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Stay Classy: Three Performance Courses to Take in Atlanta

1 Jun

The serious professional in any industry knows the importance of continuing education, and artists are no exception. But after an entire college education in theatre performance, in everything from storytelling to Shakespeare to sketch (not to mention dance from kindergarten), you can get a little over going to class. For a considerable amount of time, I rested on my educational laurels, relegating my training to the school of hard knocks that performing in real time affords (which let me tell you – are neither small nor few).

But earlier this year it struck me that after *cough* years out of college, it might be time to brush off the books. I had just finished a writing project and a large production, and had only a small choreography project going for the winter. So when my friend M asked if I wanted to join her in an acting class, the time seemed ripe. After that I was having so much fun I didn’t want to stop.

So for any of you who may have a gap in your schedule and are looking for something to sharpen the tools in your box, check out my review of the following classes around town.

The Alliance Theatre Education Program

The Skinny: Befitting the regional mecca of theatre that it is, the Alliance offers the most comprehensive set of classes, serving all levels and all ages.  They’re also probably the most traditional. For adults, classes are offered in three levels: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. I took the intermediate class, which at four weeks is the shortest and least expensive course. Each level covers slightly different material; intermediate level is a scene study.

Who to expect: People from related industries with limited acting training. Business people who want to break out their shell. People who Googled “become an actor” last week.

What to expect: There are several instructors employed in this program, all qualified and experienced. The instruction is more or less from the classic Stanislavsky-Chekovian school. There is a small formal lecture component so bring a notebook and pencil (or a camera to snap the whiteboard). You will do some actor-y warmups – nothing too off-the-wall, but it involves yoga so don’t wear a skirt. The course will be spent applying the lecture concepts to a short two-person scene from a classic stage work (ours was Glass Menagerie, and yep, you have to memorize it). Be prepared to find a new scene partner after your original one ghosts the class (adaptability! it’s a skill).

My favorite part: Although I’d already covered most of the ground with my degree, there was one neat technique we learned in the very last class that involved using physical hot spots in the body to reflect various emotional centers (head, heart, and groin). It’s a handy shortcut for when you get the nebulous “can you try it another way?” in an audition. As dancers M and I could really get down with the kinetic aspect.

Tip: Take the free intro workshop first – not only will it give you a sense of whether this is what you’re looking for, but you’ll also get a discount code to use when signing up for a full course. Details and info.

Meisner Foundation at Pinch n’ Ouch

The Skinny: Pinch n’ Ouch, named after a core concept of the Meisner technique, is a tiny professional theatre that presents edgy contemporary works. The Artistic Director, Grant McGowen has fingers in multiple pies including video production and headshot photography – and of course, teaching. Meisner was a school of acting I’d heard of but never studied, so when Grant suggested I audit during our headshot sesh in January I was all about it.  PNO offers other classes in film acting and scene study but the Foundations class is a required prerequisite unless you’re already a working Meisner actor.

Who to expect: Film actors who want to get into stage, stage actors who want to get into film, people who have met Grant personally through other avenues (the dude’s guerilla marketing strategy is on point).

What to expect: Bring a pencil and paper here too, but only to capture tidbits from Grant’s non-linear notes given after chunks of activity. You’ll spend the first several classes of the 12-week program working on variations of one single exercise – the basis (foundation? ha) for more advanced work. The commitment is pretty extensive – the class itself is three hours long, and you’ll be asked to get together with classmates outside of class time for 2-3 hours of practice. Many actors don’t care for the Meisner technique, and PNO isn’t the only shop in town offering it, so you’ll hear mixed reviews. Personally I found it helpful and interesting, and also very challenging. If nothing else, it’s another tool to have in your kit.

What I love: The Meisner technique is excellent for the overly analytical actor (hello, Stanislavsky training) because it’s all about getting out of your own head and focusing on pure reaction to a partner. (By the same token, if you’re more of the instinctual actor you might benefit more from Chekhov). You don’t even use written material. I also love that the PNO circle is very cozy, but not in an exclusive way. You’ll be welcomed in to this little community with open arms.

