Going solo: a bumpy ride

Welcome to my learning curve!

Ten days ago, I launched my first ever interview podcast via the Artist Soapbox. Today, I published my first solo podcast! WOOT. In the solo episode, I discuss three ways to support a creative process (based on my conversation with Mara Thomas in Episode 001) and I answer FAQs about Artist Soapbox. The episode clocks in at a lean 16 minutes and is clean for kids’ ears.

I’m reasonably happy with it, particularly since it’s my first effort. And I’m pleased by how far I’ve gone outside my comfort zone in putting this podcast together. However, to balance that happy pat-on-the-back, I’m including a ridiculous list of maybe-you-can-learn-from-my-mistakes. Because this sixteen minute podcast took me SIX hours to record and edit. Yep. And that doesn’t include time spent figuring out how to publish it online and write any accompanying text (like this blog post).

Now, I don’t have that much time to invest in something I’m only “reasonably happy with,” so I’ve been reflecting on what ate up so many hours. Answer = lack of adequate preparation and being a novice. Perhaps you can learn from these….

TIME SUCKS AND INEFFICIENCIES:

*I’m learning to edit using Garage Band on my Mac computer and it’s pretty straightforward….as long as you know what you’re doing. I would not recommend the learn-as-you-go approach that I took with Garage Band. If I could go back in time, I’d learn GB ahead of time and save myself a lot of frustrating moments, like when I deleted tracks accidentally, and recorded over sections that I liked, and messed things up in ways that I’m still unclear about. GB and I need to get up close and personal before the next podcasting.

*I also bought a really cool new microphone to use at home called the Blue Yeti. It’s an awesome plug-and-play mic and I feel all official using it. It also requires experimenting and refining which I didn’t do enough of ahead of time. When you listen to my solo in Episode 002, you’ll hear some of that experimenting happening during the episode which is not the best time to be fiddling around. I recorded in the kitchen during the day while my toddler napped and then went to my bedroom in the evening when the kids went to bed and then moved back down to the kitchen when my spouse went to sleep. Duh, the audio quality is different in my echo-y kitchen with glass table top compared to my bedroom where I was talking into a corner stuffed with pillows. You can hear the difference. Again, duh. Note: bedroom with pillow-corner was superior in audio-quality, but not as comfortable for me. Next time I’ll record in the same room during the entire process and keep a consistent distance from the microphone. Seriously, Tamara, pay attention to how far your face is from the microphone!

*You know what helps when you sit down to record a podcast? AN OUTLINE. And sometimes it helps even more to type out exactly word for word what to say. I know I have experience talking in front of groups, leading workshops, improvising, coaching folks and just enjoying a friendly one-on-one chat. I also have a lot to say about creativity and art-making and theatre and community and all the topics that Artist Soapbox will inevitably cover. However, I’m not sure why I was sooooooo positive that if I just thought about what I wanted to say beforehand, then I would open my mouth and the words would pour out fluidly and coherently. That did not happen. I wasted a lot of time doing re-takes until I finally sat down like an adult and made a darn outline with some key words and phrases. Right. I also practiced what I was going to say a few times because that HELPS. I swear, it was like Amateur Hour around here. In my defense, it was 1:00 am when I finished, and I’m usually only awake at that time if I’m giving birth….so it’s rare and I’m not at my best in the wee hours.

**

Some of the podcast-y issues that cropped up were due to the fact that I’m a newbie, and some were issues that I should have anticipated and prepared for. Also, I’m not skilled enough with the editing software yet (see above) to fix my mistakes, so I must get everything right from the start.

Moving forward, I have a combination of recordings scheduled at Shadowbox Studio (with people who know what the hell they are doing) and at home (with a person who will eventually know what the hell she is doing). A home studio is really useful for odd-hours, solo recordings and managing schedule-craziness or conflicts.

The next several episodes will be interview style, and I’ll welcome the conversation with another person in the room. I originally thought my solo Episode 002 would be twenty minutes or longer, but I topped out at sixteen minutes and that felt like plenty for a first-go.

I hope you’ll keep listening. I hope you’ll learn from my mistakes and laugh along with me as I keep moving forward. I’m really excited about this new platform and having lots of fun with it. There’s much to learn about the art and science of podcasting, so I’m gonna keep plugging away.

I podcasted, and I liked it.

 

ARTIST SOAPBOX has been launched! Wheeee!

BIG NEW THING: I recorded a podcast, and I’m so excited that I couldn’t wait to share it. Seriously, I am SO excited. It took me an embarrassing number of hours to edit and put the first darn thing online, but I did it. It ain’t perfect, but that’s on me and my learning curve. More to come, more to come, more to come.

