Anxiety, Inspiration, Uncategorized

Swimming Alone

I expected it to be quiet at Joe Creek.  I’m here at The Only Animal‘s beautiful artist retreat thanks to Playwrights Theatre Centre, who gave me a week here to work.  It’s a beautiful, bright cottage nestled between forest and ocean.  It’s a perfect place to be creative, and I have the place to myself.

photo 1

But I brought the noise with me.

I came here knowing I would do rewrites on a couple plays already well into their development, scheduled for production and with a host of other people involved.  However I mostly came here to work on a new piece, a quiet little voice that’s been whispering to me.

When I was younger, I was a total romantic.  The list of my favourite movies and plays reads like an index of tragic romance.  I can’t seem to help it.  The thing is, I’m also a brutal pragmatist.  Since romantics aren’t known for their survival skills, I’ve found myself leaning more and more to that side of myself, hearing the violins and proclamations of love fading farther and farther away.  But this little voice insists there’s a story to tell – a love story about everything I know now.

That damn pragmatist is being too loud.  Every time I start to write, I hear a barrage of is it produceable?  Is that trite?  Don’t you think that’s a bit derivative?  And so I frequently storm out of the cottage into the outdoors, looking for quiet.  There’s a beautiful forest right on the property – due to my almost compulsive refusal to do things the way I’m supposed to, I immediately forget the paths that Kendra showed me, crashing through the forest, carefully leaping over saplings and ferns.  How can I start without structure, what’s the action of this scene, what’s the thematic- SHUT UP SHUT UP and the forest loses this time.  I take a few gulps of air and I head back.

Either I know nothing about how to write a play, or the things that I do know are making it impossible.  My heart and my brain are at war.  So I pack my bag and run down to the beach.  I want to swim in the ocean.  I want it.  My heart wants it.  But the beaches here are rocky and hard to walk, the water thick with seaweed.  Beautiful to look at and so hard to tackle.  I remember the warnings in the artist’s handbook.  I remember the repeated warnings of my mom and boyfriend to be careful.  I’m on a mission though.  When I get to the beach I looked, awed, at the shimmering blue of the water, the immaculate clear sky.  I drop my bag, pull off my shoes. My feet sizzle on the rocks so I keep moving.

I hit the water and wow, it’s cold.  This seemed like a nice idea but the pragmatist guarantees it will not end well.  I push on.  I can no longer see my feet and they slip on seaweed then catch on sharp barnacles – I fall and slice my hand on something sharp below the surface.  It looks nasty and deep but while it’s bleeding hard it doesn’t hurt much and is clearly not fatal.  On I go – how, I saw some teenagers swimming here yesterday, how did they do that?  Are they born with callused feet or what?  Quietly, I hear so get off your feet.  Right.  I launch into a doggy paddle, just deep enough not to kick the bottom.  My breasts immediately fall out of my fashionable but inefficient bikini dammit dammit dammit but I realize there’s no need to be mortified because there’s no one around to see.  And despite there being no one around, I am not suddenly pulled under by some invisible current, not dragged below by a patch of seaweed.  I am awkwardly flopping along the water but I am still alive.  Please, please, I beg.  Don’t make me feel stupid for wanting this.  Let me have this.  And then years of community centre swim lessons come back to me and I roll onto my back, a starfish on the surface of the water.  The ocean’s invisible hands buoy me up and I am floating, the sun winking above.  Now it’s still, and the only sounds are the water lapping against my ears and my breathing slowing down.

Every act is an act of courage.  You need your heart to push you on and  your brain to keep you safe.  One without the other, and you’ll drown for sure.  I did it. There it is, the quiet.

I can hear it now.  My story.

photo 4

Anxiety, Inspiration

In Two

The day I broke my hand was really just like any other day.  A situation with certain variables, and a resulting outcome.  I needed to get to work.  The skytrain was down.  The busses were full.  I rode my bicycle, a car wanted to pass me, and I crashed trying to get out of its way.  In the first moments, I was most concerned about my head – I had hit it pretty hard, and I was worried about a concussion.  I noticed blood on my hands, but couldn’t feel anything.  I blacked out while waiting for the ambulance.  It wasn’t until the second hour of waiting in the emergency room that I realized my rapidly swelling hand had taken the worst of it all.  Two hours after that realization I was back at home in my PJs, dazedly trying to make a cup of tea with a cast on my left hand.

