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all of the crying inebriated humans in Times Square, and then there’s ME!

If you’re ever going to spend New Year’s Eve in Times Square, it is advisable that you:

1) Have a special invitation to a party on hand, so you can saunter right past the police officers down a closed-off street feeling more like a badass than you’ve ever felt before in your life.

2) Attend a party on the 16th floor with this view at midnight:

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3) Lean out the widow (in your tiara, natch) to watch one ton of confetti rain down on one million humans

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4) Cry a few times about how much you love dumb NYC and the amazing friends you have here esp. Sammie LOOK AT US BEING IN FRIEND LOVE

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You will feel invincible, guaranteed.

For an extra special experience, spend the following day (New Year’s Day, if you’re keeping track) eating amazing homemade borscht with other best friends and then take a walk to watch the sunset over the Hudson and look at the GWB (my lady friends flashed the people of New Jersey and highly recommend it, so we will take their word/make that a priority for 1/1/18) and feel the feelings of peace and optimism that have been missing for a while.

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It may not be New Year’s Eve at Studio 54, 1978 (photographed by Tod Papageorge, I’m obsessed) but it’s pretty damn wonderful.

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can’t shake 2016

It’s December 2016 and I’m fairly certain that my brain is more cluttered than it’s ever been before. There’s the shock and dismay and anger about the current state of the world, and the fear and apprehension about whatever awaits us in 2017. There’s the lack of concrete answers for those feelings. There are my own artistic ambitions combined with my desire to figure out how to actively contribute to healing the hurt. There’s the gladness and gratitude for the adventures in 2016, the time spent strengthening old friendships, and the new friends made along the way.

My brain is full of static. My imagine and my spirit also feel cluttered.

At the same time, I keep thinking about some of the art I’ve experienced this year.

In no particular order, here are some of the things I came across in 2016 that broke through the clutter and set up camp in my consciousness. These are things I can’t stop thinking about.

 

Theatre:

The extreme joy and extreme pain in Shuffle Along, or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, not to mention the ensemble performances and Savion Glover’s choreography for that train travel sequence; Ivo van Hove’s cracking open of The Crucible which allowed me to experience the desperation in that play in a whole new way; David Hyde Pierce’s stirring performance in Adam Bock’s A Life, reminding me why he’s one of my most favorite performers of all time and why Adam Bock is one of my most favorite playwrights–I must also acknowledge Anne Kauffman’s exquisite direction and that amazing set. Everything about the writing and the production of Samuel D. Hunter’s The Harvest left me wide-eyed and openhearted–the compassion for a community of our society that I never understand was a gift, as were those performances. The Wilma Theater’s production of Andrew Bovell’s When the Rain Stops Falling was like a rich, amazing dinner–so much to chew on and so satisfying, so deep, so thorough, so good. Similarly, Ivo van Hove’s Kings of War was an extraordinarily epic undertaking which deepened my understanding of all five of those plays–a reminder that some stories are just too big to be contained. Simon Stone’s production of Lora’s Yerma at the Old Vic was my favorite direction for the stage this year. Suzan-Lori Parks’s The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World AKA the Negro Book of the Dead is a play that amazes, terrifies, and awakens me, and the Lileana Blain Cruz’s production reminded me that plays can do so much more than only tell a good story. Sheridan Smith in Funny Girl on the West End reminded me after a year spent working on plays exclusively that there’s nothing better than a glorious musical. Bartlett Sher’s production of Fiddler on the Roof, with the incomparable Danny Burstein and Judy Kuhn (two more favorite actors) was, for me, a perfect blend of theatrical daring and good old fashioned craft; I must also acknowledge the pit orchestra, the scenic design, and the choreography which also contributed to a thrilling experience. Kaija Saariaho’s L’Amour de Loin at the Met was sublime in every way.

I will never forget Taylor Mac’s A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, which I think about daily and which inspires me to be a better creative human more than any theatrical experience I’ve ever had before.

Finally, everything about The Band’s Visit moved my heart and also made me want to make better theatre. It was my favorite theatrical experience of 2016.

 

Music:

Two specific live performances: seeing Regina Spektor live at Town Hall was a longtime dream come true; she is the songwriter I steal from more than anyone else. And, the chorus of Met’s production of Rossini’s Guillaume Tell gave me an introduction to that score that I’ll be savoring for a long time.

 

Literature:

Hanya Yanigihara’s A Little Life has stayed with me in ways few novels have; I talk about it with anyone I meet who has read it and I want to reread it soon. Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing is a novel every single person should read. I also deeply loved Nicole Dennis-Benn’s Here Comes the Sun and Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing. My favorite thing I read all year, though, is easily George Elliot’s Middlemarch, which is just glorious in every way. I’m glad I finally read it and I can’t wait to reread it again and again.

 

Visual Art:

The entirety of the Mona Hatoum exhibit at the Tate Modern, as well as Jane Alexander’s African Adventure also at the Tate. Goya’s The Dog at the Prado haunts me. And then nothing compares to finally seeing pieces you’ve studied from afar up close and in person: The Garden of Earthly Delights and Guernica were indescribably extraordinary.


