Higher Education: Meeting the Fear Barrier

Barbara Jwanouskos ponders when and why we push ourselves.

Interestingly enough, Howlround posted an article on two theater artists’ journey to create a new play about female boxers this week right as I am also working on a new play with a female martial artist as the protagonist. I found myself relating on many levels as they talked about what it was like to box, what stories from real life to bring into the rehearsal room, and how exactly the story should be told.

When Suli Holum (of Pig Iron Theatre Company) described her experience working with her boxing trainer and being ashamed of crying in front of him, I thought of the times in both training in martial arts and in working on a new play where the same thing has happened. Holum says:

I had to overcome my aversion—which manifested as a wave of nausea—at throwing a right hook to my trainer’s head. And finally I had to be willing to move towards risk, to lean into fear. To box is to be vulnerable, radically vulnerable—it’s an intimate agreement made between two people to push each other to their very limits. It reminds me of acting, until I get punched and then I remember the difference.

I’ve been writing and thinking a lot lately on the need to push yourself. When you spar with someone, there is no way that you cannot address the fear of getting hurt and also hurting someone. As Holum describes, it’s this weird contract you make with your partner that you will hurt one another physically in order to be ready to defend yourself if that ever is called upon. I absolutely can see how to people who don’t train in martial arts or fighting skills, the idea of this is completely masochistic and insane.

The truth is, I am not a violent person. In fact, I find it to be one of the most all-consuming upsetting things about the world we live in. And while I may have fun as I playfully spar with my trusted friends in kung fu classes, there is a difference between that and real violence. Because ultimately both a sparring session and a play are pretend. For the survivors of physical and emotional violence, I think is essential to acknowledge this important distinction because real violence is never agreed upon by both parties.

Like Holum, I find the connection between training to fight and in creating theater. When we put an event on the stage, just like when we square up with our training partners to spar, we have a contract with our audience and ultimately that is an implicit promise that they will get something out of sitting there for an hour or two. The audience trusts that this is going to happen (whether it does is another thing entirely). Everything in theater requires a kind of vulnerability that is so difficult to bear sometimes.

Artwork by Annie Yokom, part of the cast of "The Imaginary Opponent"

Artwork by Annie Yokom, part of the cast of “The Imaginary Opponent”

As I head into the last week of rehearsals for my thesis play, “The Imaginary Opponent”, I have to remember not to beat myself up for the times when my own fears have pierced through and caused me to express emotions in a way that I am not usually comfortable doing. This vulnerability of showing something that you’ve created, worked long hours on, and struggled time and time again to understand is why I think we need to be confident, but also humble as artists, as Ashley Cowan grappled with in her article for this week, “A Confidence Question”.

The humbleness, for me, comes from acknowledging that there is intense fear in putting an event on stage, because you never know what is going to happen and how people will react. The confidence goes back to pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone. To me, it’s recognizing that “this is something I’m afraid of and uncomfortable with” but still gently telling yourself that whatever happens, it will ultimately be okay. Good, bad, success, failure… it’s all relative. But at some point, it has to be done. A choice has to be made about whether you will continue forward or not – like an on/off switch.

In martial arts we train a fighting technique over and over so that once we spar we can address the attack from our partners. The repetition of it becomes routine. It becomes easier to stay relaxed and not freeze up once the attack comes, and then we learn that we can react quickly in the moment. It’s the repetition that builds up our confidence with squaring up against our training partners. We do the same thing in theater. We rehearse a play over and over again so that it becomes routine. Every move, look, word and feeling is mapped out. We bring in people to watch us during the process so that an audience feels routine. Everything we do helps us feel more comfortable and more confident for the actual performance.

For me, the repetition proves to me that it’s okay to be vulnerable because whatever I’m afraid of, I can handle. It absolutely is a privilege to get to that state and I am consistently impressed by the people around me who demonstrate this quality with fears and experiences much greater than mine. It’s inspiring that I too can meet my fear barrier and, yes, take a foot across.

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Declaration of Independence

Marissa Skudlarek says “no thank you” to the gilded cage.

I don’t know about you, but ever since the Supreme Court ruled on McCutcheon vs. FEC earlier this month, I’ve been getting about an email a day from liberal groups asking me to protest the ruling, which strikes down limitations on campaign donations and therefore, further opens our political process to the influence of super-wealthy donors.

