Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Play’s The Thing

There's still time to book a flight, buy a ticket and come see the show!
If there is one thing that any expat can do to make the transition to living in a new country easier and more rewarding, it is to find some group, organization, club or activity and get involved as fast as possible.  From my experience, the quicker you can find something productive to do, the less likely you are to feel homesick and the more likely you will develop a whole raft of new friends.  All the better if you can find something that you are good at, or at least familiar with, so that you have the added sense of confidence in your value-added proposition.  Here in Papua New Guinea I have managed to hit my own personal trifecta of extracurricular activities in the form of theatre, choir and tennis.

For the oldest and dearest of my family and friends, my involvement in this combination of activities will come as no surprise.  These were the three pillars that kept me grounded, busy and out of trouble throughout my high school years.  People comment on how amazing it is that kids these days can multitask so well (a debatable proposition, which perhaps I will take up in another blog posting), but I would argue that my ability back then to learn lines of Shakespeare while simultaneously perfecting my serve and humming the alto part of Handel’s Messiah equaled or surpassed any of the skills of today’s computer dependant teens.  And, like riding a bike, because I learned these things in my youth, the skill sets are deeply and fundamentally ingrained--with just a little practice, they all come back fairly quickly, albeit somewhat less fluidly.

The Old Globe Theater (Homer High School style)
Of course, it also helped that I learned at the knee of three of the most enthusiastic, patient and masterful teachers—William S. Whiting, Donald Berg and my father, Barney Williams.  I could wax poetically about all three of these men ad nauseum, but I will give you the crystallized lessons I took away with me.  William “Shakespeare” Whiting instilled in me a true love and understanding of the Bard and his works, as well as a sense that in directing a play, especially with students, minimal guidance can produce miraculous results.  It’s not about how well they did, but how well they think they did.  From Don Berg, I discovered (not that I realized it at the time) that there is no such thing as setting the bar too high, and that if you don’t tell your students that it is difficult, they will think that singing Handel, Hayden, Mozart, gospel spirituals and four part a cappella 18th century chamber music is what every kid knows how to do.  And from my father, I learned that practice alone does not make perfect, but  positive attitude, graciousness in the face of loss and disappointment, and the ability to laugh at your own mistakes makes for a true champion.   Oh yeah, and never, ever, ever throw your tennis racket in anger.

Back in the days before we had separate boys' and girls' teams!

These life lessons, along with the underlying skills they taught me, have all been put to the test here in my first few months in PNG.  When I arrived in Port Moresby in May, I was absolutely thrilled to discover the existence of the Moresby Arts Theatre (MAT) and then to find out that the next show was to be Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.  In an odd sort of déjà vu, the MAT is very similar to the Little Theatre Group of Costa Rica (LTG) in that it is run primarily by volunteer expats who do everything from acting and directing to publicity and cleaning the theatre (spelled both here and there with the British conventions).  As I did for the LTG, I will be on stage next week in Twelfth Night.  I have also begun singing with the Moresby Choral Society--still an alto and still taking on the challenging works of Handel and Mozart, as well as a few gospel spirituals that I sang so many years ago.  And most recently, I joined a group of women who are solid tennis players with whom I was able to hold my own.  So I am in the enviable position of being busy, active and happy, with the added bonus of establishing friendships that I am confident will be as strong as those I have made in so many other parts of the world.
I wouldn't need the makeup to play the nurse today!
Never in a million years would I have expected that in a place as far-flung as Papua New Guinea I would feel so connected to my origins in Homer, New York but I guess that in this expat living experience, one should learn to expect the unexpected.  And perhaps I am more tuned into my hometown as a result of Facebook, another “must have” weapon in the expat arsenal for fighting isolation and boredom.  I have reconnected with so many of my high school friends and am particularly enjoying keeping in touch with those who still live in or visit the Central New York area.  But even more so, through Facebook and this blog, I am having a great time sharing my new adventures with my old pals.  I only hope that somewhere, Herr Whiting, “Berger Bits” and Dad are all looking down here approvingly knowing that their lessons have not been lost on me, even on the other side of the world.
 All my English teachers would be appalled but it was not my job to edit the poster!

1 comment:

  1. Yes, the theatre is indeed within this woman's soul. Long ago she promised that her dying breath would reveal to the world that "the greatest truths are written on the walls of the globe!" I stayed up way too late last night catching up on your activities from the past few years after finding this blog... Please reach out to me by email so we can reconnect (you can find me on LinkedIn). Best regards, David Ludewig