Sunday, February 28, 2010

Day 43: Creating space

When we want to bring something new into our lives, we have to create space for it, just as a pregnant woman's body must create space for the fetus growing inside her -- hips spreading, organs shifting, joints loosening.  To constantly wish and ask for something to come into your life without making any space for it, is sending the universe mixed signals.  Which is kinda what I was doing.

One of my personal goals (aside from this project) is to grow my private music teaching studio to the point where I can let go of some of my other work so that I can have more time to write.  But between my 2 non-teaching jobs, I didn't have much time in my schedule to add more students.  I knew I had to let go of something, but it's scary to give up definite money for possible money.  On Monday, I decided to trust that things would work out and made the leap to resign from leading my regular meetings at Weight Watchers.  As much as I love that work, I had to create some space in my life, and I can scarcely believe what has already started to fill it.

All of a sudden, yesterday, I got a boost of exposure to my blog from Gretchen Rubin's site (thank you!) - and am now going to need to dedicate more time to this part of my writing.  Then today, I participated in a "Meet the Coaches" event  where I got to introduce myself as a singing technique teacher to a room full of actors.  I already have 2 new students scheduled for sessions, and several more who expressed interest.  And on Wednesday, I'll be conducting a free singing seminar that I hope will bring in even more students (visit my website for more info).  It is looking likely that very soon I will have to let go of even more non-teaching work to accommodate these new students.

It feels like things are all cracking at once, just because I made a little space for change to happen.  So I encourage you: ask yourself if you have allowed room in your life for what it is you want.  Nature abhors a vacuum, so if you create space, something will fill it.

Will someone please remind me of this the next time I want to take on another project?

Day 42: My Happiness Project

The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More FunAfter hearing Gretchen Rubin speak on Wednesday, I had to check out her Happiness Project blog.   It would appear that I have my own Happiness Project, as at its core this playwriting project is an attempt to answer the question "does playwriting make me happy?"  But in reality, my happiness project started about 3 years ago.

I snapped one day in April of 2007, when I got that one audition rejection letter that, for a myriad of reasons, made me say "I can't do this anymore".  "This" came to mean not only doggedly pursuing my opera career, but also trying ever harder to make a marriage work with a man who clearly didn't want to be with me; living for that day when I would finally have the life I had always wanted; and stuffing down feelings I didn't want to acknowledge with food.  Over the course of the next year or so, I ended a 15 year pursuit of an opera singing career, separated from a 17-year relationship/marriage, and lost 30 pounds.  After realizing what I didn't want, I started to ask "so what do you want?", and tried new things like moving into my own apartment for the first time in my life, creating and performing my own cabaret shows, dating new people, and writing. 

"What do you really want?" is a question I now ask myself constantly, as you know if you read my blog regularly.  This is a foreign question to the old Natalie.  From age 19 to 35, I could have told you exactly what I thought I wanted at that moment as well as 5, 10, 15, 20 years into my future, without ever stopping to question it.  The tectonic shift asking this question has had upon my psyche is most clearly expressed in the fact that my life-long anxiety disorder has completely disappeared.  Going through a major career/identity crisis and a divorce all at the same time forced me to start living in the present, as I could barely figure out where I was going to be in the next 5 minutes, let alone 5 years.  This freed me from the tyranny of always projecting into the future, which is what anxiety essentially is.

It is so easy to ask questions like "what should I do" or "what is the right thing to do"?  I'm really good at asking myself questions like that.  I have a much harder time asking "will this make me happy"?  But at least now I'm trying.  I only wish there were clearer answers.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Day 41: Desire vs. Discipline

(side note from yesterday: I chose to submit Spirit Dust for the play competition. Why, you ask? Because when I thought about the two plays, Spirit Dust seemed much brighter and bigger in my mind. It was the don't-think-about-it answer to the question "which one?". Now, we wait.)

