Uncategorized

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.

Uncategorized

the 5 stages of audition anxiety – part 1

1. Submitting for an Audition

Dear (Artistic Director),

My name is Christine Quintana and we may have already met but I am terrified to assume you know who I am already or remember me from the one or two times we’ve spoken but then on the other hand I might end up looking like an idiot introducing myself again, but here it is, my name!  on this letter! whether we’ve met or not I’m just going to provide my name, dammit, and I am a recent graduate of the UBC BFA Acting Program, and I really really want an audition am so in love with this script that I can’t stop thinking about it will do your dishes for a month just to get in the room and audition for you am worried I will never get to meet you am a really nice person!  really! would very much like to be considered for an audition for your upcoming production, (Fabulous Show that I’ve Loved for Years).  I am especially interested in any role at all, really! I love ensemble and would never turn my nose up at anything you’d like to offer me!  I’ll even accept the role of box office attendant!  If I’m not already working in your box office anyway, ha-ha! HA! just kidding I am an actor and I’m on the market, fresh and shiny and ready to be an artist in any role you are willing to cast me in the role of (Ingenue or Troubled Teen). 

Thank you very much for your consideration and I totally understand if I never hear from you, I mean I’m sure it’s hard to choose who to see among the hundreds of talented young women in this city and I can totally see how you might be full and not able to fit me in, but maybe I’ll meekly try to crash your auditions if I don’t get a slot but actually end up sitting outside the building working up the courage to approach the audition monitor and then going home after an hour of deliberation but maybe you’ll have time for me and that would be great! and I look forward to hearing from you. 

Enclosed is my headshot and resume and I wondered if I should give you my smiley ingenue headshot or the somewhat more seductive ones because I look like I’m 17 in the one I sent you and I can look older, really, if that’s what you want but of course I don’t know what you want so I just sent this one but if you need me to look older I can totally wear eyeliner or something just tell me what to do but here’s a picture of me looking hopeful and youthful in the meantime.

Thank you,

Christine Quintana

PS. I am just new at all this and I hope this cover letter is okay – should I have given more details?  Less?  Do I sound needy or presumptuous? I proofread it like 50 times, I swear, and if there’s any typos or incorrect information I will die of shame so I hope it’s all good and does anyone even read cover letters?  I am fresh out of school and just doing my best and I hope my cover letter conveys my youthful enthusiasm because I really do love your company and the work you do and would love to be part of it and how do I possibly express that in a cover letter?  I am going to now dump this into a mailbox like it’s on fire and then try to forget about everything I’ve just painstakingly written but please know that all this anxiety just comes from wanting to be a part of your show!  I am totally normal, professional and well-adjusted, I promise!

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.