My favorite moment of 2016 was reading The Brothers Karamazov on the Mirador de San Nicolás in Granada, listening to the live music and the live people while we waited to watch the sunset over the Alhambra. The sunset did not disappoint.

my own circus act

I had the true pleasure recently of attending a performance of Les 7 Doights de la Main’s miraculous circus production Sequence 8. This was a production I had seen before—three years ago—and I had also seen their PSY, as well as their work in the revival of Pippin. I consider myself a huge fan of their work, and I really loved Sequence 8 when I saw it a few years back, so I was glad for the opportunity to attend again.

To me, it is one of those pieces that is so self-confident and thoroughly prepared that it exists as its own perfect thing. There’s a comfort in knowing that these artists have been performing this show for many years, on stages all over the world—they know the piece inside and out, they know each other in that necessary way you should know someone who is going to flip you in the air and then catch you, and the joy shared among all the artists involved is palpable. And yet, this confidence is only the springboard for the spontaneity that is part of the thrill of acrobatics: just because an act was executed flawlessly once doesn’t mean it is guaranteed to happen again, and the performers must always be present and focused in order to both perform the moves beautifully and also maintain safety. These performers are all pros, of course, but there was a clear awareness that in work of that kind, anything is possible; one missed step, one tilt too far, and the body crumbles.

It is curious to see the same production three years apart. I spent the subway ride home thinking about who I was as an audience member the first time I encountered this piece, compared to who I am this time around. Three years isn’t an enormous amount of time, but it was a period of transition—I live in a different place, I’m no longer in school, I’ve encountered people and art and experiences that have expanded my understanding of the world and my knowledge of my place within it. The first time I saw it, I was impressed by the physical performances and the overall impact of the piece. This time, I most responded to everything going on around the piece itself, as well as underneath it—the spine, the undercurrent, the true essence of what I was seeing.

I consider myself a patient person, but I think attempting to carve out the life of an artist at the age of 23 living in a world with so much noise and advice and expectation, trying to figure out what structures are already in place and how I fit or don’t fit within those structures, would test the patience of any person. In the educational setting, answers come quickly; I’m learning that on the creative path, they don’t come quickly at all, and even when I feel like I’m taking steps forward, all I’m doing is accumulating twelve additional questions for each one answer. I actively try and take the long view—after all, what I’m after is a full life, filled with things beyond what I can imagine today, and early answers now seem suspicious to me, like eating Thin Mints for dinner: immediately satisfying but not sustainable, leaving me once again starving half an hour later at best, with a stomachache at worse.

Sitting at the circus isn’t by any means the first time I’ve seen someone else do something and thought “holy hell, I wish I could do that.” Actually, I have that thought all the time. That thought is usually followed by a variation of “they’ve been working on that for years, I’ve never even tried it, who am I to expect to be able to ever do it like they can.” Watching others do amazing things always makes me feel extraordinarily behind. Behind on what, I don’t always know, but it’s a mixture of being insignificant and small and unimpressive. I don’t like this impulse—I’m trying to work on being excited and supportive in the presence of greatness, as opposed to immediately focusing on me, me, me, holding myself up for a disappointing comparison, because usually when I’m fortunate enough to see something extraordinary, it’s not about me at all. But our impulses are our impulses, and instead of simply selflessly applauding, I’m often also thinking in the back of my mind “step up your game, kid, or you’ll never be up there.”

Now, I have no grand expectations of achieving some pinnacle of amazingness. Well, sometimes I do. Or at least, I hope it happens—I see the people who have done incredible things and I want to be with them! I used to not like this attitude but, you see, it’s part of who I am and I have to live with it. It doesn’t help that time moves forward, and the days progress whether or not I personally feel like I’m progressing, and it’s always the temptation to believe that I’m working towards something—something far away, I don’t even really know what it is yet, but I’ll know it when I find it. When that hunger is productive, when it pushes me out of my comfort zone so I can live life presently and fully, it’s a fantastic thing. When it knocks me down, keeps me focused on my own selfish goals…well, those are things I don’t like as much.

And yet, it’s that hunger to do something that keeps me excited and engaged. Being a young artist-type person requires a lot of patience, I’ve been learning—even when I think I’m being as patient as possible, the universe needs more of it. Not yet, kid, take your time, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Okay, I can dig that. The higher the climb, the more worthwhile the view at the top, right? When I accept this long road for what it is, I’m more aware of what a fun road it is, filled with mini adventures and awesome stops along the way. When my patience wears thin, it’s easy for me to blame my past: oh, if only I had been reading the right books when I was 15 years old, I wouldn’t feel so behind, who allowed me to reach the age of 23 without reading any Jane Austin? Also I should have practiced piano more, because then be so slow at playing a chromatic scale with my left hand…oh and why was I so worried about trying to be cool in high school, that was such a waste of time and energy, I should have just been a recluse because by now I would have read all of Shakespeare and Ionesco and Pinter…Why didn’t I wake up an hour earlier in college and built a real yoga routine, I’d probably be able to do a handstand by now…and so on.

What I’ve been learning this year is that there is a difference between playing catch-up and having steps awaiting me on my journey that are different steps from those around me. I’ve also been learning that remembering this is much easier said than done. It’s hard to get excited about being on day one of learning how to do cartwheel when you’re sitting in the audience at Sequence 8 watching humans your age who clearly mastered the cartwheel 16 years ago, and have gone on to master a billion other impressive things in the years since. It’s difficult for me to push through the first seven pages of a brand new play when I just attended a finished production the night before, the whole time sitting in my seat thinking “I’m so behind, I have so much to do if I want to catch up, this is impossible.” I used to stand in dance classes and resent those kids who had been in ballet since the age of three, who were executing quadruple pirouettes out of boredom while it required every ounce of focus and nerve to get my body to spin around one time. Again, the blame—why didn’t my parents make me take ballet or gymnastics from a young age and not let me quit, I could’ve been a prodigy if someone had only set me on that path!

