Gotta go, the stage is calling

Leave it to the ubiquitous cell phone to put live theater in the headlines recently.

First, Nick Silvestri, attending a performance of “Hand of God” at the Booth Theater in New York with his family, climbed onstage before the show began and tried to plug his cell phone into what he thought was a working electric plug on the show’s set.

cell-phone-movie-theatre-45Then, actor Patti Lupone, who is currently starring in “Shows for Days” on Broadway became so frustrated with audience members’ cell phones going off and in particular, one woman who texted throughout the show’s curtain call, that she grabbed the texter’s cell phone, walked off stage and gave it to the stage manager.

Lupone lamented that she was reconsidering future acting gigs if audience behavior could not be controlled. Most likely hearing the laughter of box office and house managers across the country, she came up with a great second act – a series of rules that theater goers should follow while being entertained.

But first, let’s ponder the idiot whose cell phone was dying. His situation begs the question: have we no respect for each other, yielding all to the electronic gadgets we carry around?

“I was thinking they were probably going to plug something in there on the set and I figured it wouldn’t be a big deal if my phone was up there too,” the 19-year old college student explained.

Hand of GodReally? That could be a testament to the reality of the set design by Beowulf Boritt, who mused to Vanity Fair that this realism didn’t give him a new standard, but would definitely keep him from putting a toilet on stage in future shows.

Silvestri even posed that he helped the show get some attention because his stupidity (oops, my word, not his) earned them hits all over social media and the news.

Don’t flatter yourself, punk. The show is a Tony-nominated heart-felt effort from the writers, director, actors and rest of the company who worked their asses off to perform for you. Next semester, click past the classes on getting laid and being entitled and check out “Respecting Other People’s Work” – you might be surprised at what you find. Oh, and use your Amazon Student account to get a portable phone charger. It’s what normal people do to power-up their phones when they’re not at home.

Now back to fully-charged cell phones operating in the house –

PattiLuponeLupone’s phone grab is something understandable by everyone who has ever performed on a stage, with a caveat. Actors dedicate their entire beings to becoming a character, working hard to memorize lines, remember blocking and choreography and become part of an ensemble that tells stories, only to be derailed by rude people who find it impossible to silence their phones and leave them in purse or pocket.

It is as distracting as someone talking aloud while a gut-wrenching 10-page soliloquy is given onstage. To the actor, this behavior tells them loud and clear that their efforts are for naught, that the audience member does not care for their performance and has absolutely no respect for them.

That is just wrong.

Now the caveat. While I understand Ms. Lupone’s frustration, I do not condone breaking that fourth wall and seizing the evidence. She is justified in being angry at that person and lashing out in revenge and punishment might be tempting, but what about the rest of the audience, the vast majority of people who hadn’t engaged in bad behavior? For them, the magical separation of the story was shattered by her actions. Frustrated or not, she must maintain that wall of separation and not engage.

Besides, only stage and house managers should confiscate phones. It’s my favorite thing to do when I’m in charge.

Lupone is a talented, experienced and seasoned actress who is known to give passionately to her craft. It would be a tremendous loss if she found something else to do with her time instead of thrilling audiences from the stage. It is her credibility on stage that gives weight to her five simple suggestions for audiences, which include….

Respect – the people around you. The theater is a place of wonder for so many, don’t take away a single moment of their enjoyment by talking or doing anything other than watching the magic behind the proscenium.

Power down – Live theater offers an escape, a liberation from our electronic leashes. Take advantage and watch the show.

Eat dinner before the show – Even though the audience section of a theater is called “the house,” it is not your kitchen or couch. Don’t bring food or drink into the theater, (bottled water the only exception) and if you MUST unwrap a candy or cough drop, do it before the curtain rises. It’s easier to hear in the absence of chewing, slurping and crinkling.

It is called the house, not the kitchen or the couch
It is called the house, not the kitchen or the couch. Don’t bring food!

Use judgment – Don’t feel obligated to give everything you see a standing ovation. (This one prompted quite a bit of feedback from fellow thespians.) One should leap to their feet only when they are moved by the actors and writing; seeing you standing and applauding tells the actors that they have done their job of reaching into your hearts and minds and enriching your lives. Simply popping up when the applause begins lessens the value of the enthusiastic Oh-My-God-That-Changed-My-Life response of the truly thrilled.

Prepare for bliss – Come expecting to be transported. This last weekend, I saw a production of Mary Poppins and found myself surrounded by patrons who were clearly taken away by the show – the lady next to me was singing along to familiar melodies and a child behind me was excitedly telling their adult about the magic on stage (not constantly, but enough to let me know that they were enjoying every moment).

the-comedy-and-tragedy-masks-acting-204476_1920_662Live theater recharges the batteries of my soul and fills me with inspiration and appreciation for the talents of so many. It can move us all in ways that no status or video or message ever will.

Shaping the art and soul of my community

“Bit by bit, putting it together…
Piece by piece, only way to make a work of art.
Every moment makes a contribution, every little detail plays a part.
Having just a vision’s no solution, everything depends on execution:
Putting it together – that’s what counts!”

sculpture CCP Madeline WienerSondheim. What a wordsmith. And any actor who’s done a Sondheim piece knows the unique meter of his words – as I read the lyrics above (“Putting It Together” from “Sunday In the Park With George”), I did it note for note (Sondheim fans will get the joke).

