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 25, 2014

ADVENTURES IN YES: "Internet Challenge, Day 3: Words words words"

Sung, read or spoken, words are everything. I've never needed them more.

This blog entry -- taken from the last day of the "List Three Things You Love Every Day For Five Days" challenge, issued with prescience and clarity by my friend Kristen Brogdon -- is there the walls really came tumbling down.

You'd think I'd have learned by now (especially because I seem to preach this idea a lot) that tearing down one's own walls is a liberating and exhilarating thing (as opposed to trying to tear down others', which might seem noble and romantic but is in fact invasive and not entirely compassionate). Such liberation and exhilaration is often only fully appreciated in retrospect, of course. Right now, I'm just coming to realize that over the five days of this challenge, I've been deconstructing some rather carefully and skillfully designed barricades - facades, perhaps? - and just as anyone might feel the day after a major home renovation project, I'm a little sore. But it's a good kind of sore.

So here was my entry for Day Five.

"Today’s three things: Words, words and words. Those that are sung powerfully, those that are written inspiringly, and those that are spoken beautifully.

Words that are sung powerfully:
When I think about great singers, I’m rarely thinking about those with technically excellent voices, or, if they have those, I’m rarely thinking about their technical excellence first and foremost. I’m thinking about singers who dig deep to excavate and display the kind of meaning and nuance that only happens when words are contextualized within music. Who cares if it's pretty if it doesn't make you feel anything? And that's one of my favorite distinctions in life, the one between “pretty” and “beautiful," pretty being a word that describes the neat, the tidy, the adorable, the easily described and the conveniently placed on the shelf, and beautiful being one that describes the gorgeous mess of being alive.

I’m not a fan of the neat and tidy, especially when it comes to the arts. When it smacks of being packaged, it might be easier to sell, but it’s much less satisfying to buy. Music is where I can make this distinction most easily, and when it comes to singers, while I understand that there are countless artists with voices that are technically superior to just about any to which I’d rather listen, I almost never believe them. (There are exceptions– listen to Renée Fleming interpret The Beatles’ “In My Life,” for example, and hear a fusion of pretty and beautiful which is as rare as an appearance by the Hale-Bopp comet.)

Bruce Springsteen and Bono, to name the two most recent voices I’ve heard via my iPod tonight, would be among the first two names at the top of the rejection list of not just the top music schools in the world but the middling ones in the smallest of small towns as well; but there’s a really good reason why tens of thousands of people at a time gather for E Street Band and U2 shows, and pay good money to do so. These are concerts which will be unapologetically romantic and spiritual affairs, where both singers will wrap their voices around lyrics (which range from the above average to the transcendent), and infuse them with such deep belief and passion to the point that they become prayers, sermons, chants and mantras. Seriously, how did we figure music out, and then get smart enough to put words to it? And how that not in and of itself proof of the existence of God (or at least a really good hint)?

Words that are written inspiringly:
The reminder I received yesterday of the genius of Ray Bradbury was such a gift (offered by someone who overflows with gifts, and is wonderfully unknowingly generous with them). It led me to indulge in one of my favorite ways to pass the time – revisiting my bookshelves, perusing the novels and essays and short stories to which I’ve extended invitations to come stay with me and which have graciously accepted.

I love losing myself in books, and I also love losing myself in bookshelves. I like the idea that someone who might just be getting to know me, or someone who’s never been in my home before, would glance across the rows and piles of the books I own and begin to get a better sense of who I am. I don’t display books with a sense of pride, especially; rather, the books, and even the magazines, are there to remind me and perhaps tell others of places I’ve been and about the kind of person I’ve tried, and am trying, to become.

There are certain touchstones that always make me smile when I see them – all the books about The Beatles, the Doonesbury collections, the Ken Follett novels, books my parents read to me, books I hope to read to children someday. And I get especially happy seeing all the Bradbury books, fondly remembering how they sparked the imagination of a child and insistently led him into adulthood. The Nick Hornby stories and essays, the reading of which makes me feel the way I want to make other people feel when they encounter something I’ve created. The Mary Doria Russell novels, especially “The Sparrow” and “Children of God,” which tapped me on the shoulder quite unexpectedly to tell me secrets about the universe (and myself) that I never knew before. The Aaron Sorkin scripts and screenplays, which soar with the kind of romantic aspiration that’s all too easy for cynics and critics to mock but which make my spirit, however yearningly naïve it might be, leap. And a Shakespeare anthology, brimming with plays and sonnets whose brilliance humbles me the way a sunrise or thunderstorms does. There is something oddly comforting about knowing there are writers whose genius I’ll never come close to touching.

Words that are spoken beautifully:
I love listening to someone read aloud, or hearing a brilliant stand-up routine or monologue, or, especially, be in the audience when a great cast gets its hands on a play. We don’t always hear the inherent musicality in the way we speak, but it’s there. If you don’t believe me, check out “The Cave” or “Different Trains,” for which composer Steve Reich took recordings of people speaking and matched the tones of their voices to actual musical notes, weaving exquisite musical scores around the intonations of people who thought they were just talking but, it turns out, were singing. Just from the last few months alone, I’m recalling the bouncy brilliance of Paul Reiser's new stand-up show; the glorious flow of Sara Gmitter's script for Lookingglass' “In The Garden,” delivered with such lyricism by Andy White, Rebecca Spence, Austin Tichenor and Cindy Gold under the directorial baton of Jessica Thebus; the thrilling, utterly surprising and supremely satisfying Othello and Iago that Kareem Bandealy and Michael Patrick Thornton presented to us this summer at The Gift; and the deliciously eccentric rhythms and melodies that I’ve been enjoying from actors like Peter Capaldi (the new Doctor Who) and Jeff Perry (who, if they had cast an American, would have been a spectacular Doctor himself), two artists who find themes and variations in the delivery of their dialogue that I imagine make their writers fall to their knees in gratitude every time those two guys speak.

In the shadow of that brilliance, and with great humility, I’ve been diving back into the world of script writing for Lookingglass, and reveling in the joy of hearing great actors give life and rhythm to words I’m struggling to piece together into some kind of dramatic road map, in the process both humbling me and offering me hope. Seriously, how much luckier can a guy get than to have Andy White, Doug Hara, Thom Cox, Heidi Stillman, Marti Lyons, Christine Dunford, Raymond Fox, Phil Smith, Lauren Hirte and Summer Smart read your words and infuse them with such intent and humanity? The main problem I have with these good folks is that they’re so brilliant, they make my words and ideas sound infinitely better than they actually are, making it necessary for to dig that much deeper to understand what’s still not working in my unsophisticated, unpolished verbal morass. What a great problem to have – to be in concert with people whose very nature is to make you look and sound as good as they can (which, inevitably, is better than I am), and who posses the talent that makes that possible. I appreciate them all more than I can adequately express, and am eager to show them my newest mess of words, if only to hear their voices sing again.

Time to end this, and get back to that. Thanks Kristen, for the challenge to do this so personally and so publicly; I’ve loved writing these entries, and I thank you for not only asking me to do this but also knowing I needed to.

And I thank those of you who have been reading, knowing I needed that too.

And now to consider to whom I should pass on this challenge.

Any volunteers?

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