John and I are making decisions on programming our 2015 season, the conversation is happening on the phone. We are on a deadline. John is at our home in Vermont. I am teaching in New York. We try to grab quick minutes on the phone, amidst the background distractions of our 5-year-old and the fire truck sirens in NY. I wonder, “Why are we talking about this NOW? Why can’t we find time to talk about it when we are in the same state!” There is never enough time. Most of the time we can devote to the company when we are together involves the daily work of running a non-profit arts organization, for which there are countless categories.
Overall, my most important job as Artistic Director of Vermont Shakespeare Company is to cultivate the vision and maintain the mission. And, very importantly I continue to define how our organization serves the community. A very large portion of my time in the nine months out of the year when we are in prep mode for our summer season will be spent raising money and writing grants. One must believe that anything is possible. This takes thoughtful analysis, rigorous follow-through and a willingness to break the rules. The pressure is ever-present. The challenges are unique and often thrilling. I consider myself lucky to be working in the field that I set out to work in. But, time is ever elusive.
I am brought back to a defining moment in high school.
Junior Year. 1985. Mrs. Edison’s English class.
The class was right after lunch. I remember this because she always talked about how tired we all were after eating. Various discussions about sugar highs and crashes. This stuck with me and resonates now when I am teaching my NYU students after their lunch break. Mrs. Edison had a soft spot for me; she liked the fact that I was a dancer. Plus, she knew my mother. She frequently said things like “Well lets ask Jennifer, how would a DANCER respond to this? What would a DANCER do?” We must have been reading something romantic or lyrical. One day she asked students to get up in front of the class and express gratitude. Some explored gestures, some verbal phrases other than “thank you”, when it was my turn I froze, feeling self-conscious. The only thing I could think to do was “reverence”. Something I had done in ballet class for my whole life.
REVERENCE: A bow or curtsy. The last exercises of a ballet class in which the ballet dancers pay respect to and acknowledge the teacher and pianist. Reverence usually includes bows, curtsies, and ports de bras, and is a way of celebrating ballet’s traditions of elegance and respect.
So, I did that. Then, to my horror (I was 16 after all, and although being a dancer would eventually define me as cool, at this point that was still questionable.) Mrs. Edison asked me to do it again. BUT SLOWER. “Oh God,” I thought, “ I am seriously walking the line here- on the precipice of being a teachers pet and an artsy geek.” So, I did it again and more slowly. And oddly it felt good. When I lifted my head I felt peaceful, and powerful. Hindsight reveals Mrs. Edison was attempting to teach us about taking your time when you want to truthfully express or create something.
Thirty years later, I experience (like so many of us) that there is never enough time to do the work that needs to be done. Never enough time to properly shape the vision, the agenda, or the paragraph in the grant application only allowing me 250 characters to say something profound about the work our theatre company has done for 10 years. Oh for a moment with Mrs. Edison. I bet she would offer an idea on how to make those 250 characters count.
Surviving the business of making theatre involves a nuanced understanding of time, in all its complicated glory. Because let’s face it, for all the moments where we feel under the gun and about to pull our hair out, there are those moments, inside the theatre, where time stands still. And we hold our breath in a collective moment of anticipation or grief or wonder. As theatre practitioners we learn to savor the moments of connection and accept that it will all get done. Somehow. I am deeply grateful for the things Vermont Shakespeare Company has accomplished, due in large part to the countless people who believe in our mission and offer their time and artistry to it.
If we make art, or make anything for that matter, if its something we love we try hard and find a way. Take our time. Earn the outcome. And throw in a slow reverence every once and a while. Thanks Mrs. Edison.