Saturday, March 16, 2013

SXSMe

This is my first year as an Austin resident for SXSW. I could have bought a resident wristband at a deep discount - but I didn't this year.  But this annual event is still changing my life.

Today I stood in a parking lot outside a record store (you heard me. a record store. yes, they still exist. we're keeping them safe here in Austin for the rest of you) and heard - for free - some incredible musicians.  Frightened Rabbit (they're Scottish - of course I love them), Richard Thompson, Billy Bragg - all for free. 

Every meal I ate today was taco-based.

The weather was perfect, even if my pasty-ass self got a serious sunburn today (whatever Walgreens - your SPF 70 sunscreen is a joke).

Everyone who's visiting for the first time seems to be falling quickly and raucously in love with a city that's been my home since August, and ironically it's taking me being in the middle of them to realize what a gift I've been given.

You're right guys - breakfast tacos are incredible. I don't know why no one else thought of them.  And we are the live music capital of the world - I've been hearing great live music coming from literally everywhere the past week. And it makes the air vibrate in a new way, and I wonder how much of this week is infused in the architecture and will emerge to carry us through the triple digit temperatures that are literally only around the corner.  

I feel like I've started to really breathe this place in during these past few days.  Part of this is that I think it just takes me a (possibly unreasonably) long time to really adjust to and settle in somewhere new.  But I think part of it is the infectious energy that's here this week, reminding me what might be possible when a large group of people (a really effing large group) come together to celebrate art they love.  

I get to live here for at least the next two years.  And I suspect it just might be as magical a place as I was led to believe it would be.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

grad school is where the magic happens. right?

Things I think will magically happen when I begin grad school/move to Texas in less than one month include (but are not limited to) the following:

1. I will become a vegetarian.
2. I will enjoy exercise - and participate in it often.  Specifically, I will become both an avid swimmer and runner. I should probably buy some shoes, right?
3. All the vice-like focus I am convinced I had as an undergraduate will magically re-appear.
4. I will have the capacity to joyfully read and retain vast quantities of information at a sprinting pace.
5. I will have reasonable expectations of myself and others.
6. I will say awesome things on the internet all the time.

Don't worry, guys. I got this.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How To Begin Again. Again.

For the past five years, the idea of renewal has lived at the front of my awareness.  Until last month, I was the artistic director of a theatre company in Chicago made up of and privileged to work with the boldest, smartest, most passionate and compassionate artists that I have ever known.  Here's the sign out front of our space for last play we did together.
Nick put up the sign. I took this picture while he did.

At New Leaf, we always said that the path to renewal was rarely the path of least resistance.  We put it in all the grants - renewal does not guarantee a happy ending; rather it offers the possibility of a new beginning.  Sometimes you have to go through a dark tunnel - a sleepless night, an impossible challenge, a test, a gauntlet - to find the light.

I can't call the ending of New Leaf happy.  Even though I am as proud of Arcadia as I have ever been of anything. Even though it feels like that production was exactly what we meant and exactly how I hoped we'd make that play.  Even though that production feels like the best I can do with the skills I have now.  Even though lots of people have said really nice things about it.  I would call this a successful ending, but I was - and am - far from happy about it.  I already miss those people. A lot. And I'm about to miss them even more.

In about a month, I'm going to put everything I own in a truck and drive that truck to Austin, Texas.  I will put all of the things I put in the truck into an apartment I have never seen.  Three days later, I will start orientation, and nine days after that, I will begin classes and the official pursuit of my MFA.  This is something I've wanted to do for a very long time.

But renewal - the possibility for a new beginning - is really hard.  It's awesome and exciting, going off into the unknown with a truck full of stuff and three cats and an inexplicably game for whatever comes next boyfriend.  That's all awesome.  But there's also walking out of the LPCC with a box of props for the last time.  There's pulling old show photos off the wall.  There's the image of our brilliant lighting designer on a naked stage.

There's packing.  There's saying goodbye to the people here I think of as family. There's the last train ride across the bridge into the Loop - you know that view, right? When the sun makes the river and the buildings and the whole city shimmer?  Yeah. That one. For the last time. That's coming.  And all of that has to come before the renewal really starts.  It's part of the package.

