Butterflies and ponies

Since January, I’ve been spending my nights with my daughter Lexie and some actors in the Covey Center for the Arts, in Provo.  I’m directing my play The Plan, and we open next week.  (We run March 18-April 2, Thursdays through Saturdays and also Mondays; tickets are available at the Covey Center website: www.coveycenter.org).  We’ve been immersed in the process of just doing a show, but also in the rhythms and energies of the Covey Center itself.  It’s been an inspiring adventure for us both.

All art inspires all art.  Reading a poem can lead to a painter painting, a sculptor sculpting, a dancer moving to music.  I’ve always known that, and in fact, I can’t write anything unless I have the right music playing.  But a lot of the time we’ve spent in the Covey Center has been at night, after hours, when other performers and rehearsers have gone home for the day, leaving us alone with the Center’s ghosts and phantoms, and also a security guard or two.

Our performance space was occupied for our early rehearsals, so the Covey folks said we could use their board room, or when that was in use, the office suite they call the Fishbowl.  But at times, we’d have the Center to ourselves, and we’d rehearse in the lobbies.  At first, the art on the walls was of angels.  Angel sculptures and angel paintings, ghostly in the dim after-hours light.  Sometimes, on our way to rehearse, Lexie and I would linger by the angels. “I want to buy that one,” she’d say.  “Save your nickels,” I’d reply, but in fact, I wanted it too.

Now the angels have gone, replaced by landscape paintings of almost photographic clarity and color.  We’re closer to opening night now, and don’t have time to stop and look at paintings, but last night, I found myself doing just that, trying to figure out just how the painter achieved such vibrancy and immediacy.

Of course, most nights, we share the building for at least some of the time.  There are studios where dance classes are taught, mostly to very young children, it seems.  And so, at times, our rehearsals are interrupted and energized by these fabulous little kids.  One night, we were on break, and I headed for the men’s room.  Five little boys burst in the door–they looked maybe five or six years old.  One little boy produced the most extraordinary fart–really amazing, he was this tiny little kid, and yet it practically echoed.  The other little boys reacted like boys do: ‘ooooo, gross, Kevin cut one, oooo, stinky!’  Staggering about comically, like their very air had been poisoned.  Little Kevin looked aggrieved.  “Well, what did you expect,” he said, “butterflies and ponies?”
Now, I’m not saying that a kid breaking wind, however impressively, equates with creating art.  But that comment afterwards maybe was a baby step towards it.  Hear me out–isn’t that what art does, distill human experience, into words or movement or sounds or paint on canvas?  And it happened in the Covey Center, a place that’s about art, a place that pulses with humanity.  One Saturday, as Lexie and I came through the lobby, it was filled with groups of male vocal performers.  Vocal Point was in concert; it looked like there were offering a Saturday morning workshop.  One group of older guys–thirties, forties, paunchy, balding some of them–were singing a pretty tight ten part harmony.  A soloist stepped forward–big guy, a baritone.  He began to sing, and I almost laughed in delight–they were singing Guns N’ Roses classic “Sweet Child of Mine.”  This sort of burly guy was moving, serpentine, like Axl Rose.  It was beautiful, and funny, and glorious.

The Covey Center itself is a strange building.  It’s triangular in shape–I think they had to cram it into an oddly shaped lot.  It used to be the Provo Library, before the city renovated Academy Square into a quite magnificent new library.  Because it was owned by the city, it served for awhile as an Arts Center/Police Dispatch Center.  The little Brinton Black Box space, where we’re performing, housed, at first, the people you get on the phone if you call 9-1-1. You can tell it wasn’t originally conceived as a performance space–there’s a disconcerting bit of sound bleed from their larger auditorium.  Last week, we were rehearsing Gaia, the first of the short plays that make up The Plan–it’s a conversation between the pre-existent Eve and Lucifer–Vocal Point was next door.  They’re really good, the crowd really liked them.  So Lucifer says “If I go down, I want to go as a shark!”  Perfect timing–thunderous applause.

Paul Duerden, who runs the place, is an old friend, and pops in to rehearsals from time to time.  He’s always looking to book acts for the big auditorium, and he’ll ask our opinion.  “Would you guys come see Sawyer Brown?”  he’ll ask. “Sure,” we’ll reply, “but we’d rather see Carrie Underwood.”  And Paul will grimace.  The auditorium only seats 800, and the acts he can book tend to be of a certain vintage.  So far this year, they’ve brought in The Beach Boys, they brought in Kenny Loggins.  I mean, Mike Love just turned seventy, and there they are, the Beach Boys, still touring, still singing Kokomo and Sloop John B.  I asked about Kenny Loggins’ partner–I mostly remember him from his Loggins and Messina days.  So I asked Paul what Jim Messina was doing these days.  Paul laughed and said he’s now part of the Beach Boys.

So why would they still be touring, Loggins and the Beach Boys, these grandfathers, doing music I still love from my childhood?  Maybe they just need the money.  But maybe they still love it.  Maybe they still feel it, the passion and energy and love.  I got a call from my Dad on Sunday.  He’s seventy eight, and he’s giving a concert tomorrow night.  After nearly sixty years as an opera singer, this will be his last public performance, he says.  He sounded sort of wistful, and I don’t quite believe him.  He’s only seventy seven, and the voice is still strong.  I think he’s still going to make art somehow, some way.

I mean, heck, I’m fifty four.  And I’ve got a play opening at the Covey Center, and other opening in Salt Lake later this month.  Art, it’s about being alive, right?  It’s about love, and testimony, and a chance to say something to people they might remember and be moved by.  What did you think?  It was butterflies and ponies?

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5 Responses to Butterflies and ponies

  1. Eric Samuelsen says:

    And I just realized I gave two different ages for my Dad, in the same paragraph. He’s actually 77, but has a birthday coming up soon. Arrgggg!

  2. ” Art, it’s about being alive, right? It’s about love, and testimony, and a chance to say something to people they might remember and be moved by. What did you think? It was butterflies and ponies?”

    Best description of art I’ve heard. Thanks for a great post.

  3. Jonathan Langford says:

    Great post.

    I remember while serving a mission in Italy, I happened to look up while walking up the stairwell of a multistory apartment building and saw a painting on the ceiling. It wasn’t a terribly good painting, which perhaps simply underscored the point that in Italy, art wasn’t a separate realm of endeavor, but rather was integrated with everyday life.

    I think that in the long term, art that is treated as a separate realm of experience, left to a specialized class of producers, is art that will die, or perhaps has already died in the most important respects.

  4. Ann Best says:

    Art has enriched my life in so many ways. I can’t imagine what it would have been like without literature, music, the visual arts. Through them we express ourselves–and in the process testify, about all life, about God.

    BTW, Eric, is your mother Donna Samuelsen?

  5. Eric Samuelsen says:

    No, sorry, don’t know a Donna Samuelsen. My Mom is Mary Samuelsen, lives in Indiana.

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