Me=tired. Good enough=Just fine

There’s still much to do with getting artwork, listing on iTunes, fixing the website, etc. but the link is online and it seems to work and it’s live. Anyhow, I’m getting there. I’m feeling grateful that there are so many incredible artists to converse with, and I can’t wait to do more. Special thanks to Greg Myer, Mara Thomas, and Jim Haverkamp for helping me launch.

Feel free to share if you’d like or just listen. There’s some good swearing, so it’s not for the kids.

EPISODE 001: Mara Thomas says Yes to Nothing

***

ALSO:

So I didn’t:

I haven’t written Mother of the Year yet. And I still have some other projects that I didn’t wrap up. I’ll just say, almost everything is still pending.

So I did:

I did write another play in the meantime.

Onwards!

Project: Mother of the Year

If you live in the Triangle Area of North Carolina and you identify yourself as a mother, then I have a request for you.

I’m gathering creative fodder for a new project, and I’d love to have your contributions. This project, tentatively titled MOTHER OF THE YEAR, has no shape or performance date, or anything at all specific. Like most artistic endeavors, it’s a creative trust exercise in the spirit of “let’s see what happens”!

Below, you’ll see the details (such as they are) as well as the caveats. If you’re game, send me something by the deadline. If this isn’t your cup of tea or you don’t have the brain-space at the moment, then that’s totally cool too.

DETAILS:

I’m looking for writing in any style and of any length based on your own experience. As much or as little as you’d like to send.

The focus: Your experience of being a mother right now. What are you going through/involved in/wrestling with/enjoying/struggling against/embracing/striving for/questioning/etc right now? What’s top of mind? What’s in your heart?

It could be profound or trivial. Focused broadly or minutely, globally or locally, politically or artistically or domestically, or personally or publicly or bodily or spiritually. Light, heavy, serious, comedic….of any emotional tone. It could be a poem, a conversation, a song, a speech, a monologue, a jingle, a list, a letter, a sentence, a stand up routine, a paragraph, a journal entry —whatever— pour your experience into a document and send it.

Deadline: Wednesday, Feb. 1. I’m setting this first deadline to assess interest. If I get zero contributions, then I’ll reassess the project and take a different tack. If I get a pile of emails, then I’ll rejoice, set a course for development and probably put a call out for more text!

Feel free to share with people in the Triangle Area (NC) who identify as mothers. For now, I’m limiting the geographic area to our smallish corner of the world.

CAVEATS:

I don’t know what I’m going to do with the writing that I receive. It could be broken up, combined, or used solely as inspiration. Your writing could be completely unrecognizable to you in the finished piece or it might be used word for word. If you send me something, please release it with the understanding that you are giving it away to be used TBD.

Everything that you send to me will be anonymous. If the project goes public, then your name will be listed as a contributor (unless you don’t want that), but no one will know what text is ‘yours’.

WHY AM I INITIATING THIS?

This project won’t let me go, so I’m giving into it. I don’t know what it will be or if it will be, but I hear the call to use the actual words of those who mother as the foundation and springboard for a piece of art. An exploration of contemporary motherhood, as told through local voices….perhaps….?

AND FINALLY

If you are like me, sometimes you need a ‘reason’ to write — I’m hoping that this will be a good reason for you, and an opportunity to voice some of the mothering-related thoughts that you’re carrying around in your heart and your head. Send me questions if you have them. No pressure. No judgment. Love. Love. Love.

With deep appreciation for all you do…

And Happy New Year and hugs,

Tamara

tamara_kissane@yahoo.com

A mom who…

FullSizeRender

Gratuitous photo of darling baby toes. Taken by his big sister.

There are a lot of gifts that accompany a show opening. Everything has come together and is soaring. It’s a celebratory time. The New Colossus has opened! The cast, the direction, the design, the stage management are all amazing. Hurrah!

For me, one of the gifts of TNC‘s opening weekend, is a more personal one. And I feel a little embarrassed admitting it. The opening of the play has given me the opportunity to talk about more than just my kids. It’s strange, but that’s a real gift for me. Like, I’ve got other things going on that make me a multi-dimensional person and that feels really nice.

I’m so much a MOM these days. I’m MOM-ing constantly and vigorously. Leading up to the opening of TNC, I was on antibiotics for mastitis (Again. Sigh.) Most nights, I was pulling ice packs out of my bra before entering rehearsal. And my usually chilled out baby had major sleep issues. He. Would. Not. Stay. Asleep. Argh. So I was even more sleep-deprived than usual. At the end of rehearsal (and now, after the show), I rushed home to get friendly with my breast pump. No one wants engorgement, nope. Then there’s the end of school year chaos and piano lessons, swim lessons, etc. etc. Anyway, you get the picture. I felt my MOM-ness very much, even though I had sweet pockets of time when I was in rehearsal and felt my creative-self assert herself, and my mom-self take a little rest. My mom-self needs a rest sometimes, you know?

