RABBIT TRAILS: DISPATCHES FROM THE SHED

Updates, news and blog stories from around the Ted and Company universe.

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Anatomy of a Work in Progress Part V: Stealth Genius

January 26, 2021

Steven Stauffer sneaks up on you. It’s not just that he is innately quiet, the third child in a family of 6, and a natural peacemaker. No it’s something else…something else. Hmmm.

If you have been following along in this series, Steven has been mentioned many times. AND If you haven’t been following along, why not?! (Go check out the previous posts, starting here, for the whole story.) The series moves from Steven’s idea to shoot in a “really cool theater,” to Michelle’s description of him

“I’m there too, watching both the screen … and Steven’s dance. It’s a beautiful dance to behold… up then down, tilting to one side, leaning in, backing up. Ted leads, Steven follows.”

We feel Steven’s presence. 

He has a lanky athletic grace, could be a poster child for skinny jeans, and moves a bit like a small forward looking for the crevices in a zone defense; never bullying his way through a crowd, but slipping along the seams, lurking on the baseline until he spins in a reverse layup. 

He also has a sneaky sense of humor in person and translates that sense to a brilliant editing style.  I see it when he shows me an edit of a monologue that makes me laugh out loud, not because I’m so freaking funny, but because his edits are so spot on, milking every bit of possible laughter, you are holding back so you don’t miss the next laugh. 

I remember “Steven, the high school student,” that my wife Sue and I taught and directed in Senior Play and acting class, then I wonder, “When did he learn how to do that?” Sneaky. 

And he’s still doing it. From the early conversations of shooting in a barn, to working in concert with Michelle, Jacob and Jerry, Steven was seemingly inexhaustible and unfailingly positive. He always makes the job easier and comes to each project with a calm confidence, without bravado, and large amounts of humility.

I count on his level, calming influence in the room, or the basement, or in a goat field, or the woods (Valentine’s Day), or a sidewalk (The Banana Explains the World), or a warehouse (7 years of Food), or a historic house even when he was not feeling well during the shoot and spent a good amount of time sitting between takes, followed soon after by an emergency appendectomy (The Mustard Seed). 

Steven’s name is all over Ted and Co. video library (see also Listening for Grace Trailer, Addictions, and A Few Questions among others.)

 

 

 

I know I am susceptible to mood swings related to stress, fear, and quite frankly the prospect of unintentionally appearing stupid, or even worse, out of touch. Steven is open to almost any suggestion, and that wicked, sneaky sense of humor keeps the shoot days light and the creative juices flowing. 

Inner conceit is a term I first heard from Joe Torre, longtime baseball manager. It is holding your confidence close to the vest, not blowing your own horn…but knowing just how good you are.  Steven just might have this inner conceit.

When Valerie, Steven and I began formulating a plan to publish the  book, Portraits Of The Human Faces Tour, Steven said he’d like to “have a go at ” the design and layout–again something new approached with quiet confidence. The understated elegance of the book is another testament to his artistic sense.  

I‘ve come up with a word for Steven–I think he’s a Stealth Genius. 

And I’m fortunate I get to work with him

~ Ted

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Anatomy of a Work of Art in Progress: Shifting Perspectives… A Director’s View

January 21, 2021

Shifting perspectives a bit… Michelle here, Director of the Work of Art in Progress.

So, one afternoon last week, I’m watching the first video cut from Steven — and I’m feeling the story, we’re carrying it through. On screen, Ted makes me laugh, brings me to tears, enlarges my heart… he draws me in, it’s just him and me. I’m Audience Member Number One, first focus group member, and my feedback is in: we haven’t finished editing yet, but it’s there. It’s working. I’m with him.

And then… I take off my Audience Member goggles, moving on to other Director Duties, and I’m struck by something.

I’ve been pulling photos for social media posts, and there’s a striking contrast here. On video, I was right there with Ted, feeling it with him, just him and me — as the Very Special Audience Member.

But looking through these pictures as Director, I’ve zoomed out from the video frame. There in the frame of a photo, is Steven, the videographer, with Ted.

— “Hey!” says the Very Special Audience Member who thought Ted was talking to them directly. “There’s someone else here! What’s he doing here?!”

— “Yep,” says the Director. “You’re still Very Special, but well… there’s a little more to the picture.”

 

      

The person looking through the camera — ie, your eyes, Dear Audience — is Steven Stauffer.

And just behind Steven as we film, I’m there too, watching both the screen (your view), and Steven’s dance. It’s a beautiful dance to behold… up then down, tilting to one side, leaning in, backing up. Ted leads, Steven follows.

