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…

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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.

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. 

Cosmic creativity — say what?

This post was written before Hurricane Sandy started her march toward the coast. Today, I’m sending hopes and prayers for the safety and welfare of everyone in the path of the storm.

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This is my 26th post. Hard to believe that this blog is almost seven months old! The more I write, the more I realize that I have a lot to figure out. I’m wandering around this blog, sprinkling words on a page, zeroing in on what I think and puzzling out my parenting, my creative work, and my life in general. Did I mention I’m still figuring stuff out? The practice of writing on a weekly basis has provided much needed accountability and discipline. I’m grateful for the folks who read these posts — I appreciate your support more than you might imagine — especially when I whip out my New Agey wandery thoughts like the ones in the post below. Ah, the discoveries we make about ourselves in the blogosphere…

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When I am floundering about for some inspiration, I like to imagine there is a giant invisible net that catches all of the creative imaginings of the world. It’s accessible to everyone. If we are wide wide open and a little lucky, each of us can key into that mix on any given day. We reach in and snag an idea that is new to us. Then we mix, shake and stir that ‘new’ idea in with the rest of the thoughts kicking around in our brains and voila! Creative magic!

I like to imagine the properties of the new ideas – some light and skittish like birds – we hold them gently, calmly, moving slowly to build trust. Some ideas are sharp rocks – heavy, solid, dangerous, serious, ancient, beautiful. Some ideas are water, fire or wind — we cannot hold them, but we react to the sensations they create. Characterizing ideas this way helps me befriend the ones I do snag and helps put some distance between myself (I come up with ideas! This has sprung from my gifted imagination! I own it and control it!) and the inspiration (I stuck my hand out and caught this – now let me examine it and see what it is.)

How would you characterize the ideas you are working with now? How about previous ideas? Do you prefer certain kinds of ideas (heavy, flexible, reptilian, teeny, gray, melodic, etc.)? Which are easiest for you to grab?

So, on some deep level, I believe my ideas aren’t really ‘my’ ideas, even though I hold them in my hand (I’ve been lucky enough to coax them into my hand) and even though they are mine (for the moment) to explore. Ideas are gifts — gifts from the great cumulative imagination in a world of creative people, and gifts from something I read or saw or a conversation with an interesting person. In some ways this makes it easier for me to release an idea – if it’s not working for me, then I can let it go back into the great collective imagination soup, and someone else can have it (yeah, I re-gift it!). When I consider the number of people who are contributing to the world of ideas, I am comforted knowing that we will never run out – the people of the earth are reforming and transforming ideas that will lead to ideas that all pile back into the big basket of imaginings. Reach out and catch one.

In all of my creative work, even the stuff that seems solo-like, I have more than just myself to thank (this is always the case in collective art-making) because my ideas are influenced and shaped by the people and the culture and the environment and the world that I live in. In my experience, lone genius is a myth. Lone artist is a myth. As a creative person, it does me good to look to the world for inspiration, rather than just ruminate on my inner thoughts, and it does me good to be thankful to the world around me for the inspiration that presses up against me with every step. Thank you, world. Thank you, inspiring friends and creative partners and family and co-workers and community for the endless inspiration that you provide.

I haven’t fully formed this… but really, I think it’s the working of the idea that allows us to put a more personal stamp on it. To use a silly metaphor, it’s like Iron Chef right? We can all have the same ingredients (in this case, an idea or inspiration), but it’s what we cook with them that helps to define us and our aesthetic. So I wonder… maybe laboring so hard to protect ideas doesn’t make a lot of sense? Maybe hoarding inspiration doesn’t make sense? Maybe that’s a waste of energy since the ideas are going to slip thru the cracks anyway, and it’s likely they were never entirely our ideas to begin with? I wonder about all of this. What do you think?

