The Troubled Relationship Between Time and Art

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Back in college, my friends and I invented a day of the week known as Twunesday.   Twunesday fell between Tuesday and Wednesday, and all events that didn’t fit within the constraints of our seven-day week were scheduled on this day.  When will I write that paper?  On Twunesday!  How about taking a nap?  Twunesday is an excellent day for naps!

Nowadays I find myself filling up my Twunesday schedule with all the artistic endeavors only doable on days when I have a clear schedule, void of responsibilities.  I daydream about a clean, cleared-off desk with an artsy looking planter full of succulents, a steaming coffee cup, and a little framed motivational quote about the sun and new ideas, or some other baloney.  This desk does not exist is my house, most of my writing is done at the dining room table with a cat laying half off my keyboard, usually cutting off the use of everything from caps lock to the space bar.  A pile of papers containing theatre mailers, tax documents, and notepads with my husband’s play notes are held down by a copy of Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, of which I have read half.

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Do Not Let Me Entertain You

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This is in response to today’s Daily Post, entitled “Invitation.”

If you go to the theatre, turn on a movie, stand in front of a work of art, switch on the radio–do not let me entertain you.  If you do, you are being tricked, you are missing the point, you are closing off a part of you due to fear, misunderstanding, the anxiety of truly looking at yourself.  Each piece of art–from the loud, frivolous musical to the subtle, abstract painting–evokes something in you that wasn’t there before, it creates.  It creates joy, nostalgia, anger, confusion, wonder, and perhaps even inspiration to change.  And whether the art pleases or angers you, it makes no difference.  What matters is that you went from feeling nothing–from moving along in a neutral day, from following the rhythm of the world, to distracting yourself by your own inner world—to stopping, to looking at the mirror that art provides for one moment, and challenging yourself to listen, to look.

With all the confusing anger around Meryl Streep’s speech and Hamilton providing a “safe space” and other misrepresentations of my field, I see the opportunity not to quiet these incorrect views of art, but to challenge them.  If these people, the ones who believe that art and artists are literally only meant to delight them, to make them feel more comfortable in their already comfortable states, well then I say, great!  I dare to you come to something truly challenging and try to leave simply, “entertained.”  I dare you to listen to an artist’s “unwelcome” opinion and walk around with it for one day before responding.

I keep reading,  “We go to see theatre for an escape, do your job.” But I ask you, if you only see art as an escape, what are you escaping?  Even asking yourself that question means that art has proved your thesis as incorrect.

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To Reach Others, You Must Reach Out

Almost a year after reaching my 100 follower goal, I just got the notification that I hit 200!  Neato, team!  I love to think that a community has gathered over the past five years to share in my mental wanderings through the ups and downs of pursuing this wacky career.

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Blogging has taught me something way more valuable over the years though.  I meet many actors and writers alike, including myself, who say that they want to pursue this career to affect people–to challenge their thinking, to touch them emotionally, to support them through a life change.  When I was 13, I was in a show at The Growing Stage, an incredible theatre for young audiences in North Jersey.  The show was about an orphan searching for a place to feel at home without a family.  It was one of the most beautifully written shows I’ve ever been a part of.  After one of the performances, an older woman approached me, probably in her 80s, and said that she grew up as an orphan in a similar time and part of the country and really appreciated the show and how it made her feel less alone.  This has never left me, and I use it as an example of why I stay in theatre each time I get disheartened.

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If a Blog Post Falls In the Forest…

It's the Reader-ship....get it? Readership? BOOOOOO.

It’s the Reader-ship….get it? Readership? BOOOOOO.

I was recently told, in a rather brash manner, that people only read 15 seconds of online copy before moving on to the next article.  Any writing past that is “antiquated and wasted energy.”  I would brush it off as laziness or a disinterest in creating thought-out work, but it isn’t the first time I’ve heard this.  It’s everywhere.  Be short and sweet, know your audience, follow the trends, keep it simple.  If you veer away from this, people start giving you the old, “Well then you just won’t make any money from it,” speech–as if they’re a judgmental parent telling you to make a better living, you lazy millennial (please note my parents never said this, nor do I think they care what millennials are).  Also, don’t get my wrong.  Short pieces can tell a whole story.  Like this haiku I just tried to write:

