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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.

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Writing for the Blank Generation

When I was 17 and in my final year of high school, I saw something written on the wall of the bathroom that stayed with me.  “I belong to the blank generation”.  A quick google search revealed it was a snippet of lyrics from a Richard Hell song, which begins “I was sayin’ let me out of here before I was even born”.  Though the “blank generation” referred to a specific breed of angry punk-rockers, at the time I felt it had an awful lot of resonance with my own.  At the time I was bussing across town from East Van to a West Side public high school, and as we approached graduation the message was clear: You’d better go to school, and you’d better start planning your career.  And if you don’t know what to do, you’d better figure it out soon if you don’t want to end up flipping burgers.

5 years later, my “blank generation” is flipping burgers with one hand and finishing degrees with the other.  And it’s not looking like it’s going to get better any time soon.  For them, that “blank” spot might be in their savings account, their employment prospects or their property ownership.  Young adults are leaving their twenties still crippled by student loan debt and paralysed by a job market left scarce by the recession, and the dream of owning a home is more of a punchline then a plan.  Something went wrong.  Post-Secondary Education had been touted as the only way to make a career worth having – except that in reality, a bachelor’s degree can’t get you a job that can help you pay for it.  I’ve been talking to friends, co-workers, reading messages from twitter and Facebook, comments on articles and I’m hearing the message loud and clear.  Things aren’t looking good.

Right now I’m writing a show called STATIONARY: a recession-era musical.  I didn’t set out to write a political show.  But in writing a story about people my own age, I didn’t see any other way to do it.  I don’t know what other story to tell than someone battling against huge obstacles in pursuit of the life they dream of (and I don’t think any other writer ever did).  Those obstacles have looked different in generations, in centuries gone by, but at this moments, they look a lot like the battle between following “the plan” and paying the bills.  The “Plan” would be checking off those boxes that have been laid out as the “5 Milestones of Adulthood”: Completing Education, Leaving the Family Home, Becoming Financially Independent, Marriage, and Parenthood.  According to an article in Salon.com, in 1960 “77 percent of women and 65 percent of men had passed all five milestones by the age of 30. By 2000, fewer than 50 percent of the women and 33 percent of the men had done so”.  Does this sound like anyone you know?

In trying to put the plight of my peers on stage I’m constantly catching myself listening the comments section in my brain (never a good idea).  To look at it one way, we are a generation whose elders failed to protect us from skyrocketing tuition rates and have consistently taken political action that ensures a living wage is far out of reach.  On the other, we’re labeled as entitled whiners who supposedly expect success without having to work for it.  I can see both sides in a theoretical sense, but here’s the thing – I know lots of young people, non-artists included who work hard and have almost nothing to show for it.  To succeed in today’s job market, candidates are supposed to be highly experienced, have tons of extra skills acquired outside of school, be bright, energetic, charismatic, persistent – so what about those who lack any one of these qualities?  Too bad for them?  Then what?  I don’t have the answer to that.

Life happens.  We get caught along the way by our family situations, our environments, or ourselves.  So I’m writing a story about 6 young people that one way or another have found themselves stuck.  Stationary, if you will (if you didn’t get the pun before, now I’ve laid it right out for you, just in case I’m not as witty as I’d hoped).  Aren’t we all deserving of happiness?  I sure think so.  And I hope these folks make it there, even with the considerable odds stacked against them.  It’s been a struggle to process what I want to say and bring it to life in story form, and I would love to hear your comments about what you think those struggles are.  And you can judge for yourself if I am successful in doing just that when STATIONARY: a recession-era musical goes up at the Cultch with the Neanderthal Festival in July.  For now, some reading material:

Two Articles by Rob Carrick from the Globe and Mail:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/personal-finance/rob-carrick/boomers-have-a-stake-in-gen-ys-success/article2435015/comments/

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/personal-finance/2012-vs-1984-young-adults-really-do-have-it-harder-today/article2425558/

“What Is It About Twenty-Somethings?”  From the New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/22/magazine/22Adulthood-t.html?pagewanted=all

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LEAP Playwrighting Intensive for Youth Writers Reading Series

Through the month of March, I’ll have the great pleasure in taking part in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s LEAP Playwrighting Intensive, facilitated by the amazing Shawn Macdonald.  Through LEAP (Learning Early About Playwrighting), 3 groups of high school and early post-secondary students have the opportunity to workshop their original plays under Shawn’s guidance, culminating in a public reading on an Arts Club stage with a cast of professional actors.  I am very excited to be joining Bob Frazer, Dawn Petten, Aslam Husain, Dmitry Chepovetsky and Meghan Gardiner for the reading series.

