On any project, long before rehearsals commence, I take “alone time,” reading the script over and over, doing plenty of research about the play, the playwright, the time period – sometimes working solo; sometimes with an assistant, a dramaturg, or my good friend Hilary, who is a Greek, Shakespeare, and Shaw scholar, particularly adept an unraveling knotty passages – not unlike, I imagine, how Pete’s piano coach helped him. It’s important to be as prepared as possible before meeting the other players (in my case, designers and actors; with Pete, symphony musicians and conductor, or city council members and a campaign staff), so in the time you’re given to rehearse together you’re not starting at ground zero, but bringing your best game to the table. In creating a work of collaborative art (Pete: “Politics is soul craft” — like theatre), it’s vital to be thoroughly prepared in order to maintain the integrity of the whole while folding in the input of your teammates.

The director at work. Macbeth, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, Baltimore

As well as plays by Shakespeare, I’ve directed a lot of musicals. When Jim (my partner) sits in on rehearsals, he often comments about how moving he finds the hours and hours of music, singing, and dance lessons actors have logged in order to acquire professional skill qualifying them for the limited number of jobs available in the highly-competitive musical theatre field. He is in awe of the parents who have driven their kids to the lessons, month after month, year after year, as Pete’s mom did in South Bend.

It was inspiring to know Pete would bring to the Presidency the concentration, focus, and discipline of an accomplished artist (or, for that matter, a professional athlete or military veteran). Clearly, those attributes are essential to leadership of any kind, but presidential leadership in particular — and entirely lacking in the occupant of the Oval Office whom Pete hoped to challenge.

All of this was, you should pardon the expression, music to my ears. The piano was one of my chief interests throughout the elementary grades and my first year of middle school. As the featured piano “prodigy” student of “Mrs. Simmons-up-the-hill,” as we called her – the wart on the tip of her chin fascinated me more me than the notes for Für Elise – I would step confidently to the keyboard of her living room baby grand, always featured last in her biannual student recitals, her pièce de résistance.

Paul For Pete

When we moved to Palo Alto and I began lessons with a “serious” piano teacher whose students were winning all sorts of competitions, my interest rapidly waned. It turned out my ear was better tuned than my sight-reading skills, so playing the piano became an occasional party trick and hobby. But exposure to classical music and the discipline of musicianship stuck. The concentration and focus I acquired studying music continues to apply to my work directing plays, administrating theatre programs, and leading theatre companies.

Discovering these parallels in our backgrounds was a welcome and inspiring revelation about Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Our Zoom call was the first time I looked Pete in the eye and heard him directly address the value of the arts and the way in which the arts helped shape him as a political candidate and as a well-rounded human being. The specificity of his response increased the stakes, much as it does for Hamlet when the Danish prince encounters his father’s ghost on the ramparts of Elsinore Castle; much as it does in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast when the Beast realizes Belle does not fear him, actually might care for him, and begins to open his heart to gentleness and kindness. Spectacle, preparation, specificity.

As far as I was concerned, our first phone date could not have gone better.

Zoom Date Pete

Paul For Pete

Part II: Courtship