Weight Gain and What I Gained.

A couple of days ago, I was walking out of the restroom at the movie theater, when I got trapped between two mirrors on opposite walls. I hate that. My scumbag brain uses those opportunities to point out every flaw it can, starting, usually, with: “Ugh, you’re so disgusting and fat”, moving on to visible bra lines and ending somewhere around “ugh, your profile is so embarrassing. Look at your huge nose and your weird neck hump”, because apparently my scumbag brain thinks I’m Richard III.

But this time, I just looked in the mirror and thought. “Huh. I got fat again”, and went to join Chris inside. The movie was terrible but the popcorn was delicious.

Yesterday, I woke up, barely, in time for class. I had a migraine and was in that “should I or shouldn’t I go” mode while I waited for my overdose of Excedrin to kick in. I stumbled to my closet, and pulled out the first pair of pants I could find, only to get them about midway up my thighs, where they remained stalwart and unyielding. “Oh”, I thought, “I grabbed the old ones”, rummaged around, found a pair that fit, and rushed out the door.

It wasn’t until I was sitting in class and listening to a heated debate about the textual authorship of Star Wars (because this is what happens when you let a bunch of nerds study Shakespeare) when I realized that something profound had happened– my jeans hadn’t fit –and I hadn’t freaked out.

Normally, this would have set me off on a spiral of self-hatred, shame, guilt and self-harm that would have lasted two or three days. I would have cried, thrown a really attractive tantrum, then eventually resigned myself to relapse, all the while pretending that everything is fine.

It’s really, really hard. That cycle of self-hatred is exhausting, especially when paired with my need to appear at all times like I have my life together.

Last semester this time, my life was brilliantly together. I was going to the gym four times a week and doing neat crossfit weight lifting things, then graduated in the summer to running the lakes in Winona. I lost about 30 pounds, and I was proud of how I looked. I took selfies from high angles to show off my new, fancy crossfit arms and bought pants a size smaller than I was used to.

Then I started writing my thesis. That transition, from gym rat to library mole, was difficult. I felt guilty. I felt like I was letting someone down. I felt like I should be able to handle it all, do all the things, maintain the fitness and write the thesis and do the hard classes and plan my life– but at some point, I had to admit that I just…couldn’t.

My depression had reared its ugly head, worse than ever before, telling me that I was awful, that I was a fuck-up for barely being able to get out of bed in the morning, that all the good actors wake up at 6am and go to the gym and write three theses a day, so what was wrong with me that handling school was such a struggle? I’m Catie Osborn, it’s supposed to be easy.

I realized, one night, as I cried (all over Chris), that this wasn’t working. Doing it all was destroying me, physically and mentally. I was depressed and on the verge of a major eating disorder relapse. My fuckity back was fucked again, from trying to push myself too hard in the short amount of time I’d found to exercise that day, and my motivation to do anything had just disappeared. I was hurting, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

So I prioritized. The two hours of gym and clean-up time became two hours between classes spent working on my thesis. The five mile runs around the lake became marathon paper writing sessions. And I started to feel better. I admitted defeat on my thesis and shamefully asked for an extension, and had one granted to me with a beautiful message of support and understanding. I was so afraid to fail that I forgot to ask for help in my success.

Sure, I gave up the gym (for now), but I gained a master’s degree (I mean, let’s just hope at this point, or this post is going to be really embarrassing in about a month). I sat, literally, on my butt for the better part of a year researching a play I love and writing something that I’m proud of.

That sitting around taught me about my body, what it feels like when it’s just…there, not being pushed or asked to lift weights or run for miles, and it turns out my body is broke as shit. Literally, total garbage. Who pulls a muscle getting out of bed in the morning? Seriously. I’m working on resolving the medical side of things, but allowing myself to listen to my body allowed me to realize something wasn’t right and prevent further injury.

I studied, I read, and I fell in love with a new area of scholarship, which was a huge deal for me. After a semester of failing to find the motivation to do anything, I am excited about school again and throwing myself into research and academia in a way that I was too afraid to attempt before. I feel more confident in the future. I discovered that I am in love with an incredible person, friend and partner who has listened and put up with me through one of the most difficult years of my life, unquestioningly and with unfailing support.

I discovered, this year, that gaining weight doesn’t mean that I lost anything at all.

A temporary change to my appearance does not fundamentally alter who I am. My body will shift and change from year to year, hell, from month to month based on the quality of pizza in the town I’m currently living in, but who I am at my core does not change with the size of my jeans.

This morning, when I looked in the mirror and saw the bra lines and the change in the fit of my clothes, I didn’t panic. I just picked up my backpack and headed for the library to finalize the last draft of my thesis and get it submitted by tomorrow– the second to last step to finishing this year and graduating with a master’s degree.

It’s a beautiful day.
I walked.

Eating Disorders and Disney Princesses (or I’m Too Fat To Be A Princess).

Disclosure: This has taken off in popularity in a way that I never expected. I am profoundly touched. However, in reading this, I realized that I was not originally clear in my message. This was never about Disney’s casting practices (as some people very rightly seemed to take away) but more about my own insecurities. I believe that writing is a living thing, so I have opted to edit this to reflect as such.

I have never particularly liked my body.
I have always particularly wanted to be a Disney Princess.

Keep both of these in mind, they become important later on.

