It's all kinds of crazy fun to be an A&E writer

December 28, 2003|JENNIFER BRUMMETT

I remember one of the first, most memorable arts and entertainment not-quite interviews I had around a decade ago. I wasn't yet a full-time Advocate-Messenger employee; I hadn't graduated from college, but I never left the internship I began one winter, so I was floating around the hallowed halls of this newspaper, looking for writing opportunities.

And somehow, some way, I talked somebody into letting me go interview Lynn Redgrave, who was performing "Shakespeare for my Father" at Centre College. Oh, I was excited. I mean, c'mon - Lynn Redgrave!!! At 21, does it get any better than interviewing someone with her name recognition? I grabbed a camera - I think it was some manual contraption about which I knew nothing - and trotted back to Centre.

Now, if I had it to do over again, I would've written down the questions I wanted to ask before I arrived. I would've mentally run through all the questions. I would've mentally calculated how long it was going to take, round-about, for each question. See, in my beat, I usually don't get more than 15 or 20 minutes if I'm talking to a pop culture/arts figure such as James Earl Jones, Yo-Yo Ma or Paddy Moloney of The Chieftains. But I didn't know that when I trekked to Redgrave's dressing room that Saturday.


So I arrived, and graciously was received into Redgrave's dressing room - where a few other reporters were floating around - and promptly felt my tongue swell to the size of a grapefruit. My eyes widened as I shook her hand, but I couldn't speak. I just smiled. Her attention quickly refocused to her toilette and questions posed to her by the other journalists. I sat in a far corner where I could watch and hear everyone - a lifelong habit - and just sat. And listened. And left when everyone else left.

I still cringe thinking about that not-quite interview. What a wasted opportunity. Fortunately, I haven't repeated that mistake, at least not to my recollection. Sure, I've had a few A&E stories that stumped me from beginning to end, from which I came away thinking, "Gads, I feel depressingly dim." I think I had two stories in one week a few months ago, where I floundered and fumbled and got flustered. Ugh! There's nothing like having a story or two like that to keep a writer humble.

If someone had told me 10 years ago or so that I'd still be at The Advocate-Messenger, I probably would have quirked an eyebrow and said, "Uh-HUH. Yeeeaaahhhh." ("Office Space," anyone?)

I've watched all kinds of artists come and go on the local scene. I've practically lived at the Pioneer Playhouse during the summers, between previews and reviews, and met some fun New Yorkers who, once they got used to me, had no problems telling me exactly where I went wrong with my reviews - and what I did right. It was a smiling moment for me when one actor, for whom I have enormous respect, told me I was "fair." Does it get any better than fair?

Of course, the flip side of that is my spectacular film debut in "Summerstock," where I'm called a "hack." I always will be known as a hack, because that was caught on film. Where's the love? But I love watching the folks at the summerstock theater - you can learn a lot just by listening and watching.

In fact, I'd say my A&E horizons have broadened enormously just through my job and its inherent need for watching and learning. Heck, I get paid to listen and watch academics, professionals, amateurs and kids, so long as they are in the arts. I've seen paintings created, and talked to the creators about the why of the creations. I've watched plays built from the directors' minds to the culmination of rehearsal periods on stages. I've listened to authors and poets speak about what inspires them. I've heard beautiful music from talented musicians. I've watched a gifted dancer express her sorrow over Sept. 11, 2001, for all of Danville to see.

I like what I do - most of the time, anyway. I mean, shoot, I get to talk to a lot of interesting people about a lot of interesting artsy issues and ideas. Whether on a local or larger level, A&E folks are intriguing. Sure, they have their flaws and foibles, including gargantuan egos, as a general rule. But a couple of things that appeal to me about people in the arts are that they are an incredibly intelligent and diverse group.

There are exceptions. A couple of years ago, I interviewed a relatively big-name star, "big-name" being dependent on your age group. It was an awful interview, one that I cut off after about five minutes. This person was condescending, erratic, belittling and downright bizarre. Some days, it's hard taking the bad with the good, because I get so many good interviews.

Maybe the only experience I had that was worse was the resolute refusal of Wynton Marsalis' agents to even give me an interview with the jazz great. That was many years ago, but I haven't bothered much with that group since. Humph!

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