Everyone Is a Critic (or… Respecting the Work)

“You’re only as good as your last blog.”  Those are the words ringing through my head right now as I fight writer’s block.  That’s not a good sign when you’re only on blog #4.

Those words echo what I hear every time I select and direct a show.

“You’re only as good as your last show.”

I know exactly where those words come from.  I know they aren’t healthy and, furthermore, that they aren’t the truth.  Ironic as it may sound, I *know* my self-worth is not found in my performance.  But what I feel… that’s a different matter.  Heart over head sometimes, right?

Most times, actually.

We live in a day and age where everyone is a critic.  With the advent of the internet, anonymous vitriol is as easy as the click of a button.  Don’t like a restaurant?  Leave an anonymous review.  Displeased with a doctor?  Write a scathing diatribe against her practice.  Inconvenienced by a store clerk?  Send an email to his boss.

And if you’re in the entertainment business?  Boy, oh boy.  Everyone is an authority.

In my twenty-five years as a director, I’ve heard some doozies.

One patron, after a three-hour show, complained as she was leaving, “Why did it have to be so long?  At least they could have told us it would be that long.”  We did.  It was written in the program.  What else can we say?  Sometimes we do shows that are classics.  And the classics tend to be long.

One didn’t like a rug we used as part of a set design.

One didn’t care for the playwright.  Found her annoying.

One said I was “still learning my craft.”  At this point, I had two degrees and twenty years of experience.

As recently as a few years ago, I heard a young patron exclaim in the lobby at the conclusion of a show,

“Well, that was awful!”

I was standing right next to him.  And I felt the rage climb up out of the dark recesses of my heart and find its voice in my own.  I zeroed in on him with cold precision and said, “You need to leave.”  He looked at me in complete disbelief.  I repeated myself, lest he misunderstand.  “You need to leave… now.”  Then he understood.  Then it registered all over his face.  He immediately stammered out, “I didn’t mean to offend anyone.”

“Well, you did.  Leave.  Now.”

He did.

Not my proudest moment.  But I did not want my students to hear that.  And I did not want my heart to hear that.  We had just finished five weeks of 12-15 hour days to launch the show.  We had fought budgetary limitations, casting woes, calendar conflicts, rental costume mistakes, and a ton of multimedia issues.  Memorization alone was deeply challenging for several of the actors.  Sleep deprivation had claimed most of us, but we pressed on; for every minor victory, there seemed to be some major setback.

The play was tough material, to be sure, but worthy of examination.  It asked the audience to engage their minds, to sit up and follow the subtle clues dropped by the playwright, and to ask hard questions in the end about life, responsibility, and reality.  It was meta-theatrical and self-referential.  It’s textbook canon, for crying out loud!

Either this patron wasn’t up for that… or we failed in our attempt.

Did we fail in our attempt?

I don’t know.  We seem to forget the kind things people say.  Though I am sure there were several for this particular production, I can’t seem to remember them.  I remember the putdown.

But it taught me something.  It taught me to respect the work no matter who the producing company is.  It reminded me to stop and look at the minutiae in the piece.  Someone typed that program.  Someone designed the artwork for the poster.  Someone painted the detail on that set.  Another hung and cabled those lights.  Still another stitched the trim on that gown.  Another choreographed the fights.  Another braced those platforms.  Who collected the props?  Who styled the wigs?  Who sound designed or stage managed or directed the show?  How long did it take to memorize those lines?  It is such a hugely collaborative process that the amount of man-hours invested would be near impossible to count.  And that amount of work–that crushing and unyielding amount of work–I will respect that.

How many details can you discern from a single photo from a production?

How many details can you discern from a single photo of a production?

Admittedly, we may not like the end result.  And I believe differing opinions are valid and healthy.  But I will not speak unkindly in their house.  I will not speak unkindly in their house.




Brinkley, Nov. 11, 2013

The past 13 months have been very difficult for me.  For the first time in 32 years I am without a cat. Let me give it to you in a chronological list: Oct 2012 Jericho kitty died, Nov 2012 Dusty the horse died and Mom became very ill, Dec 2012 Mom died, Jan 2013 Val Siniak died, Feb 2013 Daisy dog died, Mar I cleaned out some of mom’s stuff, April Mom’s birthday, May 2013 Ecuador trip where I nearly died from a intestinal virus, June I cleaned out ALL of Mom’s things, July was quiet and I got a puppy, August school started, September cancer diagnosis and a BIG problem with a dear friend, Oct 2013 cancer surgery and Sam kitty died, Nov 2013…so far no one has died and I am cancer free.

