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Gratitude

Many folks have spoken about writing as a lonely art, or as an art perpetrated by people who largely enjoy talking to the voices in their own head. But I constantly find myself aware that my work has no life aloud without other humans donating their talent and time to speak and consider it. And that I wouldn’t want it to. Ultimately, I write for others, not only for myself.

This week, I was fortunate enough to have two different casts bring two of my plays to life. Hearing their reflections and emotional reactions to the pieces made it all worth it–and by the former “it” I mean the anxiety of being a playwright. I walk away from these readings with a greater appreciation for the stories I’m trying to tell, and a greater determination to sculpt them closer to both the dream in my head and the dream role an actor would most love to play. Actors and directors brought me these gifts, and I am grateful for them.

What I am thinking about now is how to express that gratitude.

I have said “thank you” to many actors, directors, and dramaturgs, and each time meant it more than those tiny words could express. As I think about the sheer blooming weight of the gratitude I have for my fellow artists, I’m working on how to express it in meaningful ways. Facebook posts–though I love them–seem like they can easily become self-promotion even when the intention is truly gratitude. Emails have to be short to have a chance of being read. And in-person thank-yous following a reading are all caught up in audience members wanting to talk, actors checking in with each other about where they’re headed next, and just wanting to get home and sleep. And while I do all of these things, I can’t resist thinking that there is some better cosmic way to express just how thankful I am for actors, directors, and dramaturgs. For people.

For now, as I balance my constant-worry self with my joyful-creator self, I’ll settle for these small expressions and commit consciously to keeping this gratitude with me as the days and weeks go by. Thank you, fellow creators. You are beautiful.

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I’m Walken on Sunshine and Here’s Why

Christopher Walken is an artist who inspires me every single day. Now, I know you might be saying to yourself, “What?!” So here is why…

I admire Mr. Walken because he is so fully himself onstage or on camera. He does not apologize for who he is. He is whole-heartedly Christopher Walken (whatever that means at any given moment) whether you like it or not. He has said, “I try not to worry about things I can’t do anything about,” and I try to emulate that quote any time I get unnecessarily flustered or neurotic about something I cannot control. In any given process, if I am giving 100% of myself and not judging the eccentricities or quirks I bring to the table, I thrive. My most eccentric self is also my most creative. I think Christopher Walken has done a fabulous job of bringing his truth to the forefront of all his work.

An example of Chistopher Walken bringin his truth to his work is that he tries to work at least one dance move into every film that he is in. In my opinion, this is him trying to find a way to put a little bit of his soul into all of his work. I admire the hell out of that. I hope that I always take ownership of my work without being a selfish artist, and I think Walken found a beautiful way of doing this. Adding a tiny dance move that fits the needs of the script allows for creative agency while still serving the text.

His scene in True Romance with Dennis Hopper is still one of the best things I have ever seen. His ease and calm in the scene makes him terrifying. And then he says the words, “You’re a cantaloupe,” cracks up, and aims a gun at Dennis Hopper’s head. I admire his ability to have an audience laughing with ease one moment and then completely stunned in terror the next. This is the quality that  I admire in the play Hand to God as well. Hand to God, like Christopher Walken, brings out our humanity in all forms possible. We laugh only to have gasoline poured into our open mouths. I believe that the grit and depth of human emotion is not accessible without hitting the humor of it all and, conversely, I believe that just hitting the humor causes us to turn off our analysis of the world. Christopher Walken is the epitome of this concept: he has a laughable, goofy, strange outer shell that holds the deepest depths of human experience. He gets to our heart because he makes us laugh first; we underestimate him. I think the most powerful actors and plays are the ones where it feels like nothing is happening and then suddenly we begin to feel. We consume the things we underestimate because they cause no foreseeable threat to our psyche when, in fact, those are the things that burrow in the deepest.

I know it seems ridiculous to pin all of this one Christopher Walken because it’s a much broader idea, but he encapsulates what I hope to do with my career as a theatre artist because he never ceases to interest and surprise me—to make me laugh a second before I cry. My favorite quote of his is, “At best, life is completely unpredictable,” and I think the same is true of art.

 

ALSO…look at that face. ChristopherWalken.jpg

 

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Being Uninspired

We have a tendency to romanticize inspiration. By “we,” I mean artists. We praise the days we go on long walks and watch the sun set on a river while standing on a bridge that keeps us from drowning. We experience art, hoping to find enough inspiration to create whatever seed our creative mind deems ready for blossoming. And yet, to claim that we–I–I’ll speak for myself–am inspired by a concrete thing every single day would be a lie. The sun isn’t always out. The art I experience isn’t always inspiring. Does it have to be?

I’m learning how to be at ease with being uninspired. For much of my artistic life, being uninspired has resulted in unending existential questions about talent, or lack thereof, creative ingenuity, or lack thereof. So, a question that I pose for myself is this: how can I maintain a seriousness of purpose and commitment to create, even when I’m uninspired? How can I allow lack of inspiration to be just as valuable to me as an artist and use it as a tool for storytelling?

