Posts Tagged ‘Theatrical Intelligence’

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.

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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 

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 CRITICS, CRITICISM and READING REVIEWS

 
critics-corner-promo-01-4_3

The definition of the word CRITIC, from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, seems simple and sensible. To me, however, it’s the most complicated of the 8 roles of Theatrical Intelligence.

CRITIC:  from the Greek κριτικός (kri-ti-kós), Latin criticus (noun) “able to discern”.
1: one who expresses a reasoned opinion on any matter especially involving a judgment of its value, truth, righteousness, beauty, or technique
2: one who engages often professionally in the analysis, evaluation, or appreciation of works of art or artistic performances
3: one given to harsh or captious judgment
 
CRITICISM: ˈkri-təˌsi-zə(noun) the art of evaluating or analyzing works of art or literature:
1. expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes: “he ignored the criticisms of his friends”.
2. analysis and judgment of a literary or artistic work: “methods of criticism supported by literary theories”.

When I speak about the roles of Theatrical Intelligence, I always introduce the Critic last. Why?  It’s the final role in the collaborative sequence, and… well, I want to delay the inevitable groans: “No-o-o! How could you? Critics? What do they know?!”   

It’s tricky to think of critics as part of the collaborative art form that is the theatre. They are in a position to champion or kill a play, a performance, or an entire production. They don’t work directly with the other 7 roles, so it doesn’t feel like collaborators. But they are. In fact (depending on the phase of development) their objectivity is essential to the success of the project. 

Many years ago when I worked as an actor, I remembered every bad review I ever received. Verbatim. Everyone did. It seemed to be an occupational hazard to remember the awful ones and forget the raves. My theory for this (and I’m not alone) is that no one can be as harsh a critic about me as I am about myself, so whatever is written by a critic is already imprinted on my brain.

Once, a notoriously mean-spirited critic compared a performance of mine to an electric blender. Yes, you read that right. My friends thought it was a hilarious achievement and therefore a wonderful notice, but I thought I’d never get over it. 

Recently I decided to re-read my theatrical notices, figuring that 20 years would give me enough distance to gain some objectivity. It did. I admit that the blender paragraph still stung a bit, but most revealing was that I had no memory of the good reviews. It was as if  I was reading love letters that I’d never received, yet I knew I’d read every one of them. Selective amnesia. A theatrical phenomenon.

The insightful quotations below are from ten stellar theatre critics who reflect on their profession:  

Brooks AtkinsonBrooks Atkinson (1894 – 1984)

1. “There is no joy so great as that of reporting that a good play has come to town.”

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Pauline Kael (Chris Carroll)Pauline Kael (1919 – 2001)

2. “In the arts, the critic is the only independent source of information. The rest is advertising.”

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Walter KerrWalter Kerr (1919 – 1996)

3. “It is not a reviewer’s business to “sell” plays, but surely it is a playwright’s business not to write plays in such a way that the barest, most gingerly mention of the plot material in a review will kill the play dead on the spot.”

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KennethTynanKenneth Tynan (1927 – 1980)

4. “A good drama critic is one who perceives what is happening in the theatre of his time. A great drama critic also perceives what is not happening.

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Wendy RosenfieldWendy Rosenfield  (Born 1969)

5. “I don’t believe arts criticism is itself art. But that doesn’t mean it is without its own merits… criticism (and even reviews, if you choose to make that distinction) offers a record of how our civilization responded to the arts. Theater critics are not theater artists, but we are recorded proof that theater mattered, and for me, that’s more than enough.”

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Jason Zinoman 2Jason Zinoman (Born 1975)

6. “To be a good critic, you need to hustle and be curious and scrap and think harder in a short period of time than anyone else about these plays. You need to be stubborn in your convictions and firm in the idea that the crowd is not always right.”

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Robert HurwittRobert Hurwitt (Born 1942)

7. I subscribe strongly to the idea that all criticism should be constructive. You’re not in the business of tearing people down. Part of your responsibility as a critic is being a consumer advocate. You have to make judgments as to whether a show is something people want to spend their money on.”