Obviously, this isn’t true, and I shouldn’t expect it to be. A composer I tremendously admire sat in front of me and said “Most of us have some of the tools and some of the natural talent but together that only adds up to 20% of what’s required, so we have to work really fuckin’ hard for the rest of it.” I thought, YES! Most days, at my present 23-year-old age, I walk around feeling like I’ve accumulated 7% of what I need, and it’s going to take me a century to accumulate that other 93%. Artists have talked about this before—having the vision of where you see yourself, the awareness of where you are now, and the fear of the enormous gap between the two. It’s hard to stay excited about the present when the present feels so distant from the ideal.

I get hung up on this a lot. A lot a lot. That’s not productive, though—another writer I admire said to me “You have to find the ideal in your present.” This comes back to being aware of what is in my control and what isn’t. I’ve been applying for jobs recently, and it was a much easier process once I realized that I can’t control whether or not someone wants to work with me, but I can control how I present myself. I can’t control if I’ll win a major award with thousands of dollars attached to it by the age of 30 so I never have to work a day job ever again, but I can control the work I put into the world and the way I treat other people. I can’t control when I’ll finally be able to consistently stand on my hands, but I can control practicing every day, being tenacious, knowing that the effort will always add up into something.

Again, easier said than done. I watched acrobats last night thinking about how incredible it is that they’ve been working at this for years. Maybe it will take me years to make the things I want to make, or maybe it will come sooner than I think, but I don’t know, and I have to find a way to accept that, because otherwise the road that’s already all kinds of challenging will only become miserable on top of it. It’s a daily thing, for me, and I don’t know what the future looks like, but I do know that it’s coming, so I have to put in the work now to prepare myself for whatever it is when I get there. The world seems to be telling this to me, and now I have to work on listening and applying.

There was another thing I noticed at Sequence 8—whenever a performer was executing a routine, the performers who weren’t a part of it were crouched on the periphery of the stage, never taking their focus off of the person flying through the air, ready at any moment to jump up and catch them if they were headed in the wrong direction. I knew I was supposed to be watching the person hanging from the trapeze, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of the people in the corner, who were saying “go for it, take the risk, do what you’ve trained to do, and if things don’t go the way they’re supposed to, someone will be there to catch you.” This is the thing I always forget when I’m contemplating taking a risk: there will always be someone there to catch me when things don’t go how they’re supposed to and I feel like I’m plummeting. Sometimes they will be people I know well, sometimes they’ll be strangers who really are that generous. And, when I’m not the one spinning through the air, I’ll get to be that person for someone else: hopefully not needed because things work out how they’re supposed to, to thunderous applause…but there just in case it doesn’t happen.

We need those people in these risky days, and we need to be those people. Everyone’s trying to figure it out, trying to jump into the air and do what they’ve been working on. Some days there are big jumps, and some days are for keeping our feet on the ground. I might not be ready to jump so high yet—after all I’m catching up stepping forward at my own pace. I don’t know what it feels like to flip across the air after letting go of a trapeze—I must admit, I’ve never tried it. But, I have to imagine, whenever I feel like I’ve put in the practice and effort that I can and the only option left is to fully jump into the unknown, the resulting feeling will be something unlike anything I’ve known, equally filled with suspense and ease, and so so good.

some thoughts about 2014 and also 2015

First thing’s first: it’s absurd how excited I was about getting a new desk this year.

Another ending that is simultaneously another beginning! I love that most of us get irrationally excited about every new year—tomorrow won’t necessarily be any different than today, externally speaking, but we’re able to feel fresh and clean and inspired by all of the possibility. I love starting fresh; perhaps it’s because when I was a student, there were so many opportunities to begin anew, with each semester change and seasonal shift. I think this goes hand in hand with working in an artistic field—one project completes, another begins. In 2014 I finished some big projects (a play, and a thesis) and concluded a journey (sayonara, undergrad education!) and also started some new things (including but not limited to a job, a new city, a play, another play, and a musical). With most of those things, I was able to set the parameters on when they began and when they ended; with a calendar year, the parameters are set for me. How generous!

I really do feel that I learn more with every passing year. In 2014 I learned more about how I work, and why I work, and what I want to do. The process of becoming an artistic human and also a citizen of the world is ongoing, and my hope each year is that I make more strides in figuring all of that out, whatever that means. 2014 asked a lot of questions, and provided a lot of answers, although I think for me it provided more questions than answers, and sometimes the answers didn’t even correlate to the questions I was asking. What is that quote about God laughing?

Every year when I sit down to make a nice organized list of resolutions I am immediately overwhelmed by the recollections of previous resolutions I scrawled out and never completed. Forgive me, I was distracted! It’s challenging to stay committed to a plan—and I love a good plan—and also be open to the unexpected at the same time (which I try to do). One thing I learned more about this past year was how to take life one day at a time. Big dreams are good, good things, but sometimes they are so overwhelming I want to crawl into a hole and hide for a while, and that doesn’t do anybody any good. Someone posted this quote from Sophocles, which is attributed to Antigone but perhaps that’s incorrect; in any case, I stuck it on my wall in hopes of remembering it—Sophocles, please forgive me if I’m misquoting:

“Tomorrow is tomorrow.

