Monday, May 22, 2017

Zelda in the Backyard and the Lunch That Didn't Happen


BACK ROADS
On Saturday afternoons my dad and I would take drives through the country in one of the antique cars he restored with my grandfather.  There was no radio.  No electronic entertainment.  We found stories in the landscape, the clouds, and the abandoned buildings that peppered the back roads of South Alabama.  My grandfather loved Fords, and in his collection was a Model T, a Model A, and a Model S.  But my father was an Anglophile who parked his 1961 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud among my grandfather’s collection of American made cars.  It had white leather seats and little picnic trays in the back that folded down.  The smell, a combination of wood, leather, and oil, is still ingrained in my memory.



The car was majestic, with the Flying Lady adorning the hood.  You might assume my father had money, but he didn’t.  He usually drove a 1973 Pinto hatchback and was known to take clothes from the lost and found at the YMCA.  When we went to Godfather’s for pizza on Friday nights he would send me around to the empty tables to grab the leftover pitchers of beer.  Frugal would be a generous description.  But in the Rolls Royce, dad was transformed into someone else; someone who was ostentatious, gregarious, important. 


When my grandfather died suddenly the car barn, which housed their prized possessions, was locked and our Saturday afternoon drives came to an end.  My dad was heartbroken; the connection that he had to his otherwise distant father had been severed.  My father died just ten week later, and the Rolls Royce remained locked in the barn.  For reasons I never completely understood, the car had been signed over to my aunt; although, I suspect a bankruptcy my father filed for years earlier was the culprit. 



With my father and grandfather gone my mother made a valiant effort to keep me connected to my grandmother.  But the visits were difficult and awkward.  We had little to talk about.  After one particularly unfortunately encounter involving what was left of my father’s belongings, my mother and I drove away.  I assumed I would never see the car again.



But then just as I was returning home for Christmas my senior year of college, my mother called to tell me that my grandmother had passed away.  It had been more ten years since my father died and almost that long since I had seen her. 



My grandmother and I had always had a difficult relationship.  She had grown up in a house with no running water or indoor plumbing.  A product of the depression, she hoarded food and fabric.  But she was also a skilled seamstress and a master gardener.  Through sewing we found our common ground. I spent hours cutting out squares for what would become my first quilt, then stitched them together on her sewing maching with her guidance.

When I arrived home I went to pay my respects.  My aunt was now living in the house that I had grown up in, a smaller house on a large piece of property where my grandparents also had a home.  It was strange sitting in the living room that once held my father’s things.  It was there that my aunt told me that she was returning my father’s Rolls Royce along with what remained of his possessions.


ZELDA IN THE BACKYARD

The car was removed from the barn and hoisted on a flat bed.  The Rolls had been wrecked years prior; the front bumper was dented and the grill bent.  My heart broke when I stepped into the car barn and saw so many of their beloved cars deteriorating.  A friend’s father generously housed the car in his garage and was able to rebuild the brakes so that I could drive it once again.  When it was in working order my mother and I had a picnic in the backseat.  It was there that I rechristened her Zelda, in homage to Zelda Fitzgerald and the insanity in which the car came back into my life. The first time I took Zelda out for a drive on my own I followed the same route my dad and I took all those years ago.  With the windows rolled down, I was bathed in the warm summer air.



For a while the car was stored in a barn behind the Creek Indian Bingo Palace, but after it was damaged during a hurricane, I sent it off to a restoration shop run by a Brit in South Carolina.  Money would go out.  Reports would come back in periodically.  After awhile, I heard nothing.



When I got engaged I knew that I wanted Zelda there.  If my dad couldn’t walk me down the aisle, then Zelda would take his place.  When I inquired about the car, I got no response.  The car was eventually located in a shed in Liberty, South Carolina, where she sat disassembled in hundreds of pieces.   Reassembled, Zelda was there to stand in for my father.



But Zelda wasn’t the only car in my life at that time.  Perhaps if she was the story would have had a different outcome.  The details of our estrangement are long and complicated, but like everything else in the family, it centered around a car; this time a 1908 Model S Ford.  When my grandmother died I fought for the most rare and cherished of my grandfather’s cars.  It was a fight that drove the division between me and my dad’s family even deeper. 