I’m stressed.

Brinkley isn’t helping.

I adopted Brinkley from the Harrison County Human Society.  So far he has cost me about $600 in vet services plus the damage he has done to my home and yard.  Brinkley turned 7 months old Nov 9th.  He is a good old mutt who is a cutie pie.  He can play fetch and has FINALLY figured out how to go potty OUTSIDE.  He has been a big stressor in my life.  I have seriously considered getting him a new home.  He is a considerable handful!  We have been together 3 1/2 months and he has spent that time trying to learn to be a good dog.  It is very difficult to be a good dog when there are so many things to chew and eat.  He keeps barking at me telling me to “Look! LOOK!”  In fact he talks to me a lot.  I have lost my temper with him several times.  I have placed him in doggie timeout and forced him to sleep in the front bathroom.  Every morning I pick-up and throw away his puppy pad while he tries to “help” me carry it to the trash can.  Two weeks ago he started having dry pads.  After a week of dry pads I bought him a new bed and put it in my bedroom.  Every night I place him on his bed and turn out the lights.  Five minutes later he is in bed with me.  We’ve gone through the whole “this is your bed” training program.  I quit trying when one night he carefully crawled onto my bed, snuggled up to me and gently sighed.  Such contentment was expressed in that one sigh.  Everything was right in Brinkley’s world at that moment.

My whole being relaxed at that same moment.

Brinkley is still a handful.  He pulled up the vinyl flooring in the laundry room.  He chewed holes in the rubber garden hose.  He whines while I shower and complains about not getting all the treats at one time.  He loves to watch the toilet flush and the dryer go ‘round.  He has dug up every fall plant I put out in the back yard.  He talks while I’m trying to watch my shows and sits on me when I’m trying to read.  He is goofy.  He makes me smile.

He gives great hugs.








The Quest

I pulled The Hobbit off my bookshelf  this summer.  Hard to believe that Tolkien first introduced us to Bilbo Baggins—a little furry-footed creature—on September 21, 1937.  I still love the opening line—“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

When we first meet Bilbo, life is comfortable.  His round belly offers proof of his affection for raspberry jam, apple tarts, mince pies, cold chicken, pickles, eggs, cheese, and cakes.  Not to mention red wine and coffee and tea and ale.  Dinner twice a day is just fine with a hobbit—as well as predictability and routine.

But one day, Gandalf shows up at Bilbo’s front door.  The little hobbit has been chosen for an important mission involving treasure and a dragon.  Bilbo doesn’t look like the adventurous type—and the company of dwarves Bilbo joins is suspicious of him.  But Gandalf reassures them—“There is a lot more in [Bilbo] than you guess.”

The idea of treasure and dragons excites Bilbo, just a little.  But when trusts are betrayed and goblins appear, the adventure suddenly becomes a dangerous quest.

And quests always exact a price.  They involve sacrifice and bring deep weariness and exhaustion.

Bilbo does grow weary.  And often he wishes that he was back home—“by the fire with the kettle just beginning to sing.”  But, ultimately, Bilbo chooses to confront his greatest fears.

At one crucial point in The Hobbit, after the goblins have taken Bilbo’s pony and all of his supplies, Bilbo assesses the dire situation that he and his party find themselves in.  And his conclusion?

“Very well then, we must just tighten our belts and trudge on. . . .”

I like Bilbo. When things get hard, Bilbo doesn’t give up.  He trudges ahead.  Bilbo brings to life the choices we confront when things get challenging. His journey is a metaphor for our own.

For many of my students, as we enter our twelfth week, this semester adventure has become a quest.  There is something we want and there is something that doesn’t want us to get it.

I know I wrote about complacency last week.  But I guess it’s still very much on my mind.

Last Friday, almost half my class was absent.  And yesterday, during our workshop time, one of my students just sat in her chair—doing nothing.  When I asked her what was wrong, she said she was fine.  When I told her that she needed to work, she ignored me.  Finally, I said, “Are you coming back next semester?”  She shook her head no.  And so I asked, “So, have you just quit trying?  Are you just waiting for it to be over?”  And she shook her head yes.

