Saturday, September 8, 2018

One Place, One Event

Each week we're split into groups, given a general prompt, and then we spend time each day as an ensemble creating a piece of theatre that corresponds to the prompt. The first week was 'Creation of the world' and this last week was 'One place, One event'. In my first group we began by each creating our own 'world' to play in and we played as a group until we found several ideas that resonated. Then we expanded those ideas through play until we found an arc with a beginning, middle, and end. It was such a new experience for me, basically performing improv until an idea forms instead of forming an idea and then trying to create it. But like all new things, it got better with practice.

You can ignore parts of this post that will get into details that won't matter to anyone but me. Remember this blog is also my actor journal for me to remember and describe lessons, so I'm sure some of this won't be interesting for the average reader.

Now on week two it was exciting going in with the prompt and knowing that I could confidently create something. Week one we worked with no voices or props. It was about creating pictures with your body and using sound with no words. My group formed shapes along the walls in the room while I knelt in the middle. They slowly peeled themselves off the wall and began to walk in a rhythmic circle around me, beginning a syncopated pounding heartbeat with their hands until they were running. They stopped as one, put their hands into the middle of the circle onto my back and began to breathe with my movements. I went up and down until I was 'born' from the middle of the circle with a gasp. On my gasp the breath was taken from each ensemble member until they all fell down. I revived them with my breath again, and we began to make relationships. We mimicked movements and mirrored each other. Then one member makes the first sound. We then discovered how to copy the sound. Then we discovered touch and then play. The touch became violent until one ensemble member was shoved to the ground by me. We discovered violence. This member was then encircled again as I had been in the beginning, but when they broke out of the breathing circle and stole the breath from us we weren't able to be revived. The last moment was the sound of loss. 

Writing this in detail it sounds very artsy, but in action we created life, relationship, sound, touch, and then cycled to death.  It felt very powerful to use body without words and I really enjoyed the experience because the story line was very specific. There were other creations that were made of vignettes, and somehow each creation piece at some point included all bodies standing in a circle and then falling down (just like ours). So strange! On creation day the faculty all sits in and then critiques. The general feedback on week one was to simplify, be specific, and follow the prompt. We learned how easy it is to get carried away. My group had positive feedback and we were really proud of the piece, but the consensus was that we created 'the world' in the first 1/3 of our piece, and the rest was a continuation. That's a good example of how we could have simplified the piece. They also commented how each group had mostly depicted a human experience and that we had forgotten other elements.

So for week two my group took the general feedback to heart. We wanted to play with nature this time. In movement and improv classes this week we practiced this exercise of creating a place. My cohort created a park and we spent several class periods being characters in a park and learned to expand the room so it felt like there weren't walls, control voices so they felt the way they would outside, and focused on not stealing focus.  We wanted to incorporate these lessons into our creation project so we picked the ocean as our place, and the event was the rising of the tide on a beach. It took a few days to solidify the best way to create waves with our bodies (and I have the bruises to prove it), but we finally picked four of us to stagger in a pattern on the floor with our bodies lying down straight like a log. We wanted to play with perspective so we began as if the audience was looking at the ocean horizon. We rocked slowly and made soft ocean noises. Then the rocking turned into rolling forward towards the audience with the sounds of waves crashing on the shore. At this point one of our ensemble entered as a child to build a sandcastle. Our rolling waves became bigger until we brought them to shore. Two of us became sea foam using our arms to replicate the tide dragging sand backwards, while two in the back became the crest of waves. We attempted to crescendo the sound as we got closer to shore, and built the tension towards the object of ruining the child's sandcastle until it had been completely swallowed by the ocean and the child ran off.

The other ensembles created a tree that was cut down, a cave where someone found gold, and the world before a volcanic eruption. Their feedback was that the place wasn't specific enough, and that the even took too long to happen or that there were multiple events and it was unclear. Overall the faculty seemed really intrigued by our piece, and said that the place was very clear. However, they as an audience had an expectation that there was danger to the child and that the event would in fact be more ominous. Professor Q said there are two types of theatre. One is when the actors know more than the audience and the audience has to figure out the story and catch up to the actors. The other is when the audience knows something the actors don't and the actor has to figure it out. If we were to do this piece again they wanted an exploration of what it feels like for the audience to know more about something than the actor. They wanted the beautiful moment of when our child would discover the danger they were in the same way the audience felt they were in danger. I found that so interesting! And something that hadn't occurred to me. We were attempting to simplify our event, so I hadn't considered something so big as drowning a child. But they said that our place was so big that the event ruined our crescendo. It was a let down. We needed to match the beginning with the end. It definitely made me want to explore the piece further. But I'm also excited to not roll around on my bruises anymore.

