The Mix - (Week 21)
Updated: May 11
"Perhaps you bear within yourself the capacity to imagine and shape a sacred way of life.
Prepare yourself for that. Trust what comes to you."
(Rainer Maria Rilke, from Letters to a Young Poet)
This week I've been enjoying making blocks for Molly's new quilt (based on a pattern by Sew Kind of Wonderful) Each block takes me about 90 minutes to make and I've made 10 so far. Together, my Mom and I will make 56 blocks total for this quilt, so I'm about a third of the way to my quota!
I've also been hand-stitching binding on a quilt rescue project I'm finishing up - and I had a good day to snap photos of the baby quilt I recently finished. This one will be off to its new home next week.
My slice of a mini-memoir, Collage - A Personal History, continues this week with...
Chapter 2: Live Experiences, College
While I studied theater and fell in love and smoked cigarettes and went to see lots of live music in college, both threads continued. I was making mix CDs by then (as opposed to tapes) - which had a new kind of artwork insert that presented all sorts of new cover and tracklist possibilities... And I was falling in and out of love more frequently, so had a semi-regular need to express something unsayable through the art of a thoughtfully-selected collection of songs.
Unfortunately some of my friends (and loves) were snobs. I remember a time during my freshman year, feeling kind of lonely and missing the person I used to be and I was making a mix CD for my high school ex-boyfriend. My new leading man (who knew a lot more about "cool" music than me, though I think he always kind of admired how - even though I didn't know shit, I just liked what I liked. And what I gravitated to on my own, without any coaching or awareness of whether it would make me cool or not, tended to be pretty good, according to him. I remember he asked me what I was listening to once and it was the album Surfer Rosa by The Pixies and he just shook his head and looked at me like was a beautiful alien and said something like "who just listens to The Pixies?"). Anyway I digress, the new leading man was reviewing my tracklist for the mix for my ex-boyfriend (which in hindsight probably made him a little crazy which may be why he wasn't so nice to me in the moment) and he noticed that I had included an Ani DiFranco song. So he asked me "Does he like Ani DiFranco?" and I was so taken aback by the question - the way it felt like just such an odd question to ask given the activity I was engaging in - and just said "Well, he likes me... and I like Ani DiFranco."
Perhaps in that moment I was beginning to realize on some level that when I made a mix, I always felt like I was making something new - that the songs shed their identities and became a part of this new thing, this new form, this conversation with all the other songs. Why would it matter if the person I was making it for liked a particular band or musician? That artist had very little to do, actually, with the MIX. The MIX was the purpose, the point, the whole message. The magic was in the assemblage of things and the way they were arranged. THAT was the whole point - the ingredients themselves were entirely secondary, to me.
And then came Shakespeare and a professor who believed in me. I don't totally remember how it all came about - I think I came up with a concept as part of an assignment for a class, and my professor (who was also my advisor) thought it was a good idea and helped me set up an independent study so I could produce it? It was pretty awesome of him to do that. But somehow during the 2nd semester my sophomore year, I had the opportunity to direct my first staged piece, an adaptation of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing that I called Unkissed.
So began a season of collaging on a new level - this time, bringing an old story, old poetry, new music, and a contemporary setting together to create a live performance experience. I reworked the text so the piece would only be ~1 hour long and so that I could re-set it in a contemporary setting (this one took place in a bar/nightclub - with a band at the center), I created a soundtrack to complement the action, a new expression of the mixtape. The soundtrack for Unkissed included some of my favorites at the time: The Anniversary, Pedro the Lion, Jimmy Eat World, The Faint. I cast it and worked with actors, creating new visual choreography to fill in and flesh out the story beyond what the text could do. To bring them along with my vision, for one rehearsal I made all these theater nerds come out to see a live show with me. We went to see Cursive play during their Domestica tour at the Fireside Bowl in Chicago, an experience unlike any most of them had ever had (I remember a cast member turned to me at one point and shouted in my ear: "It's just like church! Look at all the people raising their hands!"). I even made a collage for the poster.
