Thursday, August 27, 2015

Belated Writing Wednesday, Week Two

"Write about something that makes you happy." That was the prompt that most inspired me this week. Maybe it was because happiness has been kind of a scarce commodity lately. But I have been happy. I have moments of happiness now. And I will be happy again. Anyway, here's my love letter to theatre.


When I was seventeen I was in a production of Into the Woods. I was the cow. (A glamorous role, I know. #talented) I had been in several shows before that, but this one was different. It changed me. I fell head over heels for the show, for the cast, for the entire musical theatre rollercoaster. After Into the Woods I knew: theatre was going to remain an integral part of my life. After the show ended I cried and cried and cried. It felt like a break-up, or how I imagined a break-up would feel. I even made a sad playlist! (Having now experienced several break-ups I can vouch for the fact that the closing of a special show feels worse than the end of a mediocre relationship.)

I turned to the source of comfort in a modern age: facebook. I posted that my heart had been stolen and I was in pain. A comment was left on my page by a cast mate:

"It is an unfortunate truth that a show becomes (over time) the close friend of a performer, and once that final curtain goes down, that friend exists only in memory.

Allow me these few words of comfort: there will be others.
There will be other stages, other sets, and more five hour practices than you can imagine. There will be other warm-ups, and prop tables stacked so high that you risk spilling their contents to the ground whenever you snatch an item. There will be other costumes, far too much stage makeup, and other cast-members to share your time with.
One never quite gets the same friend back...but one finds things to take its place.
And given enough time, even stolen hearts tend to find their way back into one's chest.”

To be frank, I didn’t believe it. I didn’t think I’d be cast in anything again. Being cast in something that could afford me the same level of happiness? Impossible, I scoffed. (High school seniors know very little of life.) I copied down the comment and filed it away as something to cling to, even though such a wonderful experience could not happen twice. I was Princess Buttercup, asserting that she would never love again. And yet.....

I got a lead role in an operetta next spring. Singing that first solo onstage electrified me. I ran lights for a show in college. I moved to Utah and found myself surrounded by more audition opportunities than you could shake a stick at. Since that high school production of Into the Woods five years ago I have been cast in thirteen shows. I have had over two hundred castmates and four lead roles. Isn’t it lucky that we don’t peak at seventeen?

And now, a look back at the words given to me as a high school senior, with the benefit of five more years of life, and stage, experience.

“There will be other stages” : Our high school stage was a traditional stage. It was shiny and new, as it had been built only a few years before. Many of my theatre memories since then have come from performing in theatre-in-the-round, which is a whole ‘nother ball game. I’ve had the opportunity to perform at theatres that would have blown my high school mind, and also learned that the stage is much less important than the people on it.

“Other sets”: I have worked with very minimalistic sets and some that changed profusely from scene to scene. I have carried benches and tables and stumbled over trees stored backstage, holding my breath trying to not to drop glass bottles. I think I have stressed more over scene changes than the actual performance in a couple shows.

“More five hour practices than you can imagine”: This one seems doubly true. There have been five hour practices that seemed to pass in minutes and shorter rehearsals that felt like they would stretch into years. I have put thousands of hours into rehearsing and donated many whole Saturdays singing Christmas songs in October.

“There will be other warm-ups”: “I am a mother pheasant plucker. I pluck mother pheasants. I am the most pleasant mother pheasant plucker that ever plucked a mother pheasant.” Say that three times fast, but not if there are children present. (I’m actually really good at this one.)

“Prop tables stacked so high that you risk spilling their contents to the ground”: I have struggled with giant inflatable boxing mitts, a stack of “horrid” textbooks, and long, colorful ribbons to dance with. The constant struggle of keeping props where they belong is real. I was even lucky enough to be gifted a sword from one production.

