Monday, October 26, 2009


We're fortunate to have some great, creative friends. Friday evening, we went to the Laguna Playhouse production of "Moonlight & Magnolias" in which our friend Leonard Kelly-Young is playing the part of the Hollywood writer, Ben Hecht. It's the story of a five-day session in which David O. Selznick held Hecht and director Victor Fleming hostage in his office while together they "doctored" the script for "Gone With the Wind." On a diet of bananas and peanuts (Selznick's current fad), the three men engage in hand-to-hand combat in which Hecht vainly seeks to inject a shred of social value into a script that seems to celebrate war, social injustice and racism under the cover of soap operatic histrionics. It provides an entertaining spectacle, and the acting was enough to keep us thoroughly engaged, but we thought the play itself lacked sufficient plot dynamic to be fully successful.

Turns out Leonard shares our view. He and his wife, Lillian--a former professional actor, now a painter--came over for a cup of tea on our back patio the following day, and we enjoyed the opportunity to talk to him about acting and the world of the theater. He has had a remarkably successful run these past few months, but shares the struggle of many others in the creative world, to keep working in a highly commercialized cultural environment. The predicament of the artist in a commercial world where supply now wildly exceeds demand is the subject of my new book of essays, Persist, which will be published soon, so I was especially interested to hear a working actor's insights on the subject.

Sunday, we discovered that Lisa, one of our sangha regulars and a trained singer, would be performing in a free concert at the beach that afternoon; so we wandered down with George in the warmth of the latter part of the day and joined the crowd of (mostly, we thought) locals gathered around the spot where the Laguna Community Concert Band were playing tunes from "Oklahoma!" and other Broadway shows. We had a great thrill hearing our friend's wonderful voice, along with those of a handful of other performers--though George grew quite demanding about his ball. Once he catches sight of a patch of grass, he's convinced we're there for no other reason that to play with him, and he can get quite insistent with his yelps--not the most welcome addition to a musical event.

There's an enormous pleasure to be had in such occasions. We creative folk--especially those of us trained in the schools and armed with advanced degrees to validate our talent--can get a wee bit precious about what we do. We become so attached to deluded notions of recognition and success that we set ourselves up for disappointment--even failure. The passion that originally inspired us sours; our talent becomes a liability, the source of anguish rather than joy. One of the essays in my book celebrates the giveaway--a way of freely sharing our gift that offers a wonderful sense of freedom and fulfillment in return. As a daily practitioner of the giveaway with The Buddha Diaries, I can vouch for those satisfactions with a full heart, and I honor all those who are willing to share their gifts, on occasion, without the expectation of return.

So there was a special delight in Sunday afternoon's concert at the beach, to see so much talent gathered for no other reason than to provide entertainment for their fellow citizens. Laguna Beach is a remarkable place for many reasons, not least the sense of community that thrives here as nowhere else I know. Ellie and I are grateful to count ourselves among its denizens.


. said...

Good for you, pal!

LillianAbel said...

We had a wonderful visit with you in Laguna. Thank you so much for the beautiful tea in your garden.

Leonard is thrilled to be working with a talented, dedicated director and cast in “Moonlight and Magnolias” at the Laguna Playhouse. It has become one of favorite experiences in the theatre. Leonard has worked steadily and made a good living as an actor for all of his long career However, he always feels he needs to “do more” and always wants more “challenges”. That’s what you must mean by “talent becomes and enemy” as it’s a constant drive that needs to be controlled. Your book sounds like a “must read” for all artists.