I learned a lot of things from my month in a cast.  I am a hand talker.  I am someone who often touches other people on the arm or hand when I’m making a point.  I like to make notes.  I like to do many things at once.  I was unable to do any of those things with my dominant hand folded up in plaster and tensor bandages.  Instead, I had to do lots of things I don’t like, such as ask for help, do one thing at a time, and just ‘relax’.  I found acceptance of only being able to hold a coffee or an iPhone at once (oh how I loathe my own dependence on technology).  I met many kind and considerate strangers out in public who were intuitive in sensing the need for help (anything from tying shoelaces to picking up dropped items), and I heard lots of stories of other broken bones.  I was stunned by the compassion from people with permanent injuries to their hands and feet who would talk to me out of the blue to ask how I was holding up.

In the four weeks I was unable to use both hands, I had more writing deadlines than I’d had in the last year.   I tried dictating to patient Arlen as he typed, but I have enough trouble getting words past my own editing faculty to put them on paper, let alone passing them through someone else’s ears first.  Unable to handwrite (my right-handed cursive proving hilarious but illegible), the only option I had was typing with one hand.  The rush of words and ideas came too fast and my one hand, spidering across the keyboard was too slow.  I had to write.  I had workshops and meetings days away and a backlog of inspiration but when I sat in front of my computer all I got was a big, chest-pain inducing, NO NO NO feeling.  And it was terrifying.

I survived, as we always do with these big things.  I got my cast off three weeks ago now and bit by bit my hand is healing, though weaker than before.  I picked up a pen right away and my WPM is back as it was before.  I am more grateful than ever that words can go from heart to page as smoothly as can be again.  I guess if you had asked me 2 months ago before the day the skytrain broke down if I feared something happening to me that would change my relationship with my art, that I would have understood the premise intellectually.  But there’s no way of knowing what it feels like until you just can’t, until you get that NO NO NO feeling.  All the while I knew I had the luxury of a date on my calendar when the cast would come off and things would be ‘back to normal’ again.  I can’t even concieve of the strength of people for whom that day likely won’t come.

Since then, I’ve been watching people’s hands.  My mother is a clothing designer, and I don’t think I ever fully realized the amazing alchemy that happens in her studio.  I bring her bolts of fabric and she stitches and pins and paints and turns out beautiful garments, one of a kind creations.  I think about her hands, strong and skilled with years of expertise and artistry running from fingertip to seams.  I can only imagine how many things have been made with those two hands, making something out of nothing.   To help myself build back my strength, I am teaching myself to play the ukulele.  I’ve never played an instrument before and so the feeling of strings under my newly callused fingertips is thrilling.  I feel the years ahead of making music and taking photos and word words words I have are a gift.  Just like my mom and the meters of fabric that are her medium, I know there is much to come from a pen and paper and these two hands.  And pretty soon, one of these days I’ll get back on my bicycle.

Anxiety, Future, Practice

the 5 stages of audition anxiety – part 2

2.  Waiting

I’m learning already that a great deal of an aspiring professional actor’s time is spent waiting.  Waiting to get an audition time, waiting to hear about callbacks, or casting.  Lots, and lots of waiting.  I’m of two minds about this.  Generally I have been good at the old “set it and forget it” mentality – the audition or submission is done and out of your hands, and no amount of energy you spend worrying about it will change the outcome, which is already in motion.  However, that was a lot easier to say inside of the cozy womb of theatre school, during which time one is always somehow ‘busy’.  Remove constant stimulus and long hours spent in sweatpants, and one might find themselves with a little more time on ones hands.  More time to obsess, catastrophize, or build up hopes that may or may not be dashed.  And so, dear readers, I put forth a list of things that I and my fellow novice actors have done to fill the void, and to avoid circular logic and entirely wearing out one’s roommate with constant speculation on the state of one’s artistic career.

Eat

I’ve developed this ‘theory’ regarding auditions – when faced with the stress of the audition room, the body tends to react from a place of animal fear, the place that tells you that you are being chased or hunted, and are in imminent danger of being eaten.  If I were to, say, eat some sort of fatty food after every audition, could I rewire those neurons to see auditions as the precursor to a tasty snack?  Would those animal fears give way to delicious anticipation?

Okay, no.  I really just got into the habit of eating my feelings after stressful auditions.  I learned how to make s’mores using a broiler.  The other day after reading my email I ‘couldn’t relax’ until I ate mexifries.  This is mental conditioning in the worst form…

Get a Haircut

3 weeks after grad. So much face-obscuring fringe.

