Muni Work Days: Maintenance and Memories

By Mary Kate Smith

So let me start this blog post with a disclaimer:  I am not from Springfield.  In fact for a long time, I wasn’t really “from” anywhere.  I mean, I was born in Pennsylvania but grew up in New Jersey.  I grew up in New Jersey and then moved to Illinois.  I lived in Springfield but I went to school in Pleasant Plains.  I went to Pleasant Plains High School but was active at Christ The King.  I went to Missouri for college but left after a year to move to Chicago.  I lived there for nearly a decade before moving to Los Angeles.  I came back to Illinois when I lost my dad in 2004.  I fell in love with my husband and moved to Petersburg in 2008. All this after swearing my entire adult life I was going to land in New York City. (Petersburg…NYC…you do the math.)  So, to say I am a little ungrounded wouldn’t be an overstatement.  So why am I writing this blog about the Muni?  About community?  About finding a place in this world?

Throughout my years in Springfield, very few things have been constant. But over years, especially as friends have travelled to visit this area (usually to see shows) I have found myself repeatedly telling anyone who will listen that Springfield and the surrounding area are a veritable hot bed of theatre and art.  That I really doubt there are other places in the world where you can enjoy the simple pleasures of modest, family friendly, small town life…while also enjoying theatre opportunities that rival those of any bigger city I have lived and worked in. There is something special about this place.
This place.

Here I am, literally portraying art as Amneris in Aida.

Now normally when I say “place” I mean it in a more spiritual way.  Earlier this year my amazing guru of a friend, Craig Williams II, gave an incredibly moving presentation on the spirituality of theatre.  And we talked for hours about the community that we are in and the sheer magic that happens when people come together to create art.  And while I think anyone can argue that art can be made ANYWHERE (I mean, that’s the point right?  Look around you right now…you’ll find something beautiful), it got me thinking that there IS something to be said for the physical places that art and theatre happen.  The Globe.  Circle On The Square. The Hollywood Bowl. The Lincoln Center.

The Muni.

There is something special about The Springfield Muni Opera.  Countless times I tell non-theatre friends that you don’t even have to love musical theatre to like the Muni (it helps…and you should…but that’s another post for another day.)  But really.  The Muni experience is just that.  It’s a night under the stars with people you love, a blanket full of good food and drink, kids running around, music in the air….AND a really great show.  There is something special about the physical space that we enjoy this community family in:  from the volunteers that greet you in the expansive parking lot, the beautiful flowers of spring and eventually summer that line the paved walkways, the stadium seating, the rolling hills of grass to chill on, the potted plants that surround the stage.  And the stage.  A behemoth monument to theatre that looks like it was just dropped out of nowhere to land here in Springfield (missing the lake by mere feet…so that was lucky).  The trusses, the projections, the side stages and buildings that house decades of memories and costumes worn by people who have left nothing behind but a legacy to inspire others.  The wooden floorboards that have been danced on by theatre veterans who tap in ways audiences can’t believe and by children stepping on top them for the first time in ballet shoes that they have never worn before.  There is magic here.

I mean, c’mon?! This looks so cool!

In a world where you can run a days worth of errands and maybe not make eye contact with anyone, or share a smile with a stranger…I am here to tell you that you simply cannot escape the confines of the Springfield Muni without both.  We are a family.  And when you walk down that cobbled path and into the gates with your program and your ticket and your blanket and your lawn chair – even if you have NEVER done it before – you are family, too.  And you are home.  And if you are running down that same path with a bag of stage makeup slung over one shoulder, jazz shoes dangling from the same hand that probably holds whatever dinner you are going to try to inhale before vocal warmups start….this is your home, too.  And not just for a show or a season.  But for forever.

Did I mention I am also a mom?  Well, I am.  And a teacher.  Why is that important?  Read on:
(Ok, I’m sorry about that…)
Muni is a well-oiled machine.  And like any well-oiled machine the parts make up the whole.  And we are the parts (see what I did there?)  This is our home, our place…our space.  In the coming days before the excitement of opening night on our 2019 season under the stars, Muni is offering the opportunity to come spend a day at the place you have missed all winter.  Muni Work Days are just that: days to come together with your family to get this place ready to welcome it’s new members…and to welcome it’s old members home.  From gardening to painting to sweeping to organizing: just like with our stage shows, behind the scenes no job is too small.  And the best part of it? You’re doing it with friends. As we move into April and celebrate the joys and responsibilities of taking care of our EARTH home, there is no better way to get up and pitch in than to take care of this precious gift of a theatre home.  Last year my family and I spent the day laughing with friends, picking up sticks, reminiscing about people and shows as we took on the task of hanging old theatre memorabilia on the walls of the Berchtold Building.  I made as many memories that day as I have doing any shows. (Ever seen three grown men in show shirts climb a ladder together?  See below!)

This summer will be a memorable one.  For myself, it will be the first summer that I step onto those weathered boards with my daughter, Stella, who (after spending every summer of her life crawling in the Muni grass and taking naps under the stars at rehearsals) will step onto that stage as a performer for the first time.  I can hardly write about it because the idea of sharing this dream and this community and this place with her is almost too much for me to take in.  But before that happens, she will strap on her farm boots and old show sweatshirts and spend a Muni work day with me…understanding the awesome responsibility of taking care of our home like we work to take care of our planet. And I know that my little girl will spend her day recycling, doing as much heavy lifting as her ten year old body will allow, and dreaming up ways to make the Muni a better place.  For everyone.  To me that is just as important as the memories she will make this summer under the lights performing with her new family in HER new home. (Yeah her mom will be there, hopefully she isn’t too annoyed by that.)

Catch this star in Evita this summer!
My kids are living proof that you are never too young to make a difference in the world.

So, yes.  I’m a drifter.  I don’t really know where I am from. But ever since moving to this area in 1990, I have felt something special about Muni.  LONG before I got cast in a show (which was a LONG time…again, another blog) Muni has been my home.  Our family grows together.  Our family mourns together.  Our family creates together.  Our family LIVES together. 
Come to a Muni workday this spring.  Whether you are doing a show this summer or not (I mean, if you are you kinda HAVE to come, soooo…) come be a part of making the Muni great.  Be the good things that you want to see in the world, and surround yourself with people on that same mission to create not only theatre…but good.  For more information on Muni workdays, dates and times, check out our website.  And look for me at Muni work day.  I’ll be the one crying about all the sappy stories, checking my steps on my Apple Watch to make sure I am getting a workout credit for hauling things up and down the hill, and welcoming every member of our Muni family, new or old…home.

See you under the stars,

All views and opinions expressed on The Muni Moment are those of the guest writers and do not necessarily represent the views of the Springfield Muni Opera.