— From EF —
Oh, man, do his muffins ever smell good. This is an objective comment, not a blue riff. About once a week, CB makes muffins that not only smell and taste divine, they are totally heart-healthy. And I rejoice.
In the broad scheme of things, I am the One Who Cooks Things. Yes, when bulk cooking looms, CB is an admirable sous-chef, but otherwise, it’s on me. And when we’re having a guest, it gets baroque. I can’t help it.
I love zest and spice and aroma, and when I know I’m preparing food for somebody who doesn’t flinch, I’m really happy. We just had a guest who is not only an artist but someone who enjoys traveling in the Mediterranean areas. Aha — out came the saffron and garlic and orange zest and tomato and onions and fish.
We were going to do a span of Lear photography, eat a meal and schmooze, and then he had to drive right back to his East Bay home, so I needed to have everything ready for quick re-heating.
I don’t normally get out of bed and immediately start chopping onions and peeling garlic, but hey, that was the gig. I have made many versions of this thick Mediterranean fish soup, and I think this was the best. I did as much advance prepping as I could, and isolated stuff that didn’t want to overcook (bless the little steel bowls you can get in Chinatown). So we finished the shoot, and it took only ten minutes to get stuff ready.
What is it that’s so big-time heavy-duty satisfying about preparing a stellar meal? Well, taking a hint from last week’s blog, I suppose it’s connection. I encourage all the ingredients to be romantically attracted to each other, and then I get to put the result in front of some hungry folks and make them very happy. And then, shazam, it’s all gone, as if it never was — except for the memory of the little yum-noises.
How like theatre. If you’re an architect, you see your building there for a long time. If you’re a woodworker, somebody sits in your chair for years and years. If you’re a parent, your kid keeps becoming and becoming and you never know what’s next.
But cooking, and making love, and doing theatre — there’s a moment of connection, and that’s it. And then memory takes over, and when it’s been good, it’s good forever. It doesn’t get better than that.
— From the Fool —
My friend Luce runs a coffee shop where I stop. Or maybe it’s where I start out. She’s a skinny redhead but she’s got a fat black dog that looks like a pig, which maybe it is. Luce has two grown kids, one in the Marines and the other in jail, so she must have a lot of worries. But she’s always got a perky smile. I asked her about it.
“Well I got lots of tactics for staying happy,” she told me, “but I can’t reveal’em cause I’m gonna write a best-seller called Be Happy. So I gotta keep it a secret.”
But then a month ago she said she gave it up. She’d read about a famous author that killed himself and she didn’t want to take the risk. So she told me her tactics and said, “What the hell, just fling it out there.” So, Luce’s tactics for being happy:
* When you read something bad in the news, think how it could be worse but isn’t.
* Read only last week’s news, so you know that whatever happened you survived it.
* Stand up straight.
* If your neighbor gets a rooster that starts crowing at five a.m. and you wake up mad as hell, just think what it’s like for the chicken to stand there screaming his ass off while you’re in your warm sweet bed.
* Take a deep breath.
* If you don’t have a dog, be thankful. If you do, send it after the rooster.
* Whatever your kids do, you probably don’t know the half of it, and that’s just as well.
* Eat dinner.
* If you were the President, you wouldn’t have to cook your own dinner, but you’d likely be bombing people, and that can wear thin.
* You can read self-help books so at least you know lots of people are worse screwed up than you.
She had some others she couldn’t remember. So I just put these out there in hopes that somebody gives it a try. She was wracking her brain to latch onto the really big one that works every time, but that one eludes her. If she comes up with it, I’ll let the world know.
— From CB —
A friend of a friend, writing a piece about “creative process,” sent a questionnaire: three hints for a young person about creative decision-making? your three best creative decisions? what changes you’d make in past work? the worst decision you made? fatal flaws in others’ process? how have you changed from 5 yrs. ago? 10 yrs.? 20 yrs.?
Great questions, all. Would that I could answer them, but I can’t remotely sort it out that way. Maybe because (a) “best” may be in terms of the art itself, or for your career, or for your personal soul; (b) once a project is done, the working process in my memory is a total blur; (c) I operate not by principles but by dialectical struggle between principles.
I offered a few simple-minded notions.
* When an idea comes up, try it. Don’t just talk about it.
* Everything that an actor, director, writer or designer does affects everyone else in the project. Engage them in the process. Too much in academia and professional theatre practice enforces hierarchy and separation of responsibilities. You often can’t fight that, but don’t let it become your habit: theatre is a collaboration.
* It’s not about proving you’re brilliant, and it’s not about being a dutiful flunkey: it’s about making the story work.
* When, as director, you know something’s wrong but don’t know what to suggest, try just saying, “Something’s wrong with this. Any ideas?” and stand there. Possibly, by just saying that, the answer will come to you before anyone even speaks.
My best talent is for synthesizing ideas, blending and crafting stuff from my own head and from others’ suggestions, finding a multiplicity of options and testing them out. Other people seem to wedge into their work whatever hare-brained notion feels “creative” to them. I may not like their work, but I can’t say it’s wrong: some are much more successful than I am. I can only say it would be wrong for me.
What would I change? I would have been more assertive when I saw the Off-Broadway production of our play heading toward extreme misinterpretation by a brilliant director. But I can’t say that assertiveness would have made any difference: it was the wrong stage for that play.
Career-wise, if I had chosen one style and stuck to it (realistic drama, puppetry, experimental, radio, sociodrama, comedy sketches) or one function (actor, director, writer, designer) or one place (New York, Chicago, Philadelphia), I might be more widely known and might be playing to audiences larger than twenty. The buzzword is “branding.” But I could never tolerate the idea for myself.
The worst decision? As a prof at U. Wisconsin/Milwaukee in 1970, I staged a four-hour production of Marlowe’s Tamburlaine — highly creative, immeasurably cruel to the audience. That, along with the existence of the independent ensemble we’d founded, got me fired. The most painful thing that ever happened to me, and the best. It’s all in how you swing with your disasters.
It’s odd that I feel I’m the most extreme control freak I know, wanting every movement, every syllable of a show to be as I feel it. And yet I’ve spent nearly all my creative life in ensemble-based work, the most collaborative mode of a collaborative art form. Sometimes I’ve stomped on others’ creativity; sometimes I’ve regretted not stomping on it. But it’s a lifelong evolution of discovery — in the sources, the subject matter, the processes, and the effects. Every misstep has been a step forward.
I’d love to teach again. I have no idea what I’d say.
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© Bishop & Fuller 2015