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Wishing Well

Last year at this time, for this column, I asked actors what their New Year's resolutions were. The responses were personal and varied. One actor talked about resolving to enter auditions as herself, not as who she felt she was expected to be. Another was determined to get cast in a film with Benicio Del Toro. A third vowed to treat himself more kindly.

This year I thought it more appropriate to ask people what their New Year's wishes are. After all, we can make all the noble—or goofy—resolutions we want, but there will still be a war, and terrorism, and a recession, and I think we feel powerless to set things right.

Yet I believe that in an environment wracked by violence and greed and fanaticism and shortsightedness, we artists nevertheless do have the power, through our chosen art form, to inspire and uplift and create meaningful connections. I've seen dozens of plays since Sept. 11—some sparsely attended, some sold out—and I've sensed a hunger in the audience, whatever its size, for the blessed release of laughter and tears, experienced communally, and for the challenge of provocative and complex ideas theatrically presented. We're needed, we have work to do, and maybe in our own humble way we can change some things after all.

In fact, that's my wish—that I as an arts writer, and my friends and colleagues in the arts community, can present alternative paradigms for living, can touch hearts and minds, can provide emotional sustenance, can even effect change—if not in the short run then in the long term. Calling and e-mailing a random selection of working professionals in Northern and Southern California to query them about their New Year's wishes, I expected the answers to come in many forms: global wishes, personal wishes, community wishes, multiple wishes, silly wishes, and solemn ones. Indeed they did. And, compared to last year, the answers were succinct, sometimes poignant, and sometimes eloquent.

Ken Ruta (actor): "I wish for the end of konzept theatre and opera. I want to see things about human beings. I'm not interested in how clever people can be—I want to be touched. It's past time. 'Decked out in iridescent rags to get the attention of the moment'—that was one of my lines as John Ruskin (cut in the American Conservatory Theater production), in Invention of Love by Tom Stoppard. It would be nice to see a play with real people where the scenery didn't dance and jump up and down and make goo-goo eyes at you. Let's just listen to one another and look at one another."

Jane Shaffer (Actors' Equity business representative for the Greater Bay Area): "Peace and prosperity for our little theatre community here. We could use a little of that."

Christian Leffler (actor): "Wishes are personal. They should be thought on and meditated on and kept secret so that the magic of the universe can help you manifest them. And yet I wish that people could step away from their lives long enough to look at the world and really take it in—the utter beauty and the horrifying injustices—and decide what one can do to make it better. Of course, this is completely selfish on some level. I wish this world luck on its journey."

Jillian Armenante (actor/playwright/director, In Flagrante Gothicto): "Read to children. Bake bread and give it away. Open your home to someone who needs a place to stay. Do something for someone who needs it. Then repeat."

Josh Kornbluth (performer/writer and filmmaker, Haiku Tunnel): "I want to figure out a way to sell out while retaining my core values. I'm hoping it won't be too difficult. That way we can have the big house and all that, and I can still do the kind of work I want to do."

Prince Gomolvilas (playwright, The Theory of Everything and others): "I wish that the world will return to its senses. Literally. In contemporary society we often trade in the wisdom of our feelings for the sometimes faulty logic of our intellects. Also I wish Maury Povich will send me the autographed photo of him that I have coveted for so long."

Timothy Near (artistic director, San José Repertory Theatre): "Have peace on this earth and find ways to solve world problems in a way that does not include killing people. And I wish for the San José Symphony to get back on its feet."

Amy Freed (playwright, The Beard of Avon and others): "I'm wishing for a miracle for the world—some kind of wonderful unprecedented world consciousness change. It's all I can wish for. I'm in a state of constant prayer this year. I wish the Middle East would against all odds find its way to some kind of peace. If all that weren't going on, I guess I'd be wishing for us to find our way back to a kind of theatre that is both humane and astringent—that would give us food for thought and fuel for our lives."

Abigail Van Alyn (actor): "There's never been a more important time for us to go into the coming year with the intention of making peace—doing our best to cultivate peace in everything we create, in our community. Let me add, that doesn't mean the work has to be boring!"

Rob Kendt (Editor in Chief, Back Stage West): "My wish for the new year is to try to remember every day that the main purpose of Back Stage West is to get actors work. I think we do a good job of encouraging, empowering, enlightening, and entertaining actors while they're seeking work or between gigs. I want to do a better job at helping them find work and put food on the table. That's the best leadership role I can think of for this paper in this industry at this difficult time."

Michele Mais (actor): "My wish, work-wise, is for more creative and unusual choices in casting."

Pam Dixon (casting director): "My hope is that we can all get along and that the new year will bring peace to the world.

Gregory Wallace (actor): "I suppose I hope and wish that we all might use the events of the last year as a launching pad for genuinely reaching out to other people, and not settle back so easily into the apathy of indifference. I wish that I might linger a little less on my own silly self-absorptions and petty judgments. And I really wish that we all might remember, when we can, to laugh a bit louder and a bit longer."

Dan Hiatt (actor): "Work for me and all my friends!"

Luis Saguar (actor): "I wish that New Year's wishes would come true!"

Lorri Holt (actor): "I wish for everyone to slow down. I wish for me and everybody to have the opportunity to sit still and find some personal peace."

Stephen Tobolowsky (actor/director): "Happy children. Happy wife. Dead terrorists. And new mountains to conquer."

Jessica Kubzansky (director): "My wish is that we all are able to continue to have a long, happy life in the arts. It's never going to be more important than it is now to be able to put the arts into people's lives—make magic for them."

Geoff Hoyle (actor): "My wish is to act on the president's request to go back to normal, everyday life by becoming a more ironic and acerbic clown. It's what I do. I'm reminded of Gloucester in Shakespeare's King Lear: ''Tis the time's plague, when madmen lead the blind.' Could this apply as much to crazed Texas oil billionaires as to Islamic evildoers?" BSW

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