Wednesday, July 29, 2009
I enjoyed being interviewed live yesterday on Sandra Schubert’s Wild Woman Network radio show. We talked about faith and theatre, two on my favorite subjects, Broadway Blessing and my second book, Working on the Inside: The Spiritual Life Through the Eyes of Actors, which features interviews with Kristin Chenoweth, Dudu Fisher, Edward Herrmann, Liam Neeson, Phylicia Rashad, Vanessa Williams and many others. You can listen to the interview by clicking here.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Lynn Redgrave, J. Mark McVey, Carol Hall, Project Dance, The Broadway Blessing Choir and other distinguished guests will be among the performing artists at this year's celebration dedicated to the people who bring us great theater.
On Monday, Sept. 14 at 7 p.m., the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, one of the nation's leading religious and secular landmarks, is pleased to host the 13th annual Broadway Blessing, an interfaith service that has been bringing the theatre community together every September since 1997. Founded and guest produced by yours truly, Broadway Blessing was conceived as a service of song and story designed to seek God's grace on the new theatre season.
This year’s event will include theatre reflections by actress Lynn Redgrave, Broadway veteran J. Mark McVey singing “A Chance for Me” from the musical Amazing Grace: The True Story, singer/songwriter Carol Hall, actor Casey Groves performing a scene from "Damien" and Project Dance. The Broadway Blessing Choir under the direction of Bruce Neswick, director of Cathedral music, will perform a number of Broadway hits followed by a “sing-a-long”. The Very Rev. Dr. James A. Kowalski, Dean, and The Rev. Thomas Miller, Canon for Liturgy & Art, from the Cathedral will be joined by Rabbi Jill Hausman of Congregation Ezrath Israel / The Actors' Temple and The Rev. Mitties DeChamplain of St. Clement's Episcopal Church as participants in the 75-minute program.
Past participants have included Marian Seldes, Frances Sternhagen, Boyd Gaines, Edward Herrmann,, Anna Manahan, KT Sullivan, Mary-Mitchell Campbell, J. Mark McVey, Tituss Burgess, Kathleen Chalfant, Billy Porter, Elizabeth Swados, Ken Prymus, Three Mo’ Tenors and Broadway Inspirational Voices.
Mr. Herrmann had this to say about it before making his second Broadway Blessing appearance: “It’s reassuring to know there are so many people out there you know that believe in God and want to take that part of their life and dedicate it to the theatre because theatre is a very spiritual endeavor. They come from every conceivable denomination, which I kind of like. It’s like a study in architecture of all these different buildings. They come from all kinds of disciplines and it’s just great to be among them. It’s an annual event, like with spring comes the first buds, now it’s fall and we’re here to bless our endeavors for the rest of the year and maybe some luck will come out of it, whether that’s internal or external.”
Broadway Blessing is free and open to people of all ages; reservations are not needed. For more information please visit www.stjohndivine.org.
Broadway Blessing is made possible by the generous support of Masterwork Productions Inc., The Church of the Transfiguration (The Little Church Around the Corner), Creative Gifts Foundation, Theater Resources Unlimited (TRU) and other wonderful friends of the theater.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Anyone looking for an example of the power of theatre to uplift and inspire need look no further than Etty, the compelling one-woman bio-play written and performed by Susan Stein and directed with grace and simplicity by esteemed theatre veteran Austin Pendleton. The show played three performances last week, with a final one scheduled for tonight, at 59E59 Theaters. It then heads to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe next month.
Etty Hillesum (in photo) was a young Jewish writer and mystic who in letters and diaries chronicled life in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam and the Westerbork detention center. She has been seen by many as an adult counterpart to Anne Frank and, after hearing her words of faith and hope, I understand why.
Dressed in a plain maroon dress and looking into the eyes of the audience, Stein becomes Etty solely through her words, spoken straightforwardly and confidently, but with no dramatics. Neither does she employ any action, yet she commands the stage, which other than herself holds only a folding chair, a glass of water and a large suitcase.
“I shall simply lie down and try to be a prayer,” is Etty’s response early on the to the 1941 German occupation of her country.
She might have been trying to be a prayer, but she wasn’t trying to be a saint. She talks freely of her affairs, and, later describes the abortion she gave herself to protect her unborn child from the growing Nazi threat.
The role she did see for herself was that of witness. A house mate comments one day on how lucky they are to have been chosen to live in that slice of history. Lucky they might not have been, but Etty is determined to find meaning in the experiences and refuses to hate her enemies.
“Every atom of hate we add to the world makes it that much more hostile,” she says.
She chooses to go to Westerbork to work for the department of Social Welfare for People in Transit. “The barbed wire is a question of attitude,” she says.
She keeps her spirits, and her humor, by quoting poetry and talking to God. “I’m not challenging you, God, but every now and then send me a line of verse.”
Rather than turn away from the horrifying conditions around her -- babies dying of pneumonia on the floors of transport trains, the mass of people herded into cattle cars headed for concentration camps, their hands reaching out from between planks in the side -- she watches every detail, documenting them in her head and discussing them with God. “Your lessons are hard, God,” she says, without bitterness or accusation.
