Murder In The First – The Act Of Communication Point Of View

Posted by Katherine James & Alan Blumenfeld on June 23rd, 2014

Katherine

Television shows that involve courtrooms have intrigued me long before I became interested in applying theater to the law. I vividly remember The Defenders and Perry Mason from my childhood. When I grew up and acted on the small screen I appeared in L.A. Law – a popular show back in the day. The tight writing was by none other than Steven Bochco, well-known and respected television writer and producer. Some of his shows have been wildly popular, others not so much, but I have consistently enjoyed whatever has intrigued him, especially when it comes to the courtroom.

His latest offering, Murder In The First, had me at “hello”. Brilliant casting, tight writing, interesting premise – follow one murder case from beginning to end in a handful of episodes. This isn’t the first time that Mr. Bochco has tried this concept – one case in a season. He also did it with Murder One. But that was a whole season per murder – twenty-two episodes to tell one story. And that didn’t go nearly as well as Murder In The First is going. How can that be?

Here’s where lawyers need to pay attention. Just as the landscape of television has changed – fewer episodes, many channels – so has the practice of trying a case. Today, you are expected to try a case in a shorter period of time. You no longer have the luxury of weeks and even months. “Try it in three days!” the judge barks. There seem to be a lot more “channels” competing for the attention of the whole system – and which one are you going to get on? Is being on the “cable channel” of courtrooms in your jurisdiction really worse that being on “network channel”? Doesn’t it really depend on the judge? And the audience has changed for you, just as it has for Mr. Bochco. How do you find a show and follow it for six weeks when you don’t even know where it is? How do you grab a group of jurors and get them focused on your case when the world is bombarding them with so many messages?

Just as Steven Bochco is discovering, telling a story in fewer rather than more episodes can be better. Putting on a case in less rather than more time can be better. Why? You are forced to hone in on the essence of the story that you need to tell. The result of honing in on the essential story means that your jurors can find you. They tune into you in the courtroom rather than spacing out into the myriad of other messages floating through their brains.

And for the Alan Blumenfeld fans – you can see him play a judge in episode four. Although it plays on Monday nights, the beauty of cable vs. network is you have several opportunities to catch the episodes during the week. Some day I may find a correlation between television and trying a case for multiple showings and On Demand. Stay tuned.

TIP: How much time do you really need to tell the story?

 

Another Opening, Another Show – The Act Of Communication Point Of View

Posted by Katherine James & Alan Blumenfeld on June 12th, 2014

LEAR and A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM: Role Reversal

Opening of shows are magical times. Especially Shakespeare done by the wonderful company at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum. To get to experience two openings (Lear and A Midsummer Night’s Dream) in less than twenty-four hours is enough to make me think that maybe I died and went to heaven. And then I came home and got to see the Tony Awards – and to revel in the glorious acceptance speech of Mark Rylance as he accepted for his role as The Countess Olivia in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Alan and I had seen him perform this role as well as the title role in Richard III this season in New York. Breathtaking.

Here is a question I am left hanging with this fine day…

How come it is accepted, wonderful, okay, imaginative and something to celebrate when a man plays the role of a woman in Shakespeare…but when a woman plays the role of a man the whole world is turned upside down?

Theatricum, long known for “non-traditional” casting has really taken a huge risk with role reversals this year. Ellen Geer and her sister Melora Marshall not only play Lear and The Fool respectively, but co-direct as well. Ellen came up with the concept of having a “Queen” Lear with three sons and an Earl of Gloucester (played by Alan Blumenfeld) with two daughters. The result is extraordinary.

In Shakespeare’s play, King Lear has three daughters and The Earl of Gloucester has two sons. When you see a “regular” production of King Lear – and I’ve seen a ton of them – you know what to expect. The tragedy can be moving – but it is contained. It doesn’t get into your mind and heart and really turn things upside down. You know from the top what “ride” you are on.

But here, because of the women taking on the roles of men, it is like the ride is brand new. A no holds barred roller coaster of emotion – a real catharsis. And yet…many male playgoers were quite disturbed by the production. Just couldn’t get past how it “just isn’t the same”.

Katherine Griffith as Bottom the Weaver in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is brilliant. I will venture to say that she is one of the best Nick Bottoms that I have ever seen. I laughed until I cried and cried until I laughed. What a performance! And yet, again, there were some “boys” who just “don’t get it”.

