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A Night Out With The Girls and The Phantom of The Opera

This week I had the opportunity to see a production of The Phantom of the Opera at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas, TX.

If you live in or are visiting Dallas, the Winspear is well worth checking out. The building itself is an architectural beauty in downtown Dallas from the outside, but is equally lovely inside. Before entering the performance hall, you can mill about with others by the wall of windows looking out into downtown, get wine in re-usable sippy cups (no lie, but hey I wasn’t complaining), and pose for pictures against the shiny red wall. At least that’s what we did. For the crowd claustrophobic, like myself, it can get a little crazy waiting for elevators, or queuing up for wine, or when exiting post-performance, but they were well staffed to help move people through to where they need to go.

The best part of the night, for me, was that I saw the musical with the majority of the women in my family: my mom, my sister, my cousin, my sister-in-law and my two beautiful nieces. We all got (sorta) dressed up, had dinner and drinks downtown near the Winspear & then headed to the Phantom. We had never had a night out on the town together like this before, so for this reason alone, the night was a success.

I was very excited for The Phantom, as I have seen it live only once before when I was in London many years ago. Then I have only also watched the movie with Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum. So I know the story, the characters and the music. I love the music. And here I will admit to being very spoiled, having listened to Michael Crawford’s Music of The Night. That man is difficult to beat.

Despite the beautiful venue and the great company with whom I attended the performance, I was disappointed in the production. The stage had a ton of bells and whistles, always moving from scene to scene, literally moving and opening and shifting. It seemed there were very few still moments on the stage. While it was easy to “see” the scene because of the details of the stage, it was hard to see much else. I am no expert on staging, but I have seen it done well with great simplicity This year I have seen Donmar Warehouse’s Coriolanus (via National Theatre Live)and Trinity Shakespeare Festival’s The Tempest, both on very small stages where grand stories were told with very simple sets. I believe it can take very little to suggest a lot, if done well. If the story takes center stage, that is how you will have me.

The music was what I’ve always heard and I couldn’t help but enjoy Andrew Lloyd Webber’s big musical moments, like Masquerade, but overall they all felt a bit hollow. For all the activity on the stage and vivid backgrounds, the heart of the story was lost. I didn’t connect to the characters. The transitions from scene to scene were sometimes quite abrupt and several times I wondered, “Wait, what? How did we get here?” There was no flow.

Probably the biggest issue for me was that the story of the main characters, Christine, The Phantom, and Raoul, which should be the most compelling, felt thrown together as an afterthought to the stage and the need to get all the musical numbers together.

I realized while watching how very important a connection to the characters is to me. And I was ultimately disappointed in this production of The Phantom of the Opera, not because of a lack in the music, which, for the most part, delivered, but for missing the heart of the story.

Perhaps we caught it on a bad night. They did start 20 minutes past the scheduled performance time, and it looked like there were a few small technical glitches on the stage during the show, so maybe there was something off for them all night.

I can only say that for me, it was as my sister said, “underwhelming”.

But the Winspear was beautiful and the night out with the girls was great.

Have you seen a great production of the Phantom of the Opera? What really made it great for you? Tell me about it in the comments!

My Writers (Mini-) Workshop Experience

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Today I had the opportunity to attend a mini- workshop put on by the leader of the local library writer’s group to which I belong. The workshop focused on the building blocks of novel writing: plot, characters, setting, point of view, and all the little details that go together to make a novel work.

Most of the material wasn’t new, as we have covered a lot in the course of the year and a half I’ve been in the group. But it was helpful to put it all together at one time and to share the experience with the diverse group of writers we had in attendance.

During parts of the workshop we were given small little exercises to apply the lesson we were covering at the time, such as “Use this room as a setting for your current WIP.” Or “How could you switch Point of View in current project or in a book you love to improve or change it up?”

One of the things I loved most about the exercises was hearing everyone’s take on the same exercise and how representative the results were of who they are as a writer.

The setting exercise for the Fantasy writer became not the room we were in as I would see it, but as he would imagine it to fit his story. The fluorescent lights didn’t work so it was torch lit. The sounds weren’t kids milling about outside the library conference room but creaky wooden floors as characters paced about in heavy boots.

The non-fiction/Motivational Self Help writer described the room quite beautifully as an incubator for great ideas.

Our Young Adult novelist pictured her character looking in the glass window to the room, filled with curiosity about who and what was in the room.

Each response was similarly fitting to the author’s work. I loved watching that play out because I think we all struggle a bit with finding our own identity as a writer.

Maybe we feel we don’t have a voice as a writer.

Maybe we feel we don’t have a story to tell.

Maybe we feel we lack the talent or the nerve to tell it.

Whatever the doubt may be, the exercises today painted a picture for me of how a writer’s identity can emerge when given the freedom to trust his/her instincts. Of course our leader talked about knowing what the rules are, but once you have all those building blocks, it comes down to trusting your instincts to know what you need to write. So what I walked away with today was that our identity as a writer comes out when we trust ourselves.

Rather than say, I don’t have anything to say, remind yourself that no one else can say what you can, the way you can.