Before she leaves for Westerbork, a friend warns her that a detention camp will not be a place to develop spiritually, that it will create a hard shell over her. But she has other ideas. “A hard shell shall not fit me. I shall remain defenseless and open.”
Amid the horror, she still believes she can make a difference. “You cannot help us. I shall have to help you, God.”
She helps prepare the babies and mothers who are about to be transported to the concentration camps. She does it caringly, all the while knowing they are likely going to their deaths. One day after watching more than 1,000 herded into trains for transport, she says sadly, “One more piece of our camp has been amputated.”
Surprisingly she says she loves Westerbork for its opportunity. “I’m not finished with you, God. Not by a long shot.” She maintains it is possible “to believe in a terrible end and God.”
And she vows to look up everyone she prepared for transport when the war is over, or visit their graves. “Will I be able to describe it all one day? I think I work well with you, God, that we work well together.
If I don’t survive, she says, how I die will show what I am.
She did not survive. Red Cross records say Etty died at Auschwitz on Nov. 30,1943. The letters and diaries she kept between 1941 and 1943 were published in The Netherlands in 1981, before being translated into English in 1983.
I left the theatre yesterday deeply moved, and still feel that way. Although I had never heard of this extraordinary woman until Stein and Pendleton brought her to life for me, they allow her spirit to survive Auschwitz and be shared with us. I wish them many blessings for their performances in Scotland.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
By Norman Vincent Peale
When I receive a call for counseling, the people who seek my help usually have some clear-cut reason for their unhappiness: marital difficulties, broken relationships, emotional problems, financial worries. All very specific, very real.
But there are also some whose complaints are harder to pin down. These people are beset by nameless fears and anxieties. They feel isolated and inadequate. The life-force in them has grown dim. They know they are living far below their potential, but they don't know why. There is something parched and arid about them, like plants deprived of water. And indeed this is their trouble: They are living in a spiritual drought.
These people remind me of a story from sailing-ship days about a vessel becalmed off the coast of South America. Week after week went by; the wind did not blow; the ship could not move. The sailors were dying of thirst when another schooner drifted close enough to read their frantic signals for help. Back came the answer: "Let down your buckets!" When they did, they found water fit to drink beneath their keel. Far from the coast though they were, the freshwater current from the mighty Amazon River surrounded them. All they had to do was reach for it.
I like that story, because I have spent my life trying to persuade people that the love of God surrounds them at all times, and the way to "let down their buckets" into this limitless reservoir is to apply the insights and principles set forth so clearly in the Bible.
There is nothing obscure or complicated about this message. It tells us that God designed us to live joyous, productive, successful lives. To achieve such lives, he knew we would need his help, and he promised that this flow of power would be available to all who would follow the instructions He set down very plainly. You can choose to accept that blueprint for living. You can choose to ignore it. The choice you make has everything to do with the transmission of that power.
Anyone who observes people closely knows that certain attitudes and certain actions are destructive. Fear, hatred, anger, self-doubt, cruelty, dishonesty, selfishness, promiscuity. These negative forces can reduce the flow of power to a trickle, or in some cases shut it off altogether.
So when spiritually enervated people come to me, I try to offer some suggestions designed to unblock the flow of power in their lives. Here are four of those suggestions .
1. Have a heart-to-heart talk with your conscience.
A remarkable thing, the human conscience. Some people claim they have none, but this is not true. God built a sense of right and wrong into us whether we admit it or not. A wise Frenchwoman, Madame de Stall, once wrote, "The voice of conscience is so delicate that it is easy to stifle it, but it is also so clear that it is impossible to mistake it."
It has been my observation that one of the most common causes of depression, spiritual anemia and alienation from God is a repressed sense of guilt festering in the unconscious mind. Being human, we all make mistakes. And often, being human, we try to sweep them under the rug. But this is just asking for trouble, because the penalty is a feeling of unworthiness, a loss of self-esteem, a decline of confidence. Countless unhappy people go through life dragging these chains when what they need to do is face up to the transgression, acknowledge it, make amends, ask God's forgiveness, then forgive themselves.
Your conscience will tell you when you need to do that, if you will just listen to it. Give it a chance!
2. Harness the healing forces in gratitude.
"Be thankful for it!" I sometimes say to a dejected visitor. "For what?" he will reply glumly. "For something you're taking for granted," I tell him. I might reach out and touch his hand. "What's that?" I ask. "It's my hand," he will say, surprised. "So it is," I agree, "but look at it. What an amazing instrument it is! How endless the shapes it can assume, how remarkable the uses it has! Suppose you didn't have the use of your hands. Or your eyes. Or your ears. Suppose you could never see a sunset again. Or hear a symphony orchestra play.
"To an amazing extent," I tell him, "appreciation for what you have can lift the depression that comes from dwelling on what you have not. Your mind can hold only one idea at a time. So you can cancel out the gloom of a minus by making yourself focus on a satisfying plus."
3. Reverse your affirmations.
This third suggestion is one I sometimes give to visitors who come shrouded in gloom and despondency. Their evaluation of themselves is always low, right down on the floor. "I'm no good," they say. "I'm worn out. I just can't cope." To these unhappy souls I sometimes offer these three words: "Reverse your affirmations."
