The Big Guy and I rarely go to movies. It’s too expensive once you add snacks, and since most of the movies geared towards adolescent boys rely on volume to sell their stories, we’re just as happy to let the kids watch them on Netflix with the headphones plugged in.
We are religious about our local theater, Hubbard Hall in Cambridge, NY, however. The title on the playbill is irrelevant. When Hubbard Hall announces a new play, we make plans to see it with and then without the boys.
We were both reminded of the reason why on Saturday night when we went to see Tennessee William’s Glass Menagerie. The most autobiographical of his plays, it depicts the dysfunctional mother and her two dysfunctional older children trying to carve out a living and a life for themselves.
Hubbard Hall is famous for stripping down a play to its bare bones. Occasionally they incorporate elaborate sets into the stage design, but more frequently, minimal props and sets are used. Hubbard Hall has been fortunate to have had a string of wonderful directors and actors, and the less elaborate sets let the audience focus on performances where simplicity works to suspend reality for two hours. It leaves the viewer gripping their seat the entire time as they react to the play and pray for the spell to continue as long as possible.
Saturday did not disappoint. When the daughter Laura’s unicorn and then her heart are broken, I could see other audience members on the verge of tears. When the son leaves and reflects on his abandonment of his family, people next to me were audibly crying.
The play ended almost on a whisper, and, even though it was almost the cost of a movie for four (minus the snacks), the Big Guy and I walked back to the car in awe — as we always are — of how much bang we got for our bucks.
This Mother’s Day Sunday, I’m going to Hubbard Hall to see Giles in The Crucible for one last time. It’s kind of a bummer watching your husband get the axe on Mother’s Day-or pressed to death in Giles’s case.
Last week Giles Corey joined us at the diner for breakfast just before the show. I could tell he was thinking about the upcoming performance because he was unusually quiet. Then the food arrived, and we all started smiling. I’m working on a theory that people in Salem, MA could’ve avoided that whole witch trial business if they had just opened a diner. People would’ve been too busy smiling to start pointing fingers.
Six-year-old Thing2 doesn’t like art – he lives it. There is no dragging him to an art museum, there’s only the whining when we leave. Whether it’s sauntering around a museum with his sketch pad or putting his own spin on a particularly acrobatic leap he saw in a dance routine, Thing2 throws himself into color and sensation and into life in a lot of ways. Always, his joy becomes ours, but, as we learned once again the other night at a Hubbard Hall performance of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Trial by Jury, it’s not always predictable just how that happiness will spread.
Currently in a Billy-Elliot-I-Will-Dance phase, we were certain this opera – a comedy punctuated by more physical comedy – would be the inspiration for his next set of dance moves. Every new movie or show is an opportunity to learn and create a new step. So, as we settled in, I began watching Thing2’s to see if he was absorbing the action.
He sat two seats away from me, but the stage cast enough light for me to see his rapt gaze as the ensemble of singers filled the stage. At first he was a statue – absorbing the color and the new experience of having a play sung for him. Then, after trying to ask if we recognized one of the singers as his former camp teacher, he began to move – but not in the way I’d expected.
I was already prepared to reign in any bursts of flair, but Thing2 had been absorbing something else besides the dancing. In front of the stage was a lone pianist accompanying the singers throughout the show. Her hands danced, never resting until the curtain call. Now Thing2’s hands began to dance, following every inflection of the piano player’s wrists, ever flutter of her fingers. Thing2 can play “Doe A Deer” on our piano at home, but, mimicking the musician in front of him, he became a virtuoso. He became one with the music and the musician.
The Big Guy and I smiled at each other as we watched him. Thing2 had found his own unique perspective to take something away from the show, and there was another show still to come on Sunday. The Big Guy and I were eager to see it. Watching “The Barber of Seville” ten feet in front of us would be an experience in itself. But we were also wondering what new inspirations Thing2 will bring home for us to enjoy.
Hubbard Hall, a community theatre and art center in the one-traffic light town of Cambridge, NY, had been on our radar for a number of years. My husband became involved with their theatre company and returns at least twice a year. Then I got pulled in by a writing workshop/group that is moving into its second year. My sons are the most recent members of the flock, and it was their experience at summer theatre workshops that prompted my piece last year.
Jack, my oldest, was already navigating the self-conciousness that comes with early teen years and thought he had no interest in being in a play. Thing2, my six-year-old, never had much of a shell, but, like a lot of kids his age, he sometimes takes a few minutes to get used to a new classroom before letting go of my hand. In the presence of the Hubbard Hall Magic, however, Jack came out of his shell, and Thing2 discovered new worlds. Both kids came away from their camps with new friends and new outlooks, and every subsequent workshop begins with Thing2 exclaiming, “Oh I LOVE this place.”
