Thursday, February 2, 2012

Legends and Legends in the Making

I am indebted to many people for making my life so great, and I am inspired today to write about the "fathers of my art." These are humble men (today I'm thinking of a few men) that have shaped an influenced me through their lifelong dedication to the arts in Utah.

Last Saturday, my great husband remounted the "first in twenty years" Utah Thespian Festival for high school students in Utah.

Since Andy was asked (by the national office) to be the Utah Thespian Chapter Director three years ago, he has painstakingly resurrected the Utah Thespians in anticipation of hosting a tournament that would qualify kids from Utah to attend the National Thespian Festival during the summer. They give out so much scholarship money, it seemed to us, that we should find a way to reopen that opportunity for our Utah kids.

My husband is a good father. He wasn't out to take on a glamorous leadership position. He saw a missed oppoprtunity for his kids and rolled up his sleeves and added another huge responsibility to his already overflowing plate. He is a legend in the making.
In order to have a theatre tournament, you need a venue, competitors and money to hire judges. We booked a venue, sent out flyers, emails, shameless plugs on Facebook and Twitter, still, its been dead for so long, I truly expected about 8 kids to register...and we got 80! From 8 different schools! In 12 divisions! It stops me every time.

Then we lost our original venue for the event. We had 80 kids and no place to go. We thought we were going to have to cancel it. So we called James Arrington at Utah Valley University and he said "C'mon down!" at the very last second.  UVU has the biggest theatre department in the state and they are right in the middle of The Secret Garden, but he said "We'll find room." He had to schedule us, open the buildings and rooms for us, wait for us to finish, be at our beck and call - James F.A.R.L.E.Y.F.A.M.I.L.Y. Arrington! Brother Brigham himself. Ego? None. Once we arrived it was: "What can I do for you, need tape? I'll walk across campus and get you need a costume mannequin ...done....what else? Doors unlocked? Not enough room? Let's find another room...., etc... etc... His wife called while I was hustling him around and he stopped, fully present and said "We're havin' fun!" He wasn't having fun! He'd been teaching all day! His back was killing him. He wanted to go home, (so did I!) but he was at my beck and call because he said he would. The man is a good father. A champion. A legend. At my serivce. AH!

So to our surprise, we were still afloat and we needed to start calling judges! We could only muster up $10 a round AND it was a Saturday night. What were we thinking?!!!!! I thought we'd have to use the bus drivers, but NO. Our highly over-qualified royal friends RUSHED to our rescue. Ann Hileman (who flew in from INDIANA!) Diane Daly, Shawn Mortensen, Mindy Nelson, Josh Stavros,  etc.....etc.....all of them proud to be part of this pioneering event. All protectors of the arts. Even Andy's amazing parents, threw together a hospitality table fit for a king. And we had a few!

Exposition done.... here's where my heart is today.... Part II - "A Lesson in Humility."

Andy is an Equity actor and has had the chance to work with some of the finest actors in the nation at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. One of those actors is Vanessa Ballam, the beautiful daughter of Michael, the professor from Utah State, musical theatre, opera, (LDS temple film) legend.

I shouldn't call him Michael. I should call him Mr. Ballam. Or even, Brother Ballam. He might be Utah's greatest musical theatre LEGEND.

So, Andy called Vanessa (a former Miss Utah and musical theatre legend in the making) who volunteered to judge at the tournament and offered to bring her dad along too. In fact, she even brought her incredibly brilliant husband along who is also an Equity actor. They drove TWO HOURS, and had to pay a babysitter, to help us put up our toddling little tournament.

Our kids were familiar with the Ballams because they now host the Utah High School Musical Theatre Awards (The Jimmies) and we were lucky enough to win "Best Ensemble" last year for All Shook Up.  That was a lot of work for them and I'm so grateful! I digress. Anyway, our kids think Michael Ballam walks on water. (So do I.)

And then there he was. Judge #9. He just walked through the door looking like....Sir Michael Ballam.

I had one job, and that was to get the judges from the door, into the tabulation room as they arrived and as usual, I was a complete, stuttering, bug-eyed freak. I've seen him so many times, you think the awe would have worn off. But then I got to shake his hand and look at his perfect hair up close. The man has beautiful hair. He didn't know me. But he took my hand and looked me in the eye like we were old friends. The first thing out of his mouth was "Congratulations Jan! (He knew my name!)This is fantastic. I'm thrilled you ask me to be part of it." Positively regal. Positively...... humble.