Please don’t get me wrong, I am crazy-grateful for my family. I love my kids, and I love to talk about them. Go ahead, ask me, you won’t be twisting my arm. It’s easy and often necessary at this time in their lives to make them my everything. It’s very special to witness the growth of such wonderful spirits.  So, I’m in love with my life, but there’s not much space for me in it right now. I’m MOM before anything else. I’m a “A mom who….” — A mom who writes, A mom who works, A mom who acts, A mom who makes theatre, A mom who is always mom-ing.

But now! But now, the show is out there in the wider world and people are coming to see it and wonderfully, amazingly, they are talking about it. And this past weekend, for a few days anyway, I really felt like a writer first, an artist, “A writer who moms….” And it was cool to have that experience, and I’m grateful for it too. Honestly, I think it was a damn f-ing miracle that I was able to write TNC while I was pregnant and then continue to work on it with an infant. I’m really, really hoping for another miracle as I start work on the next project too. (Writing with a toddler and an 8-year old — hold onto your hats!) Since I don’t know if I’ll get that next miracle, I’m enjoying the ever-loving sh!t out of this one. I really am. I don’t feel my usual murky mix of anxiety and awkwardness about my art. I just feel grateful and present and happy.

Please come see The New Colossus if you can. I’d like to talk with you about it. After that, I’ll tell you a funny story about my kids. Hee.

*Speaking of children, this Thursday, May 26, is Red Nose Day for TNC. Come support this worthy cause and get yourself a ticket discount. If you attend wearing a red nose, pay just $6 (half-off regular price). Good for door sales only the night of the show. Read more about Red Nose Day.

**This post is the third in a short series of posts about TNC. Here’s the first one. Here’s the second one.

 

 

On the brink of taking flight

TNCThis is the second of a short series of posts about my upcoming play, The New Colossus. (Here’s the first.) In the spirit of gratitude and reflection,  I’m considering some of what it took to stage this sucker (from a playwright’s perspective). We open this week!

Generally, plays require an enormous amount of collaborative and collective work to put up — way more than you would guess unless you do it on a regular basis. As a world premiere, The New Colossus required an even larger than usual dollop of investment, commitment, and risk-taking from everyone involved. It’s a brand new beast.

The New Colossus (TNC) would not be opening this week without a theatre company willing to take the risk to cultivate the script over the last two years, then put in the time/money/energy to mount a production. Thank you, Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern. Thank you, Manbites Dog Theater, for access to the venue and support thru the Other Voices Series.

It often requires years of preparation to bring a new play to the stage. This was the case for TNC. Research, several drafts, then readings, rounds of feedback, and more drafts, and then more drafts after that. It’s a long-game approach. It was a gift to have a producing company, like Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern, that invested in TNC before we even entered the rehearsal room.

Even a script based on a beloved classic, like this one, is still untested. It’s untried and probably still a little unfinished. By the time most plays really pick up steam geographically, they’ve been workshopped and produced multiple times, so the first production is really the infant phase for a new play. And you know it takes a village to raise a child….

Dana Marks, the director of TNC, has been a superb detective, problem-solver and imagineer — reading the text closely, discovering moments I didn’t know were there, conducting the pacing, arc and emotional tone of the production, as well as folding in all the crazy technical elements written into the script. (Yikes, videos and live feed!) Dana, Jenn Evans and Erin Bell, our stage managers, and the cast have been upbeat, flexible and supportive as I made numerous script edits throughout the rehearsal process. We’ve been able to collaborate and brainstorm solutions for moments that didn’t quite work once we got the script “on its feet.” Bless the amazing cast who jumped in enthusiastically, and tried to make even the most awkward lines work.  They breathed life and dimension into their characters in surprising and wonderful ways. Together with the stellar designers, all of these folks created a world that I never anticipated.

And of course, in order for TNC to happen, I needed lots of support from my friends and family (hi, honey!) — from the people who read and discussed drafts with me, and the people who’ve worked with me in the past. Kevin Ewert and Jaybird O’Berski were crucial readers and script advisors. My friend, Cheryl Chamblee, and I wrote and produced a dozen plays together in the last 20 years; without those experience with her, I wouldn’t have been able to bring this play to life. Same thing goes for my work with Rachel Klem in Summer Sisters, and lots of other experiences with folks who have built new work in the theatre.

As a theatre-maker, new works are my jam. I love creating them. I love experiencing them. Happily, this community is rich with theatre companies who are commissioning and growing new work. Support them! Love them! They are laboring hard against the odds to bring you new art.  Here are a few examples: Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern, StreetSigns, Archipelago, Common Wealth Endeavors, The Performance Collective, DIDA, Haymaker, Manbites Dog Theater, Duke University Theater Studies,  The ArtsCenter Carrboro, Paperhand Puppet Intervention, Common Ground Theatre, and more.

