Rephrasing the “Fall Back” Question

About four years ago, right after I moved to NYC, I started a word document simply called “Life.”  It evolved into my Morning Pages, and sometimes acts as a ranting journal for when I don’t feel like using a pen.  Occasionally, especially on snowy days like today, I skim through it and relive getting to know Ben, quitting a million temp jobs, and struggling through an endless slew of days loving or hating New York City Theatre.  I will gladly skip the tiring bits about Sallie Mae or getting stuck on the D train and gravitate toward the wine-induced evenings when I sounded surprisingly poetic.  Good for you, tipsy brain.  Either way, it’s always an adventure to read.  It usually ends in me declaring I forgot to feed the cats, and then the sentence abruptly ends.

The hard part when looking back is seeing the patterns.  Have I always complained about not being able to pay my bills?  Have I always believed that I don’t work hard enough toward acting?  Have I always hated living in a densely populated city????  Am I a crazy person going in circles slowly accumulating cats and cat pictures??

It's possible.

It’s possible.

I’ve struggled with getting caught in patterns for years.  If you look back through these posts, you’ll definitely see it here.  I have written about pretty similar themes each time: surviving your survival job, overcoming stress in an audition, not going insane even though you’re broke.  Round and round I go.  Not to say these posts weren’t genuine or warranted, but they weren’t kidding when they said being an artist is exhausting  (They being all my guidance counselors before college).

Speaking of guidance counselors…

I partially blame this fretting cycle on the American Dream-esque rhetoric we are fed in school.  “If you try hard enough (or “want” something enough), you can achieve anything.” Then I mix this with a good dose of, “If you can’t stand the hard life that comes along with acting, what will your fall back be?”  Ew.  What a terrible, and illogical amount of pressure to put on yourself, not to mention your creative self.  I should pick a secondary career to pursue if I decide one day that I don’t “want” something enough to push through the hard stuff?  That doesn’t sound pleasant or productive.  What I feel the question leaves out is:

-When you act/write/paint/stand on your head while juggling, do you feel that you are truly at home?  Do you know that this is the best way to share your ideas with the world?  Then congrats, you are that.  That’s the end of it.

Hooray!

Hooray!

-If you enjoy something else right now (working in an office, bartending, driving the A train) does that mean that you’re not actually meant to be an artist?  No.  Wrong.  And let’s stop saying “meant to” please.  You are what you are.

-If someone doesn’t hire me to practice my art, does that mean I am failing?  Nope!  It just means ten million other people are doing what you are doing, and there is no logical latter to the top of the arts.  Actually, there is no top of the arts.  But that’s another blog post.

-Is my friend on Instagram who always takes pictures of their feet before an audition trying harder than I am?  Probably not.  They just take more pictures. #blessed #coolit #unfollow

If I was to talk to a room of doe-eyed college seniors in a theatre program right now, I wouldn’t threaten them with, “Times are hard!  Jobs are few!  If you can’t take it, don’t be an actor!”  Instead I would say, “You have your art, whether you need to pay back Aunt Sallie or not, money or time will never dictate that.  The trick is keeping your lifelong goal of acting alive.  So what job will you take on that will feed your creative soul while allowing you to progress as a person at the same time?”  Hey, hippie Ginny, nice to see you this morning.

Finding Your People, and your Lifestyle

iPhone Pictures 673

One of the biggest artistic things I have learned from my older and sometimes wiser husband (he is currently debating with me that he is never wiser, but I disagree) is that there is one thing in theatre that cannot be rushed: building your community and finding your people.  There is a joke among Ben’s friends called “the six degrees of Ben Bartolone.”  When he meets someone new in theatre, chances are they were his college buddy’s ex-girlfriend/worked at the mall with his best friend in high school/goes to his Steelers bar/actually a distant relative.  It never stops amazing me.  Why?  Because he knows the power of community in this field, and that time is necessary to build one. We are all running in circles at times, it’s just a matter of starting to run into each other.

Realizing who you don’t work well with is just as important.  I’ve taken a few acting classes when I’ve felt that I was missing some inside joke the rest of the group was riding on the whole time.  I felt old (not in a bad way) and that I’d rather go home to a book and wine at the end of the night instead of shots of fireball at a crowded midtown bar.  I sit in the Equity Lounge (something I couldn’t wait to do) and wonder why I don’t have any interest anymore in spending 12 weeks in a van performing Shakespeare to middle schoolers.  Does this mean I don’t want to be an actor enough?