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Oscar WildeOscar Wilde (1854 –1900)

8. “The critic has to educate the public; the artist has to educate the critic.”

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Andy WarholAndy Warhol (1928 – 1987)

9. “Don’t pay any attention to what they write about you. Just measure it in inches.”

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Frank RichFrank Rich (Born 1949)

10. “The most wonderful street in the universe is Broadway. It is a world within itself. High and low, rich and poor, pass along at a rate peculiar to New York, and positively bewildering to a stranger.” 

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These critics are collaborators. And I think I may just love every one of them.

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Photo Credits: Thumbs Up/Down: USA Today Design; Atkinson:ONB/Wein; Kael: Chris Carroll; Kerr: The New York Times; Tynan: Stuart Heydinger/The Observer; Rosenfield: Ms. Rosenfield;  Hurwitt: San Francisco Chronicle; Zinoman: Splitsider; Wilde: Napoleon Sarony; Warhol: Susan Greenwood/Getty Images; Rich: CNBC

 

On Creativity

CreativityWhat IS creativity, anyway?

I’ve been thinking about this question recently, probably because I’m in one of those why-is-it-so-bleeping-hard-to-create-phases. Though my trusty quotes collection has more words on creativity than any other topic, it’s a puzzler. 

According to Albert Einstein, “Creativity is contagious. Pass it on.” which sounds as if  you have to know the right people in order to catch it.

When collaborators have told me I’m creative (much appreciated, by the way) they seem to use a lot of “i” words: imagination, ingenuity, inventiveness, inspiration, innovation… To me, it sounds hifalutin and mysterious.

From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: kri·eɪ’tɪɪ·t̬i: noun / 
Ability to produce something new through imaginative skill, whether a new solution
to a problem, a new method or device, or a new artistic object or form.

Yikes. Apparently it also has to be new!

The quotes below ring true to me when the creativity flows… and (sigh) when it stops:

1. “The creative impulse can be killed, but it cannot be taught. What a teacher can do… in working with children, is to give the flame enough oxygen so that it can burn. As far as I’m concerned, this providing of oxygen is one of the noblest of all vocations.” 

Madeleine L'EngleMadeleine L’Engle (1918-2007)

 

2. “If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing.”

Marc ChagallMarc Chagall (1887-1985) 

 

3. “Learn the craft of knowing how to open your heart and to turn on your creativity. There’s a light inside of you.

Judith JamisonJudith Jamison (Born 1943)

 

4. “The chief enemy of creativity is good sense.”

Headshot Of Spanish Artist Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso (1881-1973)

 

5. “To create one must be willing to be stone stupid, to sit upon a throne on top of a jackass and spill rubies from one’s mouth. Then the river will flow, then we can stand in the stream of it raining down.”

Clarissa Pinkola EstesClarissa Pinkola Estés (Born 1945)

 

6. “This is the extraordinary thing about creativity: If just you keep your mind resting against the subject in a friendly but persistent way, sooner or later you will get a reward from your unconscious.” 

John CleeseJohn Cleese (Born 1939)

 

7. “Your work is to keep cranking the flywheel that turns the gears that spin the belt in the engine of belief that keeps you and your desk in midair.”

Annie DillardAnnie Dillard (Born 1945)

 

8. “ ‘Keeping busy’ is the remedy for all the ills in America. It’s also the means by which the creative impulse is destroyed.”

Joyce Carol OatesJoyce Carol Oates (Born 1938)

 

9. “Decision by democratic majority vote is a fine form of government, but it’s a stinking way to create.”