As an audience member, I’m thrilled by world premieres. Watching a never-seen-before-play is a special treat. It’s a secret discovery that no one else has access to yet. It’s opening up a surprise package. It’s watching theatre being born. I hope you feel that way too.

The New Colossus runs for three weekends. It’s about 90 minutes with no intermission. Rated R, so not for the kids. Get your tickets.

 

 

 

What’s the deal with the seagull?

PrintThis is the first of a few posts that I’m writing about my upcoming play, The New Colossus. Opening on May 19th!

A tiny bit about The Seagull:

Anton Chekhov wrote The Seagull in 1895, and it was performed a year later in Petersburg. In 1909, the play was translated from Russian to English. During the past 100+ years, there have been dozens of additional translations and adaptations, and countless productions of The Seagull. It’s one of those plays that continues to capture people’s imaginations. Wikipedia can tell you more.

I first read The Seagull in college (eep, 20 years ago!), and I remember thinking that it was an amazing but odd little play where not much happened. Mostly, people sat around and talked about….I don’t know….life…whatever….? And I totally didn’t get the whacky obsession with the dead seagull (Weird metaphor alert!). At that point in my theatre-making life, I was most excited by Shakespeare’s style of overthrowing kings and brandishing swords and epic drama and chest-pounding. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still into that, but these days I really dig the subtle dramas of everyday life and the undercurrent of emotion that bubbles below the surface of our interactions. Our days are thick with feelings, dreams, aspirations, and disappointments. Maybe those interest me most because that’s what I have in my life right now. Not much epic drama or brandishing swords, thank goodness.

SparkNotes describes Chekhov’s writing this way:

His plays marked a new movement in the theatre with their use of subtext, intimacy, colloquialisms and realism. His comedy-tragedies were unlike any plays that audiences had seen before because they made drama out of everyday circumstances, such as love and longing, instead of portraying the grand gestures of heroes and heroines of earlier plays.

Two years ago, I was re-introduced to The Seagull in a Chekhov class taught by Jaybird O’Berski. The play blew my socks off. The themes and conversations felt remarkably fresh and contemporary. The characters were damn deep. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I read different translations and adaptations and various essays and reviews. Then I got the zany idea to write a new play inspired by Chekhov’s Seagull. It’s an homage, really, because I’m so fond of the original.*

I wrote an adaptation with the help and support from a whole lot of people. (More on that in another post.) Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern, of which I am a longtime ensemble member, was kind enough to produce it. In less than two weeks, The New Colossus, produced by Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern, will open at Manbites Dog Theatre in downtown Durham. I’m weak with excitement and gratitude.

This is the teaser description:

A family of frustrated, attention-starved artists flocks to the seashore. One of them has a gun…what could possibly go wrong? A darkly comic reboot of Chekhov’s classic, this rollicking tale examines the pitfalls of making art and making love in modern day America.

Hopefully, people who don’t know The Seagull will enjoy The New Colossus as a stand alone play and be inspired to read the original. Hopefully, longtime Chekhov fans will enjoy the ways we’ve reimagined this work.  The basic story elements remain — they are the reasons I fell in love with the play in the first place. However, I did make some noteworthy changes. Some examples: one character never comes on-stage, two characters merged into one, the scene order is different, music and dance and video are more pervasive, and there are several new and transformed scenes. In particular, I added two new scenes so the female characters can talk to one another. (Those interactions were missing from the original and I was curious to consider them.) Most surprising to me, setting the play in 2016 had the biggest ripple effect on the entire project. It seemed pretty straightforward at first — just dress the characters in modern day clothing and sprinkle in some modern words! — but the ways in which we interact with art, fame, community, family, technology, health, and success seem different than they were for Chekhov’s Russian characters in 1895. The tools are different. The love and the longing are still there, but we manage them differently today, I think.

I’ll be curious to hear what you think.

And there’s still the dead seagull. What’s up with that?

THE NEW COLOSSUS opens May 19 and plays for 3 weekends in Durham, NC. Get some tickets.

*Regarding the use of the word ‘original’: I didn’t read The Seagull as it was first written in Russian. I’m sure that limits my understanding of the play in some important ways.

Spring time update

animated-10Seven months ago, I had a(nother) baby. So, I’m a mother of two now. Mind boggling.

Since I haven’t posted in a year, I thought I’d take a quick minute to post an update while the baby naps and before I pick up the seven year old from school.

Parenting, yes. My sweet spouse and I are doing a lot of parenting. A lot. And that is very challenging and very joyful. Even more so with each passing day.