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A Note on Vulnerability

Creative Commons Photo by Elisabetta Foco

Creative Commons Photo by Elisabetta Foco

“The Bathroom is Downstairs”

Last night Ben and I used a gift certificate to a fancy restaurant around the corner.  It’s BYOB, and though I haven’t been drinking this month, I figured the glorious food was worth pairing with wine.  So to say the least, after 4 solid gulps of Chardonnay, I was having a time.  Not drinking for two weeks sure does make you a cheap date.  Either way, I kept it together and eased back on the wine until desert time.  By the time Ben got up to go to the bathroom, I was in a silly place.  For some unknown reason, I blurted out, “It’s right downstairs.”  And instantly collapsed into giggles as he walked away.  Why?  Because this is a tiny Montclair restaurant built in the corner of a small brick apartment building.  The dining room itself is a stones throw from one wall to the next, and so there is literally one option of where the bathrooms could be, without walking into the kitchen.  There were no steps.  Anywhere.  I am hilarious.  Why did I do this?  I do not know, I was feeling crafty, and I blame the glass of wine.

Either way, as soon as Ben turned to the corner to look at the real bathrooms, looking for the steps, he had a moment of, “I must have missed something,”  to which he turned to see my giggling with a, “Very nice, honey,” look on his face.  Marriage, everyone!

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The “Start Where You Are” Email

 

Creative Commons by Francesco Gallarotti

Creative Commons by Francesco Gallarotti

Yesterday morning, after a frustrating drive to school (slammed on my breaks which sent my purse flying, spilling juice all over my laptop) I pulled into a street parking spot.  Just as I went to open the door, a garbage truck pulled up and stopped approximately 6 inches from my window, trapping me in the car.  No, I wasn’t in danger.  But I was already late and had a sticky lemon-scented laptop to attend to.  So I shimmied over to the passenger door, leered at the garbage man who had chosen to trap me inside (who understandably ignored me, because who wants to deal with a whining 20-something at 8am), and stomped into work.  The rest of the morning preceded similarly.  It was definitely “one of those mornings.”  And it turns out, it was one of those mornings for most people I came across.

By the end of the day, I waited for the clock to creep toward 4:30 so I could just climb back into bed and pretend the day hadn’t happened.  I made it to 4:15, and into bed I went.  I wish I could say that all was solved when I climbed back under the covers, but things rarely are when you go to hide.  My frustration was not just about garbage trucks, the bad day, the lemony laptop, or this never-ending flu-bug.  My frustration is that I have been burned out for two weeks, and haven’t come out of it yet.  This is a particularly long stretch of feeling fried and worn out.

“Start Where You Are”

I’ve been sending out a series of emails to people and organizations I’ve been working with, explaining why I’ve been MIA, and this morning I received a kind response from the mediation center I haven’t attended since September.  No guilt, no pressure, just the simplest calming message of we will be here when you get back.  The other helpful phrase, which is most likely a quote via Pema Chodron, was “Start where you are.”  Sometimes the beginning of the burnout cure is an internal or external reminder that no one is expecting more from you but you.  As much as I continue to want high expectations for myself, I cannot pretend that I am somewhere that I’m not.  That is where the burnout comes from.  It is a delusion that I can, and should, take on more than I currently am, despite my mind and body’s message.

Fixed Mindset vs. Growth Mindset

One of my favorite things about having a fulfilling “survival job” is the education I have been unexpectedly receiving along the way.  When you reach out here, the whole community throws something back.  It’s pretty incredible.  On that note, my boss passed a book on to me the other day about Fixed vs. Growth Mindset.  It is used a great deal in education, but seeps into every type of career and personality.  Mindset by Carol Dweck is a leading text on this study, and was thrown my way last week.

Someone with a Fixed Mindset generally believes that they are born with (or without) a certain talent, and often spend a majority of their careers proving that this is so.  They are “great at math” or “terrible dancers” or “a child piano prodigy.”  Natural talent does run the gamut person by person, and this shouldn’t be discounted, but Dweck explains that setbacks can strike a harder blow for those who think this way.  Their innate talent is their identity, and when the world does not recognize this, they often freeze and do not know how to proceed.

