Act 4: A Birthday Party

The next part of this story is my favorite part to tell, if not because of the disjointed and half-remembered parts of it but for the reactions that I get when I tell it. Most people think that I’m bullshitting, or at least somewhat exaggerating.

I’m really not.

Act 4: A Birthday Party.

This is a story that pends on the understanding of a very specific timeline:

I flew into the Dulles airport, which is about 3 hours away from Staunton. I had rented a car, which was located off-property from the airport. I was told to leave at least half an hour between car return time and getting to the airport time, to allow time for their service shuttle to pick me up. My flight was leaving at 8:01AM. I needed to be at the airport no later than 7AM, meaning that I HAD to be out of Staunton by 3:30AM, 4:00AM at the latest.

This becomes incredibly important later on.

So Saturday night passed without incident. I was exhausted from the day, and had grand plans to go find a rowdy bar to pass the time, but instead spent the evening with a hot date of a Subway sandwich in my hotel room.

Sunday was going to be my wrap-up day. I had tickets for the matinee of Romeo and Juliet, so I planned on wandering down to the coffee place with the extraordinary lattes and hanging out. I had already packed, so I put my suitcase in my rental car, checked out of my hotel and headed into town.

On my way there, I happened to get a text from Nora asking me if I wanted to hang out for a while before the show. We met up for coffee, and then went on an impromptu adventure around town, including a brief stop to the MFA rehearsal space, where Nora handed me a red postcard with website details for the MFA Shakespeare Program. I stuck it in my purse. Remember that, it becomes important later on.

We continued around town, where she clued me in to the fantastic vintage store hidden in an upstairs shopping complex. I bought an orange dress and dinosaur earrings to commemorate the day, and Nora thoughtfully invited me over for dinner again after the show, and I readily accepted.

So, I saw Romeo and Juliet at the ASC and it was fantastic. I mean, the thing with Romeo and Juliet is that a bunch of semi-literate mutants could stand there, and once you hit the speeches, it’s just…pure magic. I can’t imagine what I must have looked like from the stage— this wide-eyed doofus sitting and grinning during the sad parts because they were just SO GOOD (and, because I directed Complete Works, “call me but love and I’ll be new baptized” is ruined for me. Forever.) but I was just…really impressed.

After the show, I wound up back again at Nora’s place, where we ate dinner. During the meal, Nora casually mentioned that she was headed to a birthday party that night with a great band she thought I would enjoy, and would I be interested in going. I protested—I didn’t know anyone, I hadn’t been invited, I didn’t want to impose, but Nora assured me that it would be fine. I was about to protest again that I had an early flight and needed to get some sleep, but I figured that I’d stop by for awhile, stand around awkwardly and leave by 10, giving me plenty of sleep before I had to leave at the ass-crack of dawn.

Oh, and it was a black and white party, so not only did Nora invite me, she also let me raid her closet. There is hospitality, and then there is Nora. Good lord, she deserves a medal.

Anyway, so dressed in some semblance of a black and white outfit, I left my clothes and possessions at Nora’s caught a ride with her to the party. (remember this, it becomes important later on).

For the sake of the timeline, we’ll say that it was 9:00pm.

I thought we were headed to a bar, but I quickly found out we were headed to a house party—the best kind, one of those hot, sweaty, sort of squished together and too loud parties with jello shots and crazy outfits—the difference, however, was that three seconds into the party, I ran, literally, face-first into their impossibly good-looking Romeo, and stumbled backwards, only to be caught and steadied by their equally dashingly handsome Lord Montague.

Fuck me, this was an ACTOR party, and here I was, an awkward theatre geek from Iowa standing amongst the Shakespearean Asguardians, wide eyed, terrified and too nervous to make eye contact.

I realized that I had two options: make friends, or bail, and goddamn it, this was an adventure.

I started chatting with some of the actors, and it turned out that the timing of the celebration coincided with three happenings: the return of the touring company for a brief stop in town, the final performance of a band comprised of actors from the company, and two birthdays being celebrated at one party.

The band was squished into the living room and surrounded on three sides by theatre people rocking out. At one point, I turned to my side and noticed a guy in a horrific 80’s jacket. I said some smart ass thing like “hey, nice jacket”, and he sort stared at me and skulked away. Great. I’d offended one of the Asguardians. Keep 80’s jacket guy in mind, he’s going to be really important later on.

Really, really important.

I hit it off with some of the touring troupe actors, and suddenly, from behind me, this great behemoth of a man with a giant beard and a giant smile clapped me on the back, handed me a pair of plastic sunglasses and roared at me to take a Jello shot. I complied. He handed me three more.

And that was how at a birthday party I wasn’t invited to, I did Jello shots with Falstaff.

I talked to anyone who came in a four foot radius. I made jokes. I talked Shakespeare. I danced. We argued about the best Slings and Arrows character. I drank cheap beer and had a few jello shots. I was. So. Happy. I went for a walk with one of the actors and had one of those deep introspective and slightly embarrassing looking back conversations about how much I admire him for getting to do this for his JOB. He didn’t get it.

I realize that going to a house party isn’t like, the greatest achievement, but for me it was…meaningful. It was an unplanned adventure, a chance to talk to people who got to work in Shakespeare for their jobs, and, for the first time in a very long time, I felt like I had found the land of my people. It was proof that I could, even when terrified to open my mouth and embarrass myself, make friends, meet people, and talk probably way too much about what makes Titus a great show.

11:00 pm.

We returned from our walk to find the party still in swing, if not slightly less intense—the band had finished, so the living room had cleared out enough to allow some room for conversation. I found myself talking with a couple touring actors and then, suddenly, 80’s jacket guy reappeared and joined the conversation. Turns out, his skulking away was more of an awkward not knowing what to say and less of a being terribly offended sort of thing, so that worked out for me.

Somehow, we started talking about Halloween decorations, which led to a discussion of
building props, which led to me playing the “I Make Armor” card (which, you know, is…mostly kind of true, but it sounds more impressive than “I’m totally learning at how not to suck at making armor”), which led to him asking me, perhaps, the single greatest question I’ve ever been asked.

“Do…do you want to see the armory?”

I thought he was kidding. Yeah right, we can just up and go check out the damn armor supply store to while we’re at it.

“No”, he said, “ You don’t get it— I’m the props master for the ASC…the armory is literally my office. Do you want to go check it out?”

I can only imagine my face at this moment, but apparently, I didn’t embarrass myself enough for him to change his mind. I excused myself to go ask Nora if she mind if I checked it out, and she assured me it was fine, that 80’s jacket guy wasn’t a serial killer, and that if it got too late, she’d leave the door unlocked so I could return and get my stuff.

So I went off with another complete stranger, this one in a bad 80’s tuxedo (honestly, I swear I’m smarter than this story makes me sound) and suddenly, after a lot of giggling and awkward conversation, found myself at the stage door for the ASC.

He opened the door for me (southern gentleman: confirmed) and gestured me inside.

Midnight.

I have always believed in the kindness of strangers. I believe, fully, with my whole heart, that people are intrinsically good, and that there is far more good in the world than bad. I believe that everyone has a story, and I most assuredly believe that the only way to experience life and the extraordinary moments it has the possibility to bring is by talking to people. Because sometimes, you’ll talk to the right person two years before you talk to the right person at a birthday party, and suddenly you’ll be handed, once again, proof that true, real good exists, in many ways—and my proof, that night, was a complete stranger taking a girl from the Midwest unsolicited and unprovoked to see the swords because he knew how much it would mean to her.

There was no motive or reward in it for him, no reason at all to offer to leave a party for some girl to ogle hilts and thumb blade edges, but he offered. Out of just…kindness. And yes, I realize that some might read this and be very quick to cry “motive”, but it just—it wasn’t a pick-up line, it was just…an offer from a good heart, because somehow, I think he sort of understood the chance I was taking, and returned it, in kind, with good-natured kindness. Just…because.

