My son and I left today on our annual father/son trip. What started with zoos, hotel pools, and baseball games, has morphed too quickly into concerts and college visits. One of our favorite trips was to West Texas a few years ago. We hiked in Big Bend National Park, marveled at the starry sky, walked along train tracks, watched Abbott & Costello movies, and forgot about the rest of the world for a little while.
Hugh MacLeod, the cartoonist and author known as Gaping Void, was based in Alpine, TX at the time. We hadn't met, but had enjoyed a few online conversations. When he saw that we were making the trip west, he invited us to join him for a drink. So one night, my son and I drove to a tiny bar, found Hugh amongst the other regulars, and spent an hour at a picnic table talking about life, art, books, and truth. Swatting flies and trading lies, as my father used to say.
We couldn't have been more out of place or felt more at home.
While we drove the 35 miles back to our hotel in the spare darkness, I couldn't stop thinking about the beauty of hospitality. An invite and introduction; pulling up a chair and buying a drink; welcoming someone to your world and being curious about theirs.
A ran into Hugh nearly two years later in Austin. The first thing he said was, "How's that boy of yours?"
Last week's dispatch asked, When was the last time you were on a stage?
Some of my fondest memories from my youth took place on stage: performing with my closest friends in my college a cappella group, or singing Summertime with the high school jazz band, or the tingly energy of tight harmonies of a special regional chorus coming together over the course of a long weekend. But I'm struggling to remember the last time I was on stage. Most recently I gave a lightening talk at the Berkman Center's Festival of Ideas. So it was in front of people, delivered from a podium and with a mic and presentation slides for five brief minutes, but it wasn't on a stage, exactly. Could it have been in China on a karaoke stage? Probably not, since private lounges are standard. So again, no stage. Or maybe it was my bachelorette party, during the Lucky Cheng's lap dance competition? But that wasn't on a stage either, it was a set of stairs. I think the last time I actually got up on an honest-to-goodness stage, elevated up from audience seats, must have been my panel at SXSW in 2011. It is apropos, since that discussion marked the beginning that led me toward the work I'm doing today. But it's with a slight pang that I acknowledge the transition from musical to professional performances as the occasion for taking the stage.
Since going up in a play in the 8th grade, I've always been afraid of the stage.<br><br>A couple years ago, a good friend asked me to audition for "The Princess and the Pea," a play she was directing in our local community theatre. I auditioned as a favor, never expecting a part, until she actually gave me the role of Jester -- a role with multiple lines, physical comedy, dancing and two duets. It would be the last time I do her a favor. Ultimately, my fear of the stage was defeated. Though I did miss a line or two in the five performances, I did not "go up" as I had in the past. And yes, there is video floating around somewhere of me in tights dancing, singing and being a fool. Seems the Jester role was a typecast.
The last time I was on stage, other than a drama class my freshman year of college, was my senior year in high school when I was Helena in an awful production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. My high school theater program was severely lacking, but because I was in love with the play (it's still my favorite Shakespeare comedy) I ignored my judgment and auditioned. It was a walking play, so the audience followed us around campus as different scenes took place in different locations. There were four groups performing the show and we all had our own artistic liberties with directing. Basically we directed ourselves and had a blast doing it. It may not have been a masterful Shakespearean production, but it was a really fun time with friends.
It was on July 27, 2012, playing with my band, Exaudi. We were invited by Ricardo, an event organizer that discovered us thanks to the magic of the Internet. He was happy to find us and our music, and insisted on having us on stage. We were a bit skeptical because our last concerts (five years before) weren't too successful. We were somewhat afraid of playing for a small crowd that might not "get" what we do. But then, things happened in a way we did not expect: the venue was full of people; new fans, new faces, all really wanting to listen and watch us play on stage. They sang our songs and after the show, they even asked us to take some photos with them. We all had a good time. Knowing that Exaudi's art reached someone else's heart and brain made me happy. It was a rather uncommon night for a rather uncommon band from Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The last time I was on stage was when I was 7 yrs old. It was in school and our whole class was singing in a choir in a local talent competition. I went to a catholic nun run school and Sr Anne was my teacher. There were 30 girls in my class and Sr Anne pulled me aside and told me I couldn’t sing (who is a great singer at that age anyway!) and had me mime the song instead because apparently I would ruin it. I am 28 now and have never been back on stage since. And as you can guess, I’m not at all bitter about it.
I'm a manager at a software company. Part of my job is to become a better manager, so we have training programs administered by management consultants that help us. It's not as boring as it likely sounds—the training sessions are usually a game or activity of some sort, designed to highlight certain human strengths and weaknesses. Anyway, in our last training session three weeks ago we had one activity wherein we had to write down what we wanted our leadership legacy to be. After it was written, we were told to stand up in front of the group, one by one, and lock eyes with one of the other managers. Over the next four hours we went through a series of reading and listening exercises, all with some deep component of eye contact. It was uncomfortable, strange and ultimately rewarding. Performing for that audience was the most intimate stage-like experience I've had.
The last time I was on stage was about 2 weeks ago. Our staff had our annual all-team event which included a talent competition. I've recently started writing and performing spoken word poetry, and I was challenged to sign up. I had not performed in front of an audience before, let alone a crowd of 650 bosses & coworkers and their spouses. I was afraid my nervousness was obvious, but I got through it and I'm so glad I did.
My personal motto is "Live to amuse" (myself and others), so I find myself on stage often. I work in the innovation area and focus on helping clients develop a culture of innovation in their organization. Much of what I'm doing requires me to be on stage in front of 20-50-200+ people to get the ball rolling. Last time I was onstage? Last week. But as Will Shakespeare said, "All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players…"
Just last night - I was at dinner with a friend of a friend and had just boldly stated one of my core beliefs: The 21st century would ultimately be remembered as the 'age of molecular biology', but our current system had several key disfunction's that were delaying our growth in understanding. He paused, leaned in, and said "I'd like you to unpack that for me". For the next few minutes, though there were just three of us at the table, the adrenaline kicked in and I was communicating as passionately as any dramatic actor.
I was playing the secondary villain Malforce in the incredibly silly "Clumsy Custard Horror Show". It was a benefit play for pancreatic cancer research, and a goodbye to our wonderful head custodian whose wife had died of pancreatic cancer years before. I'd gone to a performing arts magnet school in elementary, and done weekly church performances freshman year of high school, but I hadn't done anything since. Suddenly, Junior year my theater friends asked me to be in this play. It was only a single show, but it was fantastic. I got to speak in an incredibly low menacing voice, play the Peanuts theme on the piano, get dragged across the stage as a dead body, and try out an announcer voice I'd been working on (I love to do voices). I found the DVD recently, and looking back this show was atrocious, but who cares? For a few weeks in Junior year, I was a silly villainous theater kid saying a heartfelt goodbye to one of the nicest men I've ever met, and doing it with some of the best friends I've ever made. It was wonderful.
The last time I was on an actual stage was two Thursdays ago. But also the Tuesday just before that. And the Friday before that, speaking at a luncheon in Baton Rouge. I'm starting a company where I'll be doing one day design courses, so it'll be me "on stage" the whole way through. A few months ago I spoke at The Moth, the storytelling thing. And I'm one of the most introverted people I know.
Do you have a favorite story of hospitality?