The Year of Clarity

It’s been over a year since my last blog post.* Much has happened since then including two birthdays for me, a new job, four shows, a trip to Disney World, a kiddo in kindergarten and other stuff that’s too boring or too juicy to mention here. 2013 was checkered with life’s crazy cocktail of events and emotions — growth, discovery, loss, joy, love, sadness, laughter, friendship, friction. An amazing, exhausting blur. Now, I find myself poised at the beginning of this new year with questions, intentions, and an urge to write myself thru what is yet to come — to lean into the wind of 2014 and let my writing catch me and carry me away…

THE YEAR OF CLARITY

My hubbie and I sit together every New Year’s Eve to reflect on the previous year and write out new goals for the coming year. It’s a tradition that I have come to deeply appreciate as a way to mark the passage of time and the progress of our lives, as well as charting our future. This year we even included our five year old in the goal setting exercise. Her goals were refreshingly simple and surprisingly similar to some of mine — take walks, see friends, have a birthday party, enjoy treats.

On this most recent New Years Eve, I declared 2014 to be THE YEAR OF CLARITY. (Yes, I’m geeking out with the New Year’s goals by giving my year a theme in addition to setting out a list of things to accomplish.) I went with a theme because many of my goals were related to this idea of finding clarity, and quite frankly, I gotta figure stuff out.

I have questions. (I said it in a little voice just then, but it’s really I HAVE QUESTIONS!)

We all have questions, right? They are likely the same ol’ standbys — Who am I? What am I doing in this life? Why? How? What needs to change? What’s going to happen? How can I be happy? Where are the balance points? What is important? How can I love better? How do I hold life loosely and tenaciously? How do I get better? Why is this happening? What does my life mean? What does it all mean? Questions. Questions. I have questions. (I HAVE QUESTIONS!) The questions are mostly the same each year — have always been the same as long as I can remember — but I find them harder to ignore as I grow older. In fact, my questions seem to be mating and multiplying like little over-sexed rabbit-questions. I have more more more questions and fewer fewer fewer answers. My answers are evaporating, slipping away. I used to have more answers, you know? Perhaps I gave them away or lost them or perhaps they weren’t answers at all but something else entirely (maybe recipes for a life I thought I should have?).

And don’t get me wrong, I love questions. Questions are beautiful springboards to creative exploration. Questions are awesome. But life is turning up the heat on my real big questions like the ones listed above — questions alone aren’t cutting it anymore — I mean, I gotta get some answers, people! Did I mention that I started working in a hospital last year? Did I mention that I turned 40, my kid’s in elementary school, and life is rolling forward and speeding up and getting real in a way that I haven’t experienced before. There’s an urgency to answering the big questions for real that increases every year. Or at least there’s an increased urgency to try to answer them — I know, I know some of these questions might be unanswerable — but my life needs to be about trying to find the answers in a more intentional way. For me, life has become wrestling with questions in the hopes that I can gather up tiny, unexpected, bracing bits of clarity like snowflakes in the palm of my hand. The Year of Clarity is me diving into the wonder of it all and coming up with some meaning. The effort that I make to understand life, to consider difficult questions, to examine my existence fully — to me, making that effort is a goal I must accomplish. Then, when I find some answers (or at least gain some rockin’ insights), then I can really fly and spin and gallop gracefully thru life with purpose, with gratitude, with fortitude. Then I can get some real good meaningful stuff done. On purpose.

So I tell myself anyway.

Because I do want to fly and spin and gallop gracefully thru life with purpose, with gratitude, with fortitude. I want to get clear, gain clarity, figure things out, and then do some real-good-meaningful-stuff-on-purpose. Somehow I think/hope this blog can help me do that.

So, I’m back. Want to join me?

*Yeah, so it’s been over a year since my last blog post and I barely remember how to use WordPress. It’s going to take me awhile to figure out how to do fancier stuff and make it look pretty –but don’t worry, that’s on my goals for 2014. Also, I don’t know how regular my posts will be. TBD, friends.

To be continued as needed

This is it. Post #30. Hard to believe that I’ve been writing weekly posts for seven months now. Blogging has been way more fun than I anticipated and way more challenging too. That seems appropriate since I generally find life to be way more fun and way more challenging than I anticipate.

