Alison and I met in Berkeley today to do another Lamplighters interview. We got there early and went out to lunch, then still had half an hour to kill, so we sat in the car while she presented me with a gift, of sorts.
Let me give you a piece of advice right now. If you ever are so foolish as to embark on a project like writing the 25 year history of a theater company, by all means partner with someone as anal retentive as Alison -- and I mean that in the most laudatory, affectionate way.
I'm not a big believer in astrology, but almost every Virgo I've known has been neat and organized (even if he wasn't that way when he was living at home, Ned). And I personify the stereotypical Aquarian traits for messiness and disorganization.
Alison is a Saggitarius and I don't know what their organizational strengths and weaknesses are supposed to be but organization is Alison's middle name. I cannot believe the stuff she has unearthed from our previous books as we have been working our way through this new project. She got a big plastic bag out of the back seat and pulled out of it a huge accordion folder inside of which were smaller subfolders, all neatly labeled...the entire correspondence between the two of us during the writing of the first book. My letters, and copies of her letters to me.
The first letter in this voluminous collection, dated June 1975, is from me and it starts:
Dear Mrs. Lewis:
I would very much like to be a part of the preparation of the History of the Lamplighters. Though I live some distance from the Bay Area, we are there quite often and if it is possible for me to help out either here in Davis or there, I offer my services...
Her answer begins:
Dear Ms. Sykes:
I was delighted to get your letter of last month, and I welcome you aboard with enthusiasm.
And thus began a friendship and a collaboration which has lasted (so far) 36 years.
The letters are a treasure trove and detail not only our gradual collaboration, working out the knotty problems we encountered in trying to decide how we were going to approach this project, but also the lives of our families as well. We both had forgotten how much work Charlotte put in on the project in the initial stages, and that Alison and I discovered that we were both friends with Jeri's godmother, Jeri.
I've only just begun to wade through all of this, but I loved this, from me:
Since "Patience," our house has become a "hotbed of aestheticism." All the boys (8, 6, 5, 3) are enamored of muscle men (thanks to my father) and Walt has taught them all "you hold yourself like this" and they prance around the living room singing and striking muscular poses. While this goes on, Jeri (our daughter) is in the family room playing "we sail the ocean blue" on the piano. No wonder our neighbors all think we are a bit odd.
Then there was this exchange between Alison and myself which should have struck an ominous chord for us:
Alison: I'm impressed that no one seems to know we are doing a History -- not one of the principals and chorus I've been introduced to has said, "Oh you're the one doing the history." And I thought we were important.
Me: Don't worry about nobody knowing you -- WE really know our worth... [that's a quote from The Mikado]
Over the writing of two books, we would come to understand that you don't get praise for a project like this in The Lamplighters. You do it because you want to do it, not because anybody is going to pat you on the back and say "job well done."
This letter to Alison also contained a report on Tom's first days in kindergarten, since her son Sherman was also starting kindergarten. Tom is so unenthusiastic it's ridiculous--I've spent more time in kindergarten this past week than I did when I was 5. However, he seems to be adjusting...a little...perhaps next week. My next letter said, Tom is improving. Still left him crying at school this a.m., but he managed to let me go without any teacher holding him back. Maybe in another couple of months we'll have it all worked out.
This was perhaps my favorite so far...with miles to go before I finish. We were still talking about how to organize all the material (which was presented to us in 2 giant garbage bags, containing 25 years worth of stuff!):
There is absolutely no reason to have 20 copies of a 2-line mention in some obscure paper--but who is going to throw it away? Likewise, some sort of order to photos could really be valuable to whoever is going to be doing the 50 year book!
In 1975 we certainly had no idea that there would be no 50 year history but that 36 years later we would be working on the 60th!I can't wait to read the rest of this history.