Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Strong Defenses, Vibrant Heart

I’m not sure what to call this piece, it’s one of the most personally expressive pieces I’ve done for a while. I started with a chunk of linen in a silvery blue mottled charcoal color, cut a door shaped slice into it and began layering fabrics into that opening. Then when I closed the door I ironed some wrinkles into it and layered some fabric over and through it.

As I created this piece I was thinking of what it was like to play Molly, the 18 year old young mother in the musical production of Shenandoah Moon this weekend. I had a conversation with the director about how she saw me vibrant in auditions and watched me shut down at times during rehearsals and I become “flat.” That wasn’t easy to hear but it was certainly true. There is an intense scene where one character is standing at my knee shouting over me at the man who plays my husband. I was catching the full brunt of a loud and intense energy while holding a (fake) baby in my arms. It made me shake involuntarily. One evening we had to do that scene repeatedly to work out how the details. By the time we were through that night’s rehearsal my defense mechanisms were at their highest and I was vacant and detached. My vibrancy was gone, I was flat.
My very favorite men from the show. Danny Lee to the right (Jesse Shifflett) and to the left Bill Martin (Howard) Ed Smith (Cliser) and Johnny Stoll in the hat (Erman.) Love these guys!

I began to see that if I was going to play that scene well, I was going to need to bring down the defenses. But one doesn’t just decide to lose something that has been useful in self preservation. So how to do this?

Work at it.

By the time the show rolled around I was able to do the scene, getting better and better with each performance. I knew I could engage with my character and experience her full grief but I didn’t know how long it would take me to come back from that dark place. After one performance I had to closet myself as the emotions brought up in that scene ran their course.

My situation wasn’t all that unique, there were others dealing with aspects of their characters that were too close to home. And I grew to respect actors for what they are willing to share with an audience, and what it costs them to do so. This is in some ways a sacrificial offering. I will not look at Community Theater the same way ever again.

Carmen Rose (Molly Shifflett) in my "about to bust a baby any day now" gear and Danny Lee (Jesse Shifflett)

So I thought of defense mechanisms and raw emotions as I created this piece. I wanted to show the contrast between the soft and vibrant part of me and the strong harsh shields and defenses. I used a bit of the fabric that I used in Molly’s quilt, it’s a red reproduction 1930’s style fabric. I kept the fabric edges raw and frayed. I love how the textures of the course woven linen, the smooth cotton and the fine glossy silk work together. I used a bit of the tangled vibrant fibers from the dryer and worked that into the design. The olive and magenta silks are wrinkled and mistreated but they manage to be catch the light beautifully and feel lush even with this treatment. (though it is so hard to capture this with a camera!) There is lots of texture to this piece with the frayed bits and purposeful wrinkles and I like how that worked.

I’m not sure it’s quite done. I may embellish it a bit yet, not sure. It’s expressive of this journey, there is a bit of Molly in here and a whole lot of me. And as Molly fades from view and I settle into my own skin more fully, I embrace the vibrancy, even if it is wrinkled and a bit frayed. I am not “flat.” No, not any more.

1 comment:

  1. My name is Gary Cliser, wish I could have seen the play about life up on the mountaintop. Shenandoah Moon. My distant relative Herbert Melanchton Cliser was a sounding board back when it became the Park.
    -Gary Cliser /


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