Category Archives: the berkshires

Weird and Wonderful

Very recently I had a very challenging and ultimately satisfying experience.

2017

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!!

Growing Up In My Backyard

Remember this…?

 I recently wrote a Blah, Blah, Blog accompanied by a photo of a trio of newly hatched Robins.  Three huddled, featherless babies lay in their beautiful nest nursery in a cedar bush in my backyard; hovered over by Mr. and Mrs. Robin in vigilant watch-bird mode for worms, insects, and loudmouth and dangerous Blue Jays and Crows along with other predators.

My friends, forget about your alarm and security company, Mr. and Mrs. Robin exceeded all expectations.  Any would-be predators didn’t stand a chance.  The parents proved their worth in birdseed.  They took over my backyard as the Dangerous Drones of Cedar Bush.

It is now Day 11 of  the baby Robins’ birth.  TA-DA!!!!!

All decked out in their beautiful feathered coats.  They sit in their Royal Nest Nursery.  Mouths always opened ready for the feed. ( I spend a lot of time checking them out… and when I say open all the time… I mean open all the time.)  For the last 11 days Mama and Poppa have fed and protected them. 

Today, for the first time, I have noticed a change.  I can go right up to the nest and no parental dive bombing. 

I have come to a brutal conclusion.  My baby birds’ childhood is almost over.  In  too short a time, if they want their beaks filled, they are going to have to leave the nest and fill it themselves.   

LEAVE THE NEST????  OMG!  They’re still babies.  What do they know about life?  What do they know about men? (one of them must be a female)  

As long as I did what they wanted me to do, my parents fed and protected me at the beginning, and as I remember would have done so forever.   

OOOPS!!! On second thought…

Hey, my adorable use-to-be-babies, shut your beaks and test your wings.  You can always come back for a visit.  The cedar bush ain’t going away.  This is your chance to be you.  Take it! 

In my backyard, I do not allow any FEAR OF FLYING.  (sorry, I just couldn’t resist)

Love, Sally-Jane

SPRING WILL BE A LITTLE LATE THIS YEAR…

So sayeth Frank Loesser, master songwriter and very early prognosticator of climate change…

In response to the fact of those words, those in the Northeastern part of the country in downturned grimace, would reply, “Duh!!  You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that.  I’m still wearing my long johns.  My boots haven’t left my feet.  My rain hat hasn’t left my head.”

We are all looking somewhere over the rainbow for a warm, dry, light at the end of the tunnel.

I am hopefully going to supply that for you.

Yesterday, as the rains continued to come, and the cold continued to  chill my bones, I forced  myself to walk around the garden.  Pretending the rain had stopped, I sat down on a nearby bench.  The bench was in front of a large cedar bush.  As I sat down, I was attacked by a robin… well, not exactly attacked, but rather aggressively buzzed around.  Scared me silly.  Why was this bird attacking me?

This photo will explain the why….

With or without my will and my way, this photo of new life hiding in the bushes, if I do not get in its way, this beauty of Spring birth and life itself goes on. It happened in the cold and the rain.  It happened with climate changers, yay and nay.

Mrs. Robin didn’t ask to inhabit the bush in my garden.  She didn’t sign a lease.  She just moved in.

So, in truth, I had absolutely nothing to do with this event. For being a platinum card control freak this was a great relief.  I don’t have to feed them.  I don’t have to babysit. 

I can sit in my garden, away from the cedar bush of course, in the rain or shine, cold or warm, and know in some immutable way, life goes on… and it happened when I wasn’t even looking!

In profound surprise, humility, and love…. Sally-Jane

Sally-Jane’s Winter Wonderland

My Dear Friends,

Last weekend we got our first snow of the season in the Berkshires. I was not happy.  I did not want the first, second or any snow of the season. I was having a family party. Relatives were coming from near and mostly far to attend.

As the snow blew in, I did what I am accustomed to doing… I tried to control the storm. I held my hands up to the sky and tried to force Mother Nature to take her bounty back. She had the last laugh as she dumped five more inches on the town.

IMG_0719Karen and Bill, who had arrived before the storm began, and my friend Cindy watched as I tried to control the uncontrollable. Waving my hands and I shouted to the wind, “BAH!  HUMBUG!” (which is also the name of an exterminating service on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills)

When my tirade had no effect, I took a pause and looked around me.