If you're anything like me, you crave those moments when the desire to create (or to do whatever it is that most fulfills you) is so strong that nothing else exists: the TV doesn't call to you; you manage to resist the lure of checking email; you barely register the siren calls of the fridge and/or liquor cabinet. You get so lost in what you're doing that sometimes your bladder has to blurt out a very insistent "I meant NOW" to tear you away for even a moment. Oh, but those days are tremendous.

But they are not every day. Quite the contrary. As much as I bitch and moan about not having enough time to write, I'm amazed at how often I resist writing when I do have a small window of time. I crave long expanses, where I can sink into my writing and really let the creative juices flow. The dream of those glorious multitudinous free hours - nay, days - butts up against the reality of being fortunate if I have a two or three hours free. I then spend too much of those scant few hours resenting that I don't have more and end up not getting any writing done.

How is it possible that I can want so badly to write, and yet so often have to fight the desire to instead have a glass of wine, a bowl of popcorn, and watch How I Met Your Mother on Netflix? Shouldn't the discipline just be there if the desire is there? What of all these big dreams I have if I'm just too damn lazy to spend whatever spare time I might have being creative?

I'm sure my boyfriend (and close friends and family, and likely my therapist) would tell you I'm being too hard on myself; that I rarely have any downtime, and sometimes what I really need is to just sit and veg. On some level, I believe these people are right. But I also think I sometimes use the voices of those people to justify not writing. How do I know when the voice that says "you need to chill" is the sage voice I need to heed, and when that voice is just a lazy whiny brat who needs to be put in the corner with tape over her mouth?

If I figure out an answer, I'll be sure to let you know. In the meantime, as ever, feel free to chime in with opinions/thoughts/suggestions.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Day 40: Choice II

I am still struggling to make the final decision on what short pay to submit to the Samuel French competition. The decision I had thought I made (Shuffle) didn't stick when I got a recommendation from a director I've worked with to submit Spirit Dust instead. I was going to attempt to make some sort of pregnancy analogy for how difficult this decision is, but that was leading me down the road of hypothetical scenarios like if you had to choose only one of two twins to keep. Such a comparison would be a form of hubris that (fortunately) I don't possess.

But it does lead me to reflect on this process of choice. I believe there is a popular ideal in our culture of "listen to your gut" (an idea given special credence by Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking a few years ago). But when your gut runs up against input you're being given by others, and when that input itself is conflicting, how do you make a choice? How do you decide which voice in your head to listen to? How do you discern which voice is the "true" voice (if there is such a thing), which are the voices of fear and doubt trying to sabotage you, which are those of people who really don't know any better than you do?

If I gave you the impression that I would be postulating an answer to that question, I do apologize. Honestly, I don't know how one discerns between these voices. I proposed this question to my therapist this week, and she didn't have an answer either. Apparently, there is no formula to figuring out when you should follow your gut, and when you should carefully examine of all the facts and solicit all of the expert opinions you can find.
The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun
Sometimes, there is no right answer. But any step you take is a step down a path. A decision is better than no decision. I want to learn to embrace the advice I heard from Gretchen Rubin (of the Happiness Project fame) last night at her joint talk with Julie Powell (of Julie & Juliafame): to "enjoy the fun of failure". "This is risk; this is challenge. If you aren't failing, you aren't trying hard enough."
Julie & JuliaSo I'm going to try. I'm going to submit one of my plays - either Spirit Dust or All in the Shuffle -- to the Samuel French competition. Which one, you ask? The one playwriting teacher number two suggested? Or the one my director suggested? The one my gut tells me is the stronger stand-alone piece? Or the one that has been tested in front of an audience and I know plays well? I'll let you know as soon as I do. Feel free to let me know your opinion.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Day 38: Expectations

Is there ever a circumstance in the human existence where our expectations are higher than those we have for our children? I can only imagine, of course, the dreams a parent must have of what their child might come to be and the place it will take in the world, or the pride a parent feels in the person they have helped shape their child to become -- or the disappointment when those expectations are not fulfilled. When that happens, it often isn't so much the child's "failure" to live up to those expectations, but in the expectations themselves.