I have tried, many times, since that evening to explain, or at least replicate, the feeling that I had that night. It was something akin to sheer joy mixed with deep longing mixed with HOLY FUCKING SHIT mixed with “is this actually happening?”

So I got a midnight tour. I saw the swords, and the costume shop. I saw the props loft, he took me to the “heavens” where the over-stage storage lives, showed me the trap, took me to the props loft where I teased him on his organization, let me peek my head out of the tech booth… I was in heaven.

The details of this experience are both simultaneously incredibly blurred but also, somehow, seared into my memory. The bucket of gauntlets. The cluttered make-up counter. The smell of the costume shop. The whiteboard with dumb comments scribbled around the margins from smart-ass actors. It was like getting a glimpse backstage at my nerd version of Disney World—this was where the magic was made, this is where shows were built, this was where I’d dreamed of being.

It meant so much to me.

We wound up on top of the adjacent parking garage that overlooked the downtown. We stayed up there for a while, just talking, until it got too cold and we were forced back inside, but I would have stayed there all night, just talking and looking at the stars over the mountains.

1:00 AM.

When we went back inside, we took a detour to the music loft, where the instruments used by the company are stored, and then he brought me downstairs, brought me through a set of doors and through a curtain and then, suddenly, I opened my eyes and I was on stage.

There is this moment in Beauty and the Beast where the Beast gives Belle a library. As a kid, that was always one of my favorite parts because holy shit, she got a library to a soundtrack of sweeping strings.

That night, I got a theatre. Unfortunately, in life, there are no sweeping strings, but the effect was still the same. There was, perhaps, a bit of a grand reveal with a grin because he understood the significance of this hallowed ground to me, but my reaction was just as strong. And by strong, I mean humiliating. Because my reaction to this amazing moment was to burst into tears. Now, I’ve never been a crier. I cry, sure, but it’s a rare occurrence that I am very careful to keep private.

But there, in that moment, in front of this stranger in his jacket with velvet lapels, I burst into tears. I stood, I’m not sure, for how long, just…staring. The thing of it is, there is something about this particular theatre that is just…incredibly hard to explain. Most of it is, honestly, self-ascribed, I know, objectively, that it’s just a building that happens to look like a recreation of a period-accurate playhouse. I know, objectively, that all theatres tend to have high ceilings. I know, objectively, that wood is generally used to construct stages with…but all of that just…disappears there.

I am sure that once I am there for a while the novelty will wear off, but for now, since then, I’ve set foot in that space twice more, and every time, it’s almost embarrassing how excited I get. It’s just…what it stands for, I guess. What it means, personally, to me. Objectively, rationally, reasonably, it’s a very pretty building in a very pretty town. But to me, it’s like walking into a cathedral. It’s just…silly, I know, and maybe a bit over the top, but that’s just how my mind works.

Anyway, so I was told after the fact that apparently my face was delightful to witness as I stood on stage, but I don’t remember anything about that moment except sheer, utter, pure, honest joy.

2:00 AM

After generously putting up with my meltdown for the better part of what felt like eternity, we made our way to the foot of the stage, where we just…talked. You know when you meet a stranger on an airplane or a bus and somehow, by the end of the ride, you’ve gotten their entire life story? It was sort of like that. Just…talking. Easily. Freely. No pressure, no feeling of having to impress the other person, just sharing stories and talking theatre

At some point, I was looking around the theatre as we talked, and I noticed that there was a door hanging slightly ajar. I remembered, weirdly, overhearing a conversation at the party between two actors complaining about the fact that there was a door at the theatre that wouldn’t hang shut, and I asked if that door was the door in question.

It was, and I, being me, went over to examine it and wound up spotting the problem: the door had been originally hung to open the other way, and when it was turned around, the stop had been placed too close to the hinges, resulting in the hinges pressing on the wood, which popped the door back open.

I pointed this out, and made some lame comment about how if I was correct and he managed to fix the door, he had to buy me flowers. (These become important later on). The deal made, we continued our conversation and fell, somehow, on the subject of names.

2:30AM

As we talked, I realized, suddenly, that I had absolutely no idea what this guy’s name was. At the exact moment the thought crossed through my head, either by happenstance or because it was obvious on my face, he asked me “Hey. What’s my name?”

Fuck.

I realized that there was absolutely no way out of this, so I admitted that, well, I had absolutely no idea and apologized profusely.

He offered his hand. “I’m Chris”.
I shook back. “I’m Catie”.

The thing of it was (as horribly eembarrassing as that moment happened to be)…this whole night had happened between literal strangers. I was humiliated that in my freak out of excitement I had somehow either forgotten (his insistence) or never learned (my insistence) his name. But even without knowing it, even if I had walked away without ever learning it, the thing that strikes me most is that this stranger handed me my dreams that night. For free. For the joy of giving another person joy. Out of a generosity that I am am learning to try and emulate every day.

And so the boy with the dumb jacket became a boy with a name.

2:45 AM

As my “holy shit I have to leave time” loomed closer, I realized, suddenly, that I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to end the conversation, I didn’t want to leave the theatre, I didn’t want to leave the town—I wanted to stay. I wanted, I suppose, the feeling of a perfect, perfect night to linger for just a little bit longer.

There’s this line in Romeo and Juliet that goes
“It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden,
Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be
Ere one can say “It lightens.”

Suddenly, that line made a whole fuckload more sense. This had all happened so quickly, so just…bizarrely and perfectly and magically that it didn’t seem real, and I was going to have to walk away from that feeling and back into real life.

We sat onstage until 2:58 and talked, ignoring the countdown timer on my phone, until we just…couldn’t anymore.

3:00 AM

So, finally, I just…had to go. Chris hugged me, thanked me for a wonderful evening, drove me back to Nora’s where I snuck in, changed my clothes, regretted that I had nothing to leave her a note in which to express my thanks, and was in my rental car and on the road by 3:15.

I didn’t get any sleep that night. I drove through the grey dawn and stopped only once—to watch the sunrise over the mountains, feeling slightly embarrassed at the notion of being so romantic as to watch a sunrise, but it was beautiful, and I just wanted 5 more minutes of that feeling of adventure and happiness and joy before I drove too far away to remember what that felt like.

The car drop-off and flights home were uneventful, and by 10AM I had changed into the only clean thing I had with me—the orange dress I’d bought with Nora– exhausted and at work, checking emails.

The events of the past two days seemed like, well, a dream, except that my proof was that I hadn’t slept. At all. And a bright orange dress and some dinosaur earrings.

It was a bizarre juxtaposition. Literally less than 6 hours before, I’d been in a room crammed with people who laughed at my Darren Nichols references and entered into a hot debate with me regarding the “top five” Shakespeares… and now, I was back in the office, blankly nodding through discussions about football scores and, well, everything that glaringly pointed out how much I didn’t make sense in this world. After a weekend consumed by art and creativity and the admission that I had, maybe, figured out in a strange trial by fire just what exactly my passion was, I was just as quickly back in a world of spreadsheets and data reports.

At some point, I reached into my purse to find something and I pulled out Nora’s red postcard. For some reason, I tacked it to my bulletin board. Don’t forget about the postcard, it’s still going to be important later on.

The rest of it…the party, the tour, the people…I just sort of wrote it all off as this once in a lifetime experience, a fantastical set of circumstances that aligned to create something magical, resigned myself to remembering as best I could and decided, resolutely, to remember the weekend fondly, but not to expect anything else to come of it.

4:45 PM:

Later that day, just before work ended for the day, I checked my email. In it was an email from Chris.