Future cares have future cures,

And we must mind today.”

Today! My today, 12/31/2014, is beautiful and chilly; I’m wrapped in a blanket my mother gave me for Christmas and drinking coffee, which is one of my favorite things to do. This year reiterated to me that not everyone’s days are good, and while no one’s days can good all of the time, there is a lot of unnecessary hurt and injustice that is going on, and so many courageous and eloquent people are speaking out and keeping me tuned in. Again, I have the option to hide away and pretend that I don’t know what’s going on, but that’s the last thing I need to be doing. I became more informed this year—my English teacher would never let me get away with passive voice, so this year I want to actively inform myself. Stay present, stay focused. Nancy Keystone taught me this year that focus is a muscle that must be trained. I’m working on that.

No matter how good I get, at writing, and music, at patience, at advocacy, there is always more. I did more this past year—I took some steps forward. So in 2015, I want to take a few more steps forward. More writing, more music, more reading, more friendship, more speaking out and standing up, more information. When I’m frustrated with myself, I yell in my head “BE BETTER!” which is harsh but I think is at the core of what I want—I want to be better. Not overwhelmingly better, I know that’s not realistic, but I’d like to be a little better on 12/31/2015. And even a little more better on 12/31/2016. But that’s worrying about too far ahead…so I’ll try and be better on 1/1/2015. That’s my first order of business.

2014 was filled with amazing artistic things—I’m still buzzing from my encounters with the creations of Annie Baker, Maria Irene Fornes, Suzan-Lori Parks, Pina Bausch, Ivo van Hove, Meredith Monk, Marilynne Robinson, Zadie Smith, Virginia Woolf, Maya Angelou, Zora Neale Hurston, Pablo Picasso, John Irving, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Susan Sontag, V.S. Gaitonde, Imani Uzuri, the bluegrass band that rocks my world in the Times Square station every Thursday morning…some were familiar presences from years past, and some were brand new encounters. All are heroes…some people say you can have too many heroes but why would I want to limit myself in that way?

So here’s to a new day of a new year, with brand new unimaginable things. Here’s to carrying over the lessons, challenges, and joy of 2014 into new uncharted territory, and doing better, one day at a time.

The view from my room, 12/30/14. Astoria, you charming neighborhood, you.

Letting Myself Fallow

Post graduation and pre trying to find an apartment in New York City, I had the opportunity to spend five weeks as a member of the Core Company at The Orchard Project. My days were filled with classes and workshops, surrounded by theatre artists who are inching towards beginning their professional careers (like me) as well as artists who have been doing this for years and have figured some things out (unlike me), as well as everyone in between.

I lived/learned/played here.

The Orchard Project takes place every summer in the tiny town of Hunter, New York, nestled among the stunning Catskill Mountains. It was the perfect place to hide away for a while, ask some big questions, cry some real tears, sing by bonfires, and collaborate with and learn from some really magnificent humans.

One lesson from this summer about making theatre: being silly is a-ok.

I very much love the world of academia, where there are rules to trust and measurements of success that are very reliable in their concreteness, but I also know that life beyond the walls of my college isn’t like that. I am going to have to set my own rules, and choose when to break them. I’m going to have to figure out what success means to me, and not to anyone else. I’m going to have to decide how I’m going to move in the world. There’s no deadline on any of these things, but that doesn’t mean I’m sleeping any easier.

My word for 2014 is “Confidence.” I want to push ahead with a belief that what I’m doing matters and I’m the one who should be doing it. I wouldn’t say that I’ve mastered the art of confidence, but also think if I were 100% confident at the age of 22 I would end up with my foot in my mouth more than I already do, so I’m not too worried. I’m getting better, though, which is all I can really ask for.

Right now, I’m trying to confidently allow my field to fallow. This was an idea that was introduced to me this summer by a teacher and mentor—if I mine my resources every day without allowing myself to rest and return to my natural state, I won’t be able to sustain my creativity or happiness. I always worked against this idea, because I’ve felt that if I’m not always working, I’m not progressing, and my purpose is to progress as far as possible in as little time as possible. I think my mentor is correct—that’s not sustainable. But fallowing is not my nature, hence why this is a challenge. It requires some strength to avoid pushing myself, and to declare that I’m doing so with confidence.

 

I’m working on it.

 

I allow myself to be creative every day, to write part of a new draft or notate some music or research things. At the same time, I’m talking myself out of the “eye-on-the-prize” mentality, that I can write for writing’s sake and not for some greater purpose, and be perfectly happy with it while at the same time doing myself a favor in the long run. It also means allowing myself to stop revising a rewrite and, say, watch an episode of House of Cards and go to bed at a reasonable hour.

Life is going to be unpredictable in the next few months, as I move to a new city and try and figure things out. Hopefully letting my field fallow for the remainder of this summer will pay off with a bountiful harvest. I have a strong inclination that it will.

***

One of the activities we did as a Company was write our own artistic manifesto. It’s an assignment I’ve done before, but it was nice to revisit where I was a year ago and write something new from a different angle. It was particularly exciting to me, also, to hear what my fellow Company members believe in. I jotted down several things they said—affirmations, ideas, fears, pillars of thought. Here are some of my favorites; when I miss them (which is always) or when I need to get out of my own head and hear some friendly words, I read them over. I think they’re worth sharing, because these humans know what they’re talking about.