Between the countless Drew grads in my life that share the same bitter-snarky optimism, and some lovely people I have found during my time here, I see how a community clarifies your artistic path.  Suddenly, like magic, my thoughts have shifted from “who will hire me?” to “what do I want to create with these wonderful people?”

box on head

Wonderful people.

Happiness also exists when you’re not in a show…

I am very fascinated by the phenomenon of two questions:

“What are you working on?”  In case you haven’t seen this…

and

“Oh you’re writing now…so you’ve given up Acting?”

Whaaaat??  I recently told a group of my coworkers that this was a common theatre phrase and they looked horrified.  What kind of career constantly asks you if you are giving up your career?

Since the wedding, I have been primarily freelancing in fundraising, specifically in a school.  I originally sought this out with the expensive wedding on the horizon.  But amazingly in the process found that working around adorable babies while working toward a cause I care deeply about, was pretty damn fulfilling.  It transformed from something I could do to something I wanted to do.  And the happy side effect?  I can finally work toward financial freedom, afford classes I enjoy, and free up a little part of my brain that used to focus on bills but now focuses on writing and acting.  How delightful! Am I going to EPA’s every morning and hoping to win the acting lottery?  Not right now.  Will I again?  I’m sure.  But my life is by no means on hold in the meantime.

The New Question (open to suggestions here):

Instead of “What will you do if you fail as an artist?” how about “What will I do to remain an artist?”

In other words, in today’s economy, with NYC becoming a more and more expensive city full of more and more trained talented actors (like yourself), what work can I put my energy toward that I care about, is in-line with my ethics, and will sustain that innate part of me that is, and will remain, an artist.

Isn’t that better than waiting for some impending moment to pull the plug on your passion?  Also, isn’t this option more logical?  There is no more “starving artist” archetype.  There is however, a “working three jobs while also doing my art-starving artist” archetype.  We need to adapt with the times without giving up our art, otherwise, the world will miss out of what you have to give.  So we need a better way to sustain ourselves: financially, creatively, and physically.

As usual, it’s all about intention.

If your intention when taking a job is just to make money (see myself, three months ago) there is a chance you will hit an artistic wall.  It is not in our nature to be obsessive consumers.  If your intention is hiding from being an artist, I can make an easy guess that will also fail.  It will find you.

In this metaphor, Claire= your art.

In this metaphor, Claire= your art.

I have to say that since I have set my sights on making education administration a long-term part of my life, I have begun chipping away at two writing projects, met a lovely Jersey City theatre community, and started singing regularly again.  This idea will not work for anyone, why would it?  But removing the pressure to live an actor’s like in a “typical” way, strangely made me feel more like an artist.  So let’s give ourselves a break and remember this is our life goal, not a “by next week” goal.  By having a varied and dynamic life, we are still hard workers, still passionate, and yes, still actors.

Survival Job Sanity: A Call for Advice

In October, I will turn 28, thus marking my 20th year in theatre.  Other than sending me into a bit of a crisis about how I thought I’d be a Rockette by now, I feel it will also give me the right to have loud, dramatic diva tantrums involving long scarves and phrases like, “I’ve been in this business for TWENTY YEEEAARS.”

Tiny me in Barn Theatre’s production of Kindertransport way back when.

What I found interesting about this realization is that I do not have a feeling of, “Where did the time go?”  I know where it went.  A lot of shit has gone down since I was eight.  Good and bad.

And I believe that theatre had a lot to do with me not feeling that life has just skipped on by.  Theatre fills your life with unique experiences and challenges you to be constantly looking at who you are and where you’re going.  Go theatre.  Ten points.

My issue?  I’m scared I’m losing that feeling.  Acting has been more of a struggle for me in the past four years that it ever was as a kid or even in college.  Part of that is a lack of consistent practice, part is keeping up with the bills and adult life, and a big part is good ol’ fashioned laziness.  Of course, another large part is that I’m not one of 10 young girls in Central Jersey pursuing acting anymore.  The odds have tipped a bit.

But things do need to change.  And recently, I have been making a great attempt to figure out where to start.

So I am raging against this loss of artistic presence by doing what I love most: over-analyzing my situation from a sociological standpoint and writing a blog post about it.  Hooray!!!

My Two Lives

Way back in high school, I had my first food service job.  I quickly realized I was the worst waitress on the face of the earth, so needed to find another game plan for my impending impoverished life as an actor.  Someone suggested secretarial work, and that was that.