Last summer, my boyfriend, Chris asked me casually if I might want to go to Disney World sometime. Roughly two weeks later, he surprised me with an invitation to tag along with his family on their trip this year. I was floored at the generosity, but even more excited when I found out that we’d be going during Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party– the one time of the year that Disney allows grown-ups to wear costumes in the park.

Naturally, I was excited. Costumer problems.

We decided, after some debate, that we would do a group costume. Chris would be Lumiere, his brother would be Cogsworth, his mom Mrs. Potts and his dad would be Gaston. I would be Belle.

When I was a kid, Belle was always my favorite Disney Princess. She was the one who read books (just like me!) and people thought she was weird (just like me!) and wanted adventure in the great wide somewhere (just like me, cuz someday I’d be old enough to drive!). It’s cliche, I know. But I love that movie. I still remember falling asleep to the soundtrack and dancing around in the basement, pretending to be Belle.

I am not proud to admit that when Chris suggested the group costume, my first thought was not excitement, it was “But I’m too fat to be a princess. Will people take me seriously in the costume?”. Even after four years of being in recovery (with slips and trips and failures along the way), it is startling how fast my mind goes into Eating Disorder Brain whenever I’m confronted with dealing with my own size.

Disney’s requirements for playing Belle at Disney World are simple: be a decent actor, know your character, be between 5’4″ and 5’7″ and, most importantly, for the purposes of this story, fit a size 10 or smaller.

I am a size 12.

As such, my scumbag Eating Disorder Brain has a literal numerical value by which to compare my own body. According to “the numbers”, I don’t measure up. (Ha ha ha get it). My Eating Disorder Brain latched onto that number and that voice of self doubt in my head constantly told me that I wasn’t good enough, wasn’t pretty enough, I was too big to be a princess. I wasn’t “right”.

I have been, over the course of my journey with an eating disorder, anywhere between a size 0 and a size 20. As I have gotten further into recovery, my body has settled into the range of a 12. I’m not particularly stoked about it, but I have found that trying to be much smaller results in the danger of relapse and any larger makes me, well, in danger of relapse. It’s a tightrope.

So we made the costumes. Over the course of three weeks, I meticulously built the costumes from scratch, drafting my own patterns, staying up late and sewing during spare moments between classes. About a week before we were slated to leave, I tried my costume on. It didn’t fit. It was about 4 inches too big in every direction. I was pissed– I’d spent a solid day building the dress, and it didn’t fit. I cried.

Chris looked at me and said “Maybe it’s time you reevaluate how you see yourself”. I hadn’t trusted my own measurements– I couldn’t possibly be THAT size. I added inches for safety because12118623_904267604074_8426076473956985471_ne I didn’t want to face the humiliation of putting on a too-small dress. Instead, I’d wasted a week of work because I couldn’t accept that might actually be the size written on the tape measure.

I fixed the dress (well, completely remade) and off we went. On the night of the event, I was convinced that the dress wasn’t going to fit, that I’d somehow gained 40 pounds on our trip, that I was going to break the zipper, that people would laugh at me. Eating Disorder Brain is an ugly thing. The dress fit.

All night, people kept stopping me. Frankly, I was surprised, since Chris had told me not to expect much attention since most everyone was going to be in costume. I’d expected maybe a couple smiles, but the minute we stepped out of our hotel room, kids were whispering and pointing.

Over the course of the night, about a dozen people stopped me for photos. Many more stopped me to ask if I worked at the park. Several people didn’t believe me when I told them I didn’t work there, one cast member approached me and told me I looked more like Belle than the Belles she works with.

One guy insisted that we track down a cast member who could connect us with the casting department. “Your entire outfit is your audition, you should be working here”. My Eating Disorder Brain whispered “They won’t hire me, I’m too fat”.

A group of parents came over and asked me to take a photo with their kids. I told them what the people at the gate had told me to say: “Just so you know, I’m not the REAL Belle, I’m just dressed like her tonight– the real Belle is somewhere else, you should try and find her tonight!” They took their pictures with me anyway. My Eating Disorder Brain wondered if I looked fat in the pictures.

Several of the moms pulled me aside and thanked me, they were relieved to have a picture with “Belle” (even a fake one) because their daughters had desperately wanted to meet her and they couldn’t afford the park hopper pass that would have taken them to the other park where the “real” Belle was appearing that day. My Eating Disorder Brain assured me I would never have groups of little girls hoping to take their picture with me.

What particularly frustrated me was I happened upon a (park official) Gaston, who was legitimately the worst actor I have ever seen. Not only did he barely know enough about the character to converse with the little girl who was interrogating him about his desire to murder the Beast, it was abundantly clear that he didn’t really care– he wearing the costume, therefore, he was the character and that was good enough.

But he fit the costume, so he got the job. My Eating Disorder Brain told me “see? It’s not about your talent, it’s about your size”.

Later, two little girls bum-rushed me, hugged me around the waist and yelled “OHMYGOSHITSBELLEYOUARESOPRETTYCANWETAKEYOURPICTURE?” I told them my Official Disney Rules Statement within earshot of two Disney cast members. One of them looked at me in confusion and said “I thought you worked here!”. The little girls got their picture, their dad shook his head at me and said “If you don’t work here, they are doing a terrible job in casting”. My Eating Disorder Brain whispered “Size 10”.