And Steven isn’t just dancing with Ted; he’s dancing while carrying 5000 pounds of something called a “camera” (okay, it might only be 12 pounds, but you try carrying 12 pounds on your shoulder, holding it steady, while you do a graceful dance following the actor’s lead for 12 hours a day 4 days in a row…) as if it’s part of Steven’s own body.

I love this part of being a director — watching the meta-performance that the audience can’t see. It’s like a superpower — I can see through layers. I can see outside the frame.

Side Note (Side Notes are kind of like Rabbit Trails): When we get this pandemic under control and I can teach movement classes again, maybe I’ll suggest the students can get extra credit by learning videography. Or the whole course could be substituted by learning videography. Just follow Steven around for a while, do what he does, and I’ll give you full credit for the course. Balance, grace, flexibility, responsiveness, strength, endurance…you have to have it all in order to do the job.

Anyway. That’s Steven. Dancing.

On camera, you see Ted running up and down a bunch of stairs. Zoom out, and you see Steven running up and down behind him. Running up and down stairs HOLDING A CAMERA ON HIS SHOULDER, I might add.

   

On camera, you see Ted talking to you, his Very Special Confidante. Zoom out, and you see Steven walking backwards, through a basement cluttered with tripping hazards.

Zoom out a bit more and you see me behind Steven, following his moves (who is following Ted’s moves). We’re all dancing. Ted leads, we follow. He’s the star, after all.

Of course, we lead Ted too. In good dancing, you might not be able to tell who’s leading and who’s following.

I’m watching over Steven’s shoulder so I can see the frame, or stepping to the side so I can see Ted in 3D. I’m moving a bucket out of the way as Steven backs up, so Ted can keep walking and talking to you, his Favorite Person.

Zoom out some more and you see Jacob.

Jacob leaning in with the boom mic so he can get the right sound. Jacob in the back of the house making the lights shift at just the right moment. Jacob hidden under the sound board so he can monitor the audio, but stay out of your sight as Ted moves through the space.

Invisible.

Zoom out and you also see Jerry catching a door when it swings so it doesn’t bang behind Ted after he’s gone through it; or reading lines into Ted’s earpiece from the other room, so Ted has a real person to talk to in this scene.

Later, Ted’s son Derek is recording the missing dialogue over the phone and we all crack up.

Side Note… We thought it was a great take until Jacob, on sound, diplomatically said, “Okay, let’s do it one more time and, uh… can we laugh a little quieter this time?”

We’re all there. We just have to be quiet. And invisible. More superpowers!

I whisk a hat out of the frame, or hand Ted a jacket. Jerry throws a prop into the frame so it lands in Ted’s hands. If we do our jobs well, you will hardly notice we’re there. Magic!

What you see on screen looks like an empty theatre (poor Ted, all alone…). The reality is that in between takes there are a slew of coats, water bottles, backpacks, and notebooks we move from one corner of the theatre to another as Ted takes you, Best Friend, on a walk that looks so easy, so graceful.

It’s just you and him. All he can see is You.

You see Ted crossing a dark street and entering a bar alone.

I see Steven in front of him, walking backwards. I’m behind Steven so I can watch what he’s filming; I’m also walking backwards. When we get to the street, I step away so Jerry and I can make sure cars stop as Ted crosses “alone.”

Then I run to catch back up with Steven and Ted, while Jacob and Jerry hide behind a sign, on headphones so they can track the sound.

You won’t know we’re here.

   

Ted walks slowly, easily, while we all scurry in the background. He’s the host, he keeps you engaged. We’re the catering, we make sure the food is on the table and tastefully arranged by the time you arrive.

You won’t see the kitchen mess, but as a director I kind of love seeing it… the mess, backstage, choreography… the way the magic happens.

If we’re seen, we break the magic.

Unless it’s at just the right moment… I do love crew cameos. You might catch a grumpy stagehand in the shadows, waving Character Ted off to the bar; an impatient stagehand pushing Character Ted onstage; a sound op saluting as Character Ted leaves for a break.

Ted the Actor is used to having all those people there, just out of your sight, supporting him.

Ted the Character makes you feel like he only sees You, even though you’re not there in the moment.

(Do you have superpowers too, oh Honored Audience Member, the One and Only? How do you make us believe in you as we create this film… believing you will appear, believing you will listen, believing you will care?)

The magic of theatre and film is that there is always more happening than you can see. We are in the space with Ted at every moment. Cheering him on between takes, laughing, brainstorming, problem-solving… the room holds confusion, rising tension, inspiration,  exhaustion, delight….

Ted carries our presence into the shots. On camera, you see one person, as if he’s alone. But he wasn’t.

Solo shows are never solo.