That is, I suppose, sort of where the rest of the story begins.
______________________

Up next: Act 5: The Choice, A Risk, and the Alignment of the Stars

The Next Bit (Act 3)

So, it took me awhile to get to this post, because, well, I needed to make sure that information didn’t leak before I had all of the moving parts together, but now, with tomorrow being my last day of work after my official two-weeks notice, I can officially start the next part:

Act 3 Part 1:

Backstory,  Journey and Half of a Story

The Backstory:

I believe things happen for a reason. I don’t necessarily believe in fate as an all-controlling factor in my life, but I believe that sometimes, things happen for a reason, you just might not find out about it for awhile.

And so begins the story of how responding to a Craigslist ad changed my life. (This is going somewhere, just bear with me).

About three years ago, I was looking for a job and, of course, trolling Craigslist for audition notices. At some point, I came across a notice for a small company in Chicago called “Storefront Shakespeare”, looking for a replacement Laertes for their Hamlet.

It happened that I’d just gotten done playing the role, and so I submitted, explaining that yes, I was a girl, but no, really, I could be Laertes. It also happened that I was going to be in town that weekend for my uncle’s wedding, so it worked out.

So, I headed up to Chicago for the weekend, and as it happened, I got a phone call back from a very, very nice and very, very enthusiastic woman named Nora.

Nora becomes very important to the story later on. Stay with me.

It wound up happening that I couldn’t get away for the auditions, so we parted ways amicably, but as it happened, Nora sent me a friend request on Facebook. I friended her, not thinking much of it, and, like often times, we went about our own lives.

Three years go by. Life was lived, enjoyed, so on and so forth, until Nora happened to see a post I’d written about auditioning for the ASC on my Facebook.

So it turns out that Nora had left Chicago and is a student at Mary Baldwin College and interning at the American Shakespeare Center. You know. Where I was going to be.

Not only was she filled with advice (and, really, spent way too much time patiently listening to me blather about HOW SO EXCITED I WAS about the auditions), she offered to meet up with me when I was in town.

…So why not meet up with a complete stranger I’d talked with once on the phone 3 years ago? Adventure, right?

The Journey:

So, after I got word that I was, in fact, invited to audition, my life became, admittedly, about those auditions. I had never wanted anything more in my entire life, and, for the first time in what had been a pretty shit year, I had something to hope for. They…mattered. They mattered in a way that I absolutely needed at that point in my life, and I think they also helped me realize that as much as it was convenient to ignore my passion, it was not going to go away just because I layered justification after practicality on top of why I could never “go for this”, why I had to “be practical” and “be responsible”. Fuck it. I am never happier than I am when I am standing and saying those Words….and my heart, as much as I ignore it for fear or frustration, was not going to be ignored. I had to do this.

I really do feel like I owe my friends an apology for putting up with me for those two months. I was….a bit…intense about how excited I was, but I also learned, once again, that my friends come through. And they did.

My friends listened to me blather about the audition, donated space for rehearsal, donated time to over-rehearse my audition pieces until I was exhausted, donated drinks and hours and hours and hours to listening to me hem and haw about whether or not I was making the right choice on audition pieces and songs and, well, even if I should be going for this.

 

But I went. For the first time in my big-kid, Big-Dick-Has-A-Day-Job life, I went for something I believed in and wanted more than anything.  I blew my savings and the last of my sick leave to fly to Virginia for one glorious weekend of seeing two shows and going to the audition.

The thing of it was, the audition was going to happen.

That was the guarantee. I knew I was going to show up, say some words, and leave.

It was the stuff that happened in between that made the story interesting.

The Story:

I couldn’t stop smiling. The entire way there, I just kept smiling. Through getting stopped constantly by airport security because they thought my harmonica was a gun clip to getting my flights delayed, I just kept smiling because I was going to the goddamn ASC to an audition to be a real life goddamn Shakespearean actress. I had a copy of Titus in my bag and a ukulele on my shoulder and I  when I walked, the fucking world trembled that weekend, I was just the only person that knew it.

There were a lot of dumb things that I remember, things that I gave special significance to because, well, this was a weekend of magic. There was the fact that the rental car had Sirius so I listened to showtunes the entire way there, or that the drive took me through the breathtakingly beautiful Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains, or that it was an amazing, crisp, clear sunny day when I got there.

There was the day of adventure I had, where I fell in love with downtown Staunton, where I discovered the best vanilla latte I’d ever had in my entire existence, where a man bought me my ice cream after I sang Part of your World with the girls behind the counter because he told me I had a beautiful smile, where I discovered this crazy antique shop that sold dinosaur earrings, there was the Godzilla expert I met in a used bookstore and the nighttime festival that I happened to show up on the right weekend for….oh, and then there was the parade. (Remember this, it becomes important later on).

I arrived at the theatre 15 minutes early, ever the dutiful actress, and reported to the front desk. I checked in, went upstairs, and tuned my ukulele while I watched the others trickle in. We made conversation—there was a guy who’d just graduated from the Royal Conservatory of Scotland…fuck. There was an Oliver Welles-esque older gentleman who’d had years of experience. There was a gorgeous, leggy, wide-eyed blonde, there was a girl I can only describe as “literally every musical theatre major at ACTF”, there were two insanely hot guys, and then…there was me. Me in the corner, clutching my ukulele, frantically going over my sides one last time, praying that they wouldn’t have me read the Cyrano scene, since that was the one I had the hardest time remembering. (Rememebr this, it becomes important later on).

Finally, they called us in. The co-artistic directors were in the room, and one of them, one of the men who’d founded the theatre and built the Blackfriars stood up and gave us a little speech. I didn’t hear a damn word of it. I was too busy staring at the hundreds of posters lining the walls of the rehearsal room that detailed the history of productions there and freaking out that the fucking artistic directors of this company I would give my left arm to work at were just calmly sitting here like it wasn’t a dream come true just to be in the goddamn room.

Royal Conservatory Guy went first, and blew through two incredible monologues in this rich, lofty baritone. I clapped. It was just…instinct. His performance was amazing, so I clapped.

One of the artistic directors gave a “let’s not clap so we don’t hurt people’s feelings” speech.

Fuck me, I was THAT kid now.

The next guy went, and did one of my favorite speeches. The older guy went, and completely blew his audition, which, while I felt terrible about it for him, it also put me at ease—these were all still people, and the glances we shared around the room made, I think, all of us feel a little better. We were all on the same team.

Gorgeous blonde girl went next, and did…Emelia and something else. It was good.

Musical theatre girl followed with a delightful, if not slightly over-the-top rendition of Puck’s final monologue, contorting her body and rolling around the room. It was pretty great.

Then, suddenly, it was my turn. I stood up, introduced myself, and…”Oh for a horse with WINGS!” then, suddenly, I was back in my chair and thanking one of the hot guys for being my audience participant.

I knew, instinctively, that I didn’t do very well. I’d gone too fast, and, well, I kept clapping. My excitement at being in the fucking building had put me in Manic Pixie Dream Girl override, and I was overcompensating for my terror at blowing my one shot at this one thing I really wanted by BEING REALLY FUCKING ENTHUSIASTIC.

Next came the sides audition. Musical theatre girl got the Macbeth side which I can recite in my fucking sleep, I was asked to read the Cyrano scene (told you).  Mother of fuck. Karmaically, I absolutely deserved it. The side I didn’t put in the time with was the one, inevitably, I was chosen to read. Which, if for nothing else in its utter disastrousness, made me promise myself one thing: I will always, always, always memorize all of the fucking sides, regardless of how small the chances are that I will be asked to read the ingénue role.  I read with hot guy #2. I apologized afterwards to him. He deserved one.