These are the reasons I started this blog:

I liked to write, and I wanted to get better at it. (I still do.) I wanted to encourage (force) myself to write more regularly. I thought I could handle a weekly post; I liked the deadline and the discipline.

I wanted to find my voice. Turns out, I’m still and always finding it. As I watch my daughter grow, as I witness my friends and family wrestling with their lives, I’m discovering that this idea of ‘finding your voice’ is a life-long process. As we change, as we evolve, our voices change. Our declarations, our questions, our need to speak, how we say things, what we say – all of that transforms over time. Maybe there is no definitive finding our voices, maybe there is only locating or glimpsing or journeying with our voices. Maybe our voices aren’t found, maybe they are developed. Maybe they are revealed and accepted. Seeking our voices, still and always.

I felt that I had something to say that was worth sharing. The jury is still out on that, but  really, more importantly, it was time for me to challenge myself to take a stand and declare my point of view, even if ‘my stand’ is often that I don’t know what I think. I’m conflict-shy; I don’t like to rock the boat – I’m a dove, people – but I’ve realized that I can be a peacemaker and still have an opinion. In fact, I’ve decided that having a point of view is actually a crucial first step in peacemaking and change-making.  It’s certainly crucial to making good art. Surprise, surprise, I can have a POV that’s strong and flexible, well-thought-out and fluid. Prior to starting this blog, I had the shocking realization that I’d lost track of my thinking. Since then, I’ve discovered that I think differently than I did five or ten or twenty years ago. I’m still behind somehow and out of step with myself —  my spirit has outpaced my mind, but I’m working to catch them up. I’m updating my Operating System and recalibrating my mind, you know? Over these last seven months, I’ve been pinning myself down with words. The act of selecting words to express myself, rather than sliding by with gauzy unvoiced half-thoughts, has been an act of compass-making. I’m learning which way is North. Mostly.

I wanted to embrace technology. As a presenter/teacher, my preferred audio-visual equipment is still flip-chart paper with a few colored markers. However, seven months after starting this blog, I can (sort of) figure out (some things on) WordPress. Now, I have an iPhone! That’s right, I can swipe my finger across my Apple screen just like those kids do! [I’ve mentioned that I want to do a podcast, right? Will someone please come to my house, set that up, and show me which buttons to press? It’s exhausting to think about.]

I’ve determined that it takes four to six hours for me to write and edit (ok, loosely edit) a 1000-1200 word post. (This post has 1039 words.) As we hurdle toward the end of the year, I’ve realized I don’t have that time anymore. Or rather, I need to spend that time doing other things. Or rather, I’m choosing to spend my time with people and other projects. I suppose this is what they call ‘prioritizing’. So, I am changing up my blogging schedule to be ‘as needed’.  I’ll write when I need to; I’ll write when I can. I hesitate to make this change because I am now opening the possibility of NEVER BLOGGING AGAIN. You know how that inertia can be.

However, I’m hopeful that this ‘as needed’ schedule will help to de-stress my life a little and result in more robust, life-changing posts – perhaps I’ll post only my best stuff rather than a mix of weekly best and half-best. My fortieth (yes, FORTIETH!) birthday is coming up which is bringing me a great deal of angst, and my child is still endlessly inspiring to me (Currently, she is getting the words ‘nipple’ and ‘pupil’ confused which can be quite alarming in conversation. The fact that I find this creatively inspiring is odd, I know.). I’m also happily mixed up in the development of some super-fab theatre projects – so I’m guessing that I’ll still post fairly regularly. After all, life is so interesting, right? There’s so much of it.

Two things before I go (temporarily):

  1. Thanks for reading. I appreciate you. I apologize for all of the grammatical missteps and whacked out punctuation and typos. Hopefully, you were able to overlork that. Hee.
  2. This seems random, but I want everyone to know about it, so I’m awkwardly plopping it at the end of this post…I recently watched the Half the Sky series via our streaming Netflix. I was tremendously moved by these programs, and I’m still mulling on what to do as a result. Anyway, I highly recommend them. If you watch, let me know what you decide to do as a result. You’ll see a little blurb below.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide is a four-hour television series for PBS and international broadcast, shot in 10 countries: Cambodia, Kenya, India, Sierra Leone, Somaliland, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Liberia and the U.S. Inspired by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn‘s book, the documentary series introduces women and girls who are living under some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable — and fighting bravely to change them. Traveling with intrepid reporter Nicholas Kristof and A-list celebrity advocates America Ferrera, Diane Lane, Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, Gabrielle Union and Olivia Wilde, the film reflects viable and sustainable options for empowerment and offers an actionable blueprint for transformation. The series premiered in the United States Oct. 1 and 2, 2012, with international broadcast to follow in 2013.