There are five of us in the room, breathing together, moving together, dancing together. Ted is with you, and we’re all there with Ted, and with you, too — You, the Audience of Our Dreams, our VIP Guest, the Reason We’re Here.

Invisible (if we’ve done our jobs right). Bringing our superpowers. Making the magic happen.

 

There are five people in this room, and a lot of hidden coats, water bottles, coffee cups, clipboards, and backpacks… We’re doing it for You. Our Beloved Audience. (Well, and also for the Magic.)

 

— Michelle

 

(All 📷  📷  📷  by Michelle Milne)

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Anatomy of a Work of Art in Progress Part III: The Crew

January 15, 2021

When we last left off, I was being convicted to not only take the script to a deeper, more vulnerable space but my acting as well, aaack! We now found ourselves in that beautiful theater space in tech rehearsals.

Now, when we rented the Goshen Theater, Jerry Peters came with it. It’s right there in the contract: “In signing this contract, as a bonus, you also receive a healthy dose of Jerry Peters.” Everyone needs a healthy dose of Jerry Peters. I first met Jerry in 1991…

JERRY: …29 years ago.

TED:  Wow, that makes me feel…

JERRY: Seasoned?

TED: Seasoned.

JERRY: So, I’ll be there a bit, get the heat going, turn the lights on, run the spot if you need it. 

TED: Right.

JERRY: But mostly dropping in and out… checking in.

TED: Can you join us for a pre-production meeting via Zoom?

JERRY: Sure.

And he was hooked. See, we also wanted Jerry’s eye and imagination involved. 

He’s done a little of everything…lighting, sound, set building, problem-solving, cameo acting, croissant runs…. and he’s the Goshen Theater Technical Director. Michelle told me he’s notorious for “dropping in,” like every rehearsal, with lots of great ideas, but nooooo he doesn’t want to be a director, he’ll just drop in and out, he’s got a lot going on…. and there he is. He likes it. We like him.

 

 

STEVEN: There’s a marquee out front right?

JERRY: Yeah.

MICHELLE: What’s on it for the shoot?

JERRY: Title of the film?

MICHELLE: Do we have a title?

* All look at Ted *

TED: I’m sorry, was that question directed at me?

STEVEN: So maybe a title, what else?

TED: My name spelled wrong?

STEVEN: Fun, it could be a subtle thing, where you have to really pay attention to see what changes are happening.

MICHELLE: Is the marquee telling a part of the story?

TED: Yes.

JERRY: Is the marquee the “Greek Chorus” of the film?

ALL: Yes!!

TED: Who changes the marquee?

JERRY: I do…and you know, it does take a while to make those changes.

STEVEN: We figure that out when we are there. And we’ll have a title, right?

TED: I’m sorry, was that question directed at me?

 

Unbeknownst to me, prior to my arrival in Goshen, Michelle and Jerry had already been plotting about use of the space.

 MICHELLE: Why do we have to stay on stage?

JERRY: No reason.

MICHELLE: We’ve got the place to ourselves right.

JERRY: Right, because…

ALL TOGETHER…”The pandemic hit and all performances were canceled.”

MICHELLE: We could have a scene in the dressing room.

JERRY: Which dressing room?

MICHELLE: There are options?

JERRY:  We have the diva dressing room and the plebian dressing room.

MICHELLE: Both.

JERRY:  Wanna see the basement? 

MICHELLE: Do I?!

JERRY: We could clear this part of backstage off. Or leave it.

MICHELLE: Let’s leave it for now, the mess seems right for the character’s brain… what’s this?

JERRY: Just a closet.

MICHELLE: We can use that.

JERRY: Ted will be coming out of the closet?

MICHELLE: Big changes in 2020.

Jerry giving Michelle a tour of the closets…

 

In another production meeting, another fortuitous moment…

JERRY: You know, Jacob Claassen, a student at Goshen College, knows a whole lot more about the lights here than I do.  Can we bring him on board?

MICHELLE: Jacob’s good.

TED: Sounds like a great idea. 

We now had a lighting designer. 

Michelle, getting excited (she might have been doing a little dance), watching Jacob play with the lights: 

MICHELLE: You can do color?!

JACOB: Have I got color!

MICHELLE: Nice! Can we have that color over there? 

JACOB: Yes and…

MICHELLE: …ah, I see, over there as well. 

JACOB: And you can add this color, or this color, combine the three.

MICHELLE: Sweet! Can we add forestry wilderness upstage for the “backstage” scene?

JACOB: Deciduous or evergreen?

MICHELLE:  Yes.

JACOB: Done.

MICHELLE: Can we have them change in the middle of a shot? 

JACOB: Sure.

