Very recently I had a very challenging and ultimately satisfying experience.
I think most of you received an email about my reading the Edith Wharton short story The Mission of Jane at The Mount (Edith Wharton’s home in Lenox, Massachusetts)
This was going to be the fifth year of my reading this story. I had convinced the powers that be that the story was so rich and funny that a yearly reading would plumb the depths of pathos and humor of Wharton’s writing. Thankfully, they agreed.
Enter the villain virus.
It was a challenge for Susan Wissler, Executive Director of The Mount.
There is nothing Susan likes better than a challenge. She took a failing Mount out of bankruptcy and the cultural world marveled at her leadership bringing The Mount into solvency and success.
She accepted the Villian Virus challenge. The latest of which were the live readings of Edith Wharton’s and other short stories. Of course it had to be outdoors and the number of audience limited and distances set. She decided to use the forecourt of The Mount – a beautiful area originally established for carriages and cars to dispense passengers before their entering the mansion. It was perfect.
Wednesday, August 19th arrived with sun, then clouds, then rain and not until 4 pm before a 5:30 reading was there a go-ahead. Leaving this reader slightly frazzled. Hey, guys, those in the know know… it don’t take much for that to happen. Sensitive or neurotic or a little of both. Take your pick.
The build-up to performance was intense. I rehearsed. I tried to forget my age. (fat chance) I love performing. I love the story. I love The Mount.
“Be gone, Virus! You are not welcome here!”
The reading was SOLD OUT. The reading was limited to and audience of 45. I didn’t care. I love saying I played to a sold out house. Sue me!
I looked out over the audience. Two people seated way over left, 3 people seated way over right, 4 people here and there, another double, another triple, and so on spread apart from each other (as required by law) all through the forecourt. There was no audience seating. There were disparate chairs placed all over the space. So that I could not read to one group as I did before but individual groupings which made it difficult for the audience to relate to each other, no less to the reader.
It is something I never thought about before, but when a member of an audience comes into a performance space, he or she may start out individually but as the performance continues the audience slowly but surely becomes unified, sometimes for you and sometimes against you.
I would venture a guess that, seated together as they all are, that unity makes it possible for the actor or actors to create the necessary bond to create a satisfactory relationship. A catharthis, right? (look it up) I am grateful that the story was an hour long because it took me at least thirty minutes to bring this disparate audience into a unified one.
And then there is the wearing of masks. This was a reading in daylight. I looked out at a sea of faces masked to their eyeballs. At the beginning I couldn’t see their smiles or hear their laughter (some advantage… I couldn’t see them yawn, either.) As the story progressed and as the audience came together, the laughter escaped the masks and finally I could sense there was enjoyment.
There was a nice prolonged applause at the end of the story. And, my friends, I have to tell you I think in part it was for me and the story, but I also think it was because the event at The Mount gave 45 people the opportunity to come out from their isolation, from their quarantine and for that they were grateful. Me, too.
I want to thank Susan Wissler and The Mount for the opportunity for me to blow my horn and also for creating engaging, inclusive programs for all.
I was so grateful to be able to provide release and relief in the time of this pandemic. And I look forward (ain’t that a nice word for this time in all our lives!) to more creative and satisfying experiences.
Right? Of course, right!!!!
Love, Sally-Jane ❤️
P.S. Our next opportunity for a creative and satisfying experience is coming up!!