theater

TimeHop: 2016

Facebook strikes again, always punching me in the gut with their “On This Day” app. All of my memories that are currently popping up from 2016 are theatre related. Every day from May 13, 2016 until July 3, 2016 I was at the theatre. After July 3rd, I was five and six days a week on, one or two off until mid-September. I was bouncing between four different shows in varying capacities. I was leaving the house at 8am and not returning until midnight, hoping for a few furtive hours sleep before starting again, desperate to fit in line and music memorization. For an actor, a dream come true, right?

Wrong.

Last summer destroyed relationships. I’m not exaggerating.  DESTROYED.  There are people who no longer speak because of the nonsense that was our shared theatrical experiences. I’ve lost a best friend, a long-time partner in the arts, and all sense that the more casual friendships and acquaintanceships will ever again result in creative collaboration. I’m not claiming to be a  victim here, either. My mouth and my personality get in my way sometimes. I can’t let things go. I can’t just let someone off the hook when I perceive their behavior to be bad or lacking. I demand an often-times ridiculously high level of quality, particularly given my geography. I get insanely frustrated when every member of a cast or crew isn’t pulling their weight.  That’s not exactly a recipe for interpersonal success.  

I am also much harder on myself than anyone else can be. I beat myself up for my perceived wrong-doings. I don’t forgive myself. I retreat to a place inside myself, sometimes as a sort of “time out”, sometimes as self-preservation, oftentimes to evaluate the scenario from other perspectives. I always try to make things right. I’ve tried with these broken relationships, too.  I’ve not been successful, rather, ignored.

I really miss doing theatre this summer. I feel a profound void to have been away from the stage this long. As with anything,however, there are plenty of upsides. I adore having so much time to enjoy my life. Joe and I are better than ever, spending tons of really good time together. I’m enjoying the amenities in my community for the first time in maybe forever. I’ve had summer experiences that I haven’t had since I was a teenager- pool visits, lake time, tennis, golf, all of it. It’s remarkable how rested and happy I am.  People constantly comment on how good I look, on how nice it is to see me out and about.  It’s the “Summer of George.”

But Facebook continues to rub my face in my relationship failures, I’m actually fairly upset. I can’t let go of some of the loss, and- it bears mentioning AGAIN- I’m sad to not be doing theatre work this summer. When I sat down to write this, always writing as therapy, I intended to introduce you to the characters, summarize the rise and fall within the confines of last summer, and leave the story for you to interpret. Then I started to get way too detailed, way too bogged down in minutiae that means nothing to anyone who wasn’t part of the day-to-day of Summer 2016. Suddenly it popped in my head:

 

They don’t care.

 

I can’t get past these splintered relationships because I care so intensely. They don’t.  I’m making myself crazy, indulging in painful musings that revisit five months of me putting every bit of myself into a job that resulted in…..nothing.  Absolutely nothing. Well, I guess according to TimeHop it’s something.  My answer arrived over the holiday weekend:  less Facebook. 

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Summer Stock: A Fictitious Journey

Summer Stock: Drama in Drama

Working through an idea….part one

 

There’s always more drama off-stage than on, when working in theatre.  Why not have a little fun with it…..  I’m building a smarmy, perhaps snarky little script….maybe you’d like to join me on the journey?  I know that many of you recognize the characters….I can’t wait to see how they evolve into Murder! Mystery! Mahem! Or just another blog post.

 

Cast of Characters:

Katie: A potentially lovely person who wants attention, love, and acceptance. Her mean-girl moments are largely secret: not inviting certain members of the “crew” to an all-nighter at her house, cuddling up to the “hot at the moment” newbie for love and adoration, then forgetting they exist when they’ve served their purpose to her ego. She’s talented, but one-note. She’s not overly ambitious, posing no threat to most of the theatre world in which she dwells.  She can be seen literally walking from group to group gossiping. She will harvest information from group”A”, then saunter to group “B” and dish it all.  By the time she arrives at group “C”, she’s chock-full of tidbits to use as power and gain acceptance.  