 

“Pledge the ‘yes’ muscles and sustain them.”

“I believe in theatre that believes in itself.”

“Make art that is bioluminescent.”

“Always be 1% unfathomable.”

“Be like a cow.”

“Gibberish is a language too.”

“Your body likes you.”

“You cannot be the artist and the architect at the same time.”

“Don’t try to be interesting, just do the work.”

“I like honesty.”

“A firework, damp or lit, is built to ignite.”

“Failure isn’t really failure if you went for it.”

“More compassion.”

“Sometimes I need to make my hands into fists.”

“Empathy is a muscle and it must be exercised.”

“Theatre is a playground for your heart.”

“Work hard to move people, or help the movers do the moving.”

“I should widen my vocabulary.”

“Laugh and think at the same time.”

“Answer with verbs and not with nouns.”

“Share your snacks with your neighbor.”

“Link yourself to optimism.”

“We shall pool the bounty and swim in it.”

Orchard Project 2014 Core Company; these people are good people. Photos by Catherine Mueller, our Master Teacher.

A Manifesto

This past summer, while at the O’Neill, I was given the task of writing my own artistic manifesto. This task came the morning after learning about the death of one of my first directors and one of my first mentors. Working through my grief, thinking about what I learned from him, helped me not only begin the long road to healing but also made my artistic tenets even clearer. I anticipated changing and adjusting this as time went on, but now, seven months later, I find that it holds up rather successfully. I’m sure it will continue to change and evolve as I go forward on my journey, but for now, I stand by it. It’s helpful to have as I navigate this new year and try to determine what the next step after Commencement will be.

A Manifesto (as of 7/10/13) (still good as of 2/6/14)

I believe that nothing is permanent.

I believe that I only know my own experiences, and it’s deadly to assume my experiences have taught me everything I need to know about the experiences of others.

I believe that theatre cannot become exclusive. Anyone who wants a home should be able to find one.

I believe that the best work comes out of the most challenging circumstances.

I believe that if we’re not asking genuine and tough questions, we’re not doing our jobs.

I believe that the rehearsal room should always be a source of joy.

I believe that a bare stage is always enough.

I believe that respect of self, others, work, space is not optional.

I believe that while most rules have exceptions, the ones about how we work together do not.

I believe that the moment I think I know it all I should stop working.

I believe that theatre developed for the sole purpose of financial gain will never have a true impact.

I believe that I can do many things, even things I haven’t thought up yet.

I believe that fundamentally I work in service to my community. This extends beyond the product on the stage or the words in the script.

I believe that because I would not be successful without my mentors, I must never turn away anyone looking for assistance.

I believe that there are many ways to be brave, and each act of bravery is worth something.

I believe in working hard.

I believe that no one should be made to feel guilty because they experience things on a deeper emotional level.

I believe that I should never apologize, unless I should.

I believe that there are always larger things at play. I am only a small part of something all-encompassing, but I still have my own full load to carry.

I believe that today is only the beginning.

I do not believe that theatre can do it all.

I do believe that it can propel us forward in tremendous ways.

Making Something New, Remembering to Breathe

Over the past few months, I’ve made several hats where there never were hats (indulge me while I borrow a metaphor from Mr. Sondheim). Hat-making, I’ve learned, is a scary endeavor. If it weren’t for a mix of luck and some wonderful individuals, none of those hats would have been made. Fortunately, I happened to surround myself with people who push me and challenge me, so here we are.

I wrote a musical. It was produced, and it was an adventure. I learned a lot. It required a new kind of strength, and it required me to flex some muscles that have never been flexed before. I’m feeling good about it. It was a first; I don’t think it was a last.

I wrote a play. Who knew I was capable of that? It will open for the public tomorrow. I sat through many workshops while my words were read and critiqued by others. At first I resented even the smallest comment, but then I realized that those around the table genuinely wanted the play to be a success. I can learn a lot when I shut up and listen to others. There are only four characters, yet it was workshopped six times, so I’ve heard over 22 voices inhabit those characters. That’s something that I still haven’t gotten over.

 I learned to hand my play off to a director who could take it to places I didn’t even imagine, and to actors who are smarter than I’ll ever be. Last night, I got to sit and watch the world I imagined unfold, completely realized, in front of my eyes. I couldn’t bring myself to hug the actors. I had to leave the room and catch my breath.

The other play in the festival was written by one of my best friends. This whole experience keeps on getting better.

All week long people have been approaching me telling me how they reserved tickets, that they’re bringing their friends, that they’re so excited. My professors are coming. My family is boarding a plane Tuesday morning. My words are going to be spoken in a theater that has played host to Thornton Wilder, Horton Foote, and Samuel Beckett. I am certainly not worthy.

I am grounded by being back in the rehearsal room, working on Love’s Labor’s Lost. It is my first time co-directing, and it’s my first Shakespeare. I’m directing for the first time in a year, and it feels so right. It’s nice to be in at least semi-familiar territory after putting my abilities on the line as a playwright and composer. It’s nice to be working on a comedy, to have a cast that indulges my eccentricities in the rehearsal room, to attend a production meeting not as a writer. It’s a different type of challenge, and it’s refreshing.

