He who sings, prays twice: Cancer and faith

The last hour before you start a theater show looks crazy.  Everyone is getting into costume and doing their makeup in front of too few mirrors. People are making sure their props are in the right place.  Actors with mikes sing for the mike check.   The run crew makes sure the lighting, curtains, etc. are correct.  The orchestra and the singers warm up. Everyone is excited and rushing around.  The house opens and the audience starts to arrive.  Everything gets quieter backstage, but the excitement still simmers.  

Finally, the lights go down.  The orchestra starts the overture.  Everything quiets down backstage.  The actors get into place onstage and in the wings.  You focus on what you're about to do.  It's like you're suspended and waiting to move.

In that beautiful moment of suspension, focus, and anticipation, I often (okay, almost always) have some of my most focused prayers - that the show will go well for everyone, that the audience will enjoy it, that cast members who are sick or sad will be able to enjoy the show...

...and thanksgiving.  Those are some of my most thankful prayers - particularly during this summer's show since I wasn't even sure I'd be able to sing again last fall after my surgery.

I don't know that I've written about this before because... well, your best prayers are supposed to be at church, right?

After not being able to go to church for months after my partial thyroidectomy last year (post here), I embrace any way that I can worship.  I've always thought that one can encounter God all over, not just in church.  But after months of being too dizzy and exhausted to make it through a formal service, I now enthusiastically advocate meeting God anywhere and everywhere.

Otherwise, only the healthy can encounter God in a significant way!  If you can only meet God in a long church service after a drive which exhausts you, that leaves those with health problems out in the cold.  If you look at the stories about Jesus, leaving the sick out is not following Jesus! 

I've always liked physical expressions of faith - making the sign of the cross, kneeling for prayer (before I had knee surgery), genuflecting, etc.

During my long recovery from surgery, I started feeling like genuflecting at places other than in the Nave at church. 

At Ayr Mount in the spring...


...at family dinners, at choir rehearsals (I could go to rehearsals long before I could last through a formal service), while doing short hikes in the mountains, out in the gardens, etc. - anyplace I felt thankful and closer to God.

 At various churches, we've heard all sorts of things about how and why to pray to God:  To remind God of His promises (evangelical); adoration, petition, thanksgiving, confession, and intercession (Catholic), because the Bible tells you to, etc.

Since my surgery, pat answers about prayer seem even further away.  Petition?  Walk around the Duke Cancer Center and see the small,tired children with bald heads and large stuffed animals being wheeled around in strollers or wagons by their parents.  Why was my cancer solved by surgery, and their treatment goes on and on?  I don't know.  There are few prayers that are more fervent than the prayers of those parents.  

I still pray.  Mostly for other people, a bit for me, lots of thanksgiving.  I pray because... God.  

There's really nothing else to add.

Praying in a church at a service is nice - it's pretty and inspirational.  I no longer believe that it's essential - because anything that leaves out the sick can't be the only way to God.

I still believe the Eucharist is important, but - and here's the difficult part for me - I no longer believe that it's essential because anything that leaves out the sick can't be the most important way to God.

My faith at this point is expressed in two ways.  

First, by taking care of people.  After not being able to do much of that for months, it's so wonderful to be able to do.  Those of you who were in this year's musical saw that on overdrive this summer.  I recorded music to help people learn it, had the altos over to my house to work on music, hosted set painting work evenings in our garage, sewed, and I'm now going through the over 1,000 photos that my husband took at a dress rehearsal to edit the best ones for the cast.

Taking care of people - and almost all of that could be done at home because my energy isn't back to lots of running around yet.

Second, by singing to God.  That's where the title quote from St. Augustine comes in.  After the post-surgery possibility of totally losing my voice, singing is even more important that it was before.  Whenever I sing, and whatever I sing, I'm always singing to God.  It doesn't matter if it's an Alleluia, a choir anthem, a musical theater audition, blending my voice with others in the chorus of a show, or singing along with a song by P!nk.  I'm always singing to God.


[Note:  I wrote this a year ago, after I was in a local production of Li'l Abner.  After not being able to sing for four months the previous fall/winter because of my partial thyroidectomy, I actually got my first solo singing role in a theater production!  Being with my theater family that summer and being able to help out so much, was very healing for me after a long year of a slow recovery (and choir helped immensely over the spring, even though I wasn't well enough at that point to make it through a long Sunday morning).  A year later, after two more wonderful musical theater experiences (Ragtime and Annie), I've come back to this post, and it's still pretty much what I believe.  I'll be looking for a church closer to home (hopefully) in the next year or two.*  What I'm looking for in a church hasn't really changed from what I've always wanted, but I'm finally being really open about what I feel is what I should do with this time I have been given.  More on that in future posts, but, it's really all here in this one.  Singing and helping people.]