I had such high expectations for my rewrite of Spirit Dust this weekend. When I finished the rewrite on Saturday night around 1am, I felt pretty confident that I had created a much stronger piece. The next morning, I was a bit nervous that I wouldn't feel the same -- that in the light of the morning I would see all these glaring holes in the piece, all these questions from last week's reading unanswered. But instead, I found myself crying -- truly crying -- at what I had written. Once again, the cook praising their own cooking, but it is how I felt.

I was excited to bring my work to class. As it was read aloud, I still felt it was solid. However, when the discussion began, the comments revealed that there were still many questions raised by the script. Not exactly holes in the plot, but things that they didn't quite believe or understand, that made them stop listening to ask themselves "why"? This is not what you want as a playwright. Things don't have to be true-to-life, exactly, but believable enough so that people don't question and can just really listen.

I was extremely disappointed in my little play. It had not lived up to my expectations. Unfortunately I can't blame the play for not listening to me, or accuse its friends for leading it astray -- only I was responsible. I was left not knowing what to do. I have no time to do a rewrite this week. So do I send an imperfect script out into the world? Try to submit a different piece? Of my three strongest short pieces, each one has a potential weak spot -- so how do I choose?

I do not yet have the confidence in my work to trust my gut on decisions like these. So I turned to my soon-to-be new playwriting teacher, Stuart Spencer (you've seen him before in my blog -- he wrote the book I studied). He had just read two of my works to evaluate if I was at an appropriate level to take his upcoming course, and had enjoyed them (and offered me a spot in his class -- I'm very excited). I asked what he thought I should do, and he recommended that I submit All in the Shuffle. So Frank is back in the game, and maybe, just maybe, will find himself in print by Samuel French.

The best part about this decision is that I can stop working on other things right now and get back to Frank. I have left him in Vivian's kitchen, begging Angie for a ride home after his wife's funeral, for far too long now. I think he's getting annoyed with me.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Day 36: Silence

Are you missing Frank? Wondering what's happening to him? Me too. I promise I'll get back to him soon. Truly.

I had to take a hiatus from Frank the last week, because I had to focus on a rewrite of Spirit Dust which I will be submitting for the Samuel French short play competition. As it is an honor to have been chosen to submit for this, and it is an opportunity to possibly get published, I want to make sure I am submitting my very best work. I took Spirit Dust into class last week to get feedback on my previous rewrite, and there were still some unanswered questions I needed to address. So that has been my focus this week, as tomorrow is the last chance to have it read in class again before the submission deadline.

The other thing I've been focusing on this week is me. As I wrote in Day 31: Eating for Two, I'm learning that I need to refuel my energy stores more often in order to be able to be creative. So I made sure to schedule time with friends, to exercise, to get a little pampered, to see some theater. I only forgot one thing: time to be quiet.

My tummy got a bit upset with me on Thursday and Friday (I still don't know what I did to offend it). This forced me to cancel some of my carefully laid refueling plans and just be home and rest. During that quiet time, I finally felt my creative juices kick in again of their own accord. Instead of aggressively approaching my artist brain and saying "ok, we have to write now, I only have til 3" -- at which point she would accuse me of never having enough time for her and haughtily turn her back to me - I was able to sit back, casually chat with her awhile, and wait for her to approach and say "hey there good lookin', would you like to take me out for a spin?". (Apparently my artist brain likes to play a little hard-to-get.) I thus rediscovered a place where I didn't feel any resistance, where writing was the only thing I wanted to do. It was - is - a wonderful feeling.

While I won't say the rewrites on Spirit Dust have been easy - any more than I imagine trying to re-sculpt the angle of a bent knee in a marble statue would be easy -- the process of writing, of being "in the zone" has been delightful.

