every girl needs a greek chorus

a blog about hope

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Fool for the Arts

Dancing with Cartilage

Dancing with Cartilage c. 1985

I have been a ham for as long as I can recall.  I love to make people smile, primarily because smiling people are forgiving people.  I learned early on that I could get away with a lot if people were laughing with me.  I was small and skinny, couldn’t run fast, hated sports, and didn’t much care for the great outdoors.

When I was four, I was on Detroit’s version of Romper Room for two weeks (and have the home movies and a “graduation” ring to prove it).  I was the kid chosen to narrate plays and stories.  I danced around my living room in self-crafted tutus for the family movie camera.  I turned vocabulary assignments into poems.  I wrote stories about turkeys who couldn’t gobble and girl detectives.  I made puppets out of wooden spoons.  I organized neighborhood plays and talent shows.  I sang in Easter bonnets made out of paper plates and purple netting.  I played a Munchkin in the “Wizard of Oz” and painted sets and made costumes.

Lend Me a Tenor, clothed

Lend Me a Tenor, clothed, c. 1995

I was in a student film playing a cog in a machine.  In one graduate level theater course, for an assignment on the cycle of life, I even wrote a scene in which I, with my fellow actors, played salmon struggling upstream to spawn.  In two different productions of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” I spent the entire first act wearing nothing but a slip.  In a production of “Lend Me a Tenor,” I spent another 15 minutes wearing nothing but a teddy, playing a nymphomaniacal soprano.  In fact, I have done everything legal or moral on a stage, acting, singing, dancing, playing the violin, from garages in my hometown to Carnegie Hall.

Make no mistake about it, I have a keen sense of propriety, unless I’m near a stage.  When I began singing with the Deer Creek Chorale, My Mother commented on a performance by her 60-year old daughter, “After all these years, you’re still the one in the front row hamming it up.”

Yep, that’s me.  All the world’s a stage.  The arts tell us who we are as people, as human beings.  They provide glimpses into parts of our world that we might never encounter.  They comment on human nature, good and bad.  As my conservative father once said about a controversial play in which I was appearing, “These [characters] may not be the people we know, but they certainly exist, and it would be foolish not to try to understand them.”

After several starts and stops in the 30-some years that I have lived in Harford County, Maryland, we have a good chance of building an actual center for the arts.  No more rehearsing in drafty basements or performing in crowded churches.  A generous bequest of land started this current effort, and the county and the state of Maryland have agreed to support it financially, but first, the citizens have to raise several million dollars.

The Veterinarian and I already became charter members of the Center for the Arts, and, now, I have agreed to dance in their

Singing with Deer Creek Chorale

Singing with Deer Creek Chorale, 2015

annual fundraiser, Dancing for the Arts.  Sounds like a no-brainer for a woman who studied ballet, modern, and jazz into her early 40s, doesn’t it?  A no-brainer for a ham, right?  Well, consider that I have no cartilage left in either of my knees and have subluxated my hips once too often.  That evens the playing field right there, don’t you think?  With the help of the Deer Creek Chorale, I have committed to raising a minimum of $5,000 to support my fellow performing and visual artists.

Please visit my Dancing for the Arts page and put a smile on my face as I dance, yet again, in support of the arts.  As I say,

“Our community is full of well-trained professionals and capable amateurs in music, dance, theater, literature, and the visual arts with limited opportunities to express themselves.  Our community is full of children with limited exposure to the thoughts and ideas of the greater world around them.  Our community is full of residents who long to make connections with one another.  Let’s make those connections a reality through the arts!” 

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Those Hills are Still Alive

Gaga flips skirtDid you catch Lady Gaga honoring the 50th Anniversary of the film version of The Sound of Music on the Academy Awards
last week?  Were you shocked?  I was apprehensive when she started to sing, because  I didn’t want to see a travesty made of a film whose score was embedded in my 13-year old brain.  As I listened to her well-rehearsed singing, I saw her nervousness in the amateurish way she flipped her gown.  Stefani Germanotta, the girl behind the outrageous Mother Monster disguise, could have been performing in her living room for the neighbors.  I saw how important this was for her, and I started rooting for her.  For the first time ever, I identified with her as a performer.

