I wanted to post my admission letter into Lesley. I’ve always been inspired by non-traditional intro letters.
As a child I found refuge in writing fairy-tales about children discovering wooden chests leading to other worlds composed fog and tall grass. Worlds with mysterious beasts, kindhearted sprites, and enchanted natives to cushion my sister from our daily lives. We were the children of a simple Lithuanian coal cracker from Shamokin and a woman who aspired to be a bodybuilder model but depended on quick cash from exotic/striptease dancing. This money helped her pay for a week supply of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and a few bags of frozen broccoli. That was our world: a distant father who we recognized through photo albums and a mother who held our hands while collecting aluminum cans from the highway to pay for penny sweet fish and boxes of instant noodles. At that time, writing these stories was a necessity for both of us, and though we were young we understood what another five months of mac and cheese meant.
As we grew up, my father gave us both a choice that always seemed more or less like a threat to me: “You can either go to school or learn a trade.” There was no alternative. It was one or the other, and in his eyes, both would make you survive in a world that offered less than a helping hand to poor folks. After school and every weekend, my father would teach me woodworking and auto mechanics. “Why pay for these services when you can do them for yourself?” He would always tell me as I unscrewed the plug from the oil pan. Those were the simple guiding principles my father followed: Always do for yourself what you can and be of some use in this world whether it is shoveling coal down chutes or learning history dates from books.
The majority of my childhood days were on summer roofs tacking down plywood and shingles or putting in a junkyard engine in my mother’s AMC Eagle. At night I would write these stories my sister and I needed.
In 1994, my father became an employee of Pennsylvania Supermax Security Prison. Shortly after that, he stopped talking to me completely. At night, I would overhear him tell my mother stories of men feeding their wives to in-laws or of corrupt guards who were being paid off by notorious gang leaders. The fairy-tales I now wrote were of men running away from hired guns and women who carved their children into pumpkins. These paper and pencil adventures became too real when one day an inmate gave my father an envelope which contained photos of
my sister and I riding bikes in our front yard. The prison turned a blind eye knowing the influence and resources this inmate had.
The week the man was put on death row my family moved, and for the next ten years, we moved fourteen times. Every town, city, street, neighbor, and house we moved to had a story to tell, and as a teen, I felt an obligation to write them down. I wrote about the bones of homes, the Hispanic parties our neighbors held every spring, about the Porch Fatties who only left their sanctuary to walk to the nearby market, and about the local boys who burned down the country store with jet fuel. The voices of these simple locals became ingrained in my head and hand as I grew up. I used these voices to develop characters while acting and writing at Biglerville High School where my folks had eventually settled down.
Since family funds were tight, I chose to attend Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania near my home and enrolled as an English major with a concentration in writing. My first year of Shippensburg, I was mistakenly registered in a Combat Acting class by a brilliant man named Paris Peet. What I didn’t expect to find at this small university was a man who would open the gateway of theatre. Paris challenged us to go beyond the textbooks and experience theatre first hand. Under his wing, the small group of men and women was able to explore something that felt almost like a secret from the rest of the school. We moved beyond the book, beyond the lecture and learned from workshops, physical activities, and field trips. Paris gave us experience that we could utilize in our craft. As an English major, I began to focus on the craft of our texts. One day, Paris casted me in play with three other classmates called Orange Flower Water, by Craig Wright. The characters were vivid, dynamic and made you feel in powerful ways. I had never felt so much from a piece or read something so strong, and at that moment I knew I wanted to write scripts. I wanted to make people feel something about themselves. So I began to write. Every single day after class and play practice, I wrote religiously.
With the help of Paris and the university, I was able to have a reading of my play Lemon Meringue, which also got me accepted into the Cape May Playwright Symposium. The symposium challenged me in master classes taught by Lee Blessing, Stephan Adly Guirgis, William Mastrosimone, and John Pielmeier. Meeting these men opened my eyes to the interior world of playwriting and its opportunities. I knew I needed to focus my work and explore more options for knowledge in craft writing.
Inspired by my time at the symposium, I began designing a theatre company that would focus on new work and give artists a free chance to hear and showcase their work. After a year and a half of meetings with The Kennedy Center, local theatre owners, playwrights, and collaborating with other artists I created Lemon Street, a nomadic online theatre salon dedicated to reviewing and showcasing the works of original theatre artists by providing free versions of their works through video and podcasts. While working on this project, I knew I needed to further my own skills and return to college.
With the help of a friend, who quickly became a mentor, I was able to attend the winter residency at Lesley University and instantly fell in love with the professors and the community of students the school offered. I had never been to a university where the students were so closely connected, creating a positive workspace. I knew I wanted and needed a program that was structured where I could be guided, but not molded. Lesley gives you the opportunity to go out, find pieces of your voice, and bring it back to hone in on it through workshops and seminars. The program at Lesley closely resembles my undergraduate acting classes with small group workshops and a lot of space to grow and develop, which is something that I find important in developing my own voice. I need space, but I also need that guiding light when the sun begins to set. As an artist, a balance of space and guidance is important to fine tune my craft.
My goal is to grow as an individual artist and be able to assist others with their works as Paris did for me, either through teaching or through Lemon Street or through another avenue that I have yet to discover. I need to be challenged, to hone in on my own craft that I can only currently describe as a collage. I fully believe Lesley University can do that for me through the Stage and Screen Program and with the community it creates. By attending the winter residency I gained immense value in my own craft and learned a great deal from others. As a stranger, the students and professors welcomed me instantly to their classes, their homes, and even at their lunch table to share stories. And to all men and women who attended public high school…the lunch table is so important.