I spent Monday afternoon at the Belasco Theatre watching Spike Lee and his crew as they finished principal shooting of Passing Strange. They had spent the last couple of days recording the show's final Broadway performances with audiences in attendance, but today was devoted to getting close-ups; there was no one there but the crew, the cast and another twenty or so folks who were friends and students invited to watch.
Years ago, I went to hear Spike Lee speak as a guest lecturer at the University of Texas. I don't remember much of the talk, but a moment from the Question and Answer session afterward has stuck in my mind and been fairly influential to me; I think it's safe to say I think about it more often than most any other lessons I learned in grad school.
This young man, dressed well and clearly star struck made his way to the microphone and said, "Spike, I'm a big fan of yours."
Spike acknowledged the affection and asked him what his question was. The young man proceeded to tell him how he had modeled himself on Spike and his career, how he had started his own film company, how he had incorporated, how he had created a logo and even had stationery made--and all of this before he had even left film school.
"Spike," he asked, "Do you have any advice for me?"
Spike looked at him and said, "Make a film."
Well, today I got to watch Spike Lee making a movie and he was every bit as commanding and charming and inspiring as I imagined he would be. It was slow-going but there was a lot of positive energy and, for all I know, they may still be at it in these early hours of the morning. It was a fitting (if, one might argue, premature) end to the saga of Passing Strange on Broadway and I look forward to seeing the finished product whenever it makes its way to PBS or wherever it's heading.
Late last summer, after it was announced that the show was going to Broadway, I found myself talking to Heidi Rodewald, the co-writer with Stew of Passing Strange, at the bar in Joe's Pub after most everyone had left for the evening. She had just gotten back to New York, had nowhere to live yet and was about to start rehearsals for the Broadway run.
I congratulated her on her success and she just smiled and said she'd been at it long enough to know that every time she'd thought she'd arrived somewhere she realized she wasn't where she thought she was. I laughed and agreed and we talked a bit about that for a while.
Now her Tony-Award winning show is closing on Broadway and I heard her say at one point that she wasn't sure what she was doing with the rest of her summer.
And I don't know her feelings about this particular curtain-call for Passing Strange (it has ended runs before and moved on), but, to me, she and Stew and Spike and the cast and the crew and the students watching today seemed to just be enjoying with abandon the intensely difficult and time-consuming day devoted to making their movie.