Art-making, not as much. In the first 180 days of the baby’s life, I went out by myself TWICE at night and then raced home before the baby woke up to eat. Breast-feeding is tough, man. It’s cool, but it’s tough. However, in the last three weeks I was able to attend a few plays and even a few rehearsals, and I started writing again, and now the birds are singing and I feel more like myself.

Is my art compromised by my children? Yes, in many, many ways. Is my art made richer as well? I hope so. I think so. I guess we will see. I certainly appreciate any opportunities that I have to make art now — way more than I did before having kids. I work faster and smarter and with a better attitude. Going to rehearsal or having 15 minutes to write is like the best hot fudge sundae ever. It’s like pure oxygen.

So, it’s spring. I’m happy.

  • My family is thriving. I am so glad. I’m so grateful. No, the baby isn’t sleeping thru the night and the seven year old gets sassy sometimes, but on-balance, they are delightful. My husband is a cool dude.
  • I’m in the midst of a few playwriting projects. In some cases, that means actually writing for a few minutes here and there, and in some cases, I’m just thinking about my projects while driving in the car or feeding the baby or falling asleep at night. I’ll just trust that art is cumulative and that each moment spent creating will eventually add up to a meaningful whole. In the last week I’ve even written a few coherent and creative thoughts down. And I’m feeling inspired. Actually inspired to write more!
  • Most importantly, A play that I WROTE is going to open on May 19th (more on that soon). Thrilling!

The baby is awake and it’s time to go.  That’s the scoop. I’ll be posting more soon. Sending you all the best on this day and all the days that follow.

Taking off the shirt

I’ve been thinking about an audition I had a few weeks ago — a fun group-audition focused on building ensemble, listening, playing, and following impulses (Yippee, my favorites!). It felt more like a workshop than an audition which left me feeling grateful, inspired, and relieved. The people in the room were super. It was fun. I’d like to say that I was great/totally nailed it/surprised myself/did my best/really went for it, but the truth is I was ok. I was fine.

So, in an effort to move myself closer to great/totally nailed it/surprised myself/did my best/really went for it,  I’ve been mulling over the audition and considering whether I fully engaged in those so-called favorites — building ensemble, listening, playing, and following impulses.

The short answer is: I didn’t. I didn’t fully engage.

I almost did. I often did. I wanted to. I tried, but I didn’t quite get there 100% all the time.

Yes, it’s hard to do those things. Especially in an audition setting. It’s hard to just be — authentic, in the moment — rather than perform what I think is desirable, cool, clever, funny, interesting, easy, whatever. But I want to ‘be in the moment’ more. I want to be more consistently authentic. I don’t want to perform myself, I want to be myself.

(Here’s the part where my internal child falls in a heap on the ground and rolls around dejectedly until she gets distracted by something shiny.)

I’m been thinking about a particular moment during the audition when I tripped over my ego instead of following my impulses as I was invited to do (Ok, there were lots of moments, but I only have time to describe one today).

It was the moment when I wanted to take off my shirt, but I didn’t.

(If this sounds titilating, then you can go ahead and un-titilate yourself, cuz this ain’t a sexy thing.)

During the audition, our group performed several rounds of a sound and movement exercise. We sat in a circle and individuals took turns moving into the center. The task of the group was to support the individual in the center by making sounds. The task of the individual in the center was to move in a way that authentically embodied whatever particular concept we were working on during that round — without premeditation or pre-choreographing the movement.

During one of my turns in the circle, I stood up quickly and took off my fleece jacket. My next impulse was to take off the shirt underneath as well (leaving me in my bra) and strike some grimacing, muscle-y poses like the Incredible Hulk.

But my shirt stayed on and my pseudo-Hulk never appeared. Instead I performed goofy fleece-tricks like swinging the fleece over my head and passing it between my legs and pretending to throw it at people and stuffing it up my shirt. It was fine. Whatever.

During that microsecond between taking off my fleece and deciding not to follow my first impulse, a zillion thoughts zipped thru my head (One of the problems = too much thinking! Right? If you are thinking, then you are doing it wrong.)

In that microsecond between trusting/not trusting my intuition, I questioned whether my impulse was weird and off-base and nonsensical  and whether it would seem gratuitous or show-offy (Look at me! Whee, I take off my clothes!).

In that microsecond between does-shirt-come-off-no-shirt-stays-on, I tried to remember what bra I was wearing, if my underwear were peeking up over the top of my yoga pants, and if I was looking bloated. (Would everyone notice that I haven’t gone to the gym in a looooong time? In this situation, would taking off my shirt make me a bad ass or a fool?) 

Never mind that I was wearing a bra on the poster for a previous show. In the moment, I freaked out.