Lillian HellmanLillian Hellman (1905-1984)

 

And last, one of my very favorite quotes in the world…

10. “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”

Maya Angelou Maya Angelou (Born 1928)

 

PHOTO CREDITS:
Angelou: Dr. Maya Angelou
Chagall: Russian Paintings Gallery
Cleese:  Albert L. Ortega
Dillard: Phyllis Rose
L’Engle: George M. Gutierrez
Pinkola Estés: Getty Images
Hellman: Bernard Gotfryd
Jamison: Andrew Eccles
Oates: Agencia EFE/Rex Features
Picasso: Tony Vaccaro/Getty Images
 
 

A Magical Birthday Ritual

I just wished my late brother Jim a Happy Birthday on Facebook. He would have turned 58 today. I did the same thing two years ago, here on my blog.

If Jim were alive today we would’ve had our annual East-Coast/West-Coast mutual birthday call. My birthday is the day after his, so at midnight (Eastern) and 9:00pm (Pacific) we’d call each other. It was our little ritual, sort of like a secret handshake. 

1956-JimToday I remembered you in 1956, Jim: 11 months old, and NOT enjoying the photo shoot of you and your four siblings for the annual Christmas card. 

I was 9, and my heart went out to you as you waited around for the photographer to do what she could to make ALL FIVE of us photogenic, one at a time.

No wonder you were crying! Finally we found you a tiny, tinkling bell, and it cheered you up, though I see one little tear still glistening in your right eye.  

You just needed a little magic.

Jim with eBook

 

 

Now jump ahead 44 years.

There’s a picture of you in THE BOSS column of the NY Times. You talk about being paid $5 to invent a computer language when you were 12, and you’re holding your newest invention: the electronic book. 

The two photos remind me of our little ritual, but in the second one you supplied the magic. 

So HAPPY BIRTHDAY, little bro… love you. Thanks for the magic.  

Talk to you at midnight.

 

 

Emptying-Santa-Spam-and-Other-Silly-Stuff

My spam folder was full this morning (neglected by me over the holidays) and just as I was about to delete the ubiquitous penile enhancement posts, I was tickled to see a couple of messages from Santa…

 “Your article really did turn the light on for me personally as far as this specific subject matter goes.” Signed: Santa Claus Calls

“In the grand scheme of things you actually get an A for effort and hard work. For right now I shall subscribe to your position.” Signed: SClauswerks

 Santa’s style sure reflects his spirit, unlike the other 98%:

“I was wondering how to cure acne naturally, and then I found your blog.” Signed: Rickets (Yuck!)

Or 

“1st, you wish a 3-season sleeping bag with the casket and the semi-rectangular style; the added amore due to the abridgement of autogenous space.” Signed “Polo Outlet Online”. 

(WHY NOT “Casket Sleeping Bags”?) Go figure.

Asian language spam is on the rise: 

を考慮して力を入れすぎ傷つけかねない表面のときは、ヘアケア3度に達します効果といっても少しは高いが、負担のリスクも大きい。

And… *blush*… I actually used Google Translate: “Even though a little higher at the surface that could hurt excessive force to account for, and the effect of hair care reached three times greater risk of burden.” Signed: Luxury-Brand-something. 

OK – enough! But then I saw one of Santa’s comments that seemed rather sleep-deprived, or even delusional:

“I like this information and it has given me some sort of desire to succeed for some reason.”

Unless… d’you suppose Santa struggles with self-esteem,  just like the rest of us?

Guess I’ll check my Santa-Spam next December.

And now… (She presses DELETE.) On with 2013.

 

Illustration: 123RF (Royalty Free) Stock Photos

 

Holiday Greetings from Theatrical Intelligence

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yuletide, or any other Holiday, may it be filled with abundant creativity and joy! 

 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s wishing you and your loved ones a Theatrical New Year!


A Theatrical Love Story

 
I’d like to introduce you to a great love of mine. Mind you, I’m not alone: hundreds of other theatre professionals continue to participate in our love circle of 33 years, including my husband.
 
Please meet THE ENSEMBLE STUDIO THEATRE (EST). 