Classes continue, work shifts need to be attended to, homework needs to be completed, emails need responses, friendships require nurturing, I have to call my grandmother every once in a while. Fortunately, there are plenty of distractions for when it all gets to be a bit much. Lately, it’s all been a bit much.

I keep thinking about the twelve-year-old boy who wanted to live in the world of the theatre. He never imagined a semester like this one. That brings more tears to my eyes.

Boom Country in rehearsal. Photo courtesy of E. Milanovich Photography.

It’s all been quite surreal—I wish everyone knew the nausea that is the result of directing a rehearsal in one studio while your play is being rehearsed next door. It’s unlike anything I could have dreamed, and I am convinced it’s all a big practical joke. It doesn’t need to ever happen again; I’m more than satisfied now. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude.

The work, of course, continues—I’ve begun another play, I have a project for next year that already requires work. Theatre is the gift that keeps on giving, even when I’m certain that I’ve had more than my fair share. I try to remain humble and appreciative, because I am; I want to work harder than ever, to prove that I value the process and effort. This semester has been an enormous surprise, and I don’t take a moment of it for granted. Honest.

This week is a big one. Performances interspersed with rehearsals interspersed with auditions, while remembering that I’m a student and classes are always first priority for me here. I want to work on savoring it all, remembering each moment. I do know this: when the excitement of the week is over, when my family leaves and Boom Country is laid to rest for the time being, there’s still that new draft that needs attending to; there’s still homework; there’s still so much more to learn and master. The work never ends in this world of theatre.

That’s comforting, and that’s awesome.

Theatre Roundup 2k12

Most everyone is, by this point, exhausted by the usual slew of year-end retrospective top-10 lists, myself included. Particularly when it comes to theatre, I tend to either disagree with the pieces selected or I didn’t get to see them, meaning that the lists are actually a summary of what I should have seen but didn’t get around to. Not exactly enjoyable reading.

And yet, here I am. The fact of the matter is, I’m fortunate that I got to see some really remarkable things during 2012, and a handful of productions did seem to have lodged themselves into my consciousness for good. Reflecting is fun, and I figured if I’m going to sort through my theatrical adventures of the past twelve months, I may as well share it publicly. By all means, take it for what it’s worth—the results of an undergraduate’s successes with student rush, mostly—and feel free to write off my opinions, or, if you feel so inclined, share your own. Lord knows I could discuss this stuff for hours on end.

On the whole 2012 was a great year for theatre for me, despite the early lines and lottery-induced anxiety. I don’t take any of this for granted—getting to see so much for so little is a true gift and I consider myself very fortunate. The good productions far outweighed the bad, and the really good were really freakin good.

So, presented in the order in which I attended them, here is my Top 12 of 2k12:

Ameriville by Universes; Presented by ArtsEmerson

Music, poetry, spirtuals, and political activism. I had never seen anything like it, and it made a die-hard Universes fan out of me.

Now. Here. This. by Hunter Bell, Susan Blackwell, and Jeff Bowen; Produced by the Vineyard Theatre

I’ve been a fan of the [Title of Show] gang since 2007, so to finally see them live and in person presenting such a funny, relatable collage was a true thrill for me. These guys are simply excellent in all things, and I’ve been listening to the cast album pretty much nonstop for the past few weeks.

As You Like It by William Shakespeare; Produced by Shakespeare in the Park

My very first Shakespeare in the Park experience! A great production led by the incredible Lily Rabe presented in the historic and stunning Delacorte. I fully plan on going to as many Shakespeare in the Park productions as possible in the future, but this was a wonderful way to begin.

Tribes by Nina Raine; Presented at the Barrow Street Theater

I went to see Tribes on a whim, not at all prepared for what truly incredible play it was. It was probably the most personally relatable play I’ve ever seen, and if caught me off guard in the best way possible. Out of every production on this list, this one is the most certain to stick around in my head.

Venus in Fur by David Ives; The Longacre Theater

The play itself is excellent, but Nina Arianda gave a performance that pretty much outscores any other I saw this year. I was completely enamored and captivated in the best way possible.

Hotel Nepenthe by John Kuntz; Presented by the Huntington Theatre Company

Again, another production where I had no idea what to expect. It’s a difficult production to describe, but I was completely in love with the off-the-wall style of performance and Kuntz’s voice as a playwright; it was also a great testament to ensemble acting. I laughed my face off and cried a little bit and was pretty scared for my life for the duration. It was a fun night.

The Orient Express (Or, the Value of Failure) (A Work-In-Progress) by Mike Daisey; Presented by the Theatre Communications Group

While I had never seen him perform in person, I was, of course, familiar with Mike Daisey, or rather, the controversy of Mike Daisey. I had read the transcript of The Agony and the Ecstacy of Steve Jobs and had closely studied the major “retraction” debacle in one of my arts management courses. But, to sit among the leaders of American theatre (the piece was presented at the 2012 TCG Conference in Boston, which I attended), and to hear Mr. Daisey masterfully articulate his experience and his thoughts surrounding it, was a true gift. This monologue has not been widely performed, so I consider myself very fortunate to have gotten to see it. I developed a strong respect for Mr. Daisey after that performance.

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare; Produced by Island Shakespeare

I went to see this charming production with my friend James at his request, and it was one of the best decisions I made all summer. Much Ado is my favorite Shakespearean comedy, and this production was a great example of finery and detail; not only were the actors masterful in their performances of the text, but the immersive structure of the production and the fact that if they weren’t delivering lines, they were speaking Italian for goodness’ sake, combined with the outdoor theatre and the players’ fully embracing the whimsy in the play made for a wonderfully remarkable night.

