“Lost is a place.”

It’s been four weeks of class in my graduate program in San Diego (eight weeks since I moved). I’ve been living in this completely different (and certainly beautiful) world. Flowers bloom year-round; windows are thin and left open to the whims of the weather (being that often the worst that will happen is a light ten-minute rain, or a heavy dew.)

I spent just shy of nine years in Chicago. I got my undergraduate degree there (a distinction I’m not used to having to make), and then I stayed, wooed by the city and the potential of the art I could make there. There were ups and downs; some pretty great highs, and oh, dear God, some pretty low lows. I became frustrated and jaded, delighted and cynical, wiser, older, a wee chubbier. I spent a lot of nights questioning and making some pretty hardcore mistakes; I shoved in a ton of joy, good times, and moments full of absolute glee and companionship.

Along the way, I became someone who writes. My best friend died, suddenly, awfully; my world fell apart. As I figured out how to reassemble it (and replace the too-damaged pieces), I discovered that baring my soul just a little helped.

I loved Chicago with a fierce zeal, bravely, defensively, deliciously.

And then my life hit another series of hiccups, and I blundered some more, and suddenly the world I had engineered and so lovely felt suffocating. I just couldn’t breathe. I felt as if I couldn’t turn without running into everything I’d screwed up; as if the city were now echoes of the chances I’d fucked over, the weaknesses I’d left grow into faults, the laziness and frustration that had wormed its way into the work that brought me happiness. I really didn’t know what to do; I felt trapped. This was the only place I’d ever loved . . . . what now?

Fast forward ten months. Here I am, ensconced in SoCal; living off of my students loans, driving a little bug to school every day. It’s been four weeks of yoga and vocal journals, movement and play-reading, rehearsing and auditioning and such a foreign focus that I’d nearly forgotten it. I’m developing a tendency to drop my shoulders at the mention of the word ‘release’; I can’t sing in the car without trying to find the buzz in my sinuses. Everything we’re doing, with all of our teachers, is designed to make us aware and vulnerable; sometimes it makes me feel so fragile it’s as if I’ll break. I breathe deep in my belly, exhale as directed, and something releases in me; suddenly my heart aches and my eyes well with tears and I know I’ve just gotta take another breath and try to ride this.

I’ve been thinking, a lot, about how I’ve written less and less since the year after Amanda died. I think it comes down to a few things; one, that my grief for her was simple, and pure, and that I didn’t have to worry about offending her or anyone else. As Elliott Smith so wonderfully said, “Situations get fucked up, and turned around sooner or later”, and I never wanted to write about something honestly that might make the frustration  in my life grow, or be used a weapon. But also – secondly – I know that I just couldn’t bear to be so vulnerable again.

Being a writer, being an artist, being an actor; creating anything, in fact, for the world to see; these are all such naked acts. Sometimes . . . it’s just kinda hard, you know?

In any case. These past few weeks of introspection, analysis, examination – I think we’re all reeling, on different levels, from the vulnerability required to do this. And to do it well, and do it right, and do it justice;  I have in front of me (we do in front of us) the opportunity to grow in a way that’s wildly generous. I want to show up for it. I want to do it well.

The final piece of my struggle is the knowledge in my heart that I’m probably not going back to Chicago. This program encourages work on a level that I’ve worked hard to reach; when I’m done, I’m not sure I’ll have enough options in Chicago to make my life there a chance of ‘giving it all you got’.

When I got to San Diego, and started class, I had a minor meltdown. (I’m pretty sure it was normal, and expected.) One of the things I said, tearfully, on the phone to my mom, was “But no one knows who I am! I don’t know who I am!” Without my friends, without my career, or family, or history? Who am I, anyway? How I define myself as everything I know about me is changing?

For a brief moment in time? I literally don’t know where I am, and I don’t know where I’m going.

So. Finding the courage to move forward, and be vulnerable, without the security of knowing anything about where home will be? I think that’s the challenge right now.

But as our most wonderfully voice teacher said; “hey . . . . lost is a place.”

I don’t know where I’m going. But I’ll get there.

sundays

Sundays in San Diego are developing a leisurely pattern; an AM visit to the Farmer’s Market, followed by an afternoon spent preparing my spoils for the week. I prop up my laptop on some of the precious counter space of my galley kitchen, and find something on Hulu+ to keep me entertained while dicing mango and quartering strawberries, hacking up broccoli and slicing cucumber, and packing everything into tupperware for the week.