Growth Mindset on the other hand, creates the impetus to focus new efforts on a discovered talent or passion, opposed to only depending on what you have at the current moment.  Dweck explains that growth mindset students (of all ages) flourish when they make mistakes or are faced with greater difficulty, because they see it as an opportunity to grow. They know there is more to themselves when practice and effort is applied.

I have been coming across an interesting pattern in both my own thinking and some recent acting classes/workshops I’ve attended.  There is a fear, especially in the arts, that we are deluding ourselves- that we are waiting for the day for someone to simply say, “You’re not actually talented.”  We are waiting for validation of sorts, waiting to know if what we have is even enough to build a career upon.  Even in writing it out, it’s clear that this mindset is not helpful.  It’s distracting and discouraging, and doesn’t do anyone any good.  This comes from the fixed mindset, and I am completely guilty of it on many days.  I was cast much more as a child, and now am having great deal of trouble.  For years, this bewildered me because of my fixed mindset and the idea that my training was complete.

This is also one of the many issues of performance reality shows.  Someone sings on American Idol, and a showy “judge” tells them they shouldn’t waste their time with singing.  Obviously this is an extreme case, but a fixed mindset in a teacher can be just as harmful as one in a student.  As a teacher, a primary goal is to to find a way to build on each student’s particular strengths, and help them develop coping and bounce-back skills for moments of discouragement.  This approach is often misunderstood as the “everyone kid gets a gold star for just trying” approach.  It is not this.  The approach is more about marking where you began, building on your strengths, and marking where you finished.  If a tactic didn’t work, you change it next time around.

Artistic Benchmarks

But with actors, we cannot obtain that validation through the same benchmark as many other careers- employment.  Honed talent, trained skills, and business organization is all within our control, getting the job is not.  And so, even though this growth mindset significantly reminds me that I am still growing, and more importantly, still can grow, it does not provide dependable benchmarks for charting growth.  It is our job to find personal ways to recognize where we’ve grown and where were struggling, and to use these to gauge our development as artists.

But going back to two of my favorite phrases, we can only “Start where we are,” and “Chop wood, carry Water.”  I like the first one because it doesn’t say, “You are where you are.” or the ever-popular, “Be in the moment.”  The verb is start, it encourages motion. “Chop wood, carry water” is a popular zen phrase which reminds us that our daily efforts are all we can do to reach the career/personal/spiritual balance we strive for.

So as much as these burn-out phases make me want to throw up my arms and do something drastic, I am reminded that no sudden change will “fix” things.  The effort I put into my career, bit-by-bit, is not for nothing, even if it feels that way right now.  And as that sweet email reminded me, I can start here even if I am exhausted, because where else could I start?  The important thing each day is starting at all.

The Benefits of Being a Multi-Artist

Feeling artistically stagnant and starved is something I didn’t understand when I was little.  If I was in a grouchy mood for days at a time, I was often told, “You just need a show!”  But I didn’t truly understand the validity of this until my twenties.  I did legitimately need to do something artistic, to create, ANYTHING.  And since theatre was my thing, I would riffle through the local newspapers and Backstage every Thursday, hoping to solve the theatrical dry spell.  Usually it worked.  As I got older, it worked less.

Kindertransport in 2001.  Photo credit: Barntheatre.org.

Kindertransport in 2001. Photo credit: Barntheatre.org.

Turns out, I am not the only female brunette 20-something aspiring to be an actor.  So back in 2010, my husband very wisely suggested I take up writing as an outlet for this all-too-familiar theatrical dry spell.   As he always says, “No one needs to hire you to write!”  It was a definitely a breakthrough for me.  With theatre,  I could perform my monologues to the cats all I wanted but at the end of the day, unless I took a class, was cast in a show, or produced the whole thing myself from the ground up, I wasn’t creating.  Writing was my savior during those days.

“So are you a writer now?”

One of the unfortunate negativities I have come across in my career is the “throwing in the towel check-in.”  Even if they don’t realize it, there are a group of artists out there that like to ask the questions, “Oh so are you like, not an actor anymore?”  Will you cool it please?  I realize that this is just a projection of your own instability as an actor, but working on another art form or career does not mean you are giving up your passion.  If life was as easy as waking up one day and following your dream, then would no one would write about it!