“There will be other costumes”: Lacy orange dresses and long, swirly blue ones. Petticoats and corsets and thirty-second costume changes, oh my! I have worn wigs and massive hats and sweatpants (it should go without saying that these were in different shows). I have felt pretty and frumpy and awkward, often all in the space of one performance.

“Far too much stage makeup”: I have added pounds and pounds of makeup to my face over the last few years, the vast majority of it for the stage. Fake eyelashes, lipstick, and enough foundation to form an actual foundation.

“Other cast members”: To explain the amount of love that has overwhelmed my life in the five years since leaving high school is impossible. I have known the comfort of complete acceptance that comes from acquired nicknames and inside jokes and shoulders to cry on. I could write volumes about the cast members, directors, and backstage crew who have changed my life for the better. I love theatre people. Simply adore them. More astounding than that, they seem to love me. I stand in awe of their charisma and talent, of course, but the antics and conversations I have been a part of in the rehearsal process and backstage have endeared them to me tenfold. Laughing fits due to stress and sleep deprivation, frantically dashing around backstage searching for a prop, the  moment of connection that thrills you during a performance when you look into your scene partner’s eyes and think, “This is it. This is what we both love, and we are rocking it.” These are the best things. Suffice it to say that the friendships I have forged in the fires of hell week are ones that will be treasured forever.

“One finds things to take its place”: Once I went a year without doing a show. It was pretty dreadful. But in those dry spells I have filled the time with books and Netflix marathons and late night conversations with roommates. Oh, and work. I started writing my own show. I’ve even had a few boyfriends, and let me tell you, those steal your time like none other.

“Given enough time, even stolen hearts tend to find their way back into one’s chest.”
They do come home. But I insist on throwing mine out over and over again, into another cast, another musical, another character. It would appear that my heart isn’t happy unless it is being constantly in a state of being stolen. To love is to lose, but it is also what gives our life value. “Where you invest your love, you invest your life,” as Mumford & Sons sang. The exquisite sweetness of an opening swallows up the inevitable pain of closing.

I will love again, and deeply. It always hurts when the inevitable end comes. I realize that. I believe that each show that you emotionally invest in never leaves your soul, not all the way. There is some portion of me still carrying a banner through Camelot, and another panicking at Charlie Brock's dinner party, while Cecily Cardew confides in her diary about Uncle Jack’s wicked brother Ernest and Kate Stanley chases her pirate to the marriage altar. I have put literal blood, sweat, and tears into each of these productions. I have performed with whooping cough and a possibly dislocated shoulder (mercifully not in the same production). I have cried in theatres and more often in the parking lots of theatres. I have been soaked with sweat from summer choreography and shivered through a snowstorm in the outdoor area we called backstage, and I would repeat all of it without hesitation. If I fall in love again it will feel something like this.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Wednesday Writing: Week One

So, I've decided to do a thirty day writing challenge, because the vast majority of my writing is in my journal. Which is all well and good, but it's not exactly formal and it's obviously very personal. I'd like to improve with some other styles, and so I gathered some short prompts and dove in. It's been fun. It's been challenging (fiction, why do you mock me so!), but I look forward to writing something each night.

The prompts so far:
1) Write something inspired by the last song you listened to
2) Write a 15 step how-to guide
3) Write something in the style of the last book you read
4) Write a short story about calling a wrong number
5) Write a poem about something you want

The following is what I wrote on Day Three. I had just finished Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr, which was INCREDIBLE. Five stars. I recommend it to everybody. He spends a lot of time describing daily things, and I tried to emulate that. It's shorter than I'd like, but I felt like it's better to write something too short than too long. 

One of the things I most love about summer is how the sun lingers, like an old friend at a dinner party, long bright shards stretching across the lazy lawns of the neighborhood hours after it ought to have left. It is a welcome gift, one that will be sorely missed when the planet has continued its orbit and the earth has grown cold. Winter sunshine is an oxymoron. The sun may be out, but to me it is not sunshine. A memory surfaces: my father explaining to me how the rays of light hit the earth at a sharper angle in the winter. Winter sun brought light, but not warmth, like an insincere smile that doesn’t reach the eyes.