Lately, I’ve also been reading article after article about the rise of income inequality and the increasing corporatization of all facets of our life. The prediction seems to be that we are entering a new Gilded Age, where life is easy for the privileged few but becomes increasingly miserable for average folks.

In the face of all this, an anti-corporate sentiment is starting to take root among liberal-leaning young people. There has always been an anti-corporate strain among leftists, but it used to seem like a scary, fringe movement (e.g. the anarchists smashing windows at the Seattle WTO protests in 1999). I am not a radical or an anarchist. I probably come off as a nice girl who likes to have nice things. But I would like those nice things to be produced and distributed equitably, and for there to be competition in the marketplace rather than corporate monopolies, and for the money I spend to go to small-business owners rather than corporate coffers. Laugh if you want to at the hipster subculture that fetishizes anything “artisanal” or “handcrafted,” but also acknowledge that buying from independent producers is, in a way, an act of political protest.

So what does this have to do with theater? Well, in this political climate, it strikes me that one of the best arguments we independent theater-makers have for our work is just that: we are independent. We talk a lot these days about how to distinguish theater from other entertainment options that are perhaps cheaper or more convenient. Such discussions often focus on the fact that theater is a live event rather than a recorded one, but I don’t know if this argument actually has much traction with audiences. It seems to me that a stronger argument would be that independent theater is not beholden to any corporate overlord; no marketing executives or focus groups influence the work we present; the money you give us goes directly to artists in your community.

This is not a plea for independent theater to present more plays with an overtly anti-corporate agenda. I do have a soft spot for ’30s-style agitprop, but one San Francisco Mime Troupe per city is enough. I tend to prefer plays about complex characters and situations, not plays that shout out their support for a particular political viewpoint. Instead, I am arguing that the mere fact of independent theater’s existence — the fact that we are making art outside of the corporate media who control so much of the conversation — should be used to our advantage.

Think of all of the slogans we could build around this marketing angle. “We tell the stories that The Man doesn’t want you to hear.” “100% locally grown and crafted.” “Netflix wants your personal data. We want your personal well-being.” “You hate Amazon, you hate Wal-Mart, you hate Monsanto — so why do you love Broadway?”

Again, you can laugh at the artisanal-hipster movement, but it’s increased the dignity and the visibility of such formerly humble trades as farming, bartending, and woodcarving. And you can joke that hipsters want to move us toward an idealized version of the 1890s, but this “new gilded age” talk suggests that all of the worst aspects of the 1890s are coming back. If we have to retrogress to the late nineteenth century, in other words, let’s not bring back the parts of it that have to do with racism, sexism, and inequality. Instead, bring on the small-batch distilleries, hand-knitted scarves, and widespread theatergoing.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. She doesn’t really consider herself a hipster, but she did grow up in Portland, Oregon. For more, visit marissabidilla.blogspot.com or Twitter @MarissaSkud.

Cowan Palace: A Confidence Question

Ashley confidently proclaims she has a confidence problem.

On Sunday evening, I celebrated a friend’s birthday over cake, carnitas and chitchat. After a full weekend of callbacks, cleaning, and Cowan craziness, it was delicious to sink my teeth into a distraction. Spoiler alert, the cake was chocolate and the conversation was with the very talented and lovely writer herself, Rachel Bublitz.

Eat Me.

Eat Me.

As I continued to cram my face with food, we started talking about her kids and their many skills, which are apparent even in their early ages. Rachel mentioned that her daughter possesses a notable confidence. So much so that a teacher actually suggested that she be signed up for an activity she wasn’t particularly good at, so that she could experience what it feels like to be challenged outside of her immediate skill-set.

I was so struck by that idea! Personally, I grew up (and grew into) a person with the opposite issue. If you hadn’t noticed, I have a real confidence problem in almost everything. And sometimes it feels like my whole life is just a bunch of humbling activities to remind me of current skills and weakness. (I invite you all to watch me in a Zumba class sometime!) Besides the fact that my main creative love is a passion rooted in rejection. The theater isn’t always the first place one goes to feel confident, after all.