In one tiny microsecond, my concern over what people would think of my creative contribution + my body anxiety knocked me off-kilter. I fretted about how I yearned to appear rather than just stepping into who I was in that moment. I was Incredible Hulk in that moment! Then I killed my Incredible Hulk. (Sad face) I didn’t trust that my 15 second contribution to the circle would be accepted and appreciated no matter what it was. I knew we were all just playing, just trying stuff, just being ourselves, just trying to have fun — I knew I was in a safe space with a group of warm and welcoming artists, and that this was no big deal — but I still couldn’t shake off THE JUDGE. I missed that luscious and rare opportunity to be in the zone, ride the wave, surprise myself, drop into lizard brain and just be. Bummer.

Also, those people in that audition really missed out because I can rock a bra. (JOKING! Seriously, joking.)

So that was 15 seconds of an audition, right? That was one kinda silly-hopefully funny-a little embarrassing moment in my life. Really small beans in the scheme of things. But it did make me think about regular ol’ daily life and the number of times I stop myself, squelch my impulses and pull myself back from being fully present. Do you extinguish your creative sparks? How often? What is the result?

Look, I know we can’t walk around all the time without our filters, just like we can’t walk around shirtless all the time. That would be inefficient and impractical and inappropriate. But maybe we have more leeway than we think?

I’m trying to do the calculation here….I’m trying to determine when the small beans become big beans. Because I suspect we all do this, right? If so, then what’s the effect of our widespread short-circuiting of creativity? What is the effect of so much not-being-present? What is the long term effect of discarding our impulses and intuition? What do you think?

I wonder how much we lose while straining to be too-cool-for-school rather than acknowledging our shared awkwardness and vulnerability. We’re all just working to make art and make life, right? Forget being cool, let’s just be real.

I wonder what is lost…. when I stop myself from reaching out, when I stop myself from taking risks, when I see others second guess their honest reactions, when I see adults reject the invitation to play even though their hearts yearn to be childlike.

I wonder what would happen if we all took a chance and whipped off our shirts once in awhile (I’m speaking metaphorically, but whatever floats your boat). I wonder what would happen if we were brave and creative and vulnerable and intuitive more often. Perhaps it’s worth some practice? Certainly, I need some more practice. And practice and practice and practice.

So, the audition….

In the end, it was all fine. It was fun. It was clearly thought provoking. I’m grateful for the opportunity, and I hope to have more. I’ll learn and grow and do better next time. If I keep practicing, then I will.

 

Meta Mette Metta

Last Saturday was the closing performance of Little Green Pig’s production of Celebration. (Below you’ll see some links to reviews for this production, fyi.) I miss the show. I miss the generous, talented people associated with it. I miss my character, Mette. Celebration was a theatrical roller coaster ride seeded with major family dysfunction and deep brokenness (secrets, abuse, racism, violence, denial, repression, control, suicide) combined with the family’s desperate refusal to abandon the façade of perfect-family-happy-party-time. Amid the mayhem were moments of great affection, humor, courage, and love.

As you might imagine, there’s a lot to write about with this production, but Mette has been weighing on my mind this week. I’ve been trying to make sense of her – Why do I miss her? What can I learn from her? What was the experience of sharing her skin?

Yes, getting meta with Mette…hee.

Below, is a snapshot of Mette as I lived her. (She wasn’t like the Mette in the movie; she wasn’t like the Mette that another actor might portray. She was mine.) Some of her personality I was aware of during the performances and some of it I pieced together after shaking her off. The audience and my fellow cast members wouldn’t have noticed most of this — there was so much going on and I certainly wasn’t the star of the show and there so many über-talented actors to track — but that’s as it should be… this was my acting thing.

I wonder if you’ll understand my affection for her.

First, a photo to give you the flavor of my gal:

Mette in action.  Photo by Alex Maness

Mette is leaving! Photo by Alex Maness.

Yeah, Mette always has a little blood in her mouth (metaphorically speaking). That’s why she drinks so much, why she wears red lipstick, makes so much noise. She has a big mouth. She is a BIG MOUTH and she has fangs. She generally thinks people are “hilariously full of shit”- especially the family around the table – but she doesn’t mind as long as she’s having fun. She likes to have fun.

She loves to touch people — grab/grasp/poke/push people on the arms and on the face. She thinks it’s funny when other people get in trouble.

She’s a straight talker. She’s a heavy drinker. She’s self-involved. She’s a volcano, that Mette. Sex, for her, can be a transaction, a weapon, or lots and lots of fun. She’s cool with her sexiness. She shouts. She gets very angry very fast. She flirts purposefully and wickedly; she mates for life. She loves her husband.

Mette gives as good as she gets. She never apologizes for herself even when she’s gross or inappropriate. There is nothing to apologize for.

