Tuesday, June 30, 2009

God's peace

“Be still, and know that I am God.”  —Psalm 46:10 

“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy,” says the old song. Yet for many people worries and stresses don’t take a summer vacation. 
That doesn’t mean, however, that we have to respond with panic or anxiety. As Dr. Norman Vincent Peale said, “Life can be wonderful… if you will just get the stillness of God into your body, mind, and soul. Do the best you can; do good, be good. Then put it all into His hands and trust Him. Don't be excited; don't be nervous; don't be tense. Just be still. Remember that He is God, and He will give the peace and power of God to you.”
And Dr. Peale offered some scriptures for relaxing tension: Mark 4:39; John 14:27; Philippians 4:7; Matthew 11:28. Read these verses slowly and take them deep within yourself.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Twelfth Night

Welcome to the New York stage, Anne Hathaway. It’s a pleasure to have you. Please come back again often!

The Academy Award-nominated actress is delightful as Viola, Shakespeare’s plucky cross-dressing heroine in the bright and breezy Public Theater production of Twelfth Night, at Central Park’s Delacorte Theater through July 12.

Tony-winning director Daniel Sullivan brings this romantic comedy of shipwrecked twins, mistaken identity and, of course, love brilliantly to life, making it a sharp contrast to the last two Shakespeare in the Park Twelfth Night productions I saw. Casting a Hollywood star with little stage experience can be fatal, as anyone who saw Julia Roberts’ dreadful Broadway debut several years ago can attest, but Sullivan has discovered a natural in Hathaway. She steals the show away from her Broadway veteran costars, four-time Tony nominee Raúl Esparza as Orsino (in photo left with Hathaway) and four-time Tony winner Audra McDonald as Olivia.

I’ve always loved this story of the twins, Viola and Sebastian (Stark Sands), who are washed ashore separately on the mysterious land of Illyria. Each thinking the other is dead, they journey on, finding true love and adventure before their happy unexpected reunion at the end. Unfortunately the 1989 staging starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Jeff Goldblum was a shipwreck of a production, with egos run amok and little sense of relationship between characters. The 2002 production with Jimmy Smits and Julia Stiles was better, but damned by a huge fiberglass wave that dominated the stage. As soon as we sat down and I glanced at the set I said to my friend Carolyn, “Before this night is over someone is going to slide down that wave.” Little did I dream that every character was going to make his or her entrance down that slide -- every time they appeared. It was an annoying device that got tiresome very fast.

No such problem with John Lee Beatty’s cheery green set of rolling hills and trees. And no problem here with noticeable actor egos, despite the major names involved. There’s an ensemble feeling with all, although the always dependable David Pittu as Feste and Jay O. Sanders as Sir Toby Belch really stand out in their comic roles.

The spirited cast also includes Tony-winning actress Julie White as Maria, Michael Cumpsty as Malvolio, Hamish Linklater as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Herb Foster as Valentine, Kevin Kelly as Sea Captain, Baylen Thomas as Curio and Jon Patrick Walker as Fabian.

Completing the ensemble are Charles Borland, Andrew Crowe, Steve Curtis, Clifton Duncan, David Kenner, Leslie Harrison, Slate Holmgren, Christopher Layer, Robin LeMon, Dorien Makhloghi, Ray Rizzo, Julie Sharbutt and Zach Villa.

A big shout out goes to the singers and musicians who make the charming music a real part of the show. The original score is by the Brooklyn-based folk-rock band Hem, made up of vocalist Sally Ellyson, pianist Dan Messe, and guitarists Gary Maurer and Steve Curtis. I’ve never enjoyed music in a Shakespeare production as much as I did here. Usually the music is incidental, but for a play whose opening line is “If music be the food of love, play on . . ,” it’s nice to have such a lively partnering.

Finally, recognition need to go to Jane Greenwood for her cheery costumes, Peter Kaczorowski for his lighting, Acme Sound Partners for sound design, Rick Sordelet for his fight direction and Mimi Lieber for choreography.

This Twelfth Night is destined to remain forever one of my all-time favorite Shakespeare in the Park productions. I hope you can get in to see it. For the record, we waited about four hours for our tickets, part of the time in the rain and sitting in the mud. It was well worth the wait.

Performances of Twelfth Night are Tuesday through Sunday at 8 p.m. Tickets are free and are available on the day of the performance (two per person) at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park beginning at 1 p.m., or by entering the Public's online ticketing lottery at PublicTheater.org.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Start Living a More Positive Life Today! Mary Steenburgen tells you how

Academy Award-winning actress Mary Steenburgen has charmed audiences with roles in dozens of hit movies and television shows, including "Elf," "Joan of Arcadia," and "I Am Sam," to name a few.  

Mary’s real-life roles include wife of actor Ted Danson ("Cheers," "Becker," "Curb Your Enthusiasm"), mom to daughter Lily and son Charlie, and stepmom to Ted’s daughters Kate and Katrina.

Through her many different roles both onscreen and in real life, Mary has discovered ways to live a more positive life. Here she shares four of them.

1. Laugh Like a 12-Year-Old
Onscreen, I often play refined or reserved women, but in real life, I have the mentality of a 12-year-old boy! There’s nothing I enjoy more than a good joke, and there’s never anything so wrong with me that Ted can’t make me laugh.
My dream job was the movie "Step Brothers" with Will Farrell and John C. Reilly because I got to hang around with these two hilarious men all day. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven! I think the key to happiness is being able to find the humor in even tough situations. 