The truth is that writing has put me more in touch with my acting and acting as put my more in touch with my writing.  I currently work in the Curriculum Office of an Independent School and I am reminded every day of the importance of interdisciplinary education.  If you think back to middle school, you’ll remember it.  “Huck Finn rafted down the Mississippi.  How many miles did he float down the river if the speed of the current was….” and then there would be a lot of math and I would go to la-la land.  But you get the idea.  We make these connections with different parts of our minds to better understand them.

Put on your writer pants

Sweatpants are great!

Sweatpants are great!

Discovering my love for writing was like finding out that I could wear my pajamas to work.  I have always considered myself an introvert.  When you’re little, they just call this shy, and you assume it’s a phase when you hide behind your parent’s knees when a stranger tries to talk to you.  And yet the feeling to hide behind things on some days never quite went away.  And then suddenly, the creation of Buzzfeed and the internet’s obsession with lists taught me that there are other introverts out there that ALSO want to hide behind things!  And apparently that’s cool now!

Being an introverted actor is often difficult.  A good deal of the business is networking and building your community.  Performing is actually one of the most personal and introverted portions of the field.  Standing in line with 30 people that look just like you who are talking about going on their 5th world tour of Midsummer, while practicing scales in between each sentence, is not as bearable.  There are days when I just don’t want to put on my actor pants.  I don’t want to wear makeup or curl my hair, or bring a change of heels.  I don’t feel like maintaining my “I could take this or leave it” persona while being graceful and welcoming, all the while remembering the words to my monologue.  Sometimes, I just want to throw my hair into a pony tail, find some flip flips, throw on my college hoody, drag myself to the nearest back corner of a coffee shop, and write.  The only person who has to deal with me sounding/looking like a recluse is the barista, and I know from experience that she has seen worse.

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And by cafe, sometimes I mean my couch.

No one needs to give you permission

The most wonderful thing about writing?  When you sit down and create something, you are a writer.  Congratulations!  Some days, you just need this freedom.  No outside force is telling you yes or no.  And the best part?  When I do return to auditioning, I am not so artistically starved that getting the role is the only salvation from insanity.  Because as I’ve heard before, desperation is always louder than your audition.

An actor friend of mine relayed this idea from a teacher to me once, “Theatre is like a healthy romantic relationship.  You need other passions in your life other than just that person, otherwise you’re not growing, and all of you happiness is dependent on things working out.”

So, Theatre, to keep myself from being a needy girlfriend, I will be over here writing in my metaphorical sweatpants.  When I’m ready to put a dress on again, perhaps tomorrow, perhaps next month, I will be back.

I strongly encourage the opportunity to explore other art forms without permission.  The difference between someone who is judging what you created, and you, is that at least you created something.  So if you are worried about judgment due to lack of experience, training, or a relevant career, throw that aside.  Creating art is never for the critics, so you might as well give it a go.

If the Whole World Took an Acting Class

As an actor, I have spent my fair share of time laying on the floor and barking at the ceiling.  Okay, I’m not barking, per se, I am sending my voice through the space from the top of my head.  I have sat on the backs of classmates and been sat on by teachers, all for the sake of a vocal exercise.  I have chased fellow classmates around the room, repeating what they say, and I have run up and down a flight of stairs until I felt the “sensation of doing a line of coke” to start a monologue.  In my children’s theatre days, I’ve played princesses, fairies, puppies, teachers, moms, horses, trees, and once a shrubbery that slowly transformed into Lady Gaga.

Blanka Zizka and I in her workshop at the Wilma in 2014. Photo credit: The Wilma Theatre

On the other hand, I’ve waited in eight hour lines, spent overnight film shoots on the floor of an abandoned Brooklyn middle school, eaten dollar pizza while literally running between two jobs with four bags while dressed as a “hipster type”, and lied to several bosses about dental emergencies because I got a spot at an EPA.

As we all have, I’ve done some strange things, and no, I wouldn’t trade that for security any day.  But two nights ago, when laying on the floor of my Alexander Technique class, my teacher used the phrase “Pelvic Ears.”  I lost it.  I lost it to myself, because I deeply respect my teacher and the group in my class, but for some reason, after many years of the strange things I’ve done, I lost it at “pelvic ears.”  In the context of the exercise, she made complete sense.  Yes, I did want to listen with my pelvic ears!  But seriously, it’s truly remarkable that this is a career path.  And I wish it on everyone that is missing out.

