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Friday, March 20, 2009

where it counts

I have a great affection for many things in STAR WARS, but there is a line that I feel a particular personal connection to. Han Solo says it right after Luke sees the Millennium Falcon for the first time.. to Luke’s reaction of disbelief at what’s in front of his eyes, Han says “She may not look like much, kid, but she’s got it where it counts.”

Han is a proud papa – ready to take offense if anyone makes a crack about his precious baby ship. In an earlier time, he’s the guy with an old beat-up looking car that he hauls up to the starting line while the other race car drivers and their gorgeous groupies snicker and whisper, until, of course, his beloved car leaves them eating dust.

Sometimes I imagine that in bringing someone new to our theater, a loyal Downtown Art audience member might say to them – “Look, they’re small, the company is really young, they’re on the 6th floor of this funny old building and you have to wait in a kind of funky staircase and there’s no lobby and.. well, it may not look like much, but they’ve got it where it counts.”

I like respect as much as the next person. I kind of have a little chip on my shoulder about it. You don’t know how many professional meetings I’ve had to go to in which being the artistic director of a theater with a budget under $75,000 doesn’t do anything to enhance your standing. It’s generally assumed that you don’t know how to run your business since you’re clearly poor. You (I) obviously need some good advice – advice about how to charge tuition for young people to be in your program, how to raise your ticket prices, how to remodel your organization so it will be more attractive to the current fashions of funders.

When it goes pretty far and I’m being condescended to by people twenty years younger than me with little experience and no history of community involvement, I am always sorely tempted to find a way to drag my Ivy League credentials into the conversation. A master’s from Yale in theater management tends to quiet them down. But, even I’m aware, that by pulling it out and flashing it around, I’m losing on principle.

And my back goes up a bit when people, while complimenting me and the company, go on to say.. ‘You’re almost as good as Broadway; you could work on Broadway; these actors might go to Broadway.” I’d like to say – would they want to? I know Broadway looks like a lot, but does it have it where it counts?

Respect can be hard to come by if you don’t look like much. Heart, courage, integrity, and wisdom are qualities that don’t make you any easier on the eye. Only time reveals them… and time is something we can all feel short of.

I struggled long and hard in making the commitment to spend my artistic life working with teens – it had the air of a career nosedive, it’s a part of the theater world that is certainly considered a backwater, closely tied as it is to the idea that those who can’t do teach, and I had worked hard to have some standing in the professional arts community. I’m so glad I got through that struggle. I got through it because three forces were able to break through my confusion:

1) Honesty: I could see that I was making a difference in the lives of the young people I was working with and they, in turn, were making a huge difference in my life,

2) Love: I loved making art with them and I felt deeply that the art was good, and

3) Trust: I became willing to earn respect the slow way for myself and this theater, not through being impressive to the eye, but by doing our best to make sure that we have it where it counts.

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