FULL DISCLOSURE: I’ve been a member of EST since 1978. My husband and business partner, Roger Morgan, is a founding member who signed the original articles of incorporation in 1968, alongside EST’s Founder, the late Curt Dempster

EST is a safe haven for several hundred theatre professionals who apply for free membership based on:

1) the quality of their work

2) their commitment to collaboration. 

Actors, writers, producers, directors, designers, managers, technicians and critics (the 8 Roles of Theatrical Intelligence I write about on this blog), become “Ensemble Artists”.

THE ENSEMBLE in the theatre’s name = its members.

STUDIO = a “theatre gym”, where members gather for vigorous workouts and candid de-briefs from fellow members and the artistic staff.

THEATRE = Place: 549 West 52nd Street, Hell’s Kitchen. In spite of its grit and an occasional mouse, it is passionately loved by its users.

These three elements = THE ENSEMBLE STUDIO THEATRE, which provides a lifeline to creativity throughout the best (as well as the worst) years in the lives of its artists.

Since its inception, EST has developed an astonishing 6,000+ plays. More importantly, it continues to nurture its artists for as long as they care to be nurtured, using its own collaborative technique.

With a current annual budget of $1.3 million, EST has been recognized by the American Theater Wing, the NY Outer Critics Circle, Drama Desk Awards and Village Voice Obies; collectively, its members have won Pulitzers, Oscars, Tonys, Golden Globes… the list goes on.

So why does this trashy little place matter so much to its members?

To use myself as an example, I dared to write, direct, produce, and spread my wings as an artist at EST. I had never stepped into any of these roles before.

In 1987, EST actress Christine Farrell asked if I’d join a group of leading ladies in an evening of our own making. She knew that we’d never be cast in the same play, and she simply wanted to be onstage together for a change, instead of competing for the same roles. EST member Pamela Berlin joined us as DIrector.

We wrote, workshopped, disagreed, re-wrote, disagreed better, re-wrote better, learned to trust, performed, published and produced MAMA DRAMA, a collaborative piece that is still performed in academic and community theatres nationwide.

My development as a leader is directly attributable to EST. By the late-80’s I was sick of performing, but I wasn’t trained to do anything else. I wanted to work ON a play instead of IN it. Because EST members are able to initiate their own projects, I did. I wrote. Directed. Managed. Experimented. Convinced people to work with me for free.

It became clear to me that I could bring a project to life by identifying strengths in my collaborators that they didn’t necessarily know they had. The trick was to reflect them back so they were somehow quantifiable.  Each time this happened, a profound level of trust was established in the group and we often believed that together we could do anything! (This was frequently followed by a spectacular and unforgettable failure.)

Immediately after the experience of writing, directing and producing, I shifted my career, a direct result of exploring these roles. Writing is now one of my great passions and part of my daily life, and it would never have happened without EST. It’s where I discovered my “CEO shoes”, and they fit so comfortably I never wanted to take them off.

Curt, Christine, Leslie, Rita, Annie, Donna, Marianna and Pam changed my life.

There are many EST stories just like mine. Why? Because this theatre is the place to try out new stuff and know that it’s OK to fail. In fact, absence of failure is a bit suspect, and falling flat on your face is certainly the quickest way to learn: check out the 6 Principles of Theatrical Intelligence.

And at EST, once a member always a member, so we get to fail again and again!

These days I’m back at EST experimenting in yet another role: Vice Chair of the Board of Directors. 

I believe it’s essential to spread the word about this model of creativity, and work to ensure that it builds a financial foundation for its future. Because EST is not only a theatre that is deeply loved – it is a theatre that knows how to love back.

What could be better than that?

 

Photo above left: The Ensemble Studio Theatre by Christopher Cayaba

Photo above right: MAMA DRAMA, clockwise from left: Leslie Ayvazian, Christine Farrell, Rita Nachtmann, Anne O’Sullivan, Ann Sachs (seated, center). Not pictured: Director Pamela Berlin, Donna Daley and Marianna Houston.

If you’d like to see what’s going on at EST: please join us!

 

A Theatrically Intelligent Holiday to You!