing was evolving my faith and my self. That, I think, is a very positive and responsible practice. I intend to practice striving for “better” and doing less harm. That’s my new choice, my new faith. 

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Text and photographs © Priscilla Galasso, 2016. All rights reserved.

Friendship and the Serious Introvert

This post is a feature article in this month’s Be Zine. To view the entire blogazine, click HERE.

I had all but disqualified myself from writing about Friendship this month. “I have no friends,” I thought, envisioning ladies’ magazine coffee klatch groups, beer commercials and Facebook statistics. I don’t have the requisite exercise buddy, shopping buddy, or the Oprah-sanctioned “5 Friends Every Woman Should Have”. That little childhood rhyme started playing in my head: nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I guess I’ll go eat worms.

I’ve decided to re-frame the topic.

I do not have a lot of friends. I do not make a point to get together with acquaintances to socialize. I am an introvert and was raised by introverts. I didn’t have birthday parties or play dates as a kid. I had one good friend who lived two doors down, and we played together almost every day. He was a year younger than I and a boy. When I was in 5th grade, a girl joined my Sunday school class, bringing the class total to three – myself, the rector’s son, and this new best friend. She still sends me Christmas cards. When I moved from Illinois to California the summer before high school, I had to start all over. After a year, I had made a good friend who was a year older than I. She was a bit bossy, but she connected me to the Girl Scout troop, the school choir, the Italian club, and my husband. I was 15 when she introduced us. I was 45 when he died. Later that year, I met someone online – a bookseller who’d just finished a course in Spiritual Psychology. I’d found my new best friend. We’ve been together for almost 8 years. 

photo credit: Carol Toepke

photo credit: Carol Toepke

What I know about Friendship is not about quantity. It is about quality. I think I have enjoyed all the important health benefits that Friendship adds to life distilled into a few precious draughts. To feel that freedom that creates well-being, we have to be able to establish a trust that allows me to be completely myself; we have to create a safe vulnerability. Honesty, copious communication, time, and kindness are the key ingredients. For me, this doesn’t happen easily. It takes concerted effort. More often, I find myself in relationships with mentors or students. I feel quite comfortable as a student or a teacher. Those are roles I can hide in. To be in a true friendship, I have to come out of hiding and operate in an arena of wholeness and equality…which is far more risky. A tremendous accomplishment of my 24 year marriage is that I know that I can survive and thrive while being fully open to another human being. Still, I suppose it has to be the right human being. And those are rare.

The love of a true friend is extraordinary. It goes beyond the giddiness of fun, beyond the pleasantries of companionship, beyond the nobility of human kindness, beyond the affirmation of attraction. The love of a true friend is challenging. It asks you to be entirely forthcoming. It asks you to question your habits and assumptions. It asks you to change and react to change. It asks you to be the best you can be. And it asks you to challenge your friend in return. Because of this dynamic love, life is never boring and your relationship never goes stale. Because of the trust you build, you can enter into the most intense realities of life with some security and the sense of adventure. As my husband used to say after another trip to the hospital, “Never a dull moment!”

My calendar is not full of lunch dates or parties; my phone doesn’t ring for days at a time. Still, I have tasted the best of Friendship and grown braver, healthier, happier and wiser. And no worms were harmed.