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.

Advertisements

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/

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.

So You Need Bloody Stumps. (A Tutorial)

Quite a few people have asked me how we did the special effects make-up for Titus, more specifically, the severed hand effects that Lavinia wears during the latter part of Act 2 and into Act 3.

When I started looking for ways/solutions on what to do, I was kind of surprised at the lack of tutorials online. We even went so far as to call a couple of special effects companies to see if they knew of anywhere that we could buy something to use and they were stumped. HA. I emailed a couple Shakespeare theatres that had done Titus before, and most of them said that they just sort of wrapped Lavinia’s hands in bandages and called it a day.

That solution obviously worked well for their productions, but because we made the decision that Lavinia’s stumps had probably been cauterized, it presented a whole other set of problems regarding the look, feel (and yes, smell), of the stumps.

Basically, it came down to “I guess we’re just going to have to come up with something”…and this is what I came up with one night at 1AM.

So here, presented for your enjoyment and gratification, is

“So You Need Bloody Stumps”
A Guide To Doing It for 20 Dollars or Less
(Depending On What You Have Around the House)

image

Step One: Procure the following: Knee-high nylon stockings. masking tape, plain, basic Gelatine (you can get this in any grocery store by the Jello) . I forgot to take a picture of red and black food coloring, but you need that, too.  You can get it either at the grocery store OR your local craft store like Hobby Lobby or Michael’s Crafts. Just ask them where the Wilson Baking Section is.  Oh, and you’ll need scissors.

image

Step 2: Figure out how you want your hand to sit in the “stumps”. If you make a fist, make sure your thumb is on the OUTSIDE otherwise your hand will fall asleep halfway through the show and it’s uncomfortable. One of the biggest challenges to doing this (for me) is that I have GIANT HANDS, so it took some experimenting to figure out what the best “fist position” was. Once you’ve got the basic idea, put a nylon stocking over your fist.

image
Step 3: Start tearing off strips of masking tape and put them over your hand. You’re basically building a masking-tape “cast” that will cover up your hand, so use the tape liberally. Make sure you wrap it tight enough around your wrist that you can’t bend them.

image

Step 4: Once you’ve got your tape all wrapped, it should look something like this. To make the stumps more comfortable, I advise hot-gluing some gauze or cotton around the edges.

image

Step 5: Carefully, and I mean it, CAREFULLY, cut through the tape  and the nylon stocking vertically to create the opening that you will slide your fist into (heh). I found the best place to cut to is the middle line of your palm when you make a fist.

image

Step 6: Once you’ve got the tape cast off of you, take some time to fix up any edges and to hot glue material on parts that may rub your skin later on. I also added a layer of gauze on top to give the gelatine something to hold on to and the final product more texture. I recommend doing this on the top at least, but if you have time, glue a layer of gauze or cotton to the top of the tape– I found out the hard way that food coloring never really dries on masking tape, so if you cover the tape, the food coloring will have something to adhere to and also dry on, instead of rubbing off on your hands.

Step 7: The Fun Part.

Start by finding something to stick your stumps on so they are facing “stump up”. I used pint glasses, and that worked really well. Start by giving the gauze a healthy coat of red food coloring. You can do with with a paint brush or even damp rag– I used an old barbecue brush and it worked fine. All you want to do is put enough color on the white that it won’t show through underneath.

image

Then make the gelatine according to the directions on the box. I didn’t document this. If you can’t figure out how to make  gelatine, consider not doing Shakespeare.

Once the gelatine is ready, mix in a healthy amount of black food coloring and start spreading the gelatine onto the top of your “stump”.  As the gelatine dries, you will be able to make a more textured, grody burned look to it. (If you want your stumps more bloody than burned, then simply opt for red food coloring in the gelatine instead of black).

image

Step 8: Once you’ve got your stumps the appropriate amount of bloody/burned to your liking, sit them down and let them dry for awhile. Above are the first proto-stumps that I made for the show.

image

Step 9: Lastly, get some ACE bandage (or even just strips of fabric) and hot glue an edge as close to the split you cut earlier as you can. When you wrap the bandages around your stumps to put them on, make sure you pull them tight enough that the split closes. That way, your wrists should be immobilized and they will look more “legit”. If you’re still having trouble not bending your wrists, grab a couple of popsicle sticks and stick them in there before you wrap the bandages.

image

Remember to paint/dye/stage blood-up your bandages to make them match the stumps.

