The Guilty Party

Monday, June 16, 2008

Finishing the hat

The only one of the annually televised award shows that I try to make sure I see is the Tony Awards. I love being able to see scenes from the latest Broadway musicals, the acceptance speeches always seem to be a cut or two above, and, of course, as a long ago stage actor of the college and community theater variety myself it is an undeniably vicarious thrill for me.

Yesterday evening's festivities were a lot of fun. Wonderful, energetic, dynamic performances all over the place. But what really hit me were the times the phrase "finish the hat" was used, including when a very young, very talented, very excited playwright named Lin-Manuel Miranda used the phrase in the middle of his rap style acceptance speech for his play "In The Heights".

So what is "finishing the hat"? It is from Stephen Sondheim's extraordinary musical play "Sunday in the Park With George", which, while it focuses on the French artist George Seurat as he is in the midst of creating his most famous work "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte", is really about what it means to be a creative artist. How in order to achieve anything of real value, originality and meaning, the artist has to be prepared to devote time, effort and passion into the smallest of details. Early in the play, George tells his model and lover, Dot, that he cannot go to the Follies with her because he must "finish the hat". It is a hard thing for him to say and a very hard thing for her to hear, but essential for the completion of the painting. Sacrifices are made by both artist and loved ones in order for the painting, the sculpture, the symphony, the book, the compact disc, the poem to be born full and complete.

And then later in the Tonys the two leads from the current revival of Sondheim's show sang my favorite song, "Move On". In it Sondheim expresses the uncertainty, the fear that every creative person feels at some time (I would bet multiple times) throughout their life when they feel they have nothing to say. The song takes the form of a dialogue between George's grandson, also called George and also an artist, and what I suppose we would call a vision of Dot.

Are you working on something new?


That is not like you, George.

I've nothing to say.

You have many things.

Well, nothing that's not been said.

Said by you, though, George.

I do not know where to go.

And nor did I.

I want to make things that count,
Things that will be new...

I did what I had to do.

What am I to do?

Move on

Stop worrying where you're going--
Move on.
If you can know where you're going,
You've gone.
Just keep moving on.

There is more, but blogs are supposed to be brief and I've already appropriated enough material from my better in Mr. Sondheim. The point here, at least for me, is that sometimes I need reminding that the Greats have the same doubts as the Not-Quite-There's. Stephen Sondheim couldn't have written those lyrics if he didn't fight that very same fight. But somebody, somewhere (maybe Oscar Hammerstein II?) passed the answers on to him and through his art he passes the answers to the rest of us.

Finish the hat.


Stop worrying where you're going.
Move on.

I will try to remember those words and live by them. And when it all just becomes too much I will bring out another lyric, from "Spamalot" by way of "Life of Brian" to help me muddle through.

Always look on the bright side of life! *

Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise.

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A Bit About Me

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I am a writer with a longtime interest in photography. I'm a dad, husband, photographer, and not very good guitarist. My first novel, Boomerang, is available in both paperback and ebook form at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and As a matter of fact, my second novel, The Baer Boys, can be found at exactly the same places.