Sunday, August 15, 2010

Scots-Irish in Pa...

For the second summer in a row, I took the progeny to the arts camp where I spent 11 summers as a much younger fellow. And I can tell you, few things are more gratifying than working with kids. They're usually quite willing to plow into the snowbank of the unknown, scooping their own path as they go and not caring if their mittens get wet or if they run out of gas.

This year, there was very little homesickness for my particular little shaver, and he sampled a piu-piu platter of camp, with great relish: saxophone and drums and ceramics and horse riding and lighting and photography and camera-op and performing, as Donalbain, in his Dad's production of Shakespeare's Macbeth. 'Cause, y'know, what screams ambition, murder, and madness upon the Scottish heath more than 21st-century American kids?

The production was, in part, a 32-year vindication. When I was in grammar school, I rehearsed the same play; that production was struck down not by Birnam stilting its way into Dunsinane, but rather when chicken pox ripped a virulent swath across the Fifth Grade. The language--and the play is loaded with some of the bard's greatest stuff--stuck with me all these years, and when I volunteered to direct my first Shakespeare this summer I thought, Why the hell not? What role did I have in 1978? The one my son played three nights ago. Go figure.

As most theatre people know, even thinking the title of said play will bring horrible misfortune upon one's immediate line of sucession and their dogs. I had thought we enjoyed a protective shield on our magic mountain top in the wilds of North-Central Pennsylvania. Guess again. Our lighting system had an unfortunate encounter with the midday rains on our day of performace, and we did our final dress rehearsal in an indoor proscenium space, as opposed to the triple outdoor stage where we had rehearsed. "Don't worry about where we are right now, just listen to your scene partner and settle into the language," I told the kids. And by God they did -- making up new staging on the fly, and without their props, which were still drying in the back of the house.  Suddenly, the scenes took flight, and the cast was finding new moments, new readings, new truths. via language more than 400 years old! I couldn't have been more pleased by a rehearsal driven inside by the weather. By dinner, the rains let up, but the electrical wheel had to be re-invented in order to get the show up on its original space. But persevere we did, and to great effect. Witches, haze, a strong night wind, dry ice for Double, double toil and trouble, fighting with wooden broadswords and some immensely talented children made for serious theatre magic. Nothing's perfect, but man, there were some spine-tingling moments.

For my transitional and background sound cues, I found some chaps you ought to check out: They're called Albannach, and their stuff was ideal for our bloody purpose. The set was fun, too. Historically, I have the most artistic difficulty when it comes to set design. As fate willed it, the Outdoor Platform needed some overhaul and the new boards that were laid in needed paint.  Why not red? a voice asked, adrift in my creative oblongata. It was the kickstart I needed, and I'll soon post photos of the finished project from that most fair and foul day.
I am a blessed human to have the opportunity to direct strange and wonderful children in the woods--just like some lucky folks did with me, 20-some years ago. Making time for the things that are most important in one's life is a lesson that can't come soon enough. For me, it was two years ago when a bunch of us who were campers in the 80s descended upon our summer haven for a reunion weekend.

The place still radiates magic, cliche though that is to type--46 years and going strong--and every year brings a medley of new and old. Some highlights from this summer were vegetable parades (featuring the yields of the camp's own organic gardens)
 with impromptu songs before dinner, a visiting dance company that developed new work during a brief residency and presented it to the camp, again before dinner, and a marvelous quilt, made by campers and shown off in the Dining Hall.

I also oversaw quite a few radio shows at the low-power FM station operated by the camp, and one show typified, I think, the aesthetic of the Ballibay kid. The show was called "It's Nerdtastic!" and glorified all the things that might drive someone under the floorboards at your standard American high school.

But at Ballibay, those kids are rockstars. And given that one of the camp's most popular programs is the Rock program, that metaphor can sometimes be literal!

And so back into the fray of the mundane for me. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow: 8 a.m. workforce worhip. Bills, laundry, local politics, househunting, culinary adventure...and hopefully more frequent contributions to this blog. The last three weeks have given me enough creative fodder to feed an imaginary wild turkey out back, supplying a periodic plucked feather quill and a good dose of nature's humor when I need'st jarring from the everyday. Seriously. Have you ever really spent time with one of those mothers up close? Ugly!

Thanks very much for reading, and please bear in mind that just because Ben Franklin came up short with his candidate for the national bird doesn't mean we can't chase them with a scattergun every spring and fall, like God, and no doubt Wil Shakespeare, intended.

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