Thursday, February 23, 2012

Happy Lent

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." - From The Book of Common Prayer, Ash Wednesday, 2012 (Matthew 6:16-21)

photo from blog "liturgical time"
Happy Lent everyone!  Last year, I gave up movies for Lent and was very cranky.  Hardest thing I've ever done, probably, and a HUGE lesson for me in the nature and purpose of fasting.  This year, I don't feel a particular pull towards any specific Lenten sacrifice.  Maybe hot air balloon rides?  Maybe group sex in public parks?...or inappropriate jokes?

Growing up, I spent most of my time attending "non-denominational" Christian churches with my mom and missed out on a lot of the the more ancient church-calendar practices of the Catholic and more traditional protestant churches.  As an adult, I've developed a sense of curiosity and respect for the mysticism and tradition of these practices and am still learning a lot about what's behind the thinking of something like Lent, for example.  Today I discovered Liturgical Time, a blog that tracks and illuminates the church calendar.  There's a great deal of peace and reassurance for me in following the footsteps of this cycle of meditation, grace, and mercy.  

There's something artistic and uncanny about Lent, and the church calendar, and indeed about church.  But Lent in particular, for me, is a creative act; a time of gestation and preparing the soul to be receptive.  For me, the season of Lent is a sense of smouldering embers, suppressed desire, boiling water stirred up and seasoned tightly under a lid (as my acting teacher might say), and of really facing truths that might be hard to look at.  

A friend of mine recently told me that one reason he no longer participates in the church is because of an involuntary epiphany he had one day.  Already an actor, he attended service and found himself looking at it from a professional theatrical point of view.  Like always, he saw priests and volunteers wearing costumes, standing on a stage, following a script, using music and cues, telling a story based on a book.  With a sudden, life-altering smack, he concluded that church is basically the same as the theater - all a big show.  He went on to conclude, differently than me, that it must be a fiction.  

I see his point, I really do.  There's an element of religion that's mass manipulation (pun intended), where church assumes the role of a big business playing and preying on peoples' senses of conscience and dignity, family and guilt to take advantage of them financially and, worse, spiritually.  I do see what my friend means about churches seeming an awful lot like theater - there's music and performance, the leaders use public speaking techniques to manipulate their audiences (sorry, I mean, congregations), and the entire teaching and message is part of a narrative/story that some argue is created, not divine.  I get it.  Sure.  A good church service - or any public event - will most likely follow Freytag's pyramid of dramatic structure, just like a good play or a good calendar year.  And I'm not going to say it's always a great thing that churches put on a show, but for me, in general, the theatrical elements of church can make it all the more beautiful. Indeed, I go to theater for much the same reason that I go to church - to experience the truth, to enter a no-bullshit zone where I can make some sense and possibly even some joy out of being human.  We can know God (I believe) as easily in a black-box or the subway as in a pew.

And if church is like theater, the church calendar spells out it's dramatic structure.  Lent is sort of the climax.  In Christian terms, it's the crucifixion - and now, everything is waiting for the denouement, the surprise reversal of Christ's resurrection.  But for now, the shit has hit the fan in Lent.  We have to deal with being human.  The beauty of believing in God is that our story doesn't end there.  Being human isn't limited by our humanness, but rather transcended and set free in infinity.  All of it is building, building, building....waiting, waiting, waiting...

"Remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return."  It's theater at it's best.  And then some.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Equity Bathrooms

The whole union/non-union question is a debate with as many opinions as there are actors.  In fact, probably two opinions per actor.  Everyone sees it through a complex, individually prescribed lens uniquely cracked and shaped by economics, politics, ambition, practicality, need, desire, and pride.