When I was younger, I was incredibly shy and while I dabbled in a myriad of after school activities, it’s fair to say I was merely mediocre at most. And sadly, it took until my senior year of high school for me to finally get the courage to sign up for drama class. Granted that decision proved to be one of the biggest influences of my life but I certainly didn’t come upon it with an abundance of assertive grace. In this case, my teacher pulled me aside after class and said I had to follow this seemingly crazy dream; that I should feel confident in my talent and continue the pursuit. Truthfully, without him, I’m not sure if I would have gone on to study Theatre in college, move to New York and then inevitably chase it to San Francisco.

While thinking about my conversation with Rachel and her daughter’s teacher, I couldn’t help but wonder about the key to success. Does confidence ultimately breed triumph? Is it better to be overly self-assured and not acknowledge your weakness so that you always believe your work is strong? Or would you rather be insecure and forever question your potential but hope that you can actually make it better?

And on a slightly bigger scale, if we lack confidence (or lack the ability to fake it) how can our audiences trust in our work? But if we remain overly confident, do we risk not being truthful to the process, the product, and its perception?

I think, once again, the secret is finding the balance of being confident enough to keep moving and humble enough to acknowledge that the path isn’t always easy or clear. Sometimes it’s okay to stop for directions if it gets you to your destination.

Luckily my love for theater has given me strength when my self-assurance lagged behind. But, I’m still a victim to my own lack of confidence. Too often, I talk myself out of auditioning for things or submitting my writing to a new opportunity. But I am working on it. We are all a work in progress. And in the meantime, we still have each other and cake.

How could this gal not be a product of confidence?!

How could this gal not be a product of confidence?!

Working Title: Man You’ve Got Style!

This week Will Leschber takes a look at the stylings of Wes Anderson’s new picture and the latest offerings of Berkeley Rep.

I recently caught Berkeley Rep’s The Accidental Death of an Anarchist and Wes Anderson’s newest film The Grand Budapest Hotel. At face value these appear two very different pieces. The common thread is how each uses style.

Both are told with a distinct and heightened style yet one uses the it to compliment the story being told and the other implements stylistic techniques that overwhelm and distract. Additionally, both pieces are concerned with the past and how it impacts the present. Anarchist attempts to allow old political concerns to remark on contemporary politics and reoccurring hypocrisy. The production falls short of realizing this aim. Grand Budapest, underneath its good story telling, great central character performance and wonderful visual flourishes, is a dissection of nostalgia as that relates to how one builds a self through one’s past personal influences. That description sounds boring, sure, but the film is so exuberant, funny and full of whimsy that each layer can be enjoyed on its own whether you are interested in analysis or just pure entertainment.

The Accidental Death of an Anarchist follows the maneuverings of a madman (his character name is listed as Maniac) who cons his way into a police station and into the guise of a judge who then interrogates three officers regarding a prisoners supposed accidental suicide. Shenanigans ensue, farce is made, and rapid fire jokes unrelated to the narrative abound. All the actors (particularly Steven Epp–Maniac, Allen Gilmore—Pissani, and Jesse J. Perez—Bertozzo) are full committed to the zany Commedia style. Their efforts are to be commended. Yet the frenetic play doesn’t congeal. High school showmanship sensibilities, mixed with Muppet Commedia caricatures, and farcical digressions serve to confound rather than entertain. Many of the individual ingredients look great but the whole just isn’t working. And I’m not sure why.

Anarchist copy

The original events that the play was satirizing took place in 1969. Does the alternate time, retro 70′s style and foreign culture of creation, remove the audience connection to the play? It shouldn’t. Themes of government hypocrisy are timeless. But the way this production is handled, unfortunately the disparate parts fray cohesive meaning and lose connection. In addition I wondered, does the sprinkling of the last three decades worth of American pop-culture references make up in any way for the disconnect. Unfortunately, no. The inserted, fourth-wall breaking diatribes in the second act of the play where the actors separate from the events of the play to enter into modern political rants got my attention. However, if the goal was to take this half-century old play and comment on the political landscape of today maybe a newer target than the Bush administration would have been a better choice. Lampooning the last big republican administration to a largely liberal audience in Berkeley, CA seems like preaching to an easy choir. Even though I agreed with some of the political rhetoric, I still thought the choice was a lazy one. In playing to a lower common denominator, for this audience at least, the effect is to neuter this work of its universal potency. These parts don’t jive, you dig.

