A Familiar Beast

I have questions about rejection. I do hope you’ll bite and share your thoughts in the comments. As a student of the arts, I met rejection at a young age. I’ll never forget silently weeping in the back seat of our car when I found out that I wasn’t cast as a Von Trapp child in The Sound of Music when I was 12 years old. I was relegated to the chorus of nuns—or, rather, novices. Not even a full-fledged nun. The dealer of rejection in that instance was the director, aka my mom. I don’t blame her. She was my director and she made the best casting decision for the show. In hindsight that was a very important lesson for me to learn as an artist; nothing has ever been handed to me. But yeah, rejection was personal from early on.

We’re told repeatedly that rejection is an unavoidable element of our artistic lives, like a smelly beast with whom we must learn to live. I get it, but man, some days that beast is smellier than others. On those days I stop and ask myself in earnest, why? Why am I doing this? Will the glimmers of success or artistic satisfaction make the years of rejection bearable? I mean really, this is haaaarrrd. Will it be worth it? I don’t know the answer, but I theorize that even with “success” the beast will not leave me alone. I imagine it will change shape, change color, change smells, but the rejection will continue at every level in different forms, won’t it? In the form of bad reviews, higher stakes losses, chronic self-doubt, disappointing second novels, etc. So why? Why the torment?

Then I started asking more questions. Is this beast unique to the arts? Is there something about artistic fields that lend themselves to more rejection? Or does rejection exist equally elsewhere? Do my friends in STEM fields, or law, academia, business, entrepreneurs—do you experience the same frequency of rejection as my friends in theatre, film, TV, visual art, music, publishing? Are you as well-acquainted with the beast? Maybe you’re just better at keeping him on a leash. I’m genuinely curious because I’ve been so entrenched in the arts for so long that I fear my field of vision has become quite narrow. I also want to feel less alone. I want affirmation that I should not abandon my art for another path because a new beast will in fact be waiting for me on the “easier” roads. Is that true? Or is there a less painful but equally gratifying way to walk through life other than that of a perpetually rejected artist? My non-artist friends, enlighten me.

He shouts and hogs the bed. He never bathes. His claws are sharp. No I’m not talking about Brad! Brad is an angel and takes very good care of his nails. It’s the beast. My invisible housemate. On the other side of my horrible beast is a tiny promise of glory. Is it real? A trick? If it’s not a trick, is it worth it? I don’t know, but beasty and I know each other so well at this point, even without the taste of glory . . . I’d probably miss him. And that, my friends, is the true madness of the arts.



My Irish-Ghost-Theatre-Love-Child

About 6 months ago I was sitting in a company meeting at Theatre of NOTE while the Artistic & Management Committee asked its membership for someone to step up to produce one of the plays in our season, BANSHEE by Brian C. Petti. I had been particularly fond of this play ever since it made its way through our play selection process the prior year. It contained my favorite elements. Grit, family drama, ghosts, folklore, dialects, and a banshee, and it was slated during my favorite time of year, the October Halloween slot. I raised my hand. Hell yeah I’ll produce.

Then I looked at my calendar. At the time it was April-ish and I had pretty serious Bride Brain. Totally discombobulated as the clock ticked down to our July wedding, I may have raised my hand in haste. My wedding was on July 21st, auditions for Banshee would have to be in early August. Pre-production would have to begin simultaneously with the most important production of my life. Ok.

I can do that.

I have this habit of saying yes to everything. What can I say? I’m a worker bee. Saying no feels like turning down opportunity, and I love opportunity. I decided that despite perhaps the best interest of my sanity I would do both. Here on the eve of opening night of our Irish ghost play, I’m so glad that I did.

I mean I really love banshees. If you know me you know that I am a nerd for two things in particular: holiday traditions, and Disney. Well, did you ALSO know that one of my favorite traditions established with my Nana when I was just a wee bairn, was to watch the Disney movie Darby O’Gill and the Little People every St. Patrick’s Day while making homemade green butter. And if you’re still with me then you know that Darby O’Gill is all about banshees, or specifically, the BanSHEEEE! Man that’s a great movie. Actually it’s really ridiculous and kind of offensive but when you’re 8 and making butter with your Nana while Sean Connery serenades you on TV, it’s the best. My intrigue into Irish folklore was sealed.