Tip: Even though the time commitment is huge, don’t let it scare you off. Grant knows many of his students are working professionals and allows you to make up missed classes in other sessions. Details and info.

Listen Up! Audio Narration

The Skinny: If you’re looking for something a little bit different (and a lot less emphasizing on physical type or ability), you could do a lot worse than this series on audiobook narration. Audiobooks are a huge market right now, and we have a little share of that pie right here in Atlanta.

What to Expect: The class is half lecture half experiential, and the small class size affords ample time to practice and ask questions. Bring a mobile device to read your practice sides. You will go on-mic and read a short piece, but try to get past the actual sound of your voice – it’s totally not the point. The focus is all about giving life to the story – acting through the voice. You’ll be learning what makes people late for work sitting in their car listening to a book.

What I Love: I’ve been wanting to get into audiobook narration since I first visited a studio during a Maymester in NYC my senior year. I’m good at cold reading (my primary audition skill), I have an acting and storytelling background, and I love books. As I found out during class, there’s more to it than that, but in a way…there’s also not. You don’t even need to be an actor or have an NPR-worthy voice to be a good narrator. My mom, who has never performed a day in her life, even came with me to the last class and knocked it out of the park! (Guess where my reading and storytelling skrills came from?).

Tip: This set of courses can be taken a la carte but there’s a small discount for purchasing all four as a package. If you don’t take all four, there is still a discount code available for signing up for the next in the series. Also good to note: these classes are NOT offered on a consistent and regular basis – it’s up to the discretion and schedule of the instructors – so if you see the class come up, jump on it quick!  Details and info. 

In addition to these, I also picked back up on voice lessons where my vocal therapist left off. I’m fortunate to be working with the fabulous and lovable Lyn Taylor. Lyn has done considerable work with youth and schools, which means her teaching style is right up my alley – broken down into small chunks and explained in five different ways with vivid imagery and a heaping helping of encouragement. But make no mistake, this lady really knows her stuff, and is super organized too boot (think lesson plans and recorded warmups). Vocal coaching is a very personal thing, depending on your needs and your level, but in general I recommend finding someone who can a) play the piano well, and b) has a good ear. Because those two things are nearly impossible to do for yourself when you’re training your voice. Everything else really just depends. I’m well on my way to getting my voice whipped back into shape, hopefully in time for some fall auditions! Lyn doesn’t have a website, but if you want to know more email me at cushioncut at gmail dot com.

Taking class is a great way to experiment; to get out of your comfort zone without the high stakes a tight timelines of an actual performance. It gives you rooms to stretch your legs, both figuratively, and in the case of dance classes, literally. Things are picking back up for the summer (choreography rehearsals for my next project, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at OnStage Atlanta, started this week!) so alas, I may not get another golden opportunity to indulge for a while. But if you have the time (and the funds,  WAH for all time) do yourself a favor and get in a course or two, or at least a workshop. You won’t regret it!

Keep it classy, friends.

Why I Quit Coffee Part III: Wrap Up

6 Nov

 

Hard to believe, but it has now been two months since I had any significant amount of caffeine.

Considering what a packed few weeks it’s been, with rehearsals and work projects and holidays and social obligations–two months without caffeine is not insignificant.

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So how am I doing?

Short answer: better.

As I write this, I’m nodding off over my keyboard. But that’s because we’re coming to the end of tech week, b.k.a. hell week, for Guys & Dolls (get your tickets now, Atlanta folks!).  Before this week, I felt like the pall of fatigue that had hung over my head like my own personal Eeyore-style rain cloud was finally lifting.

The overwhelming hunger I experienced at first has abated as well. I’ve even managed to trim down a bit for the show. Which is amazing, considering I haven’t exercised much beyond dance at rehearsals.

GI Janie

So that’s the symptoms of withdrawal taken care of. What about the GI symptoms for which I embarked on this epic journey in the first place?

