Friday, May 18, 2012

Burdened With Glorious Purpose

The last three months have been blog-less… sorry about that.

I guess first I’ll start with the most exciting news… we started a theatre company! . Here’s how it went down:
- I’ve always wanted my own company.
- Zoe said it was time for it.
- We sat down and started to think about the art we want to create… projects that include new plays, cabarets, Annie set in a brothel, Cats set in a mental institute… you know, fun stuff.
- Then we sat down for an even longer time throwing around names to call this crazy company. Eventually we settled on OFF THE GRID, a nod to “the grid” in Viewpoints (hey, Chris).
- We got some awesome friends together, told some faculty, and BAM: a theatre company was born.

Now, here’s the thing… whenever we tell people, “Oh, we’ve started a theatre company”, they always ask, “How do you even do that?” Our answer: We have NO idea. We’re just kind making it up as we go along. But I did write this super official mission statement:

Off the Grid is a collective of students committed to pushing the boundaries of artistic ability and engendering social empathy by developing and producing new works, exploring artistic form, and re-imagining the classics. Utilizing the Conservatory triple-threat training, Off the Grid is dedicated to putting lesson into practice in efforts to produce work that is relevant and may transcend theatrical convention through experimentation and the use of new media. Off the Grid strives to feed the artistic hunger of its company members and cultivate a breeding ground for well-rounded, innovative, and courageous artists.

Phew. So what have we actually started here? Who knows? It has the potential to be a million different and wonderful things, and I’m so excited. But right now what it has definitely proved to be is a platform for my work… which leads me to my next topic.

This was probably the highlight of my semester! Our fledgling theatre company produced its first production, the first installment of FOX TALES: a play reading series. It went up in March and consisted of 3 new short plays I wrote: Pity Party, Wartime Trilogy, and Falling Awake, alongside my short Starf*ckers that premiered last summer in The New[est] Play Project.

The night was almost surreal. Here’s a question to playwrights: Does listening to/watching your work ever stop being weird? I can’t even describe it… I just know I hold my breath. It’s incredibly exciting, and makes me incredibly anxious. Will it always be like that? Hmm. Well, the first night went wonderfully, so we got the opportunity to put it up a second night in April. That time we added to live and recorded music, and Aftershocks: a play I wrote my senior year of high school that was featured in The New Playwrights Festival at NWSA. I got great feedback and a lot of encouragement, so that feels AWESOME. And this summer (aside from writing a musical with Andre), I’m planning on developing two of my shorts into full lengths for possible productions in the near-ish future. Yay!

Revolutions in Small Rooms and Talk-Backs in Pajamas
If you consider yourself to be a person of the theatre I HIGHLY recommend you find the time to watch this video. This is one of the most riveting, relevant, important, and inspiring conversations I’ve probably ever seen. Not to mention that these three ladies are some of my heroes in contemporary American theatre. And if you aren’t familiar with Anne Bogart, Paula Vogel, and Sarah Ruhl, I HIGHLY recommend you get yourself caught up. There are so many wonderful things said in this, and questions that are brought up, but the thing that seems to be sticking with me most is the notion/reminder that our work doesn’t always need to give all the answers. I am an artist; I will not chew your meat for you. Don’t look for the answer, look for the question. I also believe there’s something exciting about keeping secrets from the audience. It’s a lot like the work we do as actors, the endless journaling and collecting and discovering and exploring—it all stays in the rehearsal space. What happens onstage is an accident, and I think what we do in rehearsals informs our response to this accident. The best theatre I’ve seen didn’t try to explain itself—it simply was. That’s something I’ve been trying to remember as I write.
We spend a lot of time asking “Why?” when we should be asking ourselves “Is it beautiful?” I could say a million more things about this talk, but all I’m gonna say is that we should keep working and fighting for our work. And we need to encourage people who are working and fighting because if we don’t then there will be no contemporary theatre. It’s our job to keep going.

Burdened With Glorious Purpose
Ok, so I stole this blog title from a darling little movie, The Avengers (which was seriously fantastic). Loki said it in his entrance and I’m pretty sure I let out some audible reaction to it. But what is it to be burdened with glorious purpose? Devoting ourselves to a life in theatre is hard—and even that is probably an understatement. But we do it because we must. I feel it’s my responsibility, my duty, to contribute and add to the conversation.

And now I’m learning how to navigate. There’s a great line in Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (we’ll get to that too). The Player’s advice on acting, “Relax. Respond. That is what people do. You can’t go through life questioning your situation at every turn”. I think that’s also great life advice. But don’t get me wrong; I think “questioning your situation” is crucial… it just can’t consume your life. I’m working on that.