I can't wait to go to Texas.  I can't bear to leave Chicago.  I can't wait to work with new collaborators, learn new methods, establish new partnerships.  I can't bear the thought of not being in the rehearsal room with Nick, Jared, Michelle, Marni, Eleanor, and Marsha again.  I am so excited to put all my things in my new apartment.  I hate packing. So much. I will watch nine episodes of How I Met Your Mother IN A ROW to avoid packing. I did it last weekend.

So, the thing we never put in the grants about renewal: I think this is all part of it.  It's not just about going through the darkness until you find the light.  It's also about holding all these contradictions at the same time.  It's about being afraid of what you're leaving and being excited about what you're going to.

I recently saw a friend from middle school who was lovely enough to fly to Chicago from Washington DC to see Arcadia (can you believe that? I couldn't either. but he's lovely. and he did that).  Like me, he was an Air Force kid and like me he moved around. A lot. And he articulated something that I have been circling around for years.  In the pre-internet days of our continual placement and displacement, keeping in contact with our friends was most often an exercise in best intentions that became subsumed in the necessary re-orientation of our new place.  I think he and I sent each other maybe two letters once we both left California.  And we were really good pals.  But, the thing he articulated was that once we moved, it was like everything that happened in the old place was deleted, written over by new social orders, new rules of the road for the new environment.  Connecting with him again, having a beer and talking about middle school, we both remember flashes - different ones - of moments that built, in various ways, the people we are today.  But it's all misty.  And not just because it was longer ago than I think either of us care to mention.


Renewal demands we make space for it.  This new adventure is demanding I make space for it.  The end of New Leaf makes space in each of the ensemble's lives and in the Chicago theatre community for the next adventure.   But here's the thing I'm trying to grapple with - maybe we can make space without deleting.  There's the internet.  There's an archive of New Leaf's work.  There are airplanes.  There's Skype and blogs and phones. And just like we baked the shows at New Leaf into the oak-panelled walls during rehearsal, that thirst for renewal and the value of collaboration and the love I have for the artists I learned from is baked into who I am as a director and as a person.  I don't think I could delete those things, even if I wanted to.  


The first thing I will learn in graduate school is something I have learned before and something I will be learning forever.  How to begin again.  Again.



Wednesday, September 14, 2011

glimpses / fascinations

Every day it seems I encounter a new word, concept, idea, or possibility that fascinates me.  I want to dig into all of them and roll around in their ideas, innovations, vocabulary, theories, and theses.  These ideas flag me down from inside the field of work and play I currently call my own, from right next door to it, from across the street, down the block.  Some of the ones that have triggered rabbit holes of Googling-based digression lately include:

people called Cultural Geographers

Michel Foucault

solipsism - it's meaning and its application

arts education as a civil right

cognitive science

theories of emotion

reason vs. feeling

people who can write really good personal mission statements

hip hop culture and its righteous anger

the complexity and miraculousness of pretending to be a tiger (David Brooks, you're my new favorite)

I want to learn everything about everything all the time.  Today, so that I can get back to writing this syllabus?  I'm just going to make a list.

Do other people ever have to just make a list of everything that's fascinating so that you can focus on just one of the fascinating things?  If you've happened over here - what's your list?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

because fretting isn't productive

My boyfriend is a smart cookie. Like, one of the smartest cookies I know. Even though sometimes he pretends to be a garden variety smarty pants he's actually brilliant. Don't tell him I said that. It'll go straight to his head the way donuts go to my ass. If he asks, just confirm his fallacious belief that he's lucky to have me.

So, I was fretting last night about my lack of focus, the way time seems to slip through my fingers. I've been fretting about this to my shrink, too. And fretting about fretting and then continuing to fret because now I've spent all this time fretting about fretting.

Where was I? Right. Fretting. So, Boyfriend suggests last night "Well, why don't you take 15 minutes everyday and blog about the things that caught your attention that day that you didn't have time to investigate further." I nodded and smiled and then remembered - just now in fact - Hey. I have a blog. I've had a blog for a while, and it's once in a blue moon that I use that sucker.
And then I remembered the name of the blog - with gratitude to Auntie Anne. The thing about the violence inherent in articulation is that it's a definite action. It's, in fact, the opposite of fretting. Or worrying. Or distracting yourself by looking at bikes on Craig's List. Or fantasizing about bigger apartments (you can't afford) or cars (that you REALLY can't afford).

