My views on success have changed over time. I used to equate success with money and fame. Those outward manifestations of societal achievement don't necessarily touch the heart, but they are great for fostering a prideful sense of "look at me" whilst walking down a red carpet. I thought attention and admiration from others were the ingredients that made a successful person. It was a child's view on life. An immature, limited outlook that I know some folks never outgrow.
But, I now gauge success in happiness. Am I joyful? Peaceful? Is it well with my soul?
There have been many, many people in my life who've served as my teachers in this regard. Sometimes it is the great influencers, like my mom, and sometimes the lessons come from unexpected places. One of the latter happened years ago when I saw an interview with Daryl Roth. I, of course, knew her as a Tony Award winning producer credited with "the singular distinction of producing seven Pulitzer Prize-winning plays". She even has her own theater! I've been there many times. I knew her as a powerful force on Broadway and imagined she breezily waltzed through life luxuriating in all of the perks pursuant with her achievements.
And then I watched that interview.
She spoke with a calm, quiet intensity that seemed to be fueled by love. Hmmm....I was intrigued. I was drawn in and listened to her talk about her passion for theater, for producing projects that meant something to her, for wanting to provide a platform for stories that aren't generally told, and for bringing people together in that glorious space where the audience and performers can share a cathartic or uplifting experience. As she spoke, I remembered why I loved theater so much and why I wanted to be a part of it in the first place. How could someone this outwardly successful still glow with the light of connection to their uncomplicated, grounded truth?
I realized her success wasn't merely based on or defined by money and fame. It was forged in happiness. She appeared joyful, peaceful. All seemed well with her soul. Evidently, it was possible for both versions of success to be true at once. They weren't necessarily mutually exclusive, but without happiness and purpose, the rest is meaningless.
That interview, which I cannot locate now, opened my eyes a bit. I read and watched more interviews with her and imagined how incredible it would be to have her share her story with my class of first graders. How could that ever happen? I had no idea, so I kissed it up to the universe and went about my business.
The years went by and I guess the universe was listening because Daryl Roth joined Broadway Books First Class via Zoom this past May!
I wanted her to read something special related to creating beautiful worlds from the imagination (as Daryl does in the theater), so I suggested Ocean Meets Sky by The Fan Brothers. The illustrations are breathtaking, magical, awe-inspiring. They take you soaring into places, which are at once strange and familiar. But, for all the eye-popping wonder there is a heartbeat underneath it all. The story is propelled by loss and longing. A young boy dreaming of meeting his beloved grandfather in the mystical place where the ocean meets the sky.
The book had parallels we could make with Daryl's work as a producer - bringing all the parts together in one place to create a cohesive whole that is meaningful and healing. Just how she does that is something the children wanted to know. What does a producer do?
Daryl explained that her role is to first find a story that speaks to her in some way and then put together the creative team to bring the story to life on stage. This includes the director, set designers, costume designers, etc. Daryl called them the "family" of a particular show. A producer, she explained, gets to work with everyone. For someone like her - who has a deep love and passion for the theater, but who isn't a singer, dancer, actor, or director - being a producer is a perfect fit. Her gifts for making things happen is one that suits a producer well!
The children asked how she became a producer. She told them the very first show she produced, Closer Than Ever, came about because a little voice inside of her spoke up.
Her friend, lyricist Richard Maltby, invited her to a small venue in Greenwich Village to attend a presentation of some new songs he'd written. As she watched, the songs spoke to her in a way that felt personal. She envisioned the songs "coming together into a beautiful musical evening, a real show".
Afterwards, she shared her thoughts of producing it and things took off from there. She learned on her feet, pushing forward with a belief in herself and in the work. Those are important lessons young children need to hear/see again and again.
The students also asked about accessibility for audience members who are deaf and hard of hearing. How do producers do this? Daryl advocates for ASL interpreted performances and believes more of them will be offered in the future. Producers also sometimes provide scripts upon request, so audience members can become familiar with the material beforehand. Interestingly, Daryl supports Deaf West Theatre (they put on successful Broadway revivals of Big River and Spring Awakening). Side note: Our school is planning a collaboration with Deaf West next spring!
She's currently producing a riveting show called Blindness. It's a perfect theatrical offering in this time of restricted activity due to COVID. However, I am most excited about Between the Lines. I mean, it makes sense. It's got Broadway. Books. Class. :) And I really want to look into providing opportunities for my students to attend children's show performances at the Daryl Roth Theatre. After all, it's only 8 blocks away from our school!
Our Zoom visit lasted almost an hour. That's a long time for young children, but as Daryl told us, when you are doing something you love you stay energized and engaged. We loved our time with her. She is an extraordinary person to interview because she was game to answer all our questions and always had an additional something special to interject into the conversation.
New York City school kids are blessed with a great many cultural opportunities. I am so grateful to Daryl Roth for opening her heart, sharing her success, and allowing us to step into that magical space where new worlds are created. The place where the ocean meets the sky.
A Visit with Daryl Roth
Broadway Books First Class