Everything Is Already Something Week 9: The Post-Production Blues

Allison Page is so sincere we forgive her for all the formatting this blog required. 

I’m sitting backstage with my castmate, Will, during the second act of our last performance of PRELUDE TO A KISS and he whispers to me, “So are you sad that it’s over?” – and I find that hard to answer. I’d say the answer is yes, but it’s really a mixed bag of feelings. I mean, isn’t it always? Particularly if it’s been a great show, or a great cast, or a great director or a great part or a great overall experience or God forbid – ALL OF THOSE THINGS. (Which this has been, for me.) And it got me to thinking – how do I really feel when something is over? And how do other people feel? Are my feelings unique or shared? Am I doing this wrong? So, I decided to ask a bunch of actors how they feel when that final curtain closes (not that there are always curtains. Come on, this is independent theater, sometimes it’s just in a room – but I digress.) Their amazing responses will be sprinkled throughout.

When a show closes, I feel a slump. I always have. Like someone’s carefully lowering an Acme anvil down on top of me, and I’m moving in slow motion to get out of the way. Okay, maybe that’s dramatic, but I am a fucking actor after all. Do you have a post-production slump?

PETER TOWNLEY – “I like post-production slumps, they encourage me to rest.”

Well, that was a really good way to look at that. That’s probably what I should be doing. Maybe I dwell for no reason.

JAN CARTY MARSH – “Nope, life goes on, and I have one (outside of theatre).”

Ohhh, yeah. Life…am I the only one who really slumps?

DAVE SIKULA – “…after doing this for 40 years, it doesn’t get old or routine, but it’s nothing unusual.”

Hm. Okay. It’s possible that I just need a drink or something. I’m probably over-thinking this.

PAUL JENNINGS – “I don’t slump.”

OKAY, I GET IT, I’M A SENTAMENTALIST WEIRDO. Well, I guess I’ll just pack up my stuff and —

This is what happens when you google "sad actor". Legit.

This is what happens when you google “sad actor”. Legit.

ASHLEY COWAN – “Yes, I certainly do feel a slump. I can’t imagine avoiding feeling a void when something you’ve put a lot of love and time into suddenly disappears.”

…oh yeah? Okay, well, maybe –

TONYA NARVAEZ – “Typically I do have a post-production slump of some sort. Sometimes it’s pretty horrible, where I am perfectly content to sit around at home and stare at the ceiling.”

(Setting suitcase down)…I’m listening…

STEPHANIE WOZNIAK – “Every now and then there’s a show that really makes me sad when it ends. Steel Magnolias was hard. I still miss that production and we closed 6 years ago.”

I hear ya. (Allison reminisces in her brain about a production of a radio play she did in college…)

SAM BERTKEN – “If the show and cast were 100% awesome the whole way through, closing is usually rather bittersweet. There’s usually the promise of seeing and working with people again, which is somewhat of a relief. Plus, I usually focus more on the next project to distract myself from my feelings! Hooray!”

Okay – stop. We just hit on two big things there. Two things that run through almost everyone’s responses to my questions at some point: bittersweetness and something else, too…

PETER TOWNLEY – “I really need to throw myself into another creative project.”

XANADU BRUGGERS – “I always kept doing show after show so I wouldn’t have to worry about having that feeling.”

DAVE SIKULA –  “I’m getting ready for the next thing.”

ALISHA EHRLICH – “I have…been able to stave off slump-y feelings longer by going from one production to the next, if possible, and continuously working on new shows/projects.”

STEPHANIE WOZNIAK – “Get yourself into a new gig ASAP so you don’t dwell.”

