On Making the Mountain While Earning a Sandwich

by Whitney Gale

I met Rebecca Aronauer about eight months ago on a chilly November night. It was my rookie night volunteering at Lighthouse. I think this was the evening that Dan Manzanares, Lighthouse's Creative Curator, shared the secret trick to opening twist-off wine bottles--hold the cap steady and twist the bottle!

I had no idea what Making the Mountain was all about or that it was Rebecca’s event.

Underground rumors are surfacing that Rebecca buys sandwiches for volunteers after they help out with a particular number of shows. I’m keeping track of mine in a spreadsheet.

[caption id="attachment_7005" align="alignright" width="300"]makingthemountain Join us for the next installment of Lighthouse Presents: Making the Mountain Nov. 6, 2015[/caption]

Rebecca has an extraordinary way of connecting brilliant creatives to eager audiences. Making the Mountain hosts three artists who share their journey into a life of creation while describing the essence of their craft.

The September speakers once again blew me away, but I’ve come to expect this kind of inspiration from Rebecca’s quarterly collaborations.

The first speaker, Kristin Leclaire, is an award-winning writer and English teacher. She read a gripping piece about the Arapahoe high school shooting that took place in 2013. The two of us are currently taking Bradley West’s (Wetzler), Advanced Memoir & Narrative Nonfiction course. Earlier that week I had the opportunity to workshop her piece for class. I savored each word.

Her prose is poetic: “When I jammed the copy machine, she’d rip out the paper tray with a deep sigh, but her voice was low and the soft crinkles reaching out from her eyes and lips gave her a permanent grandmother smile.” Wow. How did she learn to write like this?

Kristin helped us absorb the disturbingly honest parts of her essay by balancing the piece with English teacher humor at all the right moments. “Before the shooting, my deskmate liked to inform me that teenagers don’t care to be 'taken for granite,' and I’d reply by wondering why so many seniors plan to spend the next four years in some kind of 'collage'.”

She shared her childhood experience of building a fort of books at her school library, making kids punch in the ‘password’ on a calculator before allowing them to enter and telling the ones who couldn’t get the code right, “This place is going to blow any second.” I love her bookworm childhood.

During the Q & A, a well-intentioned writer asked, “So Kristin, can you please tell us that you’ve worked on that piece over a lot of time? Or do your words come out that perfectly every time you sit down to write? If it’s the latter, I might have to go home and inflict self-harm.” Like many audience members, I wholeheartedly agreed with her. Kristin’s writing is superb.

[caption id="attachment_7007" align="alignright" width="296"]Vitruvian man Something to sing about[/caption]

David Rynhart, the founding member of Chimney Choir was next. He’s traveled the world being led by his one truest desire--to create music. David led us on a wild, colorful adventure filled with rich, happenstance, musical experiences. He’s trekked across the world, creating one musical collaboration after the next, finding inspiration in his surroundings. He chalked up his whirlwind tours by letting us in on his secret, “Everything in life is a treasure hunt if you listen for it.”

He described his travels in Ireland as, “Leprechaun Fairy Magic Time.” And shared that, “Alchemy is in art by pulling meaning out of nothing.” At the end of his presentation, it felt like he slowed down his motorbike and tried to drop us off on the curb but we lingered, waiting for our goodnight kiss.

That’s when it happened. David serenaded us about the life of Vitruvian men. His voice made me melt. Right then and there, I understood why he’s given his life to music.

Cory Gilstrap, a lively Puppet Maker, stole the show! He took us down Hollywood memory lane while describing his “accidental career” of puppetry. Cory swept up the remnant-littered floors for the puppet-makers who were working on the 1985 film classic Legend, and worked on tons of movie and television shows from the eighties.

[caption id="attachment_7002" align="alignright" width="300"]SockPuppet Who doesn't love a sock puppet?[/caption]

After years of hard work in L.A., he finally caught a break and started making puppets for movies. He said, “I went home after a long night’s work, smelling like the future. The stuff we use to make puppets will kill you today!” He went to work on various film sets, fixing puppets the moment they fell apart during filming; a puppeteer on the front lines.

On occasion, budding ventriloquists reach out to Cory and ask him to make their sidekick puppets. Cory politely asks them before he takes their money, and it’s a pretty penny, do the ventriloquists know without a doubt that they’re funny? Cory doesn’t always hear back from people after posing this question, but he feel like it’s important to tell the dreamers that good writing is the only way to succeed in the puppet world.

Cory used the shadows on the Grotto walls to demonstrate how to make sock puppets happy or sad based on the positions of our hands. All of us watched his movements and laughed until he made a sad gesture. I let out a sad, stretched out, “Oh.” Cory said the moments when the audience laughs, sighs or simply reacts, fill up his heart. He tenderly explained that in addition to creating puppets for a living, interacting with an audience while his hands are covered in socks is what brings him the most joy from his profession.

He shared how it felt to be a little fish in a big pond in L.A. and then he moved back to Denver. His business exploded! He was now the big fish. He’s the only puppeteer around for 500 miles in any direction. “Puppet people,” as Cory calls himself, are hard to find.

For the past 40 years, he’s been referred to people by word-of-mouth. He likes to brag that he doesn’t bother with silly business cards or websites. He teaches puppetry classes in Arvada and he invited all of us to stop by his studio. I’ll definitely be tracking him down to catch a glimpse of it!

I’ve already marked my calendar for the next Making the Mountain event on November 6 at Lighthouse. I’m getting that damn sandwich.

Whitney Gale writes about her 24-year journey with bulimia. She shares her recovery by releasing body shame, exposing secrets and sharing the truth of what it takes to bodies. Read more from Whitney at WhitneyGale.com.