20151020_224116My favorite moment came when we went to go take a picture at the Be Our Guest restaurant. We watched several people ask to go inside for photos, and they were granted access. When we asked, the cast member out front paused and apologetically explained that we couldn’t go inside– our costumes were too good and he didn’t want people to have the impression that “official” actors were visiting to do meet and greets. He took our picture outside for us…..sort of. (Potato camera is a potato).

It’s stupid, I know. And probably not even worth a blog entry.

But there’s something important, I think, about recognizing the damage that Eating Disorder Brain can do, even when I am eating healthily and maintaining recovery.

But I am, still, a size 12.

Not everyone has Eating Disorder Brain, but I am fairly certain most of us struggle with self-doubt. How can we ever be the Disney Princess when Disney tells us that only women size 0-10 can be the princess?

I have considered many times trying to lose enough weight to meet the requirements and showing up an an audition, just to say I did. Just to see what happens. Maybe I’d get the job, maybe my nose would be too weird for them and they would say “thanks but no thanks”. I don’t know.

Disney says that Belle has to be a size 10. That’s fine, and their right as the owners of her image. But what I learned is that number doesn’t magically make someone a princess. I’m not calling for some massive political movement, or really even change. I am the size I am, and that is okay. Disney says that to be a princess, you have to be not the size I am. And I suppose that is okay.

But a couple of nights ago, I felt beautiful. That is not often the case.
No little girls pointed and said “she’s too fat”.
Instead, a couple of nights ago, little girls stopped me in my tracks and begged to take my picture.
A couple of nights ago, I was a Disney Princess, size 12 and all.

Not many people talk about the recovery end of Eating Disorders as something ongoing. Most people think that it is a “go to rehab and you’re cured” type thing. And that’s not the case. Every day, I struggle with that gnawing, shitty voice inside my head that tells me that I’m too fat, not good enough, not pretty enough– recovery is learning to ignore that voice, to silence it, to find ways to remind yourself that you are worthy. And it sucks. Because even in truly magical moments, being at Disney World, dressed as a character I have admired my whole life, feeling beautiful and strong and confident and excited with a man I love more than anything in the world and his incredible family, that voice still tried to tell me that I wasn’t good enough, I could never be a princess.

And I suppose, at the very least, on one night in October, I proved that voice wrong.
12022351_904265972344_5733442358973646850_o

An Edit:

I am honored that this post resonated with so many people, and so many people have shared it among their friends.

Somehow, through one of those shares, this got posted on the internet in a public forum. Thank you to whoever shared it, I am happy that you thought it was worthy of the Internet’s attention as a whole.

However, a bunch of people have jumped on the bandwagon and started criticizing me, saying that “I feel entitled to the job” and that “just because a few kids liked my costume, I think I deserve to work there”. That is assuredly not the point. My point is that just because Disney has mandated that their princesses are a certain size, everyone has the right to feel beautiful. Everyone has the right to feel entitled to the space they fill. Everyone, of any size, has the right to feel respected and included and valued. I often fail at many of these.

Disney can hire whoever they want.

What I hoped to do was start a conversation regarding the self-doubts that many people feel regarding body image and the pressure to be a certain size. I think I have done that, to the best of my small ability. My experience is my own, and I can only speak for myself. Do I think my costume was balls awesome? Yes. And I will admit to being proud of it. But this isn’t about getting a job at Disney. I’m not asking for a job.

What I’m asking is for the people who read this to consider how many times their self-doubts negate the truth. How many times are you told “you look beautiful” and wave it off? How many times have you looked in the mirror and only seen imperfections? How many compliments do you reject as flattery, not truth? It’s not about the job, or the costume or really, even about being a “princess”. It’s about learning to accept myself–ourselves– as we are. It’s about recognizing the beauty and humanity that others see, even when we are too clouded with our own self-doubts to see it ourselves.

Love yourself. You are beautiful.

Catie out.

My Wandering Feet and Important Work

Last night, I was mustering up the motivation to actually do some real work on my thesis when an email popped up.

” I came to your blog by the way of Reddit. I sniffed around the /r/WilliamShakespeare subreddit for anything and everything Titus Andronicus and found your comments. I was cast as Lavinia in a production of Titus Andronicus! ….I just wanted to say: Thank you. Thank you so, so much.

As you know, Titus Andronicus isn’t produced very often, and even then, there’s not very much about Lavinia. Aside from the “oh she’s pretty and quiet and just sits there”, which of course infuriates me. Being able to go through your process was absolutely amazing and I know I’ll return to your blog as rehearsals start up.”

I waited until after Chris had gone to bed and I snuck back to my computer, intent on sending the Best Email Ever to this girl, to offer her my support and advice, but instead, I cried.

——–

Awhile ago, I posted this photo on my facebook.
IMG_1511

In it, I am describing how Iambic Pentameter works to a group of students from a Children’s Theatre in Minnesota. The reason, in particular, that I was giving this workshop is because they are doing Titus Andronicus this year, and wanted a workshop on it.

I love giving workshops. Teaching Shakespeare in a an environment where I can casually crack jokes and answer questions and go on weird tangents about the timelines of Shakespeare plays feels, to me, so very ‘right’ that I have a hard time not launching into Education Artist Mode whenever asked about Shakespeare. I’m good at it.

I have never really believed I am *truly* good at a lot of things, but I believe that I am good at this.

Anyway, on my Facebook, I posted this statement along with that picture.

