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A Challenging Performance Space February 17, 2011

Posted by jayocallahan in Uncategorized.

Last week I was in Long Beach, California to tell my story FORGED IN THE STARS to a NASA gathering called Project Management Challenge 2011.

I arrived a day early and was astounded to see the place where I would tell my story. It was like a vast warehouse. There were to be 1,500 people to be sitting at round tables, twelve to a table, which meant the people in the very back so far back that they would see only tiny figures up on the stage.

I calmed down a bit when I had my tech rehearsal in the afternoon. The sound people were very warm and knew their business well. The manager of the building was willing to turn off half of the lights. He was unwilling to make it totally dark because that could be a big safety problem. I was to perform the following morning and relaxed by going to a pizza place across the street. I felt very welcomed there. I had my spaghetti with clam sauce and talked to the manager who had become my friend the day before and I was able to sleep well.

The next morning the NASA people arrived in the vast space at seven thirty in the morning. There were talks and then a panel and then finally at eight forty in the morning I was introduced by Dr. Ed Hoffman. He agreed to ask people to stand up and stretch. That was wise so as he introduced me they could all stretch and move and then it was turned over to me. The lights were turned down a bit and that was a signal that something different was happening. I began the story and as I began to relax I realized the people in this vast room were listening. There was a great sense of quiet. A strange thing happens to a performer. Something inside seems to grow so that even people in the very back seemed well within reach. It’s a strange mystery that a power just overtakes one.

At the end I was delighted of course with a standing ovation but even more delighted to talk with Buzz Aldrin who was the second person to step foot on the moon. Lewis Peach who’s been a great help arranging all my NASA performances, told me Buzz had been weeping during some of the story.

Buzz is a very warm man. He’s tan and gives no sense of being eighty years old. He was telling me about a science fiction story he’s creating and in addition to that he told me about books he’s writing and lectures he’s thinking about. Here’s this man who went to MIT and became the second person to step on the moon and is still delighted to be alive and creating.

I left Long Beach a little sad because I was leaving warmth and blue sky behind but I was excited that this challenge turned into a wonderful experience.


Powerful Voices February 15, 2011

Posted by jayocallahan in Uncategorized.

Elizabeth Bradford, one of the great figures in Marshfield, Massachusetts lived to be over a hundred. She had a deep powerful voice and I imagine it had the resource of Samuel Johnson’s.

I like to think of the unusual voices I’ve heard through my life. My mother had a ringing voice. She used the rhythms of language in an extraordinary way. She would lift up her hand and a single word would be like the beginning of an opera. My father’s voice was a charcoal voice. My dad’s handwriting was precise and elegant and he used words in the same way, but his voice was more dramatic than his writing. He was a natural actor.

I’ll never forget President Kennedy’s inaugural address. It was on a cold winter day. Kennedy looked so young and vigorous and his cut into that cold air in a thrilling way. Kennedy, like my parents, had the sense of the drama of language. As Kennedy gave the speech there was a sense that he loved doing it, he loved the drama of being President, of being in front of a great crowd. Beginning. In a sense this was his music.

I remember reading that before Kennedy’s great Berlin speech, he was saying to the general that the speech he was giving was dull. In the short time before arriving Kennedy had changed the speech. After he gave the Berlin speech he said to Kenny O’Donnell, “We’ll never have another day like this.”

Martin Luther King’s words ring out through our lives. He of course came from a tradition of black preachers. He reminded us that words can lift us up. In the case of both Kennedy and King they were in a sense political opera at its best. Both of those speeches were given out in the open. There was no opera house to contain them. Instead the ceiling was the sky, which seemed so right. Both of them calling us to go beyond the ordinary, to be daring, to laugh, to be open, to be alive.

Ah the voices that ring out through our lives.