The air on an August afternoon is hot and heavy, but not oppressive. Not once out of doors, anyway. In my bedroom upstairs it is sweltering. There is an air vent, which I occasionally huddle over like a homeless man to a flame, relishing every drop of cold air against my body. The whine of the air conditioning kicking on is a delirious joy. In my bedroom it is a struggle to move, and torture to stay still. Sweat collects on my neck as I sprawl on my mattress, blankets long ago kicked to the side, silently begging for any sort of relief, be it a breeze, sleep, or death. My nightly ritual is to trek downstairs, open the fridge, and press my forehead against the chill of the water bottle waiting there. It brings refreshment even before I twist off the lid.

The lecture of a former college professor comes to mind. He told us that all of summer should be spent in preparation for winter. It is a fleeting moment preceding the long sleep. Generations of farmers know that if one is not prepared that sleep will quickly morph into death; to mock the dark power of winter through careless indulgences is folly indeed. But today the creeping tendrils of ice and snow are far away in my mind; I will not be disturbed by this inescapable equation of nature. I feast on popsicles and stroll barefoot through the grass. The hum of crickets and other insects anxiously engaged in the business of survival is the constant accompaniment of August. They will be dead when the snow comes. I wonder if they have some idea of this. Their instincts tell them to perpetuate their numbers, but they have no crops to gather, and nature takes no prisoners.

Each year schoolchildren impatiently number the days until the doors of academia open and they will be released to the world, a crashing flood of youth and vitality brimming with hopeful tomorrows. Free for the summer! How many numbered days have been anxiously checked off by the child feeling trapped behind a desk? The same countdown is buried in the adult heart, though we are chained by the manacles of routine. Summer is a sweet wine beckoning us with intoxication; we long to run rampant across the country, to acquire a new lover, to bare our soul to the world and declare, “I am here. Witness me.” 

The compulsion will fade with the shortening of the days; autumn invites solemnity of spirit. Perhaps the way we tenaciously cling to summer is derived from the certainty it will not stay. Summer is nature’s euphoria with an expiration date; it is a reminder that another year has passed and we are growing older, older like the earth and the sun and the trees outside my window. The earth is beautifully ancient, and my youth casts flickering shadows ahead like a quick burning candle.

“Everything sweet is sweet because it is finite.” -Anthony Doerr

The view from my hammock

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Rainstorm Epiphanies

Here's a story that's been percolating in my brain since it happened last weekend. It was one of those nights that you feel something's going to happen, although you couldn't offer any insight as to what that might be. From my journal:

I went to see Jurassic Park City at the Off-Broadway Theatre tonight. Opening night always has a special energy and any excuse to go downtown is valid in my book. As I was searching for a parking spot I could tell that the wind was really starting to pick up. I parked and exited the car; it had started to rain. There were four blocks between the theatre and myself. Piece of cake. But within moments of exiting my vehicle the rain was no longer in the form of friendly August droplets, it was in the form of buckets of water being poured from the sky. Summer storms are nicer than winter ones, so I wasn't daunted. I kept walking. I mean, I wasn’t going to miss the show on account of rain.

 There’s an odd camaraderie that can result from unusual circumstances like this. Usually each person on the city street is isolated in their only little world, no attempt at interaction. Not so today. Huddled under awnings waiting for the crossing symbol to light up with the little walking man, I was making eye contact and smiling at strangers caught in this storm. We shared a silent laugh that seemed to say, “Wow, look at this crazy amount of rain! We sure as heck were not prepared! Ha!” It’s always nice to have a connection with someone, even if just for a moment.