The other day I had the pleasure of listening to some really awesome people give life/theatre advice to high schoolers… and it was such a nice check-in for myself, reaffirming that I am on the right path—mostly because I’ve decided to make my own path (we’ll get to that). And one thing that was said was that we do this work because we want to make something glorious. And sure we’ll probably have to do stupid, commercial, bullshit things to pay the bills, but we can’t lose sight of our hunger to make art that can change the world. Of course this is all easy for me to say and believe in 110% because I’m still living in my conservatory-la la land and haven’t faced “the real world”, and blah blah blah, but why not start believing in that now? I’m into silly things like affirmations and writing inspirational sticky-notes to myself, so I’m gonna write a sticky note that says “REMEMBER YOUR GLORIOUS PURPOSE”. What would happen if we tried to make something beautiful everyday? That sounds like a summer project. Ok, so challenge for you all: this summer make at least one beautiful thing a day, document it, and share it!

I Am Not Soup
So don’t label me. Let it be known that the semester that has just ended was probably the worst semester ever. I was doing good work in class, loved the work we were doing SO much, and really enjoyed showing up everyday, but on the inside I was tearing myself up. I got caught up in the labels. And the most prominent branding I gave myself was “Not a singer”. Because I know what great singing is. I go to school with excellent singers. I know a ton of people who do it better without trying. And I dug myself into a ditch of self-doubt. That led me to my “I hate Musical Theatre” campaign—which of course was only my defense mechanism to cope with feelings of being inadequate.

And the whole year I had some pretty fricken' amazing teachers believing in me and supporting me, and telling me I need to “own where I’m at” and "stop beating myself up”. And that was tough, finding a balance—letting it be a tough time without being tough on myself. I spent too much time being bitter. I thought something had been stolen from me... tunnel vision. And then someone I greatly respect and admire tapped me on the back and told me to lighten up. They reminded me sarcasm and cynicism are just ways of hiding. They reminded me that bitterness would lead to loneliness. And they told me I was better than that. And sometimes that tap on the back is all we need (hugs and tears are good too). Someone in my class once described out job as wandering around a dark room desperately reaching to grab a hand we can't see. It's nice to catch the hand for a moment.

These are growing pains, I guess. We don’t learn to walk without falling down first, right? Learning how to navigate.

So basically, what I’m trying to say is STOP TRYING TO LABEL YOURSELF! I got caught up in letting “musical theatre major” define who I am, and getting frustrated that I couldn’t identify with it. So sure, I haven’t been in a full-length musical since my senior year of high school, but I’ve accomplished SO much more. I’ve acted, I’ve written, I’ve directed, I’ve assistant directed, I’ve stage managed, I’ve teched, I’ve photographed, I’ve cooked, laughed, read, danced, loved, learned, taught, shared, slept, tweeted, posted, pinned, I’ve sat in a museum and written plays, I’ve sat at the reflection pool and written poetry, I’ve laid on the wet grass and stared at the stars and saw that I am only a small speck in this galaxy.

Hold Your Own. Know Your Name. Go Your Own Way.
Now where does this bring me? Here and now. My acting teacher told me in our last meeting he could always depend on me to do things my own way, and that I march to my own drum. That makes me think of an astrology book Matt showed me, where for each sign they would answer, “How many __________ does it take to screw in a lightbulb?” For Capricorns the answer was, “only one, but it has to be her idea”. So I’m gonna go my own way. I’m not gonna worry that my goals are different than the person sitting next to me. And I’m not gonna let my major define what I do and what I don’t do.

Everyone loves a rebel, right? And I think I’ve always been drawn to do things that other people aren’t doing. I go to a musical theatre school, so naturally I’m going to write and produce plays because no one else is doing it. So then I have to think, if I was at an acting school where nobody sang I’d probably be the one doing musical theatre. Funny how that works.

Things that are happening right now:

I was just cast as Guildenstern in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead here at BoCo! It’s the first fall faculty-directed studio show in our season and goes up in September. I’m thrilled and feel incredibly blessed and grateful. And if you’re familiar with the show I’m sure you can understand how I feel the slightest bit overwhelmed… it’s a lot of text, haha. But we’re not in rehearsal till August, so this summer I’ll be spending a good deal of time with Mr. Stoppard.

I’m doing this super cool little internship at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre! It’s a wonderful place that does such important work, and it’s awesome to be apart of it. Right now we’re gearing up for the Boston Theatre Marathon on Sunday, which is like a huge deal. 53 10-minute plays in 10 hours. Awesome.