Instead of saying I don’t have the talent to write my story, remember that the only way to uncover talent is to dig in and learn the craft as you continue the work.

I don’t have everything down, I still have lots to learn, I still struggle with doubts, but I know I have stories to tell and I need to tell them. Today’s workshop helped get me closer to embracing my own identity as a writer by reminding me to trust my instincts.

Hopefully you will, too.

Have a great week. :)

Technical difficulties

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We were without internet at our house for over 24 hours this weekend.

One would have thought my children were deprived of food, water or shelter with the level of suffering they claimed to be enduring.

When we finally got our internet back the victorious cry was one you might expect at the end of a movie when the good guys defeat the bad guys threatening to destroy the planet.

The World is Safe! We’re gonna live!

Of course my husband and I missed the internet, too, but it amused me how the loss of internet affected so much of my kids’ routine. No Xbox live. No YouTube videos. No Doctor Who on my Kindle.

But I was sympathetic. I know how upsetting it can be when things aren’t working for you the way you want them to as I have also been facing other computer issues myself.

I bought a new laptop PC from work because the laptop I had been using fell and the screen got destroyed. I can use the laptop but only with external monitor, which means it is essentially a desktop now. It’s in my oldest’s room now.

So I am excited to have a laptop again, but I needed programs – Word being most important because I need to write.

The computer I purchased had in outdated OS. It came with Vista which apparently is compatible with … nothing! ;) Seriously though it was not working for me to get Word or Scrivener. Basically all I could do was get on the internet – when my internet was working ;)

Thankfully when I told my dad about my predicament, he had Windows 7 he bought but wasn’t able to use. Ithink I successfully updated it to new OS but I’m not certain yet.

Once I confirm if OS install successful, I will try Word & Scrivener.

So tonight my fingers are crossed that all goes well with OS install and that our internet sticks with us.

Have a great week.

PS – Happy 60th birthday to my mom!

Begin Again

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Begin Again

Do you ever find a movie, or a book, or a TV show, something that catches you in just the right moment?  Speaks to your current mood?  Makes you smile?  Makes you happy?

The movie, Begin Again was that movie for me this weekend.

I went to see it without knowing much about it except that it had Keira Knightley (who is Elizabeth Bennet in one of my favorites, Pride&Prejudice) and Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner in the Avengers, but also lovable Matt in 13 Going on 30).  I knew it was about music, but that was about it.  I went in with no real expectations.

I really enjoyed the movie.  I had a friend post on Facebook a brief review that said it started out kinda angsty – and I would agree.  It starts out establishing where the characters are at in their lives when they meet. Neither is in a good place.  The story really gets going when they meet and begin to work together.

I’ve seen the movie billed as a romantic comedy. I wouldn’t say it’s a romantic comedy.  This is not a story of two characters coming together to fall in love with each other.  No, these characters come together for a different partnership.  It’s really about discovering themselves again and changing the direction of their lives.

Ruffalo’s Dan is floundering professionally and in his family life.  He has lost control of his music development and production company and is estranged from his wife and daughter, living in a sad little apartment alone.

Knightley’s Gretta is a singer/songwriter who came to New York, “tagging along” with her emerging artist boyfriend and is essentially lost in the shuffle as he takes off into his new rock star life.

Dan has previously shown talent for finding new artists and helping to develop, nurture and market them.  He sees Gretta’s potential and wants to work with her.  The movie centers on that partnership.

What is so fun, so joyful about this movie is that they both are at a point where they can have a ‘Well Why The Hell Not?’ attitude and can take chances. 

Why not try this crazy idea of recording this album together?  Why not challenge what’s conventionally done? Why not bring in artists that might not otherwise be used?  Why not take a chance on ourselves and others?

The heart of the movie, where it really sings, is where they are recording the demo all around New York.  Everyone seems to be having fun with it.  Dan comes to life again during the process and the joy is infectious. I don’t know about the others in the audience but I was having fun along the way, too.

I also enjoyed the interactions between the characters, especially our main characters, but also all of the many in the great cast of characters.

Dan’s relationship with his daughter, Violet, played by Hailee Steinfield, starts out awkwardly, but then builds as the movie goes on and you find yourself cheering for him to mend that relationship and really be a dad for her.  His wife, played by Catherine Keener, doesn’t get nearly enough screen time because she’s fantastic.

Gretta’s boyfriend, Dave, played by Adam Levine is believable, if a little unlikeable. You can see the star quality, the performer on the stage, but despite his real life wattage, I
mainly just hated his beard.  :)

The character I absolutely love in this movie is Gretta’s friend, Steve (James Corden) from back home that she finds in the city. He seemed like the kind of friend we all would love to have.  He sees her in a moment of heartbreak and literally drops what he is doing to hold her.  He comforts her, but he laughs with her, too.  He pushes her when she needs it and supports her through it all. I just loved him.

What really spoke to me in this sweet little movie was the theme of beginning again.

It’s never too lateto begin again. It’s never too late – with your career, with love, with your family, with your friendships, with your life. It’s never too late to find joy.  It’s never too late to dare to try something different.  It’s never too late to imagine that your life can be different.