[To be clear… I do have a soft spot for the cosmic accessibility of all ideas, but I’m not advocating for stealing in the art community. Don’t be a poopy-head by co-opting an idea that someone has been working on for a long time or has publicly declared as their special thing. There’s a difference between being gratefully inspired by someone or the happy accident of a shared idea, and purposefully leeching. It makes sense to tread lightly and thoughtfully in these cases, right? Also, I totally understand the need to have a ‘quiet phase’ in your creative art-making campaign; in marketing our art, we often need to leverage the element of surprise and program an ‘unveiling’ into our publicity plan. And sometimes people need to percolate on their ideas before sharing them. So I’m not accusing people of hoarding an idea just because they want to keep it close for awhile.]

Check out Austin Kleon’s great book, How to Steal like an Artist, for more about creativity and inspiration, most especially, Austin’s 25 Quotes to Help you Steal like an Artist. Fabulousness!

Anyway…here’s where I’m going with this, really…I think…

After we’ve caught an idea, perhaps our energy is best spent actually using the idea to create something. Instead of futzing around finding the ‘best’ idea, perhaps we should subscribe to the words of Nike, and “Just do it.” Don’t just think about running fast and dither about how everyone is running fast and you can’t run as fast as your neighbor and you had the idea to run fast FIRST and running fast isn’t really a GREAT idea….just run fast. You have the idea — you have an idea! — now put on your running shoes, and run with it. Explore. Run, in your way, in your body. Just do it. The doing is where the rubber meets the road. That’s where we can make our mark. That’s where the transformation, metamorphosing, and blooming occurs – that’s where you show what you’ve got and where you find yourself. Use the ingredients you’ve got to make something. For me, it’s even better when I make something in partnership with other people.

So if you find yourself thinking – “I can’t do X, someone’s already doing that” or “Does the world really need another X piece of art?” or anything else that shuts you down when you are only at the IDEA STAGE, then perhaps you can just start working with that idea in your own way and trust that no one will ever do things exactly like you. Make your worthy contribution to the creative world. Thank you.

If you have the same idea that someone else has, then perhaps you could work together — or — do your own thing and congratulate yourselves on how ‘great minds think alike’. Then, when you are finished creating, remember to send out literal or spiritual thanks to all of the contributors.

Five for wheels-turning

So, just fyi, I’ll be off next week for good behavior, and return again on Monday, Oct. 15.

In the meantime, if you’d like to do some reading related to theatre, art-making, feminism, vulnerability or empathy, see the list of five below. I’d love to know if you have reactions to any of these. They are definitely some of my favorites for wheels turning and inspiration sparking.

Send me your thoughts and your inspirations too. I’d love your recommendations.

#1. The other four on this list are links to online posts, but the first one is a book (you might have heard about) titled How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran. Read this book. You will laugh, you will be stopped in your tracks, and your eyebrows will be singed with fierce feminist commentary. (Beware, however, you’ll need a high tolerance for vulgarity, sex talk, and British slang.) Moran, hailed as the ‘the British version of Tina Fey’ made me giggle and gasp with her straight-talking, as well as inspiring a surge of righteous anger about the world we live in today. A great read. Apparently, she has a new book coming out too, and I am excited.

Here’s the blurb:

There’s never been a better time to be a woman: we have the vote and the Pill, and we haven’t been burnt as witches since 1727. However, a few nagging questions do remain…

Why are we supposed to get Brazilians? Should you get Botox? Do men secretly hate us? What should you call your vagina? Why does your bra hurt? And why does everyone ask you when you’re going to have a baby?

Part memoir, part rant, Caitlin Moran answers these questions and more in How To Be A Woman – following her from her terrible 13th birthday (‘I am 13 stone, have no friends, and boys throw gravel at me when they see me’) through adolescence, the workplace, strip-clubs, love, fat, abortion, TopShop, motherhood and beyond.

#2. A very long, but amazing keynote speech by Polly Carl at the online journal, Howl Round: Finding the Gift and Making Theater for Everyone. If you are a theatre-maker, you should read it, and let’s talk.

During my fifteen years of making new plays, I’ve watched our field become more obsessed with the transactional and less obsessed with making good art. If I’m here for no other reason today, it’s to push you as artists and people who love the theater to rethink this momentum.