The Grand Budapest Hotel follows the adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend.

Grand_Budapest_#1_poster copy

What elevates this above some other Anderson work is the synchronic matching of a deft farce performance at its core and that clicks into and heightens the visual storybook sensibilities inherent to the Wes Anderson world. It exists somewhere just a step left of reality yet we buy into and invest in the story because all the different parts surprisingly yet seamlessly work wonderfully together. Extensive model set pieces, endless visual symmetry, abundant recognizable stars, stop motion and live-action blending, cinematic aspect ratio shift, a color palate akin to a cake bakery: all of these variant elements work along side each other with ease. You wouldn’t think so, but Anderson makes them magically complementary. In the hands of another filmmaker, this could have been an unwieldy mess.

Grand_Budapest_#2_pink_cake copy

Wes Anderson is often criticized for making films that are too insulated which keeps audiences at an emotional distance. The best of which, The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore and I believe this film, provide a comic conduit that let’s us in to the uncanny, snow-globe world and emotional heart at its center. The lead performances are the distinguishing conduit. Gene Hackman as Royal Tenenbaum disarmed us with his buckshot wit. His failings as a sympathetic father are made up for by his earnest desire to make amends for the harsh way he raised his children. By the end of the film we have forgiven Royal for his transgressions and love him in the complex way his family does. We laugh and then we feel.

Jason Schwartzman as Max Fischer (Rushmore, 1998) paired with Bill Murray’s Herman Blume give us a glimpse of two spiraling souls looking for their place in the world. Their rivalry delights as they attempt to tear each other down. We all want to feel connected to a home and feel a part of something. Max and his rival surrogate father figure help each other figure out how to do that. We laugh and then feel.

The Grand Budapest Hotel allows all the comic and emotional weight to fall on Ralph Fiennes.

Grand_Budapest_#3_ralph_fiennes copy

He’s endearing and pitch perfectly funny. The sidestepping style of Wes Anderson doesn’t fit with all actor sensibilities. Yet Fiennes slips right in and lifts this story to the best of the Anderson pictures with a commanding hand flourish and a puff of perfume. Fiennes proves to be a grand farceur.

Grand_Budapest_#4_perfume copy

His performance, like Anderson’s style, is layered and juxtaposed with parts and contradictions that shouldn’t jive. But Ralph just sells it. The old world high society etiquette followed by unexpected verbal vulgarity; the fast talking dictatorial way he engages his staff followed by a kind a light aside to one of his passing hotel guests; these contradictory things give us a picture of a real character and lock us into a unique stylistic whimsical tale.

Josh Larsen, one of the hosts of the Filmspotting podcast, had this to say, “It’s a comedy about the tragedy of nostalgia. How nostalgia can only take you so far and how that always leaves you sad in the end in someway. ” While this is true, Anderson’s brand of melancholy when at it’s best leaves the audience with a cathartic sense of a story so well told that it is crystalized in time. It’s the good kind of sad, a satisfying melancholy. Its a mirage of what was and its worth a visit.

Citations:

Larsen, Josh, Performer. ” #481 the grand budapest hotel. ” Filmspotting Podcast. , Web.

Marcus, Joan. The Accidenat Death of an Anarchist. 2014. Photograph. Berkeleyrep.orgWeb. 15 Apr 2014.

The Grand Budapest Hotel. N.d. Photograph. Fox Searchlight Pictures, IMDB.comWeb. 15 Apr 2014.

Claire’s Enemy’s List: I Have No Fucking Clue What I’m Doing

Claire Rice, ensuring I have to spend at least an hour downloading, uploading, and formatting all her photos.

My camera broke.

I think it’s an easy fix and I’m going to look into getting it repaired. It probably broke from a combination of neglect, abuse and age: but I can’t say for sure. When it comes to that thing, I have no fucking clue what I’m doing.

I just sort of aim, fire and hope.

I know fuck all about that particular piece of equipment. I love it. I love taking pictures and I feel like I’ve gotten lucky and I’ve taken some really good ones. But, unlike my life in theatre where I know why a thing is good, I can’t write an essay on photography. I can’t tell you why one photo is better than another. It just feels right. Oh, I could bullshit about it for a long time if you want to. I can use the knowledge I have of theatrical framing and…blah blah blah… I know a thing or two about a thing or two. I’m not going to bullshit further or wax poetic or pretend I know anything about what I’m doing. But I don’t know what I’m doing and I don’t mind. Getting lucky is fun. It isn’t artful and there’s no craft in it.

