"ADVENTURES IN YES" and "IN THE MOMENT"

Random thoughts about watching, working and living in the arts, from HMS co-founder and executive producer Scott Silberstein. "In The Moment" offers a quick 60-second read about new ideas, events, shows and productions in the HMS world, and "Adventures In Yes" takes a deeper dive into how art and media reflect, define and inspire our world. Enjoy!

August 24, 2014

ADVENTURES IN YES: "Internet Challenge, Day 2: The Discovery Zones"

As it turns out, all you really do need is love. And a little help from your friends.

I've never been one for long posts on social media. While they don't need to be as short and snappy as a tweet, they're also not supposed to be lengthy essays, either. Or does it really matter? Some of the best stuff I've read recently has come in the form of uncommonly long Facebook posts, and I wonder if they had the same experience as I've had these last couple of days, when I've been partaking in the "List Three Things That Make You Happy For Five Straight Days" challenge. You think you're going to rattle off a couple of thoughts in a few lines, and suddenly you're writing a Ted Talk. Or, in my case, a new blog entry. Series of blog entries, as it turns out. I didn't mean it to turn out that way, but turn out that way it did. This is one of those entries which, after writing and posting it to Facebook, I re-read, and thought, "Huh. So that's who I am. Interesting."

So here are the three things for day four. An author (Ray Bradbury), a band (The Beatles) and a theater company (Lookingglass), all of which changed my life in ways beyond describing. But, as you'll see, I certainly gave it the old college try.

1. Ray Bradbury. Always a voracious reader, as a kid I’d plow through books, and especially series of books or books by the same author, with the same relish that we binge watch shows today. The Hardy Boys, Strange But True Baseball Stories, the Mushroom Planet books – these were the staples of my literary diet before the age of ten. And then, and I honestly can’t remember how, I stumbled into the world of Ray Bradbury, I remember the allure of a row of his books at the Little Professor Bookstore in Cincinnati, differently colored but all with the same logos and treatments, which suggested some kind of legendary status. And those titles! “The Illustrated Man." “Something Wicked This Way Comes” (the first Shakespeare quote I ever remember hearing). "Dandelion Wine." And, be still my youthful heart, “The Martian Chronicles.” While the settings were almost always in the realm of science fiction or fantasy, or at least the just plain surreal, these were among the first “adult” stories that resonated deeply with me. There were the novels, but mostly these were short stories, often thematically linked: the tattoos on the body of the Illustrated Man that come to life on his skin one by one, each revealing a story more fantastic than the next; or the history of how Earth colonized Mars, the sci-fi providing the context for stories about identity, memory and loss, both societally and deeply personally. Bradbury’s work showed me that sometimes the best way to tell intimately and personally human stories was via utterly alien landscapes and through unfamiliar settings. I vividly recall being 10, maybe 11, sitting on the dock of a pond near the horse stables where my sister took horseback riding lessons, absorbed in a story about the last Martian living on that planet after it’s been colonized by the Earth. Like the rest of his people, all of whom were now gone, this was a creature capable of reading minds and shape shifting into whomever a human being was thinking about - in this case, this Martian would morph himself into someone that a human being missed the most. It would visit them one at a time and become a lost son, a deceased grandmother, a missing parent. Those it would visit eventually become so attached to their returned loved one that they follow the Martian around, converging on it with such intensity and ferocious attachment that the Martian doesn’t know how to be all of the people these humans want it to be at once, and it dies, agonizingly, its face frozen with the blue eye of the son, the black eye of the mother, the hair of the grandmother, and so on. And I’m a kid, thinking I was going to just be reading a sci-fi story about Martians, and here I am, crying on the doc, not fully realizing that Ray Bradbury has just helped me start to discover the perils of trying to be all things to all people, instead of just being who you are (a lesson I am still learning forty years later). It was the first time I understood that literature could do that. Trust me on this, when you read it I think you’ll agree, these are not a silly kids’ stories, nor are they the domain of the feeling-averse. Bradbury is for everyone. He continues to inspire me to this day, and sometimes right out of the blue. Summer Smart just posted a Bradbury quote this morning that I hadn’t heard in years, but really needed to read this morning: “If we listened to our intellect, we'd never have a love affair. We'd never have a friendship. We'd never go into business, because we'd be cynical. Well, that's nonsense. You've got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.” Amen good sir. The jump continues, and the wing building is still in progress.