 After block one the wind was starting to resemble a gale and causing the raindrops to become a little painful as they stung my face. But I couldn’t help but be struck with how much I love living in Salt Lake City. I don’t go downtown enough. I love the bustle of the city and all the stories contained in it. I love walking down crowded streets and feeling like this is my place in the world. I knew I loved the city on crisp winter nights and calm spring days, but I didn’t yet know that I loved it in the center of a summer storm, hair saturated with rain and feeling slightly ridiculous as pedestrians with umbrellas strolled by. I do, though. Love it. 

By block two I was laughing at the perfection of it all. I’ve been walking through an emotional rainstorm for the last couple months. It’s been beyond rough, and people are probably tired of hearing about it. (For which I apologize. A major defining crisis has been thrust upon me upon me. I've learned A LOT, and I keep wanting to talk about it.) But now, confronted with a physical storm and the chance to turn around, I knew that I could and would keep going. I could walk for miles if I needed to. This storm wouldn’t beat me. An insane part of my brain even relished the challenge. “Is this the best you’ve got? I can keep up in this all day! Bring on the hail!” (I am so grateful it did not hail.) It was nice to have a physical match for the emotional turmoil that has flooded my inner landscape.

Block three-- the rain had already soaked my clothes clear through and showed no signs of stopping. Catching a glimpse of myself in a store-front window confirmed my suspicions that I looked very much like a bedraggled kitten. I had to smile.  My t-shirt clung to my body and my jeans-- well, wet jeans are a special form of torture. At least I was wearing sandals and not something that would require socks. Sitting for two hours in wet socks would be even worse than the aforementioned jeans.

Dashing across the street with a business-looking man (the weather is no respecter of persons) we splashed, with no dignity whatsoever, through puddles that reached up to our ankles. At this point the wind was out of control. When stepping away from the shelter of a sturdy building I felt an instant of apprehension that I was going to be blown into the street. I briefly entertained the notion of clinging to a light pole. Surely that would keep me anchored to the earth. The rain unrelentingly pounding into my eyes made it virtually impossible to see; I hoped that no drivers decided to text and drive today, because one of us had to have eyes on the road. 

Sometimes you live moments that you know will be remembered even as they are springing into being. This was one of them. It probably doesn’t sound significant-- walking alone in the city through the worst rainstorm I'd been exposed to in years-- but it was. I felt like my surroundings matched my inner atmosphere, and I felt free. When the worst happens and you keep going, that’s winning, right? My hard things might not seem unique or life threatening on paper, but they have felt that way. And I have kept going. Walking through this storm was therapeutic.

 Anyway, it sounds odd, but I wanted the walk to last forever. I wanted to laugh in the face of the storm and continue proving something to myself, although exactly what I was proving was hard to define. But four blocks doesn’t take that long, even in the pounding rain that seems to herald the building of an ark (will people ever stop making Noah comments every time rain pours down?), and then I arrived at the theatre. The spell was broken when I stepped inside. Not in a negative way, just, the moment was gone. No longer was I the instant friend of strangers on the street, a warrior claiming victory with every step. I was now a girl in the presence of non-rainstorm people, drenched to the bone, dripping all over the carpet. My shoes were already making that squelching sound I hate so much. 

“Hello,” I said self-consciously to the man standing by the door surveying me curiously. “It’s a little bit wet out there.” It is one thing to be soaking wet outside, alongside other soaking wet people. It is quite another to be soaking wet inside a building where no one else is. I felt like a character in a gothic novel, making my entrance while silhouetted against a flash of lightning. Eric Jensen was in the lobby, who I recognized as a writer, actor, director, and what have you at the OBT. He approached me with a smile and said, “You look like you fell in the lake!” Yes, I was the wettest I’ve ever been without having visited a water park, but it sure did give me an instant conversation starter. I carefully peeled apart the folded ticket in my purse to present to the usher, then made my way downstairs to attempt to wring out my shirt, jeans, and ponytail in the bathroom. The venture was not very successful. When I came back upstairs an usher found me and gave me both a towel and a blanket, saying, “You’re going to be cold.” Is that the sweetest thing you have ever heard or what? I was so touched; I simply couldn't get over it. What a theatre. What kind and thoughtful people! (I will do a show there someday. It's on my SLC bucket list.)

