Creating Theater When the World Seems to be Falling Apart

Last weekend was supposed to be the closing weekend for “The Trip to Bountiful.” Our season is designed that after that “March” play– we have a break in our season that allows us to beginning planning for next season and gear up for our busiest time of year–the summer.

Like I said, that’s what was supposed to happen. Instead, two weeks ago theaters all across the United States begin to shut down, suspend productions, and in some cases close them all together, in reaction to the pandemic that is attacking our country. We didn’t want to close–but we had too. We had to for the safety and health of our country, families, patrons….everyone.

This was an incredlbly difficult decision. Why? Because we still do not know how long and what disasters will have occurred when the rainbow comes out at the end. I wish I had dollar for every time I’ve said, “If I only knew…” my whole life. Well, if I only knew….then I could make the decisions a artistic director needs to make. Decisions about how to create theater when the world is falling apart.

First of all, you might be wondering exactly what is a artistic director?

Artistic director: the person with overall responsibility for the selection and interpretation of the works performed by a theater, ballet, or opera company.

In my case, I also have the responsibility to create budgets and vision for the paths we are going to take during the year. This is the time of year I start to make those decisions for the next season.

Panic sets in.

How in the world am I supposed to do that if I don’t even know if I will be able to open the doors of our theater before the end of the summer? My thoughts spin in my head like a tornado. “Do I postpone auditions? Are we going to be able to hold camps? Should I rearrange the season? Should I change shows that we finish the year with? Should I contact the royalty companies now or later? How is this going to hurt us fanancially? Can we survive at all? ” And probably other thoughts as well.

Where do I even start?

  1. Keep thinking and keep creating. The second you stop then the very artist inside of you will stop as well. Even if you don’t know when you’ll perform again or what tomorrow will bring. Just keep creating. How? Maybe it will look different because your safe theater isn’t open, but find another one! Write. or take a lesson, or give one. or read on-line to entertain others. Overshadowed has chosen to open it’s vaults and let others see past shows. Whatever you do, please just do it!

2. Keep Planning. This is a difficult one for me. I feel like the calendar is moving all over the place and I can’t make a decision or decide anything because my target keeps moving. But, I must keep planning. If I don’t have “the next step” ready then we will be behind on everything for the rest of the year.

3. Think about finances. This is a bottom line necessity all the time. God has always been very gracious and has blessed Overshadowed in so many ways. Honestly, this might be the toughest battle we face. Because we don’t know when we are going to re-open or if we will have to permanently cancel part of our season then we don’t know if we will have to reimburse part of the money we have collected up front. In this time of crisis that would be devastating. So, decisions have to be made to keep us going? How do you keep a theater company going when the theater world has stopped? We make decisions based on the future. Do we add something to our fall season? Do we spend less money now? Do we take this time “off” to make sure we inform others of services we have to offer? Classes? Rentals? Original scripts? My mind is searching for ways to help our communities but have services to offer others in the future. I’d like to think, that we will come out of this better because we’ve had time to think differently….time will tell. The one thing I know. This was God’s company when we started. It’s God’s company now. It’ll be God’s company tomorrow.

4. How do we get the name of our company out to people who would be interested? And in this case, how will we KEEP our name in the minds of our current patrons. Entertainment and theaters are going to take a hit along with everyone else in this crisis. We aren’t sure how long it’s going to last, but I want to be there when it’s all over. Small decisions have deep impacts on people. There is a science to marketing that I am not good at, but I do understand that people need to hear the name of your company over and over before it starts to sound familiar and even more times before it becomes something they are willing to check out. So, we are still sending out our weekly updates. We are also offering the link to one of our shows each week. (If you aren’t on our mailing list contact me and I’ll send you the link to one of these shows.) We are also trying to creatively market the people of Overshadowed and past memories. I really appreciate, Jessica Means, who is heading up all of that! She is so creative and is doing such a fabulous job!

5. Keep your tribe around you. Folks, we need each other. We might be bunkered down alone, but that doesn’t mean we should hibernate. FaceTime, text, call, email, zoom….there are many ways to reach out. Keep talking. It will help us stay motivated and maybe even appreciated and sane in the end!