I am happy to report that the nausea and stomach pain is completely gone. That’s probably the most significant development. The heartburn is practically gone too. I haven’t taken a Rolaid or a Pepcid in weeks. The bloating is considerably improved (although to be fair, I’ve also dropped white carbs in the interest of aforementioned “trimming down”). The wet burping, the fluttering in my chest, the lump in my throat–all have shown marked improvement, if not abated entirely. I do still occasionally get a dry cough, but it’s hard to point at that as a gastrointestinal indicator when there’s ragweed saturating the air.

Sing Out, Louise

I’m sure you’re all on the edge of your seats wondering whether I’ve recovered my beautiful singing voice HA. The answer there is not quite as brief.

Suspecting that the caffeine issue couldn’t entirely explain it, I made an appointment with the specialists at the Emory Clinic Voice Center. We are fortunate to have here in Atlanta an enormously vast medical network. Got some obscure problem? There’s a app doc for that.

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I was lucky that they were able to squeeze me in quicker than anticipated–my initial appointment was during that first week of tapering off. I wondered if this would hide or highlight any damage to ye olde singing parts.

A thorough examination of my vocal chords revealed…

That they were perfect.

This should have been good news, but I was bummed. It meant that I couldn’t blame the many issues I was having with my voice on physical (outside) factors. In other words, I was singing wrong.

A follow up appointment with vocal therapist Marina Gilman  revealed that I wasn’t just a shit singer. Even though I had no visible acid damage (further proof that I never had GERD in the first place), past acute “acid incidents” (her words) had led to my compensating in a damaging way. Kind of like when you say, pull a muscle and then strain the surrounding muscles favoring it. And like a muscle injury, what I needed was a course of rehab.

Over a series of sessions Marina gave me some vocal and breath exercises to help relax the wrong muscles and work the right ones. She also affirmed that, according to the clinical assessment of my voice structure, I really should be singing soprano and not alto. It was all stuff I already knew from previous training, but the reminder was key–and, unlike voice lessons–billable to insurance.

Since then I’ve seen vast improvement in the pain and strain while speaking, and to some extent while singing as well. I still have quite a ways to go in this regard though, and I’m trying not to be too frustrated with my progress (apparently you can’t undo six years of muscle damage in four sessions). I think I will have to spring for voice lessons on top of the coaching eventually, if I ever want to achieve solo status again.

I’ve Learned to Live Without You, Darling

I still take exceeding comfort in a hot drink or five, especially with the dreary weather we’ve been experiencing. So I’ve been drinking lots of Teeccino, a little hot cocoa, and even hot tea. I’m really loving Teeccino. Unlike coffee, the different flavors taste nice, not just smell good. Unlike coffee, it tastes good cold or reheated (meaning that that half pot not drunk first thing in the AM doesn’t go to waste). But unfortunately, unlike coffee, it is somewhat caloric (about 20 calories in a 10 oz cup brewed–I usually drink a classic 12-oz) and when you add as much cream as I like (about four tablespoons at 25-35 calories per tbsp ), you’re looking at a heavy appetizer’s worth of energy. So I can’t really pound it like I am sometimes tempted to on a long, chilled day.

A better replacement choice is hot tea, but I had a problem with it at first. My fellow coffee fiends will know what I’m talking about when I say the taste, feel, smell, richness—it’s just not the same. In the way that avid tea drinkers don’t enjoy coffee as much, tea is simply not my daily jam.

Plus, until recently, I really only liked the taste of black tea–which of course, has caffeine. So does green. I don’t like chamomile, peppermint, lemon, or any kind of fruit flavor in herbal tea. That basically wipes out 95% of teas on your average grocery shelf. Then I discovered Rooibos. A red “tea” that grows in South Africa, it’s a bit more pricey than the average, but doubtless I spend way less on it than I once did on coffee. Plus Yogi makes a nice Chai variety, which has a complex and full-bodied taste and the benefit of the healthy spices used in chai flavoring while being naturally caffeine free.