In other news this week we saw our first fringe show at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. It was called The Accountant and I'm sure I'll write more about it later. It had some spectacular special effects and a stunning sound design.

In movement analysis this week we worked on Lecoq's Seven Levels of Tension.  This is one of numerous acting techniques and something that was fun to add to my repertoire.   My graduate school faculty studied (for the most part) at The Lecoq School of Physical Theatre in Paris, so we'll be using a lot of these methods throughout my time here.
1. Tired, lethargy, exhaustion
2. California, Cowboy, laid back
3. Efficiency, Neutral
4. Alert
5. Suspense
6. Passion
7. Hypertension, Tragic

We embodied each of these in class over the week, sometimes creating stories as an ensemble or in small groups. I'm excited to play with these more.

Our music theory class this week (our longest class at three hours) was a lot of work! We worked on scales, which I'm grateful I already know, finger placement on piano, rhythm, and solfeggio. We'll be performing the C scale and our own written melodies next class.

In voice class we're working on diaphragmatic breathing exercises and using sound on breath. I'm also finishing up reading Artaud's The Theatre and Its Double for seminar this Monday. I'm excited for this seminar class especially because we'll really be focusing on the history of physical theatre and the companies that have done and currently do it.

I've got a busy weekend ahead of me. Another fringe show to see, and several assignments to complete!

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

A Flying Leap

My class is apparently the largest class since my MFA program was created. There are 19 of us total, and every single class we have to reintroduce ourselves to our new professors. It's amusing to watch them attempt to remember our names, but I admit that I can't wait until we don't have to play name games or stand in a circle and introduce ourselves anymore. We're in such a routine with it now as a cohort because we've done it so much. I believe we have one more instructor we haven't met. Thank goodness!

So I titled today's post based on an exercise we did in improv yesterday. 18 of us stood in two diagonal lines two feet apart and held our arms out in a zipper fashion so everyone was forming a cradle. Then one person ran from across the room and took a flying leap into our arms and attempted to jump far enough that they could reach the arms of those cradling on the far end. I was terrified because our arms were just held out on our own strength, not reinforced in anyway by the people across from or beside us. When it was my turn to stand in the front and catch it was really difficult to catch people because there was so much weight and momentum! And it was terrifying. But not as terrifying as leaping. I took a turn and the first time I went I shot like a bullet straight at the arms instead of lifting myself higher into the air. Professor Q gave me another shot. One of the things I've been enjoying most is when I take a turn in any class it gets analyzed and then usually there's direct feedback and the opportunity to try again. The next time I jumped too soon, but definitely made it all the way into the arms. I was given a third try and this time managed to springboard at the right moment and flew into my cohorts' arms. It was exhilarating! Writing this I can still feel the adrenaline. I was proud of myself for volunteering even though I wasn't sure I'd do it well. The fear of failure is something I told myself I wouldn't allow into my training for the next 2.5 years.

I received some really great advice my first time meeting some of the upperclassmen. I was told that since my class is so large I should take every opportunity available to have a turn in class. They said that there wouldn't always be enough time to have everyone take a turn, and it's up to me to make the most of my investment and really put myself out there. The lessons aren't repeated so if you don't take your turn, you miss an opportunity to practice instead of watch. They said even if I felt guilty to always be the volunteer to never give up my chance to participate.

I really took that advice to heart and I've volunteered in every class so far. It's true, there hasn't been enough time for everyone to have the chance to participate. It's felt really great to get up and play instead of being a bystander! And even when I wasn't sure I wanted a turn, I made sure I took one.

In addition to improv, I took my first acrobatics class. This semester we're focusing on handstands. That might sound simple to some of you but I've never been able to do one without a wall. I'm really excited to build up the strength to be able to do a handstand. We played a lot of awesome movement games and activities really awakening to our space and bodies. We also formed ensembles and did an exercise where one person in the middle of a circle was straight as a pencil and allowed the group to tip and push and pull their body in every direction, giving complete control of their balance and weight up. It was a good core strengthener and trust builder. I can tell I'm going to love this class and can't wait to focus on my physicality! I know I've allowed myself to get our of shape and there's so much I want to accomplish in this class that I can't wait to get to the fitness level to do it. I'm feeling very motivated!

I had my first class of Jeu (which means Play) yesterday as well. This is a class where we We didn't use words. We just walked in and started doing whatever we felt like until we were all playing one game, which yesterday just consisted of a lot of people dying. Eventually I think it will become a more guided class with prompts, but it was great to let go for an hour.

