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.

Advertisements

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.

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

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!

What I’ve Learned – The First 9 Months

So, I’ve been bad with this  blog.

Like, really bad.  Like not updating since August bad.  But as it turns out, I’ve had a lot of very fun things to do since August, and I’m finally ready to process it all and get back on the blog-wagon.  In a tribute to Stephen Heatley’s famous ‘samplers’ (UBC kids will know what I mean here), here are a few of the valuable lessons I’ve learned in my first 9 months out of theatre school.

GOOD ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH – Vancouver Fringe Festival

I spent a lot of time running around the campus of the Vancouver International Fringe Festival this year, seeing as many shows as possible and flyering my tired butt off for Oh My God with Delinquent Theatre.  I had the pleasure of meeting a lot of artists, both local and visiting, national and international.  I saw a lot of amazing theatre, and a few disappointments.  The common thread between the best shows?  Attention to detail.  Without fail, the shows I enjoyed the most were created by artists who integrated storytelling, design, and atmosphere without sacrificing any quality due to lack of resources, or simply letting something be “good enough”.  From the international Fringe vets to the first-timers and wild Onsite shows, my favorite theatrical creations showed evidence of great care and vigilant creative standards in every aspect of the show. It reminded me to always look at my own work and think – could it be better?  What can I do to keep moving forward?

A CAREER IN THE THEATRE IS NOT LINEAR – Making a Scene Conference

In November I attended the Making A Scene Conference, presented by the GVPTA.  If you have never attended the conference before, I strongly, strongly recommend you do.  The short form explanation of MAS is a gathering of the best minds in the BC theatre scene gathered in a room to discuss, debate, and dissect the state of affairs in our local theatre scene, and what we can do to serve it better.  Check out the 2011 MAS report for some highlights – I left leaving, well… engaged and empowered, which was the title of the event.  One of the many things that have stayed with me was the remark made that “a career in theatre is not linear”.  This struck a chord with me and continues to do so.  Looking back on my time out of school so far, I can clearly see that every dream gig I didn’t land ended up freeing me to do something else different and exciting.  There’s no such thing as ‘lost time’, unless you make it so.  In this career, there’s no standard path to follow – it’s all up to you.  After 3 years of regimented theatre school where your time is not your own, it’s thrilling and terrifying to know you’re now holding the reins.  Talking with more established theatre artists helped me understand there’s no right or wrong path – just the one you choose for yourself.

THEATRE IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN – Wizard of Oz at Carousel Theatre

It’s a simple lesson, but perhaps the easiest to forget.  After months of auditions, callbacks, anxiety and planning, I finally got to settle in and do my first post-school Equity contract.  And what a dream – The Wizard of Oz with Carole Higgins and Carousel Theatre!  With multiple character tracks, 10 costume changes, and wonderful choreography, Oz was one of the most personally challenging shows I’ve done to date, and I wouldn’t have survived it if it weren’t for the warm, fun and funny group at Carousel.  Whether it was through inventive and inspired choices on stage or MadLibs and fart machines backstage, they always kept me laughing and reminded me that – oh yeah, this is supposed to be fun. There is plenty to be anxious about in this career path, but it won’t be worth it if you can’t relax and enjoy the moment, and I am grateful to the wonderful folks I worked with on Oz who reminded me of that.

IT’S NEVER THE RIGHT TIME/IT’S ALWAYS THE RIGHT TIME – Delinquent Theatre

On January 9th, 2012, my friend and theatre partner Laura McLean and I got the news that our fledgling company Delinquent Theatre was officially incorporated as a non-profit society.  This brings us into a new and complicated era of AGMs, boards, grants, licenses and more.  It’s a little overwhelming, but it’s so very worth it.  We’re mounting 2 original musicals within the first 6 months of our incorporation, and doing everything on our own.  We’ve got ambitious plans for the next year and a bit for Delinquent Theatre, and you know what?  We’re ready for it.  There will never be a ‘right time’ to take a leap of faith – you can keep waiting for the time when you have a little more money, a little more time, and a little more experience – or you can jump in with both feet, open eyes, and an open heart and see what you learn.  We’ve opted for the latter, and I look forward to all the lessons I haven’t yet learned, but am about to.  Bring it on.

Party… At My House?

The call came last Wednesday.  Party This Weekend, a site specific theatre production set at a house party, needed a new location.  Party This Weekend is the brainchild of my Delinquent Theatre partner Laura McLean and Scarlet Satin Productions’ Diana Squires.  Written by Arlen Kristian Tom, Taylor Basso, Josephine Mitchell and Diana, the play takes place at a private residence.  Audience members are assigned a party guest to follow throughout the night, and friends are encouraged to split up and watch different sides of the story.  There are acoustic guitar ballads, drinking games, dance parties and tearful revelations.  It’s a fun night at the theatre and an astonishing accomplishment in terms of logistics and stage management, and I had been a big fan of it.  And now the time came that Party This Weekend needed our help, a new and bigger house – and my roomies and I stepped up to the challenge.

This is what our fridge looks like right now. Not pictured: Anyone who actually lives here.

It’s sure easy to say you love and believe in site-specific theatre – it’s a whole other thing to make it happen.  In your own living space.  With 40+ people.  The stage management team arrived hours after we agreed to host, and we began cleaning and clearing the space – family photos and identifying details were taken down and stashed away.  After all, the house needs to appear to be the family home of Gen, Brij and Carmindy, not Christine, Arlen, Megs and Kim.  We quickly determined my bedroom needed to host a few scenes – instantly it became trashy teenage menace Carmindy’s room.  Down came my show posters and scripts, and up went posters of shirtless men and lingerie hanging off every piece of furniture. Before we knew it, it was Friday night and we welcomed almost 50 audience members and actors to our home. The show must go on!

This is clearly not what I normally put up in my room. No, seriously...

If I may digress and use my fancy BFA academic skills here, I just want to say what an interesting experience this has been in understanding how site specific theatre works.  I have always thought a major aspect of the form was re-contextualizing familiar spaces.  Bridge Mix, for example, took place in a parking lot, but the audience was opened to so many possibilities for story and setting within a mundane urban habitat.  In that same way, acting as an audience member on the first night, I got to see my house in a whole different way.  Entering my room with the audience with the understanding that it was Carmindy’s room allowed me to see it as the audience did – my personal items that have their own context to me took on whole new meanings in the setting of Party This Weekend.  It was really fascinating to see how our home, with some set decoration, became part of the story, and how I along with 30 audience members came to understand it in a whole new way.

This is for Gen's surprise birthday party on Friday and Saturday. The rest of the week I am pretending its an early Happy Birthday for me?

It’s been a blast having the talented cast and ninja-like stage management team of Party This Weekend in our house.   Hosting a theatre event has been crazy, and at times alarming (at one point the hostess is looking for something important in my/Carmindy’s room – “check the drawers!”  BOOM, my underwear drawer is opened) but it’s been a real honor to be part of such an ambitious and wildly fun theatrical experience.  PTW runs tonight and tomorrow night at 8PM -I hear they are sold out, but are taking a waiting list.  Check their website for more details.  Party at my house!

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.