What about decaf, you say? At first I shunned coffee entirely, trying to lose the taste hankering I had for it. Eventually I did begin to treat myself to a cup of decaf when out to breakfast, or occasionally at the daily coffee hours at work. Decaf is not great in and of itself, first of all because coffee is still acidic which contributes to many of my problems, secondly because decaf labeling is highly unregulated in the US and can vary widely, and thirdly because the process used to decaffeinate most drinks uses chemicals (although nontoxic apparently, and with better taste results than the more “natural” but much more expensive and rare method of water decaffeination). Not to mention many decaf coffees, including the kind they serve at work, taste gross. But the fact is, I can never give up treating myself to the occasional happy Starbucks raspberry mocha. So decaf will continue to be drunk by this lady.

So….does all this mean it’s true: I’m allergic to caffeine?

I really don’t think so. If I had a true allergy, or even a sensitivity, I don’t think I could have been drinking as much coffee as I have for as long as I did with any level of comfort. The fact that it took 7 years to pinpoint the issue is proof alone. Who knows? I might even resume coffee drinking one day. But you can be damn sure it’s going to be a lot less. I think the lesson we can take away from this is that anything you use as a crutch to function–running the gamut from heavy drugs and alcohol to gossiping to chewing gum to running marathons to spicy food to binge watching Netflix–has the potential to be damaging both physiologically and psychologically.

In the wise and oft-repeated words of my Granny: Everything in Moderation.

So. What’s your addiction?

Why I Quit Coffee Part II: How I went from seven to zero cups of coffee in 5 days

15 Oct

The day my doctor told me to try giving up caffeine to relieve my GI and vocal symptoms, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

I mean, I knew caffeine is an addictive substance. I knew also that quitting such a substance would produce real, physical withdrawal symptoms.

I knew it would be hard. But I didn’t think it would be that hard. My little bro (the one with h pylori) gives up coffee periodically just to make sure he can. He doesn’t like the idea of being dependent on anything outside himself. So it’s clearly possible. Of course, I never asked him how long these coffee-free periods last.

I decided against cold turkey. I’m not a glutton for punishment.  I didn’t really have a plan to taper off, but I knowing me, if I planned too much I wouldn’t get around to actually doing it, so I dove right in. With the information here, if you ever have to (or want to) give up coffee, perhaps you can make a plan of your own.

Note: if you don’t want to read through the nitty-gritty, you can skip to The Takeaway at the bottom.

The First Day

I woke up a little under the weather, another attack of the upper respiratory crap/fall allergies. This would normally suck balls, but in this case was sort of a blessing. I usually don’t even feel like drinking coffee when I have postnasal drip.

So I began the day with a small cup of hot chai tea and honey. Black tea contains caffeine, but not as much as coffee, especially if you don’t have a tumbler of it. I spent the morning intermittently working on projects and researching this so-called caffeine allergy.

tea

I don’t always enjoy colds. But when I do, it’s when I’m trying to quit caffeine.

By 11:00, it was clear one cup would not do. I didn’t have a headache, at least not yet. But I felt very groggy. I made another cup of tea with honey. Something else would be necessary.

Meditation! That would be so totally zen of me. I’d found this Binaural Beat Meditation a few weeks before I’d been wanting to try out. (I sort of got into meditation after reading this book). Plus I had these two tea bags! I could put them on my eyes and lay on the couch (lotus position is for suckers). Because that’s another thing–I’d been noticing lately that I had visible pouches under my eyes all the time, regardless of how much sleep I’d gotten. I suddenly remembered that they can be caused by allergies. You mean…like caffeine allergies?

In the later part of the afternoon, I developed a bit of a headache. I was fully expecting it so it was no surprise. What I wasn’t prepared for was the tiredness–the absolutely bone crushing fatigue I felt the whole afternoon. Also, I was starving. I kept snacking on little things every hour–a piece of cheese, a strip of roast chicken, a cup of strawberry yogurt, hummus on a cracker. I chalked it up to the bit of nasal sumpin’ sumpin’ I had going on.