Keep on growing. Keep on keepin’ on.

Until soon,

Tamara

Praise for libraries, clogs…the list goes on

It’s that blessing-counting time of year again. It’s good, right? To be reminded once a year (cuz we need reminding!) to count our blessings and to explain to our kid what thanksgiving means. After this year’s explanation of thanksgiving/Thanksgiving/gratitude, my daughter told me she was thankful for lollipops. I told her I was thankful for her and our family and a warm place to live. I asked her if she was thankful for anything like that, and she said, “No, just lollies.”

Right. Better luck next time.

Yes, I’m truly madly deeply grateful for my family and friends and my job and my home and theatre-making  and the multitude of amazing obvious-to-me blessings in my life. However, when making this year’s gratitude list, I decided to a take a step beyond the knee-jerk gratitude items that are always on the tip of my tongue. Once I started digging in, I was reminded that I’m grateful for so much. There’s so much.

Below, you’ll see the first ten (somewhat random and sometimes superficial) items I added to my gratitude list. I will tell you that my day got much better after brainstorming a gratitude list. Suddenly, I caught the gratitude virus, and I was thankful for LOTS and EVERYTHING. (I’m grateful for this tissue, so I can blow my nose. I’m grateful for this window, so I can see the sky. I’m grateful for this hot shower, because HOT SHOWERS ARE SO AWESOME. Only two things are more awesome than a hot shower. I’ll let you guess what those are.) Being grateful from moment to moment for LOTS and EVERYTHING feels really good.

Although I suspect this is true for many people, I know that I take much for granted in my life. This is unfortunate, not only because it decreases the pleasure I take from my life and the gifts of my life, but also because by taking so much for granted, I also make the assumption that everyone has what I have — which we know is not true — and I become complacent and complicit in perpetuating the inequality and inequity in this world. Many many people don’t have hot showers, or showers, or clean water to drink, let alone bathe in. [See The Water Project. See Half the Sky. See Save the Children. See Durham Rescue Mission. See Hidden Voices.]

A sampling of ten items from the long list of things for which I’m grateful:

  1. Libraries.  One of the first things I did after moving to Durham (that is, after finding a place to live and locating the Whole Foods) was get my library card. The library is a place where I feel safe and hopeful — answers are in the library, stories are in the library, knowledge is in the library, Storytime is in the library!– all available for free. My weekly visit to the public library gives me great joy. Public libraries are a beautiful gift to the community.
  2. Health Insurance. Listen, without health insurance, my family could be very broke, or very sick, or very anxious. It ain’t cheap, but it’s affordable and it’s comprehensive. That’s something everyone should have, don’t you think? Go, Obamacare.
  3. Smooth roads + good signage + our old GPS. Like many people, I spend a lot of time in my car. Unlike many people, I am directionally challenged. I never know where North is; I can’t call up a mental street map; I don’t have one of those smart phones with Google Maps. I am always .005 seconds away from being completely utterly lost. Good roadside signage plus a GPS are key to arriving on time (I was going to say “key to my survival” which feels true, but is not true). Also, both of our cars have passed the 10 year mark, so driving on a bumpy, pothole-pocked road is noisy, uncomfortable and could quickly result in a trip to the mechanic. Sure, there’s a ginormous cavernous pothole right outside the gas station near my house, but otherwise, we’re lucky to live in an area with roads in good repair. Me = grateful
  4. Music for children that doesn’t suck. Since we have to listen to the same songs and CDs five billion times in a row (Did I mention that I’m in the car too much? Did I mention that my child is the boss of me?), it’s nice to have children’s music that (mostly) doesn’t make me want to rip my face off. Thank you, Laurie Berkner Band. Thank you, various Putumayo CDs. Thank you, Elizabeth Mitchell.
  5. Clogs. Yes, I said clogs — don’t judge. Dansko, LL Bean, Target-brand, whatever. Easy  to slide on and off; comfy clogs make me two inches taller without hurting my feet. And they look dressy? Sort of? I only have two pairs, but if I could be the Imelda Marcos of clogs, then I would be.
  6. People who grow food in their own gardens and keep their own chickens. I love the idea of this. These people are super cool.  I aspire to be these people…sadly, I have a hysterical aversion to ticks, my daughter has an egg allergy, sometimes chickens frighten me with their cold, beady eyes, and I manage to kill all of my plants sooner or later. This is not my thing. Thank goodness people do this. Thank goodness they share with me. Wait, hold up….actually, I’m grateful for all farmers (of the small and large scale variety, and especially those who practice humane and environmentally-sensitive agriculture). That’s some damn hard work. Thank you, farmers, for feeding me.
  7. Doulas. Giving birth is rather, um, intense. A good doula rocks. (My doula literally rocked me.)
  8. Free-to-the-public places to be and stuff to see, such as public parks, playgrounds, nature trails, beaches, museums, public works of art. (I’m noticing a trend here with numbers 1, 2, 3, and 8.) Thank you to the folks who make and keep those free public spaces available (and keep them clean and safe and beautiful).
  9. Though-provoking and lightly snarky podcasts. (These are free too  – once you buy the MP3 player and computer, of course) Here are some of my favorites:  BBC casts (Women’s Hour, Forum — A World of Ideas), Inside Acting, Slate Magazine casts (Double X, Culture, Political, Lexicon Valley), Audio Dharma, American Theatre Wing, On Being with Krista Tippett, TED. My secret wish is to have my own podcast. Until then, I listen with pleasure to the podcasts of others. Let me know if you have favorites to suggest.
  10. Funny people.  Here’s the truth – if you make me laugh and keep me laughing (and laugh at my jokes too), then I will love you. I don’t even have to know you  — you could be a complete stranger to me on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me or SNL or just have something to do with creating the Planters Peanut ad that says “Spend this holiday with the nuts you love.” I love you for keeping my spirits up in this challenging world, in these challenging times.  Yes. Love.

So, what are your less-obvious gratitude items? I’m curious.

You can learn about yourself, and learn about other people by sharing your gratitude lists. See, now you have a fun, revealing, inspiring and free(!) party game!

Counting my blessings. Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving.

I’ll be back on Dec. 3.

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. 

A rather cranky meditation on fear

I’ve done many things I regret*. (No, I’m not going to list them here. Hee.) A few very big things, many medium and small things, and hundreds of teeny thoughts or words or actions that pile up drop by drop over time. Here I am wading up to my knees in regrets – I wish I hadn’t ** I shouldn’t have ** I should have ** Why did I ** I wish I could GO BACK and do… ** How would things be now if I just did…?

Regrets swirling around me like Exxon Valdez-oil-spill water – chilly, thick, life-stealing. Mistakes and missteps. I am stained by them and stayed by them. Ruminating on the woulda, coulda, shouldas leads to regret-paralysis, and I am stuck – feeling  gross, ungrateful, angry, afraid, and deeply unattractive — unable to learn from the past, live in the present, or move freely into the future.

Here I am in this familiar territory (I must like it here, I go here a lot), soaked and cold like a stone, self-indulgent, whining, trying to make sense of the drop by drop by drop….

There are many strained metaphors we could employ at this point in the post to solve this ‘regret problem’ —  I could clean and wash away my regrets, I could pull the drain and let them go, I could just accept them and don a pair of stylish wading boots, I could turn up the compassion in my heart and let the regrets evaporate in that loving heat, or perhaps in some twist of fate, Deus Ex Machina style, someone could save me and haul me out of my regret soup and fly me off in a private helicopter to a paradise where regret couldn’t find me. I guess those are all possibilities or blog posts or whatever, but here’s the deal….here’s the damn discovery that I am working with and working with and working with and making frustratingly little progress….almost all (maybe ALL?) of the things that I regret doing were motivated by fear. Fear is my greatest regret. My greatest regrets are linked to the times I was most afraid. In my fear, I turn ungenerous, mean, angry, grasping and cold. I run run run. My thinking gets muddled, my heart is eclipsed – at best I am clumsy in thought and deed, at worst I am destructive – and these actions, no matter how compassionate I try to be toward myself after the fact – all translate to thorny sticking regret. Most of my bad decisions have been built on a foundation of fear.**

