Moving it Out of Your Head

The performing arts have called to me since I was really young. My mom said I started to dance and make plays as soon as I could move furniture out of the way and get someone to turn on the record player. I listened to my parents whole record collection endlessly; Broadway shows to Trinidad Steel Drum bands,Ella Fitzgerald to Frank Sinatra to Harry Belafonte. I’d lie in bed at night, well past my bed time, and ask someone to “turn over the record one more time, please”. The music gave me images and made me want to move — and as soon as I was moving I was making up stories. When I wasn’t actually making dances or plays I was imagining them in my head. I was a busy girl before I’d even gotten to first grade !

Sometimes I had almost no idea what the musicals I was listening to were really about. Why did the songs in Carousel sound so sad when its very title was about a ride at a fair? The Music Man had all those fantastic horns and lyrics about a parade, so how come there was a song about a “sadder but wiser” girl? At age 4 and 5 I couldn’t figure it all out. But I could make up my own story lines and then put them into action with dances, dialogue, and songs. By the fourth grade I was running my own back yard theatre in the summer, bringing in all the neighborhood kids my age and younger to make dances and plays. I just loved spending my days making up stuff, sharing the making and the showing with others. I rehearsed and performed,but if no one was around I was happy to just create the shows and stories for myself. The jury was in, I loved the arts.

During my grade school years I went to summer camps and started to take “real” drama classes. It felt very official and grown up to be in the theatre, working with purpose beyond what my daily swim team practice required. I liked messing around with ideas. I liked figuring out something and then showing what I thought. I loved rehearsing with others. I loved making something that hadn’t been there before, and then was gone when we were done. A backyard summer camp and performance (By age 11 I was a playwright,actor, choreographer, director and producer all in one. I felt great!) generated enough money so that I could take some friends to the local amusement park one hot Phoenix August night. I blew my whole summer’s earnings in one four hour run but hey, it was worth it. From that point on imagination, hard work, celebration and the arts were forever linked for me.

I don’t think that everyone wants to be an artist at some point in their life, but I do think everyone wants to make things, and that impulse to make is central to the arts. Whether you are making a béarnaise sauce or a beautifully crafted table, composing a string quartet or a sonnet, making is the creative act. Making feels good. It comes with the challenges you figure out how to manage, and with the accomplishment of finding how to take an idea from inside your head and place it outside, where it can be seen and considered. Making shows us what we can do. It teaches us how to do what we’re doing and if we pay attention, can teach us how to do what we’re doing better. The whole process lets us – requires us – to question and wonder. Wondering prompts us to stay with it, to re-imagine, to revise, to connect ideas and experiences. Eventually, the process – and maybe the products – of our making can be shared with others. Ripples of response can provide accompaniment to the joy, frustration, disappointment, and curiosity that come along with the act of creating something. Considering ideas, taking action, assessing how things are turning out. These become the artistic processes of our days.

Alison Marshall

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