We stuck around for the singing portion, and Musical Theatre Girl delivered with a sultry accapella version of some Madonna song I’d never heard of. Blonde girl played the accordion, hot guy #1 busted out some bodhran and played “Loch Lomond” (which also earned him a whispered “OHMGODTHATSMYFAVORITESONG” from me…*facepalm*…hot guy with a bodhran. I mean, come on.), Royal Conservatory guy sang something on his guitar and then chivalrously volunteered his guitar when hot guy #2’s guitar wouldn’t stay in tune. We were all on the same team.

I played “Leaving on a Jet Plane”  on my brand new ukulele and tried to match my strumming to the tremor in my voice. Maybe it’d sound like I did it on purpose.

And that…was about it. We were asked to go back upstairs to wait to see if they needed us to read/perform anything else, and while I silently prayed to the gods of Shakespeare that they’d call me back for one more shot, I knew it wasn’t going to happen.

I packed my things, and when we got the “thanks and you can go”, I thanked the hall monitor, smiled wide and left.

It was over.

I walked out of the theatre into the crisp fall day with that sort of “well, that’s done” sort of attitude that slowly devolved into an embarrassingly intense weeping fit.  I huddled in the back seat of my rental car, crying for, really, way too long.  It wasn’t the audition, really. I had done, given the circumstances, the best that I was able to do, it was just…everything, finally, letting go.

It was knowing that after three months of waiting and two months of preparation, I’d let my nerves and my excitement get the best of me. It was admitting to myself, fully, how much it meant to me, how much I wanted it, and how very, very hard I had set myself up for failure.

It’s funny talking about it now, with a *little* perspective. I’ve tried explaining this feeling to other actor friends and they always kind of blankly stare and nod a little bit, but to them, working actors, this would have been just another audition, just another job interview, just another go in and do your thing and leave. The difference, to me, was that this was the perfect job. I didn’t—and still don’t—really want to be the actor that auditions for every last gig until they find something—I wanted to find the job that I was excited for, that I was passionate about, that meant something to me, that I could bring my ridiculous skill set to in an environment that I would thrive in—this was that job. It wasn’t just another audition for some company—it was a dream job for a company that I believed in.

So now, I had to wait for a call that might change my life, wait for a call that for me meant affirmation and confirmation that this hadn’t just been another stupid dream, wait for a call that would mean I’d finally gotten what I wanted, wait for a call that, if I was honest with myself, I knew that for any number of reasons might not come.

I had to let it go. I forced myself to stop crying, wiped my eyes, stepped out of my car determined to make an adventure out of it, and almost got run over by a horse.

I had found myself smack dab in the middle of a small-town parade celebration for Veteran’s Day.

It was that kind of day.

Story Part 2:

After the audition, Nora contacted me and asked if I wanted to catch some coffee since I was in town. I was scheduled to see Troilus and Cressida that night, but I had about three hours to kill in between, so I readily accepted.

I got to the coffee shop early, where I made small talk with a guy named Patrick who was working on a paper. When Nora arrived, it turned out that both Patrick and Nora were in the same grad school program, so I spent a wonderful afternoon just bullshitting Shakespeare and feeling, unequivocally, that I had found the land of my people.

There we were, three twenty-somethings, sitting at a coffee shop on a beautiful fall day, swapping show disaster stories and arguing about symbolism and racism in Shakespeare. I was. So. Happy. I kept commenting on the situation, which I’m sure made me sound like a RIGHT weirdo, but it was all I could do to explain why I was so happy. “You guys, we’re TALKING ABOUT SHAKESPEARE AND STUFF”. I am. So. Cool.

As we wrapped up coffee, there was still some time to kill before the show, and Nora, in her amazing, huge-hearted friendly way, invited me over for dinner. The weekend had been so full of adventure and wonder and excitement already, I figured “what the hell, she doesn’t LOOK like a serial killer”, and I hopped in her car and was welcomed into her home, where she and her wonderful fiancée Neil served me one of the most amazing home cooked meals I’ve ever had.

Nora and I talked theatre while Neil and I talked video games, and afterwards, sent me on my way back to the theatre with a full stomach and very, very full heart.

I saw Troilus, and was….floored. It is important to the story at this point that I explain that to me, people who do Shakespeare–and who do it well– are like rock stars to me. It took me a long time to work up the courage to do Prenzie because of the same reason—I have always been intimidated by talent, and the actors of the ASC are nothing short of Asguardian Shakespeare Rockstar Gods in my eyes. Oh, and did I mention that they’re all incredible musicians, too?

I HATE Troilus and Cressida. It is. The worst. But the production I saw, while serving to solidify my opinion that it’s a shit script (said the girl with the obsession for Titus Andronicus), also solidified my impression that the ASC was where I wanted to be. I wanted to do this, to learn from this creative team and work with these incredibly talented actors.

I wanted to do this.

———————

At this point, I am going to fully admit that this is reaching TL;DR status, so I am going to break the story here, but the second half of the story will continue in my next post: Act 4: A birthday party.

(and since I’ve got my notice in, it won’t take me three months to update, I promise).

A Return in Five Acts

You may have noticed that I disappeared for awhile.

It wasn’t a bad thing, it wasn’t a good thing, I just think, for awhile, I needed to live my life as it happened, and then, of course, life got busy and complicated and in the way and the writing thing got pushed to the back burned and suddenly, it’s almost February and I haven’t written since what, September?

Jesus.

Life has changed, dramatically since September in ways that I never imagined. I like to think that someday, when I’m very old, I will have these blogs recorded (somehow), and they will remind me of the time I was 25 and had no idea what I was doing with my life.

Also, too, my life is changing drastically, and will be changing even more drastically in the upcoming months, and I want a record of it, for posterity and for the folks at home, so I have decided the best way to play catch up is to backtrack to the very beginning of this crazy journey and write it all down.

So, I sat down and realized that the past five months or so have conveniently divided themselves into  a lovely sort of Shakespearean five-act play. Because of course that ‘s how life would work out. I doubt I will finish all of this tonight, but I feel the need to write some of this down before it falls out of my head.

Also important to the story, some of this overlaps, some of it is ramblings and some of it I just need to get off of my chest.

Act 1. The Truth
So, back in August, I wrote a little bit about taking a risk, and how I knew, deep down, that I had to know what was going to happen, and that maybe it will all work out. Hold on until Act 3, we’ll get to that.

Anyway, I think the truth, for me, was two-fold. First, there were some big truths that I was having a very hard time admitting to myself, namely, that I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t happy in a lot of ways, and it kept bleeding through the cracks. My “tell”, as it were, has always been audition notices. Whenever I am stressed, or unhappy, or dissatisfied, or uninspired, I check audition notices, all over the world. I’ve done it for years, but suddenly, every day, for longer than I care to admit, I would pour over audition notices, playing the “what if” game about “what if I went for this”, “what if I got the part”, “what would happen”?

It took me a really long time to admit that maybe what I thought I wanted, what I thought would be happy with, wasn’t what I wanted at all. The life I was living was not the one that was calling to me, and I knew it, and my silly audition notices were the “out” to the world that I really wanted to be a part of.

It wasn’t about the show or the theatre or the role or the company, it was about potential I think, the possibility that I had some semblance of control over my own destiny, that if I wanted, I could Do Something I Wanted to Do…but then, one day, I happened upon what was maybe the most perfect audition I had ever heard of: a call for actors at a Shakespeare company that I basically consider holy ground, looking for actors with musical talent on acoustic instruments, with experience in Shakespeare, comfortable in a style of theatre where audience interaction occurs/they play with the lights on, improv experience a plus, and, oh, by the way, girls who don’t mind playing boys.

So… Me?