Once upon a time, during a therapy session, a woman wept about one of the BIG things she regretted doing and how disappointed she was to discover ‘she wasn’t the person she thought she was.’ Wise therapist responded, “Look, your fear kept you from being the person you are. Your fear obstructed your sight and restricted you from acting as your authentic self. Your mind created a vivid scary vision of the future that seemed real to you, so you freaked out. But fear isn’t reality, it’s just fear.”

Yeah, ‘just fear.’ Enlightening, sure (a life-changing conversation actually), but also a little overwhelming to someone who’s ‘just afraid’ of so many things, many of which she cannot even articulate. You might never guess this about her.

But it’s irritating, right? My fear is so annoying. And boring. Boring and annoying and persistent.  And I know that I’m not the only one with a made-up-never-gonna-happen-and-who-cares-if-does fear. I mean, what the hell? As people who are so privileged and lucky, who have so very much, what are we afraid of exactly? Really, what is there to be afraid of in our wonderful lives? Shame on me, shame on us for being so fearful. (Not a compassionate response, I know).  It’s ridiculous and embarrassing and disappointing and deeply human. I don’t want to be deeply human. I’d rather be a movie star instead. Sigh.

So, in a somewhat reluctant effort to step in the direction of a happier, lighter, and more equanimous life, I am working on this.  All roads seem to lead back to mastering, befriending, or getting around my fears. I suppose I have to deal with that. Boo. Hiss. Damn. Boo and hiss and damn.

I’ll get back to you about how exactly I’m going to deal with it. Dude, I can’t figure it out today.

As Fran says in Strictly Ballroom, “A life lived in fear is a life half-lived”. Right? [This is a fabulous movie directed by Baz Luhrman. I love Baz Lurhman. You should see it.] I’d like to do some whole-living,  please, as scary as that seems. I’d like to cha-cha down the yellow brick road and ask the Wizard of Oz for some courage, please, so that I can more fully realize the person I am.

Sorting out how to do this consistently  – to be brave or at ease or sit with my fear – this seems complicated and hard, and frankly, makes me feel all sorts of cranky. But geez, what is the alternative, really? A lifetime of regrets? A lifetime of having a heart that’s two sizes too small? A half-life?

*I’ve also done some things I definitely don’t regret like moving to NC, marrying my husband, becoming a mom, making theatre, and having some fabulous friends and family. So there’s that.

**It probably goes without saying, but I am not referring to legit fears about health, safety and well-being. Obviously, in those cases, it is wisest to listen to your body and your heart, take your fear seriously, and get help. It’s ok to ask for help when you are afraid. In this post, I’m referring to those gauzy ill-formed imagined fears that can make a person act unskillfully, such as fear of failure, fear of success, fear of looking weak/stupid/ugly/dumb, fear of disappearing or being irrelevant, imposter syndrome, fear of being alone, fear of not having enough/being enough/doing enough, fear of missing out, fear of not leaving a legacy, etc….and of course those fears we can’t do anything about like the fear of getting older and of dying.

Click on it

My child has been playing a lot of (too many!)  Sesame Street computer games, and watching too many (ehem) intellectually stimulating TV programs, and eating cereal for dinner on a regular basis. This is what happens when I’m in a show. And, you know, I’m cool with that. She’s fine. I’m fine. We’re all fine. It’s temporary, and when I get really honest about it, it’s not that much different than when I’m not in rehearsal.  Less TV, but probably the same amount of iPad or Sesame Street computer games and cereal for dinner…and yet the world still turns on its axis. I am a nicer and happier mom when I am making art and to me that’s more important (and that’s another post).

