The Muses

November 30, 2015

 

The week before Thanksgiving was one I will never forget. My first musical stage play, High and Mighty, was gloriously produced by Southeastern Louisiana University. The creative team and cast, led by Jim Winter, was the A Team by all standards. I had the opportunity to work with people whose professional accomplishments I had only admired from afar up until this point. The production far exceeded anything I had hoped for, but something else began to factor into the whole experience; something I had not planned. You see, immediately after the production was placed on the calendar, I sent letters (the old fashioned kind) to all my friends and colleagues around the country whom I thought might be interested and/or supportive. The script had soft appeal to most, simply because they are my friends, but it had hard appeal to a handful of people because the characters, along with bits and pieces of the story are based upon them. Yes, fictionalized, but still rooted in a version of my friendships with them. Our young adulthoods, put on display for the world to see. It was all heavily embellished, of course, but still…still.

I must admit, it was with tender trepidation that I invited them to attend the show. Why? Because they might not like what I did with and to the characters that were born out of them. Over and over again, I warned them that “I have taken great liberties with your character. She is based on you, but I have heavily embellished and fictionalized the story and your…her…characteristics. I have made her a touch more desperate than you ever were. I have given her a fondness for the drink that is greater than anything you ever displayed. Etc, etc, etc. Hope you like her! HA! Ha ha! Ha. ha….”

Never in a million years did I expect the two main character’s muses to fly across the country, on the same day, to see the show. After all, production dates were nipping at the heels of Thanksgiving. Surely, these people would not be able to fit my little play into their lives. I had not even seen one of these women for over twenty years. Surely they won’t come, I told myself. Then, I will be off the hook of worry. Wrong. Not only did the two main characters show up, but so did another woman who is simply referenced at the end of the play, but never actually seen. Yikes.

The good news is that these three women, all of whom I met at an Upper East Side Presbyterian Church in the 1980s, were honored to be featured in my script. They got kick out of the fact that I wasn’t afraid to blow them up a little. Ok, a lot. Prior to the performance on closing night, they sat at my dinner table, eating my gumbo while I picked at my serving, warding off the nervous demons in the pit of my stomach. We all giggled, toasted and roasted each other just as we did over two decades ago. It all felt as though twenty five years had blown by in a second. My past washed over me in waves of mixed emotions; melancholy, gratitude, fear, joy, anxiety. At the performance, the two women flanked me like bookends. As the last word on stage was spoken, each of them grabbed a hand from me and gave it a squeeze, punctuated by tears and then a hug. In that moment, I felt twenty five again, but without all the weirdness of life’s uncertainty. At that moment, my heart was so full, I thought it might tip over. At that moment, I remembered why I love the theatre so much, and why I love these friends.

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Have you heard the good news? Apparently, drinking champagne, daily, is the secret to keeping your brain cells happy, healthy and engaging as you grow older. Goody, goody gumdrop. Sounds crazy, huh? Well, generally, I don’t put much stock in these breaking news reports, for they are sure to be contradicted and/or changed in a matter of years. They always are. This one caught my eye, however. Not because I drink a lot of champagne, although I may start. It caught my attention because my oldest friend (note-not my friend for the longest time, but my oldest friend), M, just turned 99 years old. She is not the 99 year old in marketing materials for elder care. No, no, she is more like the 65 year old in marketing materials for high end make up…or Hermes scarves…or overpriced skin cream. This woman never misses a gathering that will be intellectually and socially stimulating. She has season tickets to the ballet, the symphony, the theatre and more. She holds board memberships on cultural organizations of all kinds and she is the one to show up at meetings with a tray of bacon wrapped shrimp and a bottle of bubbly. She still “dresses” for all occasions and calls everyone “Dahlin.” No blue jeans, elastic waist pants or cardigans for this gal. No, it is high heels, hose and sophisticated dresses for M. She is gracious beyond compare and still regularly entertains in her home with quiches she has just pulled out of the oven and flowers she has just clipped from her garden. And if you don’t feel enough like a slacker just yet, now hear this. She reads approximately three books per week. And yes, she sips glasses of bubbly throughout the week. Champagne is her drink of choice and she wears it well.

All of her friends admire her and everyone wants to be just like her. That includes me, but if that is going to happen, I better start sipping. So Happy Birthday, Devine Miss M! 99 looks fabulous on you. Keep popping those corks.

How many Zeringues does it take to compose music for a new musical play? Apparently three, but only two of them have to actually be related. When I started writing my play, High and Mighty, I never intended for it to be a musical. I never intend to write a play at all. The truth is that in my job as an arts presenter, I was suddenly in the position of covering duties of those employees who were casualties of massive layoffs at the state university for whom I worked. It was an uncomfortable position to be in, for I had earned my education in theatre so that I could create art, discuss art, ponder art. Up to that point, my career in theatre had taken me onto the stage, behind the stage, and in front of the stage. It had been blissful.

Suddenly, however, I found myself having to be on site for all sorts of evening facility rental events, many of which had nothing to do with art of any kind, much less theatre. Corporate events, social events, political gatherings, etc. had invaded my world, and I found myself in the mundane position of having to unlock doors, periodically breeze through the crowd to make sure they were happy, wait until the crowd departed, then lock the doors. In between the big events (unlocking and locking), I often had two, three or four hours of time on my hands. It was dead air time, for there is only so much paperwork one can complete until there is nothing left. So what’s a girl to do? I decided to write a play…for fun, and so it began. I would leave my characters in my office, sleeping, during the day. But on nights of rental events, they were set free from their hiding places and invited right back into my head and onto my computer screen.

Before I knew it, I was enjoying the rentals so much that one night, one of the characters began to sing! It was then that I knew I needed help for, although I read music and am happy to sing and play it, I do not compose it. Since this was my first real rodeo, I had no idea where to begin. After much stumbling around in the world of composers, I decided that perhaps I should seek a novice, like myself. So I did. I invited my friend Bridget Zeringue out for coffee and presented the idea, along with a copy of the script, to her. A few days later, she contacted me to accept the challenge, but with one condition. She wanted her husband Drew Zeringue to be a part of this effort for, you see, he is quite the guitarist. Yeah, yeah. I knew that already. So off we went on this journey of making a musical. I would hand off lyrics to Bridget and Drew, along with bad cell phone recordings of me singing melodies I envisioned for the songs, and they would return a few weeks later with notes on pages. Over home made chili (thank you, Bridget) and wine, we would polish them, together. Sometimes we would meet at my house over crawfish etoufee. I think the food really helped. Something about breaking bread together pulls humans toward each other.

Once the tunes and the words were all happily married, Bridget announced that we now needed an arranger. That is the person who arranges all those notes for different instruments and voices. No problem though, because she had someone in mind. His name was Shane Zeringue. No relation. (Really? In Louisiana? Want to bet?) So we ushered Shane into our fold and cut him loose with the songs. He brought them to new heights, adding ebbs and flows to the tempos and the swells. He tailored the songs for instruments and voices so that they became one big happy family. Truly, Shane brought all of our efforts together and tied them up in a bow.

Together, the four of us are an odd match. At least I am to them. You see, we are of different generations, them and me. Technically, they could be my children. For many collaborative teams, this could be a problem, but for us it all seemed to work out just fine. I bring to the table years of living and stepping over things along the way. They bring a freshness, a youthfulness to the whole process and product. All four of us bring a love for the project. I am grateful for the Zeringue Gang, for they have enriched my story and walked beside me as we all learned how to collaborate. They are the best. And did I mention that two of the three of them are not even related…as far as we know?