The lesson? As I am attempting to restructure my life and work schedule -- to rewrite the script of my daily life -- I need to remember the importance of silence. I believe I wrote of this lesson once before in this blog -- apparently it is one I must continue to learn.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Day 33: Genetic make-up

Is there every truly such a thing as a birth? In the sense of something starting completely new, fresh, clean? Everything is a product of something that came before: a baby is the product of its parents; even the phoenix rising from the ashes came from, well, the ashes. Our past -- or our genetic make-up -- determines to at least some extent what we will become.

I have always been an incredibly forward-looking person. I have often bemoaned the fact that I remember so little of my childhood, I think partly because I never stopped to really remember those memories. I feel it happening to me again now, as it is easier in the grief of a divorce to just not remember. I put my memories in a box and pack them away, only looking forward to what I need to do next. This is, eerily, the same thing I said about Anne, the mother in my short play Spirit Dust, when my teacher asked me why it was Anne had packed away all the family memorabilia in a chest, never to be opened. I said she was the kind of person who found it too painful to look at reminders of the past; it was easier just to focus on what had to be done. I had no idea as I spoke those words that I had borrowed that character trait from myself.

My therapist made me realize today that I have done the same thing with my singing. Over the last 2 years as I have been mourning the death of my opera dream and possibly now any sort of singing career dream, I have just not remembered all the great experiences I had singing: all the exhilarating performances, all the technical (and personal) epiphanies, all the soaring musical moments where I was transported to a different realm. She made me unpack some of those memories today, in order to tap into their beauty and bring that beauty forward into my current life, whatever form that my take.

I have to remember who I was in order to figure out who I am becoming. Whether I remain a writer or return to singing or become something else entirely, my opera singing (and my first marriage) will always be a part of who I am. My plays, too, are a product of who I was, and will be richer the more memories I have to draw on.

I have some more boxes to unpack, but there's time. Fortunately I don't have plans to move anywhere.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Day 31: Eating for two

Creating a new life form takes a lot of energy. Just ask my 8.5 month pregnant best friend who has been so exhausted that she has rarely left the house except for work since she began nourishing her little parasite last summer. But you can't directly feed the little one in utero -- the mother has to nourish herself in order for the baby to get what it needs.

My schedule has been so manic lately that I haven't been able to sufficiently nourish myself or thus my little creative beastie. The fuel I need to be creative is a mixture of one part rest, two parts surrounding myself with great art and/or artists, one part spending time with loved ones, and one part having quiet time to clear my mind. Make that last thing two parts. Or perhaps even three.

This weekend I made sure I got a big dose of that fuel. I arranged a full day off for myself by getting coverage for work and refusing to schedule voice students on the holiday today (even though that cost me money). I carved out time to meet some fabulous creative folks through my friend/writing partner Kat and went to playwriting class. I scheduled time with my chosen family, whom I have seen far too little of lately. I went ice skating in central park for the first time (something I've been meaning to do for 5 years). I sat alone and was quiet, for more than five minutes.

I feel fantastic. I feel nourished. I am looking forward to this week and seeing what creativity unfolds. I have already scheduled in a lot of my fuel for this week: time with Kat, an artist's date with myself to see God of Carnage, a mani/pedi, a session with my personal trainer, an evening with one of my best friends. Hopefully I'll find a way to squeeze some sleep in there too. Speaking of which... good night.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Day 29: Mourning Sickness

The problem with being passionate about (and talented at) more than one thing is that it just doesn't seem possible to go after more than one creative pursuit full-throttle. At least not while you have to work other jobs to pay your bills. I don't know how those Renaissance men like Da Vinci did it, but I'm guessing he was either wealthy or had a patron and thus didn't have to slog between 3 different jobs in order to put food on his table.

Good lord, does that sound like I just compared myself to Da Vinci? How horrifically pretentious of me. Hopefully you know what I meant.

I love music; I love being on stage. And I'm a damn good singer. I also love writing. I love watching something I've written be received by an audience -- hearing them laugh and cry at words I wrote. I love hearing people tell me that they are "totally addicted to my blog" (!). It seems that people are responding to my writing in a deeper, more profound way than they did to my singing. As much as this pleases me, it doesn't come without some grief. Having defined myself as a singer and musician for most of my life, to let the pursuit of the performing career go is painful. It's its own little death.