I also had my first voice lesson and I can tell I'm going to learn a lot this semester. It will be great to be taking private voice at the same time that I have a music theory class. On Wednesdays we have music theory for three hours. We'll be learning piano, music progression, ear training, intervals, composition, and a bunch of other things I can't remember. I'm really excited to get back into the music side of performance in a way that doesn't necessarily include musical theatre. I know I'll be getting training in that as well, but just having the opportunity to work on composing, sight reading, and ear training is going to be so useful in the future.

I see graduate school as the place that will help me fill in all the gaps I've discovered in my professional training. So far my MFA is proving to do just that. I'm so excited to focus on these holes and have the time and guidance to fill them. I'll be learning new skills every day, letting go of old habits, and strengthening myself in mind and body.

Today in Improv with Professor M we did an exercise where someone had to volunteer to stand in front of the class with us as the audience and just do nothing. Breathe, be present, be aware, make eye contact but do nothing. For some reason this was something I excelled at today. When trying to puzzle out why I felt ease when performing this task compared to some of my cohort I realized that it was because I feel very strongly that I belong. I feel comfortable and excited and ready. I mean, there was the part where I had to act like a giant ogre before I settled into breathing with depth and a neutral mask, but that was only to be expected, right?

I can definitely say I'm sore from these last few days. I have blisters and bruises and muscles that feel like jelly. Luckily my Movement Analysis class with Professor S was a great class to stretch and settle into the sore places. Today we focused on walking as different characters. How long does it take for your arms to move? Are they out of sync with your legs? What part of your body do you lead with? Professor S notices so many intricacies and loves to point them out and create characters of her own out of them. I can tell every lesson in that class is going to be very enlightening.

My creation piece from this week is coming together nicely and I'm learning a lot from the process. We were given the prompt 'Create the world'. We split ourselves into three groups on Monday and on Friday we'll perform our devised pieces in ensemble. Instead of talking about the prompt my group got on their feet and we each took a turn creating a space and leading the group in play to 'create a world'. Then we played further with the most coherent ideas that struck our fancies, and now we're almost finished composing. It's interesting to be at the point where in a normal show you'd worry about specificity. In devising it's more allowable to say that the chaos and messiness is almost the point and that the specificity could potentially take away meaning. I'm interested to explore this concept throughout the program. I'm sure different ensembles will think of this differently, and when we're studying different subjects in our classes I think our thought process will change as well. Watching a non-narrative show this week definitely affected our outlook.

Tomorrow I will play some more! For now, I'm off to bed for a night of rest and strength rebuilding.

Monday, August 27, 2018

A Graduate School Beginning

I'm going back to my roots! Years ago I started this blog to follow my journey through undergrad and catalog my professional career.  Today begins my journey into graduate school. This has been a long time coming. I remember writing a list of my top ten graduate programs in my freshmen year of my BFA and I posted it on the wall beside my bed. I'm very goal oriented. Needless to say, I'm attending a program that would never have been on that list because I didn't know anything like it existed. But we'll get to that.

First let's catch up to now. When I moved from Seattle to Austin I suspected I'd have many experiences to write about, but as it turns out Austin doesn't actually pay their actors a living wage. I suppose I shouldn't blame the city itself, but the funding of the institutions there definitely has a long way to go.

I completed two separate tours with the National Theatre for Children in Minneapolis and I worked in the box office of the fantastic Zach Theatre in Austin itself, but honestly I wasn't enjoying my time. The only regional work to be had through unified auditions was children's theatre and summer stock, and the shows in Austin couldn't pay enough to justify the cost of living and commute time. In the end I decided to take another stab at the URTA auditions. Unlike my first foray when I went to Chicago, this January I chose to audition in New York.

I had some strategy this time, now that I knew how to play the game. In Chicago you had the advantage of being one stop closer to the end of the schools' audition process. You could possibly be more easily remembered. However, I thought this time around it would be more advantageous to be the first in line. In the end, it definitely worked to my advantage! The schools were invigorated because it was the exciting beginning of the process. They seemed to listen more in the auditions (which resulted in more callbacks than my first time), and the callbacks had more energy and enthusiasm. I had 23 callbacks this year, and out of all the schools I strongly considered several classic theatre MFAs. I'd always thought that I'd want to attend graduate school only if it was free because there are so many amazing programs right now that are paying students to go. But throughout the callback process and the auditions at schools I couldn't help but feel like these programs were continuations of my BFA.