When they ask me what I mean, I reply that the thoughts in our minds dominate and determine the realities in our lives. Wise men and women have always known this. The Bible puts it succinctly: "As he thinketh in his heart, so is he." My dictionary says that the word "affirm" means "to state positively or with confidence, declare as a fact, assert to be true." Almost by definition, then, there is great power in a ringing affirmation.
Years ago a French psychotherapist named Emile Coue urged people to say to themselves, "Every day in every way I am getting better and better." Some critics accused Coue of encouraging egotism. Others said his message was based on an impossibility: raising oneself by one's psychological bootstraps. But Coue had hold of something just the same: the power of affirmation to change lives.
My disconsolate visitors need a new image of themselves if they are to escape from the prison of self-doubt that is part of their spiritual drought. As a first step, I urge them to focus on the concept that God made them, and being the Master Craftsman, he made them well. Therefore the good, or at least the potential good, in them far outweighs the bad. "Affirm this," I say to them, "every single day. Accept it. Believe it. Let this conviction saturate every fiber of your being, and ultimately, astonishing things will happen. I guarantee it!"
4. Listen to what God said.
This suggestion is really the simplest and most effective of all. When someone comes to see me, I point out that they have come to me seeking help, and I am glad to do what I can. "But you know," I say, "2,000 years ago a person walked this earth who was the sum of all wisdom. He spent three years talking to ordinary people with problems just like yours. He said that heaven and earth would pass away, but his words would not—and they haven't. They're available everywhere, as close as the nearest church, the nearest bookstore, the nearest library. How to live happy, useful lives? Be good. Be honorable. Be loving. Be kind. If you think you have troubles, why not listen to what he said? His words will fall like cooling rain on the parched and withered areas of your soul."
The Gospel of St. John puts it plainly. Speaking of Jesus he wrote, "But as many as received Him, to them He gave . . ." Gave what? Gave power. If you are trying to escape from a spiritual drought, why not reach for that power?
It's right there, waiting.
Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, author of the bestselling book, The Power of Positive Thinking, cofounded GUIDEPOSTS in 1945 with his wife, Ruth Stafford Peale. He died on December 24, 1993.
Friday, July 24, 2009
What sinks this musical version of the 1976 play Vanities is the main ingredient that separates it from the original -- the music. This frothy story spanning the lives of three best friends, from their high school cheerleading days in 1963 up to 1975 when they are in their late 20s, should have been ripe for musicalization. Actually, it still is. It just needs a better songwriter.
David Kirshenbaum’s music sounds the same in song after song, and his lyrics are so over-rhymed that I began trying to guess what word would end each line, based on the one that had ended the previous line. Anticipation, contemplation, sophistication. It was like playing the word games on NPR’s “Weekend Edition Sunday.”
Director Judith Ivey and music director is Bryan Perri seem to be trying to breathe some life into the limp songs by allowing the women to shout them out at painfully high volumes. Far too few are sung relationally, rather one or the other of the women usually takes center stage and belts out like a contestant on “American Idol.” I kept thinking, “Oh, no, not another song.”
And then there’s Dan Knechtges’ repetitive choreography, which at times made me think of the von Trapp children singing “So Long, Farewell” in the movie version of The Sound of Music. I kept expecting to hear one of the women sing about “popping out to say cuckoo.”
I had liked the play version when I saw it in the early 1980s with some of my women friends at a small community theatre in Annapolis, MD. It’s an enjoyable little show, in spite of the clichéd story line and stereotypical characters. Jack Heifner wrote the play and has written the musical’s book.
Lauren Kennedy as Mary is the most fun character because she’s the rebel, and she gets to wear the best clothes. I especially liked the orange and pink mini dress that reminded me of Twiggy and Marlo Thomas in “That Girl.” Joseph G. Aulisi has done a nice job with the costumes.
As Kathy, Anneliese van der Pol is more appealing at the end as her more mature self than as the hyper-organized small town Texas schoolgirl in the beginning.
Joanne (Sarah Stiles) is the character who is really hard to take. Actually she’s a caricature, the virgin who dates the same boy for six years, marries him, becomes a stay-at-home mom with three children and a house in Greenwich, unaware that he’s having multiple affairs. She is screechingly annoying in most of her scenes, especially the one on Kathy’s Manhattan penthouse terrace (attractive set by Anna Louizos) in which she gets drunk on champagne. Acting drunk can get over the top if not well handled, and Stiles does not handle it well. “We’re singing the same old music,” she shrieks at one point. Sadly the whole show feels as if it’s singing the same old music.
Originally scheduled to play Broadway’s Lyceum Theatre, the producers, citing the troubled economy, wisely decided to open Off-Broadway at Second Stage. The show arrives here having been produced at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto, CA in 2006. It also was showcased at the 2006 National Alliance for Musical Theatre (NAMT) Festival of New Musicals and seen at Pasadena Playhouse in August 2008.
Vanities, A New Musical is scheduled to run through Aug. 9. at Second Stage Theatre, 307 W. 43rd St., off 8th Avenue. Tickets are available by calling (212) 246-4422, (800) 766-6048 or online at 2ST.com.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
“Every person, if he is to have mental health and live successfully, must move away from past failures and mistakes and go forward without letting them be a weight upon him. The art of forgetting is absolutely necessary. Every night when you lie down to sleep, practice dropping the day into the past. It is over, finished. Look confidently to the future with God.”
