The performances of our lives

I am so proud of us — our extended community. Proud for reasons I hadn’t fully appreciated. Proud we worked for and obtained these opportunities, proud we recognize their value. Proud too we are smart enough to cherish them, wise enough to nourish and improve them, dedicated enough to protect and preserve them — our theatres: Alpena Civic Theatre, Rogers City Community Theatre, and Thunder Bay Theatre.

Those who have played a part in what is offered there: actors, directors, administrators, support people, contributors, crew, and volunteers have either been trained in their craft or have otherwise become aware of our need for them.

Beyond that, I suspect this is true: somewhere in the progression of the generations that constitute an actor’s or director’s ancestry there have been minstrels. Minstrels who emerge to direct their progeny in the harmonies bequeathed them and in dramatizing the lessons mankind’s destiny depends on. This, so we may better perform our roles and more meaningfully play the music of our lives.

Many years ago, Prof. Abraham Maslow developed a theory of human motivation. He postulated a five stage hierarchy of motivation through which, he believed, we all progress.

The most basic level is physiological: food, clean water, air. Next is security: financial stability, safety. The third step in life’s motivational hierarchy is social: family, friendship, love, social interaction. At level four is esteem: our need to earn the respect of our peers, the appreciation of others.

If we progress further, we reach the top of life’s motivating influences: self-actualization — the best of what we are or are able to become. If we are a joiner, to join things smoothly together; if a doctor, the caress of cure; a welder, a weld — the best it can be; a gardener, an accommodative touch on nature’s perfection; a dreamer — all one can conceive.

Professor Maslow opined we arrive there only after advancing in sequence through the earlier stages.

But what to make of a young actor who, having found the contentment of self confidence, is now in pursuit of self-actualization while earning wages of a sleeping room plus $125 per week? The young actress — receiving no compensation at all — striving to transform the poetry she feels into a reality an audience can see? Children — on stage — for the first time venturing beyond themselves?

How do we account for mature men existing in a vacillation between levels two and four?

Could the professor be wrong? Could it be there is not always a universal, uniform progression? That some are capable of skipping a grade while others labor longer at intermediate levels?

Capitalism, the greatest economic system ever devised, one that fills our basic needs effectively allowing us to support our families and earn the appreciation of our peers was never meant to provide an universal ultimate source of life’s meaning.

Jim LaCross is a saxophone player. He’s done that for a while. Jim is one of the finest musicians in all of northern Michigan.

I asked Jim how it felt when he was playing at his best, at that level of full actualization where his music is all it can be — at Prof Maslow’s level five. “There’s nothing else like it.” Jim said.

That’s it.

To survive as a society that has meaning beyond acquisitions and self-esteem, we need theatre, literature, music, art, or some combination or individualized expression of them to foster our creativity allowing us to perceive the harmonies — at the best we can be.

Only then, do we reach that point where we become conscious of the thin, beautiful, resonant sound of ourselves — fully alive.

Doug Pugh’s Vignettes runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays. He can be reached via email at