I have this fear that there is one "right" thing I'm supposed to do: one "right" thing that will make me successful/famous, that will allow me to rise to the top, to be widely recognized, appreciated and rewarded for my talent. I fear I will waste all this talent I've been given by not doing that "right" thing. After all, it took me 15 years to figure out I was on the wrong path with opera -- that it wasn't the art form that is most authentic/natural to me. No regrets, but I don't want to make that same mistake again. Is writing that thing I "should" be doing?

I keep running into the word "authentic." I always had trouble getting my authentic self to shine through when I was performing opera. It was less of a struggle with musical theater. But it just seems to happen when I write. Somehow the core of me comes through on the page/screen, and people connect to this. So does that mean writing is that "right" thing?

A couple of days ago, I told my sister I think I want to write a book. That same day, someone else - without any mention of it from me - told me she could see me writing a book. And that maybe that book would turn into a talk show (universe, are you listening?). That same person also told me that I don't have to give up the singing career forever -- I can just choose the writing for today. One day at a time. She told me to stop asking myself what is the right thing, and instead ask myself if it feels right.

Right now, the thing of all my creative work that feels the most "right" is writing this blog. So that's what I'm doing. And I'll go talk to Frank again after dinner and see if I can write down a bit more of his story.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Day 27: Arrested Development

I seem to be stalled. Yesterday's "snowpocalypse" afforded me the luxury of a few hours to write, my only real extended block to do so this week until Saturday evening. I was determined and excited to reconnect with Frank, especially after our little conversation on Tuesday (which I thought had given me an idea of what the next scene would be). I turned off my phone, quit out of Firefox, and started to write. Sort of.

I stopped and started 3 or 4 different scenes. I kept getting stuck -- a handful of lines in and the scene would just stall. I couldn't seem to get any forward movement. I kept asking myself "what do these characters want from each other?", and couldn't hear a clear answer. So then I started asking them what they want, hoping for a reply. One finally came through from Frank, but it didn't feel like a terribly strong desire and I couldn't seem to figure out how to get him to fight for it for more than a line or two. Finally it was time to put it to rest so that I could celebrate the one-year-anniversary of my first date with my boyfriend, so I left it alone, frustrated. (Three cheers for a boyfriend who understands the frustration of not being able to create when you are really trying to, and who thus wasn't upset that I was cranky for the first part of our evening).

Today that magic thing happened that sometimes happens when I take my journal out on the subway and start writing. I keyed into something. I again asked Frank what he wanted, and boy did I get a clear response. I finally understood what he wants, and how desperately he wants it - at least in this moment of the play. Then I also immediately realized my challenge in writing for this character:

When you have a character who doesn't like to talk, how do they go after what they want?

You've all known the sort -- the taciturn, say-as-few-words-as-possible kind of person who is as likely to merely shrug or utter a "hmmpf" as he is to form a syllable. The anti-story-teller, the sort who doesn't see the point in trying to explain things that just are. The sort for whom saying too much is revealing too much; who hides behind a wall of silence.

When such a person truly, desperately needs something, but is too proud and afraid to express why they need it, how do they try to get what they want? I'm not sure I know the answer to this. I'm hoping Frank will reveal it to me, but I also wouldn't mind some suggestions. Any thoughts from my readers?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Day 25: I hear play people

A conversation between Natalie and Frank.

Hi Frank.

(silence as Frank continues dealing a game of solitaire)

How you doing?

Been sittin' here a long time, nothin to do.

I know, I'm sorry. But I was kinda busy, putting on that short play with you in it. Don't you remember that?

You wrote that months ago. Nothin new there for me to concern myself with. (pause) Besides, you're not even sure that's my story.

What is your story?

You mean you don't know?

Frankly -- pardon the pun -- no.

Lord help us.

You stole that line.


Yes you did. I wrote that line for you in All in the Shuffle.

So it's my line. Can't steal what's already mine.

