Friday, February 8, 2019

Mask Making and Circus School Taking

It's a new year and the start of my second semester of my first year of graduate school. Even months in, it's strange to use those words. Graduate school was a dream for a long time, and it's crazy to look back and think about where I thought I'd be. Certainly not in a physical theatre/devised performance program! Mostly because at the time I didn't know such things existed. And yet nothing could feel like a better fit.

This semester is off to a great start! We've been working with the larval masks, which are large, full-faced masks with no eyes to see out of. So you're moving blindly through the space as you wear the mask. It's a huge challenge, but so exciting to get to release the control an actor feels from trying to express with their eyes instead of their body. We've also been playing with expressive masks, which are much more human looking, and therefore very expressive. These are also full-faced, but with eye holes. And with these we've begun to move towards costuming and props, which are new elements we didn't play with during neutral mask and larval mask. Learning to 'show the mask' (which means keeping the sight line of your eyes up and out towards the audience so they can read you) while not being able to see below your eye holes to the props you're using is an interesting dilemma. It reminds me of when I was first learning stage directions and the confusion of upstage vs. downstage. Sight lines are like a whole new language!

We've also begun a mask making workshop that's been taking a lot of our time. It's so exciting to start creating characters from the mask up. We plastered our faces and made molds in our first 4 hour session. Then we put clay on them and paper mached them with five layers for the second session. We just finished taking the paper mask off the mold, reinforcing the sides with more paper mache, and sanding the paper down to prepare for paint. It's a long process, and we could use a lot more time to do it, but I'm excited to see the finished product. Hint--my mask has 3 chins.

Yesterday we took a field trip to circus school where we walked beams, pipes, and wires. We learned tricks on the Aerial Slings (or silks depending on who you talk to). We tried our hand at trapeze, which I learned is extremely painful without calluses. And of course, we worked on tumbling and partner acrobatics. It was one of my favorite days of graduate school so far. We take acrobatics twice a week, which is always a blast. But the opportunity to use a new apparatus that we don't have on campus was so fun! My entire class agreed we'd love to take classes regularly on trapeze and sling, which we don't have access to on campus. It's a fantastic full body workout, and in some ways easier to see progress than in partner acrobatics and tumbling.

We have a trip to the border planned for Spring Break. Half the class will go to Texas to the Mexican border, and the other half of us are going to the Canadian border. We'll be going as researchers to observe stories, and then we're going to create a piece of theatre about it. Notice I didn't say write a play? We're going to devise a play, which (for those of you who don't know) means we work as an ensemble to craft a piece from the ground up with our bodies, voices, and usually improvisation. Sometimes we throw in text for inspiration, and in this case I can imagine we might use direct text from certain people we meet. Every devising process is different. But the one thing that holds true through all devising is that it doesn't stem from a playwright's words first. It is discovered. And then later potentially written.

In music theory we've moved on to writing songs every week this semester. First week, we used a piece of text that already existed to craft a melody with a pedal played underneath. Last week we were given a specific chord progression with the option of lyrics or no lyrics. It's terribly difficult for me to write a song with no lyrics so I challenged myself to do that last week and it went pretty well. This week we've moved onto the blues. We're using the Twelve Bar Blues, and we learned the blues scale. We'll see how it goes! The best part of class is listening to everyone perform their pieces. It's so invigorating being surrounded by talented individuals. Everyone is so different and their styles and voices always surprise me!

Off to class. Enjoy the pictures!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

A Look Back at First Semester

It's hard to believe that it's the last week of my first semester of graduate school. I know it's been a while since I last updated. I came to realize as the semester went on that part of what makes my program work is that everything is a surprise. The faculty work very diligently to lead the class into each lesson seamlessly without giving anything away in advance. It creates an atmosphere of discovery and adventure. By openly blogging about our creation prompts and lessons I felt like I could potentially reveal too much to others that might venture to take this program.

So I'm working out how best to record my adventures without perhaps giving too much away. I'd love to do a recap for myself though!  This first semester starts with nature. We begin our exploration of the physical body through the neutral mask. This is a Lecoq technique with actual leather masks. It has a lot of similarities with Alexander technique. Finding a neutral stance, and learning your bad habits so you can put less stress on your body. By finding neutral it becomes more apparent when the performer makes a conscious choice to change their physicality, and that's the basis for good character work.