Marie Antoinette by David Adjmi; Produced by the American Repertory Theatre

This production tended to be hit or miss among my friends and colleagues, but I personally admired the writing, performances, and gusto with which all parties involved attacked the subject matter. The directing and design were bold, and it gave me a lot to think about. I still find myself thinking about it on a regular basis, so it fully deserves its place on this list.

Sequence 8 by Les 7 Doigts de la Main; Presented by ArtsEmerson

I always have a special love and appreciation for incredible physical feats; this is probably because I’m gangly and not flexible in the slightest. Regardless, the impressiveness of the performances were only outshone by the artistic detail and polished presentation of the entire production. I sat with my mouth agape the entire time. I wish I could see it again and again.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee; The Booth Theater

Much has been said about this revival; I don’t have much to say except I thoroughly loved it as much as everyone predicted I would. Masterful play, masterful actors, masterful direction…it was a great lesson in the craft of American drama. I hope to see it again, but if I can’t, I’ll certainly treasure the fact that I got to see it at all for many years to come.

Our Town by Thornton Wilder; Presented by the Huntington Theatre Company

Another production that has received much coverage and acclaim; similarly to Virginia Woolf, I went in with high expectations which were magnificently exceeded. I would love to live in David Cromer’s mind for a little bit, because he can certainly direct some quality, quality theatre. This was the last play I’ll get to see in 2012, and it was a wonderful note to go out on.

The Honorable Mentions:

Gatz (Elevator Repair Service); February House (The Public Theatre); Uncle Vanya (SoHo Rep); Uncle Vanya (Sydney Repertory Company); One Man Two Guv’nors (Broadway); The Luck of the Irish (The Huntington Theatre Company); The Lyons (Broadway); Cockfight Play (The Duke on 42nd St); Clybourne Park (Broadway); Pippin (The American Repertory Theatre); Hamlet (Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, presented by ArtsEmerson); Fela (International tour, presented by ArtsEmerson); War Horse (Broadway).

Yep, I’m a lucky student indeed. Your move, 2013.

Finding a Star: How OUR TOWN is Helping Me Grieve

When I first heard the news about the horrific event at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday, I was deeply saddened. I thought of the many tragedies that have occurred during my lifetime, and grew melancholy at the thought of adding another one to the list on a seemingly ordinary day. As more and more information about the event became clear, and the number of those killed grew higher and higher, I went from being sad to being stunned. I sat at my desk watching updates via Twitter, thinking about the fact that unlike previous events, the victims here this time were almost entirely children. I grew angry as I thought about my own happy elementary school memories, and tried to process how the lives of the children fortunate enough to survive would be forever altered. I wasn’t in denial, but I wasn’t (and still don’t believe I am) in a place of acceptance. It simply couldn’t be true.

I paced around my room. I tried to write, which usually helps me sort out my emotions, but I just stared blankly at the page. I tried to distract myself with homework, but I simply couldn’t. I had to do something. I felt helpless. Everything was beyond my control.

I finally put on my coat and left. I walked through the chilly streets of Boston as the sun set, not thinking, letting my feet take me wherever they wanted to. I ended up at Trident, my favorite bookstore, and I settled in a back corner and just started reading whatever I could find. Title after title ended up in my lap, as I blindly leafed through the pages. I had to catch my breath. I had to force myself to calm down. I had to accept my helplessness.

Eventually, I managed the courage to walk home. It was dark and chilly, which somehow seemed appropriate. I still wasn’t any more resolved, but could push through.

The next twenty-four hours were spent trying to go about business as usual, whatever that means. I spent time with friends, took two finals, sent emails. Underneath everything was a heaviness in my heart that no distraction could shake completely. A friend is from the area and went to that elementary school. Her photos of the memorials and her own reconciling with the event made everything more personal for me; this wasn’t just a tragedy that happened somewhere off in a faraway land. This was something much larger, something that we collectively are going to be working to come to terms with for some time.

I read articles, I watched the news, I sat and wished for some understanding. This type of event wasn’t supposed to happen here. Years of American hubris have instilled this idea that we’re much better than that—such tragedies and massacres happen a comfortable distance away. Yet the signs were there, and we missed them.  Collectively, I thought, we are to blame—those who have been fighting to ensure our safety from such events weren’t working hard enough. I wasn’t working hard enough. Why hadn’t this been a greater priority in my life? Couldn’t I have done something to prevent this?

I’m not much of a talker when it comes to emotional challenges like these. I have to step back and figure things out for myself. I wasn’t interested in anyone else’s opinion, because at the end of the day, we’re still here, and our parents aren’t going through what the victims’ families are enduring. I sat and walked and asked question after question to the universe. I hated myself for not being so affected by previous shootings. I hated my government for not working harder to prevent this. I hated a lot of things about the world.

Last night, I went to see David Cromer’s production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. I had never read nor seen the play, and I was excited because I had only heard excellent things about this staging. Hopefully a night at the theatre would help me calm my nerves.