MICHELLE: There’s a backstage scene. Can we light that?

JACOB: Yes! And! Yes, And! Also this and this and this… colors! patterns! Is this a dream scene, a memory, or “today”? 

Jacob had lighting for it all. 

Jacob and Jerry hanging lights

 

On the first day of production, he was thrust into the sound production as well.

TED: Jacob, I picked up a new microphone along the way, here’s the box.

JACOB: Oh wow, toys!

TED: You got this, right?

JACOB: Got it.

And it was so. So nice not to have to worry about my own mic. 

 

On the second day of the shoot… 

JACOB: I was wondering… would you like a stage manager? 

TED: Wait, we don’t have a stage manager?! Who’s in charge here?! Besides me, I mean. 

Rabbit trail: There is a reason stage managing is one of the most marketable theater career paths. Despite the term, it is not the stage, but rather people they are managing… creative, distracted, passionate, volatile, sometimes temperamental, habitually late, talented, self absorbed, generous, wounded people. Wheww. They are often in charge of schedule, continuity, schedule, props, running rehearsals, communication, and schedule. 

 JACOB: No. We don’t have a stage manager.

TED: Is it noticeable?

JACOB: (simply stares at him)

MICHELLE/STEVEN/JERRY Yes!!

TED: Sounds like a good idea. Can you do that?

JACOB: Yes.

MICHELLE/STEVEN/JERRY: Thank you!!!

And it was stage manager Jacob who reminded us of the schedule, who watched for continuity…it was lighting designer Jacob who made us all (and by us all, I mean me, the actor) look good, it was sound tech Jacob who noted “Ted’s shirt is rustling, we need another take.” He kept track of scenes, made sure sound was running, and…

JACOB: Ted, uh, don’t forget to turn your mic off when you go to the bathroom.

TED: Of course, have I EVER not done so?

JACOB: This morning.

JERRY: And in Oregon in 1991.

TED : Ok, Ok!!  (Retreats to the sanctuary of the men’s room. Fumbling for his…off switch). 

Thank you Jerry and Jacob!

The budget grew, but more importantly the collaboration expanded, there were 5 minds free to throw ideas into a beautiful caldron of imagination and art. It was more complicated yes, but boy it was a whole lot more fun. In the post shoot debrief, we all expressed an appreciation of the spirit of collaboration. It was a shout out to “Yes and…” This phrase is a bedrock of improv comedy. 

Rabbit trail: Why hasn’t Improv Drama ever caught on? Because surprise is so closely tied to comedy? Because we have enough drama in normal life? Or is it just a really horrible idea? Like trickle down economics. 

Regardless, most theater people are familiar with the phrase “Yes And…” and try to honor it, responding to an idea with yes – keeping the creative channel open, rather than no – closing it off. It is also a great philosophy of life, “yes and…”  How might society change if our impulses were to always say yes first?

 So ‘yes and’. 

In that celebration of collaboration we realized we had needed an addendum to this phrase. In the midst of a delightful ‘jam session’  we came up with, “yes and…but.”

As in, Yes, and let the lights change here to reflect a “dream sequence,” Steven nimbly circles Ted amplifying the moment, but flying Ted in from the rafters is probably not possible…in the time we have.

TED: And the budget….also I’ve heard those harnesses really bind you in the crotch.

This whole project was a surprising, anxiety filled celebration of unexpected challenges and delights. We were now ready to shoot. I was stressing about lines, vulnerable acting choices, whether I had planned dinners for us all, what was I going to do with my COVID hair? 

But I knew I was in good hands.   

…to be continued.

~ Ted

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Anatomy of a Work of Art in Progress Part II: The Questions Directors Ask

January 12, 2021

When we last were with you, Steven and Ted had found the Really Cool Theater. 

So, a change in plans–don’t shoot the video in the barn, amongst the detritus and memories of my childhood, but rather travel to Goshen, Indiana, and rent the gorgeous, recently renovated Goshen Theater where they have been unable to host events because… all together now:

 “The pandemic hit and all performances were canceled.”

In light of this change in plans–a real theater instead of a barn–maybe I need to be better; a better writer, a better actor. The stakes have been raised. 

So we need to hire an exceptional director. Enter Michelle Milne…

Photo by Ted

MICHELLE: How long are you thinking the shoot will take?

TED: I was thinking one day of shooting.

MICHELLE: Really? One day?

TED: I mean after a day of rehearsal.

MICHELLE: A day?

TED: Well, we could do a 2 hour Skype rehearsal before that.

MICHELLE: Uh huh.

TED: Okay, maybe longer rehearsal. We can add another hour to the skype rehearsal. 