During our 3 years of guidance and repeated requests from our instructors to ‘get your hair out of your face’, the ladies of BFA Acting 2011 at UBC obediently trimmed, clipped, pinned and hairsprayed our locks into submission.  The minute we graduated, we all went out and got bangs.  Eyeball-poking, eyebrow-grazing, face-obscuring bangs.  Sorry, Stephen.

Read

One of my favorite parts of post-school life is all of the non-theatre related reading I’ve gotten to do.  Right now I am reading The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (just a good old, dystopian beach read).  I am currently spreading the gospel of Goodreads, which I describe as Facebook for books.  Join up, add me as a friend, and let’s share our favorite reads!  Books are awesome!

Make New Friends

As much as I joke about the anxiety of post-school life, it has been immensely comforting to be welcomed into the vibrant and friendly community of young actors that work in this city.  I met so many fantastic folks doing Bridge Mix, and continue to be inspired by projects like The Verona Project, bash, and Party This Weekend – young artists going out there and making the kind of work they want to be part of, and gathering on the resources of the independent theatre scene to do it.  I can see already how discouraging this business can be, and how easy it would be to develop a chip on ones shoulder, but here is a generation of positive, empowered young artists who do incredible work and have a great time doing it.  I’ve met so many wonderful people who I am so excited for and by, and I look forward to spending more time in their company.

Photo of "Parked: An Indie Rock Musical for Novelty Instruments" by Adam Fedyk (click for link)

This is the generation that doesn’t want to wait for permission to make the kind of theatre they believe in.  They remind me that if you want to be an artist, you don’t have to wait.  You just have to go.

Anxiety, Beginnings, Future, Inspiration

You Are Enough

In the first term of our first year of the BFA Acting Program at UBC, our teacher Stephen Heatley made us do an exercise. We sat along the wall of the studio, and one by one we were to walk in the door, stop in the middle of the room, spread our arms out, say our name with confidence and clarity, and walk out. Easy, right? Not exactly. We were at the beginning of our training, many of my classmates had just moved to Vancouver or moved out for the first time, and we were scared. Really scared. As we went up one by one, our movements told the story of our defence mechanisms. Some people used comedy, taking up a funny walk, a smirk to cover up the nervousness. Some people seemed aggressive, daring you to question them. Some people shook, looking at the floor, mumbling their name. Me? I ended up in hysterics (first laughing, then crying) and Stephen had to literally hold my hand to get me in the door and across the room. How is it that people who want to make a living performing in front of hundreds of people couldn’t simply introduce themselves in front of a dozen of their peers?

The lesson for the day was “You Are Enough” – one of Stephen’s famous ‘samplers’ for the first year BFA Actors.  The idea behind the exercise was to trust ourselves to be enough – no need for showboating, for nerves, or for an attack – just to walk in, breathe, say your name and leave and trust that simply being everything you are, just as you are, is enough.  That day revealed to everyone their ways of protecting themselves from revealing that truth, and started us on the road to uncovering the root of that deep-seated feeling we all have – that we are somehow inadequate.  In our chosen profession, we are forced to confront these feelings virtually on a daily basis, and finding security in oneself is vital to producing vulnerable, truthful work.  In the three years since we did that exercise all of us, as actors and just as twenty-somethings, have come a long way to sorting out that puzzle, to saying our names with confidence and bringing that sense of self to our work.  “You Are Enough” has become a favorite phrase in our group – sometimes as a punchline when someone does something dumb (“Aww, don’t worry, you are enough”) or as a frantic mantra when facing a stressful situation.   That nerve-wracking day in the studio feels far, far away now, and the lesson just a memory.

But now, facing the ‘real world’, I am suddenly keenly aware of its value.  I’ve been looking at the amazing season announcements and seeing the parts I dream of playing, and thinking “why would they ever choose me?”  It’s a terrifying prospect, knowing you are a little, nervous fish in a big pond now.  It’s time to start pursuing those dream gigs, and I just spent a few hours preparing my submissions, packing glossy photos of me looking oh-so-happy and chipper into envelopes, imagining them lost in a stack of hundreds of photos of happy-looking people all hoping for the same thing as me.  The only thing I can do is hang on to that lesson from first year – I am enough.  There are many talented actors out there, but I remind myself that I am unique in my experiences, my point of view, my humor and my life.  And that’s just the thing – whether you have more experience or less, look the part or not, none of us have an equal in our ability to tell a story.  Whether you’re up against stiff competition, whether you get the part or not, whether the doors open up for you or slam in your face, you must know deep down that you are enough.  Somehow, as an artist, you must believe that your voice is worth hearing.  As my class prepares to join the ‘real world’, I feel like we’re all back to being those shaky kids in the studio again.  I’m grateful though, to have a mantra to keep in my heart as we walk out and introduce ourselves.  Thank you, Stephen.