Sometimes, all you can do is laugh. It’s good for the soul.

2. Celebrate the Gifts God Gives You
Every day, I stop and consider how blessed I am to have Ted and our amazing kids. Ted and I met after we’d both gone through some really tough stuff, and I definitely believe that he was a gift from God.  

Also, our kids are now adults, and they’re our best friends. Our family philosophy is that we are a gift to one another, and not to celebrate it would be almost a crime. Think about the relationships in your life that are deeply rich and rewarding and be grateful for them.

3. Light a Candle—Literally and Figuratively
With so many problems in the world today, it’s easy to feel like we can’t make a difference, but each of us has to try to play our own small part in improving things. 

In other words: Just because we can’t do everything doesn’t mean we can’t do something. No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.

When my daughter Lily and I decided to launch our own line of soy-based, environmentally responsible candles, we also decided to donate a portion of the proceeds to Heifer International, an organization that provides livestock to impoverished people all over the world. 

We feel like we’re doing something beautiful on an aesthetic level and also helping other people, which is the most beautiful thing any of us can do.

4. Scare Yourself—in a Good Way
Every actor dreads being typecast.  People used to think of me only as a dramatic actress, yet I’ve just made five comedies in a row! 

It’s not just actors who are typecast, though: We tend to pigeonhole others—as well as ourselves—because it just feels easier. But we’re all complicated, and nobody boils down to just one thing. 

When I was thinking about getting into the home-and-garden and candle-making businesses, my first thought was, “I don’t know anything about this!”
But I took the leap, and I learned. It was a little scary, but I think it’s important sometimes to scare ourselves a bit, to step outside the mold we think we fit into. Even if you fail, you grow from the experience. 

And you might just find that the role you were destined to play is much bigger than the one someone else wrote for you.
Catch Mary this month in "The Proposal," a romantic comedy with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds.

This article by Ginger Rue appeared in Guideposts magazine.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Daily Guideposts

It was my usual end-of-day confession of failure. Letters I hadn't written, phone calls I'd intended to make, opportunities for kindness I hadn't seized upon. God must be as tired of hearing these bedtime laments, I thought, as I was of making them.

That's when some drawings I'd seen that morning popped into my mind: a two-page spread in a volume of cartoons in the dentist's waiting room. There were no captions, just thirty black-and-white drawings tracing a day in the life of a cymbal player. The musician wakes up, shaves, dresses, eats breakfast, studies his score. Finally he puts his cymbals in their case, travels to the concert hall and takes his place in the percussion section of the orchestra.

He waits quietly through most of the program. As his time to perform approaches, he seizes the cymbals and stands up, breathlessly watching the conductor's baton. The big moment comes! He clashes the cymbals together, one ringing, reverberating, perfectly timed note.

His allotted role accomplished, he leaves the stage, puts on hat and coat, travels home, enjoys dinner, yawns, puts on his pajamas, brushes his teeth, and goes to bed supremely content.

The cymbal player has done the one thing required of him. And was I, I wondered, remembering that picture-story, so capable and important—so central to God's plan—that He asked more of me? Maybe in the multiplicity of each day's events there was a single assignment for me. Maybe if I watched the Conductor more closely I would discover what it was.

Faithful Lord, what one thing have You for me to do this day?

This essay by Elizabeth Sherrill appeared in Guideposts magazine’s online newsletter.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Lights are Bright on Broadway Awards Announced

Dan Gordon, author of Broadway’s Irena’s Vow, and Radio City Rockette Cheryl Cutlip, founder of Project Dance, will receive 2009 The Lights are Bright on Broadway awards presented by Masterwork Productions, Inc. to individuals and organizations making a difference in the Broadway community through faith.

Irena’s Vow is a play based on real life Irena Gut Opdyke, a Polish Catholic who singlehandedly saved 12 Jews from death in the Nazi camps during World War II. Irena’s vow to God not to stand by and helplessly watch as Jews are slaughtered and the faith on which she relies drive Mr. Gordon’s story.

“I am deeply honored by this award,” Mr. Gordon said. “In honoring the play, of course, you are honoring Irena Gut Opdyke's courage, moral rectitude and unshakable faith in her Creator, her rock and her salvation. Absent that faith she said many times she would never have been able to do all that she did. In the last conversation we had the day before she died her sole concern was ‘Who will tell the children when I'm gone?’ My answer was ‘you will.’ That was the reason the play was written and it is my fervent hope that it will continue to tell Irena's story of faith and courage to ever wider audiences.”

Mr. Gordon’s award will be presented to him and the company at the conclusion of the Broadway performance this Saturday, June 27, at the Walter Kerr Theatre by Masterworks executive director and Broadway reviewer Lauren Yarger.

Cheryl Cutlip, (in photo) following a call to “make a difference in the artistic fiber of our nation,” founded Project Dance, which has produced performance events in Times Square, Los Angeles', Hollywood and Australia. Dance Spirit magazine has named the New York event as one of the top 10 dance events in New York City.

“Project Dance is thrilled and honored to receive this unique award,” Ms. Cutlip said. “I never imagined a day when the work of believing artists in the NYC community would be recognized in the public square.  Our only hope has been to encourage dancers toward their highest potential and offer performance and training opportunities worldwide where dancers are able to express their faith in God through the gift of dance.  Whether it's been a Bible study in the rehearsal halls at Radio City or a circle of prayer before a Broadway Underground show, Project Dance desires to honor God with every success within the performing arts community. ”

Project Dance’s award will be presented at an upcoming New York event to be announced.

