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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Wisdom for this Year’s February Thaw

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When I walked into school this morning, a flying-v of geese headed north overhead, presumably returning early from the winter.  “February Thaw,” as one of my friends recently told me this strange stretch of weather is called, is confusing to me.  Everything since November has felt like a reason to worry, this unseasonably warm weather included.  And yet I can’t help but feel that we have desperately needed a little relief from the elements recently.  I haven’t been able to craft a blog post in my head, but I did want to write for the sake of writing.  I miss it, and I’ve become so busy this month that my writing brain keeps getting pushed to the back of the shelf.

So first I just want to send out a general cheer of gratitude to everyone in my community, both online and in real life.  I’ve watched actor friends set their art aside (or redirect its purpose) to stand up for human rights or protect the parts of the earth they are inspired to fight for.  I will look back on this time as both terrifying and humbling.  I always knew the people I am graced to know in some way or another are genuine, hardworking people.  But these past few months have left me speechless.  The women’s bathroom at my job is covered in motivational quotes and instructions on how and where to march and protest.  My Facebook feed is packed with persistent protesters, people suddenly running for local office, and those simply standing up day after day, even though so often they’re told it isn’t worth standing.  And so, I tip my hat to you this morning.

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“You’re Not Good, You’re Not Bad, You’re Just Nice”

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Right after the election, a meme was making the rounds, predicting that Hillary would come out on stage before the inauguration to sing “Last Midnight,” from Into the Woods.  If you’re unfamiliar with the musical, this may have looked like a jab to Hillary’s character, since after all, the song is sung by the witch.  In the song, the witch denounces the actions of everyone on stage, dooming them all, before disappearing in a puff of smoke and returning to her “uglier,” previously cursed self.  But if you do know the show well, you know that the witch is one of the strongest, most complex and powerful characters of the show.

I happen to know the show backwards and forwards because of the lucky fact that I was an introverted musical theatre child of the 90s and staged an imaginary production of this show in my living room.  Nowadays, whenever I see theatre festival notices that state, “If chosen, play must be fully produced prior to the festival,” I think about how I’ll always have the production of Into the Woods in my back pocket, the audience just won’t be able to see my cast of imaginary actors.

Anyway, to put it in a nutshell, Into the Woods sets a bunch of familiar fairy tale characters in one town, all in pursuit of their personal dream.  The Witch is one of the story’s common threads.  She has a rough past–a history of cursing the baker’s family into sterility (after being robbed by them), and oh yes, trapping her daughter in a tower.  But as the play progresses, we hear each character’s side of the story and watch them either grow into empathetic people, fall into a life of crime, or a combination of both. And as an audience, you start to question: who is justified in their quest?

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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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The Actor in the Back of the Coffee Shop

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“It’s just different from what I’m used to,” says the fussy lady in the coffee shop across from me, as she slams down the delicately crafted Matcha latte in front on the barista.  “If you had sweetened it the first time, I would have liked it.”  She wavers between a demanding tea connoisseur and someone who has never interacted with a food establishment before. Luckily, I know the people who work here, and will be able to share a glance of what a pain in the ass when she leaves.  Also luckily for me, she has no idea that I’m sitting here like the opposite of a secret shopper, writing about her unwarranted indignation about what is essentially a cup of hot sugar.

So yeah, not in a super-social mood lately.  Yesterday I told Ben that I would feel much more comfortable with a standard acting career acting if I could make one major change–to remain as introverted and secluded as an actor as I get to be as a writer. I know how to get my thoughts out, how to get to the point of what I want to say, when I sit in a public place with my laptop and write.  Here, I have the societal understanding that no one should mess with me because I’m clearly writing something super-duper important. This, paired with my intimidating resting face, usually assures my privacy.  Fussy tea lady is a reminder that I’m not exactly ready to dive into being a social butterfly to flaunt my acting career.  I used to have a thicker skin for people like this, or at least I thought I had to have one in order to stick with the types of jobs and interactions necessary for a public-facing career.

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Oh good, I’m super great at the wrong thing

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Last night I had a dream about eating a sandwich with my grandma.  She passed away a little over two years ago, and had one of the best kitchens on earth for snacks and conversation.  In the dream, she made me a huge but simple ham and cheese sandwich on really nice bread that she said she specifically bought for my visit–something she was known for doing.  However, in real life, I haven’t been able to eat gluten recently in an attempt to figure out why I’ve been so sick.  So in the dream, I start to have this huge dilemma–I’ve been so good about getting healthy.  I’ve been disciplined, I’ve been taking care of myself properly.  If I give in to eating this bread, I’ve gone backwards again.  I’ve failed at my goal.  But in the dream, I stop myself from giving my grandma the gluten speech and eat the damn sandwich.  We have a nice talk before my brain drifts away into the another storyline someplace else, leaving me wishing the elusive and comforting dream had continued a little bit longer.

The significance is due to the infuriating exhaustion I’ve developed this summer.  I just finished another acting class, and though the class was incredibly helpful, I still walked away feeling like I have frozen in my growth as an actor.  Without a show, without the time to find a consistent project to throw myself into, I stall.  Throughout it all–the juggling, the pushing, the planning–I’ve worn myself down further and further, constantly attempting to do everything that I do well.  Or actually, better than well, perfectly.  And yes, I have become very very good at creating stability–financial and otherwise–so good that I have ended up in the place where my art that I’m fighting for barely exists.