Step 10: Lavinia Out.

Processing Blessings

I think at this point we can all agree I have a pretty good track record of strange and odd things happening to me.

However.
Today was a day that started normal and has ended with me writing this on my phone in a desperate attempt to process WTF just happened today.

So. Went to work, left early as I was headed to Chicago for my awesome Uncle Tim’s wedding. Worked on some monologes and stuff in the car, put together a few ideas for Complete Works, ate French fries, whatever.

So then I get a phone call from a number I don’t recognize. I answer. The conversation goes something like this:

Me: Hello?
Phone: Hi, is this Catie?
Me: Yes?
Phone: Hi, this is Geneva Shakespeare, you had submitted your resume and head shot to us awhile ago?
Me: Oh, yeah, that was me!
Phone: I’m calling because I am looking for a Laertes for our non-gender specific production of Hamlet, and you’ve got a really impressive resume-  I see that you’ve already got experience with the show, would you be able to come in and discuss it further with us?
Me: …..beuhsjakdhavdjHa say wha?

So…we talked. A lot. And while it doesn’t look like I’m going to be able to accept the role because of financial reasons/I can’t move to Geneva a month before I’m supposed to direct a show…that still happened. Someone called and wanted me.

Not only that but it looks like they are excited to talk about working together with Prenzie to do a Shakespeare festival or something, which could lead to bigger and more awesome things for both of our companies. Who knows. It might happen, it might not, but out of nowhere to get a call that could change so much is neat.

Then I checked my email. “One new comment on your blog!”
said the cheery email notification.”Well I wonder who commented”, said I.

Click.

Oh, no big deal. Another guy who is directing Titus had a comment.

Click.

Oh, he’s directing Titus for the second time, that’s neat. He must be a fan.

Click.

Oh. He’s directing Titus. At the World Shakespeare Fest.

……fuck.me.

Now, I understand that the internet is a magical place where 24 year old idiots can be found by people directing Shakespeare at World Shakespeare Festivals. I know that. It’s the magic of Google. But still, you guys.

Seriously?

So, I obviously did the mature and reasonable thing and wrote him a cordial note congratulating him on his sucess and went in with my day.

Just kidding, I cried.

Well, I sent him an email and THEN cried, but it may or may not have included a “in case you need me” section.

Absolutely dumb and ridiculous. I know. But.

Here’s why I did it, as silly and juvenile as it may have been.

I’m not a hippie. I don’t really believe in fate or destiny or whatever. I just believe in working hard and doing what you love and I firmly believe that if you do that, eventually, the fates I don’t believe in will align and good things will happen.

Recently, I have realized that my heart feels weird. I feel torn between these two ideals that I have for myself, that of staying in the QC, establishing myself and being awesome here at home. There is another part of me, however, that is desperate to get out and move and do all the things I’ve been talking about doing for so long. Auditioning. Writing. Whatever.

I’m happy in the QC, don’t get me wrong. But then some guy directing a show at the goddamn World Shakespeare Fest emails me out of the blue and suddenly I’m reminded of how much there is out there and how badly I want to be a part of it.

Do I think I’m going to get a call tomorrow saying that “our Lavinia broke her leg and you, Catie, actress from the Quad Cities whom I’ve never met- you- you are the ONLY one that can fly to England and save our show”?

No, that’s ridiculous. (Okay. Maybe a little bit).

And I think I cried because, in some weird and totally lame way, I’m just….happy for that guy and his cast. I can’t imagine what that must be like, preparing to take your vision and your characters onto an international stage, doing it because you absolutely love it? It’s awe-inspiring just to think about.

His blog is also pretty sweet if you want to check it out.

http://titus2012.wordpress.com/

But things are happening. I can feel it. I have realized that I’m not content to be content NOT doing what I love because it’s easy to excuse as a pipe dream and this is something I have to do. Most of the things I do come easy. It’s always been like that. Acting? Acting is work. Hot, stressful, sweaty, back-breaking, arm bruising, soul expanding heart wrenching work.

And goddamn. Do I fucking love it.

So, I dunno. That’s it, really. I think I just made my choice. I think….I’m going to have to try this.

So, thanks, random strangers.
I appreciate the help.