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.

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I. Hurt. Everywhere.

Rehearsals for Titus Andronicus are going really, really well. I think. It’s hard to tell, honestly. I have been living with this show for nearly a year and a half now, so, as Jake pointed out to me a few days ago “You know, we really haven’t been rehearsing THAT LONG”. It feels like forever, in the best way possible.

Last night we worked out the rape scene, and it was…something. Our absolutely brililant fight master, Denise, was really great and really made sure that everyone understood what was going on and was the most awesome about answering questions and hearing ideas.

It is very interesting being “victimized” by good friends. While in my head, I know that it’s all prentend and at the end of the night I’m going to go have a drink with my “rapists”, there is still something deeply unsettling about being thrown and grabbed and made powerless, especially because there are moments where I really CAN’T fight back, even if I wanted to, and that is such a powerful experience to have happen during this moment of absolute frustration for my character. I’m a strong person– and so much of the fight is being choreographed to make me seem as weak as possible, because having the audience thinking “wow, Lavinia could kick thier asses” isn’t condusive to the scene much, so it’s been awesome having people I can trust being the ones tossing me about.

We also worked “Titus feeding Lavinia” last night, and that was…awful. We’re using oatmeal (because it’s delicious and I don’t understand anyone who say it isn’t), and holy gods did it make a huge mess. I’m a very persnickity eater, and having Aaron physically hold me down and spoon food into my mouth was so humiliating and demoralizing, in a weird way, it was really wonderful to get to experience that, especially because we are using that scene as the basis for how Lavinia survives for so long, and the truth is horrible to witness. Aaron, across the board, has been absolutely incredible to work with. I don’t know many other actors who would think to text me after rehearsal to make sure I was okay, especially, because really, last night I wasn’t.

This show is a weird beast. On one hand, it’s this absolutely fabulous role with all sort of dramatic interest and human emotion, but it’s also so dark and painful and just agonizing– once I’m in a show, I have a hard time separating my character and my personal life, and I think this is a role I need to be able to leave at the door and walk away from, just for the purposes of my own sanity. I’m always a bit shaken up after rehearsal, especially on the “rape scene” nights, because there is just so much to handle, the level of loss and pain and sorrow, but I also don’t want to be the bitchy actress complaining about it the whole time.

We’ve been working blocking for the most part and haven’t really delved too deeply (at least on my stuff) on acting, which I think is okay. It’s much more difficult to act when you’re worried about remembering where to stand, but I think my biggest concern is for the rape scene and the scenes immediately following.

The show is set up terribly– well, at least for poor Titus. My character gets raped, comes back mutilated beyond recognition, is found by her uncle (aunt in our production) and taken to her father. MEANWHILE, while all of this awful stuff is happening to me, Titus witnesses his two sons being accused of murder, his eldest son is banished from Rome and then I show up, so he has to deal with me, and then wait, there’s more! I can’t imagine the acting challenge that Aaron has to deal with.

We’re working that scene on Thursday, so my personal goal is to try and really access the emotion inherent in the scene. We’re re-blocking it (self-admittedly, I have become distracting in my hand-less gorey glory), so more of the focus can be on the action in the scene. However, I begged Jake to keep the part where Titus comes and comforts me– that is such a powerful, special moment. It is not often that anyone treats me like a child, and Aaron, just as a person, is so big and powerful and mighty, but in that moment, he’s so gentle and just so broken at the sight of his daughter, it’s really moving.

I’m also, god damn it, going to fucking cry. I don’t know what it is about crying on stage. I can weep and weep and weep at home on my own, but the minute I step into the space, it’s like my tear ducts shrivel up and die. I’ve been doing some work on how to approach it, and I think, basically, I am just going to sit there until I cry. I don’t know how long it’s going to take, but I think it’s more mental than physical at this point. I’m an ugly crier, too, so poor, poor Lavinia just won’t have anything going for her.

I am already projecting major post-show depression. This is one character that I care so much and so deeply about, I think it’s going to be really strange walking away from Lavinia and living my normal everyday life (without having to search for horrible, awful things on the internet nightly), but I kind of think it’s cathartic to be able to just hit those absolute low points and be there for awhile, and then shake it off and have friends give you hugs and go for french fries.

Because you can’t eat french fries with bloody stumps.