The Level 1 Reading took place on March 4th

At this stage in LEAP, each student gets a chance to have their script read and to receive feedback from the acting company, Shawn, and Shawn’s fabulous assistant Stacey Sherlock.  They have the opportunity to do one last edit based on that feedback before the public reading, where their works are presented in a staged reading.  It’s been an absolute joy so far – the young writers are extraordinary thinkers and passionate artists, and it’s inspiring to be around such talent!  With one reading down, we’ve covered the beginning of time, holographic  human beings, a cafe in a desert and much more.  The next two readings promise more excellence – the Level Two reading on March 11 features excerpts from 5 excellent one-acts, and the Level Three on March 25 will see us read a full-length play titled The Hunger Room, written by my dear friend Scott Button.  These readings are absolutely FREE and there is food after.  What could be better?  I urge you to come out and support these amazing budding writers – I promise an inspiring and entertaining night at the theatre!

The LEAP Playwriting Intensive for Young Writers Reading Series
Sunday, March 11 and Sunday, March 25
7 pm at the Revue Stage
FREE ADMISSION!

Beginnings, Inspiration

Upcoming Show: Bridge Mix

Tonight is opening night of my lastest project, Bridge Mix!  Just a few short weeks ago I received an email from the amazing Chelsea Haberlin from Itsazoo Productions inviting my company Delinquent Theatre to be part of Bridge Mix, an interactive site specific evening of theatre presented by Itsazoo and Enlightenment Theatre.  I had heard amazing things about last year’s Bridge Mix and was eager to get started on something creative right out of school, so I jumped on the opportunity.

 

My dear colleague Mishelle Cuttler and I, with help from cast members Ira Cooper, Brian Cochrane, Alexander Keurvorst, Britt MacLeod and Meaghan Chenosky created a 10 minute musical titled Parked: An Indie Rock Musical with Novelty Instruments as our contribution.  Delinquent Theatre is one of 9 indie theatre companies with an entry in Bridge Mix, and they are all fantastic!  I hope you will consider coming out.  For more details, head over to Delinquent Theatre’s website.  It’s been a blast, and I’d love to see you there!

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When It Rains, It Pours

The month of January was a four week long break from shows for me, and I spent most of it looking for something to do. Isn’t that always the way these things go? Knowing that February would be crazy, I chose to relax and enjoy my time off and bemoan my lack of “something to do” instead of getting a head start on all that awaited me. Even though I’m totally swamped now, it was fun to take some down time. And when it rains, it pours…

On January 31st we started rehearsals for our last show at UBC, Michael Frayne’s Wild Honey directed by MFA Candidate Brian Cochrane. We’ve only done table work so far, but already it’s been a blast. Wild Honey is a play adapted from a huge, unfinished manuscript written by Chekhov in his younger days – it has the woeful, emotional transparency of Chekhov but with the pace and wit of a Frayne farce. It’s a brilliant show, and I for one do a lot of ‘weeping’, ‘sobbing’ and ‘fleeing’. It’s so much fun to go to rehearsal every day.

Solo shows are coming up this Friday and Saturday – after blogging about it three weeks ago I completely scrapped the almost-finished show I had written by that time in favor of a new, more challenging piece. I’m doing a sort of bouffon-inspired clown piece that I find extremely scary to perform, which will hopefully pay off – I figure we have so few chances once we emerge from school to try and completely fail, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to either sink or swim… I’ll let you know how it goes!

Finally, my show Our Time opens in just over a week at the Dorothy Somerset Studio. I am so, so excited for people to see my writing and the work that director Brendan Albano, stage manager Hersie-Nina Init, and performer Pippa Mackie (who I’m quite certain will soon take over the world) have done. I sure hope you will come out to see it! Pop over to the Delinquent Theatre website for more information. I will have more to say about Our Time next week, but please do mark your calendars!

So much for “nothing to do…”