(Long pause, Michelle looking at Ted, he smiles, tries to be charming) 

MICHELLE: Can I see a script?

TED: (Taps his head) It’s all right here.

MICHELLE: In your head?

TED: Yes, in that place where the magic happens.

MICHELLE: The magic? Is that why there appears to be smoke coming out of your ears?

TED: No, I think that’s just rust…in the gears, lack of stage time.

MICHELLE: Seriously can I see a script?

I quickly cobbled together my bullet points from the show I had performed in January, you remember last January, when we were all so innocent—wasn’t it three years ago, last January? Sent the script to Michelle. 

MICHELLE: So I read the script.

TED: Yeah?

MICHELLE: It’s good, it has potential.

TED: Potential? It’s a script, not a minor league ballplayer.

MICHELLE: How high in the system is the player? And whose system?

TED: What? 

MICHELLE: If it’s Tampa Bay you’re close, if you’re thinking of San Francisco…no.

TED: I didn’t think you knew much about baseball…

MICHELLE: I do now! I had to read up, prepare, be able to meet the actor where he’s at, using language he understands…

TED: The actor? I thought we were working on the script.

MICHELLE: And the writer. Lucky for me, they’re the same guy. You remember you’ll be doing both, right?

TED: Yes, yes, acting (waves hands dismissively) … so the script?

MICHELLE:  What’s the story you want to tell?

TED: Ahhhh.

MICHELLE: Is this a documentary to sell books?

TED: Selling books wouldn’t be a bad thing.

MICHELLE: Sure, but do you want to do more? Do you want to draw the viewer in…make us feel…make us laugh…change us?

It’s borderline unfair to ask this question to an actor and writer. Of course that is what I wanted, so…back to the script, more rewrites, restructured the budget, more consultations with Steven and Michelle…contracted the Goshen Theater—thanks, Amber Burgess!…more rewrites, Steven gathered the equipment, I gassed up the van and headed to Indiana while waiting results of the COVID test…wait, what??!!  

Yeah, on Election Day, the first election day, I received my positive results, certifying that my feeling like I’d been run over by Mike Trout in a home-late collision had its roots in that nasty virus. And my memory…it’s…you know that’s one of the side effects…loss of memory…and well, where was I?

Ah, a positive test. So I quarantined in Goshen, and rescheduled the theater for mid December—thanks, Amber Burgess at Goshen Theater! 

So another month to plan, more rewrites, more questions from Michelle…

MICHELLE: You mean really good questions.

TED: Right.

MICHELLE: Like–why is this scene here?

TED: You mean placement?

MICHELLE: No, how does this scene help tell the story you want to tell?

TED: It’s a good scene.

MICHELLE: Yes! It is! Made me laugh…a lot.

TED: One of my favorite scenes.

MICHELLE: I love it!

TED: Great!

MICHELLE:  But…why is it here? What does it do for the story we’re telling?

TED: (Pause) Damn.

That is what directors do. Ask questions to see if you know the truth of the moment and are you clear?  

Once we were ready to take it on stage and then screen, Michelle was relentless…

MICHELLE: Relentless? Passionate.

TED: Relentless.

MICHELLE: Relentlessly… 

TED: …passionate, in a good way mind you, in her questions. And she didn’t let me off the hook as an actor, an actor with a pretty big bag of tricks. 

MICHELLE: So this show, we have the story…it’s very moving, it’s funny…

TED: Thanks.

MICHELLE: Now, on to the acting…

TED:  Right, working on getting it all up here (taps head).

MICHELLE: And here (taps heart).

TED: Oh. Sounds scary. 

MICHELLE:  The writer’s done a good job. 

TED: Great. Can we just stay there?

MICHELLE: It’s time to give him a break, take some time off, maybe catch a minor league baseball game.

TED: It’s December.  

MICHELLE: It’s time to step up to the plate.

TED: Enough with the baseball.

MICHELLE: Remember that story we’re working to tell… now it’s the actor’s turn.

TED: It is?

MICHELLE: How will the actor–you–tell the story? How vulnerable do you want to be?

TED: (pause) 

MICHELLE: Are you getting pale? Can I get you some water?

Acting is vulnerable, and it’s scary to open yourself up and let anyone in, let alone hundreds of people. A director is a cheerleader, critic, therapist, dramaturge, compassionate truth teller all rolled into one package. 

I was sometimes chagrined, and sometimes delightfully surprised to discover there was always something more to be explored in my performance. If I had the courage to find it. 

The show began to take on a different light, it was becoming a heartfelt, painful, joyful remembrance and celebration of resilience, theater, friendship and collaboration. 

We had come a long way from the barn… Just what had I gotten myself into?  