This is the hard time of the year.  The mountain with gold and treasure looms before us.  We are so close.  But there is that whole dragon thing.

And along the way—temptations and fatigue threaten to derail us.  To reach the goal, there must be sacrifice.  We must be willing to give up something of ourselves to attain something greater. And sacrifice and deferred gratification are never easy.

“Don’t leave the path!” Gandalf warns Bilbo and the dwarves.  But they stray anyway.  Just like my students.  And some find themselves in grave danger.

So what do we do?

Well—I tighten my belt and trudge on.  And I hope my students will trudge with me. I hope the dragons don’t deter us.

We all face them—these obstacles that seem so big and so overwhelming.  They breathe fire and have sharp claws. The key is whether we will stay on the path and confront our fears, or whether we will wander off.

We are all facing dragons, I tell my students.  We may as well face them together.  And we might even pray for each other.  For strength.  And self-direction.  And protection.

And with the help of God—you never know—like Bilbo, there may be a lot more in us than we might guess.


Integrity and Perseverance

We were in a beautiful valley with lush tall grass, red flowers, butterflies and singing birds.  The sun was warm, not hot.  My great-grandfather was sitting on a large oak log with me.  “Sis, it’s all about Honor,” he said.  “Be true to yourself.  Always, always honor God. Be your best. Do your best.  Be honorable.”  He kissed me on my forehead and walked away.

I  shot upright in my bed in the dorm.  It was so real.  My chest ached. I cried, no I wept.  Grandpa was dead I just knew it. I breathed deeply and looked at the clock.  6:20.  The ringing phone jolted me out of my well of emotions.

“Sis.”  It was Dad.

“Grandpa is dead isn’t he, Dad?”

“Yes, he passed a few minutes ago.  I’ll call you tonight with more information.”

Grandpa stopped by to see me on his way home.

Twenty years later I discovered that Grandpa stopped by and visited with my cousin, Alan.  They talked about something different.  None of the others shared our experience.

Definitions from Dictionary.com

Honor: honesty, fairness, or integrity in one’s beliefs and actions: a man of honor.

2. a source of credit or distinction: to be an honor to one’s family.

3. high respect, as for worth, merit, or rank: to be held in honor.

4. such respect manifested: a memorial in honor of the dead.

5. high public esteem; fame; glory: He has earned his position of honor.

Integrity: adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.

2. the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished: to preserve the integrity of the empire.

3. a sound, unimpaired, or perfect condition: the integrity of a ship’s hull.

Perseverance: steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.

2. Theology: continuance in a state of grace to the end, leading to eternal salvation.

OK, Grandpa, why did you come tell me about honor?  Honor is for men and their egos.  Sword fights, pistols at 10 paces, and broken promises.  I’m a woman and women don’t understand what honor means to a man.

Humans don’t understand what HONOR means to God.  Look at the definition: honesty, fairness, or integrity in one’s beliefs and actions.   Notice that honor and integrity have HONESTY at the core of the definition.  One cannot understand honor or integrity without understanding honesty. Honesty is the quality or fact of being honest; uprightness and fairness, truthfulness, sincerity, frankness, freedom from deceit or fraud, and chastity (in an obsolete way…seriously? Obsolete?).

At our core human beings are NOT honest and therefore, we cannot understand honor or integrity.

It takes perseverance to become a people of honor.

I like the idea of integrity as a state of being whole, entire and undiminished.  Did you read the second definition of perseverance?  “Theology: continuance in a state of grace to the end, leading to eternal salvation.”  So if I “stay the course” of being whole with honesty, then, through Jesus Christ I continue in a state of grace to the end.


I just gave myself a headache.

God wants me to be a woman of honor, integrity and perseverance. I need to be true to God and thus myself. I need to give God the highest respect and to respect myself.  I need to stick to God’s moral and ethical principles and make them my own.  I need to stay the course no matter what obstacles, brick walls or ignorant people stand in my way.  I NEED to be like JESUS who embodies all these principles, think like Jesus, and love like Jesus thus being in a state of grace unto the end.

OH GOD, make me a woman of HONOR!