2. The Beatles. When I was five years old I was struck with the revelation that I wanted to be creative – or at least that I LOVED being creative. I still remember standing at the top of the stairs of my house on Mannington Ave. in Cincinnati, making up stories and songs and realizing, THIS is what I need to be doing, Then I came to understand that for me to be happy, the doing of it was going to require other people. I never wanted or needed to be a star or famous or even the leader of something – I just wanted to be in a group, a band, a team. Something where the “US” would always be more interesting than the “ME.” The Beatles were my first models for this. Never has a band been more essentially a band -- it had to be John AND Paul AND George AND Ringo. I was, and am, endlessly fascinated when the sum is somehow more than the parts. Creatively, certainly in pop music, has there ever been a better example of this than The Beatles? I think that’s part of why the world loves them so, and follows them to this day. It’s not just that the songs and the albums continue to be astonishingly transformative, no matter when you first hear them. It’s that they were created by a genuine ensemble. There were the four guys from Liverpool, but then there was the fifth entity: the band. This idea is what made me think that something like HMS was possible -- not that we would or could be Beatle like in any way, but that we could have create our group, and have it mean something more than just the three of us. It inspired me to forge the connections to Matt Hoffman and Jon Meyer that led to where we are today. I think people love The Beatles because they remind of us the amazing possibilities we can realize if we’re all together now (and it didn’t hurt that almost everything they sang about involved some kind of peace and/or love). That’s why they were and are one of the most important influences I’ve ever had and ever will have. “All You Need Is Love,” they once sang. Cynics will deride that as simplistic. It’s not. It’s simple, which is different. It’s huge. It’s powerful. It’s everything. Complexities are sometimes for those who find the Simple too elusive or overwhelming, and they are welcome to 4-LP length prog-rock epics about dragons and starships. But the Beatles took me across the universe in three and a half minutes on one of their last records, and no one has ever captured the pure joy of holding hands like they did on one of their first. For that to work, they had to be a BAND. And were they ever. Thanks, guys.

3. Lookingglass Theatre Company. Starting my own ensemble, which is essentially what HMS Media is, was huge for me in its own right. Being invited to join someone else’s has been just as significant. I may always have wanted the Cincinnati Reds to ask me to be their starting shortstop (an honor that went to my contemporary Barry Larkin, who went to a rival high school and who I saw play against us – how amazing is that for him to have actually gotten than invitation?). But it was never going to happen for me, anymore than Bono or The Edge are likely to shoot me a text asking if I can sit in on keyboards on their next tour. I certainly never expected to get the call from Lookingglass, even though for some unspoken and unknown reason I always deeply desired to be a part of their group, and felt a strange and powerful yearning to be so from the first time I saw them in 1989 and during every show since. Something always made me feel like I wanted to be one of them, but it never seemed likely, possible or even realistic – what would I ever have to offer this amazing theater company? I wasn’t an actor, a playwright, a director, or as far as I could tell in possession of any skills that would lead anyone to think I should be in any theater company, let alone this one. But over the years HMS and Lookingglass kept in orbit around each other, and finally, when the company opened their new space at Water Tower Water Works with the David Schwimmer-directed "Race," I got up the nerve to suggest to him a deeper collaboration between our two groups. It happened, in the form of a wonderful huge multicam capture of this terrific show, and its success led one of the "Race" cast, founding ensemble member and current Lookingglass artistic director Andy White, to ask HMS to video design his new (and, as it turned out, stunning) adaptation of “1984." The days and nights I spent in the theater and on location with Lookingglass were some of the happiest of my life. A year after that, I got a call from artistic director David Catlin, producing artistic director Phil Smith and executive director Rachel Kraft that I’d been invited to join the company as a production affiliate, and had to pull my car off to the side of the road to wipe the tears of joy from my eyes (something I had to do again this year when Andy and Phil asked me to become an Artistic Associate, in the company of fellow artists Kareem Bandealy and Lindsey Noel Whiting, and if there's such a thing as genius by association, I'll take it, because those two people are brilliant). Lookingglass sees something in me that I’ve often struggled to see in myself, and I find that it inspires me to rise to bigger occasions, to imagine grander possibilities, and to aspire to earn better people and relationships as a result. I love my Lookingglass family so much, and am deeply appreciative that despite my fairly consistent feelings of undeserving unworthiness, they see more in me than I ever did, and have made my life immeasurably better. And not only that, they let me do the same for them. Thank you, deeply, to everyone who's ever had anything to do with Lookingglass Theatre Company. I'm forever indebted, and happily so."

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