Of course, singing “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” for the neighbors in your living room is in no way akin to having your foibles aired to hundreds of millions of viewers around the world.  Still, your reputation as an in-your-face know-it-all is at stake, especially when you take on some of the most beloved music ever put on film.

When I was growing up in the not-yet psychedelic 60s, it was a treat to dress up in your Sunday best (i.e., pretty dress, coat, probably patent leather shoes, and gloves) and go into downtown Detroit to see a movie at one of the grand old movie houses.  The Sound of Music premiered in March, 1962 at the now-demolished Madison Theater, which was built in 1917.  I saw it on the huge, curved screen and wept for the brave family, as they escaped the Nazis. It was a triumphant, happily-ever-after kind of story with pretty scenery, pretty people, and pretty music.  Who did not want to be Maria?

I was raised as a Roman Catholic and taught by nuns who had no sense of humor beyond corporal punishment (so it seemed).  It never occurred to me that nuns smiled or sang or had fulfilling lives locked away in a convent.  I could well imagine that they would give “a problem like Maria” the heave-ho from their cloistered world.  I had not imagined that the heave-ho would send the problem into a beautiful home with a handsome father and adorable children, with evil Nazis threatening their idyll in the Alps.

In the days before VHS tapes, DVDs, and video on demand, the soundtrack album of a movie or stage show allowed you to experience it over and over again.  In 1965, The Sound of Music became my favorite, surpassing Mary Poppins.  I wanted to waltz with the sorely misguided Rolf in my family’s conservatory.  I wanted to ride through the streets of Salzburg singing about “bright copper kettles” (which I had never seen) and “warm woolen mittens” (which I owned).  I wanted to sing “Edelweiss” on a darkened stage with tears streaming down my face.  I wanted to laugh in the face of the Baroness.  And, yes, I imagined myself bravely walking down the aisle to marry the handsome Captain while nuns sang “How do solve a problem like Maria?”  With marriage, evidently.  Ah, Captain von Trapp…

I saw Christopher Plummer again onstage as Iago with James Earl Jones as the titular “Othello.”  What a performer!  Forget how good he was pretending onscreen that he didn’t hate playing Captain von Trapp in what he has described as potential “mawkishness.”  Here he was on a Sunday afternoon at the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre in Baltimore in 1981, providing me with a lesson in stagecraft. At his entrance, the audience applauded enthusiastically.

However, the production capitalized on Mr. Jones’ notoriety as the voice of Darth Vader.  In my feeble memory, the stage direction had him boldly make his first entrance at upstage center.  Othello was wearing all black, including a black cape.   His first lines were delivered from beneath a helmet.  The audience went wild.

I turned to The Veterinarian and said, “Cheesy, cheesy, cheesy.  This production’s going south in a hurry.”  I was confused.  Were we to think that Othello and Darth are the same?  Or was it just a cheap ploy to entertain the audience?  Or, worst of all, were they going to upstage Mr. Plummer with their theatrics?

Othello 2 (2)There was more about the staging (especially the lighting, as I recall) that I didn’t like.  I recently noticed that Kelsey Grammer, pre-Cheers, played “Cassio” in that production, which, I am sorry to say, didn’t make an impression on me, either.  [I don’t recall who played Desdemona, and a google search was no help.] As the play progressed, though, its esteemed leads lived up to their reputations.  They told the story without gimmicks, although there were more theatrics, some unintended.

During a duel, one of the actors’ swords flew from his hand, off the stage, and into the lap of an elderly lady in the front row.  The theater went silent.  Ushers hesitantly moved forward.  Without breaking character, Mr. Plummer leapt from the stage and knelt on one knee in front of the startled lady.  He removed the sword and spoke quietly to her, then kissed her hand and ran up the stairs, back on the stage, and, still in character, haughtily tossed the sword to its actor.  The house went wild.  I swooned in my seat.   Mr. Plummer went on to Broadway and won a Tony award for his Iago.  I would have given it to him just for what I saw in that production.  Ah, Captain von Trapp…

Theatrics, used appropriately, can add excitement to a production.  Some, like the falling chandelier in Phantom of the Opera, are costly, yet “cheap tricks.”  Others make ordinary lives more interesting.  Apparently, the play and movie version of The Sound of Music were dramatized to make the story of the von Trapps more thrilling, as if defying the Nazis wasn’t compelling enough.  There was no dramatic escape across the Alps, just a train ride to Italy and a boat to London, then on to the U.S.  The Captain actually was quite genial, and Maria said in her autobiography Maria that she married the Captain for the sake of the children and learned to love him later, a different kind of romance.