My imagination is exhausted. 

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The Boggart

Y’know “The Boggart” from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban?

For reference (or just to watch for the 500th time and get in that weird obsessive Harry Potter Zone and weep at the notion of Remus Lupin being a positive role model in Harry’s life in the absence of his parents RIP 2 all):
The Boggart Scene 

Thesis? Thesis is the boggart. It seems to be, for everyone, a very specific personification of one’s personal fear and challenge, jumping out of a wardrobe and walking towards them.

(Thiiiiis is right around when my mom would tell me to “lower the stakes”)

I mean it though, with nothing but gratitude. For every SOT senior, thesis seems to be the biggest (but achievable) leap, and I’ve enjoyed watching my friends and collaborators truly face themselves and evolve through the thesis exercise this year.

In the last four years, I’ve had a lot of weird hazy dreams of what I would do with myself for thesis. Often, my sophomore-junior ego used to yell really loudly, “Act in a comedy for thesis!!!!!!! PROVE 2 EVERYONE that u can b funny and can also ACT!!!!!!!!!!!!!” there was also a tiny whisper “ok… what if you direct?” and then, “but what would you direct?!?”

Then, the day in thesis came when we talked about assessing what the room needs. Looking at your own abilities, and how you can wield them to add value to the room. Everything clicked.

That’s how I ended up directing this dream thesis, SHEBANG. A devised sketch comedy piece. Five playwrights who double as actors, all women, all funny. bang bang.

Directing this piece is a weird position to be in—it is by no means your typical rehearsal project. I had one freakout the week before the process started – how the hell am i going to balance and nurture the needs, sensitivities, egos, and new work of five playwrights at once?! THEN direct them as actors while the script continues to evolve under our feet?! Do I even know what a sketch comedy show is?! I’m crazy. I’m useless. I’m screwed! MY BOGGART WINS!

Then, the other day, one of my collaborators turned to me and said, “I really think you are the only person who could do this.” My heart melted. Indeed, as rehearsals have gone on, I’ve realized that my skills fits perfectly into the job description. For me, the writing room portion of this process was…I can’t entirely describe it. I’m gonna throw another analogy at you for a second– The only image I have is like, you know in Iron Man how he has that:

iron man

And it zooms in on stuff and gives stats and graphics and can target what Robert Downey Jr. ‘s next move should be? It’s the only way I can describe what I do. With teaching, reading a piece of writing, and with directing, it’s like that big glowing circle zooms in on exactly what is unclear, incongruous, or just needs some attention. The writing room was a blast because I love to synthesize, I love to clean specifics, I love to see the big picture, move things around, and negotiate a script.

Then, another skill set emerged as the staging process brought the marvelous reminder that actors, when working at peak capacity, can evolve right back into children. Indeed, when the clock strikes 10:30 pm (I call it the Witching Hour) my five 22 year old actors begin to wrestle, screetch, or simply slump to the floor. I am reminded that I have been training my whole life for this, working with children in rehearsal rooms every summer for 12 years. My experience with children taught me firsthand that in a rehearsal room, energy trickles down from the source. If I am directing 25 kids and have one moment of personal exhaustion or break of focus, I have lost the whole room, never to return. The task is to have enough energy to match ALL 25 children at once. Even more than that. Nonstop. …I now know that this applies to adults. If I so much as lean back in my seat, the rehearsal room is gone — It keeps me running on all four cylinders at once, but I feel well-equipped to handle it.

Back to the Harry Potter ref tho–every day I walk into my rehearsal room, and it feels just like I’m about to open the wardrobe with the boggart in it. I know, at some point each evening I am going to have to face a little piece of my personal challenge, and have that feeling in my gut when I want to run screaming in the other direction. I am learning that I got this. This thesis is my boggart, and everything becomes easy and melts away the moment I realize that any fear I may have is simply riddikulus. 

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Blasted & the importance of content warnings

Okay.

CW: suicide

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I just read Sarah Kane’s Blasted for the first time. Like, I finished it five minutes ago.

I wanna hurl.

If there ever was a play that needs content warnings, this one is it.

This play really fucked me up. And not in the fun, wow theatre is so crazy and cool way. This play dug into some sick parts of humanity, and therefore, some sick parts of me. And though it’s been years since I’ve regularly thought about killing myself, this play shot me back in time to those feelings.

That’s fucked up. That’s not right.

 

Recently, there’s been a fascinating dialogue about the Netflix show “13 Reasons Why.” Some call it the glorification of suicide and self harm, other see a show that expresses their own feelings and inner life in a way that is liberating. I haven’t watched the show. Mostly because I don’t feel like revisiting those all-too-familiar feelings of my high school days. I don’t want to engage in that because I’m not quite far enough away to deal with it.

