Sunday, February 29, 2004

I went to build today for the first time for Kiss Me Kate. As always happens lately when I'm walking to a KMK event, my mind was filled with righteous indignation by the time I got there: I didn't sign up for this, I wasn't warned about this, it's not fair for this show to rob me of the sacred days which by rights ought to be dedicated to family, friends, and roleplaying. Those are the sorts of thoughts that go through my mind every time I go to rehearsal, or think about build.

Of course those thoughts are completely unbecoming, but I love the way in which God points that out to me. Over the past few days I have noticed that while KMK can incense me at the drop of a hat, I cannot remain furious with it when I am actually doing it. In the presence of my director and my stage manager, and (I discovered today) my tech director, I simply can't be mad at this show. All my resentment falls away and I love doing it.

Now, what does that mean? For one thing, it's confirmed to me yet again the importance of the chain of command in performance groups. My director is doing a good job, but she is the director, mistress after God. My stage manager is the director's executive officer, my liaison (as an actor) both to the crew side of the company, and to the director, and she does a good job of it. They are not part of the cast, nor should they be - the proper way to support me and the rest of the cast is by doing what they're doing.

Our own leadership must come from within the cast, and it falls to the lead to provide it. This is where KMK fails most critically, in my opinion, for our lead is a star with an unabashed prima donna persona. Like it or not, being cast as a lead makes you central to the spirit of the cast. It is up to the lead to be the link between the cast and the rest of the company, and ours isn't doing his job. And that of course is what makes it completely shameful for me to resent the time KMK demands of me. I can't demand that our lead do his job and refuse to do mine - even if it's a job that I didn't realize I was signing up for, it's one that I signed up for implicitly when I joined the company (which is and must be tantamount to swearing fealty for the duration of the run).

Why is that so important? Because leadership isn't a function of office. Leadership is a function of competence and character. The leader who has both can lead her people into the jaws of hell; the leader who has neither can only lead her people where self-interest induces them to go anyway. In KMK, the competence side of the question is largely decided. Either our director is competent or she isn't, and the same goes for the rest of us. We can improve as a result of our experience over the course of the show, but not that much.

Character, on the other hand, is something which is formed and maintained by everything we do. I have to fulfill my build and rehearsal obligations. Not because people expect it of me, but because it's my duty to do so: it is a debt that I owe to myself to fulfill an obligation I have assumed voluntarily (see sidebar). Difficult it may be, but the reward is ...

... is what? Self-respect? Certainly. The Song of the Lioness and the Protector of the Small beckon me onward in this regard, regaling me with tales of institutional injustice overcome by sheer determinedness. I will not fall short of the example of Alanna and Keladry. But more than self-respect, the reward is character. Am I going to be the sort of person who fulfills my obligations or not? Am I going to be the sort of person whom my company can lean upon or not? Am I going to be the person who does all things without complaining and disputing so that I may become blameless and innocent, a child of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom I shine as a light in the world, holding fast the word of life (Phil. 2:14-16) - or am I not?

Of course this is one of my great Principles of Life - but it is one I forgot with regards to KMK. But here I am, in a company where some leaders melt my resentment simply by doing what they do. I follow them into this show, which I can hate so easily, not because of their position but because of who they are. So I am faced with the question Paul implicitly posed to the Philippians: am I going to be the sort of child of God he describes, or not?

There is a song that Point of Grace sings called "Living the Legacy," the first bit of which goes like this:

My father knew it, and his before him
And it goes way back down the line.
They had a vision - a prayer for the future
For what I would believe in time.
Now I'm not perfect; life's not easy
But I wouldn't take the world for what they gave to me.

I'm living the legacy, walking the path that the faithful have laid down
I'm living the legacy, finding the hope that my fathers found

Years ago when I heard that song for the first time I swore that my children would be able to truthfully sing this song. They may never hear it. But I vowed that my children will know their father as a real Christian: a real man who is a real example of a real Christ. If I am to lead my household in that regard, it begins here, in the sort of person I choose to be when I go to rehearsal.

I want to reiterate that the fact that today I followed my tech director into the figurative jaws of hell (i.e., spending four hours building that I didn't want to spend building) does not mean I was forcing myself to do something I didn't want to do. Take the leader out of the picture and I don't want to build; put the leader into the picture and I do. I even had fun. No, fun isn't the right word for it. This is what the word joy was invented for. I find it is in the nature of duties to be joyous when I commit myself to them; that is one of the things that convinces me that duty is built into the fundamental workings of the universe. But it can take a leader to remind one of that fact and draw one on to the point of actually performing one's duty, and that is a very magical thing about leadership in my opinion. Leaders, by virtue of who they are, draw those around them to the point of joy. That is the sort of person I choose to be.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

I just got back from seeing Big Fish. I've experienced//seen//read//heard a lot of art that I wish I could share with people - more art of that kind than I have any right to expect. Tonight I saw another piece of art that goes in that category, but it's different than most. Most of the art I want to share with people is like the Iliad, or Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings, or Tamora Pierce's Tortall books. Or it might be dreaming of waltzing (performance art) with my wife to The Corrs' version of Erin Shore, or to Jennifer Knapp's Martyrs & Thieves. In other words, it's mostly art that has to do with being a man. Put it another way: it's art about what I want to be. Or put it yet another way: it's art about who I believe I was created to be. It's about being a husband and a father, and there is no dream in my heart rooted deeper than that. But tonight, as I said, I saw something different. I saw a piece of art that was about stories and a man who told them.

Four years ago Ms. Poole told me that no matter what anyone said, I would always be a writer. Just a month or so ago Shanah Van said that, deep down, I am a theatre person. I don't think those are false statements, but if you were to ask me about it, I'd say that deep down I am a storyteller.

I saw Big Fish tonight and I saw a film about a man who told stories that told who he was. I think that's what got me most of all, what's making me write this now instead of going to sleep and writing it tomorrow afternoon. We tell - I tell - stories because we must, but the stories we tell are poured out of our hearts. I am glad to read anything the Jennies want me to read, of course - but the magic of it is that they want to hear the books that I want to read. I am glad to roleplay in any game that is well played, well crafted, and well run - but the magic of Phoenix Earth draws me back time and again.

The stories are the ways in which we reach out to the world. They are romance, in the Natalian sense; that is, they are how we say, this is what my heart looks like inside. For this reason I have always regretted that Rose never got to see a Phoenix Earth session. She and Alanna saw me roleplaying once, in Mirrielees, but not for very long and not in a very good game or a very good session. She knows what I mean when I say roleplaying, I suppose, as do many of my friends in various ways (who could forget roleplaying with Shanah over skit writing?). But do they understand Phoenix Earth? Have I told them the story of the rise and fall of man as my heart bids me tell it?

Of course everyone has their romances, and one can't expect everyone to sit through everyone else's. The hearts of man are more variegated than that. But still the hope is in me, the fairy tale, that to those dearest to me I will one day be able to tell these stories:

The Song of the Lioness
The Protector of the Small
Gates of Fire
Phoenix Earth

Will I tell those stories to my children? Will I grow old telling them to my wife? Will they hear the stories of Dienekes and Polynikes and Alanna and Jonathan and Keladry and Nealan and all the Phoenix Earth and see them in my heart? That is a mystery too wonderful for me, surely. But if they never know the names, I pray that at least, when the tears pour down my cheeks as I read for the hundredth time of Polynikes standing alone against the horizon, they will know my heart and in that way understand.