Teri Orr: The transition you choose
I am Irish enough to know you open the front and back doors at New Year’s to let the old year out and welcome the new in. You clang pots to remove bad spirits who have taken up residence and you light candles to show good spirits the way in. I don’t think there is a single moment to do this where you shift the energy — it only matters that you do it as one year is making way for the next. Like beating a rug or knocking a pillow to remove the dust and all manner of matter that might be stuck.
My first years with my children in Park City, New Year’s Eve involved a special meal. One year when my mother was visiting and I knew my second marriage had been a mistake but I wasn’t ready yet to call it such — we all went to a movie and then a long dinner at the round table in the back of the Chinese family restaurant in the back corner of the Holiday Village Mall. We ate slowly and we were waited on with such kindness. We opened our fortunes from the cookies and pretended we understood their meaning.
In the chapter when the kids became college students and I was single again, I spent most New Year’s quietly. Someone seemed to always give me a new book to read and bubble bath for Christmas. The resort shot off fireworks at midnight. It was a “just right” reset. I would get in the car the next day and drive up to Huntsville to the monastery and get right with myself sitting in the chapel made from a Quonset hut left over from World War II. Then I would drive into the one-block town and eat a burger that was big as my head in the Shooting Star bar — the oldest continuous business in Utah. I would bring a new journal and play Patsy Cline on the jukebox and stick another dollar bill up on the ceiling.
Former Park City Mayor Jack Green was the first person who suggested I drive up to see the monastery and the bar in the ’80s. He knew I had a thing for dive bars and a quirky story. He was a good Catholic man and he thought the visit to chapel wouldn’t hurt me either. He was right of course. About so many things. Former City Councilwoman Tina Lewis used to say that Central Casting couldn’t have a found a better mayor of a small town than Jack.
When I began a new job booking talent and creating moments at the Eccles Center the stakes got higher. I needed to create New Year’s Eve — not just passively watch it pass by. So for the transition from one century to the next — 1999 to 2000 — we brought in the edgy, quirky dance company created by Moses Pendleton-Pilobolus. They were young and sexy and made black light magic on that stage. In addition to being brilliant dancers, the performance was a WOW! The after-party was up on Main Street in the beloved Kimball Art Center where the art on display was decoration enough. We had music and as midnight approached the dancers had all joined us and were partying with the guests. They loved our board chair — Ann MacQuoid and she was dressed in a stunning form-fitting gown. They decided the thing to do was to give her a full dancers lift. So they told her to become rigid and they would do all the work. I turned around to see Ann floating above the guests and the dancers carrying her about. And of all the things that could have gone wrong in that moment — blessedly none of them did.
The next year was the ramp-up to the Olympics and the sponsor was American Express. They wanted to give out thousands of dollars of gift certificates. But we couldn’t figure out a fair way to make that happen. So when the performance ended and “Auld Lang Syne” played we dropped the certificates — along with balloons — from the ceiling. It was wildly crazy.
A decade later when the St. Regis was built and became the New Year’s Eve party venue, we had years of Broadway performers be our offering. Bernadette Peters agreed to come to the after-party (most folks of her stature never attended the after-parties) and she stood and had her picture taken for the longest time with every gay man in Utah and a bunch more who had flown in just for that show.
By the year Tony Award winner Alan Cumming performed, we were back on Main Street for the after-party at Tupelo. Alan agreed to stop by. He ended up staying and talking to donors. On stage he told a funny story about having a tattoo with his lover’s name placed in his groin area and what had happened when he broke up with that man. He had a part of the tattoo removed and then added another letter to create a new word. One of the donors who was “over served” at this point in the night approached him and asked to the see the tattoo. I held my breath for his response to her cheeky request. He stood right up and dropped trou there in the restaurant and showed her the word. And The Word was good. She has that Tony Award-winning story for life.
This year the theater is COVID dark. And I have closed my chapters there. How to celebrate becomes basic again for me as much of this year has been. I will crack a new book and pour bubbles in the tub and let the year pass. I might take the drive up to Huntsville even though the monastery was decommissioned in 2017 because there were no new monks to keep it going. I won’t go in the tiny Shooting Star bar because that would be COVID crazy. But I will drive past and sigh.
And I will think about a line from my favorite Mary Oliver poem — Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? And I will try to answer that starting this new Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the founder of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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