Thursday, November 20, 2008

"Don't get me started on words. They're profoundly beautiful."

I've been thinking a lot about the word "touch" lately. I think it's a particularly fascinating and revelatory title for a play. It is so many things, and all of them are viscerally engaging.

It's a noun: a touch - this can (like any noun) be modified and changed drastically by adjectives, to illuminate the specificity of it. A gentle touch, a passionate touch, a rough touch - and on and on.

It's a verb: to touch - the act of coming in contact with something or someone or of yourself. The pedestrian physical act - I am touching the keys on my keyboard. I touch the elevator button to get to my office, I touch the railing on the back of the seat on the El - think about how many things we touch each day.

Then there's touching other people. I feel like one of the privileges of my life as an artist is the gift of people who are as needful of touch as I am - hugging is part of my rehearsals. It's part of company meetings, it's part of networking. But also handshakes, touching a friend's arm when she's upset or when something is too hilarious for words, bumping into strangers on the El, on the bus, in the street; life in the city is full of accidental touching.

Then there's very purposeful touching of people who are not strictly strangers - how is it different to touch the hand of the person you've just discovered you might have a crush on (this is related to moments of "Hmm," a subject that would require its own post), touching someone you've just started dating, touching your boyfriend, your fiance, your husband - all of these things are different and move past the pedestrian to the intimate in very short order. Think about how strange kissing is - touching lips and tongues and (in unfortunate and usually awkward instances) teeth - these things that we use to consume and communicate. How strange. Whose idea was that? But isn't it sort of the best idea ever?

I'm setting it up to look like physical touch is always a good thing - but we know that's not true. Touch can be painful, it can burn, cut, scrape, and scar. It can be dangerous.

And what's the difference between touching and feeling? Can you touch something without feeling it?

Then there's being touched as a verb in the emotional sense. Finding something touching, being emotionally moved, engaged, changed by the experience. I think an emotional touch can be more intimate, more pervasive, just more than a physical one sometimes.

It's also - structurally, semantically - a command. Touch. It's a threat - both in the speaking and the execution. It's a promise. It's shared experience. It's something that we use generically - "keep in touch" - as verbal shorthand. What if you really meant that when you said it? That you wanted someone to literally keep in touch? To stay engaged in touching - it's different from keeping in contact. It's so specific.

Is it what ultimately makes us human? Our need for it? I don't know. When I worked for the State of Nebraska in foster care placement there was one especially tragic case of a baby that was experiencing "failure to thrive." And it was explained to me by my lovely and patient co-workers who found it amusing that I was an actor and not a social worker that failure to thrive comes down to a lack of touch. That babies have to be touched and held in order to grow. That they can die if they're not. How awful and beautiful. How tragic and inspiring. It seems to be the universe's way of saying that we cannot get through this life without touching each other. It is impossible. Touch is essential. It keeps us alive. It is that simple and that complex.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Overlap, or My Life as a Two-Timer

I feel like I'm taking my mistress on a date in the basement while my wife makes me dinner upstairs. Which is patently absurd. I know this.

I've never had this kind of overlap directing before. One show, Six Years, is currently running at New Leaf. I'm super proud of it - my cast is Made Of Awesome. And if you haven't seen it already, golly I hope you will. So that still has two more weekends to go (well, including this one -so, 1.5 weekend?). Sweet.

And then this week I started working on Touch. This show will open in January. It is about a lot of things, but today for me it is mostly about how the people we care for - the people who touch us - stay with us, that we carry them around wherever we go. So we're never really alone. I'll change my mind again about what I think it's about. But for today, that's what I think it's about. It's also about the stars. And this group of actors adamantly refuses to disabuse me of the idea that I am a casting genius.

So. Tonight I will have two casts in the same building. Six Years will be in the theatre (thank you, Captain Obvious) and Touch will be in the dance room - both at the Lincoln Park Cultural Center. One cast is nearing the end of their journey. They're completely self-sufficient. I am (sniffle) no longer needed there. And the other - well, we're just getting started.

Which means that maybe I'm not a cheater cheater pumpkin eater. Maybe I'm my mother after all. My mother who had two kids 11 years apart, so it's like she's got two only children. Lucky her. I've got this one kid who's all grown-up and has a good job and a nice apartment in the city and he still calls me on Sundays but he pretty much has it all covered. "Thanks, Mom, I can fold my own underpants." And then I've got this other kid who is just starting to look around and realize she has thumbs.

