Archive for the ‘Ann Sachs’ Category

A Love-Fest With My Ancestors

A couple of years ago I began to write a book about seven generations of my paternal family in America. It was a labor of love in anticipation of the 100th birthday of my grandparents’ Adirondack cabin. The house, now owned by my siblings and our families, is located in the High Peaks region of the Adirondack Mountain Reserve, in a tiny hamlet called Keene Valley. It’s across the brook from the site on which my great-grandparents’ home once stood. 

My Grandparents' Home: 1915

My Grandparents’ Home: Rushing Brook (1915)

The centennial took place in August, 2015, and included 3 glorious days of swimming, hiking and family story-sharing. 50 double cousins*, from 2 months to 82 years, gathered for the occasion. 

*Double Cousins: 2 brothers married 2 sisters. Julius Sachs married Rosa Goldman; Samuel Sachs married Louisa Goldman. Their offspring are double cousins.
My Great-Grandparents' Home in 1890

My Great-Grandparents’ Home: Waldfried (1890)

I circulated my first draft of the book at the event, and asked family members to check for errors and omissions (there were plenty). It’s difficult to describe how deeply I loved working on this project, which felt almost as if I was traveling back in time, meeting my ancestors one-by-one, and falling in love with many of them. The year turned into a virtual love-fest in my imagination.  

It all began in 1837, when two young Jewish men met in a synagogue in Würzburg, Germany. Both excelled in their studies: Joseph Sachs (20) was gifted in languages, Marcus Goldman (16) in mathematics, and the two quickly became close friends.  

The custom in 1840s Würzburg, was that well-to-do Jewish families boarded poor students. Joseph was the poor student, and his generous hosts were successful goldsmiths who were also the parents of brilliant, young Sophia Baer.

Sophia Baer Sachs

Sophia Baer Sachs

Joseph Sachs

Joseph Sachs

The student and the young lady fell in love, and when Sophia’s parents objected to their daughter “marrying an impecunious teacher”, the young lovers eloped to Hamburg, then sailed for America in 1847. Marcus followed suit in 1848, and the very day he arrived in Philadelphia he and Joseph bumped into each other! Their chance meeting foreshadowed a future alliance between the two families (albeit 30 years later) that would influence the world: Goldman Sachs & Co.

Bertha and Marcus Goldman

Bertha and Marcus Goldman

Meanwhile, Bertha Goldman (no relation to Marcus), was a young seamstress who had also arrived from Germany in 1848, then moved to Philadelphia in 1851. She met Marcus, who wished to court her with a bouquet of flowers; because his work as a peddler left him no money, he surprised her with a bunch of radishes hidden in his hat! It worked. The two fell in love, and were married later that year.

Joseph, Sophia, Marcus and Bertha were my great-great-grandparents. Feeling connected to them is visceral to me, although Joseph and Sophia never even visited Keene Valley (alas, they died too young). Their spirit, however, is everywhere surrounding Rushing Brook: in their commitment to “do what you love and give it your everything”, and in their unflagging support and trust for family.

Steps to Waldfried from Rushing Brook

The steps to Waldfried from Rushing Brook (2015)

When I was 12, my parents invited several musician friends and their families to bring their instruments and join us for a long weekend of music and improvisation at WaldfriedThe sensory experiences that summer were unforgettable: hearing and playing the music, feeling the freezing water on our bare feet as we ran across the brook and back, throwing meals together on the run… it was creative collaboration. I didn’t know at the time how deeply it would impact my future career.

This summer I feel privileged to literally follow in the footsteps of our ancestors: down the old moss-covered-stone-steps, across the brook, and back up the other side, inhabiting their space, which I believe, on occasion, hosts their spirits as well.

A love-fest indeed. What a gift.

 
SOURCES: Birmingham, Stephen, Our Crowd: The Great Jewish Families of New York (Harper & Row, 1967) ISBN: 0815604114; Immigrant Entrepreneurship, Marcus Goldman: http://www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org/entry.php?rec=100; Sachs, Bernard, Barney Sachs: 1858-1944 (New York, 1949: Privately Printed); Sachs, Ernest, M.D., Fifty Years of Neurosurgery, A Personal Story (New York, Vantage Press: 1958); Sachs Jr., Dr. Ernest, Goldman Family Tree (Privately Printed: 1981); Straus, Helen Sachs: Sachs Family Tree (Privately Printed: 1977)

My Inner Critic, My Friend

This piece was originally published in July, 2014, and recent conversations with friends prompted me to post it again.

Clearing out stacks of old boxes recently, I re-discovered my old theatrical reviews. The crumbling newspaper clippings instantly transported me back to the ’70s and 80’s, those 25 years I worked as a professional actress.