I was so tired and cruddy I couldn’t manage my daily workout. I tried to imagine that the zen I was getting from the binaural beats was, in its own way, just as good for my body–which was clearly involved in some kind of battle at the moment. I crashed into a dark stupor after two pages of reading around 11 PM.

Day 2

The next morning I still felt a little cruddy. Thus it was difficult to determine whether the dull headache pulsing against my skull was from withdrawal or sinuses. Trying to head it off at the pass, I had my first cup of black tea as soon as I arrived at the office with my breakfast, and the second shortly after.

The headache persisted quietly. I began craving coffee, like, the actual taste of the drink, in the late afternoon too. But it was nothing compared to the hunger. Within less than two hours of eating, the pangs would return.

I did some deep stretching in the evening along with a huge glass of white wine. I felt I deserved it.

Day 3

The third day was a Saturday, PRAISE. Until now I’d been avoiding coffee entirely–even though my doc said switching to decaf would serve the purpose fine–because I was really curious about whether caffeine or coffee was the true culprit. Anyway, we know that decaf still contains some caffeine. But this morning I broke down and had a mug of decaf Starbucks with cream. It was divine.

Later that afternoon my throat burned and I felt extremely bloated. But it was hard to tell if it was from the decaf, or from the postnasal drip, or from the huge decked-out froyo I had for lunch. I tried to drink extra water but I’m here to tell you–water is not coffee.

Day 4

This was the first day of trying an entirely new hot drink substitute: Teeccino.

teeccino

Teeccino is billed as an herbal coffee alternative. It’s completely caffeine free, non-acidic and allegedly nutritious. It’s even supposed to give you a natural energy boost, but without the stimulant effect. The reviews on Amazon were pretty good so I ordered one pack to try it out.  I purchased the vanilla flavor, but only because that was the only one sold in a single pack. I didn’t want to commit to something I might not like.

You put it through your regular machine like coffee. It looks quite a bit like coffee when brewed. It smells nothing like coffee. The taste? Well, it’s hard to describe. It’s full bodied, definitely sweeter than coffee, which makes sense since because what isn’t? It’s rather nutty overall. But it’s not at bit like tea, which is what comes to mind when you hear the word “herbal.” My first impression was that a) it would take some getting used to, but b) I could definitely get used to it.

The only real caffeine I had was a few swallows of P’s sweet tea. We went white water rafting in the afternoon, which as it turns out, is a great distraction from headaches, hunger, bloating, or anything else that ails you.

I went to bed very tired.

Day 5

For the fifth day in a row, I was starving. I began to suspect that my body, so used to be sustained with caffeinated glory, was looking for a replacement energy source. The Teeccino was slowly growing on me. I was able to work in some squats and planks in addition to my deep stretching (I’m finally set on achieving my splits, now that I’m in my 30s–as if one lofty goal wasn’t enough).

We had a work reception that day and I mentioned to a group of people that I’d gone off caffeine, and they all took a step back like I might bite them. So are you super irritable? They asked. I stared back at them dully. I wasn’t grumpy–that would take way too much energy.

I fell into bed utterly exhausted, about 30 minutes earlier than usual. I didn’t realize until the next day that it was my first day completely and totally caffeine-free.

The Takeaways

Decaf, sigh…just not quite the same.

So what can you expect if you decide to break your own caffeine habit?