For four years in the city, I have befriended several temp agencies, two of which have been very encouraging about my theatrical endeavors.  They know I am looking to bounce around between projects, that I am not looking for advancement in a company, and I am willing to do horribly mundane projects if they let me leave for auditions.  For all this, I am very grateful, and everyone wins.

Yet the culture of most corporate offices, and the culture of let’s say, the Equity waiting room, might as well be on different planets.  And most mornings, I bounce between the two. This is starting to mess with me.

Scenario A: Moseying into the office: non-audition days.

(Not a particular example from one company, just a mish-mash of experiences from where in I’ve temped.)

I come in at 8:45 and usually my office is still empty.  I’m a morning person and since theatre has taught me that being late is a mortal sin, here I am (My mom once told me that unless I was on my death-bed, I get to rehearsal on time.  Childhood!).

I go to the cafeteria and chat with the staff up there, who will be more chatty and friendly with me than pretty much anyone I interact with all day.  Except for the mail room guys.  For whatever reason, the mail room is always where the party is going on.  And for the most part, my immediate supervisor is also always a doll since they are also the go-to administrator.

I settle down with my breakfast at my desk and check my work email.  I don’t have any mail, because essentially, no one is really sure about what I do.

I start my ongoing data entry or filing project, feeling a bit like Sisyphus pushing a pile of file folders up a hill, but still being very grateful that I don’t have to wait tables and drop plates all day.  I drop things a lot, it would be a disaster.

I once discovered that I could take wacky pictures with the light above my desk. So I sent about five of these to Ben. You know, while being productive.

I once discovered that I could take wacky pictures with the light above my desk. So I sent about five of these to Ben. You know, while being productive.

Around 10:30, someone notices I’m there, very nicely thanks me for doing something boring and then I spend the day either talking to no one or chatting with the janitor, who often also has a real personality.

I leave at 5, and without a doubt, someone will make a comment about how it’s almost Friday, or how they wish it wasn’t only Tuesday, etc.

Repeat.

After about four months, I have a life crisis, take my favorite pen, and switch to a new office.

The qualities that I adore in theatre people (friendliness, near-obsessive passion for their work, motivation, discipline, and enthusiasm for Mondays) are rarely present in the officers where I spend 75% of my waking day.

What do I learn?  You can get by in this type of office by giving about 50% and you’re still patted on the back.  Complaining about being at work helps you fit in with the culture. Would this attitude fly in theatre?  Nope.

Scenario B:Audition Days

I wake up early and spend my shower and prep time warming up my voice and stretching.  I usually sprint around looking for the stapler to put my headshot and resume together and make it out the door by 7.  If I make it to the Equity building by 8, I usually get an appointment early enough that it doesn’t interfere with “office land” at all.

The waiting room is full of focused, energized, and anxious people.  Nothing like a healthy dose of fear to make you feel present and awake.  Yes there are always a few chatters who love to talk about the twelve productions of Midsummer they’re currently starring in, but I’m working on zoning them out.

There is a delightfully strict decorum, which as a former ballet dancer, I think is just dandy.  You have all your shit in order and if you don’t, you don’t audition.  You stay close by and respect each others space while sending out happy energy to those around you who know are in the same bizarre boat you are.  This is as close as I can get to making audition waiting rooms sound magical.

Overall, as stressful as auditioning is, you are awake, excited, and surrounded by grateful interesting people.

Where things get wacky

Here’s where everything goes a bit awry.  I get into the audition room and feel like a million bucks when I introduce myself.  Here I am!  Ready show you my one-woman one-minute play!

And then I open my mouth.  Apparently there is a room in my brain that holds my monologues, songs, and acting skills.  Also in this room lives every anxiety about theatre, my career path, my hatred of data entry, my self-consciousness about that spot on my dress, the idea that I gained weight after the wedding, and this Spiderman-like sense of every noise, smell, image in the room. It’s just a delight.  I then become the psychic of the year and believe I can read into every note taken by the audition panel, every body shift in their chair, every clearing of the throat.

From a Buddhist perspective, this is fricken awesome to analyze.  There are tons of things to learn from what your mind does when you are this present.  And though I know I can learn from it, it’s not super helpful for getting cast.

Suddenly, my monologue is over, and I leave confused, frustrated, and unable to remember how to do basic things like use the elevator.  Right, buttons.  We press those.  I return to office-land, where no one seems to really give a hoot about if I was ever gone, and I fall deeper into this frustration.