Masterwork Productions, Inc. is a faith-based, non-profit organization that helps Christians and churches reach out through the performing arts by producing shows and events, booking artists, providing Broadway and theater reviews and training at workshops and conferences. For more information, visit http://www.masterworkproductions.org.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

“When you eat, you are feeding God. When you speak, you are speaking for God and to God. When you live, you are living the glory of God.”
-- Guru Muktananda

Monday, June 22, 2009

Will Smith's Secret to Success

He's not superhuman, but he's got what it takes...

What does a treadmill have to do with Will Smith’s success as a movie star and actor?
When asked by an interviewer to explain his success, he responded:
“I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be outworked. You may be more talented than me. You might be smarter than me. And you may be better looking than me. But if we get on a treadmill together you are going to get off first or I’m going to die. It’s really that simple. I’m not going to be outworked.”
But what about his talent you might ask. After all, he is charismatic, funny and a great actor. Isn’t that the reason for his success? Not according to Will Smith. In fact he considers himself to be slightly above average in the talent category. Rather, he attributes his success to his work ethic.
You may be surprised to hear this because popular opinion says that successful people who have risen to the top of their profession got there because “they were lucky” or “they were chosen” or “they were born with more talent than everyone else.” We overestimate their talent and we underestimate our own.

In my research for Training Camp I found that people such as Will Smith are not super human and they don’t have some mutant gene that makes them better. What makes them stand out is that they work harder. It’s really that simple.

When others are sleeping, they are working. When others are wasting time, they are improving. When others are scattering their energy they are practicing and zoom focusing.
Of course talent is necessary to excel at something but natural ability will only take someone so far. The key is to infuse one’s talent with hard work, passion and a drive for excellence.
So what does Will Smith have to do with you?
If you want to take your career or “game” to the next level you must be willing to pay the price that greatness requires. You must be willing to work harder than everyone you know. There’s no easy shortcut. Hard work has been, is and always will be the key to anyone’s success. To be your best you must invest all that you are to become everything you wish to be. Will Smith knows it and now you know it.
Are you willing to pay the price? Let’s hop on the treadmill together!

This essay by Jon Gordon appeared in Guideposts magazine.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Indigo Bunting

I go to the door often.
Night and summer. Crickets
lift their cries.
I know you are out.
You are driving
late through the summer night.

I do not know what will happen.
I have no claim on you.
I am one star
you have as guide; others
love you, the night
so dark over the Azores.

You have been working outdoors,
gone all week. I feel you
in this lamp lit
so late. As I reach for it
I feel myself
driving through the night.

I love a firmness in you
that disdains the trivial
and regains the difficult.
You become part then
of the firmness of night,
the granite holding up walls.

There were
women in Egypt who
supported with their firmness the stars
as they revolved,
hardly aware
of the passage from night
to day and back to night.

I love you where you go
through the night, not swerving,
clear as the indigo
bunting in her flight,
passing over two
thousand miles of ocean.

By Robert Bly

Friday, June 19, 2009

Unconditional love

"The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”
-- Thomas Merton

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Leave the results to God

"Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand." -- Ephesians 6:13

“This is one of the greatest of all techniques of mental health. It teaches that when we have done all that we can do about a given matter, we are not to get worried or in a panic or be filled with anxiety, but take a calm philosophical attitude concerning it. When you have done all that you can do, don’t try to do any more, just 'stand.' Relax, stop, be quiet, don’t fuss about it; you have done everything possible; leave the results to God.”
-- Dr. Norman Vincent Peale

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Center stage at Sardi's

Here’s a nice photo from Friday’s Drama Desk panel at Sardi’s. From left: DD president William Wolf, moderator Elysa Gardner, Bill Irwin, Marcia Gay Harden, Geoffrey Rush, Annie Baker and Condola Rashad.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Play's the Thing

Agreeing that the worst economy this country has experienced in decades made theatre more important than ever, actors Geoffrey Rush, Marcia Gay Harden and others headlined a Drama Desk panel entitled The Play’s The Thing at Sardi’s on Friday. The lunchtime symposium, which explored the impressive number of plays presented during the 2008-2009 season, was moderated by Elysa Gardner, theater critic for USA Today and a Drama Desk member.

“Theatre is a way to talk about things that can’t be spoken about in any other way,” said Bill Irwin, currently appearing as Vladimir in the Broadway revival of Waiting for Godot. “It’s the way the culture speaks to itself. Theatre is useful and necessary when it teaches. Is this true or is this just a painted pony line?”

For those on the panel, and probably most of us theatre critics in the audience, it is true. Rush, who just won the best actor in a play Tony for his performance as King Berenger in the revival of Exit the King, said when his show, which is about failure of leadership, was being considered two years ago, George W. Bush and Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair were still presiding over their failed administrations. He was afraid “people would be too happy” when the show opened now in the exciting new Obama administration, but he found audiences “responded this season because they don’t want to be lied to. They want to work out what’s happening and what went wrong.”

The past season’s plays gave audiences ample opportunity to do that. Condola Rashad, who is appearing as Sophie Off-Broadway in this year’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Ruined, said her show is “inviting you as audience members to want to know more, to feel invited to be part of the story.” Ruined focuses on the impact the war in the Congo was having on women. “The stories of these people could very well be your story.”