-- Dr. Norman Vincent Peale
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Every year at this time I discover a little gem or two in 59E59 Theaters’ EAST TO EDINBURGH Festival. This year it was MILES & COLTRANE: BLUE (.) by Concrete Generation, a Charlotte, NC-based collection of artists representing all artistic mediums. The show played three performances last week.
It was simply done, just actors telling the story and musicians playing the music -- no props or scenery, and that was just fine. Davis (Sultan Omar El-Amin/Randolph Ward) slouches in a folding chair on the left side of the stage, sullen and gravel-voiced. On the right is “Trane” (Quentin “Q” Talley), his spiritual counterpart who repeatedly proclaims that he wants “to be a saint” and considers music to be prayer. “I sing praise the only way I know how, through the music.”
They tell of their lives -- the drugs, the women, but most of all, the music. Davis’ mother played the piano and expected him to do the same, but he wanted the trumpet and when he got one when he was 12, he was “happier than a runaway slave.” He started taking lessons and “ran everywhere I went to increase my wind. It became an obsession.” He played in the band at his high school in St. Louis, where he also became a teenage dad, or as he says “a teenage dad on the move.” He left the girl and the child behind to attend Juilliard, but left that too because of the racist attitudes at the time. He started playing the clubs in New York and “pimpin’” when he needed more money.
Coltrane admits to being addicted “since long before I ever took my first warm shot of moonshine in the backwood of Carolina.” For him, “addiction is my first memory.” It’s “where holding notes longer than you’re supposed to comes from.” When he tried to kick the habit, “I was drinkin’ two fifths of bourbon a day to stop the trembling, to stop the demons sneakin’ into my withdraw.”
Writer/director Talley told me after the show that he developed the script based on biographies, interviews and his own imagination. It’s told in few monologues, rather it’s more stream of consciousness, giving the feel of meeting these men in a smoky jazz dive and gradually getting to know them.
Their music, stirringly played by the Stephen Gordon Quintet, intersperses throughout, as does modern dance. The dance was fabulous, but I wasn’t sure why it was there, except perhaps to lift the men’s artistry to a higher level. Those scenes gave the work a bit of a disjointed feel, and I say that not in a negative way. Disjointed is an appropriate word for two artists who were brilliant, but whose lives were deeply troubled with their drug addictions. Talley has put the show together well.
The cast also includes Chris Pennix, Charles “CP Maze” Perry, Filmore Johnson, Boris “Bluz” Rogers, Kendrea “Mekkah” Griffith, Carlos Robson, Sherry “Swan” Cole.
The Stephen Gordon Quintet includes Lynn Grissett (trumpet), Tom Morimoto (saxophone), John Colianni (piano), Gray Hackleman (bass) and Gordon (drums).
At the end of the 70-minute show, The Narrator (Johnson) sums up the life of the two gifted but tormented men. “And it came to pass that two men as different as night and day came together to create the dawn of the future. One driven by the darkness of demons, greatness spawned by a ego that constantly needed to be relevant, who in the end his only sin was that he wanted to be true to himself, everything and everybody was just secondary. The other always the angel in training, trapped in this prison we call the flesh, he showed us that we need not verbalize prayers. That the sax was a sacred voice box that spoke of Hinduism, kabbala, Judaism, Yoruba, African history, math science, Plato, Aristotle, Christianity. He didn’t play music, he played cosmic conversations with God.”
Davis (in photo) died in 1991 at the age of 65; Coltrane in 1967 at 40.
“In their own way, they showed us through their music that in life the only thing that separates the here and now from the future is not to repeat the past,” Johnson continues. “So as we come to the present we realize both achieved what they wanted. Miles, you’re still relevant in your music and in the spirit of your ego. You were both beauty and the beast, the complexity of black manhood.
“John, those conversations with God are a lot closer now and with your music you left us all the blueprint to become saints. As for the future of music, well, to quote Miles Davis, ‘just play the goddamn tapes.’ Listen closely and you can hear the future for it has already come to pass.”
I’m glad this show made a stopover here in New York before heading to Edinburgh, and grateful as always for the chance to see some of what will be presented each year. Created as a way to help shows get on their feet before flying off to Scotland, EAST TO EDINBURGH, now in its sixth year, simulates the same production constraints that all shows experience during the Festival, while giving them space to fine-tune their productions. This whirlwind three-week festival gives New York audiences a small sampling of the cultural extravaganza that is the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
The EAST TO EDINBURGH festival runs through Aug. 2 at 59E59 Theaters (between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets can be purchased by calling Ticket Central at 212-279-4200 or online at www.ticketcentral.com. Visit www.59e59.org or www.easttoedinburgh.com for more details.
This year, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe launches on Aug. 7 and runs through Aug. 31. With a record-breaking 2,098 shows descending on the Scottish city for three weeks, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the largest and most famous arts festival in the world. For more information on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, visit www.edfringe.com.