This post is getting a little ranty. So let's take a break and look at Tiber in a box from this morning.

This post is getting a little ranty. So let’s take a break and look at Tiber in a box from this morning.

My call for advice…

I wrote a similar post several years ago, and have made great strides as far as my discipline in my training.  Great, so I’m no longer feeling uncomfortable getting in the audition door.  I am now Equity, and am super grateful that I can audition for so much more.  And yet, my phone isn’t exactly ringing off the hook.

If I do not maintain a healthy and happy life outside of the audition room,  it clearly shows in my acting.  I am not fully present on stage, and therefore, no one is going to give a crap about the story I’m telling.

So where is the balance?  Bills are important, and a life in theatre is hella expensive.

Here is my question for you actors and artists out there (or anyone else who can relate, I’m sure it doesn’t only happen in theatre):  how do you “leave everything at the door”?  When did you reach the point where your frustrations with the business and the life you build around maintaining the business stopped interfering with the art itself?

I am not totally without ideas.  I recently took an incredible workshop with Blanka Zizka down at the Wilma which focused on a new form of actor training.  It was all about the your physical capability as an actor to be in the moment at all times on stage.  Her magical word that stuck with me was “Insist.”  Insist on your breath, insist on being seen, and insist on telling your story.  What a wonderful lady and teacher.

So this is part of my insistence to not let this complacent office culture, a part of my life necessary to supporting my art, take away from the art itself.

All comments and advice welcome!  Thank you ahead of time for your love and happy auditioning/rehearsing/data entering this week.

 

In case you missed my recent crazy life updates, my name is now Ginny Bartolone and I have a new acting website in the works at GinnyBartolone.com 🙂  Yahoo!

I will close this with me making a ridiculous face while trying to cut our wedding cake. Wedding posts soon to come.

Here Comes the Sun Doo Doo Doo Doo

I started out having a pretty negative week.  On Wednesday, I had one of those “Me against the world” days.  A former job was a week late in paying me, my parent’s insurance company had a “computer glitch” and therefore couldn’t cover me (you read that correctly), another job that pays me in cash wasn’t able to, and the I generally was feeling pretty angry at the world.   Essentially, until Thursday morning, I was broke.  Broke broke.  So yeah, not a great mood.

I am very thankful that Wednesday night things turned around a bit, as they tend to do before I write a blog post.  After getting screwed over by the insurance company, I moped home and bought a scratch off ticket in protest of my bad mood.  And what would you know?  I won enough money to go to my dance class I couldn’t afford.  If you need an affordable dance class at a WONDERFUL studio, trek out to Astoria to Astoria School of Fine Arts.  On Wednesday and Thursday night, Roy teaches, and you don’t want to miss it.  This man could make Eeyore cheer up and dance

IntenSati

The next day, Christina encouraged me to go to an IntenSati class.  What is IntenSati you ask?  Oh!  Well, it is basically a mixture of zumba and the yelling of self-affirmations.  You scream chants about how awesome you are while you punch the air and do pretty intense aerobic moves.  At first, I felt pretty odd.  I couldn’t get Richard Simmons out of my head.  But not even ten minutes into it I was a self-cheerleader kicking and yelling away with everyone else.  By the end, my week had turned around and the whole way home, I couldn’t help but look for the signs of hope around me.  And not just in my own life, but everywhere.  So I did some research…

 

Proof things are getting better…

The IntenSati class was so inspiring that I have made it my goal for the past 24 hours to find as many signs as possible that the attitude of society on the whole is getting better; and by better, I mean more positive, more compassionate, and more balanced.  It’s very easy to find the negative, especially in a harsh city like New York.  It’s also easy to only find negative and discouraging signs on the news and internet.  When I googled different topics about the overall health of Americans, I mainly came across articles about the increase in obesity and depression.  Which is interesting, because with a little digging, there are studies saying the exact opposite, they just get buried by the negative ones.  My opinion may seem naive.  I am not saying to ignore the obvious problems today, just to combat them with hope.

The Gallup Study:

Gallup is a worldwide research and analysis company which, among many other things, has been surveying a selection of people in the US, UK, and Germany for the past several years on their optimism and mood.

http://www.gallup.com/poll/154892/Americans-City-Optimism-Reaches-Four-Year-High.aspx

This article is particularly interesting because the studies show that since the economic crash in 2008, the Optimism levels with each person’s local area has surpassed what it was before the crash.  If you go to the site, check out the many other articles and studies, they’re very fascinating.  What’s my point?  Perhaps even when there are so many unsettling things in the world as a whole, there are many shifts nowadays toward a healthier lifestyle and more supportive community. 

