Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Random acts of culture

April managed to get away from me without a blog post. It’s not that I wasn’t doing anything; in fact, I was doing any number of cool things. I think part of it is that I’ve been looking forward to doing another round of writers’ home visits, and those places have yet to open, so I was thinking about future blogging.

But I was doing fun and interesting stuff …

Art is an amazing thing. The arts, I mean. The act of creating, expressing and sharing, no matter what the medium. The wonder doesn’t just happen for the artist; it’s wonder shared, because the viewer (audience, reader) experiences the wonder and the joy too. It’s a fascinating communication.

Through no purposeful planning April turned out to be a month of cultural events where I was the recipient of the pleasures of art.

The annual IMADA art show and auction to raise money for arts in the local schools was an evening spent with friends and a room filled with art made by talented, generous community members. It was an all-you-can-eat buffet for the eyes, and mine were stuffed by the time I was through. The icing on the cake was an exhibit of paintings by my friend Robin Silverman, who died last fall. It was lovely to see a collection of her work—and still to be able to feel the wonder and joy she put into it.

The following week I saw a production of Man of La Mancha by the Pentucket Players. The purpose of the outing was to get together with friends, so the vibe of the day was already a fun one—the show only upped the fun factor. The best thing about community theater is that all the participants are doing it for love. Their joyful enthusiasm filled the auditorium like an added dimension of the music.

I had a double-header of cultural events the following week. I signed up as a volunteer for the Newburyport Literary Festival, a smorgasbord of free readings and panel discussions by writers of all genres that overruns downtown Newburyport for one glorious day. (My job, fetching coffee for a gathering of poets, was an easy one.) The sun was shining, the gathering folk were smiling; it was a good day to be a writer (or reader).

The first presentation of the day I attended was a discussion of the works of John P. Marquand, a Newburyport treasure, by book critic Jonathan Yardley. Yardley is a long-time fan of Marquand’s writing, and he discussed it with the enthusiasm that comes from deep familiarity. That’s what a long-term relationship with art gives us. That joy that becomes personal.

A couple of nights before the festival I was at The Music Hall in Portsmouth for a night of theatre in London. What? The National Theatre of London has enabled a worldwide audience to enjoy its production through high-definition broadcasts of live performances. The Music Hall is one of the New England venues where these performances can be seen. On this night it was a performance of Alan Bennett’s new play, The Habit of Art

The story of the drama celebrates art with the rehearsal of a play within the play. The characters of the inside story are W.H. Auden and Benjamin Britten, and all the characters display the sometimes uneasy relationship that artists have with their art—and the challenges of making a life (and a living) with art.

It was a wonder and joy occasion. I marvel at Bennett’s writing—his ability to put so much into a play and weave it all together. The material begs actors to grab it and do marvelous things with it.  It’s funny and smart and sad and discomfiting, often all at the same time. Actors Richard Griffiths and Frances De La Tour as well as director Nicholas Hytner collaborated on Bennett’s The History Boys (loved this too) several years ago. So it was not just a matter of delighting in the work of people who are really good at what they do—it was witnessing what comes out of the comfortable collaboration of long-time colleagues.

It just plain makes me happy seeing people do what they love.

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