Tag Archive | theatre

When did I become so afraid?

How many times have you heard a story begin “When I was in college…” among the thirty-something set? We seem to draw upon that just-out-of-reach chapter in our lives to desperately try to understand how we ended up in our current situation. What was it I wanted to be again? What was I passionate about? What did I do when I was fearless? Of course that’s not everyone’s recollection of their college years, but for me, I was fearless.

Recently I’ve been infiltrated by a foreign emotion when it comes to my ability as an artist, namely an actor. I could call it insecurity or self-consciousness. It started out as doubt. I’ve been insanely insecure about many other things throughout my life, but never my ability as an artist. I could boil the rest down to two fears. Being fat, and being a loner.

I hate the word fat. Almost as much as I hate chubby, plus-size, and lately the patronizing overuse of the word curvy. The unfiltered kids who would tease me in grade school just went straight to fat. My trying-to-be-polite “friends” thought chubby would be less upsetting. I’ll never forget the girl who sat next to me in 4th grade calling me “pleasantly plump.” This is no doubt something she’d overheard at her mother’s weekly Weight Watchers meeting. The women’s clothing section at Macy’s obviously feels that plus-size is somehow comforting. And now the overdue positive body image movement has appropriated the word curvy to describe any woman larger than a size 12. To me they’re all touchy, but that’s largely my own madness. They all push the same button. The same weak spot on my soul that reduces me back to that 10 year old girl on the playground crying at the edge of the field where no one will see me because Thad just made fun of my fat stomach while playing foursquare. Yes I kind of want you to feel sorry for me. Whatever though. I’m over it. I really am. Over the past 10 years I’ve worked so hard to get over my body image issues and can proudly say that for the most part, I have. Not that I love myself all the time, I just don’t really care that much anymore. Yes I wear a size 10 and sometimes 12. Yes I’m too heavy for my husband to comfortably whisk me off my feet while we’re walking barefoot on the beach. Yes I have a huge butt. Whatever. Over it. The point is, these things do leave weak spots that become susceptible to other insecurities. I think that’s what’s happened.

Oh, I also said I was insecure about being a loner. Totally true. I possess this completely irreconcilable set of traits where I love spending time by myself and at the same time am totally pained to be without a set of friends. I enjoy being alone, but I don’t want to be a loner. I like being by myself, but I long to be part of a group. Classic Gemini. Someday I need to accept one or the other. I can’t have it both ways, and for now the struggle makes me feel sort of crazy and sad. But this topic is a post for another day. For right now I just have to put my finger on how my weak spots have been invaded by an insecurity of something totally foreign to me, my artistry.

Fat loneliness being the only thing that truly ever kept me up at night, I somehow always maintained a strong faith in my ability as an actor. I don’t know why. It’s an easy thing to be insecure about, but I was immune. I was never cocky. Humility is not the same thing as insecurity. I was humble, but confident. Ruminating on this for several weeks now, I’ve come to the conclusion that it was because I was doing it all the time.

Last year was the first in 18 years that I did not do a play. Seriously. That dawned on me recently and I about died. How depressing, and weird. Save the two or three years that competitive baton twirling replaced theatre as my extracurricular activity, I’ve always been in plays, even as a kid. Plays at school, plays at River City Theatre Company (youth theatre), or plays in adult community theatres, I was always acting. A funny thing happens when you’re doing something all the time. You don’t have much time to doubt it. You can feel frustrated and shaky, maybe challenged and even overwhelmed, but not deep-seated insecurity. That is the kryptonite that prevents you from even being able to get on the stage.

So flash forward now to 2014 and I audition, and I audition, and I audition, and I audition, and for the first time in forever I do not get cast in anything. Whoa. Unlike before, I am not asking you to feel sorry for me about this one. When I made this observation to a friend of mine his response was, that’s amazing. Not the response I was expecting because I saw it as a negative. He reminded me that I could just as easily see it as a positive that I had been fortunate enough to ALWAYS be practicing my craft and playing from the time I was 11. So yeah, that turned me on my feet real quick. I’m grateful. I’ve lived a charmed actor life.