She loves her child. She wants to be a good mother (better than her own!) Sometimes she treats her daughter like a baby and sometimes like an adult.  Mette loses track of her kid often — Where did that kid go now? — but she is very clear that her daughter is ‘the best thing she’s ever done’ and the best part of her life. Mette raises her daughter in an environment with violence (overt and suppressed), verbal abuse, racist songs, and dysfunction, but she wouldn’t describe it that way.

Mette does not define herself as a mother or a wife, she is always “Just Mette.”

Sometimes she cries at night because life isn’t measuring up to her expectations…neither is her husband… and neither is she.

After a performance, a friend said, “I bet it felt good to be so angry!”

Yes. Yes, it did.

After a show on another night, a friend described Mette as “icky.”

Yes. But geez, I loved her.

I'm through with you. Photo by Alex Maness.

I’m so through with you, dude. Photo by Alex Maness.

So what did I learn? What am I taking with me from Celebration via the vehicle of Mette?

The most obvious is an affirmation of how satisfying it is to be an actor and to create theatre in community. There’s something deeply enjoyable about the bifurcated mind on-stage — the tightrope walk of surrendering completely to the reality of the play and at the same time tracking technique, staging, ensemble, and audience. It requires deep concentration. It’s being in the zone, baby, and it feels great. Being in the zone with a tight ensemble feels even greater. Being in the zone with a tight ensemble while playing an interesting juicy character feels knock-out-awesome-greatastic.

Mette and all of the characters in Celebration reminded me once again that given a particular set of circumstances, given a particular context, people can be capable of anything — bad decisions, beautiful sacrifices, horrible mistakes, mortifying missteps, and heart-breaking courage. Life teaches us/work teaches us/theatre teaches us this: I have the potential for all behaviors and so does everyone else. I am you and you are me, you know? In order to play a character on-stage, I need to understand where she’s coming from and buy into her choices. Over time, that ‘buying into’ increases my understanding and respect for her decisions even if I don’t think I’d make them myself. It’s cool, but I don’t know how it works. Maybe it’s as simple as walking a mile in someone else’s high-heeled shoes.

In fact, I’ve been thinking that if I could love Mette and the rest of the f-ed up people around the dining room table of Celebration (and I did!) then surely I can love and accept the real beautifully flawed humans in my life. Surely I can soften my judgement and open my heart to the real folks walking around this planet with me.

Yes, for all of you good Buddhists, I’m getting metta with Mette….

Ok, ok, ok, this is what I learned and what I know…if I am intentional about noticing and implementing the lessons, acting and theatre-making are opportunities to increase my ability to love. Admitting that makes me feel like the biggest-silliest-rainbow-sparkles-and-unicorns-theatre-geek in the entire world — “acting and theatre are opportunities to increase my ability to love!” — GAH! —  but I really think that’s true. I think it’s true for anything that people are passionate about whether it’s making model airplanes or saving the whales or running a marathon Our passions connect us with the greater human experience — and connection is the conduit to love. Love breeds love. “All we need is love“…..and that’s how art can save the world.

As for little Mette, I hope to hang on to wisps of her personality — a sprinkle of her zesty-ness and her straight-talking, a tad of her crackly electricity and her this-is-who-i-am-man-take-me-or-leave-me. Though it’s likely that will fade as I regain my Tamaralibrium. Really, the greatest gift she gave me was learning that I can do some things I wasn’t sure I could do. So, it turns out… I can raise my voice in anger. I can attack. I can be a wife and a mom and be sexy. I can snarl, and be unapologetic, and make noise, and take up space. I know I can do those things if I want to… because I did.

She gave me some of her power after all.

Now I know.

Links to Reviews:

The Five Points Star

The Indy 

News & Observer

Putting the ‘fun’ in Acting Fundamentals

I taught my first Fundamentals of Acting class last week. I think it went really well – everyone left smiling and feeling jazzed and saying things like “Looking forward to next week!” I felt that way too. Oh, happy day!

I drove home after Class One. Couldn’t sleep. Too excited.  My mental skywriter was writing fluffy, looping “grateful grateful grateful” in the landscape of my mind.

Now it’s Sunday night, and I just finished my lesson plan for Class Two of Four (which has eaten considerably into the time I have for crafting a blog post). And I’m excited again, and nervous again, and grateful again.

I feel lucky and grateful for the opportunity to share my love of the theatre* while offering practical acting skills and advice (hopefully). I’m grateful for all of the wise and fabulous teachers/directors/actors who’ve taught me what (little) I do know, and I’m most especially grateful for the wise and fabulous folks I’ve partnered with to co-teach prior to this class. I feel lucky  to have observed so many great teachers at work. Do you feel like you carry those people into the classroom with you as resources? I do. Hmmm, what would Cheryl do? What would Nathan do? What would Rachel, Jay, Mary, Jeff, Ellen, Bill, Devon, Chris, Jody, Dan, Melissa, Dina, Adam, Lorm, Nancy, Johnny, Greg, Rafael, Laurie, Sumi, Tom, Jenny, Janice, Beth, Dana, Enoch, Dave, Hope do?* What would my Mom, a former kindergarten teacher, do? Thank you, my teachers! What gifts you are to the world.

