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.

 

 

 

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Act 4: A Birthday Party

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

I’m really not.

Act 4: A Birthday Party.

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

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

This becomes incredibly important later on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Really, really important.

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

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

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

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

11:00 pm.

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

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

“Do…do you want to see the armory?”

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

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

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

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

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

Midnight.

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

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

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

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

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

It meant so much to me.

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

1:00 AM.

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

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

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

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

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

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

2:00 AM

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

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

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

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

2:30AM

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

Fuck.

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

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

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

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

2:45 AM

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

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

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

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

3:00 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4:45 PM:

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

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

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

The Next Bit (Act 3)

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

Act 3 Part 1:

Backstory,  Journey and Half of a Story

The Backstory:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Journey:

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

The Story:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fuck me, I was THAT kid now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was over.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was that kind of day.

Story Part 2:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wanted to do this.

———————

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

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

A Return in Five Acts

You may have noticed that I disappeared for awhile.

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

Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So… Me?

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

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

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

Act 2. Loss, Armor and Shakespeare.

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

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

I didn’t hear anything.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so I began to pick up the pieces.

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

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

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

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

Two Gents was a learning experience for me.

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

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

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

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

Crossroads.

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

I’ve missed you.

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.

Being Disappointing

I like to think that I’m a pretty good friend.

Not a perfect friend, not always, but I like to think that for the people I genuinely care about, I am a good friend to them.

And now, I’m going to be a director.

I’ve been a director before, for different people and for different groups, but usually (with the exception of Complete Works), I’ve either hand-picked my actors or had my actors thrust upon me. Either way, I’ve never really had to make waves. Even with Complete Works, I had a few people I couldn’t find spots for, which sucked, and I felt bad, but most of the people whom I couldn’t find spots for were “theatre friends”, good friends, people who I would like to get to know better eve, but they were not “people to whom I have bared my soul to” friends.

And now, I’m going to be directing Antigone.

The problem, you see, with Antigone, is that there is only one Antigone. There’s only one of…well, everyone. And that’s it. Ten parts, ten people, that’s it, that’s all I get. I literally thought about casting 2 Antigones, or two Creons, or splitting up the Chorus, but then I realized– none of that was serving the play or my dramatic vision, it was serving my desperate need for everyone to like me, all the time.

It’s daunting and humbling, all at the same time. Next week I will be sitting at a table and listening to some of my best friends in the entire world read for my show, offering me their time and talents and supporting me, telling me that “I want to be here, I want a place in this show”, which is a HUGE gift to me, a really meaningful  gift, and I am going to have to tell some of them that “Sorry, I don’t have a place for you”.

That sucks.

It especially sucks because quite a few of my friends, as my friends, in honest conversation,  have told me honestly what roles they are interested in…and many of them want the SAME role. And a lot of them have wanted the role they’ve wanted for a long, long time. I’m going to have to choose between them, all talented, beautiful, fantastic people, and I’m going to have to let some of them down. And that sucks.

I wear many hats. I am “Director” Catie, I am “Friend” Catie, I am “Girlfriend” Catie, I am “family member” Catie…and in all of these roles and in all of these situations, I am good at delineating– at face value.  I have always been really good at shutting down personal feelings and conflict in order to get the best show possible, and that’s what I plan on doing. But I also have a guilt complex– about everything. I have talked before about being a serial apologiser, and in this case, I know that I don’t have to apologize for anything– I’m not doing anything wrong, or offensive, I’m just—casting. But I still feel bad, and auditions haven’t even happened yet.

I am so amazingly, fantastically excited for this show. I have a ton of (what I think are) really good ideas, and I have (what I think is) a really neat vision of what this show can be– but I’m still dreading having to call 25 people to tell them “sorry, friend, but you didn’t make the cut”.

What’s weird is that for the first time, I’m going to be doing a show where more people are going to have to meet “director” Catie. And I’m nervous.

I’m not scared about directing the show– I am a damn fine director. I’m not perfect, but I know how to do a good job and to do things well. What has me thinking about this is that today I realized that for some of my friends, some of the people I care about most in the world, the only time they are going to meet “director Catie” is going to be when I call them to tell them that they didn’t get the part they want. Because eventually, no matter how long I put it off, I’m going to have to choose. And then, that will be it.

And I know. I know it’s the nature of theatre and how the system works and all of that, because that’s– well, it’s just how it is. But I’ve been on the other end of that. I know how much it sucks to be told “You were good—just not good enough”. I know what it’s like to lay awake wondering what you could have done better, where you messed up, or why God just didn’t make you 8 inches taller and a leggy blonde. It happens to actors, it’s a part of theatre, but it’s still a shitty feeling.

I have no idea how auditions are going to go next week, and I am SUPER excited to see what people bring to the table.  I’m excited to be able to work with the people I DO get to cast, to welcome them into my little world, to share my ideas and vision and to hear theirs, and build a show together—

I’m just not excited to disappoint anyone.

The Possibilities of Cymbeline, or how a box and a sheet changed my life.

I just realized I never updated about our impromptu roadtrip last week. I knew you were all worried.

Last year, I went to New York on a whim with my mom. Standing in line at the TKTX booth, we were arguing over what to go see, and I noticed that there was a single Shakespeare listed on the “plays” side of the board: some random theatre company was doing Cymbeline.

I talked her into it under the promise that I would go see Mary Poppins the next night. The deal made, we set off for Greenwich Village, to the Barrow Street Theatre where my life would change completely in an evening.  Alright, maybe my life didn’t change, but my opinion on the possibilities of theatrical convention were entirely shifted.

I thought that I had written about this before. Frankly, I’m surprised I haven’t, but then I realized, I’m glad that I hadn’t because it took my third viewing of the show last week for what it was about the show to really get to me.