Monday, July 20, 2009
“Meditation is a very simple concept. There is nothing complicated about it, nothing esoteric. . . . In essence, meditation is simply being still at the centre of your being. Being still. The only problem connected with it is that we live in a world of almost frenetic movement, and so stillness and rootedness seem quite foreign to most of us. But in nature all growth is from the centre outwards. The centre is where we begin and again that is what meditation is about. It is making contact with the original centre of your own being. It is a return to the ground of your being, to your origin, to God. . . .St John of the Cross, in his reflections on the nature of meditation, wrote that ‘God is the centre of my soul.’
“Meditation is a wonderful opportunity for all of us. . .because in returning to our origin, to the ground of our being, we return to our innocence. The call to meditation, for the early Fathers of the Church, was a call to purity of heart and that is what innocence is---purity of heart. A vision unclouded by egoisim or by desire or by images, a heart simply moved by love. Meditation leads us to pure clarity--clarity of vision, clarity of understanding and clarity of love--a clarity that comes from simplicity. And to being to meditate requires nothing more than the simple determination to begin and then to continue. . . .
“[Meditation] is the way of attention. [W]e must go beyond thought, beyond desire and beyond imagination and in that beyond we begin to know what we are here and now in God, "in whom we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). The way of simplicity is the way of the one word, the recitation of the one word. It is the recitation, and the faithfulness to that recitation every morning and every evening, that leads us beyond all the din of words, beyond all the labyrinth of ideas, to oneness. . . .[M]editation is a way into full communion, oneness of being. In meditation, and in the life enriched by meditation, we just are fully ourselves, whoever we are.
“Meditate for Thirty Minutes.... Remember: Sit down. Sit still and upright. Close your eyes lightly. Sit relaxed but alert. Silently, interiorly, begin to say a single word. We recommend the prayer-phrase "Maranatha." Recite it as four syllables of equal length. Listen to it as you say it, gently, but continuously. Do not think or imagine anything—spiritual or otherwise. Thoughts and images will likely come, but let them pass. Just keep returning your attention—with humility and simplicity—to saying your word in faith, from the beginning to the end of your meditation.”
-- John Main OSB, THE WAY OF UNKNOWING (New York: Crossroad, 1990), pp. 18-20.
William Wordsworth, “Lines Composed above Tintern Abbey,” Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vol 2 (New York: Norton, 1979), p. 156.
That blessed mood,
In which the burden of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world,
Is lightened--that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on,-
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul;
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Irving Berlin wrote some of the most beautiful, romantic songs of all time. Scott Joplin’s innovative jazz had rhythms that roused the spirit. So how could The Tin Pan Alley Rag, Mark Saltzman's musical play about a imaginary meeting between these two great artists, be so completely lacking in beauty, romance and rhythm?
The production comes off as if it’s still in the blocking stage. The actors seem to be mentally saying, “OK, this is where I stand now” and “This is when I sing.” There’s no fluidity. Director Stafford Arima has really missed the mark.
I had thought before I went that at least if the show wasn’t good the music would be, but as performed here the songs have little life. Michael Therriault (Berlin) and Michael Boatman (Joplin) do not connect with their characters in any way. They also don’t connect with the wives they loved and lost shortly after marrying. Chemistry is lacking completely between Irving and Dorothy (Jenny Fellner) and Scott and Freddie (Idara Victor).
The smoothest working of the evening involve Beowulf Boritt’s set, which depicts Berlin’s music publishing company in the early years of the 20th century and opens in sections to reveal flashbacks in other locations, creating a feeling of more time and space. Jess Goldstein’s costumes are also effective.
For all the elaborate staging and cast of 12, Rag isn’t anywhere near as satisfying as another show about two musical giants, Miles & Coltrane: Blue (.), which I saw the following night. That simple little show, which is on its way to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, had no set or props, just music and story; since they were good, it was enough.
At Rag’s intermission I was deciding whether I wanted to stay and asked an usher how much longer until the end. When she told me an hour I asked if it got any better in the second act. She said, “I hope so.” You know it’s bad when even a member of the staff can’t be enthusiastic.
The Tin Pan Alley Rag is at the Laura Pels Theatre, 111 W. 46th St., through Sept. 6. Visit roundabouttheatre.org.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Journalism lost one of its superstars yesterday with the death of Walter Cronkite. I have special, personal memories of him.
For years, he lived in a townhouse across the street from my co-op. He might have been an internationally known and immensely respected newsman, but on East 84th Street he was our neighbor. He stopped by our block association fall street fair and our Christmas party when he was in town, and he stood at 84th and First Avenue in November to cheer on the marathon runners, a good neighbor in all ways.
I first met him at the association Christmas party the year after I moved to 84th Street. Later I wanted to put together a journalism book and, although I figured he wouldn’t remember me, I decided to write to him about it.
I was teaching in the graduate journalism school at NYU when I had the idea for my first book, Journalism Stories from the Real World. Since I had always found it helpful -- and fun -- to use an anecdote to teach specific points, I thought I could put together a strong book if I collected stories from journalism professors all over the country with their examples of how they use stories from their days as a reporter to teach the important rules of journalism.