I sang The Sound of Music around my house for three years, until I became captivated by Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl, a much edgier story line for an adolescent girl who was “sixteen going on seventeen” in the more cynical, psychedelic late 60s.  I saw myself on that tugboat in New York Harbor singing my lungs out, chasing down my star-crossed lover, a bittersweet story, a different kind of romance.  Both movies were based on real people, but fleeting happiness is not as compelling in the long run, so I went back to Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s more hopeful story.

At the end of her Sound of Music medley, Stefani looked humbled at the appearance of the fabulous Julie Andrews onstage with her.  All the time she was singing the iconic songs (my only complaint is that she mimicked Ms. Andrews’ English accent, as I mimicked Ms. Streisand’s Brooklyn accent), she knew that the icon, herself, was standing in the wings.  How much braver is it to be yourself than to hide behind outlandish costumes and snarl at your audience, “cheap tricks,” all of them?  Brava, Ms. Germanotta, brava!

While I sing in choral groups (and once sang in a chorus on the stage at Carnegie Hall under the direction of the great John Rutter), I will never sing a solo in front of anyone except the BFF, not even in the shower, never again in someone’s living room or basement or garage.  And no one is asking me to, so who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!


It’s a boring week.  I’ve discovered that I can test my prospective dates by making them read this blog first.  I say, “Read my blog, and let me know if you’re still interested.”  The blog is a deal-breaker, which makes it the perfect test.  My profile photos are catchy, my text clever, but the “real me” is just too much, apparently.  “Real Suzanne” is not coming over to your house on a first date for a drink and does not want to have sex with you within the first several months that I know you, if ever.  “Real Suzanne” can tell if you’re a phony.  “Real Suzanne” is probably a lot smarter than you are, which is a real turn-off, for her.

I got lots of scammers this week.  Anthropologists have missed the best marker of all to attract a mate, good grammar.  One had a well-written profile in which he said he flies his own airplane, so, after he emailed me in broken English, I responded by asking what kind of airplane he flies?  Naturally, he did not respond.  They never do when they know you’re going to catch them in a lie.

I did not respond to an email from a guy with no profile photo that said, “I lie if I not tell you your sexy!! [sic]”

From a guy whose photo looks like a young Paul Newman, ” i hope the weather is getting better over there for you too. [sic]” He lives in NY and shows a photo of himself with a recently deceased celebrity whom he identifies as his father.

I reported another one who stole a woman’s photo and profile and claimed that she was his intermediary.

I had two emails from different men who claim to have post-graduate degrees with this explanation, “I have tried to upload more pictures but I really do not know how it works been my first time on a dating site. [sic]”

From the geographically-challenged, a guy named “Pedro” who lives about 40 miles south of me, “do you have a lot of snow back there? [sic]”

And this:

Scammer 2 (2)

Yep, go away Forever!



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Sugar Plum Fairy Tales

This morning, Kelly Ripa described a burlesque, “sexy,” nude version of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker.  I’ve seen countless versions of this Christmas classic; traditional, contemporary, jazz, tap, swing, macabre, and even on ice.  I am completely bored with it, so nudity might make it more interesting. This all reminds me of a story that, unlike some of my stories, doesn’t involve my own nudity but probably should.

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who had a curl right in the middle of her forehead.  She was captivated by everything theatrical.  She grew up in a middle class family, in a middle class community that didn’t quite understand how to develop a career in the arts.  The family visited museums of all kinds, had dozens of books and records, followed movies old and new, attended the theater, and excelled at decorating and dressing up for all occasions.  It turns out, those are the very skills needed for a career in the arts; a passion for the new, the exciting, the different; the telling of the story of our common life.

The family had a movie camera, purchased to record the parents’ wedding in 1951, as well as every event that occurred thereafter, until it finally died in 1967.  The little girl relished any opportunity to dress up and prance in front of the camera, especially in crinoline petticoats with a plastic tiara and “magic wand”, like the ballerinas she saw on television and in the movies.  Or she clumsily would toss around a baton or attempt a soft shoe, like Judy Garland.  In reality, she wasn’t trained to do any of those things, but, in her mind, she could be just about anything she wanted.