To Be Continued…

~ Ted

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Anatomy of a Work of Art in Progress: Part 1

January 8, 2021

In January of 2020, Ted & Company had a book release party and show. The book, Portraits From The Human Faces Tour, was created by Valerie Serrels, Steven Stauffer and me.  The show was to become a part of the touring repertoire of Ted & Co.  We succeeded in getting a grant to underwrite the tour, then planned a 10-15 show campaign. The Ted & Co office was gathering steam and momentum, the entire office I tell you!  Both of us.

And…here is where the performer holds the mic out to the audience and they sing the next lines, all together now…”The pandemic hit and all performances were canceled.”

In late summer my wife Sue made a prescient suggestion, “ Why don’t you put that show on video to create an online product and we can sell those pallets of books in our basement?” 

A great idea. In August I had made plans to spend some time in my childhood home helping with the care of my dad and I thought, “I’ll just bring Steven Stauffer down from Brooklyn for a day and we’ll shoot me talking to the camera…and hey, we could do it in the barn there on Ridge Road, Spring City PA.” 

Photo by Tim Swartz

Recreated conversation with Steven

TED: So hopefully it’ll be just a day, and we can set up lights and do it in the barn at my brother’s place.  So…

STEVEN: ( nodding ) …Hmm, I have an image of you coming on stage like the comedians in TV specials do to a huge crowd…

TED: Ok.

STEVEN: …and then there’s no crowd…

TED: …right, because…

STEVEN: …you see the metaphor?

TED: …Yeah, but..

STEVEN: … and then of course we need a really cool theater. 

TED I was thinking if you could be down by 10:00 AM, I could have some space cleared out in the barn…

STEVEN: Do you know of any theaters like that?

TED:  …maybe a 12 by 12 space…and the budget…by the way, the budget is a “shoot it in the barn budget.”

STEVEN: I’m seeing gold seats…no, red seats…hundreds of them, empty.

TED:  Like the budget?

STEVEN:  And we shoot you in the dressing room, then follow you down halls…corridors… 

TED: Isn’t that the same thing?

STEVEN: Shhh, I’m visually rolling. …I’m following you right out onstage, circling…the lights casting an aura around you…the star. 

( pause ) 

TED: So, a really cool theater…

STEVEN:  Yeahhhh!

TED: Like this one?

 

STEVEN:  Yeahhhh!

…To be continued…

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2020 – The Year of Enforced Liminal Space

August 4, 2020

Celtic theologian John Phillip Newell recently spoke at the virtual conference Beyond the Pandemic: How Shall We Live?

He says, “Celtic spirituality invites us into a deeper awareness of the sacred in one another and all things.”  He then noted a three-fold approach to this way of seeing:

  1. Let go of old ways of seeing that have failed to see and reverence the sacred in one another as races, as nations, as species, as religions.
  2. Reimagine new ways of seeing, or allow ourselves to dream of ways of seeing, living and relating we haven’t known before.
  3. Commit ourselves to beginning to live these new ways of seeing now as a way of preparing the foundations for a new day in our world.

Recently I spent a week on a silent retreat (a first for me) at Red Point, Maryland, a block off the beach on the north neck of the Chesapeake Bay.

Rabbit Trail: While standing in line to purchase sun screen and a hairband, I noticed this…

Hmmmm. I thought, I never done that either, paint my nails. Maybe this is a way to mark the days and carry something back with me.

As an artist, I traffic in the language of metaphor. Everything can be a metaphor; your receding hairline, the path you choose to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, the first firefly of the season, the patch of skin on your lower back you missed with the sunscreen, the half and half that soured because you forgot it was behind the orange juice…these all could be metaphors—for life, for art.

So metaphors.

On one of my silent walks down the beach, avoiding people at all costs, I saw numerous downed trees. Well, I did talk to the dogs—dogs don’t count against a silent retreat, right? The roots were fully exposed, you could see the entire expanse of the root spread, and it’s not unusual to see fallen dead trees along the shore…

…except there is green growth out of each tree, sometimes just a couple of green sprouts, sometimes new limbs as big around as my arm. So…

… somewhere beneath the sand a root still grows down to water and soil and the nutrients still held there.

Perhaps a metaphor for new growth in this period of waiting, this period of mourning, and yes, this period of grief.

Most performing artists I know are in various states of denial, despair and development. We are all coming to the realization that it might be a year from now before people are legally allowed to gather in numbers that can sustain a traveling artist and company. In addition, there is a growing realization that should institutions, theaters, churches and schools even be allowed to gather, their first, second or even fifth impulse probably won’t be to book that concert or theater performance. All of these potential hosts will almost likely be facing significant challenges with finances.