Usually, I’ve neglected to keep up with cleaning, so a flurry of dishwashing starts the process, and it’s followed by microwaving or cooking whatever I’ve planned for meals that week. (Two weeks back, I absent-mindly stirred spaghetti while plowing  my way through Mother Courage, my copy of which is now spattered with tomato stains).

Today, I’d made it a mission to get started on my back porch garden; baby succulents were $1.35 apiece, and for the price of 10 they’d throw in two for free to make up a dozen. After my dish and dice extravaganza, I took out the trash and headed over to the hardware store, where I picked up a bag of cactus-friendly potting soil, and made a quick stopover at the nearest-by thrift store, where I added a few more 50-cent mugs to my collection. I dragged it all home, chatting to my mother along the way, and used the last of the daylight to transfer everything. Here are the fruits of my labor:

I know they really need more drainage than a closed cup can provide . . . but I’m hoping that since they’ll get most of their moisture from dew, this might work out.

As I walked back and forth from place to place, I took a couple shots of my surroundings:

And as it got dark, I snapped this too:

Now I’ll sit back with some pumpkin ale, read M. Butterfly, and try to bend my mind around the errands for tomorrow (memorizing lines, taking some paperwork to financial aid, maybe getting a haircut or finally getting around to the laundry. . . . )

So . . .

. . . here I am.

Two months ago, I packed everything I owned into boxes. I dropped by my agent’s office with a dozen roses, I stocked up on Chicago beer, and I spent several fantastic last nights drinking with the people I’d found in my nearly-decade on the lake.

Then I left the city behind in my rearview mirror.

I’ve been in sunny San Diego now for seven weeks; in school for little under a month. It’s sunny all the time, and there are canyons, hills, and an abundance of foreign flowers. The landscape is littered with freeways and donut shops, palm trees and In-And-Outs, and parallel parking and giant-bug-coping are newfound life-skills.

This week, in our hour-break between class and rehearsal, one of my professors asked me in passing, “so, are you glad you came?”

And when I thought about it, I realized .  . . I’m already different.

This was a luckier break than I realized . . . but then again . . . it all has been.

So. Here I am. Negotiating my way from Chicago actress to my So-Cal life.

 

last night

we were on the train coming back from our second-to-last week, leaning fatiguedly on Mary’s bike, chatting – with the weight of being back into the show on us  – and we looked at eachother and said, “What are we going to do when it’s over?”

It was nice to share our despair.

notes (as we settle in)

– it’s such a strange and funny reality doing a play; more and more, as you run it, your ability to be wholly present in the actual room and the imaginary room coincide (what’s really happening vs. all the pretend history and reality you bring onstage with you; I am really in this space with these two people, I am not really in 1816 in Geneva as a sixteen-year-old girl). Looking around you never ceases to engage; there’s always something more specific to discover, a person in the midst of a moment your character hasn’t deemed important until now, the subtle shift of someone else’s moment.

– that there’s little better than the experience of a feeling taking you by surprise; by focussing your attention on the moment in front of you and suddenly finding your lip trembling, your shoulders shaking, or your hands and arms drawing forward in excitement and glee; that the thrill of being an actor is worth every struggling moment offstage when you look for the idea that will activate you today, and you discover onstage that you’ve built the right on-ramp into the scene when you don’t have to do anything but listen to be affected. (bliss).

–  that something as simple as a high-five or a fist-bump can restore you to a calm and sunny reality.

– that I’m always more vulnerable when someone I love who believes in me is in the audience.

– that the day I say goodbye to my family, my performance is always more fraught with aloneness.

– time and shows slip through your fingers and moments pass you by, and there’s no rewinding; especially when you love everything about a project as much as I’ve enjoyed this.

– that the moment something goes terribly wrong can be thrilling – like having sex in public or lying to someone’s face – can we pull this off? Are we clever enough to get away with this? And feeling that we are.

– that even if you can’t stand the idea of the life-long hustle, the frequent starvation and famine, the constant search for work, the inadequate reward, the demeaning and difficult circuit to audition-audition-audition while knowing that you are the only person who is responsible for your belief that you are of value, there is something so unbelievably gorgeous about the entire day living in its pull towards the theatre that night, and to be a person who could live this life (get up, have coffee, do some background reading on the play, watch a little television, engage with the world, clean the house, lounge with the cat, work a little on the business side of the business (mailings or meetings) and then go to the theatre at night?) – would be the best goddamn beautiful life in this goddamn beautiful world.