But gratitude doesn’t dismiss the detriment NOT acting is having on my spirit. To use the phrase I began this article with, when I was in college, I was acting every day all day. I was fortunate enough to go to an amazing acting conservatory program at an amazing university (BU pride forever baby!), where literally everyday from 9:00 am in the morning to 9:00 pm at night I was stretching my creative muscle. I was moving around like an earthworm in movement class. I was playing status exercises in scene class. I was thrown into an existential crisis discussing Plato’s takedown of the arts. Is he right? Oh my God. Is art too far removed from the truth? I was learning about what my body could do for itself in Alexander technique. I was getting to know my voice. I was discovering my knack for German, Scottish, English dialects. I was in London! Acting! I was living my absolute dream studying theatre in my favorite city in the entire world. Who has time for doubt when DOING all the time? Not me.

Then graduation comes and goes. You move on. The real world hits. Bills hit. College loans can’t be deferred any longer. Cars need to be bought. More loans. You decide between a soul-sucking restaurant job and a stable 9:00-5:00. You pick the 9:00-5:00 to spare your soul but consequently put a huge barrier in your way to auditioning. However you do leave the evenings open to continue to do theatre. You join a theatre company. Yay. You audition and get cast sometimes. Yay. You audition other times and don’t get cast. Poo. Then one year, 7 years later, you audition again and again and again and you don’t get cast in anything and you’ve been working your 9:00-5:00 job to pay off the college loans you took out to get a degree that you’re not using and you’re so tired by the time you get home that you veg out on the couch watching other people act on your TV instead of figuring out why you’re not. And you wake up one day and you’re 30 and you realize that although you’re happy and you actually like your 9:00-5:00 job and you’re married to a wonderful man and you love your apartment and your car that you’re still trying to pay off, and your priorities have changed a bit, you realize that despite all of that, you’re not acting. You really thought you’d be acting. You were fearless. And not acting has made you bad at acting. And you’ve never been worried about being bad at acting in your entire life. And so how do you reconcile the fact that you’re no longer afraid of being fat or being a loner but you are terrified of being a bad actor.

I’m pretty sure the answer is simple. Just start acting again, right? Easy. Except it’s kind of not. It feels like there are limited opportunities to act. The trick is to take what you can get and take it seriously. The other night a friend of mine was having a very informal reading in his apartment of a pilot he wrote. They needed readers. Normally I would say no, because I’d rather go home and veg out on the couch and watch other people act. But I thought about my struggle of late and said, you know, this is an opportunity to act. Even though it’s going to be very casual and you’ll be among friends, it’s an opportunity to read words that someone else wrote and try to bring them to life. So I said yes. And I had a great time. Yes we just sat casually in his living room drinking ginger tea while we read. Yes it was a room full of female actors even though most of the characters were men. Yes it was super casual. But it was fun and I acted. So there.

This is what I need to do. Not because I need a career as an actor. I’m not sure that’s my fate. A career is beside the point. What I do know is that I need to be acting. Because acting is what turned the fearless switch on when I was 11 years old.  Acting is what made my fear of being a fat loner tolerable. Acting is fun. Acting is the very core of my imagination. I have to be acting. To not have done a play in the past 12 months has felt like a part of me is trapped. My wings have been bound. I guess it’s sort of an addiction. I can’t shake it. No matter how much I turn to writing more seriously than acting. No matter how much I paint, or twirl baton, or practice the guitar, or run. All of those things are great, but nothing is as fulfilling to my very soul as playing make believe with someone else’s words. My acting fuels all other artistic pursuits. Like a shark that stops moving forward, if I stop acting my imagination dies and I can kiss goodbye to writing, painting, or whatever else.

It’s like those new Ben & Jerry’s Core ice cream flavors. Acting is my chocolate fudge core. (You can kinda see how I ended up a chubby kid, huh?)