I’m sure they have their own version of what happened.  After all I hadn’t been an active participant in their lives for many years.  But my fight for the car wasn’t selfish or greedy, but rather rooted in my desire to salvage the work of my father and grandfather.  Rather than leaving it to deteriorate, I wanted the car to be enjoyed.  After a legal fight, the car was mine.  With the Model S in my possession, my mom and I fulfilled my dad’s dream of taking it to the national car show.  



I was not prepared to care for the Model S, so when a collector offered to buy it, I accepted his offer.  The car now sits in the private museum where a full time staff is able to care for it.  Zelda stayed in my life for ten more years, but eventually I had to accept that I didn’t have the resources to maintain the upkeep.  With the sale of each car I paid off my student loans; the Model S paid off my balance for undergrad, while Zelda paid for graduate school.  My mother would have been happy knowing that in some roundabout way my father paid for college after all.


THE LUNCH THAT DIDN'T HAPPEN

When you lose a parent as a child, you lose the opportunity to get to know them as a person.  The people who knew my father are quickly disappearing, taking with them the stories and memories that I crave. 



I reached out to my aunt – my father’s sister – in hopes that she would have lunch with me.  I was hoping to piece together a few stories from his childhood.   Unfortunately, she declined.  I’m not surprised, but I am disappointed.  I feel like those stories are slipping further and further away.   I know she has her reasons for saying no, just like I had my reasons for walking away all those years ago.  I don’t regret that decision; it was an act of self-preservation.  There are stories from his life, from the years before I was born, that only she can tell.  Those stories are now lost to me.



When my grandmother died I wasn’t sure how to grieve the loss. What I discovered is that I was left to grieve the possibilities, the loss of the chance to get it right.  I’ve also learned that we re-grieve the deaths of those we love at different stages in our lives.  Now I grieve for my daughter’s loss, the loss of an opportunity to have her grandparents here to teach her, to tell her stories, to build their own memories together.



Many of my memories are rooted in conflict, but there are so many others.  I’ll always have the memories of our drives in the country, of ice cream sandwiches and Cokes in a bottle.  There are the forts I built with my cousins, the hot summer days running around shirtless, eating watermelon and fresh blackberry cobbler.  There is the quilt I made with my grandmother and the memories of making biscuits with her on Saturday mornings.  There is knowing that while all of them were incredibly flawed people, they possessed an impeccable work ethic.  For now, those are the stories I’ll share with my daughter.  The others will come later.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Truth Bomb, or How To Be A Big Sister Even When You're Not


LOTS OF LAUGHTER
No one makes me laugh like Amanda Hamilton.  I’m talking about the kind of laughter that makes your cheeks hurt and tears stream down your face.  Amanda is that kind of funny. 

Although Amanda was always performing for others, she spent most of her time backstage.  That’s where I met her; we were on the stage crew together in high school.  Active in the local theatre community, school was more of an obligation than anything else.  Amanda was always smart, but school wasn’t a priority; Amanda had other things to do. Because of her involvement in the local theatre community she was often out late and therefore, often tardy to class.  She would bribe the secretary in the attendance office with Egg McMuffins in exchange for a late slip.  With her quick wit and the ability to turn on the Southern charm when needed, Amanda always seemed to be in control.

LIKE A COOL BIG SISTER
A senior when I was a freshman, Amanda was far more worldly than any other high school student I knew.  She had her own car, a late model white Volvo that was always filled with random props and costumes from whatever show she was working on, tapes (yes, tapes) of show tunes, and fast food bags.  She didn’t really hang out with other students, but she was willing to hang out with me.  She was like the cool big sister who was nice enough to let me tag along and smoke the occasional cigarette.  My first hangover was a result of a night drinking Zima at Amanda’s house.  We sang show tunes, spent our spring break doing local Shakespeare in the Park, and talked incessantly about moving to New York.

