Thursday, October 8, 2009

The stories behind the stories, Part I

Now that we have a signed agreement of sale on our Berks County property the process of letting go begins. It's been a long haul: 27 years I've lived on this farm, 12 of them without the man who chose it.

This has me feeling nostalgic.

Perhaps to avoid larger issues for the moment, I thought I might share some of my favorite memories of writing for The Morning Call from 1984-2002. The stories behind the stories, that never see print. My tenure spanned an important portion of my life in that I began writing as Kathryn Williams and ended writing as Kathryn Craft. In no particular order:

My first Nutcracker review. While previous reviews of the Ballet Guild of the Lehigh Valley's production were of the "look how cute, how hard they worked" ilk, I criticized artistic director Alexi Ramov for his production's overly made up dancers, lackluster Waltz of the Flowers costumes, and the use of bumbling children as soldiers in the ballet's climactic fight scene. In a scathing 3-page letter addressed to me and my editor--and which a Ballet Guild insider told me he read aloud to his school-aged company--Ramov refuted all my points, and took me to task for criticizing children.

Since this was my first Nutcracker review, and Ramov had said that its lead sounded "like the first draft of a high school journalism student," and that "you seem to employ a destructive atmosphere to cover for a lack of dance credibility," I sent the review and the letter to the professor in Ohio who had mentored me through my masters program, Lana Kay Rosenberg, so I could get her opinion. She found it sad that Ramov's need to retaliate had won out over common sense. Then she added: "I actually find your reviews rather bland with your need to find something good in everything. I think it's actually better to dismiss something entirely than to give it space in a paper."

I learned early on to try to be true to myself in my reviews, since I was not likely to please anyone else.

The Edward Villella review. The most famous Balanchine dancer to ever visit the area was on his way to Lafayette College and I threw my back out that afternoon. I could barely breathe. But there was no substitute: if I didn't go, the event wouldn't be covered. And I hated to miss the opportunity to join a few other reporters in interviewing Villella before his talk. So I loaded up on ibuprofen and headed to the interview.

Was I glad I did. Villella brushed off the other reporters and seemed to hone in on me--for some reason it seemed vital to him that I, and I alone, receive his answers.

Then I figured out why. I had a tape recorder in my lap. He wasn't speaking to me so much as to the recorder, for posterity. The other reporters were taking notes. And later, in comparing our stories, I was the only one who had not altered his words.

The Gregory Hines interview. Gregory Hines was by far the biggest mainstream celebrity I interviewed during my tenure at the paper. His people required a letterhead fax to set up the interview, and I would never learn a contact phone number--he would call me. Well, near the appointed time, I started to get nervous, and so when the call came through I was...indisposed. Ron answered the phone and put his hand over the receiver. "Oh Kathryn, it's Gregory Hines calling. Should I tell him where you are?"

The barn call. I was trying to set up an interview with the artistic director of a New York City-based company and when the contact called me back I was in the barn mucking out the horse stalls. I tried to adopt my office persona as I answered the barn phone while wearing filthy jeans and squishy muck boots--you can't smell over the phone, right?--but my professionalism was ruined with one big cock-a-doodle-do. My New York City contact said, "Was that a rooster?"

The Mark Morris interview. Baryshnikov wasn't doing interviews, so when I was to cover the White Oak Dance Project, I had to approach Morris instead. His schedule was busy; if I wanted the interview I had to do it at 2 pm on a certain day. Trouble was, Ron was buying a new horse and we had already arranged to go pick it up in Syracuse, NY that day. Determined that I could do both, I purchased a suction cup microphone I could use on the receiver of a pay phone and as it got close to the appointed time we pulled off at a Holiday Inn in Cortland, NY. As I dialed Morris's number from the lobby phone I could see the horse in the parked trailer, lifting her tail and taking a dump onto the macadam in the hotel lot.

The interview did not go well. Not only was Morris reticent to the point that I had to wonder why he agreed to the interview, some of what he said on tape was obscured by a roaring sound. Seems 2-2:30 pm corresponded with the exact, unalterable point in the cleaning lady's schedule when she needed to vacuum the lobby.

Okay, I'm having fun with this! More in next week's post.