But, because my camera broke and I’m feeling nostalgic about it, I want to show off some of my favorite photos.

Don’t worry. I have a super angry post that feels very Enemy’s List cooking in the background here.

Troy: The Gates of Hell – Rehearsal Shot, SF State Rosie Josue, Aaron Teixeira, Vanessa Cota, Gregg Hood, Cecilia Palmtag, Teri Whipple, Megan Watson

Troy: The Gates of Hell – Rehearsal Shot, SF State
Rosie Josue, Aaron Teixeira, Vanessa Cota, Gregg Hood, Cecilia Palmtag, Teri Whipple, Megan Watson

City of Angels – Press Shot, SF State Sheena McIntyre (Clyde Sheets did all the lighting and set up for this)

City of Angels – Press Shot, SF State
Sheena McIntyre (Clyde Sheets did all the lighting and set up for this)

Don Juan – Production Shot, SF State  Elaine Gavin

Don Juan – Production Shot, SF State
Elaine Gavin

Killing My Lobster Reboots – Production Shot, Killing My Lobster Allison Page

Killing My Lobster Reboots – Production Shot, Killing My Lobster
Allison Page

Into the Clear Blue Sky – Production Shot, Sleepwalkers Theatre

Into the Clear Blue Sky – Production Shot, Sleepwalkers Theatre

Twelfth Night – Press Shot, AtmosTheatre Ashley Cowan, Nicholas Trengrove

Twelfth Night – Press Shot, AtmosTheatre
Ashley Cowan, Nicholas Trengrove

Ryan Marchand – For Fun

Ryan Marchand – For Fun

You’re Going To Bleed – Production Shot, DIVAfest Sam Bertken, Paul Jennings

You’re Going To Bleed – Production Shot, DIVAfest
Sam Bertken, Paul Jennings

Extra Shot – Taken during a photoshoot where we used a smoke machine

Extra Shot – Taken during a photoshoot where we used a smoke machine

Better Homes and Amo – Production Shot, No Nude Men James Tinsley, Warden Lawlor, Molly Benson, Cassie Powell

Better Homes and Amo – Production Shot, No Nude Men
James Tinsley, Warden Lawlor, Molly Benson, Cassie Powell

Love in the Time of Zombies – Press Shot, San Francisco Theatre Pub Neil Higgins

Love in the Time of Zombies – Press Shot, San Francisco Theatre Pub
Neil Higgins

Everything is Already Something Week 30: The Mental Patient and the Assassin, A Midwestern Tale

Allison Page sends us a story from the frozen north.

I’m sitting in a coffee shop in my home town – um, the only coffee shop in my home town – and I see someone familiar. I nearly choke on my Zebra Hazelnut Iced Mocha. I know that hair cut. I know the tick-tick-ticking of her high heels. Her glasses, her clear sense of self-importance – yes, it has to be her. My high school drama teacher. Ohhhh shit.

Flashback o’clock. Suddenly I’m thinking about the first play I ever auditioned for, which would have been Peter Pan when I was about 10, but I showed up to the audition and they wanted me to sing which I didn’t know about in advance, and so I cried and left without ever auditioning. (which is still how I feel about singing)

Oh fuck off, Cathy Rigby. Now you're just bragging.

Oh fuck off, Cathy Rigby. Now you’re just bragging.

So the actual first play I ever auditioned for was The Pink Panther Strikes Again, which is when I met the woman who would be my drama teacher. Let’s call her Lemon Drop. I read sides of the script with some other awkward teenagers, and Lemon Drop told me that I had “promise”. This I found very exciting and assumed meant I would be playing an important part in the following production. The cast list goes up – I can’t wait, I’m so pumped to find out which AMAZING role I’ll be taking on. And who am I? Who will I fully embody, causing the audiences minds to explode, the tops of their heads to detach and shoot into the stars because I’m, like, SOOOOOOO GOOD?