OK, enough about writing for the micro-audience. I’m on a much bigger mission here.

I want you to think about art.

What does that word say to you? A picture on the wall? A sculpture? A song? A live stage drama? An interpretive dance? A humorous blog?

Now let’s take it a step further. What does art do for you? Inspire? Calm? Recharge? Provide an escape? Amuse?

Let’s all agree that art has an effect on every soul it touches. Books have saved lives, songs have captured moments and emotions, cartoons have expressed political rebellion, dance has given us grace, portraits have invited compliments. All have prompted thought and conversation.

Now let’s visit a much darker scene.

We could be living in a place devoid of art.

Mural Aquatic Bob HernandezTheaters could go dark. No stages would mean no dances or recitals. Roundabouts would be flat. Walls would be boring. And the only singing might be the occasional National Anthem, a beautiful song, but not to replace the wide variety of music we’re used to.

There are those among us who believe every penny of municipal money should be spent on public services they consider important, such as streets, housing, traffic, infrastructure and taking care of the poor. All noble services.

But what the blinder-wearing critics don’t see is that all of those services benefit from an art component.

When you’re driving down the freeway, do you notice the subtle patterns stamped into the concrete sound walls? You can tell where you are depending on the art. And housing? We paint buildings different colors, but a splash of something nontraditional really catches the eye and lifts spirits. Infrastructure? Doesn’t that mean a foundation for the best quality of life we can get? And stewardship for those less fortunate should be a given, from not just city sources but from our own pockets, to make sure everyone has a place to life and food to eat. Sometimes art is the only bright light for those struggling to get through life.

But an equal responsibility for all of us, and most of all, our leaders is to also support the aesthetics of our community. Sculptures at the trailheads. Murals in the downtown gathering places. Music at every assembly. Colors and sounds, emoting and creating is essential to human growth and nurturing everywhere.

Southern HotelWhat many fail to see is that in the tangled web of municipal finance, arts funding is very small, but traditionally spent to get the best benefit for all. It’s also funding that doesn’t impact other funding – money spent on art doesn’t deprive roads or food pantries or senior programs. And if the funds come from grants, they may be restricted only to arts and are not available for those other purposes.

Now you may not think that those voices can influence the decision makers, especially if they are small in number.

Wrong. They killed the art in the Newhall roundabout.

Short-sightedness like theirs makes arts administrators cringe when a creative, locally-sourced project is killed because of squeaky wheels and not the project’s merits.

Artists of all disciplines are not without fault. They did not fill the Council chambers to stand up for their fellow creatives.

Lucky for us, we have a second chance. The Santa Clarita City Council has brought a consultant aboard to assess the arts picture (pun intended) and listen to the people express what they want to see in our city. All of the people, squeaky wheels, starving artists, creative musicians, enlightened painters, singers, dancers, actors, comedians, poets and artistic types. Everyone.

“Small amounts, adding up to make a work of art.
First of all you need a good foundation, otherwise it’s risky from the start.
Takes a little cocktail conversation, but without the proper preparation,
Having just a vision’s no solution, everything depends on execution.
The art of making art – is putting it together
Bit by bit…”

There are two ways you can add your voice to support the arts – express your opinions by taking the survey online at this link: http://arts.santa-clarita.com/arts-master-plan/

It doesn’t take long and offers the opportunity to add ideas that may not be listed in the options. Most of all, it will give you a chance to say if you want more art, less art, where you want the art, how you want to experience it, and what art you appreciate now.

This would be a good time to remind you that there are several nonprofit arts groups in existence that give of their hearts and souls to make Santa Clarita an artistic place. A few that come to mind – the Canyon Theatre Guild, the Santa Clarita Master Chorale, the Santa Clarita Artists Association, the Santa Clarita Concert Band, ARTree, the Santa Clarita Symphony, the Santa Clarita Shakespeare Festival, the Repertory East Playhouse, the Santa Clarita Youth Orchestra……well, I promised a few, but there are many more, trust me. Many of them don’t get paid to create their art and do it out of passion and the desire to make their community a better place.

The other thing you can do is come to the Arts Summit (again, info at http://arts.santa-clarita.com/arts-master-plan/), it’s on Monday, April 6 at the Activities Center (above the Aquatics Center on Centre Pointe Parkway) from 6:30 to 8. There will be a panel discussion and breakout groups to narrow down what is important to all. It’s a one-night, short time commitment to improve the arts outlook for our future – and the future of our children, grandchildren and visitors.

Oh yeah, tourism helps pay for some of those essential services too – so let’s make sure there’s some culture for people passing through and stopping for a day or two.

Join me and do something to make sure we’re not living in boring beige concrete canyons, please?

And thank you for reading while I express myself artistically.

“The art of making art is putting it together” (jazz hands)

Above: art commissioned by the City of Santa Clarita. Girl and dog sculpture at Canyon Country Park by Madeline Wiener, Aquatics Center mural by Bob Hernandez, Old Town Newhall mural by Frank Rock