I’m guessing this is how some of the PMPers are also feeling. For more than six months, they juggled home and homework. Jobs and family and friendships. Once-Upon-A-Time, way back in October, the work ahead may have felt like one of those 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles. The components are in front of you in a colorful but confused jumble. And then, miraculously, those pieces fall into place.
The groups rehearsed. Revised. Played with blocking. Tweaked. Memorized. And performed, culminating in a grand finale at the Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center.
* * *
I wasn’t a city kid. My teenage backdrop was new developments encroaching on farmland and the hiss of sprinklers as they watered grass seed and sapling trees. I remember swim team practice, casual cruelty, marriages that dissipated, deep friendships, and a friend who met an untimely death.
And then I fell in love.
Like Dorothy entering the Emerald City, in less than two hours, I could hop a bus and emerge on the other side of the Lincoln Tunnel in midtown Manhattan. True, I loved the city. But the real object of my affection was Stephen Sondheim. I saw every Sondheim musical on Broadway—sometimes multiple times. I read every article, studied every press photo, even appropriated his signature turtlenecks and insouciant habit of running his hands through his long hair. I scrutinized his lyrics and the tension between the words and the music.
When I was 14, I wrote to him at the theater where “A Little Night Music” was playing. My tone was more confrontational than fawning. Why would he ever reply to me? But he did reply, on thick white stationery with his return address embossed on the back of the envelope.
My correspondence with Stephen Sondheim lasted several decades and it’s no hyperbole to say it changed my life. He didn’t know it, but he was my mentor. He taught me how to construct characters, look for the tension between the way things seem and the way they are, and to respect the silence in between the words.
And today, I am still devastated and elevated by the opening notes of “Sunday in the Park With George,” the optimistic tenor of the boy who sings “Someone in a Tree” from “Pacific Overtures,” Bobby’s loneliness in “Company”.
But—and it’s a big but—maybe the most important thing Stephen Sondheim taught me is this: however you do it, ordering the universe is hard work. “Sweat,” he told me. “Time and sweat.”
* * *
Last Saturday, every PMP group bravely stepped into this wilderness and created order out of the material that is their lives. I’m guessing they might discover, as I did, that when your aim is emotional truth—loneliness, fear of growing up, fitting in, dying, living—the suburban kid and the worldly penthouse residents from “Company” aren’t very different after all.
Onward, PMPers. Keep seeking inspiration and inspire others.
The world awaits what we already know.
Meet our PMP Blogger
Jane Denitz Smith is a proud member of Dramatists Guild, through whose aegis she recently held a staged reading of Death by Chocolate and Barbecue, new full-length plays. Most recently, Spread My Ashes By the Rental was part of the Made in the Berkshires Festival. Last May, Mary Durning’s Soup and Other Cultural Divides was included in Boston Theatre Marathon. Ten-minute plays have workshopped in Jen Whiting’s Ten-Minute-Play Workshop podcasts and, in 2011, scenes from After Prom, a full-length play, were staged as part of the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers. Jane is the author of three Young Adult novels, published with HarperCollins. She teaches and lives with her family in Williamstown, Mass.