Her grand plans for New York were sidelined as she made an almost decade long detour along the Gulf Coast.  For someone who always seemed like an adult, she still had some growing up to do.  She shares with me a piece of wisdom passed on by a friend during those turbulent years. “She told me every woman between 19 and 26 should be locked away because they are insane, untrustworthy and likely to get you arrested,” Amanda laughs, “And that was true.”  


FINDING OUR WAY
But eventually Amanda found her way to New York.  Along the way friends renamed her Maggie.  It became a reinvention of sorts, a way to say goodbye to her childhood. She settled in an apartment in Hells Kitchen, just four blocks from my own.  Every Sunday night we would get together for dinner and watch Sex and the City and Queer as Folk.  New York can be a lonely place despite the swarms of people, and Amanda provided the comfort that comes with familiarity. 

Amanda worked in IT while trying to find her place in the NY theatre scene.  Her impeccable work ethic, and her talent on and off stage, began to pay off.  She found her tribe and was soon an active member of the downtown theatre world, producing new work and winning awards. 

Eventually, she left New York for London.  We visit via Skype and before we know it, two hours have passed.  As always, there was laughter; but there were also a few tears along the way.  We talk about the loves that have come and gone, as well as old friends.  Amanda and my mom were kindred spirits.  As we talk, Amanda tells me about the first time they met.  It was in the school auditorium.  Amanda explains, “She looked at me like I know and I looked at her the same way, but we both knew nothing would be said about it.”  Amanda had not yet come out as a lesbian, but in my mother she found an ally. 

Now married to her first real love, a woman she met in Florida while in her 20’s, they live in London where Amanda does IT for a healthcare company.  The girl who coasted through high school is now a diligent student working toward her MBA.

TRUTH BOMB
We have the kind of friendship that comes from a place of genuine love and respect, so we can be honest with one another, drop the truth bomb from time to time, and know that it comes without judgment. She tells me that my mother still speaks to her sometimes, giving her guidance.  She remembers the promise she made to her just before she died, a promise to watch over me.  I’ve always felt safe with Amanda, like if I needed her she would be my protector. 

We marvel at the journey we’ve each had and how our stories are interwoven in many ways.  It’s a story about how two girls from Mobile, Alabama, who at times faced great obstacles, have managed to find our way in the world. 
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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Good People


CARDS AND CALLS
On our refrigerator there is a collection of holiday cards that we have accumulated throughout the year. The cards arrive at Christmas and Easter; there are hearts on Valentines day and ghosts on Halloween. Each one is handmade and signed Love, Uncle Jimmy.

Jim Ryan isn’t related to us, but that’s the role he plays as part of our extended chosen family.  Jim and I met at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival 25 years ago and he’s been present for many of my major milestones since.  When I moved to New York he made sure I knew I could call if I needed anything.  When I relocated to LA years later, he introduced me to his friends.  He checked on me when my mom was dying and helped me pack when I decided to return to Alabama.  We’ve celebrated birthdays, new jobs, and opening nights together.  Easy to talk to, I’ve cried on his couch on more than one occasion.

Born and raised in Michigan, Jim is one of three kids in a close-knit Irish-Catholic family. After college, Jim moved to New York where he taught at a private high school while pursuing his acting career.  He’s gone on to guest star on numerous television shows and has performed in the National tours of Les Miserables and Peter Pan, as well as in the Broadway revival of Annie.

GOOD PEOPLE
Jim is what my mother would call good people.  But thanks to his charismatic personality he also attracts good people.  When I was new to LA he invited me to Thanksgiving dinner where I was welcomed into his tribe of friends.  The next Thanksgiving, I reciprocated by hosting dinner at my apartment.  Before the day was over we were sitting in Debbie Gibson’s living room singing and playing the piano.  (My 12 year old self was very happy that day.)  It’s a story indicative of a day with Jim; you never know where you might end up.

Always thoughtful of others, he dutifully keeps a journal where he carefully documents birthdays and other meaningful dates in the lives of his friends and family.  I know that on my birthday there will be a call or a message; on the anniversary of my mom’s death I’ll find a simple Love you, Sweet Elyzabeth Gregory.