– breathing, breathing, thinking, and breathing more, and imagining the next three weeks to come. And then trying to cope with the idea that this will end.

guess who forgot to check her props last night?

Nothing like being onstage and realizing that nothing may be where it ought.

And now you’re just gonna have to roll with it.

(huzzah for awesome stage management team who had just about everything in place.)

the rabbit hole.

And so, we opened.

Thursday was a busy beautiful blur of nerves and excitement; double-checking props, striding about the space speaking my favorite Shakespeare, jostling around the dressing room jumping on one foot or the other, shaking out hands and legs and killing three minutes til go-time; a brief and fast group warmup to get us buzzed for the first fifteen minutes of the play (which needs to be launched like a rocket); and then the final high fives and fist bumps and deep breaths-to-exhale-anxiety that happens when the stage lights go out and the backstage bluelight is the only thing you can see and you feel your body start moving forward and oh-my-god-it’s-happening-now.

The right opening night crowd is better than any other you’ll ever have; responsive, loud, funny, listening, generous, supportive. (And almost every time you forget this, and think ‘oh god, it will always be like this!’ – and it pretty much never is.) And did we ever have the right crowd – laughs and laughs, quiet intent silences, and my favorite payoff at the very end of the play with a series of gasps at one truly horrific line (and therefore, a brief suspension of the moment to give the audience time to catch up.)

It’s tricky and marvelous, throwing the audience into the soup we’ve been cooking; it’s the final ingrediant, of course, and the basis and the foundation. The split focus between the people out there and the people in here is key to being an actor. (Duh, right?) And I’ve not had a play in recent memory where it has been so easy to forget there are people beyond our two walls, while at the same time, we’re listening to them constantly (should we hold this moment, should we power on, am I being loud enough and clear enough and using my text well? I love my words but everyone tells me I’m a mumbler and am I engaging my diaphram and pbbbbbbt I just totally dropped that line and oh shit I should be paying attention to what just happened over there across the stage . . . . and it goes on).

By yesterday, we’d been doing the play nonstop (well, one stop, our day off Sunday) for around 18 days.

Running the play is always a different beast than opening it; and opening it was almost entirely joyful.  There’s always the second-night crash; “oh, the house is about a third of the size” “oh, they’re so quiet” “oh, wow, that’s right, we actually have to just do this sucker over and over” – and especially from opening, coupled with the fatigue of the cumultative tech days, (and potentially a hangover from your opening festivities) – opening weekend is a beautiful blessing, and also a reminder that the ship’s now launched and we’ve got to navigate the entire journey piece by piece. (There’s no autopilot for theatre.)

I love running a show; I love how everything deepens; how by the end of the second weekend, you’ve often sick of all the choices you’ve made, and start finding new ones (within the realm of the frame you’ve built); by the third weekend you fall in love with it all over again. I love how certain moments become cherishable. I love about this play that I enjoy something in every scene; that I try not to get too attached to any moment (a sure-fire way to overthink it and make it a mess), but that I’m still swimming through building it, piece by piece. I love pieces of text winnow their way into your mind and give you joy each time you hear or overhear them (“the glimmer of the half-extinguished light” “how one word can mean so much” “I was wrong”); I love the feeling alive that doesn’t happen for me anywhere but onstage.

And yet? Running a play is also a trip down the rabbit hole.

When I was in high school, I did, back to back, a very, very serious and beautiful play about a cancer patient – followed by Guys and Dolls. I didn’t notice a difference in myself, but my mother has commented, often, and a little with wonder “You are so quiet during the play; we’d never seen you so quiet; and then so bubbly and happy during the musical.” It was the first time I realized that of course, of course, the story you were telling every day would have an effect on your life as you told it.

Certain energies get depleted, or replenished. When I did the Greek tragedy, I spent much of my time alone; I’d walk two or three miles a day in the bitter Chicago cold, needing my personal space and distance from the world. I’ve been so often cast as the martyr that I’m actually very comfortable dealing with the fallout of constant sadness and destruction; I’ve found a way through that one, after trial and error; and the second time I did the play, I was (at the same moment) working on a daytime children’s Shakespeare show, so the two counterbalanced eachother.

There’s always an adjustment. During No Exit, I felt smothered by everything and as if I would never, ever get enough sleep; I still speak to and appreciate both of the actors who were stuck in the room with me (both of them are sharp and intelligent and good folk), but our bond was forged by loving and hating that stupid red room where we were trapped eight hours a week. There’s always an adjustment; there’s always fallout.

