We Breathe the Same Air…

The actors breathe the same air as the audience.

That is the magic of live theatre. Sometimes the actors flub, but usually recover beautifully. If you are close enough, you can see facial expressions, make-up, and costume details. You are right there with the  performers.

I recently had an opportunity to see “The Sound of Music” at the “Holly Theatre” in beautiful Dahlonega, GA. The theatre has a fascinating history dating back to the gold rush days and silent movies. You can follow the link here to learn more:


Now this is a really small theatre and I couldn’t imagine how they could pull off such an ambitious production. A neighbor couple joined us for a splendid Sunday afternoon drive to Dahlonega, an amazing show, and a superb dinner at the restaurant next door, delightfully named “The Corkscrew Cafe.”

The performance began with a procession of nuns coming down each aisle carrying candles and chanting in Latin. Having grown up Catholic, I was immediately enthralled. It got better from there.  The stage was deftly transfigured from a nunnery, to a mountain backdrop, to the elegant Von Trapp family home.  Set technicians (for whom I have great respect) quenched the lights and in a minute, voilà!

It is easy to create magic with technology and buckets of money. Not so easy with paint, plywood, and a shoestring budget. But the “Holly Theatre” achieved that goal.

I loved the movie but the story never affected me as it did on stage. Von Trapp and Maria were wonderful, as were the Baroness and Max. But the children stole the show. They were so beautiful, talented, and obviously enjoying themselves. I wanted to hug each one of them. The biggest surprise was a young woman who played Mother Superior. When she belted out “Climb Every Mountain”, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the theatre. A patron beside me pointed out the woman’s parents a few rows ahead, and I could only imagine how proud they must be.

Theatre—especially a little theatre—creates intimacy. I enjoy movies, but it is not the same, especially the Hollywood epics where everything is perfect—unless it is purposely grotesque. I lost myself in this musical. When the Von Trapp family was singing at the festival, I had chills looking at the Nazi flags unfurled on either side of the stage, blood red and emblazoned with swastikas. Soldiers were positioned above the stage with guns trained over the audience.

This really happened in my parents’ lifetime. For a moment, I was transported back and could imagine what it must have felt like for the victims. When the Nazis realized the family had escaped, storm troopers poured down the aisles scanning the audience with flashlights. That doesn’t happen in a movie—even with 3D.

The production ended with the Von Trapp family tromping up the aisle on their way to the Alps. I am a sucker for a story where good triumphs over evil. It revives my soul. Judging from the standing ovation, the audience agreed. When we exited the theatre, the entire cast welcomed us on the sidewalk outside. What a treat!

If you have a local theatre near you, don’t hesitate. GO! They cannot survive without your support, and I suspect we need them as much as they need us.

Hooray for The Artist

Hooray for The Artist and good for The Academy!   

I just attended film for the second time. I first agreed to see it at the behest of my theatrically inclined granddaughter. Black and white? No dialogue? What kind of gimmick was this? 

What a delightful surprise! Always intrigued by the past, I especially love vintage cinema. I remember watching “Sunset Boulevard” for the first time as a teenager. I was captivated by silent screen idol, Norma Desmond, watching silent movies which captured her as a nubile young siren. No wonder growing old drove her crazy—with such a tantalizing visual reminder of everything she had lost.

The roaring twenties was my era. I love everything—the campy art deco, the elegant cars, the sylph-like women with bobbed hair, and the leading men with bedroom eyes and pencil mustaches. They reveled in their youth, their beauty, and their disdain for convention. The writers, artists, and actors inhabited a realm apart from us mere mortals and were idolized for it.

The women were vamps, their lives surrounded by mystery. Precious few contemporary actresses will become icons like Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo, Loretta Young, or Katherine Hepburn to name a few. It was not a “tell all” world back then. A star was expected uphold a public image. I, for one, prefer not to know every sordid detail of their private lives. It ruins the magic.

Yes, glamour is mostly an illusion, but that is what creates the magic. I know Fitzgerald was a notorious alcoholic and Hemingway ended his life with a shotgun. But the tragic details don’t negate their towering talent and the burning desire to live life to the hilt. This is what made them legends.

The Artist, captures the magic and excitement of an age when cinema was young and movies served as a primary escape from the great depression. We have DVDs now and every manner of electronic device to entertain ourselves, yet nothing matches sitting in a dark theatre waiting for a movie to begin. For a few hours, we hope to suspend reality without interruptions.

An allegory for every great story, The Artist depicts George Valentin’s fall from the pinnacle of Hollywood silent films. He is brought down by the new “talkies.” Sound is his enemy, so it is banished from the movie. Words are not needed. His chance encounter with the lovely Peppy Miller is classic. They are struck by the thunderbolt, and their lives will never be the same. Dialogue would be a distraction.

Uggie the dog understands that. Indeed, he is the star of the show. His biography states that he narrowly escaped the pound. This makes him perfect for the role. The little guy is all heart. He saves his master from self-destruction so Valentin lives to dance his way into the dawn of talking films. Corny, but satisfying. Like watching Charlie Chaplin duck-walk off into the horizon at the end of a film. He adjusts his bowler, twirls his cane, and you know he is smiling.

I am old enough to dread the inevitable changes I see coming. My children are already lamenting the vanished world of their childhood—which really makes me feel ancient. Maybe nostalgia is wired into the human psyche.

I hear rumors that books and newspapers will disappear, replaced by electronic media. I can’t imagine a world without books so I hoard mine, just in case. My dream house has floor to ceiling walls of books. Then again, maybe that’s heaven…

I hope I can survive a transition to the brave new world as gracefully as Valentin. My motto is: treasure the past, anticipate the future, and relish the present.

When all else fails—dance!