WordPress Practice, or, What I Thought of on 2nd Street

Okay, I going to try to share a blog post and put some pix in it. Crazy, right? I might even throw in a hyperlink – there I go! Mysterylink!

2007 Toyota Highlander Hybrid.

So . . . I was driving to Arch Street Meetinghouse in my new hand-me-down Highlander Hybrid. It’s a great ride actually, I blogged about receiving it – oh no, he’s going nuts with the links! Anyway, I drive down 2nd street, and I can do the whole way using the electric engine almost exclusively. What a weird, nerdy thrill I get from that. But that’s not what this post is about.

This post is about White Pines Productions (damn – I’m crazy!). I’ve been putting together an Advisory Committee, a kind of board of trustees and yet . . . not. These are friends and colleagues from the theater community who will advise me on selecting three performing arts ensembles to receive three-week long residencies at the Elkins Estate next summer (easy on the links, bro . . . ). Some of the friends I asked to be on the “A.C.” had to decline b/c of their busy schedules, and I had an interesting conversation with one of them.

“What is this White Pines Productions, anyway?” he asked me. “I mean, after the residencies, then what? Where’s it all going?” So here’s what I said:

I don’t know. I’m not forcing a definition on White Pines, as if to say: here’s the box – fit in to it. I’m interested in seeing how it unfolds. I’m interested in seeing how Way Opens, as we Quakers like to say.

“Huh,” said my friend, “cool.”

So driving down 2nd street today, I had this thought: most theaters, indeed most art enterprises, are driven by the internal combustion engine of creativity: ego. This sounds like I’m slighting artists, but I’m not. If producers and impresarios didn’t have huge egos, didn’t want to garner a lot of attention, didn’t vibrate with ambition, then there wouldn’t be any plays, any concerts, any great performances. And let me state unequivocally that I I am a grandiose egomaniac. I have made my peace with this aspect of me, and have spent much time in therapy, recovery and writing trying to figure out how to marshal the energy of this engine without it consuming me.

Elkins Estate Main Entrance

To extend this metaphor a bit, ego-driven creativity creates a lot of heat and noise. It has a sexy purr and throb. And our entire culture is in lust with it. The apotheosis of this kind of creative expression must be American Idol and shows like it, in which talented performers have the fuel of their creativity turbo-charged by television. I have thought of doing the actor/producer version of this: planting a flag in the ground with some version of “Ben’s Fabulous Theater” painted on it and get to work getting butts in the seats. In fact, my connection with the Elkins Estate began with a fantasy of mine that “Ben’s Fabulous Theater” might have at last found it’s home in the white marble palace built by William Elkins in 1898. That fantasy is still lurking, no question.

So what has held me back? Fear, certainly. Fear of not getting those butts in the seats, a fear I know my friends who actually do run theaters live with every year, a grinding fear that never goes away, no matter how many Barrymores you win. But also the awareness that I never landed on a mission for a theater I could get behind. Whenever I got close, I would start to feel artistically claustrophobic, resenting the necessary boundaries an artistic mission puts on you. I’m too much an actor at my core, too devoted to the necessary malleability my art requires. And so I find myself at the head of a production company with no clearly stated mission, ensconced in a ridiculously beautiful home.

So if I claim WPP isn’t driven by the internal combustion engine of creativity, then what’s the alternative? What’s the electric engine of creativity?

Maybe it’s Spirit.

Now before you go running off, screaming “He’s gonna drop the God bomb!”, just take a deep breath. By not enforcing a definition on to White Pines (yet) I am allowing something else to happen. I am not “doing nothing”. I am suggesting that there is an energy at work which reveals itself through others when I do two things: get quiet and observe.

The electricity in my Highlander is created through a regenerative braking system: when I brake, generators connected to the wheels engages and make electricity which is stored in batteries. So maybe this is silly, but humor me. When I brake my ego, lose my obsession with self, I make space for Spirit to enter, the renewable resource of creativity. In my Highlander, electricity is also created when I am using gas, but not as much. So too, Spirit continues to weave in out of my life when my ego is in charge, but it’s obscured. Finally, my Highlander is principally driven by the internal combustion engine, which gets me around very fast and is really exciting to drive. The electric engine only gets me to about 40 miles per hour maximum, and runs out fast. Even if I start at Erie Ave with a full battery, if I use only electricity on 2nd street, it’s gone by the time I reach Allegheny. And so with me. My creativity and ego are inextricably linked, and when they are working well together, I can get a lot done in a short time. When I am getting still and listening, I am not being productive, but I have found that unlike my Highlander, this renewable resource recharges the internal combustion engine.

That’s what I thought of on 2nd street today, on my way to Arch Street Meetinghouse.