Only a little crash at the finish line…

When I said I would help with scenery for the local theater’s next play I did not fully comprehend what I was getting into.  Set painting, picking out vases and chairs are some of the tasks that came to mind.  What entailed was 4 weeks and 4 days of hard physical work, strategic thinking, and chaotic family schedule…and painting.  Lots and lots of painting.  What began as 8 X 10 backdrop panels ended up being 12 X 12.  And there were four of them.

Set design for the Opera Judith by Alexander Serov. 1907

Naima did not paint this!    Set design for the Opera Judith by Alexander Serov

I painted deciduous trees and pines in two seasons. Now, I am not a landscape painter.  Abstract realism is closer to my style.  So,  they came out more amateurish than I had hoped.  I use the excuse that I was painting on cheap drop cloths, using housepaint from Home Depot, with shitty brushes, while backstage folk regaled me with tales of yesteryear, all while working against a seemingly impossible deadline…but that isn’t much of an excuse. Did I mention that I have a chronic pain and fatigue condition?  Fibromyalgia is no joke.  It may not be well understood, but it is real and often daunting. I told no one at the theater about how I dealt with the pain of working so hard for a month.  So. Throw that in the mix.

One week before opening night the Technical Director called in a young college student to help out. I’m grateful for her help because it meant that I finished all four paintings in time

Set design for the opera Moïse et Pharaon, Par...

Naima did not paint this!  Set design for the opera Moïse et Pharaon, Paris, 1827. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

for opening night.  She asked to paint some details.  I went through many emotional responses and finally I said yes, feeling generous and grateful.  I may not have done it the way that she did, but again, I was grateful for the help.

Jump to opening night.  I went out with a friend for dinner then we went to see the play.  It was the first time I had seen it all the way through. The musicians did a great job, cramped like they were in the hot cave that is the jump on stage right. The singers/actors belted out their songs with gusto.  It was a right nice play.

The cast made short announcements at the reception afterwards.  They gave small gifts to the Director, some of the technical folks and then…they gave a gift to “the girl that helped with the backdrops, painted trim and lots of other things backstage”.  That’s right, the girl that had been around for a week, and added grass-looking slashes to my paintings with her fingers was getting acknowledged for her work on the backdrops.  The ones that I labored over for almost 80 hours.

Boy did my ego have a hard time with that.

Did I not work hard enough? Long enough? Was it like my friend said and it was just that the cast didn’t know me (I worked during the days so that I wasn’t interrupting their rehearsals at night).  Was I lured into thinking I did something special because I was told numerous times that in 40 years, no one had painted a backdrop for that theater before, much less four of them?

Did I crash at the finish line?  No, not really. The paintings were finished before opening night.  My ego was bruised at the finish line but I need to remember that it wasn’t my ego that was painting, so the bruising was ultimately self inflicted. I had an attachment to the outcome, rather than realizing the moments spent painting were all the joy I needed.

Photo credit George Breed

Panel #3, Day 1  –  Photo credit George Breed


20 Comments on “Only a little crash at the finish line…”

  1. Michelle says:

    It sounds like a huge amount of work, and while I’m sure you enjoyed many of the hours it’s still a lot of WORK to put a project like that together from start to finish, on time. Congratulations on your accomplishment. It’s too bad the cast didn’t realize your efforts, but YOU did it. And it sounds like you did it well. That’s awesome.


  2. Vickey says:

    Bravo!! What an accomplishment. You are farther along in your spiritual development than I am.


  3. Brad says:

    Well done. The backdrops look great and you did it!! A huge challenge and you met it; wonderful.


  4. Katherine Cooper says:

    That was a long period of hard focused work. Sure, it was painting, but without much creative freedom. It must have been hard to keep yourself motivated through the the physical pain and other “annoyances”. You deserve a shit ton of credit! I’m glad that you can put your ego aside and appreciate the process but damnit, there it’s nothing wrong with seeking acknowledgment for a job well done FOR NO PAY! I’m buying you lunch or dinner this week at the place of your choice to thank you.


  5. cas229 says:

    Those who know you and love you could see just how very hard you were working, as well as the beautiful fruit of all your labor. I wondered how you were holding up with the grueling schedule and physical demand with the FM. I, for one, was rooting for you the whole time. Marvelous artistry! (Big pat on the back from Carla).


  6. Tony Norris says:

    He he he!
    who will help me grind my wheat said the little red hen?


  7. Steve says:

    Naima–An amazing effort; a gorgeous backdrop. I identified with your total commitment to getting the job done and the emotional and physical pain of going through it. Often lately, I have that feeling of being put upon and not appreciated for all my extra efforts. “Look how committed I am! You ingrates!” You’ve gone farther than I in dealing with this. Congratulations on getting it completed and on dealing with the lesson. Ouch!! Hope you don’t have to pay too great a physical price as a consequence. Can’t wait to discuss this week. Much love, strength and healing your way. — Steve


  8. melbaloha says:

    Sounds kinda like how parenthood can be at times. I’m with your ego about it, a bit bruised for you. It’s crap when the people who do the real work get stomped on. I’m in a phase of anger these days as you well know so I’m angry for you. I remember this very thing happening to me after the Zane Grey ballroom at Charley’s opened and Sam Greene acknowledge the entire restoration crew except me who slaved away countless nights in that damn ballroom and basement staining sections of the bar, painting waynescotting and furniture. It hurts and sucks. But like others have said, you know you accomplished it and kicked ass doing it. Proud of you in so many ways.


  9. Talitha Gilmore says:

    Bruises may hurt while they last, but they are temporary. I’m happy to hear a lesson was learned and an important reflection was made. I love you and am proud of you for countless things that you do!!


  10. Mary says:

    Wow, Naima-
    So articulate, and self aware, you are. This blog just a reminder of that, for me. But: “OH NO! NOT ANOTHER L E A R N I N G EXPERIENCE!!!” runs through my mind, as you recount. You deserve to be recognized. You are amazing.


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