My credentials as far as seeing many productions over my lifetime of both these shows are as follows. I think the first production I saw of this play was the one my father directed when I was about three years old. Outdoors on the island in the lagoon at N.I.U. I played Hermia opposite Dan Castellaneta’s Lysander. I’ve seen it LOTS. My first of King Lear was when I was twelve years old at The Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada. Again, I’ve seen it many, many, many times.

The men who were complaining have also had experiences playing in and seeing these classic pieces. They also think that Rylance is brilliant as Olivia. But so many just can’t get past “it”. Of course, Alan Blumenfeld is not one of them, which may be one of the reasons why we have this 40 year relationship.

What’s in this for lawyers? Other than to grab your picnic basket, get to Theatricum as fast as you can and judge for yourselves?

For me, it goes way past women in the courtroom as lawyers and judges. When a woman plays a role in the story of a case or does something “non traditional” for a living I can see the wheels turning on the trial team:

“How are we going to explain that our client was a stay-at-home dad and we are claiming lost wages for him?”

“The jurors aren’t going to like it that she’s the CEO of a big company. Especially the women on the jury. How are we going to reframe that?”

“Who is going to believe a woman came up with that idea for a patent? It’s not like it’s a stroller or a new kind of cooking pot.”

I recently commented on a really disturbing article in The Jury Expert about women expert witnesses that implied that women should only be used as experts in “soft” areas. Like testifying about clothing manufacturing but staying away from “masculine” areas like accounting. Scared the daylights out of me.

What if this idea of role reversal shook your case to the foundation so that the jurors saw it in a whole new light? Supposing opposing counsel was so taken aback by experiencing the story of your case in a new way, that settlement became a heck of a lot easier? What if instead of problematic, this “gender reversal” actually excited you so much that you saw the case in a whole new simpler and more winnable way?

TIP: What if you turned your case upside down? What might it get you?

 

Alan Blumenfeld as Gloucester, Abby Craden as Igraine in Theatricum Botanicum’s Lear.

 

Katherine Griffith as Bottom the Weaver A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

 

Photos by Ian Flanders.

Our Santa Barbara Reading

Posted by Katherine James & Alan Blumenfeld on April 14th, 2014

 

Saturday night – April 12, 2014 – Santa Barbara.

I feel like I had waited forever for this glorious and magical evening.

When my play, The Old Salt, was chosen as a semi-finalist I put the date on my calendar with a wish and a prayer.

Would I be able to put myself first in my own life just for that day?

So much had gotten in the way of that principle I try to center my life around.

I clung to it through the roller coaster ride that has been my life lately.

At one point, when the surgeon who performed my baby granddaughter’s open heart surgery on my 62nd birthday a mere 10 days ago announced, “There are two things that have to right themselves in her heart. If they don’t, she’ll need more surgery and be in the hospital for longer than a week.”

I knew were the baby still in the hospital I just couldn’t.

Couldn’t.

But…

She came home 4 days earlier than expected.

Strong – feisty – caring.

To be in the presence of someone who cares so much about living every moment of life fully and gloriously makes everything else fall away.

 

Of course I was going. And my husband, Alan was going with me!

He found the most amazing “last room available” spot for us at the Hotel Oceana in Santa Barbara – overlooking the sea – and off we went on Saturday morning.

What a way to come back to life.

 

The act of going to the wonderful festival at Left Coast Books would have been enough to affirm that.

Of course, waiting for me was so much more.

The extraordinary Kate Bergstrom – brilliant actor, wonderful director, sensitive writer who was producing this part of the four-city festival.

Emma Fassler – such a talented actor! I had been a fan for years through Theatricum Botanicum.

In addition to Kate and Emma, there was a wonderful ensemble of actors: Phil Levien, Nick Sheley, Jenny Marco, Carol Metcalf, Simon Taylor and Bill Egan.

I was one of four playwrights who were there. Kate Bergstrom (of course), Anne V. Grob, Christina Pages and me. The three other playwrights, Sharon Goldner, Inbal Kashtan, and Jessica Abrams were missed – but we had their wonderful work that we got to celebrate.

And celebrate we did.

There is nothing more sacred than being in the sacred space that is created when a group of theater artists assemble and make art.

We all soared as the pieces soared.

We laughed.

We cried.

We learned something new about ourselves.

We chatted and praised and accepted praise.

I left feeling whole.

Feeling like the next steps in my life were unfolding beautifully before me.

I emerged healed once more.

I thought about Tiffany Antone –

How generous, brilliant, ceaselessly amazing, compassionate and endlessly creative.

How lucky I was to have met her through Theatricum Botanicum’s Seedlings New Plays Program.