Irwin said he is touched every night by his character’s pondering if he’s been sleeping while others suffered. “There are moments when a great play comes along and will be noticed,” he said.

Along with the challenging subjects last season, some characters displayed quite a bit of darkness, leading to a discussion between the panelists about whether they have to like their characters. “I do,” said playwright Annie Baker whose play Body Awareness ran Off-Broadway.

“I think extremes are funny,” said Harden (in photo) who won the best actress in a play Tony for her role as Veronica in God of Carnage, a role that has her angrily sparring with the parents of her son’s classmate.

“The key is to not judge them,” Rush said about the characters he plays, adding that an actor has to believe in his character “when you’re in them, invested in their body.”

Rashad said she tries to find a reason why a character is the way she is.

The actors also talked about various challenges in their profession. Rush drew a big laugh when he talked about the need to guard against ego, quipping that every time he sees an exit sign he thinks it’s about him. (The title of his show, remember, is Exit the King.) He told a story about Sir Laurence Olivier storming around backstage after a brilliant performance. Stagehands, wondering why he upset, told him he was wonderful, to which Olivier replied: “I know, and I don’t know how I did it.”

They also discussed the joys of doing theatre as opposed to film, especially having the time to develop a character, and shared their feelings about the uncertainty of a performing life. Harden said many people are experiencing what actors go through now that there’s so much unemployment. “Now everybody knows what it feels like to be an actor,” she said, adding that even though she’s an Oscar winner (for "Pollock" in 2001) she still thinks after each job that she won’t work again. “It always feels shaky to be an artist,” she said, but now because of “corporate fat slobby behavior” many people feel shaky about their jobs and the future.

To help make a better future, Rashad said more young people need to go to the theatre and regrets that only one high school group has come to Ruined. “They’re the audience that needs to see it because they’re going to shape what comes next.”

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Flag Day

A Grand New Flag

It started as an innovative school project, and ended up the nation's new flag.

This article by Richard H. Schneider appeared in Guideposts magazine.

I've always been interested in the flag. I pledged allegiance to it as a schoolboy. I fought for it in Europe during World War II, and it was here to welcome us soldiers on our return home. 

The Stars and Stripes had 48 stars for the 48 states back then. But in the late fifties, things changed. Two new states were joining the union. How would the new flag accommodate them? 

Well, not too long ago while researching a book on the flag, I read about the man who came up with the 50-star design. In fact, he was not even an adult at the time. He was just a 17-year-old high school kid in Lancaster, Ohio. I gave him a call to hear his remarkable story.

On a Friday afternoon in the spring of 1958, Robert G. Heft was riding the bus home from school. He was thinking about the assignment his history teacher, Mr. Pratt, had given the class—a project that demonstrated their interest in history. Something visual. Something original. By Monday. 

As Robert rode through downtown Lancaster, he saw the flag on top of city hall. "That's what convinced me," he told me. "I would design a new flag."

Alaska was likely to soon become the 49th state. "But I knew that Alaska was heavily Democrat," he says. "The Senate would have to approve the addition, and it was dominated by Republicans at the time. Everyone was saying that they would be adding another state to balance it out." He had a hunch that then-Republican Hawaii would soon become the 50th state.
At home that night he sketched out a grid for 50 stars. "I couldn't just throw them in anywhere." So he came up with a design. Five rows of six stars with four alternating rows of five stars. 

That next morning he took the family's three by five flag out of the closet, sat down with scissors on the living room floor and cut out the blue and white-starred corner.

"What did your parents do?" I couldn't help asking. 

"My mom was horrified. She hollered at me for desecrating the flag. I insisted it was for a school project, and I'd make sure it looked okay." 

He biked downtown to Wiseman's Department Store and bought a new piece of blue cotton broadcloth. He also got some iron-on mending tape. "The kind my mom used for patches." With a cardboard pattern he traced 100 stars on the tape and cut them out. One hundred so he'd have a star for each side of the blue fabric.

"I wanted to get Mom to sew the new background to the old flag," Robert says, "but she wouldn't have anything to do with it. I got out her old foot-operated Singer. I was amazed I could actually work the thing." He sewed on the blue background and ironed on the stars. Project done.

"You must have gotten an A," I said.

Robert chuckled on the phone. "Not on your life," he said. "My teacher, Mr. Pratt, was a taskmaster. He looked at what I'd done and said it wasn't the real flag. Not with 50 stars. I explained my reasoning, and he still just barely gave me a passing grade. I was peeved!"

"What did you do?"

"For the first time I really spoke out. I told him I deserved better. I had a friend who'd done a collage of leaves and got an A. What I'd done showed a lot more imagination. Mr. Pratt looked at me coolly and declared, 'If you don't like the grade, go get the flag accepted in Washington!'"

And that's exactly what Robert Heft set out to do. He bicycled over to the home of his congressman, Walter Moeller, knocked on the door, gave him the flag and explained what it was for.

"I asked him if he would take my flag to Washington, and if there were ever a contest to determine the design for a 50-star flag, would he present mine. He was so bowled over that he agreed, probably just to get rid of me."

For the next two years, Robert waited in anticipation. In January 1959 President Eisenhower signed a proclamation announcing the admission of Alaska as the 49th state. As with all new states, the star would be added on the following July 4. 

That 49-star flag—seven rows of seven stars—was almost immediately obsolete. Because in August 1959, just as Robert had expected, Hawaii became the 50th state.

He'd already graduated from high school by then, the woeful grade still in Mr. Pratt's book. Robert was working as a draftsman for an industrial firm and going to college at night. Whatever happened to my flag design? he wondered. 