And when I got married Jim called to say that he was driving from Los Angeles in Mobile to be there.  I always knew that I’d walk down the aisle alone; no one could take the place of my parents.  But I asked Jim if he would escort me to the aisle.  His hand held mine tightly and then he leaned in and gave me the sweetest kiss.  Then when, just 15 months later, my husband said he wasn’t coming home for Christmas, Jim called to say that he was driving through on his way to Florida and wanted to stop in for a visit.  An hour later he was in my living room.  He was, quite miraculously, right there when I needed him.

RIGHT WHERE WE LEFT OFF
We meet for lunch in LA and even though we haven’t seen each other in 6 years, being with him feels safe and familiar.  We eat Argentinean food and catch up.  He always asks about my grandmother, who adores him.  We end up back in his apartment where we sit and talk about our friendship over the past 25 years: the jobs and the relationships that have come and gone and the fact that we’ve never had an argument.  When it’s time for me to leave he walks me to my car.  It takes us awhile to say goodbye because there always seems to be one more thing to say.

I wish we lived a little closer, so he could actively play the role of uncle to my daughter. He’s the kind of man you want in your child’s life.  But for now, we will savor the cards and the phone calls, and knowing that Uncle Jimmy is in our lives.
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Thursday, April 6, 2017

Tea and Conversation: A Visit with Evalyn Baron


The summer I turned 11 my dad took me to New York for the first time.  Friends later told me that the trip to New York had been a goal he set, knowing he didn’t have long to live. He bought a package that included a stay at the Waldorf-Astoria, a tour of New York and tickets to a Broadway show.  It would be my first Broadway show, a musical adaptation of Huckleberry Finn called Big River.  We sat in box seats where with each song I fell more and more in love with the theatre. When we returned home I read the Playbill until I had memorized the bios of every actor.

Six years later I would be living in New York at a women’s residency in 13th Street called the Markle Evangeline Residence for Women.  You were given two meals a day with your rent and clean linens once a week.  There we no men allowed past the first floor.  This gave comfort to my mother who allowed me to leave home just before my 17th birthday.  Owned by the Salvation Army, all of our phone calls went through their switchboard.  Calls were answered, “Salvation Army Markle Evangeline Residence for Women,” and to anyone unfamiliar with the place it sounded as if I was living in a women’s shelter.  It was home to law students, dancers from the Joffrey ballet, aspiring actresses, retired teachers, and four Russian prostitutes who usually arrived home just in time for breakfast.  It was in my little room that I wrote my first play.

When it was finished I submitted it to a local theatre company which included it in their festival of new work.  We rehearsed at the Dick Shea Studios on the corner of 14th Street and 6th Avenue.  The place was legendary: disembodied mannequins and toilets hung from the ceiling.  Like the first plays of many young writers, it was largely autobiographical.  The theater company that was producing the reading had assembled an impressive cast, including Evalyn Baron whose name I immediately recognized.  I ran home and pulled out my old Playbill and there she was; one of the actors from my first Broadway show would be performing my first play.

As we sat in the space listening to the play being read, watching as the actors found moments in the play and built relationships, Evalyn raised her hand.  “I don’t know what the conflict is in the play,” she said, bringing the rehearsal to a stop.  “If we don’t know what the conflict is, then we can’t know how to solve the problem.”


Looking back it seems so basic, but at the time I had never really thought about a story in terms of conflict and resolution.   It was one of my first lessons in writing.

In addition to Big River, Evalyn is a Broadway theatre veteran with a Tony nomination for Quilters, and appearances in shows like Les Miserables.  A gifted teacher, she has helped shepherd countless students into careers in the theatre as well.  A champion of young artists, Evalyn always has something encouraging to say.  She went on to direct a reading of my next play.  When she took some time away from New York she brought me down to the Barter Theatre for their new play festival.  Years later when I wrote the first draft of Gee’sBend, we sat in her living room on the Upper West Side while she read the entire play out loud to me.