I agonized for a good long while because the real truth though, was that I was too scared to see what would happen. Finally, though, I realized, as I have written before, that I had to go for this. I had to know what would happen, and I think, the biggest realization of all– that I was ready for this, I have been, maybe, for a long time, and now, this was my chance. The only listed audition I was able to attend was in about three weeks, and so I busted my ass to get my resume updated, pulled together a cohesive teaching artist and design resume and realized that holy shit, on paper, I totally looked qualified for this job. Whether or not I FELT in any way qualified will become very important to the story later on, but I knew that I had to send this. I had to know what happened.

That truth was terrifying. Either way, whether or not I got what I wanted, this was a step towards a future that was far less certain than anything I’d planned on. Here I was, with my safe job and my safe relationship in my safe world, looking beyond the horizon to this fantastic dream that I was too scared to admit how deeply I wanted it, because, well, I didn’t want to get my heart broken.

So on August 8th at 8:14 in the evening I drove to HyVee and scrounged up $20 to express-mail my headshot and resume to the People Who Do Shakespeare, and then, I waited.

Act 2. Loss, Armor and Shakespeare.

September of 2013 will go down as one of the worst months of my entire life, but also, bizarrely, one of the best.

I waited and waited and waited to hear back from the Shakespeare people (even, humiliatingly enough, actually CALLING them…twice…to inquire as to whether or not they wanted to see me, as I was going to be flying and then driving 3 hours to get there).

I didn’t hear anything.

The original audition date that I had applied to came and went. I was disappointed with not hearing anything about the audition, but I figured that my lack of professional experience had put me in the T-file and I was happy with myself for trying. and to take my mind off of things, I went to a local SCA event, where I met some amazing people, had a ton of fun, and fell in love with sword fighting and armor –making and a group of people who didn’t mind adopting a complete stranger and bringing her in and making her one of their own.

It was a great weekend. Then, the next weekend kicked off a chain of events that changed everything.

Driving home from a trip to the zoo, I started a conversation that would change my life forever. I asked, simply, where we saw ourselves in the next few years, and after a long, intense, tearful conversation that night, the next day and the day after that, it became clear that my relationship was ending. I fought it, hard, for a few days, but as the pain of loss eased, I realized that it was for the best.

However, fate was not kind to me in September. Over the course of those two weeks, I: lost my job, saw my long-term relationship come to and end and had to move back in with my mom, and spent most of the end of September feeling like I was constantly mid-panic attack and got really good at sneaking off to the bathroom to weep.

I was, essentially, homeless, jobless and single for the first time in my adult life, all at the same time. I was trying desperately to find an apartment I could stand, unable to do anything about these huge, sweeping changes that were happening and I was completely lost, trying to hold my shit together lest everything crumble around me, and failing, miserably. For the first time in months, I relapsed and started throwing up again, which made me feel even shittier about life in general.

There are many, many things I could say about the loss of that relationship, but what I know is that it was, ultimately, for the best. It was, and still is, hard, but leaving a relationship as friends and knowing that we left the relationship out of mutual respect for the other person was more than I could hope for, but it happened. We are still friends, and I still do, and I think always will, care deeply for him.

I have always heard that the beginning and end of a relationship is where you learn the most about a person, and the kindness, generosity and understanding that I was shown as we ended our life together as a couple speaks volumes about the man I was lucky enough to share my life with for almost four years.

It has been harder in some ways, staying friends, but our lives intertwine and intersect in too many ways to ever completely be cut off, but more than that, I enjoy his friendship. He is still important to me, I still value his opinions and I still look forward to talking show ideas with him—but now, we simply do it as friends, and I am fantastically happy that I still have that support and friendship in my life.

Thankfully, and perhaps kind of obviously, I realized that I didn’t have to deal with all of this alone. My friends were still my friends, regardless of how I met them, and so I asked for help, and support, and I found it, in droves. It is often at our darkest moments that we feel the most loved, and from friends who spent long nights watching me pick at my dinner to friends who drank too much wine and let me cry on them, I found that through all of this loss and through all of this changes, I had only gained the knowledge of how lucky I am in my friends, my family and my fortunate life.

And so I began to pick up the pieces.

I (sort of) got my job back, in a complicated and convoluted way, though I lost my salaried and titled position, which has been a frustrating adjustment, but I will save my thoughts on that for a later day.

I started to enjoy being single in a bittersweet way and threw myself into a new passion—making armor. Kind of. Well, learning about learning about making armor. I’m still not an expert, but I’m working on it. I fell in love with steel and hammers and rivets, and it turns out I don’t totally suck at it, either.

I also half-heartedly auditioned for Two Gentlemen of Verona, originally only going to the audition just to be around people to try and get myself out of the post-breakup doldrums, and I somehow wound up being cast as Silvia. I didn’t expect to audition, let alone to get cast as one of the major leads—and a romantic one, at that.

The process was strange. I didn’t write anything about it, which I ultimately regret, but it was so different from Lavinia and the process so much…easier, that I didn’t know what to say about it. I didn’t feel like I was working at it, which was a weird feeling. I had fun. Titus was fun, I suppose, in the way that the soreness after a good workout feels good, but it was…different. I don’t think it is a better or worse thing, but I felt the difference. Of course, there was also a goddamn rape scene in the woods, so it wasn’t like I was TOO far off. Sigh.

Two Gents was a learning experience for me.

I learned that if there is a dog , I will fall madly in love with it. I learned that I’m a pretty decent photographer and that I love taking photos, however, I also learned to remember to ask someone to take a photo of ME once in awhile—not a single photo exists of me as Silvia, which is kind of a bummer because my costume was amazing.

I learned how to stand the fuck still and deliver a speech and I learned to check for screws before climbing down a ladder, because I’m pretty sure I’ll have this scar forever. I learned that I look decent as a redhead, but I miss my blue hair, and I learned that it is really, really hard for me to see myself as beautiful. Playing Silvia was a mind-fuck.

But most of all, for all the faults and failings of our little theatre company, I got to remember how much I am loved, how much I love the people I get to work with and how our passion drives us and inspires us and can make a show happen. We hold magic in us, it’s just easy to forget sometimes.

Oh, and very important to the story, about two weeks into September after the breakup, I got two emails. The first email was from my mortgage broker at my bank, telling me that I had been approved for a home loan, so I could start looking for a house if I wanted. The second email was from the Artistic Director of the Shakespeare company, asking me if I wouldn’t mind coming to their final callback auditions.

Crossroads.

Act 3 is the story of a journey and a risk and what I learned about talking to strangers, but that tale is a (long) blog entry in itself, so I think this is a good time to stop for the evening, but I will write more, very soon.

I’ve missed you.

Life Advice to a 15 Year Old

Tonight, my long lost new sister asked me about life. Well, kind of. She asked me about how I, as an adult, handle the struggles of life.
Which I had to take with a small grain of salt, as her biggest life struggle to date has been whether or not she failed her chemistry test that day or who is speaking to who in the cafeteria…but I realize that I’m meeting her at a perfect age– I’m old enough to know better but young enough to remember exactly how high school felt.

And I realized, I didn’t really have an answer so much as a belief, which isn’t really useful when you’re 15 and you just want someone to tell you that eventually, life works out. And I think it does, but it’s….more complicated than that.

It’s been awhile since I wrote, and a lot has gone down. Some of it is great. Some of it sucks. And it kind of puts it in perspective, talking to a 15 year old about it.

And with all of that, all of the shit and all of the good stuff, and all of the amazing stuff that remains a constant, this is what I told her. I don’t know if it’s right, but it’s where I’m at with the world right now.

There are days that will suck ass–hard. Hard, stank ass with maybe a little sticky poop left on it, and you’ll be sitting there, sucking on that hairy butt, but then, there will be other days that are just…days. Nothing particularly good happens, nor nothing particularly bad–they’re like the special K of days–there’s no like, sweet awesome frosting and no extra crunch berries–just a day.

