Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Sabbatical: The Updated Purpose Statement

I don’t know what I’m doing.

Or, perhaps as Richard Robichaux more elegantly described it to me, I have discovered the emptiness of my cup and am anxious to spend some time filling it.

Fifty years appears to be long enough for me to have acquired some skills, played with finding ways to implement those skills, and finally recognize that I know so very little about what I am doing.  My cup has been filled over and over again by the experiences I have had working with actors, students, directors, designers, technicians, managers, patrons, administrators...the list of intertwining folks who have shared this journey with me is expansive.  It is from these people and the work I have done with them that I have learned so much.  Yet, up until this point this journey has been a spur in my life; an apparent bird walk beyond the agenda of daily living.

When I was ten, which was just over forty years ago, I read Inherit the Wind.  I was moved and inspired by this play.  It made me so want to be a lawyer and throughout my life that fantasy of the intellectual playground of the law flirted with me.  Although I produced the play in my garage, it didn’t occur to me then that the real love affair was not with the subject of the play or the law, but with the act of playing itself.  I have no memory of this production of Inherit the Wind...which is probably a blessing.  I cannot imagine it was at all watchable or that there were very many patrons present to watch it, yet there it was.

For reasons having nothing to do with interest, I was not able to participate in theater in high school.  When I entered the University of Minnesota in 1979 I registered for Arthur Ballet’s introductory theater course and enjoyed it, but it wasn’t until I began ushering for a local community theater, Theater in the Round, that a vision of being part of the creation of theater began to become something I could see.  Over the following several years I volunteered for more front of house positions, then ran a light board and a sound board, then became involved in construction and finally became a stage manager for shows at Theater in the Round.  

Within this time it was the rehearsal process that unpacked for me the real delight and energy of the creation of theater.  The thrill of performance and audience was obvious, but the deeper draw was in the rehearsal process.  I worked with some reasonably skilled directors during this time, and their abilities in relation to working with actors and communicating their vision of the beauty of the play were inspirational for me.  There was a joy in this work that I was drawn to.

At the same time, I had no vision of what this would look like as a career.  I lacked an understanding of how to share my passion with others and so lacked a mentor to guide me into the fold, and my singularly dysfunctional experiences in academics at the University of Minnesota at that time left me without an entrance pass to this world.  In some ways it is almost inconceivable to me that I found myself on a different path, and yet the exigencies of economic survival along with a tumultuous journey in my own mental health and understanding of how to be an adult required that I seek more secure and traditional pastures in which to settle during those years.  so, by the time I was in my thirties I had left this world behind in exchange for a more stable and traditional life of work and family.  It would appear that at this time my cup was filled with other things, and there was no room for my love of theater.

Fast forward to 2001, when I left my work with our family business I once again flirted with pursuing law, but accurately perceived that I was more drawn to work that had greater potential for being relational and creative.  Consequently, I obtained my license to teach Communication Arts in Minnesota.  As I worked through the teacher training program I was aware of the possibility that when I found a job in a high school there would be potential for a renewal of my involvement in theater.  Perhaps I could find a job where there was a need for someone to direct their plays?  Lo and behold, there was.  I began work at Roseville Area High School in the Fall of 2001 and between then and now I have directed fourteen mainstage shows and a host of one acts.  At the same time, we created a community theater in the theater of a local church, and I have directed another fourteen full length shows there.  Over the past eleven years my involvement in theater has grown from the first year when I directed one show to the more recent years when I have opened between five or more productions per year -- all while continuing to hold my full time job with the school district and to be a parent to my two wonderful kids.

It is not, however, about volume.  It is about joy, and also about how well this work fits with my skills and passion.  I believe passionately in the power of the creation of a safe space within which talented and creative people can work in community to trust their intuition and make beautiful things happen.  I am patient, creative, energized and thoughtful in the creation of those spaces.  I have an ability to set my ego aside and serve the needs of the production.  I have experienced wonderful success in my development as a director, and I am extraordinarily excited about setting aside the things that have distracted me from pursuing this art and making it the full time work of my remaining years.  I am busily emptying my cup in anticipation of this opportunity to fill it.

When I was young, the natural question that folks would ask would be, “What do you want to do after you finish school?”   At that time, since it took me twenty years to finish my undergraduate degree, that was a particularly complex and vexing question.  It is interesting now, however, that the choices I might make after I complete an MFA in Directing are considerably less pressing or significant that they manner in which I would engage the program itself and how myself and the program would benefit from that experience.  What is immediately exciting to me is the experience of the learning that would take place within the MFA program itself.  When thinking about the goals or purpose of obtaining this degree, the most primary and immediate goal is to benefit and embrace the act of obtaining it.  I have an almost greedy desire to enter into a world in which I am completely immersed in the exploration of the craft of directing.  I look forward to becoming more skilled with all of its elements, from textual analysis to technical vision to relations with actors and on and on.  While I have some background and knowledge related to the history of theater, there is so much missing from my knowledge and I look forward to filling the content knowledge part of my cup as well.  There is so much richness and complexity to the craft, and I look forward to deepening my ability to navigate those challenges.

At the same time, there is a future beyond the program, and where I might venture in that future is an interesting and equally exciting question.  The idea of working as a professor in an educational institution is very attractive.  I was, and am, a very skilled teacher and I would enjoy merging those skills with my developing skills as a director to utilize them in concert in a post-secondary setting.  I am also attracted by the idea of securing a position as a director in a professional setting.  I have had numerous experiences in the past decade directing shows where I was also the producer and the front of house manager and so on.  I have had a few tastes of what it might be like to be directing within a context where the business of theater is being managed for me and would dearly love to have more.  While I bring some useful skills as a manager and businessman, to have those elements off my plate provides so much more room for my energy to be focused on creative process.  I have many interests, and am confident that an MFA in Directing will allow me to find contexts that fit those interests and that training.

My cup is empty, and I can see that an MFA in Directing program would provide an extraordinary place to fill it up.

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