My thoughts have gone back to the stories I heard about WWII and the times families would sit around and listen to the stories on the radio. Do you know what that teaches me? That when times are tough sometimes we need to shut out the world and give voice to hope and laughter and joy and see theater that becomes a means of comfort. We need breaks in times of sorrow and sadness. We need a connection between communities.

I’m thankful for theater. I hope it never dies.

One last thought that I have been clinging to. I was reminded of an old gospel hymn. “I know who holds tomorrow and I know who holds my hand.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts! Please take time to share this if you know someone it might encourage. Thank you!

Until next time!

"And the Oscar goes to…" Part One

Last night the 92nd annual Oscar awards was on tv. Just like always, I hunkered down to watch the display of all the movies, clips, and songs that had been selected as being worthy of awards for this past year.

You might be a little like me in that as the year goes on you keep a list of your favorites and perhaps even have a list in your mind as who you think should win. For example, Chuck and I LOVED 1917 for its cinematography, but thought it’s story line wasn’t really worthy of Best Picture.

This year, we saw two amazing performances that we thought we so far above the rest that we didn’t see how that could be beat. In fact, I felt a little sorry for the other people in both categories Best Actor and Best Actress. What a bad year to go up against Joaquin Phoenix and Renee Zellweger (Am I the only one who didn’t know she had a thick Texas accent?) I will be honest, I cheered when she won.

When I saw “Judy” last year I meant to write a review, but I saw it so late in the run I decided that it was too late. So now I’m excited to share a few of my thoughts.

What can I say about the real Judy Garland? I loved her when I was a little girl watching her wistfully sing, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I then become enamored with her movies with Micky Rooney and then, “Meet me in St. Louis.” I watched her sing and dance as a guest star on many tv shows and to me, Judy was a perfect performer. I will never forget that I was sitting in the back seat of my parent’s car at my grandparent’s house when the radio announced that the world had lost this tragic soul.

I have since read books about her and seen interviews with her children and know what a troubled life she lived. Am I a Judy expert? No. But I have a vision and a knowledge that is pretty firmly routed.

When I saw the first trailer for “Judy” I started to count down the days until it came out, but then a heard a few more and the scenes that I saw didn’t really scream who Judy was to me. Then, I had a friend tell me how wonderful the movie was and when they described that it was more about the later years of her life instead of the beginning, I really lost interest. I knew the pain of those years and I didn’t want to immerse myself in Judy in her downward spiral years of drug abuse. (She was dependent on pills by the time she was 15.)

Start investigating Judy Garland’s life and you will quickly become outraged at her parents, directors, managers, castmates, husbands….

And, yet, I was a fan.

I sat down to watch Renee and thought…”She’s nothing like Judy. I wish they had used Judy’s voice…” and a thousands of other thoughts.

The Garland of this movie is the Garland close to her death. (She died from an overdose of barbiturates at the age of 47) She is fragile, at times unreliable and perhaps terrified. She is broke and goes to London to take a stab at performing in order to go home with enough money to provide for her children. Zellweger shows up with a performance that shows all the pain, sadness, insecurity and bad behavior with exactly the transparency that we’ve read about. Watching her moved me in a way that surprised me and my heart went out to Judy Garland just as it always has.

It reminds me of quotes from the real Judy.

“Being a living legend is lonesome. It’s like a Statue of Liberty, or something like that, who doesn’t breathe. And so no one calls you on the phone and asks you to dinner. So I just sit by the phone.”

“I’ve sung, I’ve entertained, I’ve pleased your children, I’ve pleased your wives….I tried my…. to believe in the rainbow that I tried to get over and I couldn’t. So What!”

By this time I’m all in with my fascination with the movie. Then comes the moment. Judy has been fired from her London gig, but she goes back to say good-bye. This crowd who had thrown things at her and heckled her not sits enraptured by her raw beautiful performance. I listened as the words “if tiny little bluebird fly then why oh why can’t I?” and I began to cry….and I mean cry…real ugly sobs. It was a moment that I will never forget.