#3. From 2010, but still relevant and fabulous, Lauren Gunderson’s A Openly Optimistic Letter to Performing Artists Freaking Out About Relevance During Hard Times. It’s a call to arms and a reminder of the necessity of storytelling for illustrating and shaping the world we strive to create.

Don’t let people say “art is escapism” and think that our feelings are hurt. Let us say, “We’re not escaping life, we’re stepping out to remember what life we want.” We imagine a new world so that we may see it first, then we set it right.

This is how we, the artists and producers and patrons of a rich and powerful country, are essential. And we are. This is how we, the masons of storytelling, engineers of myth and meaning hold up a nation to itself.

#4. A lovely piece about vulnerability from the Washington Post: A love note to the workaholic by Brené Brown. I have the quote below on my desk, and I read it everyday. Brené Brown is AWESOME.

It is not weakness, and the uncertainty we face every day is not optional, whether with our families or with our careers. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage, the clarity of our purpose and the fullness of our life. As Madeleine L’Engle writes, “When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability . . . To be alive is to be vulnerable.”

#5. An old favorite of mine about the power of babies: Fighting Bullying with Babies, a NY Times post by David Bornstein.

The baby seems to act like a heart-softening magnet. No one fully understands why. Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, an applied developmental psychologist who is a professor at the University of British Columbia, has evaluated Roots of Empathy in four studies. “Do kids become more empathic and understanding? Do they become less aggressive and kinder to each other? The answer is yes and yes,” she explained. “The question is why.”

Wishing you all the best. Happy Autumn!

Saying goodbye to RICHIE

On Saturday night, we concluded our nine performance run of RICHIE. Now, I am launched into catch-up mode. Catching up on sleep, on cleaning, on emails and phone calls and appointments and Candy-Land and cooking, catching up on the life that resided outside of the theatre bubble that I rolled around in for six high-speed weeks.

I feel relieved. Now I have my evenings back and I can sleep – oh, a blessed bedtime of 9:30 pm! Now I can pay more attention to my child and my husband and my family and friends. Now I have more space in my life for so many things – because in my experience at least, theatre takes up a lot of space. When I’m involved in a show, even when I’m not physically there, I’m mentally there. I am a person divided until the show closes. Well, actually I’m always divided; it’s just more obvious when I’m in rehearsal.

I’m really sad to say good-bye to RICHIE and all the trappings associated with that production.  There’s a mourning period at the end of every show for me – a sense of loss and disorientation as I transition back to “real life” and to all of the many tasks and people who were banished to the back-burner during weeks of rehearsal and performance. So I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’m a little teary-eyed as I type on a Sunday afternoon – we did have our final performance last night followed quickly (by me) with a grilled cheese sandwich, two gin and tonics, a few hours of frenzied dancing with castmates and five hours of sleep. That’s a recipe to get my tear-factory started!

Yeah, I’m not surprised that I’m having a hard time saying good-bye to RICHIE. This show was just what I needed at this time in my life, arriving when I was open to learning some things that I’ve needed to learn for awhile now. And it was fun. Really, really fun.

Look, it’s awesome to be on-stage. It just is. It’s an honor to walk into an amazing story as another human being, onto a stage where people pay to see you perform (You can see me! I exist!), and applaud when you finish – it’s fantastic. It’s a gift. Bathing in all those chemicals that rush around your body and brain when you are on a tightrope of anxiety and exhilaration, plus the deep and focused concentration that it takes to sustain a performance over two hours, plus the feeling of accomplishment that comes after you’ve worked so hard alongside other people of like-minds and hearts – the combination is seductive, it’s addictive, it’s being seen, it’s incredible. It’s exhausting, but whew, what a rush!

