Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Notes from the Field (XVI)

A Magic Moment

Haven’t we all had those “magic moments” in life? Seconds, minutes, hours, days, even, when everything has just come together totally, and completely. Where one is happy and peaceful, and magic is not only possible, it’s happening right then and there. I feel amazingly blessed, and humbled that I’ve had a hell of a lot of these amazing nuggets of time. Sometimes, they’ve been BIG LIFE EVENTS, like my wedding, or the first time I flew to Europe all by myself. But, just as often, they’ve been occurrences on a much smaller scale, things that, from the outside, don’t look especially noteworthy, but on the inside, filled me with that elusive thing known as JOY!!! One such time happened this month in the most unlikely of performance venues.

If you looked at my date book for December 20th, 2008, you’ll see I was scheduled to perform two shows, at two different Kwanzaa events. One was at a festival – a good one at that, filled with activities, and lectures for all ages. I’d performed there several times before, and knew that, logistically, it would be a big old piece of cake. The performance space would be a nice sized “black box” theatre – with floor seating for the kids, and comfy seats for the adults. I knew there would be a performer liaison to herd in the audience, deal with the whole NO pictures/cell phones/electronic devices during the show stuff, and basically trouble shoot, so that all I had to do was perform.

The other situation – well, let’s just say, I wasn’t so sure about. First of all, it was at a private home, always dicey – I mean, not to sound like the overly suspicious native New Yorker I am, but really – WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE????? Could they be luring me, the trusting storyteller into a trap, hold me for ransom, determined to get my thousands?? Rampant paranoia aside, I had realistic concerns: would there be space for me to move, without wrecking some family heirloom? The woman booking me mentioned they would be having a “feast” – and as I ALWAYS say (and wrote about a few essays back) NO ONE, NO ONE, and I do mean NO ONE, is good enough to compete with food, so would I find myself vying for attention against a pan full of macaroni and cheese?

And finally, there was the issue of who was going to be there. “All ages” is what the hostess of this Kwanzaa fest had said. “Babies, toddlers, school age children, and adults!!” OKAY! So, that means I’d have to perform material that won’t bore the older folk, while keeping the kids from flinging sweet potatoes at me. Things could get ugly really, really quickly!!

The day dawned clear and COLD. I knew, since I was quite early on in the Kwanzaa Festival, that my audience might be small. Turns out, I was wrong – it was MINISCULE. The beautiful space, and helpful liaison was there – but that was about all. Finally, a grandmother DRAGGED her tween-aged grandson in, a mother with an under two year old entered, and the liaison’s son sat down, and I began.

I won’t say it was a disaster – but, no one was really there to see me. They had all either come in to get warm, or were biding time until they could have their faces painted. The tween never looked up from his play station, the liaison’s son kept trying to crawl on his mom, and the 18 month old was, well, being an 18 month old!

As I walked head on into the OH MY GOD IS IT EVER CCCCOLD wind back to the PATH train, I repeated the mantra “Could’ve been worse. It was only an hour. Quit your whining, at least you have a job!!” I got home, put on the tea kettle, turned on some Christmas music, and started to feel a little less like a grumpy icicle when I remembered I wasn’t done for the day. In four hours, I would be walking into a complete and utter unknown.

My stomach was doing that little shimmy thing it always does when I’m nervous, and I had a hard time holding up my end of the conversation with my husband as we drove. (Yes, I asked him to come with me – let’s remember I’m a paranoid NYer!) When we turned onto the designated street, we both searched for the address – and just when we thought it actually didn’t exist, and was truly a hoax – I heard it.

Yes, I heard the house, before I saw it. Drumming – loud, fast, energetic, playful, jubilant drumming!! I kissed my husband, jumped out of the car, and as I watched him head for a Starbucks to wait for me, I felt my spirits rise.

The front door was festooned with balloons, and cracked open, letting Nordic air spill in – and I quickly saw why. Just beyond the pile of shoes in a hallway was a living room filled not just with drummers WAILING on their instruments – but people dancing, and I mean DANCING – getting down, up and sideways!! Arms flung open, feet stomping, hips wiggling. Kids, women and men – a few of which held smiling infants aloft in the air. The smell of food and sweat mingled in a delicious perfume that practically yelled out, “CELEBRATE!!!”

As I squooze my way over to the hostess to introduce myself, I realized that THIS, and not any kind of theatre, library, museum, or festival, no matter how nice, or well run, was not only a great place for storytelling – it was the PERFECT place for storytelling.

Long ago, before there were so many different kinds of entertainment, each more glitzy and splashy then the next, there were the arts that were communal, and spoke to all ages: music, dance, and storytelling. Roving storytellers, or people from right there in the community, would gather everyone, from toddler to elder to share a tale. I say share, because the truest experience of storytelling is when the audience is just as much in the story as the teller is. When the watchers and listeners chime in with a “Oh, oh!” or “Don’t do that”, or sing the song the performer is singing, or dance the tellers same dance.

And that night, I felt the collective love, and energy of everyone in that room, as they gazed first at me, then at each other, laughing or acknowledging a word, or sentence, or movement I had done. The children giggled, the adults did, too, and even a baby a few months old, was wide eyed, and involved.

At one point, half way through my performance, I closed my eyes for a second longer than I normally would have, because I wanted to really breathe it in. I needed to soak myself in that gathering of joy, and relish that incredibly magic moment!!

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