Fiddle? Check. Pot of gold? Check. Tiny King Leprechaun? Check.
Fiddle? Check. Pot of gold? Check. Tiny King Leprechaun? Check.
but then Sean Connery
but then Sean Connery

So I was sold on this play from the beginning. It’s nothing like Darby O’Gill (thank God), and it’s everything it CAN be. It’s dark, it’s haunting, it’s spooky, and at the heart of it, it’s a classic family drama, my favorite.

Kit Jun 5

Producing this play has been hard. Very hard. It’s hard work and there’s just no way around that. If it wasn’t hard though it probably wouldn’t be as delicious right now. I’ve heard tell of the post-wedding blues that plagues brides after their big day (I actually hate that phrase, “big day,” but I can rarely think of an alternative synonym), and this production has done the trick of keeping my mind too busy to get sad that the wedding dress hangs limp in my closet and the wedding cake gets frostbite in our freezer. Too busy. There have been nights when all I wanted to do was collapse on the couch with my new husband and coo about our newly married life together. Sure. We’ll have a lifetime for that. Besides, the wedding already had me in producer mode. Let’s be honest. Planning a wedding is basically producing a show, only you’re also the lead, and you only get one performance. Although the past 6 months of my life have been back-to-back INSANE, I do not regret it for one second.

Cuz look at this…

Cara Jun 3

Our show rocks. The beauty of it has made it all worth it. It’s like making a baby (well, without the most fun part), and might be just as difficult as giving birth. I somehow managed to pull together a team of rock stars. I mean our sound designer is a Tony-nominee for cripes sake! (Cripes, that’s an Irish thing). Our entire team of designers are so brilliant. Matt Richter, Bill Moore, Abel Alvarado, Cricket Myers, David Thomas, JJ Barrera, Maggie Blake. Y’all make cool stuff happen. Our director James Carey has captained this ship to its full potential. My soul sister Kelly Egan keeps my head screwed on straight and nerves at bay. Doug Burch is the absolute best shoulder to lean on, or cry on, or anything on. I completely lucked out in finding a co-producer in Nadia Marina who happens to be responsible, talented, amazing, organized, and married to an artist who painted our entire set! It’s so beautiful. My associate producer Kirsten Vangsness who, I mean, there just aren’t words to describe her really. Kirsten was among one of the first people I met moving out to L.A. I interned in the casting office for Criminal Minds and I recall the first week coming into the office and Kirsten was sitting there wearing a cherry blossom dress and she introduced herself and was so friendly, inviting, warm, and funny. That was 8 years ago (hard to believe!) and since then CM has turned into a television phenomenon. She’s still one of the kindest, warmest, funniest, and most generous people I know. It’s an honor to be in a theatre company with Kirsten, and with a hundred other people who share her attributes of generosity, humor, and family. It’s a damn fine family, and I’m honored to have reared one of our children (that means one of our plays, are you following my metaphors? I’m almost lost myself).

To my cast, oh my Lord, I love you all so much. Lynn, Bill, Joe, Norm, Alysha, Jonathon, Suzanne, Jenny, Brad, and Tim. Your talent is the absolute backbone of this play. You all know that I’m an actor at heart. I feel your role in all of this more acutely than any other, and I thank you for your patience with me as I try to make this production worthy of our humble black box.

Kit Neil 2

I still have a million and a half things to do before we open tomorrow night, but I really wanted to take a moment to write down some words of thanks, to spread the word about our new playby (that’s like a baby, but a play, because plays are like babies. I’ll stop now), and to invite you to come meet the Banshee! Tonight we have a free invited dress rehearsal. Tomorrow night we open! Tomorrow night is really the place to be to tell you the truth. Following the show there will be Irish whiskey. And food and other treats too. And whiskey!

And look, I know it’s hard to budget for the theatre. I am broke as a not-funny joke right now and I myself could not afford for Brad and I to spend $50 for a night at the theatre. Combined with parking, perhaps childcare costs, dinner, you’re looking at a $100+ evening easily. Although I know our show is worth the price of admission, I also know that many of my friends can’t swing that right now, or ever really. I got you covered. Just go to LA Stage Alliance for half price tickets. Or you can get tickets directly through our website and use the code word KERRY for half pricers. Or just email me, rmsigl@gmail.com. For up to date info on discounts and ticketing, why don’t you join our Facebook event? All the cool kids are doing it. So many options to see this show. In the words of Oleta Adams, I don’t care how you get here, just get here if you can.