Ann Sachs, Frank Langella. DRACULA 1978. © Martha Swope

Ann Sachs and Frank Langella in DRACULA on Broadway in 1978. © Martha Swope

Re-reading the notices, I marveled that every production was still with me. But something was missing: I had no memory of the good reviews. One flattering phrase after another felt as if I was reading love letters I’d never seen before! Yet I knew that for at least one fleeting moment once-upon-a-time, I had treasured every word. 

The bad reviews? (Those from… how shall I say, the “Outer Critics”?) felt as if they’d been on CNN this morning!

Partial amnesia regarding reviews is one of many occupational hazards of being a performer. Most actors, especially early in their careers, tend to believe the good OR the bad, but not both. With me, unfortunately, the bad always came out ahead. I’ve been hard on myself for as long as I can remember, and the negative reviews sounded as familiar as the ones I had always drafted for myself.

Many years ago, when the whole routine had become rather depressing, my dear husband suggested that I create my own system to evaluate my work. He said “It’ll give you feedback you can trust.”

So… before and during rehearsals for my next job, I kept track of everything I was worried about:

1. Belief that I was miscast
2. Working with a new dialect
3. Tension with the director
4. Physical costume challenges
5. Too much or too little chemistry with my leading man

The list went on and on, and as I tried to invent ways of becoming comfortable with my crazy-making stuff, my “Inner Critic” introduced herself to me. Note: I tend to refer to her in the third person, as if she is real.

S-l-o-w-l-y, she and I began to build benchmarks based on habits and pitfalls I had supposedly learned to manage: 

1. Ease (or lack thereof) getting off book
2. Number of crying jags (joyful)
3. Number of crying jags (furious)
4. Sore throats, rashes, headaches, mystery pains
5. Degree of neurosis during tech rehearsals

Truth be told, my Inner Critic IS real, and over the years she has become a trusted part of myself. 

In the mid-1990s I was thinking about shifting the focus of my work… doing something other than performing.  Almost everyone I knew was shocked that I might “walk away” from my career; many tried to talk me out of it. My Inner Critic was with me, however,  and we weighed the points of my colleagues, friends and family. Ultimately we took a leap into the unknown side-by-side. That was when I knew that she was a friend for life.

So… as I was recently rifling through those boxes, reading my old reviews and was catapulted back into believing the bad ones, I wondered where the hell she was!?

But not for long. As expected, she made her entrance just in time to set me straight.
 
She’s on my shoulder now. And I’m deeply grateful she is here.

_______________________________________________________

Critic* \’krɪ-tɪk\ noun 
1   a: one who expresses a reasoned opinion on any matter especially involving a judgment of its value, truth, righteousness, beauty, or technique
      b: one who engages often professionally in the analysis, evaluation or appreciation of works of art or artistic performances  
2  one given to harsh or captious judgments
*From Merriam-Webster® An Encyclopedia Britannica Company 

“This Is The Wisdom I Have Learned”: The Power of Memory

William Goyen’s House of Breath: Black White opened on November 4, 1969 at Trinity Square Repertory in Providence, Rhode Island. Every year I celebrate this play on this date. Why? Two reasons: it was a theatrical production ahead of its time, and it marks the occasion I fell in love with Roger Morgan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Directed by the brilliant Adrian Hall, with sets by Eugene Lee, and lighting by the above-mentioned Roger, House of Breath was a powerful, poetic piece about an East Texas family in the early twentieth century. The production pioneered non-traditional casting before the term even existed, and explored trans-gender issues in flamboyant Adrian-Hall-style. The late great Ethyl Eichelberger (known at the time as Jim) played the role of a sexually repressed young man whose imagination transforms him into a black showgirl. I played Jim’s dead sister Jessie, brought to life through the memories of her family. We knew the play was groundbreaking, but Roger and I were caught completely off-guard by the depth of our connection (each of us thought it must have been the high of the production that swept us off our feet!) What we now know, having celebrated decades of November Fourths, is that the collaborative experience of that project provided the foundation upon which we subsequently built our lives. 
There was one particular moment in the play Roger always loved: young Jessie (my character) remembers her brother BerryBen dressed up as a King in a pageant, and Jessie declares with great wonder: “This is the wisdom I have learned!” referring to the power of memory.  “This is the wisdom I have learned” is one of those code phrases that pops up in our marital dialogue as a sort of  “duh” realization; and recently, the phrase has come to represent the collaboration, risk, and belief that we’re doing something that matters: three of the Principles of Theatrical Intelligence. The spirit of the work at Trinity quickened the pace of our courtship… of course we fell in love that night! What we didn’t know at the time was that it marked the beginning of a collaborative, creative and frequently improvised life. I shall be forever-grateful that Roger and I fell in love in the middle of the wonder that inhabited House of Breath and Trinity, because within that context our lives changed forever.
House of Breath photo by William Smith

My Daily Brain-Food Addiction

Brain Food

About a year ago I began posting a daily quote on Twitter, selected from my eclectic collection and using the hashtags  #TheatricalIntelligence or #WomanofWisdom: 

#TheatricalIntelligence: “I’m curious about other people. That’s the essence of my acting. I’m interested in what it would be like to be you.” Meryl Streep

#WomanofWisdom: “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” Maya Angelou  

My Twitter followers enjoyed the quotes. (Some even suggested that I publish them in a “little book series”. Go figure.) Then six months ago on this blog, I shared a series of quotations in categories:  Actors on Acting, A Life in the Arts, On Critics, Criticism and Reading Reviews, among others. 

