What Does Broadway and Knitting Have in Common?
I’ve had a few epiphanies lately about theater (my old life) and knitting (my new life) and the things they have in common.
My old life – Company of 42nd Street (I’m in the first row to the left)
My new life – Standing up in front of a room full of knitters, teaching
Healing properties of Knitting
Let me start with a few weeks ago. Recently I spent a week at the Mayo clinic with someone very close to me. She has been sick for a year, and we were going to spend the week getting tests and hoping for answers. During her year from hell, she had been exploring meditation and mindfulness, and was now interested in learning how to knit. I brought yarn and needles and came ready to share the meditative qualities of knitting. Over the course of the week we mastered the knit stitch and started to practice the purl.
Knitting seemed to be with us all week. I couldn’t help noticing how many people in the waiting rooms were knitting. One day I was sitting in a waiting room filling out forms, when out of a changing room came a woman who sat down next to me and started to knit. She was clearly a beginner and struggling to remember the purl. She was holding the yarn in the front, but couldn’t remember how to insert the needle. She kept inserting it front to back into the back loop, and couldn’t figure out what to do next. I asked her if she needed help. I explained the difference between the knit and the purl and broke it down into the basics so she understood what the needle was for etc. She thanked me and said nobody had ever explained it that way and it now makes so much sense. I told her thank you, and explained that I was a professional knitting teacher. She laughed and said “Really, I didn’t know that was a profession!”. Then not wanting to offend me she added “I mean, that’s great. It’s a great hobby, so it’s cool that you do it for a living”.
I had such a flash back to the feeling that I had on and off for 22 years while I was a stage manager. Members of my family found my profession odd and some treated me like it wasn’t a “real” job. I dreaded being at parties with “civilians” (that’s non theatre folks) when the inevitable questions would start asking me to explain what I did, “do you design, are you the director, what do you do?”. Once again I seemed to have ventured into a career choice that those outside of my specific circle found an oddity. I realized that once again, I dreaded being in a group of “civilians” (now meaning non yarncrafters), who found what I did for a living “cute.
Ah well, back at home the next week I was giving an interview, and was asked why is it that for so many people this hobby becomes a passion. I’ve been asked this many times in many interviews, so I started to speak about the connection we feel with the past, with each other, with something greater than ourselves, how making something with our hands that we control from beginning to end is an incredibly empowering feeling, the healing power of knitting . . . and it hit me. My old life and my new life have more in common than I realized.
Both jobs may be looked on by outsiders as “odd” or not a real job for grown ups, but both professions bring joy, peace and inspiration. I may have lost sight of that in the most harried days of my theatre life, and I may sometimes lose sight of it now, but I am going to try to remember it during the tough days. Since both jobs also include long hours and lots of deadlines, it’s easy to lose sight of what you love and why you do it. When I get a thank you e-mail from a student it’s all worth it.
I remember, years ago seeing an amazing show written by Jane Wagner, and starring Lily Tomlin called “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe”. The show features a character named Trudy who speaks to Aliens as she tries to help them understand us. In Act I she tries to explain the different between Soup and Art (Cambells v.s. Warhol) At the end, the aliens go in search of a “goose bump” moment, and they go to the theater. In a moment that I remember made me cry, Trudy explains why the aliens were watching the audience and not the stage:
Yeah, to see a group of strangers sitting together in the dark, laughing and crying about the same things…that just knocked ’em out. They said, “Trudy, the play was soup…the audience…art.”
May we all strive in our daily life to look for art amongst the soup.