It was cool! All the elements needed one another - the live performance worked because the actors and scenes were integrated with the music. The narrative played out through the combination of the musicality of the dialogue, the physicality of the choreography and the transitions in the actual soundtrack. The combination of elements made Unkissed a new, unique expression of a thing - and it needed each element to work. It was really successful - the cast loved it, the audience was into it, it was well-attended. I was so proud of it. And that was the beginning of something.
While I was studying abroad in the UK my junior year, I got a fellowship to fund my independent research about how music was used as a storytelling tool in productions of Shakespeare's plays. I gave multiple talks about it when I got back to campus in the spring, including as the keynote speaker at my college division honors symposium at the end of the year.
And then my senior year, the professor who believed in me relinquished his main stage production slot to me - and I created and directed a fully produced, mainstage production of a Shakespeare play as my senior honors' thesis. Whereas Unkissed had been a small, black box-type late-night performance that ran three nights, Measure for Measure was the biggest production of the spring semester on campus, running for two weekends (+weekday matinees) with a cast and crew of 50, a production budget, multiple crew leads, etc. It was a big deal, and I was only the 2nd student in the campus' history to be given the reins like that. It was rad.
I adapted the script myself into a neat 2-hour runtime, created a soundtrack (this time featuringThe Fugees, Goldfrapp, Bjork...), choreographed new scenes without dialogue to fill in some of the narrative gaps, worked with set, sound, lighting and costume designers to create unique expressive elements. Although I did have a poster designer for the main poster, I invited the cast and crew to all make their own 8 1/2 x 11 collage posters to put up everywhere on campus:
It was a beautiful show, really unique and powerful, I'm still so proud of it nearly 20 years later. A part of me grieves that I can't experience it again now, that it will never exist again as it did for that few months.
I remember when I was adapting the script - I could envision all of it, how the narrative would flow - where I would position actors and how I would use lighting, where I needed more dramatic tension and how I would use music and choreography to create it, where I would need to fill in the narrative gaps by showing the audience how some of the play's more hard-to-believe twists could actually happen. Of course, the production evolved and changed through collaboration with so many others, but it really held to that initial vision. And I believe it was impactful.
Measure for Measure is a dense, complicated play with challenging themes about mercy and justice, moralism and human brokenness, how communities are strengthened and how they deteriorate. It is one of Shakespeare's more challenging plays to stage. And I remember that it all felt so intuitive to me. That same feeling I had of flow with the collages I made in my bedroom - of finding the pieces and putting them together, of curiosity for what would emerge - that same sense of expressive flow was where I lived when creating this project.
It felt so alive, like it had its own voice.
And I felt so alive - so in sync with myself, trusting myself so much. I remember knowing that it was special, that I should keep doing this. I remember trying to figure out.. how can I keep doing this? Keep creating like this?
But I graduated, and I moved out on my own.
And I needed to pay my rent.
To be continued, in the next chapter: Stitching / Entering Adulthood.
Little Women (2019): Greta Gerwig's Little Women is just magnificent. The LIGHT in this film! The love between these women! The force of nature of Saoirse Ronan's Jo.
Gerwig's impactful reworking of the timeline transforms the novel into a cinematic artwork that transcends its time and place. The characters both fully inhabit their world (created with such loving authenticity - and yes, such magnificent light), and yet I can never shake the feeling that Jo, Amy, Meg, Beth, and Laurie are peering directly at me through the screen, into my living room, asking me hard questions about my own life.
Henry V (2012): Yes Tom! I don't know where we're going or who I'm going to have to kill, but I have to admit: I'm in!
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. I have been taking some baby steps toward my secret dream of becoming an audiobook narrator - and this week, tried out the best recording setup we could muster with the equipment we already have, and recorded Rilke's first letter. Listen here.
My tulips sprouted this week! Seeing these little shoots push up from the snowy undergrowth is one of my favorite days of the year. A reminder that all sleeping things wake up, and that the cold hardness of winter does end.
Holy Time - Everything That Matters is Hard
Slides from this week's experience,--with words from Ada Limon and Rainer Maria Rilke and music from The Tallest Man on Earth--are available here.
Holy Time is a weekly online gathering - Thursdays, 8:45pm CT on zoom (https://zoom.us/j/94849428936).
All are welcome.
Contact me at email@example.com with questions or for more information.
What you are making and reading and writing and doing? What is inspiring you? I'd love to hear from you in the comments.