Regina: The self-appointed queen bee of the Summer of 2017, she dazzles with bullshit. She’s not particularly talented, but she keeps showing up, so many are legitimately convinced.  I mean, you can’t get a job if you don’t have the chops, right?  Wrong. Telling outright lies for personal gain is her MO, and when backed into a corner about said falsehoods, she places the blame elsewhere. There’s always someone to blame so she always comes up smelling like a rose. She’s cognizant of the fact that people talk about her, but it fuels her in a near Shakespearean way. She may actually view herself as Coriolanus.  

Taylor: Legitimately talented and seemingly nice, this young girl takes zero responsibility for the chaos around her. She’s always the victim, she’s always put-upon. She views herself as hardworking, but those around her feel as though they need the proverbial kid gloves. Her product is lovely; her process is tiresome. Perhaps she’s capable of greatness, but we’ll never know: her ego is in her way at every turn.  

Justin: A young man with infectious enthusiasm, he also believes that he is more talented than he actually is. His base-knowledge of theatre is sophomoric, but he’s male. He continues to get gigs for that fact alone. Desperately lacking in self-esteem, this player needs to be loved. He needs to have a large group around him. Even if this group doesn’t know his name, they are THERE.  They are HIS.  Proximity is everything. The superficial nature of his relationships makes him utterly average.   

Paul: A two-faced hack: hugs and kisses you, compliments your dress, then turns to the next person and makes fun of your fashion, rolling his eyes. Claims to love theatre, but never goes to see anything. Has great ideas, but does not execute them. He relies on others to do hard, good work so he can reap glory and credit. His working knowledge of theatre and resume are both strong, particularly given his age. Stunting his growth and success, however, is profound laziness. He will actually start a sentence with the most endearing, intelligent quip and lose it halfway through, ending the sentiment with, “Or something like that. Fuck it.” He relies on charm and after-party schmoozing to pad his circle of friends. He commands attention and generally speaking gets people to respond. “Phoning it in” is his default mode. His tunnel vision is dangerous, and once you’ve been sworn as his enemy, you’re marked for life.   

Kim: The most pathetic, and probably most poisonous person during summer of 2017. Kim is emotionally needy, untrustworthy, and a complete opportunist. She complains, she manipulates, she cheats. A compulsive liar, most of the time she’s convinced of her own fabrications. The greatest lie she tells is that of her moral fiber. [Spoiler alert: she doesn’t have one.] Watch carefully when you’re around her: she will coerce you into offering sympathy, use your moment of weakness to get what she wants, and then accuse you of murder. That’s a slight exaggeration, but only slight. She’s trash.

Gary: Also a liar, but not as superficially as Kim. Gary is sociopathic. Gary often boasts about being a “chameleon” or having a “heightened ability to empathize” when in fact Gary does not possess a personality of his own. Gary is usually morphing into whatever an opportunity calls for:  doting boyfriend, concerned friend, talented actor, zealous set-mover, novice mediator. Gary longs for respect, talks about all the reasons folks should respect him, but never actually does anything to earn respect. Gary is a master of disguises, usually donning a mask of concern and care when he’s trying to figure out if your pockets can be picked.   

Flying Monkeys: These ten or so folks are the backup singers of Summer 2017. They are, on the surface, doing their jobs happily. They like the shows, the space, the casts, the crew. They march along chanting their pleasure but then, one-on-one, confide a desperate need to be rescued. They, with tears in their eyes, beg, “Is this really what it’s like?” The Monkeys don’t want to make waves, but they don’t like the ocean either. They hope for a change and are the undercurrent to others’ wave-making. They never go as far as standing up for themselves or others, but they also don’t buy the nonsense of the crazy-makers.