People sent me stories of covering the Kennedy assassinations, busing in Boston and the Vietnam War. I had wanted to ask Mr. Cronkite to write the introduction for me, but was waiting to get a publisher lined up first. When I met with rejection after rejection, I decided it might help if I had Mr. Cronkite onboard first, so I wrote to him, explained my project and asked him if he would write the intro contingent upon my getting a publisher. In return mail I received his generous answer.
“I don’t have the time to labor over an adequate introduction right now, but I have enclosed a letter which might help get the cooperation you require from the professors and a publisher,” he wrote. “And, as you see, if it all comes about, I’ll somehow find time to do that introduction.”
He kindly included a To Those Concerned letter, which said in part: “From the first responses Ms. Blaney has received to her request for anecdotal contributions, it is clear to me that she has a marvelous idea for a book that not only would be a worthy and unique journalism textbook, but also would provide a very good read (including a few tips) for us journeymen journalists. If the book materializes as I feel it must, given her dedication and talent and the value of the idea, I shall be honored to do the introduction -- no matter how much that may detract from the volume’s general excellence.”
Well, the book did materialize, published by North American Press in 1995. In it is the thoughtful introduction by Mr. Cronkite, a journalism giant who cared enough to help someone at the opposite end of the spectrum in need.
Thank you, Mr. Cronkite, and may God bless you.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
The 60s spirit lives on, thank God. Not only is the cast of Hair transporting us eight times a week to that special time of striving for peace and justice, they are taking action in a major way offstage by canceling a lucrative weekend performance to journey to Washington, D.C. to make their voices heard.
The producers of the Tony-winning Broadway revival of Hair have canceled the show's Oct. 11 performance so the entire cast can join the National Equality March in Washington. Those are very special producers!
"The Public Theater has always aspired to make theatre that matters, that speaks to the great social issues of our time,” Oskar Eustis, artistic director of The Public Theater and producer of Hair, said in a statement. “Hair has never been just a show; its message of change and hope and inclusion is one we try to live, not just preach. This is the moment when we need to recognize the right of all citizens, gay and straight, to have their love and their unions acknowledged by the state. We are proud to join with Cleve Jones and the National Equality March in support of gay marriage. Peace now! Equality now! Justice forever!"
For more information visit www.HairBroadway.com or www.NationalEqualityMarch.com.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
The thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me. Job 3:25
"This thought conditioner states a very serious warning. If over a long period of time, a person habitually fears something, there is a tendency for that fear to become a reality. For example, if you fear that you are going to fail, and you constantly entertain thoughts of failure, you will create a mental condition that is propitious to failure. Creative, positive, success factors are repelled by your mind because your mind is filled with defeat attitudes. On the contrary, if you hold the faith thought, the positive thought, you will create about yourself an atmosphere propitious to success, health and well-being."
-- Dr. Norman Vincent Peale
Friday, July 10, 2009
Starting with the first number, “What Is This Thing Called Love?”, right through to the last, “On My Way to You,” vocalist and songwriter Ann Hampton Callaway creates a sultry, sexy world of cabaret favorites and original music in her captivating new CD, At Last.
Backed by dynamic musicians, Callaway evokes a world of jazz clubs and sophisticated New York nightlife. The recording is so sharp and the performances so rich I felt I was in the room with all of them.
Besides such lushly sung classics as the title track, Callaway includes a pop favorite of mine, Joni Mitchell’s “Carey.” It’s certainly not standard cabaret fare, but with Callaway’s interpretation it’s a perfect fit, and just right for a CD she describes as “love songs for grownups.”
In a press release, Callaway describes her approach to recording. “I always think of CDs like movies,” she says. “It’s really about creating an emotional journey that starts in one place and ends in a place that’s very different.”
That’s a good way to describe this CD. The complete song list is:
1.) What Is This Thing Called Love?
2.) Comes Love
4.) At Last
6.) Lazy Afternoon
8.) Save A Place For Me
9.) Over The Rainbow
10.) Finding Beauty
11.) On My Way To You
“As years go by,” she writes in her liner notes, “I am increasingly awestruck by the power of music. It seems to have the sneakiest way of reaching deep inside of all of us and making us human once more. Good songs remind us that there is more to life than headlines. We have heartlines too, and they are patiently waiting to bring us closer together.”
At a time when the headlines are so bleak, it’s a gift to have anything that nurtures the heartlines. This CD does. At last!
Monday, July 6, 2009
Sunday, July 5, 2009
Thursday, July 2, 2009
By Kenny Moore
I recently gave a business talk at a swanky New York City hotel and got robbed by one of the attendees. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised: it was a gathering of entrepreneurs.
There’s a price to be paid for going public
I was there to talk about a book that I co-authored: The CEO and the Monk: One Company’s Journey to Profit and Purpose. I’m the “monk” side of the story, having spent 15 years in a monastic community as a Catholic priest before venturing into the world of business. Actually, the work’s proven to be quite similar, except the pay’s now a lot better.
My presentation format is somewhat non-traditional. Unlike Jack Welch, I don’t purport to have clearly articulated solutions to solve today’s pressing business problems. I likewise eschew PowerPoint presentations, guided by the belief that folks are tired of them and prefer hearing a few good stories instead. I think Jesus followed a similar format in his short-lived business career. And even though it didn’t generate positive cash flow, his design was well received by the masses.