I wanted to cry. I wanted to reply with finesse: "Thank you, your highness, your presence makes this truly an event of worth and value." But instead I squeaked out "You're so awesome."


(!?*#!?*?) Shaking my head just thinking embarrassed. I'm 47 years old. "You're so awesome." I might as well have added "dude."  "You're so awesome, dude." "'re so awesome."

Pshft.....................t. Whatever. WHERE WAS I? I was in the land of the little people.

King Ballam hugged his royal cousin H.R.H. Arrington and then wandered into the tabulation room were he picked up his ballots, adjudicated more than two dozen 15 - 18 year old plebians, had a cookie between rounds and laughed with us ALL like we were long lost friends in the kingdom. His daughter Vanessa was no less gracious than her father, all of us celebrating KIDS and the theatre together. Then later, as I read my students ballots (those plucky plebians) Lord Ballam had written things like "You are a tower of potential!," "WOW! Impressive instrument!" and "Thank you for that performance, it was brilliant! You are going to do so well at nationals." On all of his ballots he left his handwritten email address in case the kids had questions. H.I.S. E.M.A.I.L.

Michael Ballam became a father to me that night. Not because he is so talented, or so famous, but because he shared his talent with US. Little bitty, bite-sized Utah Plebians...I mean, Thespians. He told my kids they had potential and he used every second he had with them to coach and uplift. He was accessible, listening and .... present. He was NOTHING like I expected. What was I expecting? That his kingdom had jaded him? No, it hadn't. Or that his fame had messed with his ego? Nope. No ego. None. That he would be too busy for weeeeeee little people and our little tournament? NO WAY. He was there to celebrate what we had done. He was the portrait of humility. Just a regular guy with some skills. And in the end, when Andy handed him his weeeeeee little check, he ripped it in half and handed it back. With gas at these prices! What an example to me.
The only thing I was lacking at that moment in my life was Fred Adams (Founder of the Utah Shakespeare Festival). He taught me 25 years ago in college but that doesn't matter....the minute he sees me I am the center of his world.  Ego? Never. His kingdom sports a Tony Award for his little habit of pursuing excellence in the arts. I idolize that man. He apologized for not being able to make it, he was "with the state legislature...stumping for arts money" You can do that Fred. Please do that. Get your Shakespeare Center built so that we can all enjoy it forever!!!

Where was I? Oh....

In an effort to redeem myself, as the Ballams were leaving I did manage to say "You are an inspiration to me and to my students. Thank you for taking the time." (I practiced in the bathroom) GUESS what he said.... GUESS....!? He said "I've had an absolute ball! Come to Utah State next year we'd love to host this! This was fantastic!" (Hair STILL perfect) It was as if he was leaving his family reunion. HE was laughing, ribbing us, eating a ham sandwich and he was proud of us.

I have, and will always look at people like Michael Ballam, James Arrington and Fred Adams as the "Father's of Theatre in Utah." I'm sure they looked up to their "arts fathers" in their time, but they are mine. I have always had a deep and abiding love for people that dug in their heels, fought, clawed and crept inch by inch up from a free play in the park to a Tony Award. They could have set up kingdoms on Broadway, but they BLOOMED where they were planted, and I am the benefactor of their lifelong pursuit of excellence. These men started with passion and two dollars in their pockets and they raised beautiful families, and legendary careers in the theatre. (This is a career where most LDS men don't stand a chance. I'm so grateful to them because my husband is an LDS man in the theatre and they are an incredible example to him as well.)

Here's the point. And I do have one. (I did ultimately learn something, again, and A.S...U.S.U.A.L.)

Whether you are a legend or a legend in the making, never forget from whence you came. Lead with genuine authenticity and humility and you will become a legend in whatever capacity God has chosen to assign you. I have found, humility comes from serving others and just when I need a good dose of it,  an Andy, James, Sir Michael or King Fred shows me the way.

If thou desire the love of God and man, be humble; for the proud heart, as it loves none but itself, so it is believed of none but by itself; the voice of humility is God's music, and the silence of humility is God's rhetoric. Humility enforces where neither virtue nor strength can prevail nor reason."
— Francis Quarles

So.... Dear Michael Ballam, James Arrington and Andy: I hope you don't mind that I was so inspired by your presence last Saturday to make it the topic of my long-winded blog. It occurred to me, that the reason you are all so talented is because your humble authenticity allows you to reach and teach. I want to be just like you someday. It's not eloquent. But I THINK YOU'RE AWESOME and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Jan Hunsaker
Future legend. I hope.