When she was four, she cajoled her mother into sending her photo into Detroit’s version of “Romper Room” and spent two weeks on the show, rehearsing songs, playing games, showing off her naked baby doll (nudity!), and munching on Awrey cookies, while drinking Twin Pines milk from thick white mugs.  She watched what the hostess did, how the cameramen moved, how the lights were set.

At church, she learned that Sunday School is the place where frustrated adults are desperate to get children to sing or recite onstage boldly and with aplomb, wearing all manner of ridiculous headgear made of paper plates and construction paper.  With loads of experience hamming it up for the camera, she could be counted on to belt out her lines with feeling, and singing “Away in a Manager” under a spotlight on a darkened church stage with the attention of family and friends added fuel to her theatrical fire.

Throughout elementary school and high school, while other children studied ballet and tap and baton and singing, the girl read and watched everything she could.  She could be counted on to paint sets, make puppets and costumes, be the unseen narrator, produce plays in garages and basements, and write countless short stories and plays.  She attended every professional and amateur production she could.  By day, she studied drama, speech, creative writing, and journalism in high school and, by night, lived a fantasy life of acting, song, and dance in her basement.

Eventually, she was found by her life’s ambition.  An English Major in college, she added acting and theater electives.  She ushered at a community theater and, at age 20, took her first dance and piano classes.

At age 27, she took her first ballet class at a community college in her adopted hometown, where an enormously talented ballet dancer had started a dance company.  The teacher invited the fledgling dancer to join the company.  One of the group’s first presentations was Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Flowers” from The Nutcracker Suite.  With her talents for organization, the young woman assisted with costumes and

Community dancers

Community dancers

staging, and, having no fear or shame, performed “Waltz of the Flowers” dozens of times for all audiences, at libraries, nursing homes, and elementary schools, wearing a tiara made of silver pipe cleaners.  Later, choreography for more experienced dancers was added, and after four short years, the artistic director decided to leave to form a separate ballet company.  She spoke to the young woman.

“I think you should be the next artistic director,” she said.  The young woman laughed.

“I don’t know anything about dance.”

“You know enough to know what is right and what is wrong.  You know how to produce a show and tell a story,” the artistic director replied.  “You’ll hire choreographers to carry out your vision of The Nutcracker.”

With the encouragement of faculty, parents, and dancers and a promise from the college to pay her $1.00 for every ticket sold, she reluctantly agreed to take on the job.  At the last performance before she took over, the young woman stood in the wings, crying and trembling in fear, feeling totally unqualified and terrified of failure.  It was one of the times that she clearly heard God say, “This is the job that I am giving you.  Just do it.”  Well, it was a little more involved than that, but, as she always said, when God tells you to do something, you don’t ask questions.

Under her first year of direction, she persuaded her husband to engineer the giant “Mother Ginger” dress, from under which about a dozen children spring to dance.  He constructed it from PVC pipe, and she used parachute material for the skirt.

“Who’s going to wear this thing?” her husband asked cautiously, trying out the painter’s stilts that were required to lift the dress high enough off the floor for the children to stand up.

Always a good sport

Always a good sport

“Well…”  She lifted her eyebrows at him.  He looked smashing in the wig, bonnet, and falsies.

In the second year of her reign, they added the “Waltz of the Snowflakes” scene, which completed all the choreography except the Sugar Plum grand pas de deux.  Unfortunately, there was no capable young male dancer in the company capable of partnering a dancer.

In the spirit of a community dance company, everyone pitched

One of the best dancers in the Spanish variation.

One of the best dancers in the Spanish variation.

in, sharing their individual talents.  The dancers ranged in age from talented youngsters to willing adults, some of whom had never taken a formal dance class in their lives.  All of them had a place in the corps, even an 80-year old grandmother who played—what else?—the grandmother.  Some of them had only studied tap or jazz, acting or gymnastics, and one enormously talented young man, who did a wicked imitation of the singer Prince and could jump like he had springs for legs, became an audience favorite as the Nutcracker, himself.

All ages, all abilities

All ages, all abilities

Behind the scenes, local parents and high school students learned to run light boards and follow-spots, call shows, make costumes, sell concessions, and fundraise.  After the third year, about 100 people participated in each year’s show. The director enlisted her mother as costumer and house manager and her sister as stage manager.

