Perry-Mansfield Memories: Hilary Feldman

Hilary Feldman was a participant at Perry-Mansfield in 2005.  A Chicago-based performer, she heads up a cabaret charity, Acts of Kindness Cabaret.  The following is a letter she wrote home during her Perry-Mansfield experience; the Perry-Mansfield site also features an essay based on her last morning.

Letter from 7000 Feet

 I finished dinner early, so I stole away to the camp office to check my e-mail and write for a bit.  I didn’t read any e-mail, as I don’t want my mind filled with doings back home.  I just made sure to clear out the junk.

I had some vague notion of writing a little each day while here in an effort to somehow capture this glorious experience or, at least, pieces of it.  But despite scattered hours of down time each day, I never seem to get to it.  There’s ‘homework’ to be done, or walks to take, or a nap to grab (I’m fighting a bug), and I want to actually add to and live in the experiences each day more than I want to stop and write them down.

They are too big for pen and paper anyway… like trying to capture the enormity and history of The Grand Canyon in a photograph.

There are the shouts of youngsters outside the window just now.  “Look, Mom, there’s a rainbow!”  Andrea Marcovicci’s daughter is here, along with a friend, so we have two young girls in our midst for the rest of the week.  They are right… there is a rainbow.

(Above — with Hilary at cabaret camp) 

We had wonderful thunderstorms on and off all day today.  The storms and the sky here are tremendous.  Everything is so much bigger here, it seems, perhaps because we are 7000 feet closer to it all.  Thundering, angry clouds roll in over the mountains on the west side of camp, put on spectacular show of music and light and volumes of mountain rain, and then blunder off over the mountains to the east to entertain those next in line.  Blue skies with big, white, puffy clouds always follow, and the temperature fools us into thinking we will have a warm day, but it never gets too hot.

It’s rained every day we’ve been here, but never for long and, until today, just once a day.  Just enough to give the growth what it needs, and then it’s gone.  Like Mother Nature’s sprinkler.

I’d forgotten the splendor of mountains, but I won’t forget again I think… I hope… at least for a long, long time.  The air is thin and clean and full of fragrances.  I feel more primal somehow, more tuned into my senses.  And it’s so silent.  It’s just the earth out there, with a few of us upright beings scattered about.  No TV’s, no radios, no advertising, no intrusions.  I expect I would want some intrusions if I were here a long time, but right now I don’t want them at all.  I don’t miss them at all.

Our work here is very intense, very difficult, and unbelievably fun.  I am completely at home doing this work, thoroughly myself.  I hope I can find a way in my life to do much, much more of it.  It is, without question, the work I am meant to do.  I don’t know if that’s true for everyone here, but it doesn’t matter.  Everyone is working hard.  Everyone is doing what they need to be doing and honoring each other’s time and work.  We all have the same work ethic… and the same play ethic, which is also good.  Hard work like this requires lots of laughter, and we do laugh a lot.

Last night, Wednesday, we saw Andrea Marcovicci’s concert, which was outstanding.  I was feeling most unwell by the end of it, and it was cold standing outside at the reception, so I was happy to get back to camp and into my cabin.  Two of our colleagues, Michael and George, joined Francesca and I in our Cabin for a glass of wine and some conversation.  Well, they had wine… I had “Airborn” and tea and Tylenol.  =)  It was nice to have some time other than meals to just relax and chat.  They left around midnight, which is 2 hours later than I’ve been going to bed here every other night, and I was ready for sleep.  But, no dice.  We had another visitor.

A bat.

Can’t say I’ve ever encountered a bat indoors before, and neither of us knew what to do.  Bat was swooping and swirling around our living room, dive-bombing our heads as if to say, “Hey!  Get out of my house!”  It was a bit unnerving, really.  Francesca opened the door, and I turned on all our lights, but Bat wouldn’t leave.  Too tired to do anything more, we ended up sleeping with Bat as our houseguest.

The days are full here.  Breakfast at 8:30.  Warm-ups at 9:40.  Class from 10:00 – 12:30.  Lunch from 1:00 – 2:00.  Class from 2:30 – 5:00.  Dinner from 6:00 – 7:00.  Evening session or concert from 7:30 – 9:30.  I’ve gotten up each morning to go for a walk before breakfast (except this morning as I wasn’t feeling well).  I don’t go far, but everywhere is just beautiful, and the early morning has its own kind of wonder to it.  After breakfast, I go up to my favorite spot, a ridge from where you can see the entire surrounding valleys, and do some homework before class.  I just sing away, work on my songs, read lyrics aloud to find every ounce of intention in them.  No one to bother, no one to bother me… just me and the mountains for half an hour or more.  It’s heaven. 

After that, though, the scattered ‘free’ hours throughout the day end up being filled one way or another.  We’re exchanging and copying music, practicing a bit, taking care of one logistical living matter or another, or just stealing a few moments of true down time… to process the previous hours.

There are three groups of morning and afternoon classes.  The faculty teaches in teams of two:  Andrea Marcovicci and her music director, Shelly Markham; Karen Mason and her music director, Chris Denny; and composer/director, Barry Kleinbort and pianist/arranger, David Gaines.  Andrea and Shelly teach in The Pavillion, a post-and-beam building with three glass walls, surrounded by the mountains.  Karen and Chris teach in a big dance studio, raised off the ground, with 3 walls of sliding barn doors.  When the doors are all open, it’s like having class outside in the trees.  Barry and David teach in the theatre, a small black-box-type space.

The 11 students get divided into three groups.  We stay with the same group of students for three class sessions, so we rotate through all the teachers, and then we switch around, so we get to work with different colleagues.

Evening sessions are all-group session, large discussions with all faculty members present.  We talk about arrangements, show structure, and business topics.  The faculty members tell us war stories, and we drift off point a lot, but it’s great fun so no one minds.  Everyone gets along so well here, students and teachers.  It’s quite remarkable.

I’m overwhelmed with excitement over the work I have done here, and the work I’ve seen my colleagues do, and we’re only half way through the week!  My show in October, though a ‘repeat’ show, will be vastly different and vastly improved over the last time you saw it.  I can’t wait to give it another go.

In the valley where campus lies, the sun sets early.  The valley fills with shadows by 7:30 or so, while the surrounding mountains are still bathed in sunlight until the late evening hours.  The very tops of the mountains remain glowing until well after 10, as if they are not of the same world as we are.

Tonight after our evening session, we plan to have a bonfire if the weather holds which, at the moment, seems likely.  It should be a good time with our colleagues and teachers to sing and laugh together and get to know each other more as people than as cabaret artists.  I am looking forward to this very much.

Now, though, I must head back to our cabin to take some medicine before evening session begins.  I refuse to be sick here.  Absolutely refuse.

This is one of the best weeks of my life.  I’m soaking in every moment of it, relishing every savory bit.  I feel myself being filled up.  It will be hard to leave on Monday.  But it will be easier knowing how much I will be taking away with me.

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