Tuesday, May 4, 2010

With Karen and Bob at the goody table…our Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre turns 5

After a great run of “Mappa Mundi”, a fun script-in-hand performance at the KC Library’s Plaza Branch, a few rehearsals for the upcoming “A Light in the Piazza”, and preparation logistics for the gala on Friday, May 7, Karen and Bob Paisley decided to give everyone this past Monday off. Rachael Jane and I sat with them and talked about the MET at the revered goody table…actually for a time, Karen stood and talked as she arranged paper plates of goodies for us: pretzel sticks, jelly beans, M&Ms, and mixed nuts. Bob, looking a tad weary from some physical climbing, schlepping lights, relaxed in a chair, his worn blue jeans a sort of silent interviewee with a few stories.

This is the MET, our MET now, once an idea, now a very real collection of artists, helpers, art lovers, and a family of patrons. The theater space is a living room, and also Karen and Bob’s living-like-room, if you’ve attended a performance. The open, welcoming, comfortable gathering place greets you. Actually people greet you, but this setting like a great set accentuates the atmosphere of community, while being very intimate. You feel part of something but this is a place to be touched individually as well. How to summarize five years of making this so?

Karen and Bob, having done the dreaming and done the work with an amazing circle of colleagues and friends, summarize quite well. Great artists do that, I’m learning. They can make great distilled moonshine as well as a “Moon for the Misbegotten” like me trying to figure out this theater world. Here’s two people, two directors, spouses, parents, friends, business people, actors, artists, and floor sweepers speaking in the wonderful present tense of a Monday, humbled by the journey thus far, aware of a body of work, yet wondering how to find a vintage early 50s frock for the next play. They have an eye for the big things as well as the details and all the space in-between. Again, artists do that well…

The goody table seems to represent something elegantly profound in this awkward attempt to sketch with words, drama, tragedy, and comedy…life. This is an artifact, a big wooden dining room table in this very living room, where when you attend you’ll be offered treats and a refreshing drink at a performance…this where serious work gets done…Forrest, the set designer cleared his papers just before we plopped down. Script readings, brain storms, business meetings, lunches, dinners, and a few midnight snacks. A few gouges in the surface suggest a bit of technical hammer smashing over the years, too…scars to some, but the chips and scratches speak volumes to those who have collaborated here. King Arthur’s round table hosted war councils. This goody table has some love radiating from the wood…although with two directors in the same room, I suspect some of this artistic love has become pragmatically tough at times…

The spaces in the building show one the many dimensions of theater; practical business (offices that look like people really work there), costume rooms (his and hers), the open green room that isn’t green, dressing rooms, rehearsal spaces, a kitchen (actors need food or things get ugly), the magic shop with tools, paint, electrical stuff, lumber, and everything you probably cleared out of your attic or should (by the way, before your yard sale, give Bob a ring).

Tables, things, rooms, fabric, paint, texts, lights, technical equipment, bricks, mortar, pews, and a cool hammock…all stuff, all part of the magic, but Bob and Karen reminded us that people are the MET. This is a family, an extended one, a multi-generational and talented one, where everyone has a place, not in the sense of “know thy place”, but rather in the sense that if one has a talent, chances are it has a home here. But theater people know this. They know linear feet of prose behind the corporate-like buzzword “collaboration”. They live it.

So, all the while, as Karen and Bob talked, and Rachael Jane made magic with her shutter, the room was singing softly in the background and the goody table stood proud, supporting us, quietly providing us a set…will the goody table star in “Twelve Angry (people) Men” some day? Probably not. The table seems the constant star of the show, the sweet horizontal space for treats and late-night naps. The hour flew by. It was sweet to come home to the MET.

Photos by Rachael Jane... http://www.janevision.com/

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Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre
3614 Main, KCMO 64111

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