New 42 Board Member and Tony Award winner Bill Irwin speaks on the art of listening and our responsibility to young audiences at a meeting of the New Vic Council. Members of the New Vic Council are ambassadors for The New Victory Theater, working to broaden the public’s awareness of the importance of arts education and championing the New Victory Theater Education Program and the New Vic/New 42 Youth Corps.
On Family Workshops, Taking Chances and Waiting for Godot (part 3 of 3)
On any day you can take a camera, go down to the New Vicctory, take some footage and splice it together – glorious stuff.. You’ll see kids thrilled, kids having a good time, kids laughing, kids cheering, kids going to a workshop where they learn to juggle a little bit, and stand on a wire for a second. Cut it together, and it will be a tremendously feel–good experience -- a great fund-raising tool – in no time.
It will be all those things, and yet. I see as I get older that the real story is the chance for a kid to stand on the wire, focus on the other end – parents, workshop leaders all go away – and see what happens: I’m here to tell you from experience that you fall off 90 times out of 93. The chanting of enthusiastic parents, and I’ve always been among the loudest–“Good job! You’re doing great! Keep up the self esteem!”–is always going to be there (very important part of our job) but in the end it’s background noise to be filtered out -- the gift is allowing a kid to stand there and see how much work there is to do and how much there is to tune out in order to look at the other end of the wire and balance for even a moment. That listening, not one’s tight-rope skill, is the gift of the workshop.
(Oh, speaking of tight wire imagery, I encourage you to see a film called Man on Wire, a very moving, an incredible film, especially if you knew those characters at that time -- and since. It’s moving, like all great pieces of work, in unexpected ways. There’s a moment when Philippe Petite is talking about his historic walk, now, 35 years later, and they show some incredible footage of his foot on the wire…and he says in his Gallic way, “And I look, I look and it’s time… it is time for me to put the other foot…out.” And, you know I’ve never walked a wire farther than eight feet, but I know what he’s talking about: time to take your foot off there and put it …there. It is such a perfect metaphor for all endeavors in life that one feels corny remarking on it. But – in the ideal, anyway -- that’s the experience that a kid gets at The New Victory in a Circus Skills workshop. It’s not always a ‘feel good experience.’ The threshold is a tricky one–and it gets trickier.)
We were talking in a meeting the other day about the very exciting idea of giving kids flip cameras so they could all document each other in these gatherings. And I found myself thinking – as an elder –first, what a terrific and exciting idea, one beyond my generation’s ability, fantastic! But also, second, this thought: Sometimes a video monitor as part of a piece of theater is the perfect element –does just what needs doing in a scene. And sometimes it gets in the way of our watching a fellow human being stand before us – befuddles and clouds the basic act of theatre. This flip camera idea might be an expensive, and not great idea. Which voice is an elder to listen to? Yes, that’s why it’s a tough gig………
I’m about to start rehearsal on a play, a huge play (Waiting For Godot). It’s a joyous responsibility, but it’s a big one – sometimes a scary one in the middle of the night.
But every night I will get to say these words…“Was I sleeping while the others suffered. Am I sleeping now? Tomorrow, when I wake, or think I do, what shall I say of today?”
That’s the theater in a nutshell – you could call that a mission statement. “What shall I say of today? If indeed I am awake, what shall I say of this day” The New Victory puts on eight to eleven shows a week for young audiences–and that’s operating every moment, that question.
No question, no choice, now – we have to face these questions as elders – and, of course, figure out what that means.