Perhaps what most distinguishes me from Mr. Welch is that he’s rich and I’m not. And as we all know from studying business best practices, if you’re rich - you must be right. Consequently, lacking copious cash and a neat package of simple handouts for business success, I use a presentation style that tends to skirt the mainstream, and wobbles along the margins of today’s cookie-cutter conference programs.
I’ve even given up deciding which business stories to tell, since it’s never really clear to me in advance what the attendees need to hear. I merely display several pictures on the stage and invite participants to choose one which captures their fancy – then I tell that particular story. This design is based on the business principle that people support what they help create. It also connects to my personal conviction that the group’s active contribution to the program generates buy-in and commitment. Besides, it safeguards my frail ego: if the presentation bombs, at least I have somebody else to blame. I’ve gleaned this final bit of wisdom by assiduously observing executive behavior both within and outside the monastery for well over 30 years.
During my talk, I also like to have the attendees take part in a group activity. Most of the time I’m able to resist the monastic temptation to have them join hands and sing “Kumbaya” and wind up engaging them in a business exercise pitched largely to their professional learning and personal enjoyment. When the activity’s over, I ask them to share their reflections with the full audience. I’ve found that if I can actually keep my mouth shut, most of the participants have pearls of wisdom to offer their peers. Anyone who’s brave enough to publicly speak his mind also gets a gift from the front table: a signed photo card from a well-known photographer - me. Like Ansel Adams, I counsel the recipients to hold onto it, for once I die it will only grow in value. This is, unfortunately, the downside of being an artist: you don’t get recognition until after you’re dead.
Miscreants in the marketplace
It was in just such a program that I got ripped off by a New York entrepreneur. After my talk, large numbers of the audience came up to shake my hand, offer congratulations and seek my professional counsel. This represented a total crowd of three. While I was momentarily distracted by the glow of world acclaim, someone snuck over to the front table where I had placed my photo cards and stole the display copy of my book. I didn’t notice the purloined item until the room emptied and I collected my personal belongings to journey home.
Drawing from my many years of monastic serenity, I remember softly muttering to no one in particular: “O my God! Some bastard stole my book.”
Like Holden Caulfield, I too couldn’t quite stomach all New York had to offer and found myself expressing similar expletives of disbelief. My teen-age son often reminds me that not everyone views the world as I do. But what the heck’s going on here? Isn’t there anyone left who knows something about Divine Retribution?
From the way I looked at it, stealing from some ordinary guy on the street is one thing; but ripping off a former man of the cloth is quite another. You can’t steal from monks, even defrocked ones, without expecting some dire consequences to ensue. However, I took some consolation in recalling the opening act from the Broadway hit Les Miserables, where Jean Valjean is caught robbing from the church and is forgiven by the cleric - a compassionate deed that became a turning point in his life. I eventually offered absolution, in absentia, to the thief and likened my recent experience as similar. I headed home that evening humming the soundtrack from the musical.
But then a month later, it happened again. This time in New Jersey! And as we now can statistically substantiate, there ain’t no bad people living in any suburb of New Jersey.
Similar to the New York experience, at the end of my presentation I was surrounded by a screaming crowd of inspired business professionals. While deeply engrossed with the five people before me (actually, a few were there seeking directions to the Garden State Parkway) once again my book was mysteriously absconded away with.
The crowd eventually dwindled and a lone gentleman remained behind. “I loved your talk,” he said, “and I wanted to have something to remember you by.” With an air of nonchalance, he continued: “Since you didn’t have any more photo cards left, I decided to take the display copy of your book.”
There, boldly visible in his attaché, was the evidence of his misdeed. Adding insult to injury, he took it out for me to autograph.
With the same moral indignation that Officer Javert held toward the thief Valjean, I chided him for his dastardly offense. But he was both unmoved and unrepentant. “I didn’t want to leave here tonight,” he calmly continued, “without taking along a small reminder of the event.” What did he think he was doing - harvesting relics for some future ecclesiastical yard sale?
While folks may have stolen personal effects from Mother Teresa at the end of her career, she certainly didn’t get her start that way. And neither did Jack Welch.
I worried how this might all eventually play out: today they take my book; tomorrow, my femur. Was the New York entrepreneur a harbinger of something deeper?
I’m nobody. Who are you?
A final quality that differentiates me from Mr. Welch is that I’m not famous. This means that when I come into town to speak, most people don’t take notice. And when my presentation is over, I don’t have a frenetic speaking schedule that whisks me off to the next mega-conference in Vegas. I get to sit tight and hang around for awhile. It’s not uncommon that my speaking schedule is so paltry that after shaking a few hands, I merely loiter in the lobby waiting for the cocktail hour to start. I regularly even have time to attend the conference dinner. But I’m not important enough to sit at the head table; I usually dine with the ordinary folks at the convention.
I kind of enjoy that, for I get to meet interesting and wholesome people in the process. Like the woman who shared with me her personal journey with breast cancer. Being a cancer survivor myself, I felt heartened listening to her story. Or another executive whose uncle was a Catholic priest. As a young girl, she grew up having a vast horde of them continually showing up for dinner, often unannounced. The woman also had some of the best clergy jokes I’ve ever heard: “Why do people sit in the back of the church? Because there are no chairs in the parking lot.”
