James – Director
Children may not obey,
But children will listen.
Children will look to you
For which way to turn,
To Learn what to be
Careful before you say, “Listen to me.”
Children will listen.
I remember the first community show I did, and it just so happened to be West Side Story, directed by our own Micki Lighthall. I was a Shark, one of the Puerto Rican gang members, and recall very distinctly calling dibs on “Nibbles”, which was unbelievably one of the names listed in the script. I had to buy a crucifix necklace (fake gold) for that show, and I still have it in my possession as a reminder of that time.
Because that time was magical. It was the summer before my Sophomore year in high school, and I was awkward, quiet, and honestly a pretty bad performer. I’m sure I missed entrances, and I’m sure that I was kind of clueless when it came to taking direction. And I really don’t even remember much of the production, itself, other than Craig Reinhart’s delivery of the line, “What does it take to get through to you?!”. What I do remember, though, is how welcoming and loving that cast was towards each other, and towards me. For the first time in my life, I felt truly included. Like I was valuable, and worth people’s time. More than just another kid at school, and deserving more than to be overlooked or disregarded.
I believe this was in no small part because of the environment that Micki created for us, supportive and happy but goal-oriented. It was this environment in which I first felt socially safe, like I was free to explore myself and actually ponder what my own likes and dislikes were, rather than feeling compelled to be what I thought everyone else expected of me. And it was also in this environment that I felt the stirring of what would grow into my deep, sincere love for music and theatre.
Last night was tech night, my friends. For those uninitiated, this is the rehearsal in which actors hurry up and wait at the director’s whim so as to be able to set the lighting cues, work any quick changes, or move set pieces on and off. While I’ve directed once before, I’d never had the experience of actually having the responsibility of setting the lights in a detailed way. And right by my side was Micki Lighthall, who is serving as my stage manager for this show. It is really was an incredible experience for me to design lights, but it is always a tedious, boring, frustrating night for the cast. At about the time when rehearsals have been ending this week, we decided to send the cast home and continue working with only Gianna and Willem to stand in spots as needed.
As the night went on and the show came to life, bit by bit, ounce by ounce (“putting it together!”), it struck me what an amazing thing it was to be working in tandem with my very first community director. We ended up calling it a night at approximately 2:00 AM with several scenes left (which we’ll do today), but on the way home, I couldn’t help but think about the sentiment behind the end of the show. “Children will listen”. Way back when, in 2001, Micki never outright told me all the wonderful things to love about this community and theatre. There was no overt life lesson to learn, no “if there’s one thing I want you to walk away with, it’s….”. But there was kindness, and patience, and welcome (as there was on tech night last night). There was appreciation, and there was giving.
“You move just a finger,
Say the slightest word,
Something’s bound to linger,
Since West Side, I’ve worked with many directors in various contexts. Each of them taught me something different, most of them inadvertently; they had a “hidden curriculum”, as Bess would say. I listened all the same, though. I heard. Without Micki’s warm environment in West Side, or Vivienne’s high expectations, or David’s passion, or Patricia’s wisdom and steadfastness, I can say that I would not be where I am today. And while I know, in my heart, that we have a great show for you all, my loftiest goal for this whole endeavor is to be a good steward of that spirit for this cast.