Marcia Whitehead’s story is simple and good-hearted on the surface, but it has an undercurrent that gives it an appeal beyond audiences that know her or have a special love for opera.
It would be enough if "Laundry and Tosca" were about 20 years of holding on to a dream of singing opera. Marcia's stamina is inspiring enough to warrant documentinga reminder for those of us tempted to give up along our own way. What interests me is not opera, or even my friend's considerable courage, but the reality that her life has been immeasurably richer because she said "yes," and that the outcome is irrelevant in comparison.
When we went to New York to shoot, we thought we'd be recording her first audition for an agentan event she has worked toward for over two decades. When the agent postponed, it seemed devastating, a ruined ending. And, as often happens, the mystery of an apparent setback actually revealed a deeper, more important focus to the story.
The tagline of the film is "sometimes, just following a dream is enough." The sublime and the ridiculous of Marcia's otherwise unremarkable life is that by staying the course that she believes God charted for her in song, her life has been filled with faith, music and rich experiences. The title defines the continuum of that lifefrom laundry to operaand the core message is that every life has the mundane, there's no avoiding it. But whether each of us will experience the transcendent has more to do with willingness to respond to our deepest yearnings, and courage to go the distance. The secret of the heart's deepest call is that no matter what, "yes" is the answer that results in abundant life.
It was an improbable experience at a WalMart that reminded me of this truth. We wanted to get a few shots of the "paper goods aisle" that Marcia refers to in a pivotal part of the film. We'd just spent one whole precious day trying just to get onto the exterior grounds of a New York arts institution, with very harsh rebuffs. It was halfway into the night, we were soaked to the bone and demoralized. We decided to try, even though no one had much hope for spontaneous permission to shoot. I started a suddenly very unconvincing pitch, tripping over my words, and thinking, to be frank, that the opera thing wasn't going to inspire this guy. He listened intently for a few minutes and interrupted me, saying, "Lauralee. It's about following the dream, am I right?" And he sort of tapped at his heart, just to clarify. In that moment, Mike the New Jersey WalMart night manager knew more about this archetypal reality than I did, and I did what any self-respecting independent filmmaker would do under the circumstances. I started to cry. That's the kind of thing I wanted to capture. The core of the story that everyone understands.