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When does illusion become reality?

By Yvonne Nyenhuis

Fri, Jan 31st, 2014
Posted in All Commentary

My three year old grand-daughter came up to me, her eyes bright with excitement. “Grandma, let’s pretend!” she suggested. When I visit my grandchildren, it’s like entering a time machine. I found myself transported back 75 years. I lived in a large Victorian home surrounded by tall trees, gardens and lawns of green grass. I played house with my dolls under a curtain of branches of bridle-wreath weeping down to the grass and providing privacy. I lived my days in an imaginary world with three imaginary friends. We had many adventures.

My favorite story as a child was “The Little Lame Prince” who had a magic carpet that would take him anywhere he wanted to go. In the poem, “To Althea from Prison”, the author says, “Iron bars do not a prison make!” Nelson Mandela discovered during his captivity that in his mind he could remain free.

Imagination can be more than an escape from the world. It is a place where ideas are born. Someone watching birds fly thought, “What if I could fly like a bird?” In time what was imagined came to be real. Someone saw in his or her mind a railroad track being paved and turned into a bike trail! Someone dared to imagine that a farming community could become an Art Center and the home of “live” theatre.

The Commonweal is a great gift to us all! It is a place where we are refreshed in mind and spirit. We are lifted out of our prosaic lives and transported to another reality. The theatre allows us to explore thoughts and feelings to a depth that surprises us. When we see a play, we get to try on ideas and feelings without taking responsibility for them. If we watch a mystery, we can experience fear without consequence, heroism without risk.

We can be stirred by visual images on the screen or television, but “live” theatre offers another dimension. The audience becomes part of the performance. There is an energy that flows between the actors and those in the seats. With movies there is reliability. The action remains unchanged permanently secured on film. In the theatre every performance has its own place in time. It is unique in that moment and the audience is part of the action.

It was a privilege to us at the White Front to be part of this artistic adventure. Our back dining room was used for meetings and rehearsals. The actors became a part of our extended family. They ate a lot of salads. Good health is essential for actors. The body is a finely tuned instrument. To be effective on stage an actor must be prepared to give to the audience all of themselves. The body and mind must be perfectly coordinated and their focus unwavering.

My husband, Glenn, and I enjoyed “Cabaret” after the performances where we served pie and coffee and the actors and members of the audience had an opportunity to come together. The Commonweal enriched our lives beyond measure.

In one of the early plays, “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown”, Charlie was holding an imaginary string tied to an imaginary balloon. He was so thrilled and happy until suddenly the string slipped from his grasp and the balloon disappeared out of sight. We all felt his great disappointmen! Scott Olson who played Snoopy was hilarious! I saw “Man of LaMancha” seven times. We see Don Quixote and his squire Sancho Panza set out on a journey to “battle all evil and right all wrongs.” The stains of the song,” To Dream the Impossible Dream” is never far away, lingering in the background of my conscious existence. My sons favorite show was “Tuna Christmas”. They’re still laughing 20 years later as they recall the antics of the actors in that show.

One of the actors in residence was a drama student from the University of Minnesota. He asked if his class could use the White Front as a setting to rehearse their production of “Bus Stop”. The story takes place in a snowstorm. A bus stops to wait out the night at a small restaurant. All the passengers are confined together and are struggling to make the best of the situation. There is romance, mystery and all the trappings of drama.

The actors energetically gave themselves to the task of wiping tables and sweeping the floor. A solo was sung by an actor who leaped up on the counter and walked its length belting out the music. Then he proceeded to get into a fake fight with another actor. They ended up rolling out the front door onto the sidewalk. A passerby came close to calling “911”!

While the theatre is about pretending, what takes place often gets a life of its own. The themes of love, fear, courage and betrayal can be powerful. We find ourselves in a place where “illusion becomes reality.” We explore the depth of feeling, new ways of seeing things and broaden our thought processes. We reach a greater understanding of ourselves and a greater appreciation of others. The theatre is not just entertainment, it is food for the soul.

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