It is Valentine’s weekend. There are reminders all over this old house. Pale pink tulips adorn my dining room table. (They are a gift to myself!) Heart shaped cookies sit in the kitchen waiting for midnight? (Thank you, Libby!) Four empty bags of candy consumed by my Trine students. (Thank you for eating all the candy so I will not have to do it.) Photos of my children and grandchildren cover my refrigerator. They greet me with their smiling, sweet faces every time I head to the kitchen. Notes and cards from friends adorn my fireplace and piano. I think love abounds in this old house.
But let us take a stroll into the studio on this cold Saturday morning. I turn on the lights … yes, one is the old red shaggy lamp. My studio is the one room I can never keep clean. It is covered with writings, schoolwork and bills (where did I put that electric bill?). Pens, tape, stapler, signs, banners (Let Women Vote), scrapbooks, ukulele music, and finally, the small heater. I plug it in on this bitterly cold day, take a seat and take another look.
For six months, my little studio has watched me work on the Madison show from packing up to leave for research, to coming home with notes and photos and books. Writing. Re-writing. Writing. Re-writing. Scripts printed and printed repeatedly.
John, from Madison, calls often asking me how I am doing, or did I find the shtick yet, or did I find anything new? I laugh and tell him to be patient. In November, I told you about the lost love letters I found. I think I am so incredibly lucky to uncover lost love letters.
In addition to writing the show, it is my sole responsibility to wrap it around the best possible scenario. My choice for this show came via my new neighbor, Aimee Simons. Aimee and her husband, Nate, moved into my neighborhood last summer. I love having them here. Aimee is a professional concert flutist. (I must add not every neighborhood has their own flutist!) One day I had the best idea to invite Aimee into my show. Maybe yes? Maybe no? I think intrigue brought her in out of her own curiosity about what I do for a living. Perhaps my enthusiasm for the show kept her involved. Rehearsals have been lots more fun because of her!
Tomorrow is our show date! At 11 a.m. Elten, Carolyn, Kathy, Aimee and I will head to Indianapolis for the premiere. Carrying in props and costumes, we will head to the green room and then to the stage for our tech rehearsal with lights and sound. Finally … finally … I will sit alone in my shaft of light, as is my tradition. “Shhh …” they say, “you know, she is sitting in the shaft of light.” What happens in the shaft of light, you ask? Everything falls from my mind. Everything. As with most artists, this must happen. Nothing but the show. Because I am portraying the character of Mary Shrewsbury, I must become her.
Mary lived in the Shrewsbury/Windle house for 75 years of her life, leaving only to attend school in Maryland for a short time. She wanted to go back to become a teacher or go to Paris, but, as tragedies unfolded in that house, she never went back. She became the caretaker of the house as well as the caretaker of the stories.
In preparing for the role of Mary, I have read and re-read her journals, her letters and her unanswered love letters. I have followed her into each room of the house and to the cemetery where the Shrewsbury family is buried. I have smiled at her joys, cried with her over her sorrows. And, as with all characters I become, they can never leave me.
On this Valentine’s weekend, my studio echoes with the voices of Gene Stratton Porter, T.C. Steele, Mary Shelley and so many obscure voices from the past. All had a story to tell. All had love letters or secrets of the heart.
Where to next, I wonder? When I come home and put Mary away, what new character will occupy my imagination? Perhaps I need a rest from all of this, but then again, Elizabeth Barrett Browning looms large on my horizon. So … is she next?
Did she not write, “How do I love Thee? Let me count the ways?”
Happy Valentine’s weekend, my friends. See you on the other side.