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From Bill – When Life and Art Become One

December 22, 2012

CIMG0082A few weeks ago Touchstone held an early morning gathering for businesses in the community to look at creativity in the marketplace and to explore the intersection between “the business of art” and “the art of business.” It was illuminating.

But before we can go on here, I have to ask the all too obvious question: “What is art, anyway? What’s all this todo about ‘art’?  Why should I care?” (That is three questions, but you get my point) Lisa, Touchstone’s Managing Director, recently passed a book on to me that defines it this way: “Art is a verb… meaning ‘to put things together.'” Art is making things– including our businesses, our schools, our community, our own lives. What makes that work special are the values, the basic assumptions of what’s important, that underlie that putting together.

One of the values, here at Touchstone, that we hold important, is intimacy, community, a sense that we’re all in this together. Our theatre is like sitting in someone’s slightly overlarge living room; we create work that literally grows out of our lives and our community; we collaborate with artists over years evolving the effectiveness of the work and what it is we want to say; together we’re like a large, hopefully not too dysfunctional, family, and we feel these long term relationships and commitments lead to a deeper, more meaningful, more fecund experience– not so much an “object of art” as an extraordinary expression of our lives, of living artfully.

I was recently reminded of this last week, December 15th, when Lisa came onto the stage to do the traditional pre-show speech. Someone shouted out, “Happy birthday”– I’ll let Lisa tell the story from here:

“It happened a little too smoothly– a friend in the audience yelled out ‘Happy Birthday, Lisa’ as I walked onstage to give the curtain speech and then the entire audience began to sing. It was a sweet surprise and somewhat embarrassing, my face surely the same deep red as the Follies curtain; I was truly amazed and touched. Heading into work on your birthday is not always fun, even if you love your job, so to be met with an audience filled with so many faces I’ve gotten to know throughout my time here sending me collective, impromptu birthday wishes, well, it’s certainly an experience I would not trade and a birthday I will not soon forget.”

As I stood in the wings, arm in arm with Mary Wright, waiting to go on for the first number, I couldn’t help but think: where are you going to go, what professional theatre are you going to attend, where the audience feels safe enough and free enough to have the audacity to spontaneously begin a round of “Happy Birthday” for the Managing Director before her curtain speech. I’m tempted to say “only Touchstone”– but of course there are other organizations everywhere that are working to hold and build a sense of community, of mutual support and compassion.

But at that moment, as the Follies curtain was about to open, nowhere was it being more sweetly expressed. I was so proud of us all– that we can build a place of compassion that embraces the humanity in us all, a place of joy and excellence and play. That is the life that we at Touchstone are trying to make when we are at our best, that is the heart of our art.


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