As we wait for the turning of our world, we invite your financial support for Ted & Company as we re-imagine how we share theater and art with the world. You can make a tax-deductible donation through the Center For Art Humor & Soul. Live shows, our primary means of sustenance, has dried up. Where will the new growth come from at the roots of Ted & Co? What is opportunity and what is simply loss? And how to Newell’s words take root in us and in your own life? How we move forward is connected with all of you and what we value.

Grateful for the journey with you, friends. Things are not what they seem. May you begin to see the green new growth sprouting up from what is old and dying.

~ Ted

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What Enneagram 7 Actors Do During a Pandemic

April 24, 2020

What’s the path forward for a theater company? A traveling theater company? A standing non-profit theater serving a small city? A moderately sized theater company employing 15 actors, director, designers? Broadway houses? A one woman vaudeville style traveling clown and puppet show? All of these questions have a similar answer. Hell if I know. 

In the last couple of weeks, in response to months of cancelizations,  I have pivoted from touring for the foreseeable future toward creating a new project with partner Michelle Milne, co-actor in Ted and Company’s We Own This Now.  We had been talking about the Enneagram for a couple of years while on the road with hosts, and also with friends and family members. It’s a fascinating, complicated, almost endless path in the attempt to understand ourselves and those we encounter in work, home, and social circles. Fascinating and complicated—yeah, like us.  A year and a half ago Michelle asked, “Why don’t we write a show about this?” What a spectacular idea, Michelle. Since the fall of 2018, we have tried to find the concentrated time to read, converse, network, read, talk, laugh, shout, despair, read, soar, agonize, and write. You know, create a show.

And now here we are, in a “forced sabbatical” from touring and time on our hands.

My point in this blog, and I do have one, is I am a 7 on the Enneagram—The Enthusiast. 7s have an active mind, excited by new ideas, always thinking about what is next, sometimes to the detriment of the moment they are in. To avoid pain, 7s  are constantly thinking about the future. Not a surprise to anyone who knows me.

In our times of stress, we 7s move toward a 1, The Reformer, seeking order in the chaos of our minds. This quote comes from Integrated Enneagram: “ As a 7 under stress, you may throw yourself obsessively into activities that offer some kind of relief of the pressure.”

This might explain, in part, why some of us begin to vigorously…ok, obsessively… begin cleaning. Cleaning the basement, check…cleaning the office, check…cleaning the barn…

Wait, you have a barn? 

Yeah. 

Where? 

Out back, it used to be a pony barn. 

Wait, you have a pony?!

No.

So why do you have a pony barn?

(*Actual conversation with my friend Leah from Oak Park, IL. A funny woman, Leah.)

So I now have a clean desk.

* Rabbit trail*  This desk was in the grocery store my parents purchased in 1966. I actually don’t know how old it is. My parents, when they moved the store to another location, had it taken to their house and refurbished. They bequeathed it to me because of my involvement for many years in the meat market business. And I’m still not sure I’m the favorite? 

So this barn; it had been pretty much packed with lawn care equipment and theater set pieces, along with tubs of props from shows created 4-8-15 years ago.  Perhaps in the hopes of again performing them I guess… Live at Jacob’s Ladder, Dovetale, Excellent Trouble, What Would Lloyd Do, Laughter Is Sacred Space.

This is an unprecedented time, a time when many things just stopped. Like the downbeat of an instrumental break. We don’t know what the startup to society will look like or when it will happen, so is it a good time to make a clean break from…the past…routine…habits…old beloved shows you have long suspected you will never perform again? Apparently.

So I began, yes obsessively, to haul out the wooden set pieces that could be burned, and watched memories of art created and performed with passion and love burn away. 

I took chairs, file cabinets, desks, suitcases and books to the thrift store, recycled the metal from sets, took apart beds and doors to repurpose them later into…what?

Many theater companies and certainly schools have this experience of tearing down a set and putting away props to use again, but Ted and Company usually has 7-9 shows currently available, so a show usually doesn’t have a prescribed ending, but rather slowly drifts into limbo dictated by demand, or in some cases the sudden in-availability of a primary actor due to death. Or in happier cases when the actor’s music career takes off.*

*Rabbit Trail*  “What Would Lloyd Do?” was written in 2008 with Trent Wagler who acted in and created  original music for the play. Trent at the time was forming a band that would become The Steel Wheels. If you don’t know who they are, perhaps it’s time you did, follow this link. But as always come back, rather than get lost in their music or in the dreaminess of the general handsomeness.

