Random thoughts about watching, working and living in the arts, from HMS co-founder and executive producer Scott Silberstein.
More often than not, that’s one of the more welcomed words in the English language. Especially in the arts -- whether it comes as an unexpected plot twist, the sound of a new song or singer, or an exhilarating piece of choreography, there’s nothing quite like the thrill of the moment when something on a stage or a screen pulls back the curtain on a part of our lives, revealing something we never before understood or even knew was there. Those are the kind of surprises that we welcome, seek out and, who are we kidding, can’t live without.
Sometimes the context makes the moment even more surprising. Just last night while I was waiting for the train, a subway musician, an older bluesman who wouldn’t have been out of place at Buddy Guy’s, hit a few chords on his battered guitar and started singing a song that I recognized but couldn’t place. And then it hit me; this guy was playing – actually, transforming – an obscure Dan Fogelberg song called “Souvenirs.” You don’t expect a guy who looks like Dexter Gordon to bust out the Fogelberg, but there he was, adding an ache and a grit and a melancholy to "Souvenirs" that I never knew was there.
If I’d known it was coming, it would have been interesting enough. Having it appear out of thin air was electrifying.
One of my favorite early contextual surprises happened in May of 1980, the night “The Empire Strikes Back” opened. It was exhilarating enough to be immersed in the next chapter of the “Star Wars” saga, but then, out of nowhere, here comes Yoda, saying, “Do. Or Do Not. There is no try.” Had we heard this line delivered by Ben Kingsley playing Gandhi (or, for that matter, Alec Guiness playing Obi-Wan), that would have been great. Hearing it delivered by a Frank Oz-operated Muppet and believing it anyway – perhaps believing it even more so – that was genius. And it might be the reason that, outside of "May The Force Be With You" and "I've Got a Bad Feeling About This," it's the most quoted line from any "Star Wars" film.
I had another moment like this last weekend when I went to see the Lookingglass Young Ensemble perform The Tin Woodman of Oz. Now a good story told honestly works every time no matter who's telling it, and make no mistake: under the guidance of Lookingglass Theatre Company ensemble members Louise Lamson (who not only directed but also created an authentic ensemble feel even though the kids ranged in age from 11 through 17) and Raymond Fox (who adapted the L. Frank Baum story into a smart, funny, and genuinely witty script), these kids nailed and then some (no mean feat when some of these kids are driving and others still think the opposite sex have cooties).
This was genuinely entertaining theater, and it was exciting and refreshing to watch – not to mention important. Our young aspiring artists deserve all the support we can give them. They certainly have something to give us, as I learned watching their first run of Tin Woodman.
As I was sitting there, enjoying this delightful story, for some reason, out of the blue I found myself getting anxious about something going on at work. And I’m wondering, of all times, why is work popping to my head? Why am I suddenly reminded of a daunting challenge, and questioning why I ever took it on in the first place?
Because that’s what was happening to the characters in the story, that's why. Suddenly, unexpectedly, the show is talking to me (and all the great stories feel like they're talking to us, don't they?), and doing so in the voices of a couple of terrific 11-year old actors playing The Scarecrow and the Tin Man. “What is the sense of rooting ourselves in a palace like a couple of sticks in a cornfield?” the Scarecrow asked the Tin Man – and me. “This is an opportunity to DO something for once.”
BAM. Thank you, Scarecrow.
Later in the show, when daunting thoughts resurfaced and again I started feeling the dreaded anxious creeps, the show offered me this piece of advice, through words spoken by a 15-year-old actress playing Polychrome the Rainbow. She tells her fellow adventurers: “It’s alright to be afraid. It’s not alright to think you can avoid being afraid by avoiding your life.”
Well. It turns out there really are nuggets of gold at the end of the rainbow.
In the show's final moments, the Tin Woodman says to his friends, “I’d forgotten how to have adventures. You’ve all reminded me that true pleasure lies in being brave enough to seek out new challenges, to let life lead where it may.” And I'm reminded that whatever challenges I'm facing, I will be surrounded by the best friends and colleagues a guy could ask for, who will likely say many of the same things that the Tin Woodman's friends said next:
“That’s the mission, isn’t it?” replies the Scarecrow.
“Discovering the next rainbow,” says Polychrome.
“Charting a new journey,” chimes in their friend Woot.
“Accepting all the transformations together,” adds their friend The Tin Soldier.
“Let us not be afraid of change,” they conclude together. “It could be the key to happiness. To new beginnings.”
In other words:
“Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
Huh. I didn’t see it coming this time, either.