Tuesday, March 24, 2015

All The World's A Stage: Eric Larson's Dead Wake

Two hours to curtain, my hair in curlers, still need to glob on my stage makeup and cross off handfuls of other nagging to-do tasks, why on earth am I reading a book about the Lusitania?

You remember, the Liverpool-bound ocean liner full of American passengers whose sinking by a Nazi submarine cast the U.S. into World War I? (All you Downton Abbey fans will remember this tragedy starting all the series' heir-finding plot machinations during the show's premiere.)

Eric Larson, author of Devil in the White City, has penned a new account of the disaster that brings alive the parallel stories of a prowling German U-20 submarine and an English civilian ship laden with families on deck and munitions below.

Why was I adding more tension in my life during the craziest weeks of Variety Show when our cast of dozens had daily practices late into the night and seven performances in six days? I was already nervous, why was I biting my nails over cork-filled life vests and stealthy periscopes?

Because perspective, that's why.

I don't indulge in disaster narratives for the gory titillation, for the schadenfreude, for the visceral horrors or the relief of being at a safe readerly distance. As I read Dead Wake, as I read last month's Left to Write book club choice Trapped Under the Sea, when I read (and reread) Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, it's mostly about the good writing, the art of the storytelling. But what sticks with me is the way these books reveal how thin is the veil between normal everyday life and unexpected death.

No one escapes tragedy, after all. Some disasters are more quiet than others, but none of us is immune.

All the frenzy of preparations for a show with a cast and crew of over one hundred excited amateurs, all the thousands of creative decisions involved, all the nerves, the drumming hearts, the feats of strength to overcome shyness and stage fright, all is a wisp, an echo, a memory already. Such is all theater and such is all of our ephemeral lives.

These bleak truths don't dampen the pleasures of good company and good work. Instead, the fleetness of our time together makes every moment more precious. I have been very lucky. I am very happy.

This post was inspired by Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson, a thrilling account of the luxury ocean liner and the U-boat that attacked and sank it one hundred years ago May 7. Join From Left to Write on March 26th as we discuss Dead Wake. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Two, Count' Em, Two! Shows!

So excited and grateful for a happy lucky coincy-dinks! I'm in the cast of TWO shows this spring!

Listen to Your Mother

A few weeks back I took some time out from our elementary school Variety Show rehearsals to polish and practice one of my mothering essays and one bright Saturday, shlepped my pages down to Chicago, my girls in tow for good luck, to audition for the 2015 Chicago Listen to Your Mother show.

Trying to ignore the sweat under my arms and the gentle "no thanks" I received two years ago, I took a deep breath and read my story for producers Tracey Becker and Melisa Wells.
What's Listen to Your Mother?

"Listen To Your Mother is a reading series that celebrates mothering by giving voice to motherhood in all of its complexity, diversity, and humor. The show expanded to 32 cities in 2014 and raised over $26,000 for local causes, bringing the project total to over 1000 stories shared and $50,000 in charitable giving since its inception." 

I made it! Squee!!  

The Sunday before Mother's Day my castmates and I will be on stage at the gorgeous Athenaeum Theater on Southport in Chicago, reading essays on the theme of motherhood, hopefully making you laugh, remember, reflect, and be inspired.

The show is May 3 at 2:00. Tickets are on sale now at early bird pricing through March 15. Ten percent of the gross ticket proceeds will benefit The Red Pump Project, a nonprofit organization raising awareness about the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls. Come see us!

Here's a link to the LTYM Youtube channel where you can see dozens of stories from previous shows.

The McKenzie Variety Show

In the days left before March 10, scores of parents and teacher from McKenzie Elementary will be singing, dancing, skitting and playing our hearts out to bring the 39th Variety Show to the stage. I'm directing two numbers this year, including one song that I wrote, and singing in two more. I'm loving every single moment.

Directing is so fun, especially with a game cast that nods when I tell them about my crazy choreography ideas.

Trust falls? No problem! Throw a big Handi-wipes container back and forth across the stage? Can do! Throw two? You got it!

I love my cast.

The little kids' happy and awed faces are a thrill to behold, but now, during rehearsals is almost a better time. Now, before we've had any audience reaction, now when I'm still imagining a flawless final product, now when I still have delusions of Busby Berkley, now before my imagination knocks up against my own two left feet.