Then there are good days, where some nice stuff happens to you and maybe you eat a nice dinner or run into a friend.

But then there are amazing days where maybe every other part of the day was spent sucking ass and then something happens. And it can be you know, the greatest chocolate cake of your life or as small as seeing someone do something extraordinary for a stranger or maybe noticing something beautiful in the middle of a disgusting alley– but you notice.
 
And that’s what makes the day extraordinary.

Here’s the catch though: The only way to find extraordinary days is to be constantly looking for that one thing that will make a regular day extraordinary. Because if you’re too focused on the hairy butt you’re sucking on, you will never notice anything but the hairy butt, not the world around it– and slowly, but surely, your life will become solely butt sucking because you’ve never taken a moment to look for something extraordinary

 so it’s up to you.

I figure you can either sit around and complain about the hairy butts of days or you can get excited, because maybe you looked and looked and you know? it was just a butt sucking day. But tomorrow— tomorrow is always full of the possibility that every moment might be extraordinary.

Possibilities

It’s funny how things work out sometimes.

Sometimes, as soon as you find yourself convinced that your life is set and stable and aligned perfectly to work the way you want it to, some random comment or suggestion or inkling of an idea sneaks in and shakes up everything you think you had planned out.

In the next week, I’m going to be taking the biggest risk I’ve ever taken…because I have to.

I’ve been debating and thinking and arguing with myself all weekend, convincing myself “yes, do it, you’re awesome and great and everything will work out perfectly” and then listening to the “no, you’re stupid and dumb and this will never work and you’re an idiot for trying” voices that sneak when things are the quietest.

I had a sudden realization, though, that finalized my decision. I just realized…I have to know. I’m at that point in my life where I have a choice to make. I can choose to take the safe route with the steady job, or I can try for this. And I know that if I don’t, maybe in five years or ten years or three days, I will regret it. I will regret not going for something seemingly so perfect and fitting and wonderful, and I can’t pass this up.

I do not want to spend my life wondering what would have happened if I’d gone for this. I want to know what happens after the part where I go for it. I want to see the result, not just imagine the part leading up to it.

And maybe it doesn’t work out, and that’s fine too. I’ll come back to my steady job that I really like and continue with my life and probably never speak about it again.

But if it did work out…

My life may change. Extraordinarily. And I am so, so very excited for that chance.

Sonder

I recently learned the term “sonder“.

Sonder is basically that feeling you get when you look out at a big city and realize that there are a hundred thousand people all living lives as interesting and rich as yours, and you will never know them or their story. Every person you drive by on the way to work is an extra in the movie of your life, but if you shift the camera just a little bit to the right, they become the star of the film and you’re just an extra in their life.

And so on and so forth in this incredibly elaborate network of lives…and, for some reason, that concept is overwhelming to me. Add that to my tendency to romanticize the most trivial of daily life in order to find the most beauty in it, it gets…to be a lot.

I never knew there was a term for how my mind works, all the time. It’s comforting, I suppose, knowing that other people think the same way.

Today, I went to the thrift store, and I found, like, the most amazing dress. Just…perfect. And just to be 100% sure, I wanted to try it on.

So I went to the changing rooms and waited. And waited. And waited. Two rooms, both occupied. One was occupied by a woman who sniped it right out from under me, but the other was occupied by a mysterious stranger, who I could see nothing of but her feet (white crew socks) and an ankle tattoo.

And she. was. taking. forever.

And I started to get irritated. Trying on 40 billion things at once is just rude, and my back felt like crap and I just wanted to know if the dress was going to fit and I only really had one thing and this was stupid and I hated Crew Socks and her stupid tattoo and I wanted to go home.

Click. Another hanger over the door. Crew Socks is moving around, and I hate her more because I see she’s got 15 hangers lined up over the top of the door, and she’s not counting down, she’s counting up, which means she’s got a pile in there, so I’m going to be here even longer, and now my back is really hurting and I’m freaking out about the pizza I just ate and My. Life. Is. Terrible.

Click.

Goddamn it.

So at this point, I’m debating whether or not to like, do that awkward knock thing, but that would make me a bitch, and I’m leaning awkwardly into the capri pants behind me, and I basically want Crew Socks to die in a fire.

Click.

Only this time, her hanger misses and a pair of suit pants falls to the floor.

Fucking Crew Socks and her goddamn suit pants, I hate her.

I’m legit mad at this point, and then I start feeling like an idiot for getting so mad over something so trivial…Crew Socks is trying on clothes, and she is taking awhile.

So then I start thinking. Maybe Crew Socks has some sort of shitty pain disease and is having a bad day, so trying on clothes is harder for her, so she’s taking a long time. Maybe Crew Socks has a huge job interview next week that she’s been waiting months for, and she’s terrified and nervous and is looking for the perfect outfit to nail the interview to get the job she needs.

So then I start wondering if she has kids. And if they do well in school. And if she has a boyfriend, and what he might do for a living, and whether or not they get along. Why she shops at a thrift store. What her parents did. And this took long enough that Crew Socks emerged  from the dressing room, I smiled and I stepped inside (and the dress looked awesome on me by the way).

And that was it. I was just the girl waiting to get into the dressing room after her.

Sonder.

It’s stupid, I know. And no, there’s no touching moral ending where I notice that there was a hole in the bottom of her shoes so clearly I was right all along, especially when I saw her unlock the orphanage van in the parking lot and there are 25 shelter kittens in the back.

It is difficult for me to drive through big cities at night for this same reason. When I was a kid, I used to love to drive around at night when people’s homes were lit up so you could see inside, and I would wonder about the people who lived there and what they did and what they had for dinner and if they liked their jobs.

On nights like this,  once I get into that weird sonder-y mindset, I am reminded why I am so terrible at being alone. From my perspective, I am great at it. Once I am in and settled, facing people seems like a monumental effort, and step one: put on pants is just really too much work, and besides, it’s not like I’m ever going to know everything about the universe anyway, so really, what’s the point?

But I also know that I need people to distract me from my wonderings. It’s a tough balance. Before Jake went out of town for the week, he gave me a stern lecture on “make sure you hang out with people”, because he knows that blanket+netflix+comfy pants= you will not see me for days.

So tonight, I am awake, later than I should be, thinking about…everything. All at once. Which is noisy and not necessarily condusive to sleep. And tomorrow, I will get up and drive by hundreds of people on my way to my job, where I will see hundreds more, and then go to the store, or go home, and all of those people will have lives and stories and friends in their lives that I will never know…

Sonder is a bitch, I guess is what I’m saying.

 

 

 

30 Days Of Summer

I forget how quickly time passes when I’m not specifically paying attention. All of the sudden, it’s Friday, and then next Friday, and I haven’t written anything interesting in a month.

It’s weird. I knew, going in, that a full-time job is, exactly, that– full time– but it’s just weird to me how FAST the day goes, even when I’m bored– suddenly, it’s 5PM and I have 3 hours to get all of my errands done before the stores close.

I feel like someone pushed “fast-forward” on my life, and I hate it. I hate the feeling of rushing around trying to get everything accomplished right now, or, when waiting for something, having the delightful anticipation of “it’s coming up in a month” suddenly be “it’s tomorrow” and I am woefully unprepared.

There are two thing that help this. The first, (strangely) is fighting. Something about a sword in my hand and forcing myself to worry about my footwork–and only my footwork– and not about SEO optimization and social media reports and the million billion trivialities that make up my day somehow, magically, makes me feel like a person, not just a cloud of dust on the way to another stupid thing.