He'd heard that thousands of new designs had been submitted. A special commission of congressmen was screening them and choosing five for submission to President Eisenhower.

"In early June," Robert says, "I was working at my drafting board when one of the secretaries at the firm rushed over to me. 'There's a congressman on the phone for you,' she said. It was Congressman Moeller. I recognized his gravelly voice right away. 'Son, I'm proud to tell you that President Eisenhower has selected your design for our nation's new flag. Congratulations.'"

Robert flew to Washington to see his flag flown over the Capitol for the first time. Thousands of others had submitted the same design, but Robert Heft's had been the first. Moreover it wasn't just a sketch. It was an actual flag. That was a big plus. 

Since then Heft's original handmade version has traveled; it's flown over every state capital building and 88 embassies, and it is the only flag in American history to have flown over the White House under five administrations. It even has a patch on it from a bullet hole it caught in Saigon in 1967.

At the end of our talk I had one last question. "What about your grade?"
"The day I returned from Washington, Mr. Pratt changed it. But you know," Robert mused, "if I hadn't gotten that bad grade in the first place I wouldn't have given the flag to Congressman Moeller. And if I hadn't done that, I never would have gone to Washington..."

For more than 40 years, longer than any other, his design has been the one we know. "But I've got a good design for fifty-one," he said, "in case we add another." 

It's good to be reminded that Old Glory is a work-in-progress. Always has been, I guess. From the 13 original Stars and Stripes to the star-spangled banner of today, long may it wave.

Richard H. Schneider is a rover editor for GUIDEPOSTS.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

New life

“Every one of us is called upon, probably many times, to start a new life. A frightening diagnosis, a marriage, a move, loss of a job . . . And onward full tilt we go, pitched and wrecked and absurdly resolute, driven in spite of everything to make good on a new shore. To be hopeful, to embrace one possibility after another -- that is surely the basic instinct. . . Crying out: Hide tide! Time to move out into the glorious debris. Time to take this life for what it is.”
-- Barbara Kingsolver, High Tide in Tucson

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Supreme Faith

Motown legend Mary Wilson's inspiring story of struggle and success, faith and family

This profile by Nina Hämmerling Smith appeared in Guideposts magazine.

Mary Wilson has seen it all: joy and heartbreak, love and loss, struggle and fame — and through it all, her faith has sustained her. It wasn't something she had to go looking for; it was a given.

"Most Afro-Americans are brought up in the church," she says. "So faith is something that's kind of just in the air. It really is a huge part of me."

As a teenager, Wilson joined the church choir, and it soon became clear that she had not just a dream but also talent. In the late-'50s, she and three neighbors from Detroit's Brewster-Douglass housing project formed a "girl group" called the Primettes, and together they tried to make that dream come true.

In 1961, the girls — now a trio consisting of Wilson, Diana Ross and Florence Ballard —got their big break when they were signed to a fledgling local record company called Motown. There was one catch: They had to change their name. And the Supremes were born.

"We started out so young," says Wilson, reflecting on the label's milestone 50th anniversary. "Now, you can look back on your life and say, 'What an achievement!'"

But it wasn't always easy; for their first few years, they were known around Motown as the "No-Hit Supremes." Then, in 1963, "Where Did Our Love Go" climbed to the top of the charts, and the rest of the decade saw 11 more number-one singles, including "Baby Love" and "Stop! In the Name of Love."

Eventually Ross left to pursue a solo career, and the Supremes went through a number of different lineups through the '70s. Wilson was the only original member who remained with the group for its nearly two-decade history.

Through all the ups and downs, her faith was one constant. "It is always a part of my life," says Wilson. "Faith gets me through my everyday."

Never did she need it more than when tragedy struck her family. In 1994, Wilson was driving with her son Raphael early one morning when she nodded off at the wheel and crashed the car. Raphael died as a result of his injuries, and Wilson was left to pick up the pieces.

"Had I not had faith in my life, I would not have had a strong foundation to stand on," she says. "Somehow I put one foot in front of the other. I don't think you ever get over it, but you can't dwell on it. To dwell on loss only brings you more loss."

Wilson found a remarkable way to channel her sorrow: by going back to school.

"My mother always wanted one of her children to graduate from college," explains Wilson. "She herself could neither read nor write. I became famous when I got out of high school, so I didn't do that. But the thought always stayed in my mind. When I lost Ralphie, I said, 'I'm going to do what would make my mom happy.' And that was to go to college."
Keeping up with schoolwork while touring—all at the age of 58—wasn't easy.

"I was doing my homework in limousines, in hotel rooms, in dressing rooms, on airplanes." But it was all worth it when she earned her degree from NYU. "I made my mother's dream come true."

To this day, Wilson maintains a very full schedule. She has eight grandchildren as well as a great-grandchild. She tours the world as a cultural ambassador and spokeswoman for the Humpty Dumpty Institute, bringing attention to the dangers of landmines. She still performs. And she speaks to groups about her own experiences, and her message is simple: "Dare to dream."

"Thoughts are very powerful," she says. "If you can think it, you can achieve it. That means negative thoughts can stop you, as well. So dare to really change your life. Make your dreams come true."

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

An Excerpt from Christian Insight Meditation

Following In the Footsteps of John of the Cross by Mary Jo Meadow, Kevin Culligan, Daniel Chowning, who integrate Buddhist insight meditation into Christian contemplative prayer. Here is an excerpt on being present.

