Monday, March 26, 2012

Blessing Blackburn Musical ~ Installment 2

“I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil – this is the gift of God.” (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13)

Guest Blogger ~ Marie Sheahan Brown

Monday, 3/26/12
12:00 noon on the train to Newcastle

“Notice serendipity and report it” is one practice of living in kairos time.

Serendipity illuminates yet another gift Susan brings.

My lovely seatmates on the packed B747 flying from SFO to LHR were an attractive young woman and her mother. I normally don’t socialize on airplanes, but something about their casual, practical attire; their fitness; their ease with the crowded conditions, reminded me of Oregonian relatives and friends. They looked friendly and, after stowing my backpack under the seat at my feet, I said, “Okay, now, here we go.” And the conversation began.

Jessica, a fifth-year student at the University of Oregon in Eugene, is majoring in theater arts with emphasis on costume design. Janet, a former actress, is a theater professor in Eugene who teaches Shakespeare to at-risk and to gifted students in grades 6 through 12.

The London-bound duo obviously enjoys each other’s company. Jessica will live with a host family for the next three months and will participate in a special course offered by a knowledgeable University of Oregon professor. The group will visit historic and modern Meccas of theater. Janet will settle her daughter in at her temporary home then visit Shakespearean sites for the next few weeks. For each, this theatrical pilgrimage is a dream come true.

All of this I learned in the first 30 seconds.

So, I took a deep breath and revealed, “I am joining nearly 100 friends from 15 countries and 20 American states who are going to Newcastle for opening night of the musical, I Dreamed A Dream, about the life of Susan Boyle.”

I reported on the positive tweets beginning to pour in after the first preview, just hours earlier in real time.

The pair – who of course knew of Susan and actually knew something of her life – was delighted that a new live theater production was attracting a worldwide audience. “We would like to think that theater is not a dying breed,” said Janet.

Between catnaps during our 10-hour flight, Janet, Jessica and I discussed their passion for live theater.

Janet reported that many of her students have difficulties in the regular public schools and so are transferred to alternative schools where Janet teaches. “Learning Shakespeare is like learning a second language,” she said. “It engages their brain synapses in new ways, and their overall test scores improve.”

She also told of one boy who found it painfully difficult to speak up in class. However, playing roles of Shakespearean characters, he could speak fluently and comfortably, using different accents, because the persona – not himself – was on display. That improved his general self-confidence.

I posited that, perhaps, the camaraderie that develops among cast and crew producing a play could serve as a healthy alternative to young people who might be drawn to the pseudo-community offered by gangs. Janet affirmed this, citing experience with some of her students.

Jessica’s passion for theater costume design began as a young child, when she would draw elaborate costumes for fun. She, herself, was born one month prematurely, before a certain aspect of vision could develop. Fortunately, her parents sought and found vision specialists that trained the parents to work with Jessica to overcome this barrier. She speaks enthusiastically of her mother’s ability to engage young people from all walks of life in the theatrical classics.

I felt uplifted by these two women, who found their passions – their “who I was born to be” – early in life and are following them for the benefit of other people. Quoting a Susafan Facebook friend who wrote to me recently, “I just love goodness!!!!”

This airplane-seat education gave me even greater appreciation for Elaine C. Smith and the other professionals who have invested their talent and energy into a classic art form. Now, they have risked directing this creativity to a brand new musical about the early life and budding career of one of the most inspiring women of our time.

Indeed, I would like to think that I Dreamed A Dream will demonstrate that good theater, far from being “a dying breed,” can serve the world in unexpected beneficent ways.

“I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere Him.” (Ecclesiastes 3:14)

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