I still have a moment when I think “Wait, me? you want ME to do this?!?”– because I’m still not used to being the one who knows things, I’m used to being the awkward kid who’s way too excited and has way too many questions. And every time I present a workshop or teach a class, I wind up in a room full of incredible people– sometimes kids, sometimes adults, sometimes students, sometimes retirees who always give me new insight into this thing I love. I get really emotional about it sometimes, but it means the world to me that I get to do this, that the people I work with understand the passion and fire I feel about Shakespeare and trust me to impart that on others in a way that speaks to who I am.

One of my friends, one of those insanely talented, clever and witty women I seem to have been blessed with commented back, admonishing me, in her friendly way, to “start believing it”.

That was hard to read. Because she was right. She was really quite right.

——–

Earlier this year, I got turned down for an education job that I really wanted. I’d put a lot of work into my audition/presentation and when I was turned down for the position, I was told, essentially, that I move around too much and, basically, got too excited and so didn’t appear professional enough to represent their organization. I was too excited about Shakespeare to teach Shakespeare.

That. Hurt. I was devastated. After spending so very long in my adult life trying to first figure out and then accept who I am as an artist and a teacher, it felt like a very direct personal attack. I wasn’t good enough for them: not because I didn’t know the material, but because I couldn’t turn off who I was. Now, to be fair, it was also a very fair assessment. I do move when I talk, quite a bit. I pace, I gesticulate wildly. I shift back and forth. I tend to wander. I like to look everyone in the eye. I like to use the space I’m given. I make a point to try and fill it with the energy and passion I feel about what I’m teaching. I get excited. I get distracted. That’s just who I am.

And then I watched this video:

Amanda Palmer is one of my personal heroes, sort of the quintessential non-traditional Strong Female who helped me to stop being embarrassed about how my voice sounds and whose voice, writing and lyrics served as sort of the “if she can do it, maybe I can do” type-muse in regards to my poetry and art. She’s awesome, basically.

But Amanda Palmer can’t stand still. She wanders. She paces. She shifts back and forth. And still, Amanda Palmer has a TED talk with 3 million views. And she is not afraid to be herself.

On the drive back to Virginia, I listened to her audio book– sort of a 12-hour version of this TED talk, interspersed with biography and personal musings and stories. It’s a brilliant, lovely book. One of the first things she talked about was giving the TED talk. Nowhere does she mention being critiqued for moving around too much, she only talks about the audience members who came up to her weeks and months and years afterwards, thanking her.

This summer, I got to give a short 15 minute lecture on King John before each performance. I’d been asked to put together the educational materials for it, and along the way, someone looked at me and said “why don’t you just do it?”

The first night I gave the talk, I was terrified. All I could think of was how I’d been turned down for a job just like this. I stumbled. I stammered. I lost my place. I literally lied to the audience and told them the wrong king was in power. (Richard the Lionheart is Richard I, not Richard II, as I had mistakenly typed). After the talk, I thanked the audience for their attention and let them know that I would be available for questions and comments over at the merchandise booth after the show.

I went back to my little merchandise table and sighed. What the fuck was I thinking, like I have ANY right to be here, to do this? I was selling the t-shirts for fuck’s sake, I wasn’t some notable scholar. I was just…me.

And then, during intermission, people started coming up and thanking me. They thanked me for the presentation, for the educational materials we hand out– most of them were overjoyed to learn that I’d designed them for all of the shows, not just this one, which is why they all sort of matched– and, most meaningfully, for my energy and passion. The first night, about 15 people came up.

Well, I figured, it WAS opening night. The fancy donors and board members tend to come to openings, and they are usually a little more vocal. It was a fluke. Except it wasn’t.

The next night, the same thing happened. And the next night, the same thing. People coming up, thanking me for explaining the show, for helping them understand it, for being “so excited about Shakespeare!”. I heard that one over, and over again.

Slowly, I started to believe it. I was still terrified that someone would call me out as an impostor, that I’d drop my note cards and humiliate myself in front of 60 people, that I’d be laughed off the stage….but instead, something entirely different happened. Every night, people listened as I talked about lineage and symbolism– interspersed with Star Wars jokes and shitty puns. It was entirely mine, and the audience laughed with me– not at me.

And I wandered. I would gesticulate wildly, drawing diagrams in the air of relationships and plot points, often getting so excited that I would wheel around 180 degrees mid-sentence, to address the end of the thought to the audience on the opposite side of the 3/4 thrust, only to turn again a split second later to send a joke to the lady in the first row. It was Shakespeare Education: Catie Style.

And it worked. It worked so well that some people, not content to just thank me, personally, started seeking out my boss or the artistic director to compliment me. It was a really, really cool feeling.

Maybe, I thought, I was good at this.

———

Getting rejected from that first job didn’t ruin my life or drastically change the course of human existence, it was just disappointing. But ultimately, it wound up being the best thing that could have happened to me. I had convinced myself that I wasn’t fit for teaching, that no one like ME could teach, that no one would take me seriously or trust me as a teacher.

But instead, this summer, I was given that trust, fully and completely, because other people believed for me. Not only did I get to teach, I got to create the workshops that I taught. Not only did I get to teach Shakespeare, but I got to be funny and silly and nerdy while doing it. I learned that someone like ME can teach, because I was doing it, every day, and the response I got was nearly unanimous: that what I was doing mattered, and that I was good at what I did.

I have jokingly told people that my life’s goal is to become like, the internationally recognized expert on Titus Androncius. I want to be The Titus Girl, the one you call when your theatre is doing Titus so she can come teach her goofy Titus Workshop to your actors and make your production phenomenal. I’m like 90% serious about it at this point.