The similarities between the tragedy at Sandy Hook and the community of Grover’s Corners are astounding. I sat in my seat watching such a real portrayal of a community enduring multiple hardships, working together to come to an understanding of a tragic death. The event in Our Town doesn’t remotely compare to what happened to those children and teachers, but the sentiment was at least a hopeful one. If the Webb family and George could find some reconciliation, perhaps the families in Connecticut stood a chance.

I allowed myself to be swept into the story. I was completely enamored with this simple and profound production until an exchange in the final scene brought me quickly back to reality:

“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? –every, every minute?”

“No.”

In a flash my thoughts were back in Sandy Hook elementary, the children who didn’t think they were responsible for realizing their lives that would soon be stolen from them. The families, the community, the rest of the country suddenly caring about people they didn’t know existed. The thought that so many who at one point had the potential of living very full lives simply…didn’t.

Tears welled in my eyes as other characters began chastising Emily in ways that seemed to ring entirely too true.

“Yes, now you know. Now you know! That’s what it was to be alive. To move about in a cloud of ignorance; to go up and down trampling on the feelings of those…of those about you. To spend and waste time as though you had a million years. To be always at the mercy of one self-centered passion, or another. Now you know—that’s the happy existence you wanted to go back to. Ignorance and blindness.”

Tears were streaming down my face as I listened to this monologue. That couldn’t be true. There had to be another way.

As if the result of my willpower, Mrs. Gibbs suddenly responded:

“Simon Stimson, that ain’t the whole truth and you know it. Emily, look at that star. I forget its name.”

Emily looked at the star, and I tried to find a star of my own. Some sort of answer in this tragedy…

“A star’s mighty good company.”

“Yes. Yes, ‘tis.”

“…Sh, dear. Just rest yourself.”

Maybe there was some sort of reason or solution after all…maybe there was a peace or a greater understanding to come through such sadness. Maybe.

“They don’t understand, do they?”

“No, dear. They don’t understand.”

But I did. At least some of it. About cherishing each moment and those around me. About doing whatever is in my power to prevent such a tragedy from repeating. About spreading love, wholly and honestly.

I still don’t understand much about what happened in that school in Friday. I doubt I ever will…and if there is a satisfying answer out there, it’s certainly not going to be found in a 100-year-old play. But what became clear to me, as I watched actors look at an imaginary star while the lights faded and tears streamed down my cheeks, was that Newtown, Connecticut is our town, all of our town. Those children are our children, and we owe it to them to make things better. I don’t know much about the past three days, but I know that.

Wilder is right, a star is mighty fine company. I pray that those children and teachers find comfort in the stars, that their families and our mourning nation find peace in the night sky, and that we don’t ignore the stars that guide us towards a better future.

“You get a good rest, too. Good night.”

Maybe not tonight, Mr. Wilder, but with any luck, it won’t be too long in the future.

Salutations, and an Update

Hello, hello!

As I’ve recently been continuing my education, travelling as often as I can, reading good books and seeing good theatre, all in the process of trying to cultivate a greater social  understanding while simultaneously trying to develop an individual voice, the time seemed righter than ever to carve out my own personal corner of the world wide web. Part journal, part commonplace book, part communication platform, and part photo album, but all me, designed in a way that best demonstrates who I am at present and how I’m growing towards the future.

Welcome, you have arrived.

More about who I am and what I do/have done can be found in various places on this site, and I encourage you to explore and provide feedback! I’m all about engaging in conversation, because let’s be real, no one wants to hear me talk all the time. However, when I do feel like I have something to say, you can find it here.

First posts are always awkward (as firsts tend to be, unless you’re the first to accomplish something incredible, then it’s impressive; however, I hardly consider a first blog post to be incredible by any means), so I figure I’ll cut to the chase and provide an update on where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to.

Since May, I’ve been living in Manhattan spending my days working in the production office at Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, and my evenings letting the city inspire me. Broadway Cares is an absolute dream come true–the people there are wonderfully kind and generous, and the non-profit world is always one of my favorite environments to be in. I’ve learned a great deal about not only the current world HIV/AIDS climate, but also key methods of community engagement and medical care provision. My experience has been extraordinary (and fun as hell), and I’m confident that the lessons and skills I’ve learned will be more than helpful in the future.

I’ve seen more theatre than is healthy for anyone, but as far as addictions go, I suppose there could be worse. I’ll be talking all about that here over the next few months, so you’ll be able to hear all of my thoughts as far as that subject is concerned. I took a brief jaunt to Boston to attend the TCG Conference, which was enlightening in many different ways, all of which I’ll be talking about here as well. I’m writing music for two different productions, each set in two different time periods in two different countries, each requiring their own types of sound. Double the amount of research for me, but it’s exciting, and I’m enjoying getting to hop between the two. I’m also one-fifth of the way through Moby Dick, my summer reading challenge of choice, and dense as it is, I’m really enjoying it (much more than I anticipated, so that’s good).

I have three more weeks left in New York City before my time is done, and I’m determined to make the most of it. Then it’s home to North Carolina for a week, and back to Boston to prepare for the next school year! Only a month left of the summer…what a depressing thought. All the more reason to “carpe the diem,” I suppose.

Regardless of whether you’re visiting this as a friend (hey guys!), a potential future collaborator (contact me!), or if you stumbled here by accident (emergency exits are located at the rear of the theater), I hope you are beating the heat and enjoying your summer season. Be sure to say hello if our paths cross, and if you find my ramblings at all entertaining or enlightening, please feel free to check back in. I’m happy you’re here.