How fortunate I have been to both act in her work and to direct her work and to be a part of a circle of artists who get to say their artistic lives have been touched by hers.

I felt us all connected – in all the four sacred spaces where theater is being made by amazing women because Tiffany made it so.

I inhaled, I exhaled.

I won’t physically be in Waco, Ithaca or Sedona – but I will be there in spirit.

 

Onward and upward!

 

 

Saving Mr. Banks — Movies for Lawyers — The Act Of Communication Point Of View

Posted by Katherine James & Alan Blumenfeld on January 14th, 2014

Katherine:

 

Every attorney should run, not walk, to see Saving Mr. Banks. It is as fine an example of “choosing which story to tell” I have seen in a long time. All storytellers, especially attorneys, have this issue. There are so many facts in any case, so many “trees.” I spend much of my time helping attorneys figure out what story is most persuasive in the vast expanse of trees (the facts of the case). What parts have to be included and what parts should be left out as we make a specific forest with specific trees?

When I contemplate all the pieces of “story” that writers Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith had – and what they chose to keep and what to let go of in order to make this brilliant uber-story – I am truly inspired in my work with attorneys. And what a story it is: Clash of Two Geniuses. The creator of the series of Mary Poppins books, PL Travers fights with tooth and nail and ultimately creates an iconic movie with film maker and entrepreneur, Walt Disney. If you go to either of their biographies on biography.com (click on their names in the previous sentence) you will have a small idea of the number of trees that needed to be sorted – wheat from chaff – in the life stories of these 20th century greats. Then, see the film and realize that Marcel and Smith made choices, just as attorneys make choices, when telling the story that needs to be told to make the point.

There is so much more that this film has to offer if you are just a lover of the cinema. Glorious performances – Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks are stellar and lead a brilliant company of players. If you are the kind of film go-er who leaves a movie before the end credits have played (Really? You saw Cinema Paradiso and didn’t learn your lesson?) you MUST stay so that you can hear the voice of the real PL Travers and marvel Thompson’s performance. Hanks delivers a monologue near the end of the film which is equal to if not better than anything I have ever seen him do. I haven’t liked him this much since Philadelphia. Even if you are a cynic who hated the film Mary Poppins, you may just love this film so much you will change your mind. Our director pal, Nigel Dick is a wonderful Brit who loathed the classic film as a child. The film didn’t live up to the books and he hated it. After seeing Saving Mr. Banks, Nigel bought Mary Poppins and it had a whole new meaning for him.

 

TIP: What are the facts that are wheat and which are chaff in the case?

 

 

The Power of Storytelling

Posted by Katherine James & Alan Blumenfeld on November 13th, 2013

Alan:

 

STORY is all. Story is narrative. Whoever controls the narrative, controls the room.

In a SKYPE session I had last week, coaching an attorney on an upcoming presentation, the subject of ‘why is a story important’ came up. I found myself pouring my heart out about story and storytelling. I know we have talked about this subject a lot in the past…but clearly…we can never talk about it enough.

As humans, story is hard wired in us. It is how we absorb, contextualize and learn new information. If that new information conforms to what we know and believe, our story, then we accept that new information. If the new information goes against what we know and believe, our story, then we tend to reject that new information. Reject it until we can reconfigure our story so that it includes, makes room for and therefore makes sense of that new information.

Our friend and colleague, Eric Oliver in his brilliant book, FACTS DON’T SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES, speaks about how people process and learn. Often, attorneys become concerned, annoyed or angry because they believe that they should only have to explain the facts and the deciders will judge accordingly. At a recent workshop we taught on the East Coast, one attorney said, “I don’t want to manipulate and spin the facts. People will be able to follow the evidence if I just lay it out.” Well, I continue to be sorry to say, that is NOT TRUE.

It’s not about manipulating or “spinning” the facts. It’s about context…it’s about STORY. How you sequence the information, the facts, how you present them makes all the difference. You know that. What we want to emphasize and reassure you of is…you must TELL A STORY.

Beginning, middle and end. The end must involve or instruct the trier of fact. Present tense. Simple, active, sensorial English (NOT legalese).  Find an emotional basis for your story. The emotional basis is AT LEAST that you care about your story, your client, your case. IT’S NOT ABOUT BECOMING EMOTIONAL. It’s about finding the underlying feeling of the facts and the story. Is that about “breaking a promise,” “betraying a colleague,” “changing the rules,” “breaking the rules,” ”stealing an idea.” You get the idea.