One year, one of the college-aged dancers brought her good-looking boyfriend, a music student, to watch a rehearsal.  The director seized her opportunity.

“Do you dance, too?” she asked.

“Um, no,” he shyly answered.

“Oh,” she paused to consider his level of gullibility.  “You know we could really use a Prince in this show.  You wouldn’t have to dance or anything.  Just kind of stand there and support the Sugar Plum Fairy while she turns. Yeah, it’s not really dancing.”  Surprisingly, he agreed.  A dancer was born.

What happened to all those people who participated? Many of the students have gone on to obtain degrees in theatre and dance.  The jumping Nutcracker has become a fixture as a popular choreographer and performer in the Baltimore area, and the Prince is an Assistant Professor of Theatre and Dance at Seton Hill University.  Others are dance teachers, children’s authors, communications directors, children’s theater directors, and advertising executives.  The youngest are now in their 40s, and some even have grandchildren.  They stay in touch through that miracle of memories, Facebook.

That’s my story.  Really, that’s my story.  That’s how I parlayed a love of story-telling and performing into my life’s work.  I no longer dance because I’ve lost all cartilage in my knees, and my hips don’t bend like they used to.  There aren’t many roles for older women, and I gave up playing the ingénue at the age of 47, when I was paired with a 25-year old actor.  It may sound exciting, but I found it creepy.  I’m holding up well for my age, but I’m no cougar. Although, I’m thinking that a trip to NYC for a burlesque Nutcracker may be in order.  Anyone care to join me?

DATE UPDATE:  My Our Time account finally expired, and my last date was yesterday.  A man who said he was “currently separated” had been pestering me for four weeks to have lunch with him.  Supposedly, we had common interests in sailing and travel, but I had my doubts and kept putting him off.  Finally, in a moment of boredom, I agreed when he asked, “What have you got to lose?”

Apparently, 90 minutes (including travel time) and 16 ounces.

He asked if I would join him at Panera or Olive Garden for lunch.  I chose Panera, because I have given up pasta.  From our email exchange, we clearly agreed on the location of the Panera (ubiquitous everywhere but near my home) and the time, 11:30.  I thought it was a good location to complete my Christmas shopping, so I arrived at the mall early enough to shop and to be at the Panera by 11:28.

Since it was pouring rain, I stepped inside the restaurant and looked around.  It wasn’t very crowded, and I saw no one matching the profile photo of my date.  I stood just inside the front door and waited.  And waited.  And then waited some more.  I kept checking my email.  Nothing.

Finally, at 11:45, I stepped up to the counter and ordered a cup of Autumn Squash soup and half of a smoked turkey sandwich on country white (hold the mayo, tomatoes, and lettuce, please).  When my order was called, I sat in a corner of the restaurant where I could see everyone who came in.  Oh—and it was next to the rear door, so I could make a hasty escape, if needed.  Some middle-aged couples came in and lots of young shop and office workers.  No single 65-year old men.  Not by a long shot.

At 11:54, I finished my soup, wrapped up my sandwich, gave one last look around the restaurant and at my email, and headed back out into the pouring rain.  Periodically during the day, I checked my email, but by 11 pm, when I fell asleep, I had not heard from my erstwhile date.

At 1:30 am, my lunch decided to part company with my body, hence the lost 16 ounces.  I was too nauseous to look at my email until this morning, when, lo and behold, there it was.  He wrote:

“I should get the Bozo Award and won’t be surprised if I am deleted.  I don’t know what I was thinking, but I went to [insert other location].  Wish you would have called me.”

WISH I WOULD HAVE CALLED YOU?  You don’t contact me for 12 hours?  No “sorry” for screwing up our date?  I sent the D*bag (as I now think of him) straight to the “Trash” folder for eternity, because I think he’s not quite as “currently separated” as he claims, unless it’s his common sense from his brain.

I won’t let this bother me because other people have greater problems than meeting nitwits online to provide funny fodder for blogs.  There may still be hope that I will find Mr. Right soon because I still belong to match.com for the next two months, although my profile now starts with “Not for the faint of heart.”  And it’s almost Christmas.  You know?  Peace on earth, goodwill to men, whatever their dating status?  So, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!