 The show was good. I laughed at Robert Redford impersonations, BYU jokes, and “sort of” Australian accents while wrapped in a borrowed blanket and the knowledge that this is all part of my character growth arc. Let the rain pour down...... the clouds never bothered me anyway.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Road Tripping With T-Swift

One of the annoying repercussions of a break-up is that the things you enjoyed with him are tainted. It's great to make memories, until suddenly those memories are cropping up all the time and you're just like, "Can you not?" If you've seen Inside Out (which you absolutely should), it's like Riley realizing that playing hockey on the pond is no longer a completely happy memory. Thanks, Sadness. I have always been a Taylor Swift fan (haters gonna hate). "Teardrops On My Guitar" was one of the first songs on the radio that I was obsessed with. (The other was "Ladies Love Country Boys," which just goes to show that sometimes our youthful obsessions are very, very wrong.) Her sound has certainly changed, but she is one of about four artists that I will pre-order an album for, no questions asked. There is a Taylor Swift song for every emotional situation.

On my first date with my last boyfriend we sang, "We Are Never Getting Back Together" in the car. It was delightful. We always had a thing for texting song lyrics back and forth as if they were actual conversation, and my favorite night was when we spent hours texting nothing but T-Swift lyrics to each other to express how we felt. It was like something out of a YA novel. Seriously, so sweet. I often walk around on my lunch break at work listening to music, and lovestruck Taylor songs soon became a staple. Joseph & I made jokes about how she and I were both obsessed with cats, and I only semi-ironically shipped her with Ed Sheeran.

When the relationship ended, I couldn't listen to Taylor Swift anymore. It hurt too much. I'm not sure why she was the thing my mind chose to represent everything good that I had lost, but it told me, "Nope, this girl's music is something you can never have again because it belongs to Joseph now. Sorry, tough luck, thanks for playing!" 

This made me angry. It's one thing to have the movie theater where he first held your hand ruined. Nobody cares about Provo movie theaters. Ruining the music you have loved for years? No. That is not okay. It couldn't stand, and I set out to recondition myself to stop freaking crying every time the first strains of "Style" came on the radio.

The eight hour drive to my family reunion in Yellowstone last week provided the opportunity for me to force catharsis. I pulled out of my driveway at 7:14 on Thursday morning with "Tim McGraw," the first song from her first album, playing. My plan was to make myself listen to her entire discography in chronological order. Taylor Swift, Fearless, Speak Now, Red, 1989. Every song. No skips allowed. Crying would result in the song being played again until I could handle it. I needed to reclaim these songs, to prove something to myself. I can't really explain why, but it was important to me.

I'm proud to say I only cried once, and it wasn't even on a break-up song. "Never Grow Up" always hits me right in the feels. This is not to say that I didn't tear up a time or two, but I decided to let these slide. I almost caved when it got time to insert Red. I've always said that album was written for people in love. "State of Grace," "Stay, Stay, Stay," and freaking, "Everything Has Changed." I wasn't sure that I could handle it. I knew if I made it to 1989 I'd be fine, because that album was written for single girls. But Red? Red was tough. But I put in the cd, and I made it. (Guys, it's the little victories. I don't know why this was such a big deal for me.)

As someone whose mood has recently been careening from "Last Kiss" (seriously, "Last Kiss" might be the most relatable sad song in the world) to "Shake It Off" (which never fails to make feel awesome for at least a second) and back depending on the hour, it was actually helpful to ride the emotional roller coaster in it's condensed form. By the time the last song from 1989, "Clean," played, I did feel another step closer to okay. Taylor Swift is mine again. And to me that's not nothing. 

Also, I saw thirteen of these trucks.