I've always felt like my BFA was the best education I could have received. I judged this on the fact that I was personally and professionally fulfilled after receiving it. I've worked so much, and my resume is so broad. When thinking about taking myself out of the job market for 2 to 3 years, I began to believe it was a waste to receive the same kind of degree. I could justify it if my original degree wasn't getting me work, or even if I felt like I was losing the technique in the echo chamber of professional acting. I know some people attend graduate school purely because they want more time to focus on themselves again without the pressure of the outside world and really get into the nitty gritty of method acting.

None of these scenarios fit me. Instead I knew that I was unhappy with the growth of my career. Regional theatres had offered me several exciting roles, but without more connections I didn't feel like I would continue to get enough work at that level. Children's theatre and touring shows were becoming tiresome because I felt like I was taking those jobs just to continue to get a paycheck as a working actor. I wanted to feel more in control of my career. I wanted the skills to create work, build a company, and the opportunity to find an ensemble to flesh out the brave new world I was imagining. I wanted to learn about funding opportunities and how to build my own tour. I wanted to network with people that were creating work not just acting in someone else's show. These are things I'd dreamed of doing, and yet I felt like I hadn't met the right people to show me the way. Seven years out of school with a great professional resume and I hadn't learned how to be more than extremely hire-able. It was time for me to take a leap of faith and choose a program that fit the niche I was trying to carve out for myself.

I struggled at first with my decision because I was leaning towards a program that was extremely unique -- Devised Performance. I craved that quality in my work and my career and I knew what I wanted, but I had voices of reason that reminded me to look at all the angles before making such a life changing decision. Based on my reputation there were those who I looked to for advice that weren't sure this program would be the right fit.

It's day one of my Graduate School Career, and I'm positive I made the right choice. There isn't another program out there that could come close to inspiring me the way I've been inspired today or push me the way I know I'll be pushed. I'm going to be challenged and stretched, I'm going to fail and fall, and in two and a half years I'm going to come out the other side with opportunities I'd never imagined for myself because I'd never known where to look. I'm so grateful I found my fit, and that I'm relearning what it feels like to feel inspired. It's been a very long time since I've felt this way, and it's going to be a crazy few years in Philadelphia!

Day One:
Today I had Movement Analysis, Improv, Creation, and Theatre History Seminar.  Basically I spent the day stretching, rolling, falling, and catching. I played dead, led the blind, was the blind, fought the monster, became the monster, played at recess, and birthed a planet. I felt what it was to be silent and still, and found my forward motion. I also squatted too much. I'm sure I'll feel it tomorrow.

Aside from all the amazing fun movement work and creation I experienced today, my Theatre History Seminar jumped right into subsidized theatre funding in Europe and the models that we haven't managed to recreate in America. This is what I'm so very excited about. I can't wait to delve into what's working in other cultures and societies and learn how to mimic it in a way that can successfully fund a company here. I have so many questions, and even though the class was two hours there wasn't nearly enough time to answer them. I'm so ready to have the class every week! Our Theatre History is more about studying other groups and players who have a hand in creating work similar to what my program is about. So we'll learn about how others have successfully done what we're attempting, and see the different forms that can take. Today we watched Inferno by Romeo Castellucci. It was a performance done at the Festival d'Avignon which is a huge deal. It had a $4 million budget. I think I'll be digesting the performance for a while because I've never seen anything like it. Castellucci specializes in non-linear or non-narrative forms of theatre. Which means that when you watch the ensemble work on stage it leaves you with impressions. It's about images and feelings and doesn't necessarily follow the arc of a character or story. There were many vignettes and so much going on: live animals, small children in boxes, death and destruction. And no speaking. An hour and a half of silence vocally, but so many sound effects. I'm excited to see more examples of other work in the future.

Tomorrow I begin my private voice lessons. And acrobatics. Did I mention how stoked I am for acrobatics? I'm exhausted in the happiest way! Here's to a great first week!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Tour Life Recap

When last I wrote, I was discussing the joys of tour life. My tour ended just a few weeks after my last post, culminating in something like 50-70 shows! Did I mention I got to spend most every weekend on the coast of the Carolinas enjoying seafood, local markets, good friends, and beautiful weather? My extended absence from this blog is credited to several things: touring, transferring to a new city, and preparation for the URTA auditions which I'll be expounding on in future posts.

I have to say that tour life agreed with me. I loved introducing children to live theatre and educating them about the importance of sustainability, electricity, and the environment. Many times in this career, an actor will choose to take a job because it helps them reach a personal artistic goal or headspace, or maybe for the money. Personal fulfillment and a solid paycheck are always good reasons to take a job.

