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!

May 18, 2018

IN THE MOMENT: "Listen Up"

Three Tall Women caps a week dedicated to active listening.

Glenda speaks. Alison and Laurie listen. One doesn't matter much without the other.

Officially, the Broadway League’s 2018 spring road conference ended Thursday afternoon, but for many of us who attended, the big finale was a special midnight performance of Three Tall Women, which stars Glenda Jackson, Laurie Metcalf and Alison Pill, all giving performances that I would imagine would be challenging enough at 8pm, let alone when beginning two hours after the curtain usually goes down.

Many of us congregating in the lobby beforehand began to second-guess the adventurous spirits that led us to sign up for these tickets. Road Conference week can be a lot of fun, but it is exhausting, and as I sat my bleary-eyed self down for the show, I was seriously worried I wouldn’t be able to keep my eyes open.

All for naught. These three powerhouse artists caffeinated the house with such presence, intensity and vibrancy that once the show started, dozing off was never an option. They were extraordinary.

What I found particularly energizing was not the speaking that these extraordinary artists did, but the listening. Being drawn to someone’s actions can be stimulating enough, but there’s something even more electrifying about the energy a person gives off when they are genuinely locked in to someone else. Seeing a riveted person is riveting.

Many of us consider listening to be passive, but it is anything but. Glenda Jackson gets the bulk of the words in Three Tall Women and is being justly acclaimed for how she delivers them, but I like to think she’d acknowledge that without the finely focused listening and responding exhibited by her co-stars, it would only be so much babble, and the audience would care far less about what she's saying and doing.

I know for certain that Laurie Metcalf appreciates this. Back when Steppenwolf produced its landmark production of Balm In Gilead, Laurie drew raves for her breathtaking performance of a 20-minute monologue. And, like Glenda Jackson, deservedly so, but, as she and others told me when we were producing our Steppenwolf documentary 25 Years on the Edge, none of it would have worked (or mattered) without Glenne Headly, whose stillness and rapt attention to what Laurie was saying was every bit as important what Laurie was saying.

Seeing this in action at midnight in the Golden Theatre at the tail end of the Spring Road Conference felt particularly appropriate, because the conference's most compelling presentations had everything to do with listening.

Author Celeste Headlee’s opening day speech encouraged everyone to “enter every conversation assuming you have something to learn,” and asked attendees to consider that “communication has increased in our technological age, but meaningful (and civil) conversation has plummeted.”

And in the last session I attended, HMS’ collaborators Rick Miramontez and Mike Karns offered thoughtful approaches to press and marketing that were based entirely on being responsive to both shows and present to the communities in which they are being performed.

I found all of this both challenging and delightful, and very apropos for a conference about a business organized around the arts. As a member of two ensemble-based creative companies, one in media and one in theater, I’ve learned (and continue to learn) that successful collaborations are as much about listening and responding as they are about making bold declarative initiations (and that sometimes the boldest thing you can do is be an active listener).

That’s the only way to ensure that the best idea in the room wins. And that's why it was such a great idea to end our week in the room with Three Tall Women.

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