Group exercise before a performance in college

Last night on a particularly crowded train, I sat next to a friendly man who started up a conversation.  The regular chatter began: Where do you work? Where are you from?  Why are you on NJ Transit?  All that stuff.  He was in IT, and I am an actor.  Here is what I notice about genuinely interested non-theatre people:

-They often call their own profession boring in comparison to hearing you are an actor.  Dear sir, this is not true.  If you are good at what you do and you are happy, then you go for it.

-They ask if you’re on Broadway.  This is fair, I get it, why would I know the ins and outs of IT?  I don’t!  There’s no reason you would know there are shows outside of the commercial theatre world.

-But most importantly, they tend to bring up one theatre experience from their past, either from school or community theatre.  Their stories are always specific, personal, and vivid.  It’s as if you suddenly gave them the green light to say, “Yes!  I was upset that I didn’t get cast in Oklahoma in 1994!”  or, “I’ve always want to go back to it, but I’m not as brave as you are.”

Here is what I take away from these interactions:  theatre has an incredibly lasting emotional impact, and the business scares non-career performers away.  I think this is silly and needs to change.  I know there are corporate coaches that bring theatre exercises to executives, but in my tempting experience, it is not seen often, and many of the execs I’ve met look like I just threatened to sell their first born when I suggest they take an acting class.

Skills learned on the road.

What is unclear to those outside the business, is that acting classes make you better at being a human.  A human in public, a human alone, and a human who cares about their present.  Also, a human who knows their emotions are justified.

If I grabbed a selection of executives from one of the many offices I’ve temped in, and threw them into the acting business for a year, this is what they may learn (ups and downs included):

-How to find their feet, and support their body for a healthy life, perhaps correcting the computer slouch from 40 years at a desk.

-How to lay on the floor and make continuous sound, at whatever volume you like, without ever being judged or told to be quiet.

-How to trust a classmate, or essentially, a stranger, to respect your feelings and perhaps catch an imaginary ball.

-To find their true voice.  And experience an entire room of people listening with respect.

-How to be pretty fantastic at costume parties.

Mad Men New Years 2013

-How to think on their feet, and never be scared of the question “What are you doing?” ever again!

-How to ROCK at the “Questions” section of Kings.

-What it’s like to experience the difficulty of not making ridiculous faces during a photo shoot, and reveling in it when you do.

Photo credit: headshot  proof by Emily Lambert

Photo credit: Headshot proof by Emily Lambert

-To see what your body and mind is truly capable of.

-To become closer with a group of people than you ever thought you could be (after three weeks!), and to share your life story over drinks instead of bad-mouthing your coworkers.

Celebrating Opening Night at Speranza Theatre.

-How to support yourself emotionally after leaving a difficult audition, especially after hearing the dreaded words, “You’re free to go.”

-How to stretch $50 until next Friday, and become friends with your mailman, who smiles when he has your check.

-To memorize all the free places in NYC to use the bathroom, and how to kill two hours between gigs without spending a dime.

-To forgive yourself and know that not getting hired is beyond your control.

-To get up time after time, burnout after burnout, and realize you still have your feet, your voice, and even your pelvic ears.

If you are an artist reading this, let us make it our responsibility to share this incredible world that has become a normal part of our lives.  If you are not an actor, you’re always welcome.  The door is always open, and I think you’d be amazed at what you’ve been missing.

What do you think people outside the business could learn from a theatre class?  Are there other similar industries I should jump into as well?  Let me know!

Monday Boost: An Ode to Schleppers

I name this hot muggy Monday, National Schlepper* Appreciation Day!  It is for all the people who think delivery is lazy (or too expensive), who run the office errands, the family errands, the boring “I know the CVS pharmacy is going to take forever” errands, and everything in between.  We work several (usually strange) jobs, commute on sweaty trains, kill two hours in the city without spending money because it isn’t worth going all the way home, and are not afraid to walk those fifteen blocks instead of spending $2.75 on the subway.  We are the ones that get strange glances and are asked “Wait, you’re walking there?”  And you say, “Yes!  I have legs!”  and carry on in the 94 degree heat.  You are the one that teaches on the Upper East Side, babysits in Flatbush, temps in the Financial District, lives in Queens, and makes it to Amelie on West 8th because they have a cheap happy hour.  All on Tuesday.  Today we should be proud.  And in my half-asleep blogging state today, I name this day for you.