 * Younger son has one more year of homeschooling left so I'm not splitting my focus at this point.  Also, we've always rushed into joining churches, and I'd like to do things differently this time.  

Fiddler on the Roof - The Gallery Players, Burlington, NC

Fiddler on the Roof is one of my favorite musicals, and I know every note of the movie soundtrack by heart, but I haven't seen it for sixteen years.  

There are so many things I love about it.  There are three threads running through it.  First, there's the basic story of a poor milkman raising, and marrying off, three daughters, which varies between comic, tender, and tragic.  Second, there's the tragic story of the fate of this Jewish community in Tsarist Russia (as younger son said, "Every happy moment is, in the end, beaten to death by the depression").  The third thread is Tevye's faith as shown through his conversations with God.  

The music is... well, almost perfect.  Many musicals could use some editing - songs aren't really necessary, some scenes drag, etc.  In Fiddler on the Roof, every scene is essential to the whole, and none of the songs seem superfluous.  They're lovely and often extremely moving in a way which many musicals can't match.

As you can tell, I don't go to see this musical lightly.  I could be very critical - but I wasn't.

The first scene or so, I did have to silence my inner community theater chatter ("Why did they do this this way?... Oh, that's how they're handling the chorus here..." etc.).  After that, though, I had been drawn so much into the story that I wasn't evaluating at all - which is really one of the best compliments I could give.  I was totally absorbed.

The production did an excellent job with all the aspects I've mentioned.  I gave up not crying by the end, and I wasn't ashamed of the tears on my face. 

It's a story that alternately lifts you up and rips your heart out - which is why, as much as I love it, I haven't seen it in sixteen years.  

I could go on to describe the different parts of the production, but the Burlington Times-News did a great job in their review.  My favorite quote:  

David Anthony Wright, managing and artistic director of the Paramount Theater, reprises his role as Tevye for the third time... The joy he exudes in this role is simply contagious.

Quite true!

There are four more performances - tomorrow's matinee, and three more next weekend. I highly recommend seeing it - and it's not as far from the northern part of the Triangle as you think!

For more information about the production and ordering tickets check the Facebook page.


"City of Frogs" - Paperhand Puppet Intervention: Part 1

We finally were able to go to the Paperhand Puppet Intervention show, City of Frogs, a week ago.  We went opening night, when daughter was here, but the show got rained out.  We had a few other nights open - all rainy.  

I was glad to finally get a chance to see it.  It's one of my favorite shows of theirs.  If you live in the Triangle and haven't had a chance to see it, it will still be at the Forest Theater in Chapel Hill the next weekend (Sept. 7/8/9) and at the outdoor theater at the NC Museum of Art the following weekend (Sept 14/15/16).  You can check the Paperhand calendar here.

I'll post one photo above the fold - it's from the first minute so I'm not giving much away.  I'll put the rest below the fold so that anyone who's going in the next few weeks can avoid them.


The story of a puppet...

[DON"T go further if you're going to go see it!!!!!]


Continue reading ""City of Frogs" - Paperhand Puppet Intervention: Part 1" »

Madonna on the Half-time*

Immaculate CollectionWe often spend Super Bowl Sunday out hiking because the woods are so peaceful and deserted.  This year, we spent it at my mother's house having a wonderful time celebrating older son's birthday.  I totally forgot that the Super Bowl was going on.

However, when people started debating Madonna's performance in long conversations yesterday on Facebook, I knew I had to go check it out.

I've been a longtime Madonna fan and also a longtime not Madonna fan.  I enjoy her catchy pop tunes, and we have her Immaculate Collection CD.  However, as a performer, she seems very cold, even in her sexy performances, so I'm never really drawn into them.  I wasn't predisposed to either like or dislike her Super Bowl performance.

After reading all the comments yesterday, I went to look up the YouTube video today. 

Verdict:  It was a very enjoyable spectacle.  She had a good selection of songs,** good guest artists, fantastic dancers, and she still holds the stage as commandingly as ever.  As usual, I found her very distancing, but she's performing in front of millions of people, in person and offline, so I certainly wouldn't expect her to be more personal!

Really, the first time I got emotionally connected to the performance was when the LMFAO*** guys appeared.  I've found their videos very funny and over the top (possible future Friday Fun Songs) so I giggled when they came on. Okay, and when the gospel choir started singing, I got chills up and down my spine because I love gospel singers - so, for me, it was a better Madonna performance than usual.  She really seemed to be enjoying herself singing Like a Prayer - more than in the rest of the performance.

