* Watching my daughter in Orphan Train at the [Great American] History Theater, and the pride I feel as she becomes an actress of her own merit, not encumbered by attachment to her parents or siblings.
* Getting the opportunity to stretch my acting muscles as Ariel in Ten Thousand Things' The Tempest...and the added rare treat of acting opposite [my] husband [actor Stephen D'Ambrose], as Prospero.
* Celebrating the contribution of theater and dance critic Mike Steele at the Steele Ball....With style and wit, he helped pave the way for countless local artists' careers, firmed the foundation of struggling theaters and dance companies, and seduced Twin Cities audiences into supporting the performing arts and their artists. Here's to you, Mike.
Looking back over the past year for moments of theatrical inspiration (defining "inspiration" as something that moves one to jump to one's feet in appreciation for what one is witnessing), I find I'm having a crisis of faith....I just didn't see much theater that truly knocked my socks off. Without question, my performance high point of 1999 wasn't a straight theater event. It was the Walker Art Center's presentation of Fred Ho's Black Panther Suite. Ho created one of the finest examples I've witnessed of an artist's politics sharpening their art, while their art is simultaneously sharpened by their politics. Whether you subscribe to his ideology or not, the evening was an energetic, smart explosion of music and images which pushed boundaries and truly did have me jumping to my feet.
In November I attended a roundtable discussion of local artistic directors at Normandale Community College. We discussed the relevance of theater in our culture with about a hundred students from Normandale and North Hennepin Community Technical College. Through this conversation, as well as a day of discussion at St. Olaf College, I have come to believe that the future of Twin Cities theater is bright. These students are excited and knowledgeable about local theater. In addition, I look for the torch of local performance arts to be carried by two of my favorite local institutions: the Playwrights' Center and the Southern Theater, both of which are working to achieve the goals of their current capital campaigns.
It was three days before Memorial Day weekend. My in-laws were coming for the weekend. Our campaign for a new theater was in high gear. We had just revived new bids on the project. The costs had risen $300,000. We had hundreds of dollars out in requests but we only actually had $400,000 in the bank. We'd arranged to perform our Fresh Ink Series on the second floor of the Hennepin Center for the Arts so demolition could begin. Three days before Memorial Day, the financing for construction of the theater fell apart. The construction manager began talking about assigning his contractors to other jobs. The architect suggested that maybe we should postpone the project for a year. What had seemed a carefully constructed dream was now crashing in all around us. We made appointments with every banker we knew. I didn't sleep much. I didn't see my in-laws much. Colleen Carey, co-chair of our capital campaign, led the board through the numbers. The board voted unanimously to go ahead. Here we are six months later, and we've raised $910,000 of the $1.2 million. The auditorium seating will arrive two days before the audience. The carpet may come after our first preview. Miss Richfield 1981 and Connie Evingson lead off the merriment in two Holiday Housewarmings. We hoped we'd be here in December, but there were no guarantees. We needed to focus on the dream to get through the details. I'm struck by how the drama of building a theater is the same as the drama of creating new work.
My favorite performance this year was Bob Davis in the Jungle Theater's Lobster Alice. Subtle, restrained, and full of emotional depth--the kind of true comedy that comes from a fully realized character. Bob is always good, but this transported me--especially when he quietly sang that little tune and, in one magical moment, made us all feel his ache and loneliness and dignity.
Theatergoing is tough on autistic kids; noisy, crowded spaces can quickly overwhelm them, turning a children's matinee into a prison sentence. It's work. So watching my younger son's newfound enchantment at Steppingstone's The Stinky Cheese Man, the Guthrie's A Christmas Carol, and CTC's Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse was a keen pleasure. Fresh gusto notwithstanding, my youngest firmly forgoes all post-performance offers to visit backstage, meet the actors, etc.--even passing up touring CTC's open house with his older brother and me. Then, one night at dinner, he dreamily announces, "I wonder how they make Jacob Marley's ghost-smoke when he scares Scrooge?" I stuck my foot squarely in it: "Honey, if you'd gone on the backstage tour, you'd know how they do it!" His patience shames me: "Dad, I don't want to know...I just want to wonder." Just so. May the same be truly said of us. And all of us. Coraggio.