  1. The headache is not bad. If you taper off instead of going cold turkey, and replace your coffee intake with another liquid (even icky water), headache shouldn’t be a problem. I’m almost certain that what little headache I did experience was the result of having a cold.
  2. You will miss coffee. Make no mistake. no matter what sub you use: decaf, herbal tea, hot cocoa, or my new fave Teeccino–this is like breaking up with a good friend. And like a break up, every time you accidentally run into each other it will be a little painful.
  3. You will be starving. Lock up the Doritos and gelato and stock your pantry with healthy, filling foods that you can grab quickly, like nuts, beans, bagged salads, avocado, popcorn, hummus, peanut butter, protein shakes, whatever your thing is–because the hunger machine is coming and it’s sucking up everything in reaching distance. If you drink your coffee with cream and sugar, expect the sweet tooth to come out swinging as well.
  4. You will be tired. I think the thing that surprised me the most in that first week was realizing how heavily I leaned on caffeine for daily energy. I have never felt so tired in all my life, and I’ve had walking pneumonia. It ranged from being a little slow on the uptake to all out head-on-the-desk sleepiness. And, as you will see in the next installment, this symptom lasted the longest.

I’m Doing My Best

26 Aug

A couple weeks ago I was asked to speak at Sunday Assembly* in a segment called I’m Doing My Best. That’s a short life anecdote given by a member that relates to the subject at hand–in church we might call it a testimony. Each month’s assembly has a different theme and August’s was Gender and Performance. Somebody got wind of the fact that I’m into theatre I guess, because I was asked to share this month. Scary!

*Sunday Assembly is, in their own words, “a life-celebrating congregation without deity, dogma, or doctrine.” Yes, in other words, Atheist Church. Along with the very cool folks that attend, what I like about Sunday Assembly is: 1) it’s Sunday night, not Sunday morning and 2) it’s only once a month. If you think it’s weird that I work at preacher school (where I occasionally participate in chapel services) and then sometimes attend godless church…well, yes and no. My personal spirituality could best be summed up as “I’m not ruling anything out at this point.” But that’s another subject for another time.

Anyway, I thought I’d share my speech with you guys. As a bonus for the “reader version,” I’ve added a few extra endnotes for your interest and edification. My thesis for this piece was inspired by this article I read recently, which put words to something I’d been feeling for a long time but hadn’t yet been able to articulate. It turned out a little more like a graduation speech than perhaps I intended, but I hope at least a few people will find the essential message resonates with them, as it did with me.

* * *

I’m not sure if you know this, but in theatre you face a lot of rejection.

Of course, most people will face rejection of some kind in their professional and personal lives, but in few other lines of work can it be so constant and at times so utterly arbitrary. For example, they like you, but…you’re too old for the precast lead. Or you remind the director of their ex. Or you’re too short for the costume.*

*yes, this actually happened to me–I almost got to be in the chorus of Beauty & the Beast at the Fox but you had to be at least 5’3″ to fit the dancing plate costume, FML.

You have to develop a bit of scar tissue to keep bouncing back, time after time when somebody tells you you’re not good enough.

But what’s even more insidious is the rejection that comes from within—the way so many actors—and so many of the rest of us, I’d wager—diminish our own accomplishments.

I got bitten by the theatre bug at an early age. In 5th grade I managed to convince my teacher to let me leave class every day for a week with my friends to write, direct, and (obviously) star in an original work. It’s a little fuzzy now but it involved princesses and a magical quick change into one of my old ballet costumes.

It was really good.

Anyone who knew me as a child would tell you what an incredible burst of passion it must have taken to motivate me to propose this scheme to a grown-up, let alone open myself up to the critique of my entire class. Just the year previous I had broken down in the middle of singing The Last Unicorn during the talent show because my friend was “looking at me weird.” I wasn’t really your most outgoing kid. Not a natural leader.

But whenever I tell people about this episode in my life, I’m quick to qualify it. You know–in a small school they let you get away with anything.*

*Not untrue. Hollatcha Clairemont Elementary. 

Fast forward several years. My parents were supportive of all my performances in middle and high school, but they weren’t so thrilled by my decision to major in it.* It was also around this time that I got my first significant rejection—my audition based application for a theatre scholarship was turned down. I still can’t hear the song I chose for my dance piece** with cringing a little.