Do any of you feel this way too? I know it’s hard to be working professionally all the time but we have to keep working out. We have to get to the creative gym. When I was in college (there’s that phrase again), we had this weekly event called Locals. It was a lifesaver. Freshmen at BU are not allowed to audition for any of the mainstage shows. It’s wise. You spend the first year getting acclimated to college, acclimated to the conservatory environment. You learn before you apply. But the professors acknowledged the importance of casual pressure-free application. So they started this thing called Locals. Every Monday afternoon the entire Freshmen class of theatre students, as well as some professors and upperclassmen, would gather in one of the larger classrooms and just do stuff. People would get up and perform whatever they’d been working on. Sometimes you’d get a scene partner and spend the week working on a scene you always wanted to do and then you’d perform it at Locals. Maybe you’d sing songs, dance, play an instrument, or tell a story. It was an exercise in fearlessness. No one was expected to be perfect; everyone was expected to be brave. It was fantastic. I miss Locals.

This got me thinking. I’m a part of this large community of artists at Theatre of NOTE not unlike my community of artists in college. All talented, supportive, top-notch types who don’t get to act often enough. Wouldn’t it be great to have Locals? I don’t think we could organize it every week, but what about once a month? Wouldn’t it be fantastic to have a safe space where you could just work on stuff?

A friend of mine, Bill, started something similar to this called The Creative Fete. It was very Locals-esque. From what I understand it has since been somewhat dissolved and that makes me sad.

I’m just putting it out there to gauge interest. What do you think LA theatre nerds? Do you want to play? Because the 11 year old I once knew is looking me in the face and asking with a snarky expression, “When did you become so afraid?”

30 Days of Thanks – Day 8: Theatre of NOTE

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Yesterday my little blog here had the most views in it’s short history; a statistic deserving of Scott’s visit. Thank you for reading everyone. I know the bulk of those readers were members of my lovely theatre company, Theatre of NOTE. They are my extended family and like any family we have our share of occasional drama, but only to match the presence of love.

I am so thankful that I found a little black box in Hollywood filled with compassionate creative artists, and that they let me hang around. They are the most talented people in Los Angeles. And the wackiest. Both admirable attributes. The truth is, without you guys, I think I would have gone crazy. Probably left L.A. This town can be a vortex of ego and loneliness and you need a tether to keep you from getting sucked in. A community. For the past 6 years I’ve had the most wonderful tether.

Without NOTE I would have never met the love of my life. That one gets the theatre brownie points to last a lifetime no matter what ever else happens.

I’ve had some of the most incredible theatrical challenges both at NOTE and because of NOTE. Every year I eagerly await what new opportunities will come down the pike, either to perform in or just shows to see that I know will blow me away.

For all of the late rehearsals, the fundraisers, the company meetings, the dance parties, the terms of the AMC, the endless font of acronyms (just when you think you can’t come up with one more…) the committee meetings, the drama, the love fests, the long emails, the joy of being cast, the heartbreak of not, the love that keeps you coming back despite the heartbreak, the performance marathons, the NOTEwoods, the Scott McKinleys. I love it all.

It’s good to have a family. You all are so precious to me. Maybe more than you’ll ever know. I’ve always wanted to feel like I was a part of something, and here I do. It’s a warm and Thanksgiving-y feeling.

Go theatre club. Now turn in your hours!

At a company meeting. Packed in like sardines.

At a company meeting. Packed in like sardines.

Holy Ghost

Holy Ghost

Holy Ghost

Holy Ghost

Scott McKinley photobomb series

Scott McKinley photobomb series

NOTEwood

NOTEwood

a band

a band

PTSD

PTSD

Rehearsal for Mulholland Christmas Carol

Rehearsal for Mulholland Christmas Carol

Mulholland Christmas Carol

Mulholland Christmas Carol

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See ya tomorrow

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_castle_2
 

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