So last night, in the middle of a pretty big bout of depression and self-loathing for my inability to focus on Real Important Work, I got this email, from a stranger on the internet, asking my advice about being Lavinia, because she’d found some comments I’d made.

And something about that was just…profound to me. In probably a really douchey, eye-rolling way, it was profound. After spending all summer worrying about if I was really worthy of this, if someone like ME would be taken seriously— it wasn’t a fancy workshop or teaching seminar, it was a few simple, pointed statements that I’d made on an internet forum, where I hadn’t worried about how I sounded or how I presented or if I wandered around too much– I’d just spoken honestly, with the passion and joy I feel about Shakespeare, and someone had trusted me enough to email a complete stranger and ask her opinion and her view.

And so I cried.

I think, sometimes, the Real Important Work isn’t just my thesis, or research papers– it’s found here, on my blog, where I talked about the process and my personal experience, where, even when I wrote it, I would think things like “no one is ever going to want to read this” and “this is so self indulgent”….

But maybe it’s not. Maybe the most important work we can give is the work that comes not from a writing prompt or a looming thesis deadline. Maybe It’s the most honest work that is truly important. The work where we get to be ourselves, where we speak truth into the void, –truth filled with Star Wars jokes and shitty puns– and trusting that there is an audience who will hear us, as we are, and recognize that our individual voices and stories –stories told with wandering feet and wildly gesticulating hands-are all remarkable, all valuable, and all worthy of sharing.

I am starting to believe.

Oh and if you feel the need to check out or support that all-women Titus, check them out and send them some love.
http://baretheatre.org/titus-andronicus-2015-2/

Grad School, Year One: A Recap

Almost exactly a year ago, I was sitting in a dorm room in Winona, Minnesota, working as an intern at the Great River Shakespeare Festival while I waited to start grad school. Today, I am sitting in a dorm room in Winona, Minnesota, working as an intern with *slightly more responsibility* at the Great River Shakespeare Festival, and my desk has a big pile of papers and notebooks on it.

You know. Because I’m writing a thesis.

The notion of me, Catie Osborn, writing a thesis is still hilarious to me. Compile it with the fact that people have recently been asking me, in absolute seriousness “So, are you going to go for your doctorate?” makes the whole thing hilariously bizarre.

No one ever told me that “being an adult” is something that gradually occurs. Much like the fact that I was SHOCKED to learn in high school that my “grown up” handwriting was never going to kick in and I was stuck with the monkey-scratching that my dad taught me when I was six, I have suddenly realized that there is no ‘moment’ of adult-hood. Well, actually, I HAD that moment. I was slightly tipsy and standing on stage at my favorite karaoke bar, gangster-rapping a Miley Cyrus song while doing the Pee-Wee Herman dance when I had this sudden epiphany that this was the adult I had grown up to become.

I don’t know how I feel about that. I thought that Becoming an Adult meant suddenly understanding how to do your taxes and being able to manage money, but apparently for me, Becoming an Adult means being able to buy my own swords and choosing to leave a really solid job to pursue a Master’s in Shakespeare. I’m not complaining– it’s just not what 9-year-old Catie ever thought her life was going to be.

So. Grad School.

Year One of grad school went off without much to-do. It’s funny– so many people told me that OH MY GOD GRAD SCHOOL IS GOING TO BE SO STRESSFUL AND YOU’RE GOING TO DIE!! Honestly, 90% of the time? I thought grad school was pretty damn easy.

I was actually disappointed with how easy some of my classes were at the beginning– I understood the issue– a program built for both sides of “English Major” and “Theatre Major” spectrum meant spending some time getting everyone on the same page, but goddamn was it boring sitting through classes on what Iambic Pentameter and a sonnet were. In a graduate program. About Shakespeare.

Eventually, I realized that I needed to shift my attitude. So instead of being annoyed, I decided to be grateful that my little band of Prenzie Players had given me, over my time with them, the (free) equivalent of a year-one graduate school education because they care so much about the language. That helped, a little.

I also conquered a monumental task for myself and appeared on stage (vaguely) naked. That was a bizzare, weird, challenging but ultimately empowering experience. One of the second years was doing her thesis on nudity in the theatre, and I, for some reason, agreed to be part of her project. She was doing Troilus and Cressida and asked me to play Cressida. Of course I said yes. And so it came to pass that I showed my boobs to my professors before Christmas break of my first year of graduate school. Everyone was super supportive and professional about it, which was nice, but it was just such a weird experience getting naked backstage before going on. It was like that dream you have where you go to school without clothes on, except it was absolutely supposed to be like that.

Towards the middle of the year, I fell pretty hard into some serious depression. I’ve dealt with a little in the past, but the combination of frustration with the program, being away from home/friends/the Blue Cat, the lack of creative outlets for “my thing” (read: slam poetry) meant that I fell pretty deep into a funk for a couple of months.

I fell out of recovery for awhile, which sucked, but as shitty as I was feeling it was just another failure on the fail pile that seemed to be my life at the time. Today, as I write this, I think I’m at 30 days or something– sticking back in recovery has been challenging, but I’m working at it. Finding my creative outlet helped. A lot.