*By “Schlepper” I mean, a person who schleps, or carries things all over the place.  It’s Yiddish.  Dictionary.com tried to tell me otherwise.  It is wrong.

$10 Wine Flights...

$10 Wine Flights…

When I was young, I always heard my mom talking about having to “schlep” all over the place.  To the store, to the bank, back and forth to work.  I realized pretty quickly after moving to NYC that I was destined to also live the life of a schlepper.  At one point in time, I had seven different possible jobs at once.  Seven.  One week I was just a babysitter, and then the next I was a babysitter, a secretary, a background actor, and a teaching artist, all depending on if I answered my phone in time to accept the work.  To say the least, it was a lot of running around with many clothing changes, snacks, and all the various crap you need to do these jobs.  I once carried 14 shoe boxes in a shopping bag on the 6 train during rush hour.  This will be my whiny story I tell our grandkids about walking uphill both ways in the snow.

Sometimes I jumped centuries.

Sometimes I jumped centuries.

I am always surprised by non-schlepper’s shock when you use a little more physical energy to do something than is normally required.  The other day, a caring coworker asked me if I needed help carrying a case of water bottles up to our office, and to not hurt myself.  I was tempted to say, “I work in theatre, I once carried a flight of steps up a flight of steps!”  But I didn’t feel like explaining because I was carrying water bottles…and didn’t want to sound like a jerk.

postits

I was once paid $11 an hour to cover this wall in post-it notes…after buying a lot of post-it notes.  At many Staples.

But today, when I am not particularly high on energy, I was thankful to be part of this motivated bunch.  I had a fantastic weekend up in Boston with my college roommates – a group of fellow schleppers that know how to keep a friendship going despite living in different states after almost ten years of friendship.  But because of this wonderful weekend, I am a zombie.  A warm, tired, slightly overwhelmed zombie.  So when my office ordered lunch today, and I was faced with waiting an hour for a delicious sandwich or getting off my butt and picking up everyone’s delicious sandwich, I chose the latter, got the sunshine I desperately needed, and became the sandwich hero (hehe) of the day.  They may look at me like I am an overachieving pushover…but I got to get up and get outside.

Our schlepping will also: (all taken from American Heart Association)

  • Reduce the risk of coronary heart disease
  • Improve blood pressure and blood sugar levels
  • Improve blood lipid profile
  • Maintain body weight and lower the risk of obesity
  • Enhance mental well being
  • Reduce the risk of osteoporosis
  • Reduce the risk of breast and colon cancer
  • Reduce the risk of non-insulin dependent (type 2) diabetes

Ha!  So there!  Today is for us!  We will travel across state lines, borough lines, and out into the hot muggy day to get sh*t done.  I declare we all end the day with a glass of wine, that we all schlep to Trader Joe’s to purchase.

 

 

Motivational Plant Metaphors

Last week, I signed up to water our school garden.  The science department has a super impressive situation out back, with cherry tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, and about five planters of herbs.  I don’t know a whole lot about gardening, the extent of my knowledge comes from helping my mom drop seeds into our backyard when I was 5 and asking if I could sit there and watch them grow.  I also know how to get rid of slugs with beer.  That’s about it.

Ben and I have just started our own small backyard garden, so we could use all the help we could get.

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Signing up was one of the best choices I’ve made since starting here.  Each morning, I got to go visit my little basil plants, chat with my lettuce, and prune my cherry tomatoes.  The fact that they hadn’t all died over night was a huge accomplishment.

Luckily I had some helpers.  One afternoon, a colleague of mine swung by with some scissors saying, “We need to eat all the lettuce tonight, the stems are going woody!”  I stared at her and, for a moment, pretended I knew what she meant.  “Not woody stems!…why don’t we want woody stems…”

Here’s the deal (and remember, I am still no expert), apparently leafy plants, as they get older, begin to harden off their stems,  and when they do so, stop producing the edible leaves we harvest.  Basil will turn into a beautiful large bush eventually, but you can only eat the young leaves.  So to keep it from turning into a bush during the season, you pluck off its flowers and trim it down.  Certain types of lettuce get super woody stems as they get older, and if you chop them down to the dirt, they will rise again – producing more delicious salad greens.