This job I took because it's not often that I'm given an opportunity to affect change in a community in such a tangible way. A piece of theatre usually is performed with the assumption that an audience member who pays to see it is looking to be changed or affected or given a new idea to consider. However, the piece does not always culminate in this result, and if it did the actors are not likely to hear about it. But this tour was about educating the next generation of America with knowledge in a creative way and actually giving them the tools to implement their own change by providing each child with an energy efficiency kit to take home. All because great companies sponsor this theatre company to empower young people.

I also happen to love traveling, staying in a new place every few nights, and having my weekends off to explore new cities. If you have the ability to leave home (find a sublet to cover your rent), and love the idea of doing theatre everywhere then tour life might be for you!

If you're ever interested in tour life, have any questions about if it's the right choice for you, or want to hear more about some great companies to look into--leave me a comment!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Beginning Anew

There's been a lot going on since June. I knew I was moving from Seattle to Austin, but making a public announcement had to come in waves, so it was hard for a while to write a public blog without talking about my plans. So I took a break.

Now that the move has officially happened let's get back on track!

I had a fantastic summer working at Mt. Baker Theatre doing their summer repertory season production of Other Desert Cities. I was reunited with one of my all time favorite directors, and had the opportunity to work with one of the most experienced and talented casts I had in some time. I enjoyed every emotionally charged moment of that show, and I can confidently say that I hope Brooke is a part I continue to play for the next 10 to 15 years.

After a 6 month contract performing and touring Alice's Adventures in Wonderland with Book-It Repertory Theatre, I really needed the adult content of Other Desert Cities and the actor challenge it presented. Not only is the show incredibly intimate with such a small cast and a one room set, but the theater decided to stage it in a black box setting, so the audience was all of one foot away from the actor playing space. It had been a long time since I felt as alive as I was this summer giving such beautiful and important writing a voice.

I also spent the summer being a tour guide, and for all my fellow actors reading this blog out there--if you haven't given it a shot you totally should! It was the most fun I've had doing a job outside of acting. Every day was a blast. I got to use my public speaking abilities, I got to entertain guests that paid me to entertain them, and I got to share great stories and food with strangers that became friends. Plus the company was amazing. I plan on being a tour guide many more times in my future.

I knew since around April or May that I would be touring this fall with The National Theatre for Children. I wasn't sure what to make of doing another tour at the time of me signing on, but I needed a job to get me out of Seattle for a while, and that was the ticket.

I started the tour about two weeks ago and I can say it's incredibly fun! It's always fulfilling to do theatre for children. But this show and this company are special because they do theatre with children. Our show is for middle schoolers and it's called The Conservation Crew, and we tour to schools in North and South Carolina to talk about energy conservation and why it's important for our changing world. What's unique is we get to use student volunteers and their suggestions to shape the show and make it a personal, memorable experience for them. And what's more, they all have the opportunity to receive their own energy conservation kit free of charge (donated by our sponsor Duke Energy) that's full of helpful appliances such as energy efficient shower heads, hot water gauges, LED nightlights, and CFL light bulbs.

Duke Energy also pays for a raffle, where schools can sign up to enter into a drawing that could win them $10,000.  Basically, I feel like I'm creating social change through an established institution that wants to make the world a better place. And I'm learning from a great business model that happens to respect actors!

I'm happy I've done a tour before, because now I know what to expect with a lot of the schools and the kids. My first touring experience was a difficult transition between main stage acting and a transient show. Now I have the knowledge to tackle issues as they arise, and the patience to deal with the craziness of a school day.

The best thing about this tour though is getting paid to travel longer distances. We have the opportunity to visit big cities, and historic small towns. My tour partner and I are a great match because we love antiquing and visiting huge museums! And stopping at cheese shops, because cheese is really important.

I know I'll be taking this time to really reevaluate myself and what I want and where I want to go in my career. And honestly, there are much much worse ways I could spend my time figuring it out. But I happen to have a gypsy soul and there isn't a thing I'd rather be doing right now. Here's to the next 6 weeks!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Honesty is the Best Policy

I've been sitting on some wonderful news for quite a few weeks now, waiting for the appropriate moment to share. Today I made the tough choice to put in my notice for my on again off again Seattle day job that I love. I put in my notice because it's official--I'm moving!

At the end of the month of June my year long plan will finally go into effect. I came back from Texas last summer starving for the opportunity to get out of dodge. I found it. And I've seized it.

I took my 6 month long contract with Book-It to tour the state in December, and as the show nears the end of its crazy long run, I'm proud to announce I will be moving to Bellingham, WA for the summer to perform a dream role of mine. Mt. Baker Theatre has invited me to play the role of Brook Wyeth in Other Desert Cities in their summer repertory season. I couldn't be more thrilled to be working with this fantastic company, and one of my all time favorite directors. Truly, it was perfect timing. I'm officially without a lease and will begin the adventure of being a traveling actor.

