“I have learned, as a rule of thumb, never to ask whether you can do something. Say, instead, that you are doing it. Then fasten your seat belt. The most remarkable things follow.” – Julia Cameron
Julia Cameron, of course, is the author of The Artist’s Way, her bestseller that introduced creativity as a spiritual path. She is credited with founding a new human potential movement that has enabled millions to realize their creative dreams.
Early in my life I discovered this phenomenon for myself. Perhaps affected by the sudden and untimely death of my father as I was leaving the University of Michigan School of Music for a stage directing internship at Michigan Opera Theater in Detroit, the next few years were a time of exceptional creativity, risk-taking and success. When I completed the internship, I returned to Ann Arbor, called myself a stage director, rented a theater, held auditions and “wrote” a show through a workshop process with the actors and a few collaborators. Incidentally, it was a play inspired by my casual readings in radical feminism such as Barbara G. Walker, Mary Daly’s Gyn/Ecology along with plays by Ntozake Shange and Gertrude Stein‘s An Exercise in Analsysis (1917). My radical feminist period (sic). With a decent review from this play, I shopped my resume and got to direct some shows for community theaters and student-run organizations.
Yes, I called myself a stage director, and with a long background in performing, assistant stage managing, but only limited direct experience of a few scenes in college, and the assistant director internship, I landed some directing gigs. All because I said, “I am a stage director” whenever I met someone.
In hindsight, this was partly my substitute for grieving. At one point in 1986-88, I stage managed the university opera theater production of Verdi’s Falstaff. I directed a student production of Ruddigore, a student production of Hair, a community theater production of Showboat with music school faculty in the cast, at a medieval festival acted in a medieval farce and directed a play which I wrote for inner city teenage girls, with the Japanese Music Study Group performed the Lion Dance, played shamisen and flute at art museums and festivals in the region, directed a studio production of a play by Doris Lessing with a drama faculty member in the lead, at the Recreation Department taught drama to school age kids and adapted a short story for performance, for a children’s theater company was hired to be artist-in-residence and wrote a show based on Grimm fairy tales through a workshop process with the kids, acted with and then became production stage manager for the college-based Brecht Company, played cello in the Ann Arbor Summer Symphony and stage managed other shows I barely recall. Obviously, most of these projects overlapped or occurred simultaneously.
I wasn’t making a living as a stage director, of course. I was paying my dues as a director and paying my bills doing anything low paying, because I had no marketable skills. I worked odd jobs at the time: night shift at Kinko’s Copying, night shift university security guard, restaurant host and later veggie prep in the kitchen. I helped with gardening and clerical work; I did an internship with a small artist management company.
I moved to Chicago in 1988 to pursue directing, but it didn’t pan out. I changed my mind about being an opera director–except in rare cases, no one cares who stage directs an opera– they admire the conductor. Opera stage directors, I decided, had little control over the production. Whereas in my directing studies I learned that 90 percent of successful directing was the casting–getting the right actor for the role, the right chemistry in the ensemble, but in opera, the casting is done by the producer/artistic director, with no input from the director. As I saw at MOT and learned from my own directing experiences, you most often work with rented sets and costumes, or re-staging another director’s production (the main work of stage directors at the Metropolitan Opera).
With the hubris of the young, I decided to become a conductor.
No, rather I said, “I am an opera conductor.”
To be continued… See part 2