Oddly enough, there’s even a chance to perform some goodly deeds when you’re not that important. While I was wasting time before dinner, one young accountant in his twenties approached me with some small talk and then suddenly blurted out: “A friend of mine recently died and I haven’t been able to stop crying. My roommate feels there’s something wrong here. What do you think?”
We wound up talking for well over an hour.
It seems ministry is no longer relegated to the confines of a church. Most sacred moments happen in the marketplace, not the monastery. And occasionally even at a business conference. As we’ve known all along, the opportunities to offer support and provide friendly counsel continue to remain infinite and surprisingly varied.
Remembrance of things past
Upon reflection, I think the reason my book gets swiped at conferences is that people want a tangible reminder - a relic - of the experience. While difficult for my ego to accept, it’s not about me; it’s about the event. We come together at business gatherings seeking a sense of community. Our desire is not so much to hear from big-name speakers or to walk away with another set of handouts. We’re looking to connect with other kindred souls, ordinary folks struggling with the same issues we are.
Our unstated goal for attending these events is the overarching desire to feel that we’re not alone. That in living out our business vocation, we are making a difference. It’s the innate longing to believe that we’re using our God-given talents for something beyond financial remuneration. At some level, we understand that the author Neale Walsh was right: “When you lose sight of each other as sacred souls on a sacred journey, then you cannot see the purpose, the reason, behind all relationships.”
In our thirst for learning, we want to be active participants and have a playful hand in creating our own business reality. What we’re seeking is an experience of being alive. And we come alive through stories and personal interaction. Something PowerPoint presentations just can’t accomplish.
We’re also reminded that the sacredness of life is often shrouded in the trappings of the ordinary. The Divine is manifest in the mundane, not the spectacular.
It seems that throughout history whenever sacred events happened, most of us missed the encounter. We were looking for something dynamic and more attractive. Possibly a charismatic leader cloaked in the trappings of a business superstar. But the prophets always reside in the audience and never on center stage. Alas, the Divine is deceptive.
It’s no surprise then, that when we attend workshops we seek to retain something as a reminder. Rather than wanting to steal books, we really desire to recall that remembrances reside not in things but in us. Upon returning to work, we find that it’s who we are and not what we know that will ultimately transform our corporate homes.
Like Dorothy at the end of The Wizard of Oz this is something we’ve known all along, but somehow failed to remember. She had Glinda, the Good Witch, to remind her. But who will help us?
Perhaps that’s the responsibility we have to one another: to be heralds for this more sacred business reality. Conferences confer the invitation for us to be the living reminders of this deeper responsibility, this more compelling journey.
Unfortunately, if we fail to recall it on our own, we’re sure to be subjected to further PowerPoint presentations.
And I’m not sure I can handle yet another set of handouts.
P.S. If you’re thinking about writing me, give in to the temptation. I love getting mail ... and being influenced by what you have to say. Please e-mail me at email@example.com.
Kenny Moore is co-author of The CEO and the Monk: One Company's Journey to Profit and Purpose (John Wiley and Sons), rated as one of the top ten best selling business books on Amazon.com.
Prior to coming to corporate life, Moore spent 15 years in a monastic community as a Catholic priest. Oddly enough, both jobs have proven to be quite similar - except the Incentive Plans vary greatly. Kenny left the monastery because he wanted to get married. Now that he’s married and has two teenagers, he would like to go back.
The media once asked Pope John XXIII how many people worked at the Vatican. “About half of them…” he said. Moore has discovered that there are common operating principles in effect whenever you’re dealing with large hierarchical institutions, sacred or secular.
Several years ago, Moore had the good fortune of being diagnosed with “incurable” cancer, at its most advanced stages. He underwent a year of experimental treatment at theNational Cancer Institute and survived. He recently had a heart attack and was invited to be sawed in half and given a quadruple bypass: a subtle reminded that his time is running short.
Kenny came away from both experiences recalling the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes: “Most of us go to our graves with our music still inside us.” Moore’s lifetime goal is to spend more of his time playing his music.
Having dealt with both God and death, he now finds himself eminently qualified to work with senior management on corporate change efforts.
Kenny is a watercolor artist, poet and photographer. He is Founding Director of Art for the Anawim, a not-for-profit charity which works with the art community in supporting the needs of terminally ill children and the inner city poor. His poems have been published in several anthologies; one was selected as a semi-finalist in the North American Open Poetry Contest. Kenny lives in Northern New Jersey and is married to the “fair and beautiful” Cynthia. Together, they are fighting a losing battle of maintaining their mental stability while raising 2 teenage boys.
Kenny has recently expanded his work to include Stand-up Comedy. This is driven largely by the sneaking suspicion that when the Divine returns, She will find a more receptive audience in bars and comedy clubs than in our Houses of Worship.
Moore is President of Kenny Moore Consulting, LLC. He’s a well-regarded Keynote speaker, executive coach and business consultant for Leadership Development, Change Management and Employee Engagement. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (973) 956-8210.