Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
This is a thing I need to say. It’s been four months since I’ve needed to say something in this space but this is something I need to say.
One day you decide that you’ll learn to play an instrument. In many cases this is very nearly decided for you by the instrument itself–something in your fingers itches for the keys of the piano, something in your pulse demands that you hit drums. The instrument itself is the easier decision.
But what to play first?
I’m not speaking of the basics, mind you, of the curious alphabet of scales and notes, the Do, Do-Re-Do, Do-Re-Mi-Re-Do; the hours of boats rowed gently down the stream and then rowed back ashore by Michael, hallelujah. I’m speaking of the first song you choose to play, the first song you were no longer simply content to hear performed by others. You choose that song and then you stare deeply into the bones of the song and then will your own muscles and memory to swim alongside it. You whittle your focus down to a tiny pinprick and you play and you play and you play and you play and now your fingers shift automatically and now your eyes aren’t looking at the frets and now you really can play “Norwegian Wood.” And now you can play “Norwegian Wood” while you sing “Norwegian Wood.”
But that’s just on your own. At some point you may be required to play “Norwegian Wood” in front of people who are very familiar with “Norwegian Wood” and that’s a terrifying, intoxicating challenge all its own.
An extraordinary thing happened earlier this year at a Paul Simon concert in Toronto. Simon announced that he was going to play his song “Duncan,” originally released on his eponymous 1972 album. A woman named Rayna Ford, standing towards the front of the stage, called out that she had first learned to play guitar on that song. Simon, seemingly amused and flattered, beckoned the woman onstage…
…and had a roadie bring her a guitar…
…and let her play the song for his audience, backed by himself and his band.
There’s no way to aptly describe it. You should just watch:
And I mention all this because I’m privileged this week to be working again, albeit briefly, with New Leaf Theatre. This Saturday, they’ll be doing a one-night-only reading of Redeemers, a play I wrote that they first produced last November, featuring the original cast in the original pizza parlor (yes, pizza parlor) where it world-premiered.
New Leaf was not the first theater to produce a play of mine; I’m not drawing quite that neatly a parallel here. There’s an emotional component, however, one that exists beyond the physical and practical, and grants them occupancy in the same space. I’ve either attended, written, or performed in every show that New Leaf has produced since October 2004, and I’ve done so based largely on a pair of one acts–Aaron Sorkin’s Hidden In This Picture and Ronan Marra’s Off the Hook–which they produced in 2002, and which, amid 72 other hours of hit-or-miss theatre that weekend, made my brain crackle with incipient fire. I lost them for two years, as they grew and established, and when their name passed my field of vision again I locked onto them with crocodile jaws.
Every time they’ve asked me to do something with them my heart gets that expression, the one that keeps popping up on Rayna’s face throughout her unexpected recital, the one that says “I cannot adequately process this it is too epic and vibrant and beautiful to understand that it is actually happening and it is happening to me.” And it vacillates back and forth with the other expression, the concentration-face, the part of her that states “It is happening and you must rise up to meet it.”
When I write a play now there is always a beacon in my subconscious that asks if I’d be willing to let the artists at New Leaf see it, and if I’m not able to answer in the positive I do what I can with the work to correct that. So I can relate to this Rayna in Toronto. Every time I’ve been fortunate enough to work with New Leaf it’s been similar to being called onstage to play “Duncan”…in front of the people who first made me want to play that instrument well enough for others to see me perform it.
Anyhow. Redeemers this Saturday. Please attend if you’re able. I don’t actually play an instrument save my voice and this is why I’m willing to sing in public.