I’ve also joined the work force and got a “real” job (what does that even mean?) We’ll call it my survival job. It’s what pays for groceries and bills. I’m a hostess at 5 Napkin Burger. Thrilling. I’m thinking of turning my experiences into a movie, The Stand maybe. “Normal” people are SO fascinating. Working feels like research, like I’m researching humanity. It’s wild. But mostly I just try and stay awake when I’m standing for 7 hours at a time. I do get a TON of reading done when I pull closing shifts. In the last week I’ve read Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Lobby Hero, How I Learned to Drive, and tempODYSSEY. I have stories for days about occurrences at the restaurant, but this is probable my favorite one:
Lady-I’m-Seating: What is that soup that guy is eating with the weird looking bread in it?
Me: Matzo Ball soup.
Lady-I’m-Seating: Is that Asian?
Me: No, it’s Jewish actually.
Lady-I’m-Seating: Isn’t that the same thing?

Other Things
The last few months several other lovely things have happened… and I have random post-it notes to myself reminding me to blog about them. So here they are…

- This semester our movement (Viewpoints) and voice/speech (Fitzmourice) class culminated in “Ovid Compositions”... 9-minute compositions based on the stories in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. This was hands down my favorite final project I’ve ever done, because it reminded me of my artistry. It brought me back to the days of Octavio’s Performance Art class, banging sticks, throwing sand, and drowning in water. My group put together a piece on The Rape of Proserpina. It was such a lovely experience and taught me a lot about the way I work and what has informed/inspired my work. And for me it’s all about the visual, the stage pictures, and the “look”. I assume this comes from a background doing TFYA, and years of taking production photos. We remember pictures. And I think that’s why I love Pina Bausch so much, the pictures she makes and the way she utilizes and exploits the elements. So we covered the entire stage in flowers. And I’m sad it’s over now. But I have so many ideas to further develop it… so maybe it’s not over!
- Bullshit is necessary in our work. Ok, maybe bullshit isn’t the right word… but for me it makes the most sense. I am a “planner”, and I often have to remind myself to take off my Stage Manager Hat and not calculate everything I’m going to do. Because think about real life… when do we ever execute situations exactly as we’ve planned them out? Never. Because what we do/say is always in response to something else. So aren’t we always talking out of our ass then? I’ve been thinking about that a lot, as I’ve worked with actors who say their lines the same way regardless to what the other people onstage are doing. It becomes stale, and it becomes two actors sharing the stage in different plays. Ya gotta listen. Ya gotta listen and respond.
- I got a razor scooter. Hopefully it’ll arrive in the mail tomorrow.
- This facebook status I had a few weeks ago: “Christian [my roommate] and I have lost the line between acting and real life. Either we just staged a wonderfully touching short play in our kitchen, or we just made some past.” Anyone ever feel like that? I’ll often catch myself doing things with a false awareness of an audience. Ha, weird.
- I went to NYC for Spring Break. It was SUCH a great trip! Spent some much needed time with some of my best friends. Saw Once on Broadway, which is probably one of the most beautiful pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen (and it totally deserves to win all the Tony’s). I grew up a little and took the subway alone (in and out of Brooklyn too!). I roamed around the lovely streets of the Upper East Side, stayed for a night in a fancy building on the West Side, picnicked in Union Sq, and had dinner next to Steven Spielberg in Hell’s Kitchen.
- I was accepted into the SITI Summer Workshop. I had to decline because it’s way out of my means, but getting that email from Anne Bogart was still awesome!
- I got on Pottermore (mostly just to be sorted into a house). I’m a Ravenclaw! (Not like any of us are surprised)
- This season of SVU has been awesome! So excited for the season finale next week, and so grateful it’s been picked up for it’s 14th season!
- I research grad schools when I’m bored.
- I think I’ll be happy if I can just play a cop on TV one day.
- I made this:
- Pinterest has taken over my life. Follow me!
- STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST! Austin Kleon says “Creativity is Subtraction”. That blows my mind a little.
- We need to support the people, not the structure! This is a great read:
- “Success is defined by Opportunity meeting Readiness”. A good read, and I nice reminder to hold tight, train, and work!

Flowers for Ginny
This was the first year I didn’t blog on Ginny’s birthday, and I think it’s because I was working on my short play Falling Awake, which is for her… and that felt like enough. It was April 4th. I wore green. I walked to school listening to her song. I wrote her name on my wrist. I wrote her a letter. And Audrey and I stood on the bridge above the lake in the Fens at night with a bouquet of flowers, throwing the petals into the water in her memory. For her blonde hair that turned green from chlorine, her thin frame, her collection of sunglasses, her silly voices, her light, her parents, her sisters, the shows we did together, the friends we all shared, Konz, thespian competitions, the trip to NYC, nutterbutters, the drinks we’ll never share, the boys she’ll never date. And for every major occasion that happened to us since we were sixteen: ring ceremony, senior reps, college auditions, prom, grad bash, college acceptances, freshman year, sophomore year… I’ve felt her spirit through all of it.


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