"Why does there even HAVE to be a union," one experienced non-equity actor friend of mine recently vented.  "Isn't it sad that we need a union to force employers to treat us with respect?!"  Another, just bumped up to must-join status, pipes in, "Don't join too soon.  Why rush it?  Let it build up and come to you."  One dear dancer friend, a card-holding equity member who also happens to be (unjustly) unemployed, beats her breast in dejected frustration after long chorus calls and shakes her fist at the sky. "Lot of good an equity card does me," she observes, irked. "Why can't I get a freaking job?!"  Meanwhile, the friend who just marked the anniversary of her first Broadway contract shrugs.  She works really hard and has made it to the top - the White Way.  I ask her, what's it like up there?  Can she picture herself ever doing anything else?  She sighs.  "I dunno.  Acting has just kind of always fell into place for me.  I'm not really that driven, just too lazy to do something else."

it's blurry because it's so glamorous
Humph.  Right.  So, wtf do I do with all that?  Clearly, punching equity actors or myself in the face solves nothing.  So many actors, so many paths.  I get a huge kick out of hearing stories and opinions, and a recent passion of mind is reading biographies of greats - Katherine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Myrna Loy - to get a sense of HOW they made it happen for themselves.  How?  HOW!?!?!?!

Friends, there is no simple answer.  There is not even a complex one.  There is no answer, actually.  There is no rule of thumb or formula for success in this business.  Whatever advice our friends, family, agents, teachers, coaches, or directors can give us, we are the ones who must make the choice.  After all, making choices is our job.  Choices are what an acting career boils down to - on or off the stage - big or small.  Will I sleep in on my day off because I've been feeling sick and I should listen to my body?  Will I get up and try to crash that EPA even though there are approximately 600 other non-equity actresses who look exactly like me?  Will I buy into AFTRA because they are merging with SAG even though I don't have a lot of TV or commercial credits?  Will I take the risk to step up my game by focusing on better job opportunities and higher quality auditions or stick to what I'm used to?  Questions upon questions, diverging paths upon diverging paths, forks forked by forks on top of forks in the road - and no one else can do it for us.  We have to make a choice.

I remember one of my most feared and respected acting teachers in school saying something along the lines of, "If you're going to make a choice, make a bold choice.  If you're not going to make a choice, stop wasting my time and go home."  Yes, this is a paraphrase.  Confession: not only did I not really understand what she was talking about for an embarrassingly long amount of time, but I've also realized that I tend to avoid making scary choices in my career sometimes.  Sometimes I make the (gasp! shame!) safe choice.  Safe is the worst of all four-letter words, for an actor.  And, what's more, sometimes I prefer to just not make a choice and instead avoid making tough calls, preferring to ride in the nether-gray-lands, neither agreeing nor disagreeing, neither pushing forward nor lagging behind.

hold on to that feelin'
Guys, we all have more power than we realize over the course of our careers.  I've had my EMC card in my hands since September, and I used it for the very first time - last week. 

Gasp.  Shame.

Like me, you probably sometimes just sit around with your EMC least, metaphorically.  Sometimes, we slow down instead of accelerating.  But the thing to realize is, THAT IS A CHOICE.  Not making a choice is actually, itself, a choice.  And that's fine, as long as we are honest about what it is.  Sometimes it's important to listen to your body, listen to your wallet, do what you need to do to survive and take care of yourself.  Sometimes we need to choose to postpone making bold choices until we're in a reasonably safe position of power, stability, or confidence.  But know that it's a choice.  And feel empowered by that.

I'm not sure if it's the right time for me to try to buy into the unions and focus on status and membership and all, but I'll tell you, I now choose to make it the time to learn what this whole EMC stuff is all about.  I choose to pay attention, listen, and learn.  I chose to take the card out of my wallet and use it.  And dudes, there is one definite, massive, enormous, beautiful plus side to having an actors union and an EMC card....two words....Equity bathrooms.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

I Want to Not Want to Not Want Things Anymore

You know that auburny-haired gal in your high school who wore crazy outfits built around men's boots?  She was the one who had unpopular and vehement opinions about politics/religion/everything that she never stopped talking about in or out of the appropriate class situation, who read (and quoted) Bronte novels incessantly (especially in everyday conversations), stubbornly tried to revive archaic slang like "swanky," and always won staring contests/vows of silence?  You know, the one who during trips to Wal-Mart would say things like, "I don't want a normal life!  I'll never live in a suburb." And, "Psssht!  I wouldn't be caught dead reading Harry Potter." And, "God, I don't want a St. John.  Gross.  What am I, an automaton?"  (Jane Eyre reference, anyone?)