I'm also pleased to announce that after the end of this show in August, I will be moving back to Texas! I've had to put it off 7 more months than originally planned, and I'm so grateful to finally be on my way back south.

But the real kicker here is that my year of hard work and planning has proved worth it. I applied for the UPTAs almost one year ago, attended almost 5 months ago, and now I'm happy to report that I have signed on to tour with the Minneapolis based National Theatre for Children for five weeks this fall! This is only the beginning of an exciting foray into the world of regional theatre.

I'm so happy I moved to Seattle on a whim almost 4 years ago. These have been the greatest growing years, and the family and community that I've found here has shaped the person and artist I've become. It's because of all these people that I finally felt ready to move forward. Seattle was always meant to be a layover for me. I'm glad it was my first stop on the crazy journey that is being a professional actor. And who knows what the South might inspire in me? The greatest adventure of all is not knowing what will happen next. I might know where I'm going, but I don't know who I'll meet or what they'll teach me.

I smell freedom in the air! My wanderlust has taken hold, and I'm ready for the next great adventure!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Life on the Road: Lessons to be learned from a Touring Artist

My tour of Washington included many murals.
I've been staying pretty busy with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. I was cast in November, rehearsed all of January and opened in February. We started out with a few shows here and there but the pace has really picked up.

We left Seattle for the month of April to travel to Northern and Eastern Washington (and eventually a bit of Idaho)  on what Book-It calls an expansion tour. It was my first taste of life on the road as a job. We'd previously been making mostly day trips in the Seattle area, and a few over night trips on several of the islands. Now we were leaving home with our bags and not coming back for three weeks.

Three actors, one touring van, and a sizable set took off to see the state! I have to say that I really enjoyed it. Tour life agrees with me. Many of the schools we went to were full of children that had never seen a live production before, and several of them had booked tours with Book-It Rep in the past and were really looking forward to their one annual theatrical performance.

Children's Theatre is an incredibly rewarding experience in many ways, but I think my favorite is getting to introduce the performing arts to young creative minds. After every show (of which we did two a day) we held 'talk-backs' where the kids got to ask us questions. I had the lucky opportunity to run these talk backs and I got to facilitate the answering of all the questions.   Many of the children that hadn't seen theatre before were amazed at simple things like quick costume changes and remembering all the lines. Others wanted to know how long we'd been acting, how did we learn to do it, and was it too late to start?  My absolute favorite part was seeing kids faces light up when they fully understood that acting was our job, and that it could be their job too.

One great quote from a question and answer session came from a one building school house in a very rural part of Eastern Washington. There were about 40 kids in attendance and after the show a little girl (maybe first or second grade) asked me, "Why is the Queen of Heart's so mean?" I play the Queen in our production, and she can be a very intimidating character so I was prepared to field the question. "Do you ever wake up on the wrong side of the bed somedays?" I asked, like I usually do. "No," the little girl said--which totally stumped me. Then out of nowhere an older boy spoke up and very simply said, "It's just how she feels." To which the little girl nodded sagely. And we looked around and realized that everyone understood that explanation! So simple. So cute. And so wise.

We had several especially fun performances, one of which was a school of about 600 students who were celebrating facial hair day. We came out onstage, and I looked up to say my first line only to see 600 or so bearded and mustachioed children looking back at me (clearly having forgotten that they had all drawn on their faces in colored markers) expectantly. That was possibly the biggest challenge not to break I've faced.

I have to say that this tour has taught me a lot about the different kind of theatrical experiences you can have in your professional career.  Every show is different, and every company is different. But it's important to take lessons away from each production you do to help you on the winding path to success in this crazy business. Here are several lessons I learned:

Like getting a flat tire when you're supposed to perform in 30 minutes.
1. Doing a show without a stage manager is as fun as it is frustrating. We have no stage manager touring with us, which means that we're in charge of our own show. We run our tech, we make our own executive decisions about show adjustments, and we keep track of our own schedules. This can be very freeing, not having a person to answer to. However, I now know that I don't enjoy fixing my own props, sewing my torn costumes, or generally not having someone who is responsible for issues that arise. My 'mainstage' mentality has had to adjust to tour life quite a bit.

2. It's important to introduce children to live theatre not just so they can experience acting and storytelling, but also so they can learn audience etiquette. I'd never thought about what age children are when they learn how to be an audience member. Many students had to be told by the faculty that cheering was for sporting events and clapping was for when you enjoy something at the theatre. Other student audiences were so incredibly free with their laughter and vocal responses because they'd never been told they had to sit in silence respectfully--and that was a beautiful thing. Children's Theatre is definitely a lesson in audience engagement.