 

This might be fun……

The Case for Theatre Majors: Rejection, Part 1

The women at my gym are fascinated with the idea that rejection isn’t a reason to take to my bed. They are devastated that I never heard back from an audition I submitted for a local community theatre musical production. In trying to explain to them my feelings about it (in between TRX and yoga classes, of course), I was essentially making a case for why theatre folks are extremely well equipped to “deal” in life, across the board. When I sat down to formulate my thoughts into a journal entry or blog post, I kept returning to one of my soapbox topics that I touted regularly to “my” kids during their educational theatre experiences. Theatre prepares us for success in life. Theatre majors should not be discounted in the workplace. Theatre kids get it all, and can give this knowledge easily. This is a huge topic to write about. As I hash out each element of my list (TBR….to be released), I hope you’ll join me in an episodic presentation.  First up:  Rejection.  Rejection is a multi-faceted part of this theory. Part one, comin’ at ya.

In the last six months I’ve auditioned for theatre projects only twice. I didn’t get either part. Both times I submitted my interest, I expressed the desire to be cast in ANY role, not just the lead or featured role (respectively) for which I was reading. I can regale you with the first audition later this month, today I’m telling you about the audition that my fitness center pals are so invested in.

I submitted a video audition for a community theatre musical production, citing my interest in a specific featured role, but stating that I was interested in ANY role. I received the polite, “we got everyone’s auditions stay tuned as we begin assembling the cast” email and then….nothing. Not one word. Not a text, not an email, not a call, not a carrier pigeon. This next part is lengthy without any fun graphics or memes to keep you entertained. It is the personal backstory of my rejection, my theory of my rejection, my bad or questionable decisions, and concludes with my lessons learned.

Step One: Prepare for the Audition

I downloaded two different cast albums. I researched the desired role. I bought [overpriced] sheet music for the character’s bigger song. I downloaded the karaoke track for said song. I sang for a trusted friend who encouraged me while keeping my hopes and ego in check. I scripted and memorized a brief monologue to introduce the song. I memorized the song. I hired my nephew to film the audition.

Step Two: Accidentally Learn Background Information and Question the Validity of the Audition

Three different “friends” told me that several roles were pre-cast. One of the friends was the recipient of said pre-casting. Upon consulting the audition notice and seeing “all roles open,” I questioned one of the proverbial “powers that be” as to the truth in this. I had been told very reliably that several roles, including the one I wanted, had already been offered to other performers. This is confirmed and I decide to not audition. Why waste my time and embarrass myself?

Step Three: Make Other Plans and Then Have Chaos Erupt

I decide against auditioning and make other plans. I let my nephew off the hook to film. Then I get another message from the aforementioned representative of “powers that be” saying s/he was mistaken: that nothing is pre-cast and please audition. Please be involved. I’m welcome. Now I’m torn: I’ve literally named names and will likely be auditioning to be cast in the ensemble. I can do it; I love theatre, I value arts in the community, and I have quite a bit to bring to many aspects of the production.

Step Four: Re-hire Nephew and Submit Video Audition

I sent it. I swallowed my pride, pushed the rumors out of my head, and did what I could. I was confident that at very least I’d be cast in the ensemble. It kind of sucked to have invested that much time, energy, and money in an audition for an unpaid gig as an ensemble member, but that’s what loving art is. I needed to check myself. I also constantly remind myself that if I want to be the person who “calls out” others, I have to put action where my mouth is.  

Step Five: Re-hear the Pre-cast Names/Roles

Literally twelve hours after the nice email that nothing’s been offered or cast yet and to hang tight, one of the pre-cast rumor actors tells me TO MY FACE she was offered the role before auditions. I ignore it. I smile, I think, “It will be super nice to be in the ensemble and support a friend in a nice role. This is a test of humility and enthusiasm.” I go home and am sad, but I’m not surprised. I’m disappointed that I keep getting lied to.

Step Six: Hear Absolutely Nothing

I never got any communication. No formal rejection, no offer to be in the ensemble or backstage. The actress who was alleged to be pre-cast in the role I desired confirmed it a second time by offhandedly mentioning the part while talking about something else.

Step Seven: Evaluate the Rejection

I have thirty-five years of theatre experience. I have fifteen years of community theatre credits in this area. I have eight years of professional theatre credits. I have a freaking degree in theatre. I can’t get cast in ensemble of a community theatre show.