I got to thinking, as I do, and talked to Ben one night over a bottle of wine about the metaphor in lettuce and basil bushes.  After this sentence, instead of calling me a lunatic, he said “Sounds like a blog post!” And that is why we’re married.

Woody Artist Stem

woody basil

It takes a great deal of stamina to work past the late-twenties artist slump.  I can only speak for this transition because that is what I am in right now, but I’m sure it applies to other ages.  I have a lot of friends in this position, including myself, and the struggle comes down to much more than if you’ve had a “successful” career thus far.  At least for me, the focus of my stressful expectations have shifted from “I’m supposed to be doing theatre all the time!” to “I thought I would have done so much more by now.”  My present-tense panic has become a past-tense panic.  And this one feels much more damaging.

The past-tense panic includes regret and self-pity, two things that easily lead to throwing in the towel, especially if financial realities of being an older adult (no longer able to live on Ramen)  leaves you in a job that has nothing to do with your art.  After spending a good deal of cuddling time with my friends Regret and Self-Pity, I discovered they ironically come from a place of pride.  There is a lot of hemming and hawing in my mind –  including “But I’ve studied acting for years”, “But I did shows one after another when I was a kid,” “But I’M PRETTY!” …and other BS entitlements.

It was hard to admit this was my major problem, because even if I was the most down-to-earth, trained, talented person on the planet, there’s a chance that I still wouldn’t be working consistently.  There are so many factors out of our control in this business that blaming yourself is not progressive either.  But since I can only change what is under my control, I decided to focus on this.

Back to Making Veggies

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When we moved to Montclair, I cut back my stem a lot.  Not only do I have more time away from the hustle and bustle of auditioning and temping, but I have also had some space to reassess what actually makes me happy as an actor.  Writing to every Playbill and Backstage post that I would possibly be right for by some stretch of the imagination, even if I wasn’t that passionate about the project, was not helping.  Taking classes to meet a Casting Director I felt I “needed” to prove myself to, was not helping.  I spent so many years trying to prove how great I was that I didn’t leave time or money to train or grow.  I also barely had a community.

So I went back to the drawing board.  I took a class that did not require an audition and has no competitive energy.  I emailed every local theatre company I could find and asked to help with ANYTHING, even if it was to hand out programs.  I cut myself back a lot.

Suddenly, it’s like the floodgates of acting have opened.  My class instantly brought me back into my old skin.  It also brought me back to before the days I started ticking down my “biological acting clock”.  Since I’ve begun focusing on my community and my personal growth, instead of my career, things have been making sense again.

I don’t believe that someone needs to move to the suburbs and start from scratch every time they get burned out.  But I do foresee this concept helping me at different stages of my career.  Even if things are going wonderfully, the moment these entitlements take over again, the moment that energy will show up on stage and in my auditions.  And then I’m right back to frustration-land.

Kate Mulgrew did a talk a few years ago at the SAG Foundation, and I never forgot what she said toward the end.  To paraphrase, she said “It’s all about loving the work. Do the work and the rest of the shit with fade away.”  Since I’ve stopped chasing my next job, a lot of the shit has indeed faded away.

You Are Not a Pointless Basil Bush

Still a great looking plant!!...just less pesto.

Still a great looking plant!!…just less pesto.

So here is where my metaphor could turn sour.  There is nothing wrong with a beautiful bush that used to produce Basil.  If you choose to take a different path in life, you are not a pointless bush.  Nor do I condone putting yourself down to become a better artist, some acting teachers definitely latch onto that idea.  What I do feel is that the rigid nature of our habits and expectations hold us back as artists.  THAT is what will keep us from creating.

So whether things are rolling a long for you right now or not (and I hope they are), it’s comforting to know there is somewhere to go back to when if you hit a similar wall.  A rigid plant does not mean a dead plant, it just needs some pruning.

 

 

Special thanks to Karen Braga, our Alexander Technique class at ESPA, for inspiring this post and teaching me where my feet are.