1) I went to Fine Arts an hour early to check out the setup - unsurprisingly I was the first. Instead of the usual, with all chairs facing the long wall in long rows, the performance area was set up in the front corner between the two entrances, with chairs in curved rows two-third back, and high-top tables for standees. I knew instantly that more chairs would be needed! They were not forthcoming.
2) I spent the rest of the time chatting with the staff and observing attempts at mitigating the harsh fluorescent lighting. I witnessed much discussion about theatre lighting that used to be in the building. Eventually the 1990s alumni running coffeehouse borrowed three floor lamps and set them among the piano and microphones. No other lighting, the rest of the room in darkness. Not great for lighting people, but for me it became like that warm special corner of the living room.
3) The crowds kept coming in, and I could see anxiety on faces about finding a seat, a place, a space, and friends. And then the lights went down and coffeehouse was launched. Throughout the night I recognized silhouettes across the room waiting at and outside the door, hoping to get in, to experience even a part of coffeehouse from where they were.
4) No run of show was posted in advance. The alumni hosts would pull four names from a hat at a time, and then announce the running order. Because I was obsessing about my script a teeny bit, I had to remind myself a couple times to be in the moment and just set aside my thoughts to experience what was happening.
5) And we had it all: original compositions, Cole Porter, “Sempre liberá,” poems, Rachmaninoff preludes, thinly fictionalized memoirs of school days, jazz, songs about Interlochen, and almost all of them preceded by statements about why Interlochen, why being back at Interlochen, why Interlochen friends and friendships were so important. More than once I felt that 100 very special people were missing this meaningful night; but I felt them all there.
6) Everyone had been given seven minutes, and as usual, everyone ignored the time limit until the hosts pointed out that we’d gone through half the time and only eight of 35 performers had performed.
7) So when my name was called, I approached the stage without nerves and went straight for one of those lamps, to turn it in the direction of the microphone. “I have not come all this way,” I said, “not to be in the spotlight.” Knowing that we were pressed for time, I dropped How to Decline a Marriage Proposal Made in Public (though that name got a big laugh). My other material was received well, I think, but I had to remember more and more that coffeehouse is not about presenting finished, polished work (necessarily).
8) The warm dark was more comfortable after I was done, and the beauty of the night continued until just after 11 PM. As a surprise, the hosts announced “We’ve heard from all generations tonight: the 60s, the 70s, the 80s, the 90s, the 2000s, but we haven’t heard from the teens.” And he brought up a 2013 graduate, a young woman in a pale leather jacket with a flute, who’s just released her first big band homage album. She sang one song from the album, “Be Mine,” and just - well, I could only think of Ella Fitzgerald. A fantastic close to a very meaningful night.
9) Then the fluorescents came up, and the evening ended in a hubbub of conversation and congratulations. I told that young singer how impressed I was, and she gave me a CD of her album! I got, and gave, some nice comments, and headed off in the rain. I hadn’t heard about, or organized, any late night shenanigans, and was content to go back to my cabin and sleep. But I suspect some shenanigans are taking place, and heartily approve!
10) Checking into Stone lobby briefly to look at email, I learned others had a - how shall I say this? - a less positive coffeehouse experience. A friend who graduated in the charter class, and a friend of hers, were sorry they couldn’t stay to hear my turn, but they could neither see nor hear standing at the back of the room, nor could my friend stand for very long at her age. Her friend commented “Us old folks all having to stand up, and these young people sitting down. You’d think they’d be more deferential.” “They weren’t brought up to it,” I replied. She was really put out by it. I know I will be when I get to be her age, too. As students, there’s only one generation to think about when having a coffeehouse: one’s own. A multi-generational coffeehouse needs some consideration for the aged.