Step Eight:  Evaluate My Errors- Past and Present

I am currently beating myself up for every single thing I’ve ever done in theatre, or at least how each of those things could be interpreted. I’m raking myself over the coals remembering moments in which I was difficult to work with. Moments in which I chose candor over ass-kissing. Moments in which I was guided by the work, not the feelings of others. I am frequently asked to watch rehearsals to help the director give notes or troubleshoot problems in a show. I am often the audience member that the cast fears seeing after a show, worried about my opinion of the production. I am the person who spots the weakest link or moment and wants it repaired. I am always the person who works really hard to bring the best show possible to its feet- whether as an actor, director, stage manager, choreographer, or audience member.  I tell you, reader, honestly:

*I never criticize that which I can’t fix. If I don’t know a way to rectify a problem with a show, I don’t articulate my dislike. I strive to be constructive, not destructive.

*I am infinitely harder on myself that I ever will be on others or complete productions.

*I hold everyone to a high standard.

*I don’t subscribe to cliques. I don’t like when a cast member is excluded or “Mean Girl’d.” I don’t like when outsiders don’t get equal treatment. We all started as outsiders.

*I don’t sign on for disrespect. Don’t disrespect the art. Don’t disrespect the script. Don’t disrespect the cast. Don’t disrespect the creative team. Theatre is a machine in which each cog has a function. When one cog is out of whack, the whole mechanism malfunctions.

*I don’t like fake relationships. It makes my blood boil when a friend will talk smack about a director or performer at length, and next be seen buddying up to them for a role. Integrity trumps popularity in my book.      

 

Step Nine:  Resignation and Acceptance

I didn’t get a part.  There is always another part. There is always another show. Onward. But I also have to check myself- again. My mouth gets me in trouble.  Sometimes it’s calculated, sometimes it is not. Usually, I feel justified.  You know that meme that’s based on George Carlin’s comedy?  “Everyone loves honesty until you’re honest with them. Then you’re an asshole.”  DING DING DING.  BUT………………… and it’s a big BUT…………

I will hold my tongue more. Not be deceptive, just be quiet. I don’t have to sacrifice my personal integrity by letting someone else exercise the lack of theirs. I don’t have to hold a mirror to every person in every situation. I can learn and practice more subtlety. I can embrace this reality and adjust my behavior accordingly.

Step Ten: Rejection Lessons

For my ladies at the gym, theatre rejection teaches you to keep going.  Not getting the part doesn’t mean I’m giving up on theatre. Theatre rejection teaches you that there are always factors out of your control. You can’t control the whims of casting agents or directors. You have to do your best and present your best. Theatre Rejection teaches you that every action has an equal reaction. Called a director lazy? You won’t be in any of his shows any time soon. Said you “loathe” a particular leading man? You’ll never be cast opposite him, no matter how much you want the part. You have to be accountable for everything you do in your life, knowing that a bad experience someone had with you a year ago may influence decisions in the present. Diplomacy is important in most of our lives. To hone this skill in creative environments is to perfect it. Most importantly, theatre rejection teaches us to evaluate how we can improve. Sometimes it’s as simple as investing in dance classes, a vocal coach, or better headshots. Other times it is learning how to audition better. There are even times it makes us dig deeper and learn to get along with each other better.
And so…we theatre people go on. We embrace the next opportunity for rejection, knowing that eventually there is acceptance.

Dear Theatre Interns

The Summer Season at the theatre has ended, taking our interns back to their respective colleges.  I shared with them some thoughts…and a week after writing to them, I realized that maybe more than just these five could benefit from some of my thoughts.

 

Dear Abby, Brandon, Casey, Jacob, and Megan,

Alphabetical order, ya like that?  🙂

What a summer!  Here’s where we insert all the cliches like, “It feels like yesterday…,” “It was gone in the blink of an eye…,” blah blah blah.  