"In Christian insight meditation, regular attention to the breath develops a growing consciousness of the presence of the Spirit whom Jesus breathes upon us. It readies us to follow where the Spirit leads, even into unfamiliar territory. 'The wind blows wherever it pleases; you hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. That is how it is with all who are born of the Spirit.'

"The meditation discipline of staying in the present moment, refusing to give mental energy to thoughts of the past or the future, trains us for moment-to-moment attention to the here and now. This enables us to live fully in God's presence as we involve ourselves in the endless tasks that make up our day. 'Do not worry about tomorrow,' Jesus reminds us, 'for tomorrow will have its own worries. Let each day's problems be sufficient for the day.'

"Close attention to present experiences also puts us deeply in touch with our beings. This brings understanding that helps us manage problem thoughts, emotion, and impulses. It results in better conduct, calmer minds, and greater purity of heart.

"Although not all of us pray in the same way, the goal of all Christian prayer remains the same: continual communion with God and transformation of our lives in Christ."

Monday, June 8, 2009

Taking Wing: Marg Helgenberger

How does this CSI star stay grounded? Her small-town roots.

This essay by actress Marg Helgenberger appeared in Guideposts magazine.

There’s an old saying that the job of good parents is to give their children roots and wings—values to keep them grounded and the courage to follow their own dreams. I feel blessed because my mom and dad gave me both strong roots and strong wings.

I was born and raised in North Bend, Nebraska, population 1,213. Mom was a school nurse and Dad was the inspector at the meatpacking plant. We lived in a house built in 1915 on Locust Street across from the town pool where, every summer, I was a lifeguard. As soon as my day was done, my friends and I rode our bikes down to the sandpit to fish for catfish and bluegill.

You couldn’t get in much trouble in North Bend, because there was always someone looking out for you. And with Mom as the nurse at North Bend Central, there was no way I could play hooky. Maybe once or twice I went to her office with an upset stomach. She’d give me some saltine crackers and make me take a nap on the cot for 20 minutes. That was all.

There were three of us kids—I was in the middle—and Dad taught us all in the catechism classes at church. His specialty was using pop songs to illustrate faith lessons. I don’t know how he managed to get a message out of Loggins and Messina or Kenny Rogers’ latest chart-topper, but he sure kept the class from getting bored.

We learned from both of our parents that prayer was part of everyday life. Mom had her prayer group, and in Dad’s case it made him one of the most upbeat, positive people I’ve ever met. When he had a bad day he’d just say, “If the sun’s not shining on me then at least it’s shining on someone else.” Talk about deep roots.

Who’d want to leave this idyllic, small-town life behind, right? Well, in my late teens I caught the acting bug, and my high school drama teacher, Ms. VonRein, had me compete in speech tournaments all around the state. Dramatic interpretation was my thing.

I remember coming home from one speech tournament and announcing I was going to move away so I could study acting. Mom was aghast—how was I going to make a living as an actress?—but Dad encouraged me right from the start. “You should do what you believe in,” he said. Time to spread my wings.

First stop was Kearney State College, then Northwestern University outside of Chicago, which had a top-notch drama program. It was pretty intimidating to be in a big city on a campus with tons of talented actors. Still, I started getting cast for some really good lead roles like Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire and Kate in The Taming of the Shrew.

Summers back home Dad got me a job at the plant, trimming fat and boning raw meat. It was brutal work, physically demanding and exhausting. There were days I wanted to quit. “Hang tough,” Dad would say, and that’s just what I did.

Then the floor fell out from under my perfect world. It was just at the end of spring term junior year. I was heading back to Nebraska and I remember calling home from the pay phone in the dorm corridor to let them know when I’d be there. Mom—ever practical—mentioned that she was going to the hospital the next day for a lumpectomy.

“Don’t worry, honey,” she said. “It’s just routine surgery.” But when I landed at the airport and Dad met me at the gate, I could tell from his expression that I should be plenty worried. “It’s cancer,” Dad said. “She had to have a mastectomy.”

Tears blurred my eyes. I could barely find my luggage at the baggage carousel. For the next few days I prayed as hard as I could. I couldn’t believe that something like this could happen to my mom, who took such good care of her health.

For a year she had chemotherapy and radiation, getting violently ill after each treatment. I was so worried I dropped out of school. I only went back to my classes when her cancer went into remission.

The respite didn’t last long. This time it was my dad. He had a curious numbness in his hands and arms. Then he started walking with a limp. The doctors couldn’t figure out what the problem was. Finally they came up with the diagnosis: multiple sclerosis.

Dad was Dad. He battled MS with his sunny temperament and loads of faith. He’d get cortisone treatments and the symptoms would recede, then the disease would return with a vengeance, leaving him wheelchair-bound.

I graduated from college and moved to New York to pursue acting. I was very proud to get a part on the soap opera "Ryan’s Hope." That meant I could send money home to help defray Dad’s medical expenses. But sometimes in the loneliness of the big city, the struggles of making it in acting got to me, and I wondered, What was the use of spreading my wings if I couldn’t be with the people I loved most?

Dad, though, wouldn’t hear of me giving up my dream, even when his condition went downhill. “If the sun’s not shining on me,” he’d still say, “at least I can think of it shining on someone else.” That’s what life was for him to the end. Keeping positive, keeping focused on others, not wallowing in self-pity. The last time I saw him, he had sunk into a coma. I sat by his bedside, holding his hand, fighting back my sorrow. “Someday,” I told him, “I’ll put this town on the map.” That was a someday he always believed in.