IMG_0708Here I was in a winter wonderland –  the yard was decorated – a Mr. and Mrs. Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer (his red nose winking and blinking, her direct from the beauty salon with curly shining hair ); Poinsettias, holly, a boxwood tree, greens, winterberry sprouting from places throughout the yard and on the porch. When the snow hit the lights, they sparkled like diamonds.

Suddenly I realized how blessed I am. The real joy was being with dear friends who also
happen to be relatives.  Like the air going out of a balloon my ego settled.  Yet again, it was not going to be “my will be done”.  I’m telling you guys it was only when I let go that  I was able to see the real beauty and feel the gratitude.   All of us booted, gloved, donned hats and ran out to play in the falling snow.

I was an octogenarian kid.  If you don’t believe me, watch this…

Santa Sally and her merry elves,Karen, Bill, and Cindy in a Winter Wonderland 

I was wondering…  if I can “let go” of what I can’t control, like the storm, like what children or grandchildren or friends or relatives wear or don’t wear and what utensils they use while eating (hopefully they will use something) and what color hair and body piercings and political or nonpolitical affiliations… I am not saying I can…  but IF I can… I think I might have a Happier New Year.

Wanna try??????

Love ~ Sally Jane

BY YOUR PUPILS YOU’LL BE TAUGHT


Berkshire Music School


It is amazing what can happen if you say, YES!  And I did…

Tracy Wilson, head of The Berkshire Music School called last Friday to ask if I would critique a class of students that were studying to be Cabaret Artists.

Having spent many years in and out of Cabarets…with or without smoke (oh, yes, if they weren’t blowing smoke in your face you were not in a cabaret), or waiters taking and delivering orders and of course, as you are building up to the final crescendo of a very dramatic song,  a drunk yells out, “Sing Melancholy Baby”!

And yet, with all of that, some of my best experiences have been in the Cabaret.  The experimenting  with new material, learning how to think fast on your feet as a lyric goes missing from your brain, there is NO SAFE HOUSE to hide behind.   And most of all because there is an incredible intimacy with the audience…even if you make the connection with just one person, it is a connection you can feel because it is the most intimate venue.

For all those reasons and most of all because Tracy asked me.  What she has done in Berkshire County with all ages of peoples with musical talent at all levels is nothing short of breathtaking.  So yes, I said “yes”.

I showed up at the Berkshire School of Music last Saturday to a Cabaret class taught by Sherri James Buxton with Bob Sheperd as Musical Director.  I was introduced to all.  No one had any real cabaret performing experience.  The age of the youngest was 65, maybe 70 and the oldest was 92.  92!!!!

I had complained about getting out of bed that morning.  Get a grip, SJ.  And if you haven’t heard “My Way” sung by a 92 year old man, you’ve not heard it.  And let me tell you, from that moment to right now, I put my over-the-top sense of judgment (ask my children they’ll tell how well developed my judgmental self is) in the garbage.  I replaced judgment with gratitude:

  • to Tracy for asking me
  • to Sherri and Bob for just being who they are
  • to the four students who performed for a total stranger as if that’s what they did all the time.

I am an ordinary human who feels I have an inordinate right to complain particularly when life doesn’t go my way.  I watched and listened to four people push the envelope of life until it blossomed like the rose you wish you had planted and nurtured.  And yes, they all won the prize.

Each one in their own way went for the dream.  Oh, yes, this was something they wanted to do for a long time.  Life is what happens while you’re making plans, right?  Of course, right!

Many of us go along with coulda, woulda, shoulda.  None of that was apparent in the room as they sang with heart with soul with LIFE.

In my show I ask the audience to check their pulse.  I remind them if they feel it, (and believe me if they don’t they probably didn’t buy a ticket)  GET UP, GET OUT, LAUGH UNTIL YOUR SIDES HURT, BUT MOST OF ALL LOVE!

Oh, my friends there was so much love in that room that morning.

I floated out and am still airborne.  More and more I do not recognize the world around me. But on that morning in Berkshire Music school , students of a certain age were following their dreams and, for me, for just that moment in time I remembered, like the t-shirt says, LIFE IS GOOD.

To you, Tracy, Sherri, Bob… THANK YOU.

Love, SJ