Thankfully, one of the local creative types who is friends with Chris approached me and asked me to be a part of her miniature performance series. Her name is Carmel, and of the fearless, fantastic females that I have the privilege to know, she is very, very high on that list. So depressed and fed-up Catie found herself involved in a group of incredibly talented and creative women, performing slam poetry in a goofy costume in a bookstore on Sunday afternoons, and slowly, the clouds began to lift.

I also worked my way into being the semi-official program photographer, which has been a saving part of my existence in grad school. I didn’t know how much I loved photography until I started doing it, but it has become my creative outlet. It also serves as an excellent service— getting to archive the productions this year has allowed me to both improve as a photographer, but also as a director– if it looks good in a picture, it will look good on stage. IMG_2340

Getting to perform/take pictures at the American Shakespeare Center is also incredible. I mean, THIS is the view from the stage. I become a better actor just by standing there.

Around the same time, casting for the first year show, Much Ado About Nothing, happened. Now, anyone who knows Much Ado can tell you that there are exactly two roles in that play that any Shakespearean actor wants on their resume, and they are Beatrice and Benedick. So when the cast list came out and I discovered that I’d been cast as Borachio, my first instinct was to look up the character because I had no idea who the fuck he was. Great. My first “official” school show and I got a shitty little part.

It turns out, whether by choice or happenstance that Borachio was exactly the character I needed to play at the time, because he was so far outside of my wheelhouse that I spent the entire process trying to figure out *how* to play him. That casting forced me to work a hell of a lot harder than I would have being cast as, essentially, myself. And so Catie learned a valuable lesson about judging the worth of a character based on line load.

I had fun with Borachio. By the end of the process, I sort of liked him. He morphed from a skulking, inherent villain to, basically, Jean Ralphio from Parks and Recreation. Most of the cast started calling me Jean Borachio. The day I “discovered” Borachio happened by total accident. I was really struggling and was in that sort of mood where I felt like everything I did sucked. Since the method of the process was a lot of “do it on your own”, I was getting little to no feedback and was really unsure of where I was going with the character. I had a meeting with one of the faculty directors, who told me that he wanted me to look at the New Romantics for character inspiration. At first, I was REALLY annoyed because it was directly opposite of EVERYTHING I had been working on with the character. All of the in-class viewpoints work and character exploration I had done was 180 degrees in the opposite direction, but fine. I went home and watched an Adam Ant concert from the 80’s.

The next day, almost as a joke, I put my hair into a huge, ridiculous 80’s pompadour. I was sitting in the theatre, waiting for rehearsal to start, when aforementioned faculty member came in and started cracking up. Apparently, I’d chosen correctly. So I had the look. Next came the Great Shoe Debacle. Borachio was a dude, and they wanted me playing him, as, you know. A dude. So with that came a pair of men’s dress shoes, which I had never worn before.

During the masked dance scene, we had a big, elaborate dance number that began with all of the dudes entering into the space. The first time we ran it on stage in costumes, I was a bit late on my entrance, so I ran in, tried to stop, and accidentally did a Risky Business slide through the door. For whatever reason, our other director noticed that particular moment, thought it was a choice, praised me for it, and in that moment, Borachio was born.

Snapshot_20150406A stupid hairdo and a slide morphed, almost suddenly, into a pretty decent character. We performed for One Night Only, and I remember being SHOCKED at how much laughter I got. I took risks, I made big choices, and I don’t think I sucked. Which is really unusual for me.

I was so proud of everyone in my class– the process to putting the show on was brutal, but we opened (and closed, I suppose) to a packed house and a standing ovation. It was a good feeling.

I also took a directing class and (I know you will all be shocked) used a scene from Titus Andronicus as my final project. If I could choose one moment from this first year of grad school to remember for the rest of my life, it would be the day that the co-founder of the American Shakespeare Center casually turned to me in class and deferred to me on a question about Titus Androncius. I’m not saying I’m obsessed, but I am saying that people understand me here.

I also started going to the gym on the regular. Okay, I will publicly admit (once), that I started doing Crossfit, but it turns out that it’s exactly what I needed. Turns out I love weight lifting, and the added bonus of it never being the same thing means that holds my interest. I haven’t exactly turned into a She-hulk yet, but making the commitment to trying to be more active and healthy at the time I did wound up being an incredibly good choice. And now I get to lift big giant weights with the Swolebros at the gym. I think at some point I might actually be good at it. I’m not sure. But I like it. That’s enough for now.

And life…went on, except instead of working at a casino in Iowa, I was in graduate school in Virginia. I drank a lot of coffee, stopped drinking coffee, and started drinking coffee again. I bought shelves and tried to organize my closet and got bored halfway through. The clothes are still on the floor. I bought poster frames like an adult and learned to sew a french hem. I bought way too much fabric and spent too much money.

I got a job doing overhire at the ASC in the costume shop, which was really wonderful, but also slightly disgusting since now Chris (who is, by the way, still around and just might be the love of my life), is still the propsmaster, so we became the propsmaster/costume shop couple, which is just too cute to be real life.

We watched a lot of Netflix, ate a lot of chicken, saw a lot of movies and I wrote some really terrible poems. I read a lot of Shakespeare, I performed a lot of Shakespeare– I fulfilled a dream I’ve had for a long time and got to play Mephistopheles in Faustus, which was awesome. (Oh, and I entered on a sardonic slow-clap, which might have been the best part of the whole thing). IMG_1842

That same evening, I also got to play a Rosie-the-Riveter-esque Maria from Twelfth Night, which was a separate challenge– I’d never gotten to be ‘funny’ before. But man, I loved that costume.