*The technical name of my degree is actually Theatre & Performance Studies. The episode referenced here happened at Berry College where I attended for two years as a theatre major/psych minor before transferring to Kennesaw State to finish up. Fun fact: I transferred partly for money and culture reasons, but mostly for boy reasons. The relationship didn’t last but I’m still #winning because KSU is now recognized as one of the top schools in the nation for theatre degrees. Go Owls! (Berry has an excellent theatre program too; their shows were more professional than some actual professional houses.)

**”We Love to Boogie” from the Billy Elliot soundtrack. I wasn’t adept at choreography yet. Lots of head isolations were involved. 

But for whatever reason, I stayed a theatre major. I didn’t get cast in the first play of the season*, but I did get cast in the second.** And I regularly got cast in shows for the rest of my college career. They even awarded me that scholarship the second semester—thankfully I didn’t have to audition the second time.

*Translations by Brian Friel. It was down to me and another freshman for the part. That girl (who also later transferred to KSU) was a truly extraordinary actress by any standards, and led me to fret that college would be like high school, with the same girl getting cast in every single lead year after year (she was really good too and is actually sort of famous now, but still–this is an educational environment we’re talking about). Thankfully Berry, unlike Decatur High School, didn’t chose their seasons around their stars.

**The Learned Ladies by Moliere. I had a freakin’ awesome wig. 

Eventually I graduated and the minute I got my degree in hand, my dad said, Alright! Let’s see you start putting that thing to work! And cut me off.* I got lucky and was hired almost immediately as a dance teacher and within a year or so, I became a program coordinator and designed a dance curriculum that was still in place after I left that company.

But that was really only a part time job, and I was barely making rent.  It was just a kids’ school anyway.

*Yes, I realize how entitled this is. And I wasn’t even entirely cut off– I was still on my parent’s health and car insurance plans for a few more years. But for someone who had never supported herself, and who at that point hadn’t been taught any but the most rudimentary fiscal wisdom, it was a shock that cannot be denied.

Around that time I made two life decisions: that I would not pursue acting as a full-time profession and I would never marry another actor.

One of those resolutions I kept.

But even though the lifestyle of a full-time professional performer wasn’t for me, I didn’t regret my major for a second—not even when justifying it for the 80th time in a “real world” job interview. I kept with it on a part time basis as I slowly made my way into the field I’m in now, which is flexible enough to where I get to moonlight as an actor, dancer, and choreographer without having to worry about whether I’ll be able to afford air conditioning in August.  I’ve had a pretty decent amount of success—for a non-professional—and then…I had a baby. After my baby-induced hiatus I tried to return to acting. I went to about a dozen auditions without even a callback. I nearly quit acting, but my husband convinced me to go to one more call and I got cast.* After that, things started picking up and now I have a full time day job, a family, and a pretty awesome hobby to talk about at parties. I even have a blog [hi guys!].

*In Cabaret, as a Kit Kat girl. The fact that I wore underwear on stage within a year of given birth is a feat in and of itself.

In some ways, I have more time to devote to creativity now than when I pursued it professionally—Case in point, I wrote a play last year—I’d never written a play before in my life (unless you count the one from 5th grade), and, it got selected to be produced in a new works festival. But eh, it was only a ten minute play.

Does anybody else do this? Achieve something, only to disparage their own achievement? Get excited about something and then feel the need to sort of downplay it?

Theatre is weird. You have to promote yourself relentlessly as if you were a business entity, not a person. At the same time, it behooves you to be friendly and personable—the guy everybody wants to work with. There are some jerks in the biz–that’s a stereotype with truth to back it up. But you’ll also make some of the best friends you’ve ever made in your life – only to turn around and compete with them for the same work.  With these kind of contradictions it’s really a miracle that anyone besides sociopaths stick with it—although you might meet a few of those too.  But those of us who are not egomaniacal have a tendency to downplay our glory. After all, we don’t want to make our best friends feel bad. We don’t want to be That Asshole.