3. It's hard to be healthy on the road. Many hotels (surprisingly) don't have gyms or aren't in safe places to go for a run. Without a kitchen it can be difficult to make your own food, especially if you want it to be fresh food, not from a box. We were lucky enough to stay in a suite for a week that had a kitchen, but I know this isn't a normal accommodation for a touring actor.

4. SAVE. The whole point of touring is that you aren't paying for lodging, so you should be saving that rent money. If you're with a wonderful company who pays you per diem or a stipend for food you should be able to save most of that as well. Budget what you think you'll need for food before you leave. And get your fellow actors on the same page. My cast agreed to do mostly grocery shopping and very little eating out. I shopped before I left and barely bought anything while we were out. If you're smart about it, you can walk away with more money than you'd think. Also, just don't ever accept a touring job that doesn't pay for your food. That's cheap and you're worth more.

5. A positive attitude is a must in any professional work environment--but especially so in a small van or a shared hotel room. If you have something to vent about do it and then leave it behind. There's no room for an attitude.

6. Two shows a day for three weeks teaches you that water and a good warm up really are the most important tools an actor has at their disposal.

7. Take time to go out and enjoy your new surroundings. We visited parks, local hole in the wall restaurants, did some wine tasting, and even attended a guest lecture by Jared Diamond while on tour. The whole point of going on the road is to really experience all the places you're traveling too. That could mean walking in a corn field, checking out the mountain biking path, or going dancing at the nearest downtown hot spot. Take time away from the show to remember you like doing other things--you'll need the distance.

8. On the flip side of that, don't be afraid to stay in with your cast and watch Dirty Dancing and Boy Meets World. Relaxing is important too.

9. Do a tour. If you haven't done it and you think you'd like it--do it. And then get ready for all the other touring companies to call you and ask you to do theirs. They will because being a touring artist is a special skill. Not everyone enjoys it. Not everyone wants to be away from home for that long. But once you do one you can really set the bar for where your professional standards are. I lucked into a great one for my first touring gig. And I don't think I fully appreciated how great it was until I had other offers. You would be surprised at how many companies want you to travel 1,000+ miles a week for $300 or less. You'd be surprised at how many companies want to book you for an entire six months on the road with no vacation except your weekends. And you'd be surprised at how many give you pennies for a food stipend. Do your homework and be prepared to ask yourself some serious questions about what you think you'd enjoy. Not just what you can handle, but what you actually want to spend a significant amount of time putting yourself through.

10. Figure out the direction you want to take in your career. This is something I'm still juggling (obviously. And aren't we all?). Once you do Children's Theatre you have an in with a lot of companies. They'll see it on your resume and know that they can use you and your experience to help them get all that educational grant money they want. As they should! Educational theatre is incredibly important for the next generation of artists and theatre goers alike! But do you want a career of Children's Theatre? Do you want to tour for a significant amount of time? Do you think other companies looking for their next Shakespearean ingenue will skip over you for an audition because they see your last few credits are for kids? Do you want the money you can save by going on tour more than the opportunity to play a role that reviewers will write about even if you have to give 3/4 of your paycheck to your landlord for rent?  Really put your business hat on and realize that Children's Theatre and being a touring artist will open new doors for you--and it's your responsibility to keep all the doors you're interested in open.

It's been a crazy 4 1/2 months of theatre for me.  I've learned a lot. More than I think I usually do purely because this is the longest contract I've ever taken. By the end of this run I will have done 70+ performances of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. One more month to go!

But as usual, I'm enjoying this crazy theatrical life--and already looking ahead. I have some fun big announcements coming your way as soon as I'm clear to reveal all!

I can dunk in an elementary school gym!

The best BBQ in all of Eastern Washington is in the tiny town of Republic. GO THERE.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Sweet Briar College closing and Why Women's Colleges Matter

Subtitle: How has attending a women's college helped me?

This is so important. Women's colleges matter. Today, as much as throughout history, women's colleges matter.

Sweet Briar College is closing their doors.

Why is this important? Who cares? There are thousands of colleges and universities in America; what does one less mean?

Sweet Briar College is one of the few women's colleges left in the country. Wikipedia  (forgive me for quoting wikipedia, but it was difficult to find a list) states there are approximately 48 women's colleges still functioning as women's only institutions of higher education. Other articles say there were as many as 230 in the last 50 years. Sweet Briar was founded in 1901, and has been challenging, accepting, and encouraging young women ever since. It has made many top ten lists. They are a small liberal arts school in Virginia with only 760 students enrolled in this academic year and every one of them is a woman who will lose a home.