Allison Page – MENTAL PATIENT and ASSASSIN

What? I don’t even have a name?! COME ON! Look at me, over here! I have promise and shit! You said it, not me! MENTAL PATIENT? THAT’S MY ROLE? I didn’t read for that! I didn’t read for either of the parts I was given because they don’t have any lines. I was unbelievably depressed. I must have been awful, if she didn’t even give me any lines. I must have been a horrible freak and she just said those nice things to make me feel better. That had to be it. Instant misery set in. I’ve always had a terrible memory. I forget things all the time. But I remember how destroyed I felt by that. All of my 14 years of living, at that point, had been leading up to this moment for me.

I always knew I wanted to be an actor. I mean – always. I think I even wanted to do that before I knew what it was. I “wrote” my first play when I was in second grade. I somehow convinced the teacher to make the class watch my rendition of FERN GULLY LIVE. It was magnificent (it probably wasn’t). I loved it.

Naturally, I played the bat. My costume was a sheet with a hole in it.

Naturally, I played the bat. My costume was a sheet with a hole in it.

But this was the first time I’d been at the mercy of someone else’s choices…and look where that landed me: the non-speaking Mental Patient and the non-speaking-and-is-only-on-stage-for-30-second-before-she-dies Assassin. I cried a lot about it for more than one day. I didn’t give a shit about Santa Claus not being real, but this was my version of being told that the jolly bastard with the presents wasn’t comin’ around. Naturally, I got over it enough to perform in the play and see all the juniors and seniors do the fun parts while I watched from my deceased position, lying on the stage.

The depression at the thought that I might not be perfect and amazing as a teenage performer wasn’t enough to dissuade me from taking drama classes, which I did. Lemon Drop was a tough teacher – to me. I think, perhaps, other people had an easier time. It was hard because I so wanted to please her, and she was sparing with her compliments, but never her criticism. Her philosophy was “If I don’t say anything, then it’s good.” but that was hard for me at 16 and 17. I wanted someone to tell me I was blowing the roof off the place and I wasn’t going to get it from her. There were times that other people would mess something up, and I would end up getting the blame, which I strangely just sort of…took. Again – CRYING HAPPENED A LOT. (Which is hilarious for people who know adult Allison because crying is incredibly rare for me. Unless I’m laughing really hard, but I don’t count that.) The parts I was given got bigger and better and became more work – which is exactly what I wanted. I love working hard when it’s something I care about (and only then).

Lemon Drop gave me a thick, thick skin. How do you get a callous? Usually it’s after you’ve irritated and rubbed and poked and prodded that sore part of you until it learns how to protect itself. At the time I often wanted to kick her in the shin and run away, but I’m quite thankful for it now. Though I freely admit that the thought of her still kind of makes me nervous. Which is silly because what could she possibly do to me now – scowl? Who cares?

I’ve talked before about how I took over directing at my high school the year after I graduated. (And only for that year because it kind of made me crazy.) Lemon Drop had decided to stop directing after my class graduated. I remember some sentiment of us being the last class who seemed to really care about it, so she didn’t feel the need to go on. Who knows if that’s true. She showed up to the play I directed; brought me flowers and everything, but didn’t talk to me. I don’t recall ever speaking to her again after that. This was 9 years ago. I had wished that she had said something to me at the time. “I’m proud of you.” she would say, and then we’d hug or some shit. But I never got that moment. And actually I think that’s sort of appropriate. On some level that would make me feel like I’ve already achieved whatever I set out for – which I haven’t.

She was a hellion, but gave me an appreciation for all the work that goes into what previously seemed like play time. She is the single biggest influence on my work ethic and and attitudes about production. There have been many other people I’ve gleaned things from, but she’s the one who set up who I’d be as a performer from the start. She gave me parts like The Artful Dodger, Antigone (that one was tough), the Ghosts of Christmases Past and Present, and Thorin Oakenshield.

What, that doesn't look like me?

What, that doesn’t look like me?

I spent time and energy convincing her that certain parts could be as convincingly played by women as men (which was partially for gender equality but more because I WANT THOSE ROLES, DUH.) Should I approach her in this coffee shop? What would I say? What if she didn’t even remember me – this person she had such an impact on? I think she was disappointed that I didn’t go to college and major in theater…or go to college at all. What if she hates my guts?