This is awesome. I am the luckiest girl I know.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

acts of creation

So the other thing about temping is that sometimes you don't have anywhere to be. Some days you're not asked to stapel and then UN-staple something for three hours. Some days the phones all answer themselves and everything is already coallated and no we don't need anything copied.

In the present economy those days come frequently. And are terrifying.

So, today, since I'm not temping I made myself luncheon. Like, old-school luncheon. I made a meatloaf. I called my mom last night since I had lost her recipe for it - again - and she very patiently (my mother uses patience a lot when she's on the phone with me) reminded me that there's not a real set formula for her meatloaf. She tosses a bunch of stuff in (she then gave me the list of things she generally tosses in) and then cooks it for this long at this temperature, et voila. Meatloaf.

I have made meatloaves in the past that have been awful. Loaves that fall apart upon leaving the oven . Loaves that are too bland or too juicy or not juicy enough - but the one I made today... Well, I'll go ahead and say it - this is one delicious meatloaf. I love this meatloaf. It includes things on my mother's list AND things I threw in because I thought it might be tasty AND things that are clever substitutions for things that she uses that I didn't have. Item 1: Cracker Crumbs. I have no saltine crackers in my house, but I DO have parmesan goldfish crackers. Delightful. Espeically since they inspired me to also add a bit of parmesan cheese. Also fabulous.

So I mushed all of this together (and other things - an egg, various seasonings, etc.) and plopped it in the oven and went about my business for an hour. Then I microwaved a bag of red potatoes, made some brown-sugar glazed carrots. And sat down to an actual MEAL. That I Prepared. In the Middle Of The Day. It was lovely.

I will spare you the "making theatre is like making a meatloaf" analogy. Except that it kind of is. Sometimes what you make is runny and falls apart. Other times it's perfect and just what you were hungry for.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Don't panic. It's only temporary.

Or rather I am. Or as my dear friend Marsha would say, I am a freelance administrative professional. And it is, in a word, exhausting.

Not because I had to be at the architectural firm I'm currently calling home (untill Tuesday. Just Tuesday. At which point I will not have made enough money to pay my rent. But then the month isn't over. Yet.) at 7:45 this morning. And it is a lovely office, with a view of the lake to die for, lots of natural light - as temp jobs go, this one is pretty choice. I'm sitting at a pretty reception desk, doing some prep work for Touch and talking to you. Not bad at all.

But back to the exhaustion - I'm starting to think that maybe I'm not built for this kind of cavalier rock and roll life style. On the one hand it's delightful to be able to have the Monday after your opening weekend off because there's no temp job for you to go to. It's lovely until about 11 AM when the panic about rent payments and food and the unexpected afternoon visit to the vet (my cat has allergies. WTF?) and how am I going to build a life like this starts to set in.

The trouble is, I want to be a director (see above post) which is a delightful thing to know, but means also not knowing what else to do to make my proverbial ends meet. I would love to be freelancing, consulting, doing something in my field - but what exactly? Do I want to produce? Maybe - probably - definitely maybe. Great: how do I get a day job producing?

It's back to art vs. life and wondering if I have to choose. Is this my Saturn Return? Maybe. I dunno - the past year and a half have been so full of transition and upheaval and all of that sort of business I'm wondering if this is more of a new address than a day trip. I hope not. I hope that my life as a grown-up looks a bit more stable (and is about 10 pounds lighter. At least.). But who is it that said that adults are just children who owe money? If that's the definition I am most certainly a grown-up already. And I am getting a little more grown-up every day.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Because it is my name...

So, I have long been of the opinion that naming something can sometimes reduce the thing's power over you. This may partially be a defensive maneuver to justify why I talk so much. But I am also finding that sometimes naming something is what gives you the power you need to own it and use it and revel in it.

Which is why there is a fair amount of joy and fear wrapped up in my finally, truly, actually naming myself as a director. Which seems silly - I have been direct-ing for a while now, but I think part of me was still clinging to my inner actor. And I think that it's time for me to stand up and assert that I am a director. Period. That is what and who I am.

Another thing I think that I need to assert is the validity of my opinion and my process - both things that I am only just becoming comfortable with actually, quantifiably talking about out loud. I feel like I'm finally ready to own those things, to feel like they might actually be valuable, that I might actually have a voice and a viewpoint that are worth more than my time.

It's tricky - because how do I assert those things while also taking into account everything that I value about collaboration? I think the answer - at least for me - is the realization that those things are not mutually exclusive. The phrase "hold on tightly, let go lightly" comes to mind - it's important to come in with vision and ideas and be ready to talk about and defend them. It's also important to let them go, to adapt them, to hold on to the essence of them while their packaging changes.