The tricky part on Twitter, of course, is that one post = 140 characters including the hashtag. So I found myself scavenging for more and more inspiring quotes that were short.

#TheatricalIntelligence: “What I love about theatre is that it disappears as it happens.” Lusia Strus (= 104) 

#WomanOfWisdom: “I believe the rights of women and girls is the unfinished business of the 21st century.” Hilary Clinton (= 124)

Then LinkedIn mimicked Twitter’s hashtag idea, and their posts can be longer so my quotes g-r-e-w, as did their hashtags:

#TheatricalNostalgia, #TheatricalWonder, #TheatricalWisdom, #ArtisticWisdom, #LiteraryWisdom, #WorthConsidering, #WorthRemembering, #LetsDoThis and #PoliticalPoetry. Yikes.

Daily posting became addictive. I began to feel like my friends who never miss the daily NYTimes crossword puzzle, or others who are deeply committed to “Words With Friends” or (what I take to be its visual equivalent) “Candy Crush”

My daily brain food, I’ve concluded, works for me because the words have such meaning when they’re strung together, that I remember them.  I simply love each one of them because they inspire me.   

Brainfood

Is this addiction a terrible thing? How long will it take me to kick the habit? Do I HAVE to? Help!

ON LOVE

Love-in-sandI’ve been thinking a lot about love. 

It may be an age thing. I’m in my mid-60s and loving it, my husband Roger and I just celebrated our 43rd anniversary, and our love for each other and our work has grown exponentially over the decades. When we were blessed with grandchildren 3 and 5 years ago, I thought the level of love in our family might actually burst. It didn’t, of course. In fact, it has expanded into a three-generation-love-fest.

And everywhere I look these days, I see love. 

Can it be that love really belongs in this theatrical quotations series?  Absolutely. Why? Because for those of us who spend our lives in the theatre, a passionate love of what we do is the common denominator within the  Six Principles of Theatrical Intelligence.

Let’s take a moment to review those principles, based on the theatrical production model (as is the whole concept of Theatrical Intelligence).

1. Collaborating on a project to make it work for everyone, is number one: EVERYONE SHARES THE SAME GOAL.

2. If the show is a bust, if tickets don’t sell, no one gets paid. That’s the reality: EVERYONE SHARES AN EQUIVALENT RISK.

3. If a play is sustainable, its next steps are defined within the 3rd principle: COLLABORATION RULES.

4. Given: throughout every phase of every project, THE WORK MATTERS.

5. If part of a production’s infrastructure isn’t working (often the case) everyone understands that FAILURE IS YOUR FRIEND AND THE QUICKEST WAY TO LEARN.

6. And finally, a reflection of the commitment to innovation and acceptance of high risk: SUCCESS COMES WITH THE COURAGE TO STEP INTO THE UNKNOWN.

Those who work consistently in the professional theatre simply love what they do; if they didn’t, the ever-changing conditions of the creation, development, rehearsal and run of a show, would be intolerable.

I’ve chosen my favorite quotes on love from my collection. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. 

zelda-balletZelda Fitzgerald (1900 – 1948)
 
 “Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much the heart can hold.”

 

Zora Neale Hurston, Class of 1928, Chicago, Ill., November 9, 1934Zora Neale Hurston (1891 – 1960)
 
“Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.”

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NerudaPablo Neruda (1904 – 1973) née Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto
 
“I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.”
(From TWENTY LOVE POEMS AND A SONG OF DESPAIR) 

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Shel Larry Moyer Shel Silverstein (1930 – 1999)
 
How many slams in an old screen door? Depends how loud you shut it.
How many slices in a bread? Depends how thin you cut it.
How much good inside a day? Depends how good you live ’em.
How much love inside a friend? Depends how much you give ’em.

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George EliotGeorge Eliot (1819 – 1880) Née Mary Ann (Marian) Evans

“I like not only to be loved, but to be told that I am loved; the realm of silence is large enough beyond the grave.”

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Nelle Harper LeeHarper Lee (Born 1926) 
 
“With him, life was routine; without him, life was unbearable.”
(From TO KILL  MOCKINGBIRD, Chapter 12)

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Jarod KintzJarod Kintz (Born 1982)
 
 “With my last breath, I’ll exhale my love for you. I hope it’s a cold day, so you can see what you meant to me.
”

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Dorothy ParkerDorothy Parker (1893 – 1967)
 
“By the time you swear you’re his,
Shivering and sighing.
And he vows his passion is,
Infinite, undying.
Lady make a note of this –
One of you is lying.”

