I moved to New York City from San Francisco to run CBS Records’ Customer Merchandising department, a heady job for a young woman barely two years out of college, producing graphic and photographic merchandising visuals at the recording label that was home to so many musical artists I had loved in my young life.
In and out of my office at Black Rock (the Eero Saarinen-designed CBS headquarters on Sixth Avenue between 51st and 52nd streets) flowed graphic designers, sales and promotion men and women, printing and production experts, copywriters, and product managers, one of whom, Cheryl Machat, gradually became a friend. I don’t recall the specific impetus for our connection–aside from the fact that we were young women working at one of the most powerful record labels in the world–but it hardly matters, because what supported our friendship was my discovery that Cheryl shared my love of acting and theatre and film, in addition to our obvious mutual love for music.
By the time we met, I had been dancing since I was six and studying theatre, in one form or another, since I was 14. I preferred to spend my time in the physically, emotionally and creatively expressive spaces of a dancer’s rehearsal space or an acting studio than to sit at home alone in front of a television, and so, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights–from 8:00pm until whenever the class would naturally come to an end–off I would go to a tiny studio in the back of Carnegie Hall overlooking 56th Street, the room crammed with young actors, intent on honing their craft with the famous, great, and now late, Robert Modica.
Theatre, dance, film, photography, and the arts in general had always been like oxygen to me, providing the nutrients that made it possible for me to be great, in my not-at-all-humble opinion, at what I did for CBS Records. I once had a conversation about the importance of studying the arts with Robert Neidorf, the Dean of St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico, after I matriculated as a freshman. Discovering that I had been assigned to an early morning Math class, I showed up at Neidorf’s office to explain that I couldn’t possibly attend a Math class until I had properly fed my body and soul with an early morning ballet class at a studio down the hill on Camino del Monte Sol. Neidorf’s wife was an opera singer, and something about my matter-of-fact, and quite insistent reasoning, resonated with him in such a way that he changed my schedule so I could spend my early mornings dancing across the boards to the beat of music.
I felt the same way about my work at CBS. I immersed myself in dance and theatre every chance I got, because it helped me to imagine the visuals I was tasked with producing, and to take chances with designers I might not have taken otherwise. In Cheryl I had found a soul sister at CBS Records, the two of us soaking up the creative offerings of New York City as best we could in our spare time.
Still, as exciting as it was to work in the music business, CBS’s corporate environment, which I could not have imagined when I moved from San Francisco to New York to assume My Big Job at Black Rock, proved to be a volatile place of competing personalities, egos, agendas, politics and general lunacy, the whole simmering cauldron of executive madness propelling me, after 8 years with the company, out of the music business altogether and back into my childhood love of theatre.
In parallel harmony Cheryl was similarly propelled out of CBS, and soon enough we lost touch with one another, I assume in part because we each needed to re-engage with ourselves outside of the constraints of a music business that had completely consumed the early years of our lives after college. But perhaps we also lost touch because such is the ebb and flow of life and people. Sometimes we walk alone and in silence, sometimes we join the crowd. Life defies easy explanation.
Then several years ago, as suddenly as we had lost touch we made contact once again. We had a long lunch in Rockefeller Center and tried to catch one another up on all that had happened in the intervening years. Cheryl had gotten married, raised two beautiful and talented daughters, and become a master photographer, teacher and book author. I had become an actor, a theatre director, a fine jewelry designer, an executive at Christie’s, and a writer of literary nonfiction. And when I finally met a man I wanted to marry, I became a stepmother.
There was so much for us to talk about, so many stories to tell one another, so much to uncover about the years after we had each left CBS Records. Our lives were very different, but what remained seemingly unchanged was our mutual love of the arts–theatre, film, dance, photography, and of course music.
One night in the summer of 2017, we had dinner at Marta and I wondered out loud if there were a creative project we could work on together. I had just purchased a professional video camera and, given my background as an actor and director, I suggested I make a video portrait about her life in photography. I explained that I had grown up around my mother’s friends who were artists, and that I had always been interested in the subject of women and their commitment to life in the arts, whether they are commercial or fine artists, whether they are known or unknown, whether they are young or old, married or single, rich or poor. I told her that I was not interested in the photographs themselves, but rather in her experience of being an artist.
Cheryl knew me only as an executive at CBS and as a writer. She had never seen me on stage, never seen a play I had directed, was unfamiliar with my work as a designer, had not read my essays on Women and Work, and knew very little about my interest in videography. Yet without flinching, Cheryl leaned into the table and said, “That’s a great idea. Let’s do it!”
I drove to Long Island several times during the late summer and early fall, interviewing and filming Cheryl at her house and on the wetlands and beaches surrounding Westhampton. The result is HEART CONNECTION: A portrait of Cheryl Machat Dorskind, the filming and editing of which Cheryl had no input into whatsoever. She was unconcerned about being filmed, and unconcerned that she was the subject, not the camerawoman. It occurred to me that Cheryl and I were simply doing what each of us had done when we joined CBS and again when we left it–heading off into the unknown on yet another creative adventure. I love what happens when someone says Yes in the face of the unknown. He(art).
The full-length video is still private and on Vimeo. If you would like to see it, please leave a Comment and let me know. Meanwhile, here is a one-minute Teaser, which I have made public.
TEASER for HEART CONNECTION: A portrait of Cheryl Machat Dorskind
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