Thoughts on Artistic Space for My Students

Some of you are finishing a show.

Some of you are starting a show.

Some of you are in between shows.

And I can sense an antsy-ness bubbling up (“I should be doing more, being more, showcasing more…”).

I love that hungry quality of wanting to grow, train, and experience.

HOWEVER. Beware the reason for the hunger. Gut check it. Make sure that it’s born out of love of the craft and not out of insecurity.

YOU ARE NOT ONLY AN ARTIST WHEN YOU ARE DOING A SHOW.

The reality is that this is an ebb and flow industry (sometimes there’s so much work you are gulping for air and sometimes you’re in a drought season). I get very concerned for people who lose their identity simply by being in between shows. These are the people who fall out of the industry. Or at least are very unhappy.

Here’s how I want you to think about how you develop your craft: it’s exactly the same way you build your muscles. When you’re working on a show, that’s like when you are in the gym lifting weights, stretching, expending a lot of energy. You are exercising your skills, putting them to the test, and it usually runs along with a fair amount of exhaustion because you are using your mind, body, and spirit. But you don’t build your muscles in the gym…

So where do you build your muscles?

While you rest.That’s when your body repairs itself and you actually grow in strength.

As an artist, embrace rest. 

You need space. Things you can do in the rest moments:

-reflect on your artistic work

-strengthen your academic work

-read plays and theatre books

-see films and plays

-spend time in nature

-workout and use your actual muscles

-work on healthy disciplines

-spend time with friends and family

-work a job

-be a college kid!

-make goals for the next steps

As writer Antoine de St. Exupery says, “a dream without a goal is just a wish.”

Be strategic in your life – otherwise you run the risk of burnout. And I can tell you today with total certainty that you will never find your identity in shows. Your core identity is who you are, not what you do. It is your character. It is your spirit.  It is your faith. Be centered. And embrace space.

New Play Time!

Ingram

I’m excited to be directing an Ingram New Works play for the fourth year in a row! This year’s play is The Very Last Wishes of Grandpa Joe, or Mia & Hector Go Sightseeing by Cristina Florencia Castro. It’s incredible. Really, it’s a beautifully-crafted play and I couldn’t be happier to help bring it to the next stage of its life in a staged reading. New plays are the best. The readings are May 11 and 17. There are also three other strong plays to see during the series — don’t miss it.

Synopsis: A successful, acclaimed pop-up book artist travels to Ireland on a mission with her best friend — per his late grandfather’s final request — as she secretly, silently grapples with losing her vision. A travel story about two different kinds of loss and the kind of friendship where you’re yelling one second and embracing the next.

She Loves Me

I had the enormous pleasure of directing one of my favorite musicals, She Loves Me, last fall at Lipscomb University. Check out my directorial approach from the dramaturgy packet, excerpted below. The production team, cast, crew, and I had a fantastic time working on this show!

She Loves Me Poster

She Loves Me is a charming, unpretentious, and satisfyingly sweet show about romance, friendship, love, and vulnerability. In a world focused on aggression and cynicism, this musical offers simplicity and the chance to laugh. It also provides the opportunity to return to a time of respect, courtship, and the value of an honest day’s work. This jewel of a musical, however, is not saccharine to the point of a toothache. Darker personal dramas like Marazcek’s breakdown and the romantic leads’ deeply vulnerable moments hold the weight of the play, keeping it from floating into the ether. In the end, She Loves Me reminds us that true vulnerability takes courage, and that the people in our immediate lives are worthy of our attention and care.

The show’s setting is Budapest, Hungary in the 1930s. It’s almost the Budapest version of Much Ado about Nothing! While the Hungarian quality of the play sits mostly in people’s names, the play simply carries a romantic, vintage European quality. It’s quaint and other-worldly in the best of ways. It’s a comedic musical, but not a farce. These characters are funny in a truthful way. We should see a bit of ourselves in each of them (and like it). We all get the drudgery of daily life — this shop is busy and the work is repetitive. So how can we live more fully? We can learn from these characters to celebrate the small victories, cherish the memories, and express gratitude to others. The shop workers literally sing it every time a customer walks out the door.

There’s romance to this show. The lead characters fall in love through letters, even though they don’t know it’s each other! What a world. It’s hard in today’s age to navigate the realities of getting to know someone, much less to fall in love. Isn’t to be known what we all want? To be known in a deep way and loved for who we really are? The letters provide that opportunity for Georg and Amalia; they just have the impossible task of getting over each other in person.