Anxiety, Inspiration, Solo Show, Uncategorized

The Loneliest Number

Even though I’ve known about this assignment since before I started the BFA Acting program, I’m still losing sleep over it; Like as in many conservatory-style acting programs, UBC’s final year class is instructed to create and perform a solo show to be presented in the final term. Normally they are presented in April – this year we’ll be performing them in mid-February. No pressure.

I’ve seen so many solo shows over the years and have fallen in and out of love with the form over and over. I remember being absolutely floored by Caroline Cave in The Syringa Tree at the Playhouse. After a few Fringe seasons I swore up and down this year that I would avoid solo shows at all costs, then had my mind absolutely changed by Jeff McMahan of Asylum Theatre in The Boy Who Had a Mother and Chris Craddock in Moving Along. I’ve had the chance to perform in one (Spunk’d by Ella Simon in the Walking Fish Festival) and write one (Our Time at the Ignite Youth Week Festival) but I’ve never done both at once. Scary stuff.

In trying to write my own solo show I am haunted by two beautiful performances that have stayed with me long after I left the theatre. I had the pleasure of seeing Daniel MacIvor perform Cul-de-Sac at the Vancouver East Cultural Center. It was such a tour-de-force performance with rapid-fire conversations between characters, gorgeous synthesis of design and delivery and a compelling story. The audience brought him out for two encores at curtain call and remained in their seats afterwards, totally floored. Years later back at the Cultch I was lucky enough to catch Joey Tremblay’s Elephant Wake. I’ve never been to a show like that before, one that made me laugh out loud as if I were in the company of a good friend and sob like a child in the space of an evening. Tender, funny and extraordinarily beautiful, I left wondering if I’d ever see a show that moving again.

So with these experiences behind me and a 15 minute long self-penned solo show in front of me, I’m wondering what elements of those memorable shows I can find in my own work. Ultimately all the performer has is the audience, and all they have is the performer – there’s no room for indulgence on the part of the performer or lack of clarity in the storytelling. The most successful solo shows I’ve seen had a generous, charismatic performer (like Cave, MacIvor, and Tremblay) reaching out to the audience to share a story worth telling. Which is, ultimately, the name of the game if you’ve got a cast of 100 or just 1. The 15 of us have the task of taking our own story and heading out there alone to tell it (and fill the rather formidable Telus Studio Theatre while we do so).

So I’d like to know: what elements do you think are key to a great solo show? Have you seen a show that made the most of the form and if so, what made it great?



Anxiety, Beginnings, Future

Surviving the Wicked Stage

It’s January 4th and I’m deep in the throes of the new years resolution thing. I am somewhat of a goal setter no matter what, but this year I’m in it with a vengeance. There’s a few reasons: Firstly, it’s just natural to feel the need for change after the over indulgence of the holiday season.  As well, 2010 was good to me and I’m hoping to keep the ball rolling, strike while the iron is hot, hit the ground running and all of those cliches.

Of course, the main reason for this sudden rush of self-improvement is the fact that I will graduate from theatre school this May. I’ve dreamed of the day “when I graduate from theatre school” since I was 13 years old, with visions of national tours dancing through my head. The reality is a much sweatier, queasier kind of future, but that’s okay. Despite feeling like I might abruptly vomit whenever I remember my time as a student is coming to an end, I’m feeling excited and optimistic. And I feel like blogging about it.

Photo by Steph Meine
Us in class. Not pictured: sweat, blood, tears.

Back when I was a little younger, I used to love all those clichés and romanticized images of the theatre, and one of my favorite phrases was “life upon the wicked stage”. I chose this for the name of my blog because of its other meaning to me: I’m about to enter that wicked stage of life, fresh out of the nurturing womb of theatre school and hoping to make my mark in the big bad ‘real world’. Exciting times and disappointment both await, and while rough at times, I bet it will be wonderful too. So here I am, surviving that wicked stage.

Here goes nothing.