Anyhow, the over-saturation of computer games has become really apparent recently because the phrase, “just click on it” is now part of almost every make-believe game she creates. In a Sesame Street computer game, Grover might say, “if you see a green star, click on it”, then my kid will mouse over the green star, click the button and fireworks will appear on the screen. Magical technology! Or Elmo says, “if you want to see Elmo dance, just click on Elmo”.  Now, when my daughter and I play Babies and Monsters (a new favorite make-believe game), she’ll say, “If you want to hear the baby cry, just click on her” or “If you want the monster to stop scaring the baby, just click on it.” Full disclosure: I might be encouraging this behavior because I laugh every time she says that stuff.

It is true that I felt guilty the first dozen times she mentioned ‘clicking’ on something. Now there’s proof that I let her have too much screen time! Everyone will know that I am a terrible non-nurturing beastly mother! But I have a new rule about guilt that I’m trying to follow: I refuse to feel guilty about things that I do not intend to change. If I feel guilt coming on, then I make the decision to do something about it or make a decision to let it go, but I don’t want to carry around a backpack full of guilty distractions about stuff that I don’t really care enough about to fix. Know what I mean? Either I’m going to choose not to eat the brownie for breakfast because I know I will feel like crap an hour later or I’m going to choose to eat the brownie for breakfast and enjoy the daylights out of it. I’m not going to eat the brownie for breakfast and feel terribly guilty about it too. That feels like a waste of time and energy.

‘Click on it’ falls into the category of stuff that I have decided not to feel guilty about because really I don’t care if she plays age-appropriate games on the computer. I care what other people think about that, and I worry that I’ve been more tired or distracted than usual during our ‘quality time’ (issues that I am actively working on), but www.sesamestreet.org is not going away in our household. Sometimes I need to take a nap, and God bless Elmo. So click on that.

Actually, I’ve begun to appreciate ‘click on it’ as a way to signal decision-making points and active opportunities in my life. Now, I have Sesame Street voices in my head: “If you want to drink another cup of coffee and stay up all night, click on it.” “If you want to show your kid that you are paying attention, click on her.” “If you want to have stronger abs, click on some sit-ups!” “If you want to waste another 30 minutes spacing out on the internet, then just keeping clicking on it.” I often convince myself that I am a kind of passive victim of circumstances, that I have so little agency, but when I break it down, I begin to realize that I am clicking on things every moment. I am making little choices to do or not do all the time.

Other reasons I’m embracing “click on it”:

*’Click’ is such a great word so saying it often is aurally and orally satisfying.

*Telling someone to “CLICK ON THAT!” (even if it’s just in my mind) makes me smile.

*The idea of ‘clicking on something’ feels like a discovery or opening a present. Like, “What’s behind Door #1? Open it and see!”. When playing a game on SesameStreet.org, kids don’t always know what will happen when they press the button — it’s a great surprise for them. I like the idea of carrying that over into life. Oooo, what will happen when I click on that?

*And finally, I’ve come to the conclusion that everyone needs to be ‘clicked on’ sometimes – to be intentionally seen, recognized, chosen, touched on the shoulder, paid attention to – even for a moment. “If you want your employees to be happy, click on them.” “If you want your friend to think you care, click on him.” Maybe this is something that only works in my brain, but the days seem happier when I intentionally set out to ‘click on’ everyone. I’m happier on those days too.

So, what about you? Thoughts about the guilt rule? Thoughts about clicking on things? Just click on it. Come on, really, click on it.

How I want to be as an actor

This week we begin rehearsals in earnest for Richie, Little Green Pig’s all-female version of Shakespeare’s Richard II. I want to get everything I can out of this experience, and I want the people involved to get the most out of me, so I thought it might be helpful to set down some intentions for the rehearsal and performance process. Partly, this is an experiment to see what will happen if I start with an intentional list of ‘how I want to be as an actor in this show,’ and partly it’s an ongoing effort to clarify how I want to be in the world and how I want to spend the art-making time that I have.

You’ll see the list below. [It’s at the bottom in case you’d like to think for a minute about your own intentions before seeing mine.]

