That singular time of year when the optimist buried deep within me rears its repressed head, demanding change in absolutely every area of life. Exercise more! Eat fewer cookies! Read more books! Practice more piano! Do something about the 53,000 photos clogging up the computer! Use every minute of every day well! Don’t waste time! Throw away your phone! Throw away the computer! Be a patron of the arts!
I can’t recall if being a patron of the arts made my original Top 45 Things to Change Now list, but an acquaintance of mine told me about a Chamber Music Concert Series at the university and I asked him to send me a link to the roster so that I might become ‘a patron of the arts in 2018.’
A couple of weeks later I was engaging in my daily habit of checking the Calgary Herald website and reading portions of headlines, because I am not a paid subscriber and therefore don’t have access to content (additional resolution: subscribe to newspaper?) One of the headlines, related to a mysterious stage production called Onegin, caught my eye two days in a row. Possibly because the book I’d just finished reading had contained references to either Onegin or its author, Pushkin, or maybe both.
‘Last two performances!’ ‘Nearly sold out!’ I gleaned from the bits the Herald allowed me to read. ‘Patron of the Arts!’ my brain suddenly recalled.
It was all the impetus I needed to whip out my credit card and spend five annoying minutes wrestling with the booking system, trying to guess my username or password. Given the nearly sold out nature of the show, my choice of seating was rather limited. I settled on two tickets in the same row….twenty seats apart.
Upon securing my two, far apart, tickets I scanned the description of the show to gain some insight into what I would be seeing.
My eyes settled on a word previously missed: ‘Singing’.
Suddenly, my status as Patron of the Arts felt distinctly diminished.
I thought I had signed up for a play.
I’d signed up for a musical.
It’s not that I hate musicals. But I find them….slightly one-dimensional as vehicles for storytelling. I say this as a person who used to fall asleep, night after night, listening to the soundtrack of Chess on my walkman. But despite my over-familiarity with the music, don’t ask me what the story is about because I have no idea.
Is it Gary Kasparov’s life story? Is it even about chess, the game?
‘We’re going to see a play,’ I told the professor, refusing to use the word musical. ‘What’s it about?’ ‘No idea.’
Two nights later, thirty minutes before the show was scheduled to start, we picked up our tickets at the box office. ‘We’re sitting in the same row,’ I advised my better half, ‘but we are not sitting together.’ ‘Seriously?’ ‘It’s the best I could do,’ pointing to the ‘Tonight’s show sold out’ sign in the lobby.
The professor muttered about how I’d cut his face out of a recent family photo I’d posted to Instagram. [Fitting five faces into a square is not for the limited in skill selfie takers]. And now I had bought us two tickets twenty seats apart. [Sold out performance!]
Signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs.
‘We can text our impressions,’ I proposed a compromise.
We exchanged meaningful banter via our phones for eighteen minutes, the highlights of which are:
‘You are a high maintenance long distance date.’
‘I won’t be ignored Tom.’ [Which is a decades-long misappropriation of Glenn Close’s iconic line in Fatal Attraction: ‘I’m not going to be ignored, Dan.’ ]
The show began: There was singing. There were vodka toasts ‘to love.’ There was more singing. Unrequited love. A duel! And then it was intermission.
We met outside in the reception area.
‘What’d you think?’
‘I thought it was pretty good.’
‘I thought it was fine.’
The Johnsons: Laconic Patrons of the Arts. Why use thirty words when you can use two? Or one?
‘The woman next to me groped my leg,’ the professor disclosed. ‘Really?’ ‘Well, I’m not sure what was happening. If she’d set her glass of wine on the floor and was just trying to find it and grabbed my leg instead?’
I envisioned him jumping up, yelling MeToo! TimesUp! in the middle of a song.
We returned to our separate seats for the second act. More singing. Unrequited love. The end.
It was not yet 10pm, and buoyed by the dearth of ‘so and so’s fighting’ phone calls from our home-alone-children and the promise of a gift card we hadn’t used, we headed to a nearby restaurant for a nibble. It felt very civilized, very patronly. ‘I see the Alberta Ballet is putting on a production of Onegin later this month,’ I mentioned to the professor. His face indicated he did not feel the need to experience the story through tiptoe and leg extension.
After an hour in a quiet restaurant and two phone calls from home we walked back to our car. The Calgary Tower shone, a bright blue beacon in the sky, and I snapped a photo to commemorate our night out: #onegin #patronofthearts
The next day, we told a couple of friends, who’d seen the aforementioned photo, the story of our evening. ‘Oh! I thought it was one gin,’ my friend shared. ‘And I was thinking, I didn’t realize Nicola liked gin.’