I tried fighting *for real* for a couple weeks. It didn’t go well. I had to stop and examine whether or not my desire to instantly Know Everything was getting in the way of me actually Learning Something, but I realized that for now– and maybe this will change in a year, or a week or a day— but what makes sense to me are drills and repetition and the boring technique stuff that takes me out of my brain and into my body– but actually being faced with an opponent is overwhelmingly stressful for me, because I don’t know what’s going to happen so I don’t know what to do and then it’s right back into my brain again, which defeats the purpose.

The second thing (and this segue ways nicely into my next topic) is making …things. “Things” is vague. Some days, I am a poet. Some days, I am a graphic designer. Other days I am a baker, or a writer, or a set designer, or a costume stitcher or a million other things– I wear many hats, because I enjoy hats. And doing things.

I have, suddenly, become more of a writer as of late. There was a performance that I did at the Establishment Theatre to open a stand-up comedy night (because nothing says “comedy” like slam poetry about Shakespeare), there was having the amazing opportunity to perform at the One State Conference, my sudden adoption into a group of insanely talented writers and artists (more on that later), and that sudden remembering that “oh yeah, I like doing this”.

Life gets in the way, and I hate that.

So.

I suppose this is where the announcement comes in– I am sure most of you noticed the abysmal failure that the “blog a day” project took– yeah, that didn’t end so well.

However, in the next few weeks (okay, months), I am going to be restructuring this into different sections that better parallel my interests, and post about them, which, in my mind, will spur me to write more/do more things instead of just letting the days fly by.

So look forward to that.

The Girl With the Shakespeare Tattoo

Shakespeare Tattoo

Shakespeare Tattoo

 

Some day, when I’m older and bolder and wiser and stronger, I will explain what the significance of this was, and why I did it when I did it. But for now, it is good enough for me to say that I did, and that I like it, and that day was a good day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Titus Andronicus Ruined My Weekend, or why I love Quad City Theatre.

As I slowly get more adjusted to my big kid job, I have come to realize that weekends are quickly becoming something sacred. I still have a goodly amount of free time after work (and I suppose even before if I was feeling particularly wake-up-able) but the Saturdays and Sundays of doing nothing but things that I want to do on my own schedule are something I am starting to look forward to with great anticipation.

So this weekend, I decided to spend my sacred weekend time (and a goodly bit of money) travelling down to Orlando to see the (ahem)…Shmorlando Shmakespeare Shmeatre’s production of Shmitus Shmandronicus.

This weekend was a huge disappointment. Kind of. We’ll get to the good part.

I think by this point my regular readers (and everyone who has ever met me for longer than 4 seconds) knows that I’m something of a Shakespeare nerd. I am more than that, but at my core lies a deep, deep appreciation for Shakespeare. His work, much like the weekend, to me, is sacred.

And no, not in the stuffy old-fashioned “this can only be done in doublet and hose in false English accents” sort of way, I just mean that something about his work and his plays connects with me on a deep level and his stories and his words just…make sense in my brain. I love them for what they are printed and I love them more for the infinite possibilities inherent in producing the work. I am all for new interpretations and ideas and thinking– after LAST weekend, I would point anyone in the direction of The Hypocrites in Chicago– holy shit, there is a company who does new things with Shakespeare in brilliant, dynamic, interesting ways. I fell in love.

So, let’s talk about Titus.

I would go into minute detail about the show, but it’s really just not worth it. Suffice it to say that it was entertaining, comical and really, the opposite of everything that I believe makes Titus an interesting and worthwhile production to watch. Wackity Schmackity Doodle, we put people in pies, the emotional gauntlet and tragic revenge tale be damned, look at this bucket of blood!

Disappointing.

The crowd loved it though, and that was even more frustrating. I was happy they were there. I LOVED that they were there. A rowdy, laughing, yelling, sold- out crowd who were stoked to be there to see the show–any theatre person would be overjoyed to experience an audience like that–but about halfway through I realized– they weren’t there for the story. They were there for the blood– but the brilliant thing about this show is that there is an incredible bait-and-switch that you can pull. The audience comes for the blood– oh, it’s there,alright, in all of its majesty, but then, suddenly, there are characters you care about and understand and maybe hate and a story that pulls you in and you want to find out what happens and it’s wonderful and amazing and fantastic— but that never happened.

They came for the buckets of blood, and they got buckets of blood. They didn’t get a family. They didn’t get mothers and sons and a father and daughter.  They didn’t see a broken, scared man who struggles with everything he’s ever known being proven false. Or loyalty, or grief or worry or woe or care or anything but a slight annoyance at all of this talking getting in the way of our stabbbing.  aIt’s was just…people in pies and (poorly timed) winks at the audience.

Here. Let’s do it this way:

Hear me, grave fathers! noble tribunes, stay! 
For pity of mine age, whose youth was spent 
In dangerous wars, whilst you securely slept; 
For all my blood in Rome’s great quarrel shed; 
For all the frosty nights that I have watch’d;
And for these bitter tears, which now you see 
Filling the aged wrinkles in my cheeks; 
Be pitiful to my condemned sons, 
Whose souls are not corrupted as ’tis thought. 
For two and twenty sons I never wept, 
Because they died in honour’s lofty bed. 
For these, these, tribunes, in the dust I write 
My heart’s deep languor and my soul’s sad tears: 
Let my tears stanch the earth’s dry appetite; 
My sons’ sweet blood will make it shame and blush. 
O earth, I will befriend thee more with rain, 
That shall distil from these two ancient urns, 
Than youthful April shall with all his showers: 
In summer’s drought I’ll drop upon thee still; 
In winter with warm tears I’ll melt the snow 
And keep eternal spring-time on thy face, 
So thou refuse to drink my dear sons’ blood. 
O reverend tribunes! O gentle, aged men! 
Unbind my sons, reverse the doom of death; 
And let me say, that never wept before, 
My tears are now prevailing orators.

I dare you to not read that and not feel something. Here’s a soldier, who for forty goddamn years has given his life for the glory of the state– he’s lost 21 sons (well, 23 by this point) and is laying in the dirt as the Roman Tribunes ignore him begging in vain for the life of his sons.

And it didn’t count for anything in the production I saw. It didn’t matter. There was no heart, or soul or care. This took maybe 2 1/2 minutes to say. Most of it was said standing. Yelling. Succinctly.  Because it was getting in the way of 5.2 attrocities per act. There were people in pies to get to, damn it!

I get it. This was a directorial choice, just like our choice was to make the violence secondary. But what bothered me so much is that the choice was lazy. It was obvious and easy and, well, it felt cheap. In the immortal words of Complete Works– it didn’t do the show justice, it just…did it.

As I was sitting in my proudly obtained front row tickets listening to Titus flub his lines for the fourth time that night (sorry, actor friend, but banking on the audience not knowing if you’re not messing up is not going to work sometimes), I realized that this show– the one I was watching, here and now, in this professional theatre could be any show across the country– professional or not. There was nothing spectacular or even, if we’re being harsh, remotely creative about it (save for an INCREDIBLE performance by the guy who played Aaron. Good Goddamn) and the costumes, lighting, tech, acting and well, everything that made up the show would be just as feasibly possible in our community theatres as it would be in a storefront in Chicago or an off-off-off-broadway in New York.

What I’m saying is, this weekend, I think, is that  slapping a paycheck into your actors’ hands at the end of the week doesn’t make your theatre magically better or worse than theatres where actors get screwdrivers and paintbrushes slapped into their hands after rehearsal and they do it without so much as a “thank you”.

And then, after I was done ranting to anyone who’d listen, I realized what made me so angry.

I was angry that this company was selling out a month long run for a sub-par show. That this company is getting millions (literally) in grants and funding and donations, and we buy our costumes at Salvation Army. That their operating budget for each show is in the millions, and we don’t ever go over 2 grand.