Well.  X-amount of years later, she's realizing something kind of kooky and wonderful about her life, something that should probably have been obvious all along.  Sure, maybe her obsession with curia and underdogs and gypsies and life's unobserved nooks and crannies stems from something good, some desire to explore and create...and maybe her desire to be different is really not that different, but rather a common symptom of humanity...but all this is beside the point.  The fact is that without meaning to, our bespectacled heroine has followed her creative urges into the swampy land of Contrariety and let it become all about what's NOT for her, what she DOESN'T want.  And this is not fair or brave or really honest.  "I don't want 2.5 kids."  "I don't want to vote for any of these guys."  "I don't like pink."  Okay, well...what DO you want, Miss Too-Cool?

You may have figured this out, but this bon vivant of vetoing to which I refer  I've never seemed to have had a problem pointing out what I disagree with or what isn't perfect or what isn't as it should be.  My mom could tell you that the eye-roll and the "death-stare" were my specialty.  I've gloried in the revolution, the rebels, the devil's advocate.  I own 4 - yes 4 - leather jackets, one for every flavor of outsider.  Why does everything have to be contrary though, Jeanne Joe?  What might happen if I spin the rhetoric, change the attitude?  Take that same desire to create and explore and mix in bravery?  Why is it so hard to admit, even to myself, that I want things?  I don't want to not want things anymore.  I want to be okay with the fact that I do want things.

It's not about what I don't want anymore.  It's now about what I do want.  The truth is that it was safer to play on the edges and shoot down what I don't want, but that's taking the easy way out.  See, if I admit that I actually want something, that makes me vulnerable.  It means I stand the risk of not getting whatever that thing is that I want.  Or worse - getting it!  You can't be disappointed if you don't hope.  Your heart can't break if it doesn't first skip a beat in excitement.  My Dad hates that word, hope; he always says, "Hope is not a strategy."  He's right.  It's not.  But, it can be a source of inspiration.  Inspiration fuels of strategy. 

"Without vision, the people parish."  I want to be brave enough to wear my heart on my sleeve instead of hiding it behind my wits.  Perhaps nothing earth-shattering will happen at first, but rather than continue to play it cool, I'm going to let myself make a fool out of myself with yearning.  Yearning, wanting, admitting, and celebrating my frail human appetite for wanting things.  Probably no Greek mythological figures will appear to wave a scepter and grant my wishes.  But, something magical might happen.  If I can actually admit to myself (and the world) what I DO want, that might be the first step towards achieving it.

So, I've made a decision.  I will keep my love for the obscure and the strange, but no longer will I put down other loves.  I will probably stay quirky, but I will do it in the light instead of the dark and stop shrugging off the truth of what's behind my pangs of desire.  I will own up to what I want and not be ashamed to go for it.  I will be positive, and form my vision for my life out of "yes" instead of "no."  What I am about to say is scary for me, but I think it will be fun.  This is not an exhaustive list but rather the highlight reel, if you will.  My mom would say, "Go for it!"  I hope to look back at this entry in a year's time and see track marks from this moment leading in the direction of these things that I want.  Here are some:
  • dance an actual tango
  • get married and have kids (this is hard for me to admit for some reason, but I really, really do want it.)
  • adopt kids
  • be on 30 Rock!
  • ride the Orient's still there, right?  Probably called something less racist now.
  • take my mom and dad to the Oscars!
  • learn Spanish
  • visit a rain forest
  • study at RADA
  • act in feature films
  • portray a vampire...dead serious (get it!?!)
  • be British (pretty sure this one won't happen for me, unless I can---)
  • invent time travel and alter the past
  • direct a movie
  • start a production company (oh wait, check!)
  • publish a book
There's nothing wrong with knowing your mind or playing devil's advocate.  But the bottom line is, I need to be able to say yes as well as no, to stand up and be counted.  It's okay to want things.  No shame. 

I want to not want to not want things anymore.   ;)