(We’ll get to the 3rd time in a minute).

I often say “the best thing ever” and “it was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen”. Here, please note that I really do mean that quite literally, without a hint of my usual sarcasm and/or hyperbole.

Hands down, the Fiasco Theatre’s production of Cymbeline was the best show I have ever seen. Ever.

I have turned into a Fan Girl over this company, and it is a little bit embarrassing. Okay, a lot embarrassing because I’m not the “I get super excited” kid. I’m the “yeah, it was pretty cool I guess” kid. I don’t run out of theatres going “ohmygodohmygod”, I coolly amble out of theatres going “I can’t believe she didn’t announciate the third troche”. (Okay, I’ve never said that in my life, but you get the idea).  Like, I sent them an email. A GUSHY email.

Anyway, so the show, the first time, was kind of a haze of magical amazingness.

Frankly, I don’t remember much about that actual viewing aside from the sheer joy I felt afterwards. That over-arching “holy shit, I can’t believe I got to see THAT happen just witnessed something magic” theatre joy that renders you an addict and keeps high school kids doing drama even after their parents stop patronizing them. That magic. You remember. The first time you saw something that “clicked” and you said “that. that is what I want to do”. That was the moment I had, again. Only it was better, because instead of being excited that people were clapping for me, I was happy for the actors. I was clapping because they got to do this, because they got to see this vision realized, because I got to be there for it.  I was happy that this got to exist.

I can’t imagine how hard it must be to put on a show in new work. I have friends who are playwrights, I’ve written plays of my own, but in New York, especially, where it seems like big flashy musicals are the focus— here was a troupe of 7 performing a 300 year old play with a bedsheet and a wooden box. I loved them for that.

When my mom asked me if I wanted to go back to New York, I had one caviat– that we go see the 2nd to last performance of Cymbeline again. I wanted to re-asses. See if maybe those sneaky actors hadn’t just impressed me with their costume design and their staging but secretly sucked.

Nope.

The 2nd time I took notes. Not like, douchey high school kid doing a report notes, but mental notes. The verse work. The simplicity. Oh, the simplicity. (We’ll get to that in a second, too).  Everything was still amazing. Sure, that particular evening had some snafus, but that made it better for me– see, real people!

It’s ridiculous, even now, because I’m trying to write a fair and balanced account, but I can’t, because I just want to gush all over this blog about OH MY GOD THE BOX and OH MY GOD THE SONGS and well…just…oh my god, right?

So it happened through a series of events that I found out that Fiasco was going to be performing Cymbeline in San Diego. I was bummed, because it was so very far away, but then I realized that on their way out there, they were going to be stopping in Milwaukee.

Holy shit, bro.

I can’t talk about this play as an actor. I can’t because I get far too excited and derpy about the ridiculous attention to detail to in anyway convey that I am a mature, trained Shakesperean actress with actual experience and technique under my belt. I can’t figure it out. I can watch goddamn Captain Picard play Macbeth and be like “yeah that’s pretty cool I guess”, but watching 7 random strangers performing Cymbeline renders me physically incapable of using any terms more complicated than “ZOMG ITS LIKE SO GOOD”.

Anyway, so I convinced a group of friends to tag along, most specifically Jake, which was awesome, because after months of listening to me yap about the show, he finally got to see it for himself.

It timed out perfectly, too– our one night off of rehearsal was the night they would be in Milwaukee, so at 3 that afternoon, we began the trek down. (It is here that I would mention that driving to Canada to see Titus still ranks as the most ridiculous of roadtrips, but the there-and-back nature of this trip made it pretty epic as well).

And…there it was. (Mostly) just like I remembered it, save for the details in the house of the theatre and two replacement actors (who I thought did really well, except that a have a small crush on one of the original actors…and his ukulele).  Anyway, it was the show I remembered with the added thrill of getting to look over at Jake and my other friends during the bits of Particularly Outstanding Awesome and seeing their faces. And then regretting taking them because they’d know that I totally ripped off my brilliant directing ideas. Damn. I guess I’ll have to come up with my own.

Still wonderful, still fantastically simple, still seamless, still brilliant.

The next day, I went back to rehearsal and someone asked me why I seemed so bothered, and I couldn’t put my finger on it, until someone else asked me how the show had been.

Then I figured it out.

What I love about Fiasco’s Cymbeline is that for me, personally, it’s a challenge.

How do you take a small group of actors and produce something extraordinary? You do it with a bed sheet and a box that becomes ALL THE SETS. You do it with music, with sets, with costumes. Right now you’re like, duh, Catie, that’s what a show is—but it’s more than that.

It’s the vision. It’s the simplicity of meaningful words produced in a meaningful way. It’s why I am so excited for Antigone this spring. It’s because I have that chance. I have limitless possibilities to create that magic. It’s not about a complicated set and a bazillion flashy costumes or set pieces or props.

It’s about the words and the action and the seamless blending of the two into something bigger than the elements and the actors themselves. I would kill for an opportunity to work with Fiasco on a show like that, to experience that sort of intense process in creating an altogether seamless show, but I know that is a pipe dream more than something that could ever come to fruition (but if you’re ever looking for a Lavinia, Fiasco…you know who to call.)

What is not, impossible, however, is bringing that aesthetic, that drive, that passion home with me.

I am challenging myself to walk out of the theatre feeling like I did the first time I saw Cymbeline. Granted, Antigone is a tragedy and Cymbeline has a wacky, plot-twist filled happy ending, but I believe at the core, it’s not about the subject matter. It’s about the passion and the knowledge that a wooden box and a bed sheet can create an entire world.

And I want to create it.

Fiasco Theatre <—-clicky link.