There's a peace that comes in articulation. There's a support that comes from the universe as a reward for choice. Sometimes choice - any choice at all - is the right answer if the alternative is worry and fret and inaction and wasting this precious time that we're given looking at things you can't afford.

So. Here are the things that caught my attention today. Things I would like to investigate more fully:

Avoidance - something I hate yet something I've been cultivating in myself without really noticing that's what I was doing. Avoidance and waiting and refreshing the email and waiting for answers to questions I need to answer myself and action I need to take regardless of who is or isn't with me.

Fear - so much fear. All around. All the time. I want my art to be fearless. I want it to run and expand and get things wrong so it can get other things right. I want it to be as specific and driven as the art of the people I admire. I want to be as specific and driven as the people I admire. It's not. I'm not. Not yet.

Modes of transportation and wanderlust: blame it on my Air Force Brat roots - if I'm faced with fight or flight, I want to fly. I always want to fly. And what I really need is a little more fight. I don't need a car. I need to get rid of my credit card debt. I like the idea of having a bike. I like the idea of renting a car and driving driving driving driving.

Work before Play: I am the worst setter of deadlines and I am simultaneously the most lenient on and disappointed in myself. What am I trying to get away with? What am I trying to prove? To whom? And why?

Owning bits of identity: Owning. And earning. And discovering. And being okay with uncertainty and the evolution of answers.

So - there.  We'll try this kind of articulation and see if Boyfriend is on to something.  I think the problem is less that nothing is capturing my attention and more that So Much has been capturing my attention for So Long that we've reached a point of overload.  Hence the irrational desire to ditch all my various obligations tomorrow and rent a car and drive home to Nebraska.  That's not the most productive solution, but it seemed like a damn good idea for about 45 minutes.  Mental Wanderlust - maybe this is the solution.  Or at least a way to articulate the questions.




Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Do the work.

I've been inspired by one of the emerging voices of the American theatre to take a good hard look at my generation. Over on HowlRound, Mat Smart has some biting and indicting words for his fellow emerging playwrights, as well as for artistic directors and literary managers the world over about why so many of his fellows are flailing and failing.

I would like to extend his indictment to many if not all theatre-makers of a certain age. It's not just playwrights, Mr. Smart. It's all of us. We're all fucking lazy.

And come to think of it, I wonder if it's just theatre-makers of a certain age - I wonder if it's not a great big cross-section of the American population who needs a kick in the ass. The concept of post-collegiate flail is not a new one - there are movies, tv shows, books all about the idea that America is chock-full of intelligent, well-educated, liberal arts inundated slackers who are baffled by the world's seeming refusal to open up and let them at the good stuff because they just got a degree, dammit, and had that bitching internship at that fancy company and that somehow makes them qualified to be in the room where the decisions get made.

My generation is one of crippling entitlement and deceptive self-concept. To speak from a place of acknowledged privilege for a moment - in my circles of friends growing up: mostly white, mostly middling middle class or so, predominantly in Central California, Oklahoma, and Eastern Nebraska - going to college was never an "if" but rather a "when." We are the first generation raised to believe we can be whatever we wanted to be. The sky is the limit. Take this aptitude test. What kind of work would you find fulfilling? What kind of lifestyle do you want to lead? Where do you want to live? Where would you like to go to college? What are you looking for in your college experience? College, college, college, choice, choice, choice. We were taught that we are loved just the way we are, that we're good enough and smart enough and with hard work we can do anything our little hearts desire - anything at all.

But we've forgotten the "hard work" part. What we haven't forgotten - as made evident recently in the New York Times - is the blame. Mat Smart talks about the perceived blame that lies with artistic directors. The NYT piece blames politicians and the torpor of the economic engines lugging themselves back into motion.

Meanwhile, Seth Godin is talking about the opposite. To me, included in the tyranny he's railing against, is that tyranny of blame. And the entitlement that its presence implies. Young college graduates, emerging artists - I'm sure we're all lovely. I know we all did really well on that paper we pulled an all-nighter to complete - that one that counted for 25% of our grade and which we totally got away with. The one that we wrote in 5 hours even though we had 5 weeks, because as long as it got an A who gives a shit and there was just so much other exciting stuff happening in the middle of our "college experiences."