At his funeral, the church was filled with his catechism students who had learned about faith from pop songs. I’m sure more than one of us were singing under our breath as we listened to the prayers and the hymns. But in my grief, there was one thing I couldn’t do. I couldn’t pray. I was too angry. Too hurt. Dad had been so young. Only 50. Why would God take him away from us? Why now?

I returned to acting, moved to Los Angeles and landed film and TV roles. Some days an audition would go well or I’d get good feedback from a casting director. Other days all I’d get were rejections, and I’d sink into despair.

Was I banging my head against a wall? How would I ever move ahead? Why didn’t I just give up? The hangover of grief pulled me down. Those few times I was tempted to pray I couldn’t find the words. I was still so angry at God.

One day I was sitting in my apartment in L.A. waiting for a call and dreading the bad news that might come: “Sorry, you just aren’t right for the part” or “It just went to someone else,” when I thought of Dad.

I remembered his catechism class, his sunny temperament, his reaction at the dinner table when I told my parents that I was going to leave town to become an actress: “You should do what you believe in.” I thought of the job at the meatpacking plant and how I had days I wanted to give up. “Hang tough,” Dad had said. He would never give up, even on the worst of his days. Hang tough.

I closed my eyes and said a prayer—the first I’d said in months. I told God everything. I’d never be able to understand why Dad had died at 50 or why Mom had struggled through breast cancer, but I couldn’t keep closing God out. I needed to talk to him, the way my parents always talked to him.

“God, I still need you in my life,” I prayed. I couldn’t hang tough on my own. I needed to dig deep into the values and faith my family had given me. That’s what would sustain me, what had always sustained the Helgenbergers.

Today Mom has remarried and still lives in Nebraska. She meets with her prayer group and goes to church every week. She’s no longer the school nurse at North Bend Central, but she wouldn’t hesitate to tell me I should have a few saltines and take a nap if I have an upset stomach. I call her all the time and hear about news back home.

Not long ago I returned to town for a special ceremony. They were renaming Locust Street, the block where our old house was, in my honor. Can you imagine? I hugged old friends and met with the drama department from the class of ’77. Then I looked at the new street sign with “Helgenberger Ave.” on it.

“Dad,” I wanted to say, “if I haven’t put North Bend on the map, well, at least they’ve put us on their map.”

I’m very grateful for the success I’ve had. Success can either go to your head or totally humble you. Gratitude keeps everything in perspective. My role on CSI has been fascinating, and every time I make a movie I wish Dad were still around so he could see it.

I stuck it out because of him and Mom, their prayers and their faith in me. I couldn’t have come this far without them. Roots and wings. Yes, they gave me both.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Pray with faith

What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. Mark 11:24

“To pray successfully, you must employ affirmation and visualization. Form a picture in your mind, not of lack or denial or frustration or illness, but of prosperity, abundance, attainment, health. Always remember you will receive as a result of prayer exactly what you think, not what you say. If you pray for achievement but think defeat, your words are idle because your heart has already accepted defeat. Therefore, practice believing that even as you pray you are receiving God’s boundless blessings, and they will come to you.”
-- Dr. Norman Vincent Peale

Saturday, June 6, 2009


“The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
-- Marcel Proust

Friday, June 5, 2009

Pure Confidence

  It’s a gift to find a gem of a play like Pure Confidence, which is enjoying its New York premiere at 59E59 Theaters through July 3. The story and characters are involving, brought to life by strong acting and Marion McClinton’s sensitive direction.

Playwright Carlyle Brown’s story of a slave and his longing to be free is set against a backdrop of horse racing and high stakes betting in the South of 1861 and Saratoga, NY, in 1877. Simon Cato (Gavin Lawrence) will be a memorable character for me. A champion jockey who is one of the most successful athletes of his day, Simon bristles at being a slave. Knowing his skill at winning makes him a valuable commodity for the owners whose horses he is hired out to race, he displays a cockiness and arrogance no other slave could get away with.

“I’m the one with the whip,” he says smugly.

As portrayed by Lawrence, Simon is winning in every way. So is Caroline (Christianna Clark), a slave who becomes Simon’s wife after he buys her freedom. I cared about these two people and wanted them to be happy.

The Pure Confidence of the title is the prize thoroughbred owned by Colonel Wiley Johnson (Chris Mulkey) that Simon races so successfully. Simon himself is pure confidence, until his world comes crashing down unexpectedly in a plot twist I won’t reveal.

The first act is full of humor as Simon pushes his limits with the wealthy white horse owners. The second act, set in Saratoga 16 years later, is more serious and contains the most compelling encounter of the play when Caroline meets up with her former mistress, Mattie Johnson (Karen Landry), the Colonel’s wife. Miss Mattie is glad to see Caroline and talks to her as if the two had been friends. But Caroline lashes out, mentioning a time she had traveled with her mistress and seen slave family being torn apart at auctions.

“Nothing you ever say to me help to prepare me for that,” she says angrily. “’Cause you see Miss Mattie, I start thinking about when did that happen to me? When was I sold from my family, my mother, my father, my brother, my sisters? And God help me, Miss Mattie, but I don’t remember. You would think you would remember something like that, but I didn’t. It was just an empty feeling like staring at a star-less, moon-less sky. And this feeling I get gets to be so full of hatefulness, and I didn’t know how to put a name after it, Miss Mattie, but to name after you.”