Evalyn is a kind of Earth mother: gentle, warm and welcoming with an infectious laugh.  Ten years have passed since we last saw one another.  She left New York for San Francisco where she now spends her time writing.  While I’m in town opening a newplay, we make plans. 

The door opens and her arms stretch out to welcome me.  Even though Evalyn has never been a mother, she has a mother’s hug: the kind that envelops you and makes you feel certain you are safe and loved.  The home she shares with her husband is warm and inviting.  There is a grand piano, and books line the shelves.  Leaning against the wall in the hallway are posters of the shows she’s done over the years, little trophies that chronicle her life. 

Over tea in her front parlor our visit turns into a confessional as we catch up.  I unload on her the questions I’ve been trying to answer about my career and my future.  I tell her about my marriage that failed and how I struggle to be a good writer and a good mother.  She asks what she can do to help and I know that her offer is heartfelt. And unintentionally, our conversation connects back to that lesson she taught me all those years ago.  “If we don’t know what the conflict is, then we can’t know how to solve the problem.”  
Two days later she and her husband are in the audience for my opening, filling in for the family who aren't there.  Now she is watching my work on the stage.  At the end of the show she takes my hand and gives me an affirming smile.  An encounter that began almost 30 years ago, with a kid who got swept up in the magic of the theatre, has come full circle.  
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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Building a Village: A Sewanee Love Letter

ENTERING THE DOMAIN
  

When you arrive in Sewanee you drive through the old stone gates where a sign ominously informs you that you are entering “The Domain of the University of the South.”  Legend has it that when you leave the gates a Sewanee angel watches over you until your return.  I have certainly found my angels in Sewanee and they have given me protection these past fives years.

Located on the Cumberland Plateau in southeastern Tennessee, Sewanee is a small private liberal arts collect governed by the Episcopal Church.  Affectionately called the Hogwarts of the South, the school is modeled after Cambridge in both its architecture and love of tradition:  all of the buildings are made of stone and professors wear gowns to teach.  The fog, which has often been written about, creates a mystical feel.

Home of the Sewanee Review, the oldest continuous literary journal in the country, Sewanee is steeped in literary tradition.  Thanks to the generous support of the Tennessee Williams endowment, the quaint hamlet is also home to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference each summer.  It was a fellowship as the Tennessee Williams Playwright-in-Residence which brought me to Sewanee five years ago.

The fellowship was truly a gift; Sewanee arrived in my life when I needed it most.  Here I have had the time and space to write, while also being given a livable wage, housing, and access to health insurance:  basic necessities that artists rarely have.  It’s also allowed me to be the writer I want to be while also being the parent I hope to be. 


BUILDING A VILLAGE  
When I moved to New York I found my tribe for the first time; in Sewanee I built my village.  One thing I have learned from being a parent is that children can create instant community.  The people I met when we first arrived were also parents, and we were bound by our desire to be good parents while balancing our work life.  

In Sewanee parenthood has given me membership into a club of compatriots who understand the frustration, exhaustion, and satisfaction that comes with being a parent.  There are other friends who don’t have children.  They play an important role as well:  they provide me a much-needed escape from parenthood. 

When you live on a college campus people who love to learn surround you.  It’s one of the things I love most about the community; I am surrounded by smart people.  Sarah, Betsy, Shelley, Megan, and April are all smart people in ways that don't feel intimidating (well, maybe a little), but inspiring.  Among the group there are two college professors, an English teacher, an Episcopal priest, and the coordinator of the prestigious Sewanee Writers’ Conference. 


When you don’t have living parents or siblings you learn to build community.  Each of these women, along with numerous others in the community, would take my child in an emergency.  They have provided my daughter with play dates while I grade, kept her overnight while I’ve rehearsed a play or attended an event.  They have engaged in late night texting sessions when I needed to vent about the frustrations of parenthood, and they ask about my grandmother and what I’m writing.  They are invested in my success as a writer, a parent, and a professor.  And when I see them they always ask, “How are you?” That might seem basic, but they ask how I’m doing and really listen to the response.  When you’re a single parent that doesn’t always happen.  