At the performing arts camp where I met my husband we had a talent night, and one of the other counselors sang a soulful rendition of Fever by Peggy Lee. When I complimented her afterward she said “yeah, that’s the one song I can actually sing.”  She was being kindly self-deprecating, but I was truly kind of floored. Did she really think she was a bad singer? But the crazy thing is, I do that kind of thing myself all the time.

The arts are a hyper competitive environment under the best of circumstances and you can’t help but measure yourself again and again and again against what other people are doing. Doubt and self-sabotage are the Ebola of the creative professions—contagious and deadly. And complaining is practically a team sport.

But, ask any actor why they submit themselves to this continual self-flagellation and you’ll hear the same thing: we do it because we love it. It brings us joy.

I’m talking about theatre but everybody has these moments in their life that spark joy and fulfillment. Whether it’s starting a new business venture or starting a new relationship. And isn’t it strange how sometimes it’s actually easier to dampen that bright little spark than to fan it into a flame?

The truth is, there’s a lot that’s difficult and dark about doing something you love. We accept that as part of anything worth doing. But that’s why it’s even more important to stop throwing shade on the silver linings. They’re rare enough as it is.

It’s important for our own sanity, but it’s also beneficial to others. As Marianne Williamson said, “It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. As we let our own light shine, we give others permission to do the same.”

So let me ask you this. Can you imagine if I told you everything I’ve just told you about my theatrical life…without the qualifiers?

So instead of saying, I’m an administrative assistant and I sometimes do theatre, what about…

I am an actor.

I wrote and produced a play when I was ten years old and performed it in front of my entire class.

I went to school on a theatre scholarship and graduated with honors.

I designed a dance program from scratch at age 23.

I’ve done shows all over town and gotten to play some amazing parts.

I have a blog that got Freshly Pressed within its first month.

My first play was accepted at a festival and was an audience favorite.

And how about a new one: I just finished the draft of a new play last week.

Both of these stories are mine. Which one is more compelling?

I like to tell my son I’ll never run out of kisses because for every kiss I give away, a hundred more pop up in its place. I’m doing my best to believe that joy, like kisses, is not a limited resource. There’s room for everyone at the table, and by letting ourselves really shine, we become a light by which others might see the path to join us there.

 

What is this all about?

2 Aug

Well hello there!

Welcome to Cushion Cut, blog of my future. If you’re a reader of Against Type, thanks for sticking with me. If you’re new, thanks for checking me out (you can get a feel for my history–and mad* writing stylz–from my past posts, which I slung in my pack and brought with me).

So why the move? And what’s going on here? I started a blog on my creative endeavors years ago partly as a self-promotion tool, and partly as a see-what-I’m-up-to marquee. As time has gone on, my activities and interests have expanded considerably. I’ve found myself with a lot to say and no appropriate place to say it.  Doubtless it’s a rarity when it comes to blogs, but my scope needed to broaden.

My time and attention are pulled in million different directions. I bet yours are too. This generation–the millenials, if you please–have more going on than any before. Our parents are retiring. We’re getting married. We’re considering parenthood (or not). We’re considering changing jobs (or not). We read, we think, we daydream. We have ideas, opinions, and tiny 401(k)s. We worry–about our health, our looks, our finances, the environment, the economy, the future. We care–about siblings and social crises, about pets and pop culture. We’re doing awesome things–writing books, starring in movies, opening businesses. And we’re facing enormous challenges: moving away (or back home!), losing friendships, losing jobs, losing grandparents. No one role–child, sibling, spouse, employee, parent, actor, writer–can completely define us. These are all facets of who we are and what we think and do.

In short (or should I say long…you’ll notice brevity is not my strong suit), we’re like cushion-cut diamonds. Unique, pillow-like in appearance, but tough as nails. And the more facets we have, the more we shine. So nothing is off limits! If it’s a part of your world**, we’ll talk about it here.

*As in Hatter, not as in Men

** Be prepared for corny jokes, bad puns, and frequent references to The Little Mermaid.

The Little Mermaid (1989 film)