I have a friend, who I know will read this blog, so I’m not going to make this too awkward, but he is, unquestionably, one of the best people I know. Recently, he told me that “If you want to make changes, you have to learn to see things with different eyes”. And me, being me, rolled my eyes at his advice and went about my day, because I’m not good at that.

But, on this occasion, I decided to take his advice. And when I did, begrudgingly, it wasn’t about the show, really. It was about me. And about my friends. And that I wasn’t angry about the show, I was angry for my friends.

 

Because while I was jealous of their budget and their overhead and their fancy light board, what upset me the most is knowing that I know a group of people who are just as talented (hell, I’ll say it –if not more talented) then the professional actors I saw this weekend. I want hundreds and hundreds of people to flock to see my friends. I want national news organizations to run stories about the shows around here, I want rich donors to fight to be the first to hand us checks, but then, I realized, that, while money and fame is nice, the wonderful thing is that around here, that’s not what’s important.

What’s important are the stories.

We put on shows that we are passionate about with people we care about. We decide our own fate, what stories are important and which deserve to be heard and there is always an incredibly driven and talented group of people to tell them and design them and direct them and make them their own.

And who knows. Maybe the actors I saw this weekend hated everything about the production and were furious at how they were told to stand and act and hurry through the good bits, I don’t know. So I don’t blame them, really. But I feel lucky.

I realized how lucky I am to work in an area where the actors have ownership of their shows, where friends work together to put on shows just because they want to, where actors are able to approach a director as a friend, not a boss, where actors have blessing to have opinions and questions and late night discussions over drinks, how lucky we are in this area to have people who will give up free time and family nights to do a show for no other reason than they love it. For 99% of us, there is no paycheck at the end (or, if there is one, it maybe covers gas to rehearsal), the only thing we get is a handshake from our audiences as they leave and maybe a review to remember the show by.

And for the amazing, talented people that I know, that I have the honor and privilege of working with every day, that is enough.

 

Of Show, of Swordfighting, of Day Job and of Happiness.

Of Show:

This weekend I went mostly on a whim to see The Hypocrites’ production of Coriolanus in Chicago. Then, thanks to some connections, I got to have a “few” drinks (ahem) with some of the cast, who wound up being a group of really, really cool guys.

It was a really odd (but awesome) experience having the same arguments about Shakespeare that I’ve had at home a million times in a different bar and with different people, but they all spoke my language. That was the best part. I speak Shakespeare, and so I can make friends.

It was also interesting talking with the cast because I have a little bit of show/theatre/company/actor envy, and to me, these guys were absolute rock stars. They did the one thing I was never exactly brave enough to do, they moved to Chicago to pursue acting…and they are acting, in a phenomenally produced play in a company I would give both of my hands to do some Shakespeare with. (heh heh. I’m hilarious).

But the glorious thing, the thing that made me smile when I went to bed is that I went out with a group of rockstar Shakespearan actors…and left knowing a high school math teacher, a waiter, a customer service rep and…a something. Who also happen to be rockstar Shakespearean actors…but the necessity of a day job is felt and recognized in this fabulous group of actors. I felt…better about my life.

I do, however, have massive theatre envy. Seriously. The Hypocrites perform, currently, at the Chopin Theatre in North Chicago, and the place is incredible. It’s somewhere between walking into Moulin Rouge crossed with a fortune teller’s waiting room crossed with a soda fountain from a Dr. Suess book– and that’s just the waiting area.

The actual theatre is in the basement, and what they have done with the space borders on magical. As much as I am determined to define myself as “an actor”, the truth is that I will spend just as much time watching as show as I will counting instruments and mapping out grid lines in my head, and I was a happy, happy girl. Low ceilings are a bitch to work with, and not a fuck was given about them during this production.

The show itself was fantastic and I was many times inspired, and many, many times reminded why I do this– why, as an awkward college student looking to find her place, I stumbled half-heartedly into Shakespeare and never looked back. This show was a reminder of that, of how staging and passion and fire can come together to tell a story 400 years old and still make it interesting.

Sure, the show had its problems– I thought the cut (1:45 running time, no intermission) was good, but there were times when things just happened for the sake of the cliff notes, and I missed the moments of lead-up and intent. Also, there was a hideous, hideous chevron dress that the poor actress playing Virgilia was forced to wear– I’ve been on the short end of the costume stick more than once in my life, so I felt for her.

Seeing the show would have been enough, but the aforementioned drinks session afterwards made for a very excellent Saturday.

And that would have been enough.

Of Swordfighting:

However, on Sunday, I also wound up getting to sword fight in the park.

I’m going to be really honest– I’m not very good. And I know that. I’ve got loads to learn, my technique is intrinsically flawed, I’m sloppy and I spend more time apologizing then I do actually fighting.

But.

I don’t know what it is, and I don’t really understand it, and I actually feel really lame admitting this, but there is a part of me that is intrinsically drawn to it. It just…makes sense in my head.

Part of it is the work. I’m used to being good at things. I’m used to things coming easily and being immediately successful. And I am not that with a sword in my hand. I’m awkward and usually confused and thinking– very hard– about just what it is that I’m doing. I get corrected, snapped at, occasionally mocked and constantly reminded that I have no idea what I’m doing, and I love that. Because I don’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to be perfect– I want to be, so I am usually incredibly frustrated, but my frustrations are not about how I look or what size my jeans are or what I forgot to do at work today, my frustrations are about my shitty blocks and keeping my edge facing the right way.

And that is the best part. My mind is never quiet. Ever. I’ve talked enough about my various and annoying health problems and fear of cheeseburgers, but I have noticed that when I am holding a sword (or two swords, or a dagger…) that I’m not afraid of cheeseburgers, or really, anything. I have never been graceful. I have never been a dancer, nor, really, except for a brief period while I was 8, have I wanted to be. I’m stocky and grounded and I can move decently, but with a sword, I feel…awesome. I feel graceful.

The bonus part of all of this was that I also choreographed my first fight. I learned more in an hour than I did in a semester of stage combat…and learned, mostly, that I have a lot to learn. My notation sucks, I’m bad at communicating and I have a bad, bad habit of apologizing as frequenty as I give directions.

But still. I did it. Kind of.

It’s silly and dumb and really, kind of trite, but it’s true,and I accept that about myself. Sometimes, I’m silly and dumb, but that’s not going to stop me from loving every sweaty, frustrating and mistake-filled moment of it. And I know I’ve talked about this before, but it still just..amazes me that something as simple as footwork and the connection between my elbow and my brain is the one thing in this world that makes everything okay, even just for an hour.

Of Day Jobs:

I have a job now that I love. It’s pretty fantastic, overall. There are parts that suck, like any real job, but for the most part, I love it. I’m good at it, I haven’t biffed too many things, the people I work with are awesome and, despite some sometimes late nights, it’s…well, it’s really awesome, and I know that I am really, really lucky.

This morning, I woke up and went to work. One of the little perks of my job is that I have to walk from my office to other parts of the facility, and so I decided to walk outside. As I was walking, I was thinking about everything that happened this weekend– the great show, the fighting, the hanging out with good friends, the weather, generally how much my job does not suck, and I felt…weird.

Of Happiness:

And I suddenly realized that I was smiling. And that for no reason other than the fact that I am alive to experience this beautiful, wonderful world, I am happy. Happy that I get to live a life with drinks with Shakespearean rock stars and late night discussions about the reletive merits of Titus Andronicus and swordfights and planning for next season and amazing friends and being just, so very, very lucky.

I am not used to being happy.

That sounds sad and depressing, but I don’t mean that I am constantly depressed– I just mean that that giggly, bubbly, spontaneous happy is usually something I plan, or look forward to- rehearsals, performances, designing posters, website building– these are the things that make me happy, that I choose to do because I love doing them– but being just…contentedly happy for no reason is a new thing.

And you know what? I don’t mind it at all.