Oh, fine. (pause) So... what is your story? I'm still kinda new at this -- can't you help me out? Give me a hint?

A hint?

Or you could just tell me the whole thing, start to finish, that would make it a lot easier.



What's it about? Can you at least tell me that?

What's in it for me?

A finished play all about you, you crotchety old fart.

(Frank shoots Natalie a dirty look, then returns to his solitaire game) Loneliness. Choices.

Choices? Really? How so?

We all make choices, Natalie.

But how can a play be "about" choices? We all make choices, yes, but thousands of times a day, like do I eat a mini Snickers bar from the candy jar on the receptionist's desk or force myself to walk straight by it and have tea instead? That's not terribly dramatic. By itself, "choices" doesn't seem like much to hang a story on.

But how do we make those choices? What are the consequences?

Gee, Frank, those are awful lofty words and sentences coming from you. That doesn't sound like your voice at all.

Talk to the playwright.

Touche. So you're saying it's about facing up to the choices we make? How we make choices? Stubbornness?

Didn't say that.

It just came to me. Stubbornness. Tunnel vision. Balance. Consequences. Choosing to live for yourself or for other people.

Are you sure you're still talkin about my story?

No. But you are the one who said choices.

You said I said choices.

Oh no, let's not get into one of those meta things where the character is telling me he's just part of my brain so really everything that he's saying to me is really something I'm saying to myself... I'm trying to let you talk here. To hear what you have to say, not what I think you should say.

You think you can tell the difference?

As a matter of fact -- yes.

This oughta be good.

There are things that just.... feel right. There is some kind of fundamental truth to your story, that I just have to uncover. I wrote about that in my blog a few days ago -- did you read it?

(Frank rolls his eyes).

You know, you might want to take a bit more of an interest in the person who is creating you. I could just, you know, stop. And then where would you be?

How long are you going to let this drag on? I'm tired. What time is it?


Where's my ice cream?

You want your ice cream so bad you can just go back to scene one and get it from Shirley. Actually, that's where I last left you -- by my account, you have your damn ice cream right now.

Well lookie there.

(silence for a couple of moments as Frank eats his ice cream)

So..... what's next? I don't know what you're supposed to do next.

Supposed to? I'm 72. I'm not supposed to do anything. Except maybe watch tv, play some cards, drink a little hooch.

That doesn't make for much of a play.

Doesn't it?

You are so unhelpful.

(sighs) Look. Change is hard. Moving is hard. Losing someone is hard. Doing that with your body giving out on you is -- well, more than most folks ever want to have to deal with.

(smiling broadly) Got it. Thanks, Frank. I owe you one.

Damn straight. Now get to it. I'm gettin a cramp from sitting in this same damn chair for so long.

Yes, sir.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Day 24: Choice

This week was intense, crazy, wonderful, exhausting, satisfying. I got very little sleep, I didn't go to the gym, I ate like crap (comparatively speaking), I learned a ton. I don't regret a second of it.

Completely of my own choosing, I set myself up for this crazy week by having both a play I was producing and a show I was performing. I could have easily said, no I can't do the Opera on Tap gig since I already had the play scheduled some time ago. But I didn't. Because I wanted to sing again (and was being encouraged to do so by my best-boyfriend-ever) and because I wanted to be part of such an amazing evening to help fundraise for Haiti.

I very easily could have gotten super stressed out and cranky and short-tempered this week. After all, having so many days in a row with dinners eaten on the subway can make a person a little nuts. At one point, I found myself asking said-self what it would feel like to just come home after work and half nothing else to do (which sounded very appealing at that particular moment). Then I remembered: I tried that a couple of years ago when I quit pursuing my opera career, and after a couple of months, my sanity had grown alarmingly precarious.

I choose this life. I choose to have money be a struggle, to have my schedule on my palm pilot look like a game of tetris, to not have stability, to relentlessly pursue something that I may never be financially successful at, to constantly put myself out there in ways that leave me vulnerable to disappointment, frustration, and grief -- but in ways that also leave me vulnerable to intense moments of creative joy that surpass any joy I have ever experienced in any other facet of my life.