My friend at the coffee shop turned around to see the woman I was staring at.
“Oh, that’s not her. She just looks like her. I’ve seen her around here before.”, she said.
“Really?” I continued to stare.
“Yeah, but from the back they look identical.” she said, sipping her coffee.
“Huh…weird. I could have sworn that was her.”
“Nope, not this time.”

I guess I have some more time to figure out what I’d say to her. Or maybe I’ll never get to say anything. I doubt she knows she made such a lasting impression on who I am as a person and a performer. And that she’s the reason I don’t require praise to know I’m doing a good job. That’s a pretty solid quality, I have to say. So thank goodness for that. It’s gotten me through moments of potential insecurity for the last decade.

Now I’m sitting in the same coffee shop (again, there’s only one) finishing up this blog, sipping another Zebra Hazelnut Iced Mocha. She hasn’t wandered in this time either, in case you were wondering. But with all this reminiscing, she might as well have.

Allison Page is a writer/actor/comedian on her way back from rural Minnesota to San Francisco, just tryin’ to make good. You can find her on Twitter @allisonlynnpage.

Higher Education: Grappling for Writers

Barbara Jwanouskos, working on keeping up.

So, last week I talked about the benefits of pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone. And I guess I’m still having feelings about that, so I thought I’d wrestle with them a bit more in this article.

This is the second week of New Works rehearsals where a couple of my fellow Dramatic Writing candidates and I are now seeing these thesis plays launch off the page. It’s been such an interesting process so far. My thesis play is called “The Imaginary Opponent” and deals with how a kung fu school’s community responds when violence breaks out between its students. So, obviously, there’s a lot of martial arts in it and also stage combat/violence.

I’m working with MFA Directing candidate, Quin Gordon, who has stressed from the beginning that because the physicality of the play, it’s important that the we engage in physical activities like running, kung fu and tai chi. Folks who read the Theater Pub blog frequently probably already know that I train in these martial arts disciplines, so that aspect of it, is not a problem. Running, however, is a whole different mental battle.

I’m an active person, but I’ve never been a great runner. When we go out as a group, I am huffing and puffing away, while the others zoom up ahead.

Wait for me, guys!

Wait for me, guys!

My stress over running doesn’t come from a physical standpoint, I get out of breath, but other than that, it doesn’t hurt me to run. In fact, it feels surprisingly great! And it’s not over being competitive. I mean come on, these guys are in their early 20s and are active from sun up to beyond sun down. There’s no need to compete. I’m just happy that I can even DO the route we do.

I think it comes from a place of feeling as if I should be able to do more. AHHH! But there, you see? It’s this whole ego perception thing because I know I’m working hard. I am trying my best. Maybe it’s easily bested by others, but it really is no big deal in the long run because probably the only thing I should be doing is what I already am minus the mental self-flagellation.

I could swim faster if we weren't on land!

I could swim faster if we weren’t on land!

I thought of the mental battle I’m having with running today while in a playwriting workshop with guest artist, Madeleine George. We were doing a lot of intellectual and creative writing/story generation exercises that gave me the same uncomfortable feeling at points that running does. I’d think, “Oh, I can’t write that down, that doesn’t make sense!” And yet, one of the things Madeleine wanted us to work with is not censoring ourselves.

I even feel fairly good at this when it comes to writing. It’s part of how I understand my process. I’ve built it into the way I teach playwriting to undergraduates. My first drafts are messy and don’t really make sense and have way too much stuff in them. But I can let the writing just pour out of me. I’ve been struggling with this a bit more this week however. I spent so long trying to write something new to bring to workshop on Monday, and that really came out was a bunch of non-plays and non-scenes and then about 16 pages of something new.

So, Madeleine’s exercise took a bit of mental grappling for me to stick to task. I found myself asking questions that I would know the answer to had I been leading others in writing. In the moment, I started to feel self-doubt creeping up on me. All the questions really centered around self-consciousness.

Am I doing it right?

Yep. There’s no wrong way.

The more that I pushed myself to keep going with the writing exercises, you could feel things changing and growing. That’s what I’m starting to really dig about running. For me, there are a lot of moments where I feel physically uncomfortable, but ultimately, I get into a groove while I’m doing it, and things just start to flow. It’s the same with writing by working with ideas and strategies beyond my comfort level. I come across pieces of my brain I never knew about.

And that can sometimes be really beautiful.

Where will this path lead?

Where will this path lead?