These things are hard and the idea of following them is scary. But not impossible. And completely necessary. Because these are the things that directors have to figure out, right? And, after all, that's what I am.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Finding plays to read is hard.

I've been approached by my friend Brandon to direct a play for Sandhill, his new theatre company that was recently featured on Chris Jones's blog.  This is exciting for me because as much as I love my home I know that I need to start taking more steps outside that comfort zone if I want to keep growing as an artist.

What I like about Sandhill is its focus on the Midwest.  Brandon and I had a great meeting this morning where we talked about the company and his focus and came to the conclusion that the Midwest has all sorts of stories that are fascinating and just aren't being told.  There seems to be this misconception that the Midwest is made up of various shades of beige and that the things worth talking (or writing a play) about are only happening on the coasts.  That's just silly.  And I'm glad that Brandon's doing something about it and that he's asked me to help him do something about it this season.  

So, here's the problem.  I need a play to direct.  It needs to speak to the Midwestern experience in some way, and needs to fit into the theme that's emerged in the season - questioning death.  Fascinating parameters - but I'm not really sure where to start.  There isn't a resource of plays dealing with the Midwest really.  In fact we seem to, as theatre artists, feel the need to apologize in a way for setting anything regionally in a way that New York plays would never dream of doing.  

So, if anyone has any suggestions, I'm open to 'em.  Because there're a lot of plays out there and I'll take all the help I can get.

PS - on a totally unrelated note - have you seen this new Genius Bar thing in iTunes?  You pick a song and it makes a playlist of songs that you have that are like it in some way.  It's kind of frightening.  And I think I'm in love with it.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Tower of Babel

I love getting to work with new actors. I'm also terrified of getting to work with new actors, especially any number of them at the same time.

I feel like the biggest part of my job as a director is casting. After that, the biggest part of my job is learning how to speak each actor's language. If I could, I would take myself to my local library and check out books-on-tape to learn each actor's language before rehearsals begin. Then I would be able to arrive on the first day fully fluent and able to anticipate my actors' needs from the first moment.

Or, I could cultivate my telepathy. That way I would be able to read minds and anticipate needs that way.

Sadly, neither of these resources are at my easy disposal. So instead I have to opt for full immersion.  I have to dive right in and hope that I'll be able to move from vague hand gestures to "please" and "thank you" to asking directions to the art museum to full-on conversational in each actor's respective language.  

I'm reminded of the Steve Martin bit where he thought he was ordering a cheese omelette and he's brought a boot covered in Gouda.  Or something.  I think that even if you get the cheesy boot a couple times you have to keep asking for the omelette.  And you have to ask for omelette in a few different languages.  Sometimes all you get is boot.  Or a cactus.  Or a Buick. But sometimes you get the most delicious omelette you ever did see.  And sometimes you get the pizza you didn't even know you were hungry for but, my goodness, it's delicious.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

September? Already?

Today is the 2nd of September. I'm not sure how that happened. What happened to August? And while we're on the subject, where's the summer gone? Speaking of which, has anyone seen my January - April? I seem to have misplaced them.

So, here I sit in my stylishly appointed office, on my third active day of life as a freelance administrative professional. It's kinda nice, actually. There's a vending machine that gave me a free Diet Dr. Pepper for lunch. And nice people. (And a fair amount of rather attractive young men to smile at as they pass). But it brings to mind a question that keeps following me about - when it comes to Life and Art, do I have to choose between the two?

I started what promises to be an awesome class with formidable Chicago talent Jon Berry on Sunday, and he asked the group what is the most challenging thing about life as an artist in Chicago. (He also asked us what was the best - most of us said the same thing, that the community, support, openness, opportunity all combine to form the best thing). Our answer to the biggest challenge we face was surprisingly homogeneous, too: balancing my art and my "life." Meaning, my art and what keeps me from getting evicted.

I'm a little troubled that this is such a pervasive problem. And I know I'm not breaking any new ground here when I lament the state of arts funding and more directly of artist funding. But I'm experiencing it anew as I try to find gainful employment that lasts longer than a day and try to get a show up on its feet and try to look strategically at the future of my company, and, and, and...

I wish that now I could propose some "quick fix" that would get all of us the support we need - financial, spiritual, social. But I don't know the answer. I think we need a new model for arts management and arts funding. I don't know what it looks like. I think there are some folks taking steps in new and exciting directions that will ripple down and shake things at the core. But they're just starting. I guess we'll see.