IMG_2116

And that was about it for my first year. The showcase was over, my classes were done, and I was, technically, a second year. There was a brief class that we had to help us gear up for writing our theses, which was bizzare, because suddenly it was real and Holy Shit I’m Writing a Thesis Now. I chose my topic, then changed my topic, then changed my topic back to the old topic and changed it again and changed it back the other way.
And now, I’m sitting by a lake in Minnesota. Last week I got to teach a stage combat workshop at a school for about 100 kids, on Tuesday I’m going to be doing the same thing, but this time, with the artistic director of the company. No pressure, right?
lake

Next semester, I’m taking an acting class with one of the best actors I’ve ever seen at the ASC, and two classes on early modern history. I’m writing my thesis on swords. Our apartment is covered in tudor gowns and broadswords and the walls are covered in comic books and movie posters.

Sometimes, I eat entire watermelons for lunch. I have amazing friends, some new, some who have known me for almost half of my life. Sometimes I forget to pay my phone bill until they send me an email. But most importantly, I still have moments where I pause and realize that I’m getting to do the thing I love most in the entire world. I may not ever be rich, or famous, but I am learning about the thing that holds my passion and working towards a career in that same field.

Being an adult is extraordinary.

 

 

 

Act 5: The Choice, A Risk, and the Alignment of the Stars (and What I’ve Learned).

Today marks exactly the one-year anniversary of the Birthday Party and the Boy with the Coat, and so it seems appropriate, if not ENTIRELY a little late to finish the story. It needed distance, I think, and a little time, before I started back in on things. But now, a year later, (and nine months since my last entry), the way it worked out– the way everything worked out– seems like it needed that time to fully comprehend.

And so, exactly one year to the day, I present to you the end of the story.

The Choice

So. Remember Nora and the Red Postcard? It’s been awhile, I’ll refresh you. On our impromptu tour of Staunton on the day of the birthday party, Nora gave me a red postcard that had the information for the MFA Shakespeare program on it. I tucked it in my purse and forgot about it for the rest of the day.

The next morning, when I got back to my office still hyped up on Squintibus and magic playhouse tours, I was digging around in my purse and found the postcard. I didn’t think much of it, but it served as a memento of the weekend and so I pinned it to my bulletin board along with my ticket stubs and it faded into the background.

The rest of the week went fairly innocuously. Chris and I continued to email back and forth– emails that were WAY too long, but we were still riding that wave of “did that really happen” in a way that I think has paved the way for the rest of our relationship.

Then Friday happened. Now, to contextualize this a bit, I was, at the time, working for a Fancy Casino as a salaried employee. I was the “Entertainment Manager”, which was a super sweet gig that basically meant I was in charge of all of the concerts and events at the casino, as well as a number of other duties that fell under my OTHER title as “Digital Technologies Manager”.

So that Friday, (on the night of a concert), we got called into the office and basically told that the entire department was fired due to “restructuring”, and that our six(once-salaried) positions were going to be replaced by 5 hourly positions. So, basically, we got told that one of us was going to lose our job, and those who kept their employment were getting demoted. Awesome.

The next two months were really weird. We were expected to keep coming into work and act like nothing was wrong while they “sorted out the situation”. The problem here was that because there was that one spot open, this weird Hunger Games morale came into play in a way that I really hated. I don’t want to go into specifics in the interest of tact and privacy, but there came a point where the level of “under the bussing” got so bad that I went back to my office and had a moment of “What do I do? I can’t stay here”….and I looked up and spotted Nora’s red postcard.

It was in that moment when I had a really douchey epiphany. I admit that it was douchey and also super idealistic, but I just remember sitting there and looking at my ticket stubs and Prenzie posters and seeing “Shakespeare” repeated over and over and over, and looking back at the postcard and thinking “I’m not happy here, and I KNOW what makes me happy, why the fuck am I not just GOING for this? ”

The Risk

So I did. I sent in my application that day (at work. TAKE THAT, THE MAN) and heard back from the lady who monitors the program almost immediately, telling me that Nora had mentioned I might be applying and that she was really excited to show me more about the program .

At that point, my life became a blur. So much happened so quickly– professors and friends stepped up to write me beautiful letters of recommendation. In January, I took the GRE and panicked because my score wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be. I continued panicking over whether or not I’d get cast at the ASC (spoiler, I didn’t. Memorize your sides, kids). Chris and I continued to email back and forth. He visited me. I surprized him on his birthday and visited him. I got accepted to grad school with a 50% scholarship.

The day I got the letter, I didn’t react much. My mom was mad, I think, that I didn’t do the whole “jump around and yell” thing. I just stood there and quietly smiled. Hard. For a long time. Eventually, we sat down and figured out how good the scholarship was and I because a lot less fearful about my imminent bankruptcy due to student loans, but suddenly, This Was Real in a way that I hadn’t really planned on.

The next day, I went into work and told them that I’d gotten accepted into Grad School. They were happy for me, but I also realized it caused a problem of whether or not they should keep me on until I left or whether I should just consider that my two weeks. I wasn’t surprised when they told me “thanks but no thanks” for my offer to stay on, and suddenly, I was unemployed. And it felt awesome.