We took our neutral mask through nature. Starting in the ocean, landing on the shore, seeing the edge of a forest, entering the forest, traversing through the forest over obstacles, exiting the forest to reach a field, seeing a mountain, climbing the mountain, peaking and seeing over the edge, coming down the mountain (in various forms), coming to a river, crossing the river, entering tall grass, finding a desert, watching the sun set and the stars come out, then exiting. A long journey! The greatest lesson in the neutral mask through this journey is how to see. When you, as the performer, see what is ahead you allow the audience to see. This is the basis for everything we covered this semester. How does a performer create space. By making sure the mask (aka your face because eventually the mask comes off) faces out, and taking the time to make the gaze specific to the coming space, a performer can create the world before it is entered into. The eyes must always be out and seen.

Throughout this process the faculty was determined that we would be as specific and realistic as possible. We took a trip to the ocean and practiced turning around and seeing it for the first time. Where was your eye drawn? How did your breath change? What was the measure of time it took to see it all?  We also practiced entering and exiting water of different heights. Dry sand to wet sand to shallow water to current catching to waist deep and then shoulders deep. How does the tide move your body? There was so much specificity to be learned.  When we returned to the classroom it was our job to create this same physicality without set or props. Gaze, breath, and physicality. We practiced by breaking the process into steps. Walking on sand, the grabbing of the toes, and then an incremental walk into the water and the difference in weight distribution.

When we'd moved on from the original journey of the neutral mask we took it on different adventures. We did the same journey but called 'Cataclysms' where in each step something big changes the landscape. There was a hurricane in the ocean, a fire in the forest, an avalanche of rocks on the mountain, a volcanic explosion when you reached the top that carried you off, rapids in the river, a tornado in the grass, and a sandstorm in the dessert. How does the physicality change? And how do you keep your face completely neutral through these when not wearing the neutral mask? That was definitely the hardest part. The mask is always neutral, and it teaches you that even after it is gone, your mask should remain neutral too. The facial neutrality allows an audience to stop focusing on that area of the body for clues to how they should respond. Instead it redirects focus to the rest of the body and allows the whole to tell a story. So whenever you're traveling through the cataclysms you have to show a a change in space with your body, but not your face.

Another difficult skill to master is that the story is told by traversing space. It doesn't need to be a struggle. It can be very indulgent and uninteresting to watch a body struggle though space. Climbing the mountain even in an avalanche need not be difficult, because the neutral mask can only move forward. There is no thinking that needs to happen. You can search for the next foothold, but you can only do so if you can do it un-intellectually. Fun, right?  The other challenge was how to recycle space. These journeys have to feel like they're outside of the room you're performing in, and performances often happen in small enclosed spaces. So without a proscenium to help you, how can you continue to cross the same space but make it look different every time?

We incorporate the neutral mask in everything. From there we traveled through different bodies of water. Water seeping from rocks inside a cave, sweating until dripping, then the drips trickle into a creek which becomes a stream which became a river. The river then had a dam which led to a waterfall which led to a larger river with rushing rapids that eventually led to the ocean. In these exercises we put our bodies in the space not as if we ourselves were in the water--but as if we were water itself.  We tackled the elements. We became fire in all its different forms (ash, smoke, spark, burning), and air (hurricane/tornado force, gentle breeze, kite flying weather), and earth (mud, dirt, trees). In each of these forms we started with the breath of the element, and then the gaze. We found the physicality from these and as we physically became them we allowed our breath to create the voice we would use and then improvised language.

This spawned one of my personal favorite creations this semester (spoiler alert: the awkward party). My group decided to be 12 year olds having their first boy girl party and all the awkwardness that comes with greeting parents, being alone in a room with no chaperone, and playing a game of twister. It was fascinating creating scenes where elements inspired characters, but we used those elements to show our interactions. So air can stoke a fire to be bigger, fire can burn earth or earth can put out a fire. Water can put out a fire, or fire can boil water. So many choices!  Suffice to say that everyone thought our party was incredibly awkward once all the elements ended up close together on a twister mat. I should mention this was at the same time that we were practicing 'clocking' in Jeu (Play). Clocking is when a performer turns their mask (face) out to the audience. So you're performing an action as if it's normal and then you face forward. This reads as a comment on the action. The comment is up to the performer. We ended our party with all of us in awkward positions on the mat and then turning to clock the audience, allowing them to feel part of it.

Jeu was a class that took me awhile to get the hang of (actually I'm not sure I ever did get the hang of it), but once I got going it was incredibly freeing. This class allowed us to explore body physicality through games. A lot of class we would put two people in the middle and they would start doing abstract movements until a game was established (even if the game was something as silly as I touch your foot and then you touch mine, or as intricate as basketball) and then once the audience could say what the game was the performers would abstract it again until a new game was formed. In this game the challenge was to try not to necessarily play a real game, and to try and create a relationship with your partner where no one person was leading. So it couldn't be a switch off between who would create the next game. Through breath and listening and repetition of movements the duo would decide simultaneously that they had the next game. Difficult to master but easier the more you do it!