Banshee Card Junior

See you at the theatre friends!

the magic of magic is that it’s not actually magic

Last night a lovely friend invited Brad and me to one of my absolute favorite Los Angeles treasures, The Magic Castle. Perhaps because it reminds me of The Haunted Mansion, perhaps because it feels like stepping back in time, or perhaps because at every turn you encounter someone who has dedicated their life to illusion. Whatever the reason, I simply adore The Magic Castle.

Magic. What makes it awe-inspiring is knowing that it’s an illusion. Knowing that what appears before your eyes is impossible and yet despite exhaustive analyses, the magician in front of you has made it appear possible. The art and corresponding wonder lie in the excavation of the illusion, and the true beauty lies in not being able to explain: How did he do it? When your mind simply cannot come up with a reasonable or even unreasonable explanation, then this person has inspired wonder with no limits. But it must be illusion to be beautiful.

 If it were actually magic, meaning, a different set of scientific laws that actually occurred in the world, a la Harry Potter or Middle Earth, then it would not be as magnificent, because it would be science. If people flew, we would just live in a world where people flew. Somehow somewhere through some scientific analyses there would be an explanation. Just like there is an explanation for how birds fly. There is an explanation for everything, whether we ever uncover it or not.  BUT, when it only appears that someone flies, knowing that in truth he cannot, and we cannot for the life of us figure out how he did it, the magician has reached beyond the tangible world of science and to our eyes, against all common sense, made something impossible occur. Illusion. Theatre.

Here is where I get heady. And probably a little pretentious sounding. Forgive me, and bear with me. Art is all illusion. Art is not real, but a reflection of reality constructed by an artist to give an appearance of our world outside of the confines within which it actually exists, and through that reflection the artist allows beauty to emerge in a way that it has difficulty doing so outside of art’s comforting embrace. 

 This phenomenon is perfectly exemplified in good theatre, is it not? Our ability to be moved and to feel a sense of wonder lie in knowing that what we witness is an illusion. There is a safety in illusion; a buffer that gives us the ability to reflect. If in watching a production of Hamlet, the actor playing the Dane actually died onstage at the end of play, we would run in horror. We participate in the illusion and thus it sinks deeper in to our souls than the terrifying mystery of actual death. We leave the theatre perhaps a little less afraid of the unknown because, behaving as a life-preserver, our imagination has allowed us to navigate scary uncharted waters.   

 Thus is true of magic. Stripped of what the theatre gives us in the way of storytelling and precise commentary on various elements of the human condition; magic is illusion boiled down to its core. Illusion for illusion’s sake. Perhaps it is not necessarily a form of art but rather a depiction of the very definition of art. We know it’s not real, and we marvel at it all the more. Magic exercises our imagination.

 In a world choked of beauty with every news story of a school shooting or crooked politician, our imaginations need love and care to not get snuffed out by the fear surrounding us. The endless process of status updates and instantaneously seeking whatever information we want through the click of a mouse has almost voided the world of mystery. How much mystery can there be in the Great Pyramids when you can see them for yourself after taking 10 minutes to download Google Earth? I’m not knocking modern technology. I recognize that it’s amazing and I know there’s a difference between viewing an ancient pyramid on your computer screen and touching one; but will that always be the case depending on how good technology gets? It’s important to not have all the answers. We need to maintain some sense of mystery in the world or we’ll stop exploring and imagining.

I find it interesting that whenever I walk into an establishment that feels like the type of place you’re not supposed to have food or drinks, I also feel like I’m probably not supposed to take pictures. As if taking a picture would have the same damaging affect as spilling a soda. I’m so grateful they don’t allow you to take pictures inside The Magic Castle. It’s a relief to be in a place where you know that what you experience will happen in that moment alone, for you and you alone, and won’t be “shared” by 1,000 followers on Instagram. Like a play, only the audience of that particular night gets to see it. This makes it, what can I say, a magical place.

 At the Castle last night a magician from Kansas City performed an age-old illusion. He brought a girl from the audience up on stage, had her lay down on a table, removed the legs of the table and made her levitate before our very eyes. I was awe-struck. I could not figure it out. I still can’t. I know there are thousands of people out there who could explain to me how he did this trick. Magicians have been doing this since there have been magicians. It’s a very famous illusion and I know there is an explanation. Of course there is an explanation. But I don’t want to know. I want to keep wondering. I confess that in not knowing how it was done a little part of me will always wonder if perhaps it was real magic. And I want to believe in magic.

Brad and I in front of the castle for my birthday two years ago
Brad and I in front of the castle for my birthday two years ago
At The Magic Castle last night
At The Magic Castle last night