Humans make decisions with their guts, hearts AND minds. Your job is to involve the listener, the trier of fact, to use all three.

 

TIP: Are you finding the story among all the facts of your case? Have you found the best sequence? Are you telling a story or are you reciting information?

 

 

TED Talks – Elizabeth Loftus: The Fiction of Memory

Posted by Katherine James & Alan Blumenfeld on October 3rd, 2013

Alan:

 

Memory is a remarkable and fragile phenomenon. Or so says Elizabeth Loftus, a researcher and psychologist whose TED talk is the basis for this blog post.

Memory is an important component of our lives as actors and performers and certainly an important part of the lives of lawyers and their witnesses. Attorneys rely on their clients and their witnesses for memories of events, contracts, their actions and the actions of all the folks who are a part of the trial story. For many years, the research has shown that eyewitness testimony can be remarkably UNRELIABLE. Elizabeth Loftus in this enlightening talk expands on this through her own research.

Katherine and I are currently performing in a play by Joyce Carol Oates that concerns memory and the fragile, almost surreal quality of memory….false memories, insistence on a past and a history that we wish were true, hope was true. It has been a remarkable journey for us as actors and especially because of our work with attorneys. In this play, a married couple is being interviewed by a disembodied voice about their son who is accused of raping and murdering the 14 year old daughter of a neighbor and disposing of her body in the basement of the couple’s house.

So reminiscent of the cases that many of our colleagues have worked on. And so tragic and sad as the couple struggles to believe in the story of their family, their son and their lives, as they remember it and “know” it.

The lessons here for attorneys about memory and how stories of people’s lives are constructed is eye opening and will provide much food for thought.

For reviews and interviews about the play TONE CLUSTERS that Katherine and I are doing, please visit our website.

 

TIP: You already know when your witness is guessing about “what must have happened.” Do you know when they are “sure” about something that didn’t happen? Don’t rely on the memory of any one person in constructing the story of your case. Even if that one person has details and emotion and is “sure.” Get corroborating details from many sources.

 

 

 

Elizabeth Loftus altered the course of legal history by revealing that memory is not only unreliable, but also mutable. Since the 1970s, Loftus has created an impressive body of scholarly work and has appeared as an expert witness in hundreds of courtrooms, bolstering the cases of defendants facing criminal charges based on eyewitness testimony, and debunking “recovered memory” theories popular at the time, as in her book The Myth of Repressed Memory: False Memories and Allegations of Sexual Abuse (with Katherine Ketcham).

Since then, Loftus has dedicated herself to discovering how false memories can affect our daily lives, leading her to surprising therapeutic applications for memory modification — including controlling obesity by implanting patients with preferences for healthy foods.

20 Feet from Stardom — Movies for Lawyers — The Act Of Communication Point Of View

Posted by Katherine James & Alan Blumenfeld on June 21st, 2013

Katherine:

 

Morgan Neville’s brilliant documentary, 20 Feet from Stardom is now at a theater near you – I HOPE – so that you can run right out and see it. I found it absolutely inspiring.

The “20 Feet” refers to the distance between the back up singer – or group of back up singers – and the lead vocalist in a band. David Letterman got a little emotional the other night as he was talking about the film. Imagine him getting a little choked up (I swear he did, if you can imagine Letterman a little choked up!) and saying, “If you love music, go and see it. And if you hate music, go and see it because it will make you love music.” You can only imagine how the film affected me if it made Letterman choke up.

What does it take to be a back up singer? A lack of ego. A lack of a dream. An ability to blend in rather than to stand out. A love of making one voice out of many. Does anyone possess all those qualities? Hmmmm…I think not. The hopeful stories of these amazing women (okay, there are a couple of men but mostly women) will rock your world. There are so many – but I especially found  Darlene Love, whose voice you’ve heard a billion times, has a story to tell of getting ripped off by Phil Spector that will rip your heart right out. How about Merry Clayton who wanted so much more than just to back up others so outrageously? The stories are as varied and breathtaking as any you’ve ever seen. And the heartache is as real as singing The Blues.

I think my favorite line from the film goes something like this, “When you sing along to your favorite song, it is us you are singing with, not the lead singer.” Isn’t that so very, very true – sha-la-la? My favorite moment is the soulful rendition of Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me”. Definitely the film’s anthem. Just thinking about it gives me chills.