Responses to specific criticisms I've read:

  • She's too old to keep doing this.  I actually watched the video with this in mind.  She's three years older than I am, and I certainly wouldn't do that kind of a show (of course, I wouldn't have in my 20's either).  If you didn't know she was 53, and you just watched her performance, how old would you say she is?  You can use this photo for reference.   Was she too saggy?  Certainly didn't show in that outfit - and it would have.  Her face doesn't show many lines.  The only criticism that makes any sense is that her dancing isn't as sharp as it used to be.  Her dancing isn't the main point of the spectacle, though, so that's not so important.  There were plenty of good dancers in the spectacle. Which leads to...
  • She couldn't do everything the younger dancers could.  No, she can't.  That's why they're there, and they were wonderful.  They can't be Madonna either, which is why they aren't headlining a Super Bowl performance. 
  • She lip synced.  So does everyone in the Macy's Day parade.  Maybe Sir Paul McCartney didn't lip synch his Super Bowl performance, but did he do cartwheels (assisted or not?).  Madonna's act is not one designed around singing, it's designed around motion and spectacle.  As fit as she is, very few singers can move that much and sing their best at the same time. 
  • [By the way, spectacle and distancing don't have to be mutually exclusive.  Bette Midler can put on quite the spectacle, but she still seems personal.]
  • She should have ended with a dance floor classic for an upbeat finale rather than Like a Prayer.  I As much as I enjoyed that section, I thought it was surprising to finish with that.  The more I watch it, though, the more that turns out to be my favorite part. 
  • Predictable, boring and narcissistic.  Predictable?  You expected the Roman theme?  Boring.  No, there was too much going on.  Narcissistic?  She's a pop star.  Isn't narcissism part of the job description?
  • She was wobbly in the four inch heels.  She had a hamstring injury from a recent rehearsal.  Short of redoing the choreography and costume in the last few days before the Super Bowl, they just had to deal with it. 
  • I don't want to see someone my mother's age flashing their panties!  Sigh.  I didn't notice the panty flash until the third time I watched it.  I guess I was too busy watching other things.  People disapproved of Madonna's conical bras and sexuality in the 80's.  They disapproved of her book, Sex, in the 90's.  Why would she stop being controversial now?  She paved the way, pop music-wise, for the display of sexuality from current singers.  When Lady Gaga flashes her panties in a performance in 2039, it will be because Madonna did it first. 

[More, possibly, tomorrow]

*  Title is a play on Madonna-on-the-half-shell, a kind of yard ornament.

** Though I wish her current single didn't have the cheerleader part.  It's a good song otherwise. 

***  Which I prefer to think of as "Lilies may flower all over" Original story for the name here - it comes from a grandmother. :)

Bob Fosse's "Dancin'" commercial - 1978, and a new production

This came out last week (from BroadwayWorld.com):


(Performances begin Fall 2011 at Studio 54 on Broadway, 254 West 54th Street.)

Roundabout Theatre Company presents a new Broadway production of Bob Fosse's DANCIN', directed by Graciela Daniele.

This is the first production of DANCIN' since the original 1978 production. Bob Fosse's original choreography will be recreated on the stage of Studio 54. Creative consultation will be provided by Nicole Fosse (Bob Fosse's daughter). Cast members and the design team will be announced shortly.

Bob Fosse'S DANCIN' is a masterful tribute to the art of movement featuring legendary choreography by Bob Fosse and a score of jazz, classical and pop songs! Fosse was one of the greatest and most influential figures in dance and theatre history, with works including Cabaret, Chicago, Sweet Charity and Pippin, as well as the recipient of two Tony Awards, three Emmys and an Academy Award®.

The New York Times article says that a tour is possible.  I would love to see it if it came here!

Link Snack: November 26, 2010

Daughter's here; the days are full.

Here are some interesting links I've found recently:

  • Scouting New York* is one of my favorite architecture blogs.  It's written by a Film Location Scout in NYC about unique and interesting buildings.  The Abandoned Palace at 5 Beekman Street is about a beautiful building that hasn't been used since the 1940's.  It has a nine story atrium with a huge skylight, wrought iron work, towers, etc.  It's gradually being restored.  The photos are fascinating!

Partisan tensions on Capitol Hill are delaying efforts to fix an error in the federal health care law that could cost Children’s Hospital Boston and others like it millions of dollars in added drug costs...

The error was a simple and unintentional omission in the final, frenetic days of drafting the landmark legislation and reconciling House and Senate versions. Con gressional staff intended to allow children’s hospitals continued access to the portion of a federal program that offers below-market prices on 347 specific medicines for rare, life-threatening conditions. But that language was accidentally altered...


*  I've added both blogs to the blog roll.

Sanders Family Christmas - Orange Community Players

The Orange Community Players are performing Sanders Family Christmas on three weekends in the next month.  Sanders Family Christmas is a sequel to the play they did last fall, Smoke on the Mountain (my review here).  Here's the description from the Orange Community Players website:

In this sequel to the ever popular Smoke on the Mountain, the Sanders family returns to Mount Pleasant, NC, home of the Mount Pleasant Pickle Factory. It's Christmas Eve, 1941. Reverend Oglethorpe has invited them to the Baptist Church to sing and witness, getting the congregation into the down home holiday spirit before the boys, including one of the Sanders' own, are shipped off to World War II.