Avoiding overwrought sentimentality and schtick, we will dive into a fast-paced, heightened, and truthfully comedic version of this production. The musical will be played moment-to-moment, as all great comedy must. Pauses will be earned, and heartfelt moments will be born out discovery. This musical waits for no man – we will have to stay on our toes to keep up!

I look forward to working on this show with our team. I have loved this musical since I was in college (Side note: I auditioned but did not get cast). I did summer stock theatre in Vermont right after that and, lo and behold, they did that production and I was cast in the ensemble. I loved every minute of it! There’s an energy around this show that is irresistible. I hope you’ll feel as entranced as I did. Directing this show has been a long dream of mine — thank you for making this happen. I’d write you each a love letter if I could.

Beki Baker, Director

What a Wild Year

I just completed my third year as Chair of Lipscomb University’s Department of Theatre — whew! We made it! It was a very full year. I produce every show in our season, and this year included The 39 Steps, Beauty and the Beast, Peter and the Starcatcher, Elevate: Still I Rise (dance concert), and an all-female Richard II, co-produced with the Nashville Shakespeare Festival. I also had the pleasure of performing one of my favorite roles, Northumberland, in Richard II. It’s been a full year, for sure!

My first year as Chair was all about listening. Really, all three years have been about that. Listening to faculty, listening to students, listening to the dean, listening to the patrons, listening to Nashville theatre, and listening to God. I’ve also been listening to the machine of the university and department. I hope to soon function like a well-oiled machine, because I believe that creativity flourishes in well-structured environments. That’s not to say it can’t flourish under less-than-ideal circumstances; this is often the case in theatre, and we all push through to find the sweet spot. But what if we didn’t have to “push through” so much? What if we had enough structure and support to really spread our wings and fly?

I love what I do. It’s hard. I teach 18 hours a year, cast the vision for the department, run the budgets, serve in recruiting and marketing, develop the degrees, serve on the Academic Curriculum Team, direct one show per year, produce all of the shows, and much more. Oh, and then there’s my real job: connecting with the students and leading the faculty. It’s a wild time, but as I told my dean the other day, the joy of the work is in the problem-solving. It’s not kittens and rainbows all the time, but those moments where we figure things out are extremely valuable. I’m grateful for the opportunity to give something here. I learn so much too.

This is the first year I’ve felt any courage to listen to my instincts, like maybe I really have something to offer here. So before I head off into a summer of planning and strategizing for next year, I will celebrate all that my department and I have accomplished this year. HUZZAH!

Oh, did I mention my twins just turned one and my daughter turns six this week? Wild times.

The Crucible Experience

This past winter I had the immense pleasure to work on one of the most important plays ever written, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Although I was exhausted (seven months pregnant with twins!), this experience was one of the most fulfilling and synergistic moments of my career.  The production was a collaboration between Lipscomb Theatre and Blackbird Theater Company, which is our resident semi-professional company.  With a mix of students and Nashville pros in the cast, and a top-notch production team, I was enraptured with the entire process and the product.  Why this play, and why now? Here’s what I wrote as my director’s note in the playbill:

One of Arthur Miller’s masterworks, The Crucible encapsulates a dark, disturbing historical event from America’s early settlement period while resonating universal themes that continue to reverberate throughout time.  While Miller wrote the play to address 1950s McCarthyism, his work exploits elements of humanity that transcend single application.  Of all of the ideas explored in The Crucible, including the perversion of justice, the power of collective hysteria, the ramifications of religious fundamentalism, and the unquenched need for societal scapegoats– all boil down to one driving element: fear.

Miller’s Puritans, as many of us do, operate entirely based on fear.  While they specifically fear rebellion, God’s punishment, and the devil, people throughout time have mirrored their beliefs and actions, if for their own reasons. Fear, however, is one of our basest instincts, and this play captures the repercussions of how unbridled terror in a few people can bring down many.

What are we doing TODAY, even in small ways, that perpetuates fear?  

This play serves more than to point fingers at religious figures and political systems from over 300 years ago; we must see ourselves in this story, and not just as the victims.  On both macro- and micro- levels, we behave like the Puritans did that fateful spring.  And the truth is, we all pay the price.  As John Donne put it:

No man is an island,

Entire of itself.

Each is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were.

As well as if a manor of thine own

Or of thine friend’s were.

Each man’s death diminishes me,

For I am involved in mankind.

Therefore, send not to know

For whom the bell tolls,

It tolls for thee.

Thank you for joining us for this special production. We hope you enjoy it as much as we have in creating it. May we all hear fewer bells toll in our lifetimes.