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Still

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I apologize for missing my post last week. I was on a wonderful 10 days off from work and I kinda let everything slide. But I am back to work tomorrow, so here is my back on track weekly blog post.

Despite having time off, I have stalled quite a bit finishing my biggest project by playing around with a lot of little ones. I have stuck to my commitment to write every day, but I frequently write in a rather directionless manner. I’ve decided I will need to alter my goal and will be more specific in the next 365 challenge. But, one fun bit about allowing myself such a great deal of freedom as to what I write is that I’ve played around a lot with poetry.

Tonight I thought I’d share one with you and thank you for checking in with me. Have a great week.

Still
-CJ Schwartz

Together they stood still
Wrapped in his arms, she shook
From the pain of the news.

People moved about all around
Talking of their day
Or what their night would bring.

A shopkeeper swept the sidewalk
Outside the door across from
Where they silently stood.

A child played in the water
Of the fountain down the way-
Ignoring his parents’ demands.

The sun beat down on their skin
No air moved, only the brush of
His kiss on her brow registered.

Pain of her loss burrowed deep
But only he could bring her round
And reach her in the stillness.

Who Moved My Cheese

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What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid

 

My department at work was challenged this week to read the great little book, Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson.   Chances are you’ve seen this or read it.  I’ve read it before, but read it again as part of the challenge.  If you’re not familiar with the book, it’s a short parable of 4 characters in a maze and how they react when their cheese moves.  The cheese is metaphorical for whatever we may be pursuing, money, success, happiness, etc.  The cheese moving represents change.  How do we deal with change, both before and after it happens.  The author uses the story to highlight lessons we can apply to our own life.

One of the comments the writer makes is that what we get out of the story changes depending on what may be going on in our own lives, so each reading will most likely be seen from the perspective of our current situation. 

I am in the process of changing jobs, in the same company and essentially in the same department, but there will quite a bit of new changes.  My cheese is definitely moving.  I read this story with my situation in mind.  I thought of which characters I was most like, and also about some of the people I know and which character they are most like.  One character sniffs out cheese – always looking for change.  One character scurries after new cheese – actively deals with change.  One character hems about, resistant to change.  The last character is resistant at first but then learns to laugh about how change is inevitable and then sees himself getting to the new cheese he needs and makes it happen. 

After the story, there’s a section of the book that creates a little fictionalized discussion where people who had heard the story applied it to their own lives.  I seem to remember last time I read this that I skipped this section for the most part as it does seem a litle forced.  I read it all through this time and there was one part that really stood out to me. 

The fictionalized conversation has the 6 or 7 people talking about whether they are afraid of change.  Most say no, they’re not afraid of change, but one of the people reframes the question, “So tell me do you think other people may be afraid of change?” and they all say yes.  This section spoke to me this time because it is always comforting to think about how we are not alone.  Sure I am making a big change at work, moving away from cheese that was working out okay, but I am stepping out into the maze in search of new cheese.  It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who may be afraid of change.  And as the author points out, the result of change is not necessarily anything to be afraid of and may even lead to something that makes us happier than we realized previously was possible. 

For my situation I also thought about how great it would be to be the character who ventures out in the maze first, leaving behind a path of suggestions for the character who resisted change and stayed behind.  I like the idea of being someone who ventures out in a new direction and may possibly set an example for others to take a risk and make a change, too, instead of being the character who ties him/herself to what may be a bad situation just because it’s comfortable or the idea of change is too scary. 

I’ll remind myself of this when I get scared or have moments of struggle with my “new cheese” and like Haw, the character who ventures out into the maze for new cheese, I’ll visualize myself being successful. 

I hope everyone has a great week – see y’all next Sunday when I will be on vacation – Yay!  :)

Pure Imagination

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I recently overheard my oldest son singing the song, Pure Imagination, from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  He didn’t know much of the lyrics so we went to that glorious resource for research, YouTube, and found this clip of the original Willy Wonka, Gene Wilder, singing Pure Imagination in the movie.  How great is that song?

Come with me
and you’ll see
a world of pure imagination…

One of the great things about being a writer is you can’t lose that connection with worlds of imagination, and they are usually worlds we create. But even if those worlds are largely our own creation, we draw inspiration from the world around us.  

I went to the really spectacular Perot Museum this weekend with my husband and three boys as part of a really cool event my husband’s company hosted for employees.  We had the whole museum to ourselves from 7pm-11pm Saturday night.  No crowds, no lines, no rush.  Can I just tell you what a great way to experience this very hands on museum that was? It was especially so for my little boys, who I had initially told to be polite and not touch things. Funny thing is that this museum of science has much that is very hands on, so then it became, “Okay, you can touch everything!”

I saw this great quote on one of the walls of the museum:

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I loved this quote because I think it captures beautifully the way we are called to see things. Maybe what we see isn’t pretty, but harsh as the quote mentions, but still, all we need to stir us from the everyday is out there. All around, there is so much to spark our imagination and our creative selves.

If we allow ourselves to look.

To see.

To hear.

And to imagine.

What speaks to you to spark your imagination? Where do you go to let your imagination run free? Drop me a line in the comments – I’d love to hear.

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