I know you put in your time. And I know no one told you how to adjust your measures of success for your "real-life experience" post-college. No one told me, either. And, like you, I am subject to those reinforced habits of procrastination and distraction by all the cool shit there is to look at and do all around me all the time. But guess what - it's time to focus, kiddos. It's time to pick. It's time to stop blaming other folks for not being in the room where the decisions get made.

It's not just playwrights, Mr. Smart. Our generation needs to get our collective ass in gear and do the work, do the work, do the work.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Overlap.

The debate of whether life imitates art or art imitates life is a circular paradox similar to the struggle we’ve always had with chickens and eggs. To me? At the end of the day? The order isn’t as important as the overlap. And the older I get – or is it more experienced, more jaded, more skeptical, more aware, less na├»ve, less idealistic, less easily-buffaloed? – the more I see that understanding this overlap is something we have to be vigilant about as artists. It’s our duty, it’s part of the work, it’s an element of the unwritten job description.

I blame my training as an actor. I went to a perfectly good state school for my undergraduate degree in performance (Yes. I know. Performance. This surprises no one.) where my well-meaning professors spent four years getting me to break down my walls and get in touch with the emotional core of my being. And I’ve spent the last seven years trying to build those walls back up.

When you’re on stage it’s your job to live fully into each moment. You’re constantly barraged with demands to raise the stakes, go after your objective as if everything depended on it, play each moment – whether you’re begging for your life or asking for the butter – as if it’s life or death.

And what does this teach us about how we’re to move through the world? When it’s time to sit down to brunch, when it’s time to go to the day job on Monday morning, when it’s time to engage in any kind of relationship with other actual humans (not artistic constructions of humans in their most desperate hours), when it’s time to – God help us – go after the connection and intimacy of a Relationship (hopefully with another actual human as opposed to some kind of artful construction) – how are we to function? How are we to engage with each other when the stakes aren’t life and death? Are those of us who tread (or at one time trod) the boards condemned to living our lives continually raising the stakes, even when a healthy dash of perspective might be what the “scene” calls for?

In rehearsal, we have (when we’re lucky) six weeks to live the same moments over and over again. We have the unbelievable luxury of knowing where we’re going to end up, being able to find the breadcrumbs in the text that can take us there, make choices with the boldness of someone who not only knows what comes next – but who also gets to take the same path again and again until it’s smooth, until it’s – in its weird way – rational for you. On stage, we get to make sense of our journeys and move through the world with a modicum of consistency each night.

But real life’s not like that. There is no continual narrative. Even for those of us who believe in a “plan,” a plan is different than a story. Beginning, Middle, End – we only construct these things out of the discreet moments the universe hands us so that we can make some sense of them – not because a narrative is actually there.

I don’t know. I don’t know how to make these distinctions, even though I know they’re essential to my survival. Which is one of myriad reasons why I’m not an actor anymore. Because I have a hard enough time with the blurry lines between life and art when my job is to keep my viewfinder on “panorama” and open to the fullness of the picture. I think the wall my well-meaning professors helped me break down was also what was giving me some shelter. True, I needed to break through it to move through the world and in and out of my art, but sometimes it’s cold, sometimes there are gusts and gales and rain and snow. And unprotected from all the elements all the time? That’s no way to live, either.

I think what I really need is an artistic Pope-mobile. Something that affords some kind of protection against would-be assassins, something that keeps me warm and dry, but affords a really nice view of everything going on around me. Maybe that’s what all of us need. Picture it – a fleet of Pope-mobiles, agilely navigating the intricacies of the human condition from a distance that keeps us safe and whole.

Because the art that matters? The people that matter? The relationships and the work that matter? These things are too delicate, too precious, too essential to be careless with when we can’t take a moment, talk things through and take it back to the moment just before I say the thing that changes everything – because everything’s already been changed.

When I was in high school I had a bumper sticker on my first car that said something about enjoying life because it’s not a dress rehearsal. Which is lame. I know it’s lame, but I was the Queen of the Awkward Ball and I was 16. And very earnest. And let’s not dismiss the kernel of truth I could sense even in adolescence. Because at its lamest, most awkward core? It’s also a little bit true.