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The Quiet Place

People say a lot of things about life in “show business”.  There’s the romantic, vaudeville-throwback imagery; the smell of the greasepaint, the roar of the crowd.  There’s the coked-up Hollywood version, all flashbulbs and magazine covers.  Then there’s the self-aware, self-deprecating cracks: “I’m a classically trained server.”  Each contains a grain of truth but nothing close to the vivid, awful, invigorating reality.  In the last few weeks I’ve been really wondering what the hell I’ve gotten myself into.

The show opens tonight.  In terms of theatrical gestations, it’s been a short one.  We wrote the seed of this show 1 year and 2 months ago.  We wrote the script and music over the last 6 months.  We rehearsed over the last 6 weeks.  We teched just 48 hours ago.  And it will be all over in 10 days.  But in a grander sense, I don’t think any performance is ever just the sum of those little increments of time. Each aspect represents the grand total of a life in the theatre, years of training, years of living and breathing and creating.

The show has been the center of my personal little universe.  As the playwright, I spent weeks pondering, writing, stopping and starting (for much of it with one broken hand) and stressing.  As an actor I spent time decoding what I wrote and lifting it into playable actions.  As producer it filled my inbox and voicemail daily.  As publicist it’s all I’ve talked about.  I rang up my credit card and phone bill, didn’t sleep or eat much.  My boyfriend and my roommate are both in the show.  My best friends are the composer and director.  There was no escape from it.  We are young, own no property, are still the children of our families instead of having children of our own.  We can afford to be single-minded and dedicated wholly to our art. We throw ourselves in all the way because nothing else seems quite as important.

And then sometimes you step outside, feel the sun on your face and the pavement under your shoes and come to the phenomenal realization that something so consuming, so special and with so strong a pull that it can turn your whole world around has absolutely no effect on the people you see walking next to you on the sidewalk.  And that, not to put too fine a point on it, is fucked up.  I haven’t been able to eat a full meal or sleep through the night for weeks, but here are people riding bikes, eating brunch with their kids, driving cars.  Walking around.  Breathing.  Umm, you guys?  Did you know my show opens tonight?

That is the ecstasy and pain of passion.  That something can be everything and nothing all at once.  And my guess is anyone who has found their way to these words here ‘gets it’.  You get that the passion of creation is worth any amount of nausea and insomnia.  That the all-consuming drive to dedicate oneself wholly to a show is essential to fulfilling its infinite (and yet completely intangible) potential.  And you can probably understand why after months of hard work, knowing that some of the most influential people in our community and the media will be watching the fruits of our labors unfold on stage tonight, I (and I think all of us involved in the show) are feeling a little out of our minds right now.  I feel grateful to have a passion that can leave room for little else, but at the same time it all feels insurmountable, too big to handle.

This is just the beginning.  And if I’m going to survive this stage of my life in the theatre, I need to find the quiet place.  Somewhere where I’m free of the anxiety and perfectionism, the high stakes and the squeezy feeling in my chest.  I think I’ve found it.  It feels like sitting in the house before the audience comes in.  It feels like a comfortable silence with the person who knows you best.  Like early mornings when the world is quiet.  It’s a place that remembers that the center of your universe simply spins you around within the greater rush of time and life – that without sunlight and pavement and friends and family and life, there would be no stories to tell or music to write.  And in that quiet, at last, I am ready to begin.

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.