What can you learn from seeing this film if you are an attorney? You may be the lead singer in your band. You may be rocking out as a big headliner and making all the major decisions and fronting your group. But…make sure…in perfect harmony…your back up singers are seamlessly bringing the jurors the themes, the transitions in your trial story, the full round compliment you need to present your case. Witnesses, Paralegals, Trial Techs, and, dare I say it, Trial Consultants need to be allowed to be a team with you. Listen for the blend behind you more than you listen to the sound of your own voice in front. You will be amazed at a difference it can make.

 

Tip: Lean on us.

 

What I Learned From You At Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum 40th Anniversary Bash

Posted by Katherine James & Alan Blumenfeld on May 17th, 2013

Katherine:

 
“Need the two of you to do a scene from Tone Clusters for May 4th. What do you want to do? Needs to be 5-7 minutes. Ellen.” It seemed like a simple enough email to figure out. The play is basically a two-hander (two character play). Alan and I are the two hands performing it – Joyce Carol Oates’ amazing play Tone Clusters – this season at Theatricum Botanicum. May 4th was to be a fabulous celebration of the 40th year that the theatre had been in operation officially as a theatre. Each of the plays of the season – A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Taming Of The Shrew, The Royal Family, Merlin and Tone Clusters would have scenes performed for the approximately 300 folks who would be there to celebrate with us that day. I found a great piece of one of the nine scenes that make up the play for the event. Great “sneak preview.” Funny, provocative and with that little touch of “holy smokes!” that would make people want to come back and see us in it. It was easily three weeks away. Plenty of time for Alan and me to rehearse and get it ready to share with the crowd.

So why was I as terrified as I was thrilled?

The lines. Oh, yes. When I was a kid I used to think it was funny when people would say, “How did you memorize all those lines?” It came to me as easily as breathing. And then after I was 26 and had Jordan it was still easy, but more like as easily as a dolphin breathes. You know – it was a conscious voluntary thing rather than an involuntary instinct. And then it was less like breathing and more like huffing and puffing. Proving that it was age and not motherhood that was screwing with my ability to get the words in my head. And then it gradually became a little like watching the flat line in the monitor in the hospital on an hour long medical drama. Apply the paddles a few times and – oh, yes – there they are! The Words! Right in my head!

Now, you have to understand that when I say “the lines,” I mean “all the lines that everyone says in all the scenes I am in.” Many actors just memorize their own lines and their cues (the half line that some other actor says just before they themselves have a line). I’ve never been like that. I have to know ALL OF IT. I have to have all the lines in my head, in the back of my skull. Otherwise I am not free just to “act.” I feel like I am like a slave to “what’s next…?” I can’t bear that. It means being earthbound instead of flying. It means not operating on all cylinders, taking in whatever comes – be it a move by another actor that needs to be “played with” or an audience response that needs to be leaned into or the sheer delight of getting a brand new idea of how to say the line in this moment because it is coming to me as if I am thinking of it for the first time.

And then as I was torturing myself with Joyce Carol Oates’ evasive haunting lines with “come on, you can do it! For heaven’s sake you have been doing this for 56 of your 61 years!” I thought of…drum roll…all the trial lawyers I have the privilege of working with.

I watch the same process when someone is getting ready to try a case. What lawyer worth his or her salt doesn’t want to “have the case” perfectly in head and hand so that he or she can just “play it” as it comes out? You know – what one of my old acting teachers, Alan Fletcher, used to call “pre-planned spontaneity.”

And once again I remembered what lawyers and actors will forever have in common. And once again I was humbled by how lawyers have so much pressure on them to be perfect since at least one other person’s future is sitting squarely on their shoulders as they get the case in their heads. And all I have to do is not screw up too badly in front of 300 people. And suddenly the words were in my head. All the words.

May 4th I flew. I soared. I played. I reacted. I was operating on all cylinders.  I leaned into the audience as they gasped and laughed and were taken by surprise. And I did the acting dance of partnership with he who is my perfect scene partner on stage and in life. I was having the time of my life as I only can onstage and in my element.

If you are a trial lawyer and you are reading this and you have shown me your soft vulnerable underbelly in a workshop or a case or a conversation or even a tweet – thanks. I needed that.

Opening Night – Beaux’ Stratagem

Posted by Katherine James & Alan Blumenfeld on April 15th, 2013

Katherine:

 

Is there anything more glorious than to be in the theatre on an opening night?

Not in my experience. Is the show going to be amazing? If so, there is nothing more glorious than the feeling in the whole theatre of the rush of energy – the communal feeling that you are in the presence of a hit.

Is it going to suck? Our great mentor, Bill Ball, founder of The American Conservatory Theater, taught us to always say something positive. My favorite is, “If you could only have been where I was and saw what I saw this evening!”