Artists (including myself) often say "this is not something you choose to do -- it is something you are." I have been known to say that this is not a career you choose unless you have to -- unless nothing else in this life will make you happy. I guess that's what it is for me. I recognize that it is a choice, though it doesn't really feel like one because the consequences for not doing it are so unbearable that I couldn't ever choose to not create.

At the Opera on Tap benefit on Wednesday, I could scarcely believe the talent that was gathered there. Not by audition or screening or any other means than that these were all musicians who happen to know Annie (the woman who runs OOT). Every act was incredible. The whole 5 hours worth. And I doubt very many - if any - of them actually make a living performing. In the past that would have depressed me, but this week, that observation felt like a big comfy blanket -- "I'm in such good company." For years I've felt like such a failure for not having "made it", like everyone must look at me and think I'm foolish (and untalented) for continuing to pursue my art when I'm not getting major recognition for it. Well, no more. I'm good, I know I'm good, and there are so many other amazingly good people out there who also don't "make it". I think perhaps we need to change our definition of what "success" means when it comes to art.

I come away from this week with a renewed sense of my place in this world as an artist. With a renewed sense of self, and a rekindled desire to strengthen friendships with fellow artists/creatives in my life, to help me keep my own creative fires going strong.

I have some challenging life/work choices in front of me, but after this week, those choices are clearer.

Day 23: Proud Mama

The first performance of All in the Shuffle went beautifully tonight. I imagine it will be even better tomorrow, as the first performance in front of an audience changes the energy so much that it's always a bit of a shock. Tomorrow the actors will be able to relax into that new energy more.

It is always so interesting to witness an audience react to a piece (as either a performer or as a writer). To hear where they laugh, where they go completely still.... it isn't always what you expect. There were so many laughs tonight -- several that surprised me (in a good way). I can't wait to see how the audience reacts tomorrow.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Day 22: Parental Responsibility

I just tried to schedule a dinner with my pregnant friend for 2 weeks from now. I was informed that she will be at 37 weeks at that point, and since that is technically full-term and she could go into labor at any point, she isn't scheduling anything out of the house from then on. Hard to believe how quickly this all is coming, and how much my friends' lives (and to a drastically lesser extent mine) are going to change in the next month once this little beast comes into the world. The baby will take all priority, as it should.

Which got me thinking. Today I went to the Actors Connection to learn more about what they do to help actors get work. I've been wondering if there are ways I could dip my toes back into professional performing waters again -- ways that would fit within the confines of the rest of my life (my jobs, my writing, my boyfriend, my friends, etc). Each of these things is practically its own full-time pursuit -- how do I decide where to put my time and energies? Writing, performing, teaching, my personal life -- how do I balance it all?

The main reason I don't have kids is that, back when I actually wanted them, I wanted to wait until my singing career was established before I had them. I was afraid I would resent my kids for keeping me from being able to fully pursue my career, and that is not fair to them. By the time it didn't make sense to wait any longer, I didn't want kids anymore. Thank god for that, given what became of my marriage.

But back to the point: I am now "pregnant" with this play -- I've made a commitment to this project. I feel a sense of responsibility to it. This "baby" deserves my time and attention. I don't want it to be neglected. I don't want to get sidetracked by endless other pursuits, as wonderful as they are (and as good at them as I may be). So am I ready to say I'm going to focus on writing instead of performing? Am I ok with that?

I don't know. But I think for the next 9 months, I owe it to this little beast I'm creating (and the creative beast within me) to give it my attention. The performing will still be there if I decide to focus my energies back on that. I can satisfy that itch with smaller things like the Opera on Tap gig I did this week, and performing with Kat now and then. At least, that's the plan for today.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Day 20: Uncovering

If it's bad form for a cook to say how yummy their food is, is it also bad form a playwright to laugh and cry while watching one of her own works?

