I am on a film set, working; there is a catering tent (like Harrod's Food Hall, but smaller) where the tea is plentiful and good. There is also a Cathedral set, and an airstrip. A small turbo-prop lands, a little stairway is wheeled to the door, and out comes Elvis, who sees me, and turns to English actor Bernard Hill. "Look! There's Laurel!", he says, and they smile big bright sunrise smiles, and come down the stairs.
Elvis looks great. He is older, of course, as he should be, and a little stout, but healthy and happy, and full of life and laughter. We've been friends ever since Bernard first introduced us.
Now, my babysitters were Elvis fans. I was a little too young, and then my family moved across the Atlantic to Solihull, England, and it wasn't until the Beatles were on the telly there in 1962 that pop music came into my life. I've dreamed of Paul McCartney many times over the decades since then, but this is Elvis' first appearance. What a great guy he turns out to be!
And how interesting it is that we are neither in a recording studio, nor on a concert stage, but on a movie set. A concert takes an evening, a recording, a few weeks or maybe months (for most artists), but movies are long projects. They take time, and require a vast number of people to work at a vast number of specialized tasks, some seen, some only felt. But everyone focuses on a common goal, everyone serves a vision.
While with the Transfer, I did a lot of TV, but I've only been on one film set as a performer (rather than a visitor), and only for a day. Cornelia Moore, director of Camilla Dickinson (a screen adaptation of Madeleine L'Engle's novel, Camilla), called me to be a nightclub singer in a scene, and so off I flew to Spokane, WA, for a day of location shooting. As soon as I arrived on set, I felt that "thing", that magic, in cast and crew. Shared purpose, connection, speaking a common language – it was in the air. And at the end of that one day, when I heard "that's a wrap for Laurel Massé", I was knocked over by a wave of sadness. Time to go? Already? Oh. I wanted to stay, to be part of the story, because of that "thing".
I am a sucker for that thing. It is what I loved about doing King Lear with Project Rushmore Theatre Company. It's what I love about Ashokan, and why I would often rather see a band in rehearsal than in performance. It's the shared purpose, the collaboration; it's a participation in the Beloved Community, and it's the story we tell.
Here's an image that gives the sense of what I am talking about. It's The Quilting Bee, by Grandma Moses. In this painting, every stitch is a story. Elvis has not yet arrived…
And here is a link to an article about Cornelia, in which she talks about her film, her writing, and her godmother.