We also played structured games. We played serious games of imaginary tennis with the only goal being to match what your partner was doing so you were playing at the same level. We played a game where you and your partner had to keep the same amount of space between you. So if one person moved forward the other had to move back, same with side to side motion. And if there was a mistake made that changed the space then you had to agree on the new space between you and play that game instead. We played a game where you had to create an object with your hands in space, play with that object until the audience could name it, pass that exact object to another person in the circle who played with it in the same way, and then they had to reshape that object into something else and do the same thing.

All of these games require you to not think. Thinking is the death of play. We played a game of who could die bigger. The weapons would change, but one person would be killed by another, then come back to life and kill the person who killed them, who would come back to life and it would go in a circle endlessly until it felt like the death was as big as it could possibly be.  This class was sometimes difficult in the beginning because each time a new pair started a new game it felt as if the rules changed. I soon realized that the point of the class was that there was no rules at all and that doing something as big as possible was really the name of every game. Take risks, fail big, don't think.

This all feeds into our improvisation classes. In improv we often practice our next step of the neutral mask. We went from elements to colors to paintings to pictures to music and we're finishing the semester with animals. Improv is our opportunity to explore the physicality of these and discover how to perform them with a universal language. How can I be the color blue and have the audience know I'm the color blue? What is the dynamic of the color blue? The rhythm? The breath? How long does it last? What shade is it? A class like Jeu can really free up your body to tackle these questions. I once worked for one week trying to be a picture of a multicolor carpet in a Vegas casino. The script I wrote for this said, "Wa wa waaaa wow wowee woah winding willowy watermelon wildebeasts Welcome!"  And that was normal.

In movement analysis we worked on different 'attitudes'. These are movements working with fixed point. Creating a stick in space, grabbing it, shifting it from horizontal to vertical, and back again. How do you release in a way that the audience believes you don't still have it? Can you leave it in space with your gaze even if your hand isn't touching it? Of course to get there we practiced throwing around real sticks a lot. Can you throw and catch silently? How do you cushion a blow?  We moved imaginary tables and set them. We learned to juggle and do plate tricks. We became different forms of light (starlight, moonlight, sunlight, sun through trees) and then said Shakespeare with our movements. We practiced seeing and climbing walls. We became different materials with our bodies. How does honey leave a jar? How does it land on a new surface? Can your body become the consistency of honey even though you have bones and joints and fingers?

Mostly what we learned this semester is that having bones and joints and fingers and arms and legs makes being other things that aren't human very very difficult. But eventually in all of these explorations we dial back the material/color/element/picture and put the physicality in our bodies as human. Maybe you're 50/50. Or maybe you're 80% one and only 20% the other. Where does the human body take over? When does language become necessary?

I've really enjoyed leaving out language this semester. I thought it would be difficult since I've had a career in popular theatre. This means reciting a script first and physicality last. But this has been such an amazing experience to flip what I know on its head. When the physicality is focused on, it can inform the voice, and the words aren't necessary unless the body can't tell the story alone. And most of the time it feels like it can. I know we'll be adding words back in soon this next semester and that will be a challenge. A lot of times when we speak as these characters we create, it feels like we become a parody instead of embodying it wholly. Such a difficult balance!

Throughout all this we also had our marvelous voice class. We learned different resonators (chest, nasal, mouth) and worked on placement. We've practiced mimicking sound because once your learn placement for yourself it's useful to know if you can recognize placement in someone else and copy it. In fact, this class is where I learn the most pedagogy. We spend so much time watching each of us individually discover whatever the vocal lesson is that by the end you know how to do it as much as you know when you hear it or see it. This means I can tell where someone is placing their voice. Which is really useful.

In our music skills class we're rounding out the semester by writing our own songs. I really didn't know if it was possible to come so far so fast. Our professor told us we'd be writing songs by the end of the class, but it seemed so far off. I actually really like the song I wrote, and I'm looking forward to second semester of music skills where all we'll do will be writing songs. It's hard, but it's such a great skill to have!

I have one final creation showing this week, an evaluation from my professors, and then I'm off for winter break. I plan to do a lot of strength building to stay strong for second semester acrobatics. This semester was somersaults, cartwheels, and handstands. Who knows what next semester holds?

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!