DRINKS AT THE INN
Instead of lunch, we steal away for a drink at the Sewanee Inn.  Sitting by the fireplace, we cozy up on the overstuffed couches and share stories about our children’s latest quirks, challenges at work, and plans for spring break.  We talk about the changes in our bodies as they grow older, aging parents, and the logistics of daily life.  And there’s laughter, lots and lots of laughter.  

This mighty group of women reminds me of the things we should all look for in friends. They never make me feel self-conscious about who I am as a parent.  They love me in yoga pants and no makeup.  They know that my daughter loves frogs and turtles and won’t eat vegetables unless they are raw.  They’ve all seen me cry and they’ve celebrated my victories.  And they have taught me how important it is to have people in your life who have seen your child at their worst  - and perhaps even a glimpse of your parenting at its worse - and rather than judgment offer understanding. 

When I turned 40 they planned a surprise party for me and gathered all of the people who have helped define my experience here in Sewanee.  It was a lovely act of friendship.  I’m not sure how much longer we will remain in Sewanee; uncertainty looms.  But if this chapter is coming to an end I can leave knowing that Sewanee has served me well.  Sewanee have given me a place to call home, an opportunity to write, to discover my love of teaching, and the resources to grow as both.  The community has reaffirmed the old adage that it takes a village to raise a child and that we all have a chance to build family wherever we go.

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Monday, March 13, 2017

All Roads Lead Back


All Roads Lead Back
Kent Thompson is a man who builds things.  He builds stories into plays and theatres into institutions.  
Most people have a defining moment in their life, a moment that all roads lead back to.  When I was in high school the Alabama Shakespeare Festival announced it was producing Peter Pan, so I convinced my mother to drive me the two and a half hours to Montgomery to audition.  My mother later admitted she only allowed me to audition because since I was a chesty 15 year old girl who couldn't really sing, she was sure I would never be cast.  But I was.  

Nothing about it was practical. But somehow my mother, who knew nothing about the theatre, recognized that this was an experience I couldn’t pass up.  So my grandmother and I moved into a furnished apartment for 10 weeks, which I’m sure was financed on credit cards.  My mother drove up on the weekends to play the role of reluctant stage mother.

Working with the company of Peter Pan was a life changing experience. Most of the cast came in from New York and a few had Broadway credits, which for a kid who spent her spare time pouring over old Playbills, was magical. It was in the rehearsal rooms of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival that I learned what it meant to be a working theatre professional.
The production was directed by Kent Thompson, who was then the artistic director of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. Soft-spoken, with an understated, dry sense of humor, Kent is very much a gentleman.

New Plays and New Voices
Perhaps Kent's greatest legacy at ASF was the creation of the Southern Writers' Project, which shepherded new plays focusing on Southern and African-American culture, to the stage.  As I got older and my focus shifted from acting to writing I lied about my age so that I could participate in their inaugural Young Southern Writers’ Project. 

Soon I was invited to the Southern Writers' Project where I was given time, space, and a cast of smart actors who challenged me as a writer.  At one point Kent stopped an actor who was reading a long monologue about something that happened offstage.  And then he taught me a valuable lesson about active verses passive choices:  an audience would rather see a moment come to life than hear about it.  It’s a lesson that has stayed with me all these years and good advice for lives lived both on and off the stage.
As a lifelong theatre artist, Kent understands the challenges that artists face.  After I had a play at the Royal Court in London, Kent offered me my first commission.  That commission kept me afloat while I was writing and bridged the gap between other paying gigs.  The play I wrote became Gee’s Bend, my most successful play so far. 
After 16 years Kent left the Alabama Shakespeare and became the artistic director of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.  There he launched the New Play Summit, a new play development program that now attracts theatre artists from around the country.  Not only is he committed to commissioning playwrights, but he understands the value of then shepherding those plays into production.  Once again Kent offered me a commission; the play, written just after my mother died, became a sweet little love story about death.