We toured “Lloyd” for a couple of years along with Jay Lapp, also a member of The Wheels, with occasional cameos from “wheelies” Brian Dickle and Eric Brubaker, until their success in music outweighed the “massive” exposure a tiny niche based theater company could give and Lloyd ended. But when I hear them sing “With It All Stripped Away” 

I think about the fall of 2008 when Trent brought  another song to share on my side porch that just might work for the show.  I would challenge you to listen to the lyrics in light of the present reality. 

All artists are finding ways to to survive, I invite you to consider supporting the Steel Wheels and other independent musicians. 

And we’re back…so the barn.

My thought-filled and brilliant wife Sue suggested I make the barn into a writing nook, alcove, cave, whatever words we use to describe a space where writers grind out thoughts, images and words in the hopes they have a life. Think Young Frankenstein when Gene Wilder screams in the middle of an electrical storm, “It’s…aliiiiiiive!!”   That is what writers hope. 

Truth be told, too many times it’s other lines from the movie, “Could be worse, could be raining,” (cue the thunder) or “Abby someone…abby normal.” But that perhaps should be another blog post. 

In the midst of the “what’s next” question I became somewhat obsessed with turning the barn into, not just a writing nook, but also a video studio, so work has begun. We shall see if that dream becomes “Aliiiiiiiiiive.”

So stay tuned for more word on the Enneagram show, snippets of the script, and videos produced in the barn. As a 7, apparently my only recourse to avoid the looming possibility of disaster and depression is to keep writing, stay creative and look forward…look forward…look forward. 

Leah: You know what would make you feel better?

Ted:  What?

Leah: A pony. 

~ Ted Swartz

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A word about the post office and postal workers

April 14, 2020

A word about the post office and postal workers… I would think at this point in our new realities, they don’t want to be called heroes. I think, rather, they want to be safe and also have a job in 5 months.

Helen Madigan is one of my favorite comics and her routine says it better than I could. A note of admonition to come back to finish this rather short post instead of following the Youtube rabbit trails of all Helen’s brilliant work, or other people’s posting about similar rants or videos of how to clean ear wax out of your AirPods.

The post office has been the butt of jokes probably since the pony express was in business. *Rabbit trail*: The Pony Express was in operation for only 18 months, until the connection of the telegraph lines across the US.   Following another *rabbit trail*: The telegraph made it easier, of course, to communicate across great distances, replacing the ponies as the quickest mode to pass information…stop. However you needed special skills to send and receive a telegraph, so you needed to use the services of a skilled operator, but then again I suppose reading a letter also requires a special skill.  The telegraph also was unable to carry packages of any kind, so Nana’s peanut butter cookies, you know, the kind smashed flat with a fork, with a sprinkle of sugar, would still have to wait for the train system to connect across the country for you to receive those delicious cookies and that took years, but if dunk them in cocoa or coffee they are just fine…stop.

My point is that while there are occasional problems getting mail to its intended recipient, it is incredible to think of how often this service we take for granted is on time and relentless in its reliability.  It is still amazing to think I can walk of the end of my drive, with my 55 cent stamp on the envelope, and someone will not only pick it up at almost the same time every day, but then deliver it to California, or Indiana, or Guam…except Guam costs $1.20.

*And yet another rabbit trail*: One of our greatest losses this difficult spring- John Prine – was a postman before he was “discovered.” I prefer the term recognized. John knew exactly where he was.

In the movement for some in politics to dismantle the post office and replace with free market enterprise is remarkably short sighted.

No one disputes that the Postal Service loses billions of dollars a year — $8.8 billion in the last fiscal year. But the largest single contributor to its red ink is a mandate Congress imposed in 2006 that it prefund its retiree health coverage costs, a requirement no other government agency faces. Here are three links with differing viewpoints on the issue.

Federal News Network – House Passes Smaller USPS Reform Bill

Bloomberg – Congress, Not Amazon, Messed Up the USPS

Forbes – Why AOC is Mostly Wrong About Post Office Pensions

To use the insolvency of the USPS as an excuse to not allocate money during the pandemic to the post office is short sighted, or in the more cynical parts of my brain, perhaps it’s exactly the intent; allow the Post Office to crash, making it harder to imagine mail-in votes in November. Hmmm.

So is this a political post? It’s not my intent, but rather to illuminate the great benefit of the Postal Service. If a bail out is necessary, and of course this is our tax dollars being used, I’d sure rather fund the regularity of sending and receiving letters in my mailbox at a cheap rate than the next amazing, coming-soon-to-a-country-in-the-Middle-East stealth bomb.

So, a huge thank you to my local post office in Harrisonburg VA, the carriers and the great folks in the regional office on Mason Street. From 6 feet away I salute you.

Ted Swartz

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