Kelly Ford

By Kyle Moore

It always used to bother me to think of myself as a recovering Catholic.  And while this religion-free state of being had been going on for many years, I didn’t tell anyone because I thought somehow I had failed at the whole “God” thing.   But I really did love it when I was young.  The ritual, the costumes, the bombastic organ music – after all, who can listen to Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D minor” and NOT feel the presence of the Almighty?

I became a cantor first. By the time I was a sophomore in high school, I was the organist for Saturday night mass.  (Which was, by any standard, the “cool mass.” You know, the one where you could wear shorts and what-not in the summertime?.  My palms got sweaty with worry that I wouldn’t come in on cue for the “alleluia,” but coming in on cue eventually became my forte. You wanted a well-timed “Holy, Holy, Holy,” I was your go-to girl.)

This went on throughout my youth, this serial Catholicism, and lasted well into my college years. Then one day in my senior year of college (obviously possessed by some maniac demon from one of the nine circles of hell), I signed up for a theatre class,  and we all know what happens after you go off and do some hair-brained thing like that –  you pack your bags and move to New York city to become an actress.

So, there I was in this godless city with my useless B.A., to pursue this thing that had barely had its claws in me for a nano-second.  I did my first real show there (a true abomination, using ratty old rehearsal furniture covered in dubious stains, the origins of which none of us wanted to contemplate) in a ransacked little black box theatre on Theatre Row.  At the same time, though, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, with its grandeur, pomp and circumstance, was just too good….too theatrical to pass up. The stunning beauty and wealth of the cathedral vs. the shabby little theatre – well, let’s just say the disparity was epic.  And if aliens were watching me from space and had to choose which one of the two structures they thought held the most meaning for me, they would have undoubtedly chosen St. Pat’s.  But looking back, I don’t know if it was coincidence or if  it was just because I started working the Sunday brunch shift at “Le Brasserie,” but gradually a time shift began to happen. I began to spend less and less time at the cathedral and more and more time in the former-burlesque-house-turned-theatre.

While the guilt of not going to mass was significant (it’s something in the baptismal water, I’m convinced), in the ensuing years, I spent most of my time schlepping around New York, doing some pretty “out there” plays in some pretty “out there” theatre spaces, sometimes to an audience of three. It didn’t matter though, I couldn’t stop myself if I tried – I just couldn’t get enough. I wanted to know everything there was to know about the theatre, about acting. I wanted to be able to act any piece of material thrown at me. I wanted to be an expert everything from the Greeks to Miller, from Mamet to Marivaux.

So I went to grad school.  It was dreamy. Three blissful years of non-stop theatre. I was so ensconced in my ideal theatre world that when I moved to Los Angeles upon graduation, it wasn’t to be there for pilot season. I am convinced that I am the only actor on record who ever moved to L.A. during pilot season exclusively to do a Shakespeare play. As a matter of fact, I’m not even sure if I knew at the time what pilot season even was.

This pursuit of acting went on for awhile and then, by chance, I was offered an opportunity to direct. Then I was offered another opportunity. Then another and another, until it kind of seemed like I had something resembling a career. A surprising change of course, but a very satisfying one at that. I decided to embrace what the universe seemed to be nudging me toward and actually call myself  a director.  Hmmm…sounded funny, but okay.  It was during this period that it finally dawned on me one night in rehearsal.

I was working on a new piece, something very odd and (on the page) quite incomprehensible but, for some reason, it spoke to me. The actors were struggling to make it make sense and I was shepherding that process along. Discoveries were being made, connections were being sparked and the ensemble was starting to let it wash over them what it was that they were creating. It was that glimmer that starts to happen to us all when we kind of look around at each other and say, “We have something here.”

We were in a dirty, ramshackle theatre space, this time in Hollywood, working as though solving this material were the only thing in all of our lives that ever mattered – we were completely focused, completely here, completely engaged in the now, unable and not needing to think about anything else but this very moment in time.  And I found myself thinking, “I have never been happier or more at peace than I am right now.  I am in a collective of people that I love, engaged in body, mind and soul in the making of something that can’t be bottled, can’t be copied, can’t be rewound and can only be experienced in the now. This is it. This is my religion.”

All this time I thought I was without religion, but actually it was there the whole time, just not codified or defined. The art of prayer became the ability to quiet the mind and be in the moment. The rituals, the ceremonies and the sacraments became the movement of the body through space and time in a deliberate way. And the best part was memorizing scripture: Beckett, Shakespeare, Moliere. Now, that’s gospel.

 

About Peter Finlayson

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Peter Finlayson is the Founder, Publisher and Editor-in-chief of FootLights magazine and footlight.click. While working on a prelaw program at the University of Michigan, he happily got involved with the theatre program. Much to his mother’s chagrin, law school never happened, but in a career spanning more than 4 decades, Peter has performed, directed or designed more than 150 productions. In his spare time, he is working on a new play. You can follow him on Twitter @Thtrdog .

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