Not to mention that I was lucky enough to play a character with her own freaking fan club. How sad am I to give that up? Really sad. Here’s a recommendation – if you can, play a character who assumes power over the course of the story surrounded by a group of women who chant her name and do her bidding. Do this because you will feel really super unusually cool. No matter how much you remind yourself about the difference between real-life and pretend, some of those feelings of bad-ass coolness will bleed over and you will feel more powerful and more affirmed and more alive than usual. Give this gift to yourself with the understanding that you will be bummed when it’s over and that you will feel slightly ridiculous when you return to reality. Actually, we should all be each others’ fan club in real life. Let’s just do that for each other, ok? Wouldn’t that be great?

People seemed to like RICHIE. Performances sold out. The audience was packed. That’s all great stuff, but I don’t have the perspective to know what RICHIE was like for audience members. I don’t have enough distance at this point to know if it was ‘good’ or powerful or entertaining or if I was any of those things. We can’t ever really know that across the board since so much depends on each individual’s experience and expectations and point of view. I sure think it was good (what a silly word to apply). I’m very proud of our work. This show, an all female adaptation of Richard II, a pub-crawl thru Durham, a Paris Hilton/Britney Spears/Lindsay Lohan homage, got a lot of attention and that was fantastic. It’s a lot more fun when your show gets good reviews and people say good things and you get a lot of attention in the press, but for me as an actor, that’s the icing, not the cake. (Side note: For producers and theatre-company-directors, reviews/word of mouth/press are more than just icing since those things can have an impact on the financial health and viability of the company. Just a reminder that if you love a show, spread the word, share the love and encourage people to see it.).

As an actor on this show, my ‘cake’ was the experience of being inside the process and the world and the show of RICHIE.  That’s what I’m sad to give up. In the world that we created, I felt able to push the boundaries of my experience of being a woman, well, a human, really. I don’t know if others in the cast had this experience…gosh, I’m having a hard time articulating this….but I felt, more than ever before, the freedom and ability to be simultaneously beautiful and ugly, girlish and wise, aggressive and fierce and profane and vulnerable, sexy and powerful, muscular and lyrical, charming and dangerous and silly and funny, superficial and deep deep deep WOMAN. This is big for me. This open-source complexity is something I believe in, but have never fully owned.  In the world of this play, serious gorgeous Shakespearean verse could co-exist with four-letter-words as tools wielded by women doing business and living life. It was warrior and princess, madonna and whore, a mash-up of masculine/feminine without compartmentalizing or categorizing. I don’t know if this was due to the absence of male characters or the overwhelming presence of female characters (19 of us), but there was some heady female alchemy present.

So, in my mind, my character chose her costume because she liked it (short-shorts, tummy-showing blouse, a wig, false eyelashes, knee-high boots, a metric ton of red lipstick) and not because some dude might think it was hot. There were no dudes in the world of RICHIE. And no offense, Dudes, but it was nice to have some play-time in a land without you for a little while.  It was fierce female power on-stage (how liberating!). And off-stage, the women (and the few fab guys too) were generous professionals who brought their ‘A games’ and were all bent on telling a kick-ass story.

That’s what I will miss –what I always miss —  the people and the joyful community of theatre-makers that form like an extended flash-mob before disappearing again. They’ve become my friends, and I will miss seeing them regularly. I will also miss the deep and physical witness of powerful women (even deeply flawed fictional women) who were in charge of life and death without second-guessing their right to do so. It’s hard to know when we will see another cast of 19 women on-stage together. I’m so lucky to have been a part of that.

I will miss living the language of the Bard. I haven’t felt so invincible since I was a senior in college acting in Measure for Measure. Something about speaking Shakespeare’s language…the words offer electric insight into the power and complexity of the human experience. It’s like drinking from a fire hose — in a good way. William Shakespeare, I salute you.

We know that the beauty of theatre is the impermanence of the art-form. It’s also part of the gig — projects blossom and end, then the next one comes along. Next Thursday, when I’m sitting on my butt on my couch at 8 p.m. with a plate of nachos, relaxing with a doofy action movie, I will be happy to be there. I will be holding my hubbie’s hand (when I’m not shoveling nachos) and I will be grateful to be at home in my cozy house. I will be excited about my next creative project. I won’t be thinking so much about RICHIE. But right now, frankly, I’m damn sad to say good-bye.