And so, as we go into running this bear, I’m noticing I’m gonna need some rituals for this one.

Part of the joy of being cast in this show for me, besides the subject matter/cast/director/location/quality of the play/everything, really, was that I’d finally be playing someone different than my usual martyr. I’d be a girl who was partially an agent of her own destruction; I spend the majority of the play being irritated and irritating.

One of my acting teachers – my favorite, actually – has always insisted on the use of the first person when describing your character. I bought into this wholly – “I’m behaving this way, I’m feeling this, I want this” rather than “she does” – and I only now, seventeen shows into my career, am realizing that perhaps this is too powerful for me.

I knew going into this play that it would be something of a rabbit hole; that I’d have to be vigilant about keeping myself apart from my character. That playing a woman whose entire identity and self was based on others wasn’t so foreign, but having it manifest itself in this loud and aggressive manner; this could be dangerous.

It’s such a weird thing walking around with a character inside you. It’s almost schizophrenic; you can find your responses altered, your patience changed, your instincts variable. Amy Morton once said “your body doesn’t know you’re lying”, and it’s so strangely true; that doing the play is like going through a really bad breakup, or a car crash, or a family disaster every night for weeks and weeks and weeks. Starting again at ground zero; erasing the knowledge you’ve gained every night; this becomes both easier and harder as you know the play more. And even as your brain trusts and loves the people you play with, your body starts to betray you, finding it harder to cling to someone having known that in two hours, you’ll be sobbing at their feet.

Unlearning – part of that illusion of first time – just part of the bag of trickery of being an actor.

And I’m trying, very often, these days, to leave every piece of baggage offstage. By this I mean to not cling to a moment, or try and stay in a state throughout the performance; but to merely focus on the action as it’s happening, to be in the room, and to relax and assume that everything’s going to be there. The less you think about a moment and the more you just do it, the better. The less intellectualizing and the more action, the better.

All that said – my freshman acting teacher opened our class once by saying “No one’s a good actor til they’re thirty.” She meant of course that we don’t have enough life experience to know things before thirty; that we can’t necessarily understand, and grasp the weight and complexity of things, of being human, until we’ve lived a little more than eighteen. (And naturally at the time I bristled and preened a little, and naturally, now, I understand, and agree.)

(And thank god I have four more years to figure it out.)

(This is part of my reticience about being a mom. You can’t have a two year old and be emotionally volatile, or absent for two months a year. You can’t be unable to keep a steady keel. )

Annnnnnnnd so.

All this beating around the bush? Is to support that I almost lost my shit this weekend.

By Saturday’s show, I was tired, and harried (like everyone), and seething with irritation (unlike everyone.) I had to remove myself to the greenroom for a while, I was so frustrated and annoyed. I knew, logically, in the back of my brain, that this was all silly and that I was being ridiculous, but I felt so overwhelmed with fury that I had trouble keeping any sort of a lid on it. I paced around the green room, listened to my most soothing music, and did my best to keep myself away from everybody, knowing that my bile wasn’t actually their fault, and that I didn’t want to be a complete asshole. And then it was places, and down the rabbit hole we tumbled, and spewing it out onstage – it felt wholesome, and good. By the end of the play I was able to look people in the eye again.

I felt ashamed, and annoyed, and furious with myself. “You can’t BE like this”, I kept repeating, reminding myself that I hate being someone who’s difficult to work with.  That this is my whole life-long ambition; and I’ve got to find a way to be a person I like and am happy with, and still do work I’m proud of.

In the same way that when you fall in love with someone onstage, you always love them a little bit in the real life (you’ll carry a slight affection for them forever), or when you play sisters or brothers opposite someone, you’ll find a familiar connection for every moment (my show sisters remain people I feel comfortable confiding in no matter how long our time apart), when you repeat and repeat an action with someone, like any relationship, it permeates your reality with them.

The adjustment, then, is in finding how to remind your body, who doesn’t know, what’s real and what’s pretend.

I don’t have an answer to all of this yet. But three days off helps. (Even last night, I felt myself loosening up, letting go of the bitterness, shedding the fear; a few of the  fancy cocktails I was consuming probably didn’t hurt)

It hasn’t changed that I still love this play. (/cast/production/experience/etc).

I’m just going to have to find the path through it that lets me keep the love and discard the dragging anchors.

(and major props to the ladies dressing room for their tentative kindnesses and hugs at intermission. Apologies, as ever, for being nuts. 🙂