Summertime and the Telling is Never Easy
Janis Joplin belts out "Summertime" in the folksy and intimate Coffee Gallery Backstage in Altadena, a funky little backroom venue that at first seems more suited to The Soggy Bottom Boys or perhaps a scene in the life of the itinerant Joad family than to a collection of normal-seeming people preparing to stand and bare deeply personal memories before an assembled group of total strangers and intimate friends.
The walls and the entire room are painted and decorated in a trompe-mind effort to situate our gathering crowd in some country-rich feed and grain warehouse where one can all but hear the echoes of bare feet stomping to fiddles from some long-ago summer hoe down. Each little square table has been autographed by past country music stars-to-be who have yodeled their way through the room and coffee cup rings that have settled with relative permanence on the lacquered surfaces. The only things missing are bits of straw to stick in our mouths and that hot, dusty aroma peculiar to farm buildings in the afternoon sun. It is, as it harkens back to an idealized and softly remembered time and place so not-Southern California, eventually understood as an entirely appropriate place to hear other's memories of past summers.
We have come, after all, to witness the Telling Tales Theatre "Summer Life Cycle" readings of highly personal writings generated during weekly meetings that challenged participant/writers to recapture events, people, crises, thoughts, joys and tragedies in their lives. Part of an on-going series of such workshops, today's presentation focuses on memories of and connections with summers past.
The lights dim, Janis fades away, the crowd hushes, and we begin.
"Daddy takes me beyond the edge," says Norma Fain Pratt, describing a long-ago summer when she learned to swim at age two and a half. "He holds me as Mommy paces back and forth [on the distant shore], and we glide effortlessly away."
And so we glide effortlessly away across a lake filled with summer memories. Dr. Pratt, who holds a PhD from UCLA in American Social and Cultural History, is the founder and leader of this band of brave adventurers so willing to share their most ordinary and yet personal reflections. Throughout the course of her workshops, which culminate in the on-stage reading of their creative nonfiction pieces, Pratt poses questions and provokes responses to help each participant/performer tease out meanings and significance that had lain dormant and untouched over the years...