The Alignment of the Stars

The realization, of course, that I was out of a job was a sort of scary one, but once again, the stars aligned in a way that I had never expected. I was bemoaning my plight with my wonderful friend Emily, who had just taken a big kid job of her own as a marketing director at the Great River Shakespeare Festival. She suggested I apply for an internship. So I did. And I got it.

Suddenly, my unemployment turned into “getting to work for a real life Shakespeare company”.

There was a month where I was supposed to work at a Renn faire making armor as an “educational artisan”, but they somehow wound up double-booking me or something, and that gig got cancelled shortly before I was due to start. It was disappointing, but I figured that it would work out better in the long run– plus, I wound up replacing THAT gig with a few smaller ones, so I suppose it works out. Those done, I was headed to the Shakespeare Festival.

The Great River Shakespeare Festival lives in this magical small town in Winona, Minnesota. It’s bordered on one side by bluffs, and there are two giant lakes. There are also chai lattes. That summer, I got to do a bunch of the educational design, and I also designed the t-shirts. I don’t know why I consider that such a point of pride, but there you go.

It was my first summerstock, and so I made a lot of mistakes, namely mistakes fueled by $2.50 Long Islands and the excitement of being around “real actors”. I got upset and frustrated and sometimes lazy and occasionally bored and spent all my money and it was WONDERFUL.  I was living in a tiny dorm room out of hockey bags, and for the first time, in a really, really long time, I just felt….right. I felt like I was finally getting to be myself–that I didn’t have to worry about offending the delicate sensibilities of my co-worker by talking about theatre and I could get REALLY EXCITED ABOUT SHAKESPEARE and no one would mind. I bought a bike and crashed it on the first day. I still have a heart-shaped scar on my knee and was on crutches for a week after I decided to start running.

I met some extraordinary people, especially the girls who I got to work with in the box office. They introduced me to Chai Lattes and the phrase “salty” and feminism and were an example of meeting the right people at the right time. I was terrified that everything was going to come crashing down around me at any minute, but there they were, having the time of their lives, and maybe it would be okay if I got to go along. Beautiful people in a beautiful town. Emily became my saving grace and sanity-provider in the center of our hectic, crazy office, and I realized how grateful I am to have friendships like hers in my life. Quiet, not always present, but suddenly a life-changing offer or just a hug when I needed it, and it was just because she believed that I was more capable than I even thought I was. Turns out, I don’t actually suck as much as I thought I did.

I also somehow managed to find an amazing apartment in Virginia while I was living in a dorm room in Minnesota. Chris gets most of the credit, as well as the copy machine at GRSF, but signing my lease made me feel….competent. Like maybe it was going to work out. I came home for a week and a half after summerstock ended but before classes were going to start and had one last hurrah with my friends.

That was hard. Like, really hard. I remember sitting at the Blue Cat and realizing that this could very well be the last time I see some of these people for at least three years. My world was shifting. I came home and cried and cried and wondered if I was doing the right thing, if leaving everything behind to study something as silly as Shakespeare was worth it, losing the life that I had known for so long, but I think, even then, I knew that I needed to get out, at least for awhile. Things were The Same in the Quad Cities, and it wasn’t what I needed.

And so I packed up a giant moving truck, attached my car, learned how to drive a box truck through the mountains at night with a trailer without dying and made it to Virginia in what seemed like both 3 days and three years after I’d made my decision to do this.

Moving sucks, especially with your mother in a tiny moving van cabin for 17 hours, but I was also grateful for the time I got to spend with her– we spent most of our trip through the mountains debating sex and religion, and I feel like I know my mom a little bit better now, and I can at least say that she’s heard the entirety of the Book of Mormon soundtrack.

And then, suddenly, everything was loaded off of the truck (thanks, Chris’s family) and I was…here. I had a key and an address and books were arriving in the mail for classes, and then classes started and now I’m here.

Grad School is weird. I mean, it’s awesome, but it’s weird. I feel like I could spend the next three years blogging every day about what happened and what we did and what Shakespeare we studied, or I could just write “We talked about Shakespeare” and it’d be, essentially, the same thing. Sometimes, it’s just hard to find the words.

What I’ve Learned

Today has been strange. I walked to the coffee shop (home of the vanilla lattes in the world) and overpaid for my delicious cup of goodness, and turned to see Patrick sitting and working on some stuff– at the EXACT same table I met him at a year ago.

In a little less than an hour, I’m going to go perform in two directing showcase scenes on stage at the Blackfriar’s. My sacred space has become my classroom. Later this week, I’m going to sign up to be reviewed as a tour guide there as well. My midnight tour has become my day job. Tonight, Chris and I are going to celebrate a bit. The boy in the stupid coat has become the boy I come home to. The Shakespearean Asguardians have become friends with names and the town that I didn’t want to leave has become the town that I live in. The thing that I wanted to do most in the world is the thing I get to do everyday.

I have learned that sometimes, out of disappointment comes new choices you never even imagined. I’ve learned that out of fear of the unknown can come the strongest happiness you’ve ever felt. Out of hard choices can come the knowledge that you’ve made the right one. Out of loss and anger at what you thought your life was going to be can come a discovery that maybe your life was never headed in that direction anyway.

Most importantly, I’ve learned that if you spend every day waiting for everything to fall apart, for everything to disappear and for the other shoe to drop, you might miss the most obvious thing of all- that there is no other shoe, and that maybe this wonderful, extraordinary, beautiful, crazy unpredictable life is just the one that I get to live.

It’s been a really, really good year.

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).