The fantastic production of George Farquhar’s The Beaux’ Stratagem at A Noise Within was one of those amazing nights in the theatre. Not only was it my mother’s birthday, it was a very special landmark for us as a family that we had promised ourselves to attend. Since my father, who died eight weeks ago, was a big Farquhar scholar, one of our “touchstone” dates was this night. And so we were ALL there – my mother, Alan’s father, my sister and her husband and children, our children and their wives, Alan onstage and me next to my mother. The family remarked about the wonderful full page tribute to Daddy in the program. “Is that really Aunt Kathy?” said nine year old Harry looking back and forth between the photo of twelve year old Aunt Kathy and sixty-one year old Aunt Kathy. He recognized his grandfather, my father, from the photo montage from the funeral.

The house doors were closing – the show would be starting soon – please, God, let it be good. We are all counting on this one being good much too much. My mother whispers to me, “Oh – look how beautiful the set is! Daddy would have been so pleased!” And then the houselights dimmed and there it was before us – the glorious world that Daddy loved so much. The still hysterically funny English Restoration. Filled with witty language and extraordinary daring and courage and fun, fun, fun! A brilliant production – the audience was seized with it. The critics were delighted. And I was bathed in it. Curtain Call already? “No!” the audience wanted to say. None of us were ready to leave this glorious world, this amazing place, this great production and go back to our ordinary lives. Another mark of a great show in my experience – you never want to leave.

Was Daddy there with us? Not in body – not even in spirit – but in passion, love, the thrill of the promise of the opening – all the reasons he loved that most magical of art forms, the living theatre.

We have experienced it, we will experience it, and my grandchild’s child will experience it. We may come and go…but THAT is forever.

 

 

The Beaux' Stratagem performance at A Noise Within

In Memoriam

Posted by Katherine James & Alan Blumenfeld on March 18th, 2013

Katherine:

 

Every little girl has the right to believe that her daddy is the most brilliant mentor she’ll ever have.

For the lucky little girls, this is true.

I am one of the lucky ones.

My daddy was the greatest influence I had in my life, in my career, in the theater.

My daddy, Dr. Eugene Nelson James, was recognized internationally as THE authority on George Farquhar, the great English restoration playwright. When the Royal Shakespeare Company did one of G.F.’s plays, they used my father’s theories and scholarly work. So did many other theater companies and universities (not everyone produced “The Beaux Stratagem” by the way). His knowledge of the scholarly world of western theater, from the Greeks to Shakespeare to Stoppard, was not matched. From the time I could toddle, he taught me about the greats who came before us – who they were, why they wrote the way they wrote – what it all meant. My love and reverence for the theater is all Daddy.

My daddy E. Nelson James wrote plays. He was produced in theaters from The Goodman to universities to his own favorite playhouse, The Stagecoach Players of DeKalb, Illinois. He taught me that there was always time to write, that if you write roles for the people you love that they will work hard to fulfill them (what amazing roles he wrote for me!). He would say to me, “Look at your first page! How do you do that? You are amazing – you have them spring to life right away!” My belief in myself and my ability to find time to write my plays is all Daddy.

My daddy Nelson James was a nurturing director. He directed lots and lots and lots of plays – from the classics to modern light plays to his own plays. He was my first director – when I was five years old – and I worked in shows he directed until I left for California after college. Anytime I was directing a show and ran into a problem, I could call on him. Daddy always had my back.

My daddy Nelson James loved to act. Before I acted (so since I started when I was five years old we are going back) I remember how astonishingly brilliant it was to see him change at rehearsal. First he would be Daddy – talking with the other actors and the director, laughing and having a grand time…and then he was magically Reverend James Mavor Morell – George Bernard Shaw’s uptight husband of Candida in the play of the same name – and not my daddy at all. And then the scene was over, or they stopped to discuss the moment during a work-through rehearsal, and he was Daddy again. It took my breath away, that transformation. Daddy first brought me into that world of art where artist uses self – literally – as the interpretive medium. Acting.

My daddy was the best audience member you could ever want to have. Ever. I loved sitting next to him in the theater as he experienced every moment of the play as if he was a part of the action himself. I thrilled when he watched my performances with the same intent – I could always feel him there. Daddy taught me how to be alive in the theater, even from a seat in the house.

I miss him. I miss him every day. I don’t imagine there will ever come a time when I don’t want to turn to him and ask him what he thinks so I can soak it in. But he is inside me. He helped shape and mold me as an artist. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

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