BY LEWIS WILKENFELD ([email protected])
It’s time for the Jewish High Holy Days, including Yom Kippur. For the Jewish people, it’s a time to atone for our sins, and, when possible, make amends! Last year, in an effort of self-discovery, I thought it would be a good idea to bring this, in a very literal way, to my work with Cabrillo Music Theatre. I deal with many, many folks over the course of a year, and, haunted by Jewish guilt, I decided to take this moment as an opportunity to reach out to some of those I’d hurt or offended.
I reached out to a young woman who had been instrumental in working with us on some insurance issues. It was the end of a long and frustrating process, and a few promises made to us had gone unfulfilled. During a phone call with her and an associate from Cabrillo, I expressed my disappointment in a forceful way – not loudly or with anger, but with intensity and passion. (I should note here that I don’t lose my temper and start yelling very much – I learned long ago that I don’t do it well, plus it leads to an almost immediate loss of respect. I can probably count these incidents on one hand through my directing career.) The response caught both our insurance representative AND my Cabrillo partner by surprise, which is a good barometer that I’d dipped my toe over the line. So, as part of my efforts to set things right, I called her and apologized. She accepted the apology, thought I was entitled to my frustration, and wondered what the fuss was about. It ended with my inviting her to come see our next production.
Another effort didn’t go as well. A friend/performer/Cabrillo board member had made a comment to the rest of the Board that was a bit insensitive – the dreaded “second-person suggestion.” In an organization dependent on volunteer leadership, a sentence starting with a variation of, “Here’s what you can do…” with no willingness to do it himself, really touched a nerve for me, particularly when our few other board members were already carrying so much of the load. Now, I’m prone to the snappy comeback, the sarcastic response, using humor to make my point, etc. But I ignored the advice I’ve myself given so freely….. “Write it, just don’t click ‘send!’” I wrote it, I sent it (just to him), he resigned from the board, all within an hour or so. Obviously, I felt terribly about this, so I reached out to him soon after, as part of my efforts to make amends. This one was really my bad, and I tried phone, mail and e-mail with what I thought were sincere apologies. All have gone ignored, and, over a year later, I’m still “dead” to him – a fate that I suspect is lifelong.
Which makes me wonder if the effort to atone for one’s sins is, in itself, an atonement? Or have you only made things right when those you have wronged accept it? I’ll leave this to the theologians among us. But I’d like to think that the way I felt as I worked through this process was atonement of some kind.
So, now I face this New Year, with some successes and some failures in my past. As I approach Yom Kippur, I comb through my fading memory to find and amend my mistakes of the past year.
Here’s a sin of omission: I used to reach out to some of those who had auditioned for shows and not gotten cast, just to communicate directly with them, let them know that I appreciated their efforts, maybe give some insight as to the casting process. I still do this, but not nearly as much – the time demands on me make this personal touch much more difficult. I’m not sure how to do this better other than to do this better! No one specifically to apologize to, but I will put into words today that I’ll try to improve that in the coming year.
Here’s another apology that I can’t seem to aim at anyone in particular, and it’s also related to auditions: we make a conscious effort to maintain a level playing field at auditions and callbacks. But sometimes I find, replaying the audition process after the fact, that we end up tilting the field slightly, one way or the other. I can’t explain it very well other than to say that we (meaning I) can always find something to learn, and something to do better. A “perfect” audition is probably about as unlikely as a perfect shuffle of a deck of cards, but it won’t stop me from trying to improve this in the coming year.
Neither of these sins has given me a specific person to whom I should apologize. I’ll probably think of some others – and, who knows? Maybe all of you reading this are going to write to me about the sins I’ve committed against YOU this year! I joke, but I also know that I’m quite capable of doing very stupid things without knowing I’ve done them, and would have no way of ever knowing unless pointed out to me.
Meanwhile, I’ll also reach out again to the gentleman who no longer speaks to me. Time heals all wounds, after all. Plus, the New Year deserves a fresh start for all of us.
For those of you who observe the High Holy Days…. Happy New Year!