When I was a little girl, I wanted to be an actress. During summer camp the year I turned 6, I got the honor of playing the lead role in our camp’s production of Mary Poppins. There I was, dressed up in a red and white striped nightgown, my long brown hair curled and coiffed by my loving mother, singing and dancing my heart and soul out for the campers and their families. An illustrious start to what might have been an even more illustrious future…..
As fate would have it, my acting career has been erratic and always unpaid, since I have never had the kind of ambition for fame that one needs to push their way through the ranks and into the limelight. My youth’s dreams were spent without the benefit of Youtube or the X-factor. At 23, I stared my future as squarely in the face as I could muster, pondered the wisdom of packing up my belongings and heading out for that dreamland called Hollywood to seek my fortune, but instead wound up meeting my future husband and father of my children, whereupon my dreams of becoming a successful movie actress were effectively squelched.
Such is life. Instead of confining drama to a theater stage, I have brought the stage into my own personal story (as so many of us manage to do) in many intricate and interesting ways, through relationships, changes of venue, livelihoods, spiritual quests, and of course, by vicariously living through three lively daughters. Although I shelved that old dream of fame and fortune along with my youth, the core of it has remained forever inside my heart. Watching my daughters grow, I applauded every one of their creative endeavors along the road, and faithfully showed up to each recital, performance and play over the course of sixteen years. In turn I was rewarded with wonderful songs, skits, plays and performances as they spiraled up the path of childhood into adolescence, their talents ever-growing along with their beauty, cleverness and charm. I may have never reached my potential as an actress, but my daughters, by the time they were in their mid-teens, had already far surpassed me.
Fast forward to here and now: the middle of Sjaelland, Denmark, the middle of winter, the middle of my life. Now I have taken on the role of producer and co-director of an ambitious undertaking, performing Alice in Wonderland with a very nice bunch of Danish kids, ages 11 to 15. Dear Readers, this is no small feat, attempting to coordinate a play in a language I speak falteringly at best, with 17 pre and pubescent youth, a co-teacher who has many other things on his Danish mind most of the time, with only my wits and imagination to keep it all moving along towards a finished piece. The old herding cats analogy applies here many mornings, when no amount of coffee would really help. And yet. After several weeks (with the Christmas holidays sandwiched in-between) of preparation, creating a script with the help of the cleverest boy, Søren, and many moments of telling myself to ´´just breathe,´´ Alice i Eventyrland is, well, coming along.
There have been some beautiful moments. The creative process never ceases to surprise and amaze me with how it works: one moment you are knee-deep in mess and chaos, and then, as the alchemical process of creation takes shape, you suddenly relax and realize that something wonderful is unfolding before your very eyes. Our homemade version of this famous story is not a musical (thank GOD!!) and contains 10 different scenes, 27 different characters, including 14 animal characters and 7 playing card people. What was I thinking? I ask myself over and over during the more stressful moments. Then the ghost of my old art and drama teacher comes to me, and I remember how he methodically and calmly (well mostly) carried out all of the hundreds of tasks involved in producing a play, and I am strengthened. Christopher Guilfoil, that old curmudgeon, that taskmaster, that sometimes hated and dreaded teacher, perfectionist extraordinaire, would wheedle, cajole, command, be perfectly still, go up on stage and practically drag us around by the nose until he got what he was after, made us practice until we were weeping and sighing, raw in the throat, ragged in body, empty in soul. Twenty actors,what was he to do? The play was called Dinny and the Witches, a practically unknown work found in a dusty corner of Powell’s Books up in Portland, Oregon on a rainy winter’s afternoon, once found, the light broke across his furrowed brow, the angel hovered, radiating her vast glow upon him, saying ‘yes, this is the one, my friend,’ and so it was. Three witches, who controlled Time and Space, Death and Life (played by me, she was the ditzy one named Luella), a young man named Dinny who played the trumpet and was unsure of how to proceed in life, an innocent young woman with whom he falls in love (of course) and then the 7 deadly sins, each played ingeniously by my fellow schoolmates. It was a long, unwieldy, heady monster, but the first night we performed it was pure magic. No longer were we mere ordinary mortals running the daily round of existence, but for a pair of magical hours we were transformed into an elevated status, embodying archetypal images from the great melting pot of the collective unconscious: controlling mortals’ lives, death, time and space itself! What a glory that play was!
The magic of performing a theatrical play in a group cannot be understood fully by the audience, only appreciated. Without the audience, there is no reason to perform, as the magic is created between the synergy of the ones watching and the ones performing. Alice i Eventyrland will be no exception to this: come February these lively, somewhat shy Danish country kids will dress up, command the stage, and create an alchemy which will live in the historical annals of their school. Plays come and go, children grow up and leave, but memories, if crafted lovingly and well, forged through sweat, frustration, laughter and perhaps a tear or two, contain the possibility to last a lifetime.