I made that choice because I had heard about the content and knew it would be too much for me to engage. I didn’t get that warning with Blasted. And even if I did, I would have had to read it anyway, for school.

So I read it.

 

I don’t ever want to see that play on stage. Ever. I don’t ever want to work on it. I don’t want to read it again. I don’t want to talk about it in class. Jesus, if last week’s discussion of Family Stories: Belgrade had me silently weeping I have no clue what Wednesday will look like. I don’t want any more violence.

Does that make me a bad artist? Am I not edgy enough for this shit? Am I just a big pathetic softy? Because when I read plays like this, something horrible happens in me and I dissociate my empathy muscle with the rest of my consciousness – I hit a point of violence saturation when I stop caring. I stop feeling.

I fucking hate that feeling.

I hate feeling like a monster. This play made me feel like a monster. I think that’s probably the point but still I really hate that and don’t wanna feel that way.

I guess I wonder if I’m weak or deficient or silly or childish to feel so incapacitated by violence. I guess I wonder if content warnings make me pathetic or a bad artist.

Because I feel like content warnings make me a happier, more stable person. And I have worked very, very, very hard to be this consistently happy, and I don’t want to fuck that up.

 

I guess I’m always afraid that being an artist means I have to put my art before my mental health. I don’t know how to turn by big, pathetic, empathetic heart off and it wrecks me every single time.

 

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Directing Vulnerably

This weekend, I witnessed STAMP thesis Trout Stanley, directed by one of my greatest friends, Flynn Holman. I witnessed a raucous, colorful, beautifully unpredictable piece of theatre featuring three generous actors, and I gasped and giggled for 90 minutes. I was having a blast
Then, curtain call arrived, and I very suddenly cracked clean in half. Out from within me poured a tidal wave of #SecondSemesterSenior tears. This caught me by surprise, but stemmed from a moment of complete recognition. Recognition of my dear friend’s soul, right onstage in front of me. There she was. Even though she never stepped into the light, watching Trout Stanley was like watching Flynn’s very essence, and that took courage to achieve. I’ve been thinking a lot about the courage of actors recently, as I direct five of them in our senior thesis. Of course acting is vulnerable. There you are, breathing and speaking and sweating, emotionally stripped under bright lights, inner life wide open to all spectators. As I witness more and more productions directed by people I know deeply, I am remembering the bravery of directors.

Directing is vulnerable. A director is the sieve that every grain of creative energy moves through before fitting into…. the sand castle? Yeah. A production is a sandcastle. It’s a director’s job to be an effective sieve – sturdy, structured, pulling out the big rocks that will break the castle down —- but possessing tons of wide open space for the grains to travel through. I feel like, as each idea and design concept and stage picture moves through the sieve, it carries a little bit of the director with it onto the stage.

I always feel vulnerable when the lights go up on a production I have directed. Even if no one in the audience knows it, I am up there onstage. I’m in that prop, that light shift, that actor crossing downstage. My every action from first rehearsal to opening night is reflected right back at me, whether I like it or not. I am beginning to feel as though for me, directing is more vulnerable than acting – it truly becomes the ultimate lack of control. I also think it’s my favorite thing.

I have a feeling that when the lights go up on my senior thesis, I will immediately begin to sweat from that very same recognition. Because, like it or not, there I am. This weekend’s production of Trout Stanley reminded me that directing is not detached from the heart, but instead comes vulnerably, from deep-within.

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“No Brits. No Chekhov translations. No classics.”

“No Brits. No Chekhov translations. No classics,” that was the line spoken by Carole Rothman as she unveiled next years season for Second Stage. As the Artistic Director of Second Stage, Ms. Rothman is now also in charge of programming a nonprofit, Broadway house, as the company just acquired the Helen Mills Theatre.

Although the Mills is the smallest Broadway theatre, it will now be home to an array of diverse, uncompromising and necessary stories. Second Stage unveiled that out of the nine living, breathing, and working contemporary playwrights it will produce next year, seven of them are women. More importantly- four of them are women of color, and one, Young Jean Lee, will be the first ever Asian-American female playwright to be on Broadway.

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HELL YES!!!!

It may be about a million years too late and there may still be a billion problematic issues left to work out, but now there is movement!!! Young Jean Lee will finally receive the level of critical, monetary, and commercial success she deserves.

With this bold and unapologetic new plan, Second Stage is telling Broadway audiences to wake up. New models can be successful. There is value in the production of modern stories. What the world needs is not another version of A Dolls House. What the commercial theatre needs is Straight White Men. And from there, the possibilities are endless. Will there be a time when we get to see The Shipment on a Broadway stage? I really hope so.

It may be a gamble, but I’m willing to bet that come this fall, the Helen Mills will be packed every night. This is not a solution- far from it- but this is a step in the right direction.