More than two dozen Christmas carols, many of them vintage hymns, and hilarious yuletide stories from the more or less devout Sanders family keep the audience laughing, clapping and singing along with bluegrass Christmas favorites. Richly entertaining, this wildly infectious musical brings cheer to audiences eager to see how their friends from Smoke on the Mountain have been getting along.

Friday, 8 pm, is opening night (I'll be going the following weekend because we'll be in Asheville seeing daughter's dance performance).  They're performing the play at a number of churches:

Nov. 12 - Pleasant Green UMC, Durham
Nov. 13 - First Baptist Church, Hillsborough
Nov. 19 - Cedar Grove UMC, Cedar Grove
Nov. 20 - Walnut Grove UMC, Hurdle Mills
Dec. 3 - Antioch Baptist Church, Chapel Hill
Dec. 4 - Central Orange Senior Center, Hillsborough

You can buy tickets at the door or online at the OCP website.

I enjoyed last year's performance so much that I saw it twice.  I'm expecting that this performance will be the same!

Friday Fun Song: "Willkommen" (from Cabaret) - Joel Grey and others, plus the Glee version of "Hot Patootie" (and assorted other things)

Here's an example of the sort of train my thoughts run on. 

There's a new character, played by John Stamos, in Glee this season.  My favorite performance on the recent Glee version of Rocky Horror is his performance of Hot Patootie.  I really enjoy the dancing.:

I didn't realize that he has also done a good bit of Broadway, including playing Albert in the recent revival of Bye, Bye, Birdie (his part starts at 0:50). [Bill Irwin plays Mr. McAfee (his part starts at 5:47).]  He also played the emcee in the recent Broadway revival of Cabaret.  This revival portrays the emcee in a very different manner than the original 1970's version.  I don't care for it.

Of course, I had to go looking for the original version with Joel Grey.  He won a Tony for the original Broadway version in 1967 and an Academy Award for the movie version in 1972.*  In one of my favorite songs from Cabaret, Willkommen, he's deliciously creepy in the movie version - and he's the creepiest when he's acting the friendliest.  Unfortunately, the movie version is not embeddable (Click here to see it.  If you haven't seen the movie:  Yes, that's Michael York.).  Here's the stage version, also, excellent, from the Tony Awards (Harold Prince directed the original Broadway version; Bob Fosse directed the movie.  I'm partial to the movie version, of course.):

He also performed this, without strange makeup and behavior, on the Muppet Show in 1976

Actually, there's a part 2 to this train of thought, but I'll leave that for another day.


...Kander's and Ebb's fascination with the collaborative process began with their work on Cabaret, where a long experimental period permitted actors such as Joel Grey to contribute ideas toward the creation of their characters...


* One of only eight actors to win both the Tony and the Oscar for the same role.  From TonyAwards.com:

Eight performers have won the Tony and later the Oscar for the same role: José Ferrer in Cyrano de Bergerac (Tony: 1947/Oscar: 1950), Shirley Booth in Come Back, Little Sheba (1950/1953), Yul Brynner in The King and I (1952/1956), Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady (1957/1964), Anne Bancroft in The Miracle Worker (1960/1962), Paul Scofield in A Man for All Seasons (1962/1966), Jack Albertson in The Subject Was Roses (1965/1968) and Joel Grey in Cabaret (1967/1973). Lila Kedrova did it the other way around. She won an Oscar for Zorba the Greek, and 20 years later won a Tony for the same role in Zorba (1964 Oscar/1984 Tony).

Islands Unknown: Paperhand Puppet Intervention 2010, Part 1

2010_08_06_7412csI always enjoy the Paperhand Puppet Intervention shows, but this summer's show, Islands Unknown, is my favorite of their shows from the last few years.

The evening started out with the bluegrass Band, Down River.   The instrumentalists were wonderful, and the singers were great.  My only complaint is that their MySpace page doesn't have a list of their upcoming shows! I don't generally like the song, House of the Rising Sun (too gloomy), but, done in bluegrass style, it's fun!

I don't want to give anything away for those who are going to go see it so I'll put the rest of the post "below the fold" on my blog, and with some spoiler space so that those reading on feeds can go on to something else.

It's playing on weekends through Labor Day, at the Forest Theater in Chapel Hill, NC, and then on September 10th and 11th at the outside theater at the Art Museum in Raleigh.

For those who don't have a chance to see it, here are some of my favorite photos from Islands Unknown.  This is the first time that I've gone to see it with my new camera, and it's so much easier to take photos in the twilight with it!

Continue reading "Islands Unknown: Paperhand Puppet Intervention 2010, Part 1" »