A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Theatro Vida Audition

I consider myself a fairly cultured person. I like opera and ballet and chamber music, gallery openings and poetry readings, 19th-century French novels and foreign films in black and white with subtitles. But one thing I've never liked is live theater. This despite the fact that I have a Master's degree in English with a concentration in Renaissance literature. ("Renaissance" in England means "Shakespeare." "Shakespeare" means "plays.") I don't much like watching what's going on onstage, and even less do I like getting up on the stage myself.

I went to the audition for Teatro Vida because I was assigned to go. I needed an interview, but I wasn't especially interested in the subject. And that was o.k. I'm a professional; I can make something sound fascinating if I need to, even if I personally don't give a hoot about it.

The audition had already begun when I arrived, so I couldn't take the director, Magdalena Gomez, aside for an interview, but that didn't matter. Interviews can easily be done on the telephone. I was more interested in observing, being a fly on the wall. Elmore Leonard on a Detroit street corner, seemingly absorbed in lighting a cigarette, while his steel trap of a mind locks in every detail, every scrap of dialog of the hookers and hoodlums around him.

One little problem with that. Magdalena, her assistant for the evening told me, wouldn't let anyone in the room except participants. Whatever vibe she had going on inside would be disrupted by a person not caught up in it. If I wanted to get a peek, I would have to participate, too.

Well, that's my nightmare, but in the name of good reportage, in I went. Everyone marched, and I marched; everyone froze, and I froze. When she assigned numbers and announced that anyone whose number was called would have to fall backwards, pretending to faint, I almost balked. With my back in almost constant pain since my accident, surely I qualified for an exemption from this exercise. What if nobody caught me? But then I thought, with this many people, why make waves? What are the chances she'll call out "33?"

March, march, march,14! March, march, march, 33! Damn! Obediently I fell, like the sheep we so easily become when in a group, no matter how little real power is wielded by the leader. And three strong young men did indeed catch me.

Magdalena was something to see. Slight, but with the bearing of a dancer, she had complete control of the room. Dozens of teenagers sat quietly in a circle, listened intently, contributed enthusiastically when called. No rolled eyes or wandering gazes, no cell phones or Ipods, no restless movements.

At one point, a young woman leaned over to a friend and whispered a few words in her ear. Magdalena instantly stopped talking. Permiso, she said. Excuse me, replied the flustered girl. No, excuse me, replied Magdalena. I interrupted you. Please let me know when you are finished, so I can continue. Dead silence, except for the sound of the girl blushing. And needless to say, no talking out of turn after that.

Hmmm....I think I want some of that. Of whatever Magdalena's dishing. Do I have to become a performance artist to be able to command a room in similar fashion? I don't know. I'll have to get to know Magdalena a little better to find out.

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