Discovering Theater

I’m in love.

That’s what I found myself thinking on Saturday night as I guided my aging Ford Ranger around the curves of Needles Highway east of the Black Hills Playhouse. The euphoria of an intoxicating encounter with my beloved had lifted my spirits almost to the point of song.

Since I make a joyful noise – emphasis on “noise” – when I attempt to carry a melody, I rarely attempt the feat. “Almost to the point of song” is the epitome of joy for me, and that’s where I was as my headlights pierced the darkness, leading me home to dream happily of my enchanting evening.

My girls are rolling their eyes as they read this. They’ve seen it before, the way I am consumed with joy by a new passion.

The summer I took up gardening – which, in my case, involved digging up my landlord’s carefully tended grass to replace it with bed after bed of perennials – Sara was in Milwaukee, working as an au pair and falling in love for the first time. When she called, wanting to talk about Kurt, I excitedly shared with her details about my columbine, bleeding heart, coral bells, daisies and purple coneflower, among others. For her, our two passions were not in the same league.

For me, they were. I woke early in the morning to eat breakfast in my garden, wrote poems about my garden, took roll after roll of film to document every development. I was consumed with joy and alive with creativity.

The last few years have been rough on me. Long hours at work. An inability to negotiate mutually respectful relationships with folks with whom I had significant value differences, including – unfortunately – my parish priest. (I never cease to be amazed at the number of people who are unable to understand that folks don’t have to agree with one another to treat one another with respect.)

I was dry inside when I moved to Custer nearly three months ago. The Black Hills Playhouse has changed that for me, not only the productions, but also the people. I went out before the first production, “Lend Me a Tenor,” to do a set-up story, and floated back into the office a few hours later.

Linda Anderson, the executive director, took me around campus, introducing me to people. I was enchanted, and prepared to like “Lend Me a Tenor,” whether it was good or not. (It was good.)

However, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” truly fell like renewing rain upon my spirit, giving life again to that which is creative within me. I went out to the campus the week it opened on Saturday afternoon and listened to the directors’ talk. There I learned how their creative vision shaped the show I would see.

I sat under the picnic shelter when that was over and interviewed Dan and Deb Workman, this year’s artistic director and company manager. They have a joyful and nurturing presence. Just talking with them is a gift and grace. After eating dinner with them and with Linda, I went into the playhouse to see “Joseph.”

Like a lover, I didn’t want to leave when it was over. I wanted to hug every single member of the cast and to say over and over, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” The gift they gave me that night was without price. I left feeling alive inside, feeling the need to express the gratitude that welled within me. I was ready to paint again, for the first time in years. In years.

Only true beauty, only excellence can evoke that kind of response in me. It was like sitting in front of one of Signe Stuart’s paintings for the first time. At the time, I had never set foot in a museum, had never picked up a paint brush, but I saw it, gazed at it for hours over a period of weeks, and I needed to paint, too, to find my creative voice and express it.

I still hear Iah Kinley’s voice singing “Close Every Door” from “Joseph” and wish I had a recording of it, so I could never forget. The whole cast was amazing, and Martha Stai was incredible as the narrator, but Kinley’s voice moved something deep within me, and I regret not seeing “Joseph” more often. I only saw it twice. Fool.

Fortunately, “Joseph” wasn’t the end of the season. Over the weekend, I saw “All Shook Up.” Granted, Elvis classics aren’t in the same league as an Andrew Lloyd Webber composition, but the cast is still incredible and I am still as much in love as ever.

It’s hard to believe the Black Hills Playhouse almost didn’t survive. How grateful I am to all who made this season possible, whose dedication and generosity sent out ripples that touch lives in unexpected ways.


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