But they ring true.  We were just stumbling into rehearsals and finding our groove as casts, and now it’s time to say goodbye.  Think of what you encountered this summer:

*Unexpected Stage Management duties     *Prolific careers as understudies     *Gender studies *Lice     *Pink petals     *Mareya leaving you too early     *1,267 cabarets   *Spiders     *Bees     *Vomit     *Kids passing out     *Momentary mini-strokes during the curtain speech     *The scrim     *Pink feathers     *”[insert awkward quote here]”      *Scabbers’ antics     *The rooftop     *Lots of sandwiches from The General Store     *Warnings     *Fines     *Tech glitches     *Farts & Fog     *Invading- in strange scenarios- Juliet’s dreams (nightmares?!?!)   *The same musical performed 21 different ways over 21 performances     *Countless iced coffees from Dunkin’     *Missing family events     *Sleep deprivation   *Canoeing down the Delaware River     *Yellow teeth     *Power Ranger gloves     *A musical with at least four cast/crew casualties     *Dante     *Hunger Games SPH Summer 2016

I hope that personally you’ve each built new friendships and remembered the value in existing ones. I hope you found strength in your character and uncovered tactics to improve yourself. I hope you connected with people who bring out the very best in you. I hope you’ve discovered characteristics you admire in others and strive to cultivate them in yourself. I hope you’ve enjoyed your summer.  This, I hope, was the first of many times you’ll “live the dream,” getting paid to be in theatre.  

Professionally, I hope you found ways to be challenged, even when you felt you weren’t. I hope you tapped into new facets of yourselves as performers. I hope you never settled, that you pushed to achieve a better character and performance with each take. I hope you learned more about the vastness of the proverbial “village” that affords us performers the luxury of “just” showing up to perform. I hope your flexibility and adaptability increased. We endured more changes and modifications and upheaval than many seasons you’ve been part of so far. Your ability to adapt will take you far and earn you opportunities. And seriously: there was a slew of college students slinging hash for minimum wage this summer.  That’s honest work for honest pay, and it’s work everyone should do. We all got to do what we love, chasing a dream, bringing joy to audiences for dozens of performances, building personal and professional relationships….all while getting paid.  This is the stuff entire songs are written about….living the dream.

As you close this chapter and begin the next, I hope you can find the positivity in every lesson this summer brought. It’s easy to dwell on negative incidents. It’s even easier to find the bitter, jaded, glib comment.  Don’t take the cheap joke or sarcasm:  rewards are plentiful for those who can turn every interaction and experience into a lesson, into growth, into a smile.  

My short list of advice: never forget the importance of backstage decorum. Always leave the space better than you found it. Never abandon Theatre 101 notions like: don’t touch other people’s props, never give another actor notes, always return to the script, find your beats, get off book, wear your shoes.  Learn every aspect and be willing to help. If you’re called in for extra time on a show, you might just be the person who steps in for a life-changing role. Never let yesterday define your tomorrow. Don’t diminish one person along your path- we’re all here for a reason. No kissing until Tech Week. Learn to take a note (say “thank you”). Hydrate.  

John Steinbeck wrote in Once There Was  a War, “The theatre is the only institution in the world which has been dying for four thousand years and has never succumbed. It requires tough and devoted people to keep it alive.” Theatre requires more than talent. To succeed, theatre people must possess qualities that often act in opposition:  confidence with humility, natural talent with honed talent, drive with free-spiritedness, and most of all self-preservation and thick skin with a desire to build and respect relationships. Everything we did this summer had a purpose. From cleaning toilets to turn the space over to the audience (the last element to join any production) to strike and set up of all five shows in rep: what we do as theatre people has purpose. The greater our spectrum of experiences within the theatre, the greater our purpose within the craft.  Theatre people are the best people around because of and for this.  Thank you for what you brought to our “village” this summer.  

Before I leave you, a notion that is NOT meant to be a religious statement.  Despite the recent canonization of Mother Teresa by the Catholic church, this is only offered for its poignancy:

“I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will not ask, ‘How many good things have you done in your life?’ rather he will ask, ‘How much love did you put into what you did?'” ~~St. Teresa of Calcutta, MC

If you don’t love what you do, don’t do it. If it is worth your effort, it is worth everything.  

Wishing you the best,

Juliet