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Arts and Artists

Beautiful Cambria is home to a colorful box of arts, from painting and sculpture to music and theater. There are plenty of opportunities to participate, from studying with established artists and teachers to collaborating with fellow theater lovers. Artist, actor, or audience member, all are welcome.

This past weekend the allied artists at Cambria Center For The Arts  hosted an open house that featured exhibits and presentations from fine artists, theater performers and directors, and the team from the Cambria Film Festival.

It was a treat to see and feel all the creativity and commitment to the arts in one place, and heartening to see all the community members and event sponsors who filled the building with positive energy.

Small Sparks

As my wife and I wandered through the event, I thought of my evolving relationship with art, music, and theater. I am no expert on any of those things, but I am an expert on how they affect me, emotionally and spiritually.

I flashed back to John Stewart’s funny and heartfelt introduction of Kennedy Center Honoree Bruce Springsteen a few short years ago. Stewart started his speech by acknowledging that he was no music critic or historian, and was unable to say where Springsteen ranked on the lists of great American poets and songwriters. He then took a perfect pause and said”…but I’m from New Jersey…” and continued with a description of how Bruce’s work touched him personally.

I get that feeling a lot when I look at, watch or hear art in all its forms, and I wonder how I came to be a guy who is so moved by the grace of creative passions.

Enjoy John Stewart’s tribute here.

What Do You See?

Growing up, the arts were not front and center in my life. In grammar school, art class mostly consisted of the annual street-crossing safety poster competitions. Perhaps there was more, but I sure can’t recall anything beyond needing oak tag and magic markers. I still struggle with drawing even the simplest sketches.

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Lunch and Mommy – Jeanette Wolff, Artist

Jeanette Wolff is a delightful, energetic and near-fearless artist who can’t help but show her heart and soul in the beauty she produces. Her work is unfailingly identifiable, bursting with unexpected color, imaginative techniques and what I can only describe as joy on canvas. I was delighted to listen to her share the story of her piece, her descriptions and stylistic reasoning flowing out in a stream of consciousness, with hands darting towards the canvas to underscore a point, then dashing off to another quadrant to connect the dots within the whole piece. More than just a storyteller, Jeanette was engaged in conversation at a level that was pure and filled with creative passion.

I can’t begin to understand how to do what she does in her art form, but I definitely connect with her as an artist.

You can see Jeanette’s work on her website jeanettewolff.com

What Do You Feel?

I became interested in theater as I entered high school. In my sophomore year I made an attempt to “do a play” at Mount Saint Ursula Girls High School. Why? All girls school. Boys needed to play roles. Where’s my bus pass!!

I was worse than awful. I had no clue, no skills, and no confidence. I was humiliated but still met a few nice girls despite my complete and utter suckery. In later years I again tried the stage and maintained my reputation as not an actor. My theater mask had two faces, one covering eyes, the other, ears. I did, however, find a creative home in theater as a composer and lyricist.

“Here’s a dime. Go call your mother and tell her you will never be an actor.”

We slipped through the wooden doors at the end of the corridor and entered “The Cambria Center For The Arts Theater.” On the stage, two volunteers were engaged in a theater exercise, demonstrating critical skills every actor must master – listening and reacting to each other. The same lines were exchanged – “I have to go,” and “I want you to stay.” Nuance, inflection, cadence, and pitch altered the meaning with each repetition. I was reminded of a play we attended in New York, starring our friend Robert Newman. For most of the play, his only line was “Come on,” spoken in response to his lover, who was unhappy and working on leaving their relationship. So, a playwright took a theater training exercise and turned it into an off-Broadway play. Huh.

Stage or Screen

Theater moves me more than film, though I appreciate the art form. There are rare exceptions where the two mediums cross paths. One example that is burned into my soul is the brilliant, Pulitzer Prize-winning piece “Doubt, A Parable” by John Patrick Shanley. Mr. Shanley has enjoyed success in both the theater and film. He wrote and directed “Moonstruck” and “Joe Versus the Volcano, ” two quirky, funny and emotionally complex films.

“Doubt” is a theater experience that will never leave me. I saw it, alone, one Sunday afternoon. I had a bit of an idea about the play but was utterly unprepared for what I experienced. The premise, the characters, the dialog, the staging. The ambiguity, the moral murkiness, the very humanness of the piece was breathtaking. After the curtain fell, I paced outside the theater, a busy and frenetic New York swirling around me. I called my wife and tried to describe the experience I just had. We came back to that theater a while later. The play kicked my soul all over again.

A few years later “Doubt” was made into a film, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Viola Davis, and Amy Adams. I was a bit disappointed that the original Broadway actors, which included Brían F. O’Byrne and Cherry Jones, weren’t cast in the film. Both actors were perfect in their stage roles. Watching the movie made me forget my disappointment, as Hoffman and Streep were just as excellent. For me though, the most electrifying performance came from Viola Davis, who, in a scene with Streep, had me in a puddle as she did emotional battle with Streep’s character.

That is what art – on stage and screen – does for my soul. I have so many other moments like these filed in my memory. “That Championship Season” – the first Broadway show I ever saw, thanks to my sister Patricia and her husband, Ken. The opening scene from “Jerusalem” with a bellowing, bellicose Mark Rylance emerging from a headstand in a bucket of water… and so many more.

Who’s to say if the next mesmerizing writer, actor, composer or director isn’t right now learning to create at CCAT, or another cradle of creativity in a small town somewhere out there?

What Do You Hear?

My early music education was delivered by Mrs. Dean, who may have been a hundred years old, or forty years young. She would go from class to class, followed by a portable organ hauled by one or two boys from the previous class. I recall very little music from those sessions, though I do remember a decidedly non-musical screech from a wire-fingered, comb-like device she used to draw a staff in one long drag across the board. I also can’t forget the bleating of that little organ as Mrs. Dean banged out “Columbia, The Gem Of The Ocean.” Why do I remember that? No idea.

Learning to hear is as important as learning to play music. I can spend hours listening and re-listening to a song, or an artist, finding more pieces of the puzzle with each replay. My wife, who is a much more accomplished musician than I, learns and understands by the repetitive playing of a piece. Her learning is technical and disciplined. Mine is emotional and intuitive. We take different paths but often wind up at the same destination. It is a lovely place to be.

Perhaps next year’s open house will include a music breakout. I’m not sure if Mrs. Dean is still out there dragging that Emenee organ around, or if Columbia is still the “Gem Of The Ocean,” but nurturing the musical part of the artist soul absolutely needs to stand tall alongside the rest of the creative circle.

Support the Arts and The Artists.