This is important to me because I attended a women's college. I did, and so did hundreds of thousands of other women throughout history. At one time, of course, they were the only way for women to attend college. What's more, for every woman in America and beyond that is looking at colleges, I want women's college to be an option for them all.

I chose to attend Stephens College after a rigorous and thorough search across the country of the best fit for my formative young adult independent years. I never intended to go to a women's college. I had an older brother, and grew up playing with mostly boys. I had as many boy friends as girl friends, and I'd never considered the idea that I'd ever knowingly choose to spend a significant period of time away from my male counterparts.

I'd also never considered the lack of equality in my life, how hard I fought for success in comparison to men, or what it was to appreciate women and being a woman through the eyes of women only.

I worked exceptionally hard through high school, knowing that I wanted to leave my home state for college. I had a great GPA, a long list of extracurricular activities, and enough volunteer hours and awards to make almost any school I wanted look my way. This is true for many women. When I attended my state theatre festival and auditioned for over 50 schools I was surprised at how many showed an interest. But after a long day of meetings, and several weeks of visiting campuses and pouring over websites--there was only one place that felt like home. Stephens. It didn't hurt that their theatre program was ranked #2 in the country at the time.

I remember making excuses for the inevitable questions--Why are you going to a women's college? Why do those even exist anymore? There aren't any boys there? How will you find your husband? And of course--you're studying theatre?

I remember telling people that Stephens was ranked #2 in the country. That the class size was small and intimate. That I would get more one on one time with my professors. That they had accepted all my AP credits and I could skip a lot of required classes. That the campus was beautiful, and I could get to class within five minutes.  I remember saying "Well there are boys in the theatre department, of course." They were considered apprentices and not students.

The worst part is looking back and realizing that I knew I was making excuses. I hadn't yet reconciled myself to attending a college of only female students. But what I didn't realize was that I already knew deep down that Stephens was perfect for me. A women's college was perfect for me.

I had immediately felt wanted, respected, encouraged, and admired when I stepped onto campus. I had also felt the pressure of living up to a new set of standards and ideals. Not the kind you normally get when going to college--wake yourself up for class, try not to gain the freshman fifteen, higher education means all nighters and big lectures--get used to it. Instead I learned, along with the rest of my class, how to communicate with women, how to empower each other, how to look out for each other without depending on men, what it meant to depend on myself, and how to look at the world as if everything was in my grasp.

Because when a woman attends a women's college--that world is her's for those years. Every opportunity presented is only presented to women. Every experience is only experienced by women. And every opinion is validated by women. By sisters. And when she graduates she never learns to let that go. Women who graduate from women's colleges have a statistically high chance of succeeding in their chosen fields. Why? Because no one taught them to fail. A man was never given a position above them, and never took an opportunity from them. They have learned to believe in themself first and foremost. They have been taught that their opinion is important. And they have spent a significant amount of time in positions of power on their campus, giving them more experience than many women who attend co-educational institutions, and equal experience to many men.

Women's college taught me more about myself than I ever knew before--and most of it I didn't realize until after I graduated and was reintroduced to co-educational society. I spoke more confidently, I knew my goals and ideals, I made plans for my own personal happiness in my future. I interacted differently with romantic partners. I was more assertive about my expectations, and could more easily see and feel things that made me uncomfortable. I learned, in a way I had never fully understood before, the different ways that many women allow themselves to be put down. And more importantly, I felt I knew how to communicate compassionately and effectively with them and teach them what I had learned.

Women's college did make me a feminist. A word I had never associated with before. And a word that means and has always meant the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. I shied away from it for a few years until I realized that doing so was going backwards on everything my education taught me about how to be a strong, independent, brave, bold, thoughtful, passionate, and deserving woman.

And all of this is to say that Sweet Briar College closing is a sad and unfortunate event. It is not just women's colleges that are struggling at this time, in this economy. It is the small private institutions all over. But the reason that this closing is of such tantamount importance is that it takes away one more option from women who might never know how positive an experience attending such a school can be.  These young women who will be unable to finish their degrees at this institution will be looking for a new home. I hope every one of them finds as good a fit as the first one they found. And I encourage them all to look at Stephens College, and any other women's college out there. 

A women's education was the best education I could have given myself. Every excuse I made to people was true, and those were reasons I attended. But I took away even more reasons to encourage other young women to attend. Every woman having to leave Sweet Briar, I'm certain, has a similar story. They are leaving behind their sisters and their family. But they are stronger than many, and are prepared to make bold choices.