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Ingrid BergmanIngrid Bergman (1915 – 1982)
 
“A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous.”  
 

If you’d like to share your favorites, please do. This love thing is positively contagious. Let’s keep it going.

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Picture Credits
Fitzgerald: F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum
Hurston: The Estate of Zora Neale Hurston
Neruda: Pablo Neruda – Poemas Originais Traduzidos
Silverstein: Larry Moyer/Evil Eye LLC
Eliot: London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images
Lee: The Birmingham News
Kintz: Jarod Kintz.com
Parker: DorothyParker.com
Bergman: LIFE Magazine
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Theatrical Intelligence: The Chaos of Collaboration

I’ve spent 40 years working in the theatre industry, experiencing the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” in a hazardous profession that chews people up and spits them out every day.  I’ve reached the age where I can profess wisdom simply because I have survived. This wisdom is based upon the age-old principle of the theatre as a collaborative art form, where people work together effectively, each in a particular niche that they have mastered, and that they love.

When I shifted careers about 20 years ago, transitioning from performer to small business owner within the same industry, my workplace changed from a theatrical environment to a regular old office; a serious place of business. During my first few years I made every effort to create a “corporate business atmosphere” with little success.  No matter how many businesses I observed and business books I read, none of them embodied the kind of workplace I was looking for.

It was during this search that I took a non-theatre business-owner friend of mine to a stop-go tech-dress rehearsal of a Broadway musical. As I had hoped, she was awestruck. We sat in the theatre balcony – quiet as little mice – and she barraged me with questions about who the hundreds of workers were, and what they were actually doing as they hustled and bustled down below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who is the woman who leaps onto the stage every few minutes? (The choreographer.)

What is that disembodied voice from above? (The stage manager on the god-mike.)

Why are the actors having trouble walking on the stairs? (The stairs are on an electronic revolve; stagehands are working out the speed.)

Who is in charge? Then she stopped, and said: No, no, no – don’t tell me!

First, she guessed that the person in charge must be the balding man seated at the table smack in the middle of the auditorium. Then she thought it must be the woman with the sassy haircut sitting next to him, talking over the headphones to the guy with the god-voice.  Next, she wondered if both of them were in charge.  We watched as the choreographer kept landing lightly in the row directly in back of them and something struck them as hilarious… Meanwhile a scrawny guy and a blonde kid kept appearing and disappearing on the staircase revolve and we listened to hundreds of bizarre sound cues.

My friend continued to ponder in silence until finally she whispered to me: There is NO ONE running the show. The theatre really IS magic!

That moment will forever be etched in my mind. Not so much that my friend thought the theatre was magic, but rather that the organization within the chaos was so clear to me, and so bewildering to her.

I proceeded to identify with certainty for my friend that the man and the woman at the table were the lighting and costume designers, the scrawny guy and the kid were the director and set designer; then I pointed out the company manager, spotlight operator, dance captain and two producers sitting in the back of the house. Mind you I didn’t KNOW anyone associated with the production except for one producer and the choreographer, yet my recitation amounted to a veritable org chart of a Broadway musical.

That day in the theatre when my friend “experienced the magic”, I recognized that the oh-so-familiar creative-chaos of a Broadway show was exactly what I was looking for in the work environment at the Studio, yet I had closed the door on my own professional experience because I didn’t think it “fit” – yet there it was, hidden in plain view.  I decided immediately to give up the feeble attempt to create my own little version of a Wall Street firm, and to lay claim to the collaborative art form I knew so well.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, the idea for Theatrical Intelligence had been born.


Photograph © Samuel Morgan


Welcome!

Are you wondering what Theatrical Intelligence is? Simply put, it is a process I have developed based on the theatrical production model, to bring joy and creativity into the workplace. It’s the fun part of being smart!

It came about as a result of my personal career shift from working IN the theatre to working ON the theatre, which (for me) meant working in a more businesslike environment.  My first three blogposts form a trilogy describing the way my professional experience gradually grew into this new venture.

Theatrical Intelligence has six principles and eight roles (listed below).

Peak performance - an "A" in lights

THE SIX PRINCIPLES

1. Everyone shares the same goal
2. Everyone shares an equivalent risk
3. Collaboration rules
4. The work matters
5. Failure is your friend, and the fastest way to learn
6. Success comes with the courage of stepping into the unknown

THE EIGHT ROLES

1. Writer
2. Actor
3. Director
4. Producer
5. Designer
6. Manager
7. Technician
8. Critic

I will be blogging about this concept (and related subjects) and you are invited to join the conversation.  

Cheers!