Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Notes from the Field (XVIII)


There’s a look the audience gets when they are really “into” a story. They could be sitting or standing, leaning in – back ramrod straight; or slumped, as if enveloped in an easy chair. The body positioning doesn’t matter – it’s in the eyes. Even if they are half closed, when a person is wholly, fully absorbed in the tale I am telling, their eyes are trained on me, practically beaming energy and light. As I watch them watching me, I can actually tell that they are seeing the story as I perform it. This look is more than amusement, or enjoyment – it is one of resonance, and human connection, and we all know how elusive and rare that can be. This month, not only was I privileged enough to see this look on more than one face, but I saw it in a place not usually associated with storytelling, or human connection of any kind, for that matter – a Youth Detention Center.

I can‘t say I was scared when I walked through the well guarded doors of the Mercer County Youth Detention Center – I had learned long ago that people were not the sum total of their actions, but I was definitely nervous! I know how the average sullen teenager reacts when they are being FORCED to watch something – eye rolling, teeth sucking, overly loud laughter, the occasional rude comment – but how would this group of young men, who were locked up for doing some very bad stuff – including murder, react?? I did what I always do, no matter the age or environment – I went straight for the funny bone. A well known mime teacher, Tony Montanaro, once said, “Don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself for the right reason.” I think of that quote so often, I should have it tattooed to my face!! Because, like Tony, I know that nothing, NOTHING, and I do mean NOTHING works like humor. There are many feelings a person may not want to experience – fear, anger, even love – if one’s sick of having their heart broken, but the joyous bubble of emotion that laughing elicits – who doesn’t like that?

And laugh these guys did, first out of shock, I think, as I had my character walk in a loose limbed, wobbly stroll. But then, as they saw me acknowledge just how ridiculous I found myself, they truly laughed – and the first sliver of connection began. The real deal, the true resonance occurred during my second tale. It was a Jewish folktale about being judged by ones appearance, about assumptions – often erroneous, that people make about one another in a blink of an eye, about how nothing one can say or do can sway those impressions, that can be so very damaging and hurtful. It was during this story that I saw their eyes, some half closed, some trying to look away, but failing, take on that intense focus that told me, they were with me. Really, really, with me; reliving a cruel reality of life that everyone in that room had fallen victim to. And in that blessed moment, in a place of lock downs, pat downs, and guards, we connected.


The following list includes my public performances only. No school or private performances are listed here. Things change from time to time, so do be sure to check the schedule.

May 2009
5/9: Battery Park Conservancy, NYC 11AM

June 2009
6/4: 125th Street Branch, New York Public Library (NYPL) 4PM
6/6: Westwood Library, NJ 11AM

July 2009
7/7: Allerton Branch, NYPL 4PM
7/8: Jersey City Library, Main Branch 11AM
7/8: Jersey City Library, Heights Branch1PM
7/8: Eastchester Branch, NYPL 3PM
7/9: Glen Rock Library, NJ 6:30PM, 7:30PM
7/10: Jersey City Library, Cunningham Branch 9:30AM
7/10: Jersey City Library, Greenville Branch 11:30AM
7/10: Jersey City Library, Miller Branch 1:30PM
7/10: Jersey City Library, Five Corners Branch 3:30PM

August 2009
8/11: Parkchester Branch, NYPL 3PM
8/12: Grand Concourse, NYPL 3PM
8/14: Bronx Library Center, NYPL 2PM
8/21: Mosholu Branch, NYPL 2PM