Did Renee deserve to win that Oscar. I say, yes 100%. If you haven’t seen “Judy“–please watch it. If you want to know about the real life of Judy Garland, here are some possibilities:

Rainbow: The Stormy Life of Judy Garland by Christopher Finch

Judy and I: My Life with Judy Garland By Sid Luft

Me and My Shadows: A Family Memoir by Lorna Luft

Judy Garland: A Biography by Anne Edwards

All of these are available on Amazon (and if you buy them on Amazon smile you could select Overshadowed as your charity😀)

Are you a fan of Judy’s? Did you see the movie? What are your thoughts? Join me again next week for more thoughts on acting and the pain behind the mask.

Until next time!

And the Oscar Goes To: Part Two or Are You Sure You Really Want To Do This?

When I last wrote I had no idea what our world was going to look like just a few short weeks later. I wish I could go back to a time when our biggest worries were what we were going to have to eat for dinner or which movie we were going to see. But time wasn’t on our side this time and instead our world is in complete chaos. If you aren’t worried about if you are going to get the virus, you are probably worried about your job, or how you are going to survive for the next eight weeks without going stir-crazy.

I wish I could say that I’m not worried, but that would not be true. I know that God holds us in His hands, but my reasoning and anxiety constantly argue with me and I have to continue to purposefully focus on God. In some strange way though, that’s a good thing, I think. We are supposed to keep our hearts and minds on Him and maybe…maybe this is necessary for us to humble ourselves and pray…pray for God to heal our land. Not just from sickness, but from lack of faith and from having other gods that we put before Him. Whatever the case, pray, my friends, and know that our God is faithful and His promises are true. Search for Him and you will find Him.

When we discussed Judy I talked about the real life Judy Garland and the troubled life she lead. I ached for Judy, but then I started to think of others.

Robin Williams, Margot Kidder, Marilyn Monroe, Freddie Prinze, Mark Salling, Kate Spade, Whitney Houston, Prince, Elvis Presley, Heath Ledger, Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Believe me, that is barely a drop in the bucket for the names you will find if you start googling this subject of famous people who have chosen sucicide or fought addictions or depression.

Is the rate of suffering from depression, anxiety or substance abuse higher if you are famous?

I have no idea. I haven’t studied this and in no way do I claim to be an expert.

However, these things I do know:

  1. We are more aware what happens to a person of influence because the news and social media keep us informed. Honestly, that might be part of why people who stumble across stardom have anxiety. They can never get away from us…the people who have the need to know every detail about them. The constant reporting can make it seem like the rate is higher than instances in the rest of the world.
  2. Stars and entertainers usually have the means to afford substance abuse more than the average person. We all know that money brings the ability to have many things–this particular ability can ruin and destroy even the innocent. These things are addicting, friends: they can ruin your life, your family, your pocketbook, your future. I am so thankful that I have never had that temptation.
  3. Really talented performers are able to tap into their emotions at a deeper level than most people. That is part of what makes their portrayal so brilliant! They are able to emphasize and pull reality from things they learn about or even have experienced themselves.
  4. They have to be”on” all the time. High stress environment and a demanding schedule seems to be a risk factor for the rest of the population. What about stardom? Pressure. Pressure. Pressure to perform at high levels added to the fact that they can never get away from it. Reporters, photographers, fans. How can they ever just let down, relax and enjoy life? There are many that are just searching for a way to escape! Think of what we enjoy by being able to enjoy places like Disney World? Liz Taylor among others solved that by having to rent Disney Land to herself after the park closed!

I don’t think I realized that the cost of Fame is that it’s open season on every moment of your life. –Julia Roberts

Let’s say that all the factors above don’t really cause addiction or depression. I’m pretty sure they at least make recovery harder.

Why do I say all of this?

I’m afraid. I see more and more people who have their eyes on the “prize of stardom.” I’m just not so sure that it’s the prize we sometimes think it is.

What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you! Please take a moment to like or share or follow me!

Until next time!