As I mentioned, this is a four-part class on (trumpets, please!The Fundamentals of Acting. Huh. Initially, when I sat down to hammer out text to describe/advertise the class, all sorts of questions were triggered – like, most importantly — What are the Fundamentals of Acting?

So, I brainstormed the list below (not in any particular order, and no doubt, incomplete).

Brainstorm List of Acting Fundamentals:

  • Creating a character (external) – body, voice
  • Creating a character (internal) – given circumstances, relationships, motivation/tactics/intentions
  • Script analysis, world of the play, story
  • Basic stage etiquette, terminology, job descriptions, etc.
  • Basic vocal work – diction, volume, pitch, tempo, resonance
  • Basic physical work – gesture, neutral, weird actory things
  • Ensemble building — being with other people on-stage and off-stage
  • Performance experience – scene work, monologues, auditions
  • My list of acting pet peeves; list of acting favorites
  • Actor mind — Focus, relaxed concentration, memorization, openness, creativity, improvisation. Something about authenticity?
  • Fun? Acting is FUN.Yep.

I also spent an evening with my best friend Google, and added more to that list. A long long list with a lot of words and eight hours of teach-time. Huh. I got myself tangled up with prioritization and the fact that all of the items on the list overlap and intertwine and that it’s all much more subtle and nuanced and that I don’t know what I’m talking about. Ack, imposter syndrome. I searched my house feverishly for undergraduate readings by Uta Hagen and Sanford Meisner and Stanislavski and etcetera. I couldn’t find them. Have you seen ’em?

There’s a looooonnnnng list of items to accomplish in order to be a an ACTOR. It’s more complicated than I first thought. And of course, my fear is that if I’m not ticking most of those items off the list, then I’m just ACKIN’ up there on stage. Or worse, being a WHACKTOR. Geez. Been there, done that. Hopefully, not recently.

But I digress….the question here is What is Fundamental?

This is the final text that was distributed to the public about the class:

The purpose of Fundamentals of Acting is to give older teens and adults an opportunity to further explore and develop acting skills on a more advanced level, regardless of experience.  Participants will learn or build upon drama skills, including voice, movement, vocabulary and character development and scene work.

Through low-stress, structured exercises and performance, students will:

·         Review basic theatre terminology and etiquette

·         Examine voice, speech, and breath as acting tools

·         Build characters from the inside-out and outside-in

·         Learn to make clear and well-informed acting choices

·         Develop confidence and relaxation on-stage

Please bring water and a yoga mat or towel for gentle warm-up exercises. Wear clothing and shoes that you can move in.

My basic plan (subject to change) for the class is:

  • Class One: Body
  • Class Two: Voice
  • Class Three: Mind
  • Class Four: Performance

Now, what do you consider to be (trumpets, please!) acting fundamentals? I’d love to hear your thoughts and have a conversation with you.

Like most things, acting (good acting, any kind of acting) is very subjective. I don’t know if we could easily devise a short list that everyone would agree on, and I haven’t asked my friend Google if such a list exists. However, as an exercise for myself, I tried to boil everything down to five essential bullet points.

Actors need to:

  • Be heard (project!).
  • Be understood (diction!).
  • Make specific choices that hang together coherently.
  • Develop a particular character for a particular play.
  • Be a team-player.

In the broadest sense, do those cover the ‘must-dos’? Fundamentally?

In the end, however, I keep coming back to the phrase  — actors need to be alive on stage. In this moment, that idea seems essential.  Actors need to be alive on stage is sophisticated and fundamental — yikes, I don’t know exactly what I mean by it (another blog post) — but really, I think that there’s something about electric-focused-energy-aliveness that is directly related to a compelling performance and somehow naturally gathers up all of the other items on the list. Maybe it’s a chicken or an egg thing. I don’t know. What do you think?

Well. That’s what I’m working with and that’s where I am. To be continued….

Wish me luck.

Wishing you many alive moments on the stage.

*This class focuses on acting on stage, rather than on film. Based on my limited experience with film acting, there seem to be a few key differences of style and skill. I’m not a film acting expert, but I can become one if you want to put me in your film. Hee.

*This is not the list of all of the teachers I know and love — not even close. It’s just the list of people I can think of in the time allotted to write this in my somewhat distracted state, and it includes folks I’ve actually seen do some teaching. I have a long list of  ‘excellent teachers-I’d-love-to-see-in-action’ on my to-call list. Here’s hoping I get to that one day. Also, although I am really enjoying this solo teaching experience, I have a real heart for co-teaching too.