As I sat down to write, I discovered that most of these intentions have been floating around in my mind as a ‘personal code of acting’ for many years, and this list has been very heavily influenced by my time spent on the directing/production/writing side* as well as acting teachers, cast-mates, etc.. Since I’ve never written this stuff down before a show, I’ve been lazy and hit-and-miss about following the ‘code’ from project to project. As we all know, committing words to paper is helpful for accountability, intentionality, and mindfulness, so I’m hopeful this list will keep me on track. Writing it down also helps me sort out what I really mean and what’s important to me. I’m thinking of it as a work in progress…

I also wonder if most of the bullet points below are plain ol’ obvious and duh! — is this stuff everybody knows and everyone is trying to do? I’m really curious to know what other theatre-folk would include on their intention list going into rehearsal.  Do your intentions change every time or pretty much stay the same? Like mine, is your list really a combination of intentions and a code of honor/philosophy of acting? How has your list changed over time? Would you be willing to share?

And what do you think, people-who-don’t-consider-themselves-theatre-folk? Do you make a list of intentions before beginning a specific project or process? What might you include on that list?

As an actor and member of the ensemble, I will:

  • Arrive on time to rehearsals (Note: On time = 10-15 minutes early).
  • Get it done and move with a purpose – after all, we are on a short time-table. Learn my lines as quickly as possible so I can be off book. Learn my basic blocking as quickly as possible, so I can dive into more nuanced work.
  • Take care of myself and my health as best I can (eat well, sleep, exercise, etc.).
  • Have fun and laugh lots. This is a play, after all. It’s important work, but it’s just a play.
  • Take responsibility for developing a multidimensional character with a back story and relationships, and commit to clarity of intention and meaning.
  • Inhabit my character in the most truthful and believable way I can. Also, endeavor to be a bad-ass. [I don’t know exactly what I mean by that, but I think there’s a certain amount of bad-assery that needs to be present for actors. It’s certainly not arrogance or even confidence — maybe it’s about striving to be really solid and specific and fiercely focused. Or maybe it’s just a mind-trick to make me feel brave enough to get on-stage. I don’t know. It feels silly to write ‘be a bad-ass’, but it’s on the list.]
  • Use my body as an acting tool rather than as a source for actor-inhibiting-physical-hang-ups.
  • Stick to the words the playwright chose.
  • Be mindful of vocal variety in pitch, tempo, volume, emphasis and rhythm, as well as diction, diction, diction. And more diction. And communicate.
  • Be brave and honest. Stretch beyond what I think I’m capable of as an actor. Be open to direction, new ideas and improvisation.
  • Be generous with my scene partners and seek out opportunities to connect as characters.
  • Have meaningful conversations off-stage with everyone related to this production. We are a team, on-stage and off.  Strive to maintain and cultivate relationships with everyone who has a heart for this work.
  • Do my best to solve problems that are mine to solve. Try not to create problems for other people. Ask questions and ask for help from the appropriate folks at the appropriate time.
  • Remind myself that I am one piece of a complex and complicated work of art. Given my part in this process, lots of stuff will go on that I won’t be able to see. I will trust, be patient and manage my confusion if it arises.
  • Be thoughtful and aware of the message this play is sending to the audience; be mindful of how my values square with that.
  • Maintain a positive attitude throughout the entire process, even when I am tired, even when I am worried that it won’t ‘come together in time’.  Manage the anxiety that accompanies being vulnerable, being uncertain and being on-stage.
  • Always remember that I also have an identity and an important life outside of the rehearsal room with people who love me and need my attention. Be present, available, attentive, and loving to family, co-workers, and friends. Make this process manageable for those around me.
  • Say thank you out loud to everyone at every opportunity. Thank the actors, designers, director, production team, audience, my husband and daughter. Appreciate the gift this is, appreciate the gifts.
  • Aim to do my best, strive to learn and become better. At the end of the performance run: I will feel proud of my contribution, people will want to work with me again, and I will want to do this work again.

Whew! As I re-read the list above, it feels daunting to even partially realize every bullet point. Yikes, can I do all that? Well, we’ll see. I’m game to try this experiment and see if having a pre-rehearsal list of intentions will make an impact on my experience. I’ll let you know how it goes. Thanks in advance for your support.

*Cheryl and I do give our acting ensemble a document that outlines our hopes and expectations during our working-time together. (That document also includes a list of what the ensemble should expect from us as directors/producers/playwrights.) However, it occurred to me that I’ve never created a personal list of intentions for myself as an actor…until now.