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The Buddhist Actor and the Audition

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The Mental Life Cycle of an Audition

If there’s one thing that hasn’t changed in the past 20-some years of acting, it’s the twisted, complex labyrinth of psychological grief I embark upon each time I lock down an audition.

Step one: What a cool opportunity, I’m not going to get hooked on the idea of getting the role, it’s just great to go. Yay me.

Step two (approximately an hour later): Great!  I have officially figured out all the logistics of how to schedule/travel for this role if I get in the show, but totally won’t count my chickens before they hatch.  If I don’t get it, that’s cool too.

Step three: Irrational confidence/justification stage: It’s a small theatre in a small town so I bet they won’t get that many women and I know that guy through that lady who I think is stage managing so I feel really good about this one.  Also, I’m now obsessed with the character.

Step four (the night before): Maybe I shouldn’t go, maybe this is dumb and it would stress me out to go anyway.  They have other people who would be perfect for it, and I’m really not feeling prepared.  Also, I’m totally getting sick.

Step five: The audition waiting room: Everyone knows each other but me. They’ve all apparently been working constantly.  I’m gonna sit here and stress over the weird shoes I’m wearing.

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The Buddhist Actor

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Last week, I had a rare opportunity to sit in on a Taoist workshop lead by the head of the Chinese Taoism Society, Master Meng Zhiling.  I knew very little going in about Taoist culture and beliefs, only that they would be a great complement to my Buddhist studies (and helpful toward my goal of sitting and meditating for more than 10 minutes at a time without deciding the clean the living room).

During the second workshop, Master Meng spoke specifically about breath and meditation, focusing on body position and the role of Chi. In a nutshell:

  • Shoulders relaxed and down
  • Breath is focused three inches below your belly button
  • Spine and neck are in line
  • Head is lifted but not tense (like a basket on a string!)
  • Overall, you should feel physically light and balanced
  • This practice takes time and patience, since we most likely have been breathing differently all our lives

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Actor Poll: What do you do when you’re not acting?

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One of the trickiest things for me about being an actor is the space between classes and gigs.  Unlike singing, dancing, painting, or writing- tactics to develop your acting are not as obvious on your own.  And days locked to a desk at your 9-5 can be even harder, no matter how much you enjoy the job itself.  So this is less of a post, and more a call for advice:

How do you continue to work on your craft when you’re in between classes and shows?

or even further…

How to do you continue to grow when you are not even in a (logistical or financial) place to audition for a new project?

At the moment, I am lucky to be in a class with a new scene or monologue to work on each week.  Simply having that teacher to hold me accountable and provide feedback each Sunday is invaluable.  And yet when I am in between classes, either due to my schedule or cash flow, there are only so many times I can run a new monologue to my frightened cats.

As someone who needs to create to keep from going insane, I find other ways to produce art forms outside of theatre – this blog for example.  I sing, I run, I do yoga, and I read like a madwoman.  And though I know this adds to my acting on a personal level, working on the craft itself often eludes me without a structure or schedule.

These tasks are a reminder that I am an actor, even on days when I spend three hours making photocopies in an office.  I have gone long enough questioning if I will ever give it up, only to come around each time to the fact that I am am actor whether I am actively pursuing it that month or not.  But when I go without a project for too long, I become more and more creatively stuck.  And then, these dry patches away from theatre hurt my acting.  When I return, my acting is calculated, blocked, and disconnected- decreasing my chances to get cast in a new project.  And alas, the cycle continues.

So I would love to hear from you about tips, similar questions, or your general experience.  What do you do, day-by-day to work on yourself as an actor, even when the structure is gone?

Speranza Theatre Support and Blog Promo Opportunity!

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Speranza Theatre Company’s Piece of My Heart

Happy Friday!  I have a very special theatre company to tell you about, one that I have worked with for the past year and a half and cannot recommend enough.   Speranza Theatre Company in Jersey City is a rapidly growing professional theatre group that promotes the works of female playwrights, plays supporting women’s issues, and projects with strong female characters.  It is also a huge part of Jersey City’s expanding arts scene.

This past year, we received our first grant, which is amazing in itself.  In addition, the grant will match any donations made within our current campaign.  This November 5th, we open Janey Miller’s World Tour, a new hilarious romantic comedy by John Cassel.

Also, we will soon be announcing an amazing project currently in development to support Women Rising, a domestic abuse shelter in Jersey City.

I’ve found that the Wordpress world is a rare supportive online community that I cherish not only for the writing support it has provided to me over the past five years, but also for the constant talent I come across in all of your blogs.  And so, I reach out with another great care of mine in case you are in the position to either help us reach our financial goal, or to spread the world of our exciting company and campaign.

To celebrate any support you are willing to provide, I am happy to promote your writing in an upcoming “thank you” post!  Though I am always excited to promote wonderful writers I come across, and hope to make it more of a regular practice, this is another wonderful excuse to do so.  Please feel free to message me through my contact page for any questions about the company, campaign, or how to get involved if you are an actor/playwright/general theatre lover.

Thank you so much for reading and have a fabulous weekend!

Click here to support or share Speranza Theatre Company’s Fall Fundraiser!

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