Last night's rehearsal of All in the Shuffle (the Frank scene that is performing this weekend) left me feeling like I'd been punched in the gut. This might not sound like a good thing, but I think when a piece of theater can do that, you've really got something. If my actors do in performance what they did last night, I doubt there will be a dry eye in the house. If it's not too brazen for me to say so.

One of the most fascinating parts of this rehearsal process -- and what I love about how my director, Dann Fink, works -- is hearing what the actors and director pull out of my script beyond what is written on the page. He will ask them to flush out all these details of who they are, where they are, who the other people in their lives are, what they do, what their day was like before the scene, what happened 30 years ago to lead them to this place. A lot of the time, the actors say what it was I had in my mind, even if I hadn't expressly written it in the script. It really is as if these characters and this story already exist, and there are facts about them that are just true. And not just in my head, but also in everyone else's. One example: I had been struggling to figure out what was wrong with Angie's brother, Billy. I knew there was something wrong with him, but wasn't sure what. I got a sudden idea and jotted down on the back of the script "Billy has PTSD from Vietnam". Not two minutes later, Laura ("Angie") said "I was thinking maybe Billy had PTSD from serving in Vietnam". Almost creepy.

I remember reading that Michaelangelo felt that the sculptures he made already existed in the marble, he just had to uncover them. I think that's why my favorite works of his are the Prisoners, where you can see these characters that are still trapped in the stone, not quite free yet. My play feels like that right now -- it is there, just waiting for me to uncover it.

I look forward to having time to return to the actual writing of this play, once this performance is over. But I know that I will return to the writing with a fresh perspective on these characters, and a deeper understanding of what is working (and what might not be) in my writing. It's certainly still time well-spent.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Day 18: Twins?

I think I'm having twins. Fraternal twins that is, as the second creation isn't even a play, it's a short film. Because I need another project right now, just like a new mother needs a second mouth to feed and diaper to change.

I went to an Industry Power Play networking event tonight that included the reading of a handful of short plays and screenplay excerpts. One of the women who runs it, Alex, had invited me to bring a script to be read. It sounded like a great opportunity to have some of my writing read and heard outside of my playwriting class. So even though I really didn't need to add another event to this crazy week (and because it was only a block from where I was rehearsing with Kat for our performance on Wednesday), I accepted her invitation. Since the Frank scenes really require Frank, er, I mean Robert (the actor I wrote them for) to pull them off, I decided to bring in a different piece called Spirit Dust. It's a piece set in the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, where a young girl is trying to unlock the secrets of her family's past.

It was very warmly received by the score or so of people present, which made me very happy. While listening to the reading, I realized how very visual the piece is, as most of the pivot points of the drama occur in the stage directions rather than in the dialogue. It made me wonder if Spirit Dust is more of a film piece than a stage piece. I know almost nothing about writing for film, but the one thing I've heard is that film is so visually driven that you should generally be able to follow the plot with the sound off. I think that might apply to this piece.

I mentioned this to a few people after the reading, including Alex. She said she thought it could be "very beautiful" and that she would be happy to film it for me. She has access to all the necessary equipment (for free) and would also be interested in directing it. Since I could likely find actors looking to build their portfolios to work for little/no cost, and since I have a very talented boyfriend who would be delighted to provide the sound effects and music score, I could get this short film made for the minimal cost of some props and costumes. That seems like entirely too good an opportunity to pass up.

My obsessive brain wants to immediately start posting ads for actors and looking up whether or not I could get the rights to a Woodie Guthrie song for the score, but I must focus on the more immediate tasks at hand: my singing performance on Wednesday and the performance of one of my short Frank plays this weekend. For those of you who've been following Frank and are worried about him, he's doing ok. He's actually kind of a busy fellow at the moment, being in two places at once (he's at the beginning of the play as I'm writing it, but the scene that is performing this weekend takes place several months later). I think the time traveling is good for keeping his spirits up.

I really should go to bed now, but I'm so wired after this evening that it's difficult to do so. I must try, so off I sign.