Over the spring we got a little disconnected from this magical place. I’m still at the Ministry of Encouragement hosted by author Jon Katz, but our little group has been going in different directions for a few weeks. It’s been temporary, but disconnection can morph into discouragement if left to fester.
So now, a year after I first wrote about this magical place, I’m sitting under the same oak tree on the same rotting picnic bench watching the same kids emerging from the murderously hot buildings as they scamper from rehearsal to craft projects. Thing2 and two of his friends become involved in a very sophisticated game of make-believe, laughing and waving their arms and looking like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Parents go in and out of the nearby Battenkill Books, seeking company and relief from the heat.
The scene is completely ordinary and completely magical, and in that moment I’m reminded of the things that inspired me last summer when I couldn’t stop writing. I’m still a big believer in the Ministry of Encouragement, but this is the perfect way to be reminded that I found it at the Church of Possibility here at Hubbard Hall.
A little over a year ago I stumbled into a writing workshop at Hubbard Hall, our local community theater and arts center. The Hubbard Hall Writer’s Project was led by celebrated author Jon Katz, and, as with almost every other class or event our family has experienced at Hubbard Hall, it was life-changing event for me – and for every member of the group.
There was an application process for the workshop, and getting that acceptance letter felt like winning the lottery. I hadn’t shown my work to anyone outside my family and had only been prepared for rejection. That letter was a thousand times more valuable than any lottery ticket.
Jon, our guru, later told us that he wanted to find a group that not only wanted to write but that would work well together. He chose wisely. Over the last year our group has become a family of sorts. We’ve become sounding boards and safe havens for each other, and everyone in the group has flourished. What began as an artistic exploration of rural life became a search for authenticity in our creative and personal lives. Jon encouraged us all, and, recognizing our strengths, we began to grow and to encourage others.
Last Friday night, we met to celebrate the impact of the last year. The unseasonably steamy evening started with a reception which allowed all of us to display our work and continued with readings by each of the writers. The evening was warm and encouraging – just as the year has been.
I like public speaking about as much as I like shopping for a new swimsuit. I wasn’t nervous when it was my turn to read, however. Working with the video portion of the presentation kept me busy much of the day and evening, and I didn’t have time to feel nervous – at least not about the reading.
The crowd dispersed quickly after the presentation, and the writers returned to the reception room to clean up their displays. We all milled around a bit, even after our families had left, and I think I wasn’t the only one who didn’t want it to end. Even though the group is going into its second year, when we started our goodbyes, I began to feel nervous.
I’ve been working on a collection of short stories that should have been done last month. Dealing with some mental health issues has slowed down progress, but there’s been a part of me that feels this project is part of my workshop experience. I know I’ve been a little afraid that when it’s done, so is the workshop. I felt a little of that on Friday night as I climbed into my car.
When I got home I made sure the kids were in bed and then turned on the computer and checked messages, intending to sign off quickly and visit with my visiting sister-in-law. Unconsciously, I clicked on the link to our group’s Facebook page. There, like a beacon in the soupy heat of the evening, were celebratory posts from one, then two and then a third writer. A post from our guru suggesting a get-together appeared. I didn’t know what to post that could add to the conversation, and I closed my computer.
The next few days I didn’t go near my computer much. We had a guest and baseball and garden to occupy us, and I like getting away from the screen. For the rest of the weekend, however I took with me the knowledge that while the year of writing un-dangerously may be ending, it’s okay because it’s really part of an era that’s just begun.
I’ve posted and reposted links to the blogs of most of our members below (one author is currently keeping her blog private). They are growing, breathing proof that some of the best work comes from an atmosphere of encouragement.
Pugs and Pics by Kim Gifford, Vermont writer, photographer, artist and pug lover. Whether she’s writing about her beloved pugs or her distinctive photographs, Kim’s work is humorous, heartwarming, and sometimes heartrending.
A real life milkman-turned-writer and poet, John Greenwood’s blog Raining Iguanas is a journey of discovery and nurturing of his own talents as a writer and artist and of his native Upstate New York. It combines the best of pleasurable escape and motivating inspiration.
Bedlam Farm by the venerable and always affable Jon Katz, was the inspiration and benchmark for each of our blogs. Honest and fearless, Jon’s blog is living, breathing proof that the most important thing in life is to never stop growing.
Merganser’s Crossing by Diane Fiore, follows her journeys with her father and his dementia at the end of his life. Diane’s blog is intensely personal and incredibly relevant at the same time. Hopefully she will give us a book out of this, but, for now, it’s worth not only visiting, but going to the very beginning and reading it straight through.
Coordinated Mayhem by Rebecca Fedler. A recent college graduate and a poet, Rebecca is prolific and powerful. Sometimes funny and always intriguing, her poetry is as insightful as it is entertaining.