Another one of my favorite articles is from Learnvest.com, a site geared toward women managing their personal finances.  The article summarizes that a generally positive attitude in your community actually improves your local economy.  Just like we chanted while stomping around in IntenSati, believing that things will get back can actually make things better in reality.

http://www.learnvest.com/2011/10/find-your-happy-place-how-optimism-affects-the-economy/

 

 

Signs of Awesome:

I started writing this blog post with the idea of having tons of great statistics backing up that the world is great.  As positive as I am feeling, I didn’t have the best luck.  It’s slightly too big of a topic to google (i.e. “Is the world getting better?”).  So I went on my lunch break (temping today) and contemplated how to go about this.  I keep coming back to the small things.  What directly affects our day-to-day life are the common things we interact with.  So perhaps the above articles can be explained by those.  Below is a list of my “signs of awesome” or things that reinforce my happy hypothesis:

1. FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD!

We live in a time of food celebration!  With the development of the “foodie” community, a better awareness of international food trends, and an encouragement for healthy choices, I am very thankful to be eating in today’s world.  Turn on the food channel: both men and woman are chefs.  It is now an art to eat in a healthy way with interesting and unfamiliar ingredients.  I know obesity is still a major problem, but I have hope we are moving in the right direction.  These are simple examples.  But you get my drift.  Keep your eye out.  Vegetarians are taking over:)

I am also thankful for places like Trader Joe’s, where I can buy organic dairy free ice cream at 10pm at night for $3.  Why?  Because I’ve never eaten it.  And it’s yummy. And then I can chat with the cashiers who are happy as clams because they get full benefits for working part-time hours (we chat a lot).   I also can eat at places like Pret A Manger, who donate all of their food to the homeless at the end of the night and promote eco-awareness.  I also can go down to the 30th avenue farmers market in Astoria and get a slew of produce I don’t even recognize for under $5.  My point is that it’s becoming “cool” to not eat endless amount of processed junk.

2. Kid Music.  And kids in general.

I keep a Pandora station on in my art class on Thursday afternoons called “Tweens.”  Everyone knows the words to everything.  I started to notice that the general themes of songs geared towards teenagers are very positive these days.  And trust me, a room full of 12 nine-year old girls singing “Firework” is pretty exciting.  I also had the chance to hear Lady Gaga’s mother speak at an event I attended several months ago.  They have started the Born This Way Foundation, a group empowering youth and fighting against bullying.

I also did a project with them at the end of last semester asking if they could invent one toy that would help another human being, what would it be?  I got this idea from a TED talk.  The class of 1st and 2nd graders were ecstatic.  Many people created inventions that helped the blind and deaf (apparently this is the first thing that comes to mind when you’re 9 and you think someone needs help.  Fair enough.)  I also got ideas for toys that instantly cheer you up if you’re sad, magical transporters that connect you with the people you love, and food machines for the hungry.

And so, I have hope in the next generation, even those on the Upper East Side.

Social media.  Yes, social media.

No matter what the older generations say, I am thrilled that we are a society that can communicate so easily with one another.  All the options may not solve things like loneliness or feeling alienated, but there are benefits on the surface if viewed positively.  I worked with students from all over the world, primarily from countries that are dealing with a slew of serious problems.  And to see every now and then on Facebook that all is well with them is something that I am very thankful for.

Because of Facebook, I know that when I end a show or a job, it doesn’t have to be the last time I hear from that person.  I know when they are in a show, getting married, or visiting NYC.  I disconnected myself a little bit  from Facebook after the stress it caused in college, so I have to say, a balance is very necessary. 

THIS BLOG!  This blog has been one of the most supportive factors in my artistic growth.  A year ago, I was mortified the first time I posted something.  I only told about 10 people this even existed.  The knowledge that people are now willing to take the time to read my writing, give me feedback, and even hit the “like” button on Facebook, sends me to the moon.  I am now writing a play and a book about the camino.  So my advice for those who feel uncomfortable about starting to write: people are overwhelmingly supportive if you give them something of yours to support.  What you need to say may be what someone needs to hear.  So write it.

I would LOVE LOVE LOVE if we kept a conversation going about what positive things give you hope.  Something big or something that seems small.  Either way, I do feel that if we all even make the smallest effort to believe things are getting better, it will continue to grow in that direction.

Here’s to hope for more happiness!