The New Play Summit has evolved into something more than a showcase for new work; it has become a place where artists come together for fellowship and dialogue.  Kent's commitment to diversity has seen the voices of more women and people of color represented on the stage.  The Women's Voices Fund, which he created thanks to support from major donors, actively commissions new work each year.

Early Inspiration
Kent was born the son of a Southern Baptist Preacher, who held a PhD from the University of Edinburough and was mentored by Martin Luther King, Sr.  It might seem unlikely for a preacher’s son to grow up to be a theatre artist (or maybe not), but growing up listening to his father preach had an unexpected influence on him as an artist.  His father was doing from the pulpit what Kent has always tried to do in the theatre:  promote dialogue.  “I watched that from my dad every week,” he tells me over dinner. “Let’s talk about what’s happening now.  We have to talk to one another.”  That philosophy is a driving force behind the work Kent chooses to produce. 
Moving On
This spring I learned that Kent would be stepping down as the artistic director of the theatre after 12 years.  I decided to fly out to Denver to see his final production.  Kent graciously agreed to dinner.  We talked about creating new work, the challenges of making good theatre while also making money, and our journey to where we are today.  We talked about our losses over the years, of parents and spouses.  I asked him how he raised his son, now grown and in graduate school, while running a theatre; those who do it successfully continue to be an inspiration to me.  I savored every moment.


As we said goodbye I awkwardly tried to say thank you, to somehow convey the respect I have for the work he's done and what his faith in me has meant all these years.  He said, “Now you’re doing the same thing.”  And I suppose am I through my students.
Kent closed his show at the Denver Center after also celebrating his final New Play Summit.  For now, he plans to finish a book on directing which he has been contracted to write.  He and his wife, actress Kathleen McCall will continue working with Denver Health where they are advocates and fundraisers for the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Unit. My guess is that he will find his way back to a theatre where he will continue to make plays and inspire others.

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Friday, March 10, 2017

On Triumph and Defeat: The Halfway Mark


Being An Active Participant
The 40 Lunches Project has made it to the half way mark.  

When I talk to my students about creating compelling characters, I tell them that a good protagonist is always active rather than passive.  When we think back on our lives it is easy to place ourselves in the passive role.  This happened to me.  This person did this to me.  40 Lunches has forced me to look at myself as an active character.  What did I do?  What role did I play in this relationship?

Launching 40 Lunches has been one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself.  It has challenged me to confront some of the most difficult moments in my life, reflect on friendships, and boldly reach out to people I wanted to connect or reconnect with. It has given me an opportunity to say thank you to most and I'm sorry to some. It has forced me to put those experiences into words and to consider the part I played in each story.  It has also given me a weekly writing assignment (more or less) and deadlines to meet.


Midway Slump

But I’ll admit that I have hit a slump.  Keeping up with the weekly posts has been a challenge when I am also juggling work and parenting. 

And it’s not just the writing.  It’s the 20lbs I’ve managed to gain, because apparently when I turned 40 my metabolism stopped.  (That wasn’t supposed to happen.) It’s fear and uncertainty of being 40 and not knowing what’s next.  (That wasn’t supposed to happen either.)



So What’s Next?

So now, in addition to thinking about what I want the next 40 years of my life to be, I am looking at my immediate future as well.  How can I make the last half of 40 be the best it can be?

There is a lot I don't know, but what I do know is that there will be travel and adventure.  I'll open a new play in San Francisco and workshop another in Omaha.  I’ll be visiting with guests in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington DC, New York, and Alabama.  For many of the upcoming lunches I’ll be visiting with friends I haven’t seen in years.  

But when I launched this project I knew that in addition to reconnecting with people who shaped the first 40 years I wanted to reach out to people who I hope will inspire the next 40.  Many of my remaining lunches will hopefully do just that.
 
The Best Part

The best part has been the support of the people who have been following the project, the people who share my posts with others, and take the time to make a thoughtful comment. It’s been interesting to see the ways in which people connect and relate to the stories I am telling. 

Have any of these stories inspired you to reach out to someone in your life?  If so, drop me a line and tell me about it.

Have you enjoyed reading about my 40 Lunches?  Like the project on Facebook and share it with a friend.