Miss Mattie is genuinely sorry: “I don’t know what to tell you, Caroline. I shouldn’t be surprised about the way you feel. I should of known it. We can all feel hateful about our lives. And about how things might have been and all the things we could have done. . . You don’t ask whether it’s right or wrong, it’s the world and you try to live in it. But deep down you know it’s wrong, and there’s a little coward inside you, a little devil that’s always whispering, ‘What can I do? I can’t change the world.’ And so you don’t do anything and day by day it makes you hateful. . . And now it looks like I’ve gone on and passed that hatefulness on to you. I am truly sorry, Caroline.”

I was touched by the grace of Caroline’s response: “You don’t have to be sorry, Miss Mattie. I know about them things you talking about. You know I do. I live in your house and I seen it. I just wanted to hear you say it, that’s all.”

It’s a powerful scene that riveted the audience. It made Caroline as real as any of us sitting there watching.

Brown’s play also makes real a piece of African-American history that I knew nothing about, and that is in sharp contrast with the present day.

“African-American jockeys’ dominance in the world of racing is a history nearly forgotten today,” writes Lisa K. Winkler in Simthsonian.com. “Their participation dates back to colonial times, when the British brought their love of horse racing to the New World. Because racing was tremendously popular in the South, it is not surprising that the first black jockeys were slaves. They cleaned the stables and handled the grooming and training of some of the country’s most valuable horseflesh. From such responsibility, slaves developed the abilities needed to calm and connect with thoroughbreds, skills demanded of successful jockeys.”

She provides interesting statistics. Of the 20 riders in this year’s Kentucky Derby, none was African-American. “Yet in the first Kentucky Derby in 1875, 13 of the 15 jockeys were black.” They dominated the track in the late 1800s, but by 1921 had disappeared, not to return again until 2000. Racism and intense competition, sometimes violent, as race tracks closed because of economic recessions helped bring about the decline of black jockeys.

“For blacks, racing provided a false sense of freedom,” Winkler writes. “They were allowed to travel the racing circuit, and some even managed their owners’ racing operation. They competed along side whites. When black riders were cheered to the finish line, the only colors that mattered were the colors of their silk jackets, representing their stables. Horse racing was entertaining for white owners and slaves alike and one of the few ways for slaves to achieve status.”

Pure Confidence beautifully resurrects that time. Joseph Stanley’s wonderful set, which switches nicely from southern stable to northern hotel, Christine A. Richardson’s costumes and Michael Wangen’s lighting serve the effort well. The show, a Mixed Blood Theatre production, is part of the Americas Off Broadway series at 59E59 Theaters.

I strongly urge you to see this production. Tickets are available by calling Ticket Central at 212-279-4200 or online at www.ticketcentral.com.  For more information visitwww.59E59.org. 

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Psalm 121

Psalm 121 is my favorite psalm. Guideposts magazine sets it against glorious images and uplifting music. Click here for a peaceful experience.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


"There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread."
~ Gandhi

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Wakefulness of Prayer

Here's another lovely pod cast from Fr. Laurence Freeman on meditation, or "pure prayer" as he calls it, the prayer that is beyond thought or ego. Meditation is the form of prayer that brings me closest to God. I hope you will enjoy this talk.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Rivalry

Norman Corwin's play The Rivalry, a revival of which is at the Irish Repertory Theatre through July 5, is more than just a compelling history lesson about the Abraham Lincoln-Stephen Douglas debates of 1858. It is a commentary on race in America that, unfortunately, is still quite relevant.

No politician today would so blatantly -- and publicly -- talk about the importance of preserving racial purity as Democratic incumbent Douglas did in battling Lincoln, his Republican challenger, to hold onto his U.S. Senate seat in Illinois. It’s startling to hear him defend slavery -- and to know he won that contest. But our country is still polarized along racial lines, as the recent Supreme Court nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor makes evident. Director Vincent Dowling has chosen an appropriate play to mark the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth.

Corwin’s text of the debates derives from the stenographic record. Slavery, and whether it should be allowed in new territories and states, was the most volatile issue, with Lincoln proposing the matter should be left up to the individual states and Douglas maintaining slavery should be kept uniformly across the country.

I was disappointed by the amateurish performances in the first act, but the actors rose to the occasion in the second as the debates grew more heated. Christian Kaufman (right in photo) portrays Lincoln, Peter Cormican is Douglas, Mary Linda Rapelye is Douglas’ wife, Adele, who also serves as an occasional narrator of the play, and Doug Stender is a Republican committeeman.

The Rivalry was performed on Broadway in 1959, another important time to consider race relations as the civil rights movement was beginning to stir. Playwright Corwin was actually more widely known, though, in another medium, one that earned him the title of America’s “poet laureate of the radio” for the powerful programs he wrote and produced in the 1930s and 40s, including President Franklin Roosevelt’s celebration of the Bill of Rights at the beginning of World War II. Corwin returned to that medium in the 1990s with a series of programs written and directed for National Public Radio that feature such prominent actors as Jack Lemmon, Hume Cronyn and Charles Durning.

The creative team for The Rivalry includes set designer Eugene D. Warner, costume designer Rosi Zingales, lighting designer Brian Nason, sound designer Zachary Williamson and original sound designer Walter Mantani.

Tickets for The Rivalry may be purchased by calling (212) 727-2737 or at the Irish Rep box office, 132 W. 22nd St., between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. For more information visit www.irishrep.org.