AH-HA! That’s the ticket. Never stop moving, like a fucking shark. Even before PRELUDE closed last Sunday, apart from having a billion things already lined up, I threw myself into a completely crazy and overly ambitious writing project (more on that another time.) because that’s what keeps me sane. No. Actually, I think a sane person might be okay with having down time. Like, actual down time. Oh man. My poor boyfriend. He never, ever sees me – and he LIVES with me. I’ve already started rehearsals for another show, performed in something last night, get up at 7am to work on that aforementioned nutty writing project every morning before I go to my intense writing job all day and – it’s only Wednesday. It’s been three days since closing and I’ve already done those things and there are just going to be more of them. Why can’t I slow down? Aren’t there roses to smell somewhere?…Where are they? And what’s so great about them? And are they better than the roses you might get from someone who comes to the show?

JAN CARTY MARSH – “When I started acting, I had two kids – 5 and 3 years old, it just meant I had more time with them. Now, it means my dishes get washed, I can ride my bike, and my friends have a chance to remember who I am.”

The second I finished typing that just now, I looked around my apartment…it’s a nightmare. Piles of clothing, empty boxes from deliveries that I haven’t bothered to take out to the recycling bin, empty bottles of Tazo iced tea, dirty dishes – but what’s so great about the dirty dishes, is that in every single case, they were only used to set take-out on top of. I haven’t cooked anything in months. And my friends? I mean…I don’t know. I see them…I think. Do I? I mean…I’ll go to a bar with them after a rehearsal or a performance, but it’s not like I’m going to the park or actually anywhere that I don’t HAVE to be while the sun is up. I’m usually free at about 11pm. If I were free evenings earlier than that, I’d just go do stand up somewhere. None of this is as sad as it sounds, it’s just – I don’t know – my reality.

Shit. I’m a workaholic. Shit.

This is going in a direction I did not predict. Let’s just go back to what other people think for a minute, because I’m not sure what just happened.

I asked them how they dealt with their slumps, if they have them. Here are some answers that are NOT “I do another show!”, just so we know that’s a possibility.

TONYA NARVAEZ – “Starting West Wing is how I got over MERCHANT OF VENICE last year.”

MOLLY BENSON – “Wine, and music jam sessions tend to do the trick. Or watching Game of Thrones or Mad Men, or something to that effect for hours on end.”

Good one. I LOVE drinking and TV! It’s like she knew!

ASHLEY COWAN – “…make plans with castmates immediately so we can try to keep the bond alive.”

PAUL JENNINGS – “…at least in one case, kept myself thoroughly stoned and distracted for like a month.”

SAM BERTKEN – “Chocolate?”

Right?

XANADU BRUGGERS – “I find other artistic endeavors that I have always wanted to explore. Art, music, writing etc…even sports or dance helps me.”

Sports are not my jam, but there’s that damned writing project popping up again…

LORMAREV JONES – “I try to read things I wasn’t able to, catch up on shows I watch, see friends I had to blow off due to the show – go back to ‘business as usual’ in a sense.”

Business as usual…business as usual…what does that mean to me? What is my business as usual? That’s a hell of a question. If I’m being honest, the answer is probably “sandwiches”.

STEPHANIE WOZNIAK – “…one must first obsess about the show for about a week. Look through photos, stalk the FB accounts of castmates, burst into songs or monologues several times a day. Then, cut yourself off.”

I miss my sweet 90s costumes. Did you see that black beaded choker? It was fabulous. I miss the people, they were wonderful. And I miss something weird and stupid that it’s a little hard for me to admit. Or a lot hard, I guess. I miss having pretend parents. My real parents are in Minnesota, where I’m from. I’ve been in San Francisco 5 years and they’ve never come to visit me, and I really don’t think they ever will. My mother hates to travel, and my father will not go anywhere without my mother. They are this wonderful pair of extremely linked people and they’re always together. I see them twice a year (unless it’s only once, at Christmas.) and having two people stand in as my parents was so oddly comforting. Especially because they shared so many characteristics with my real parents: my father is a war veteran who is charismatic, funny, charming, tough and believes in having a cold beer at the end of the day. My mother is SUCH a mother. She’s sweet, nurturing, concerned, wants what’s best for me, and has a tendency to meddle at times. 

If you didn’t see PRELUDE, Rita and Peter get married onstage. Dave Sikula, who played my father, walked me down the aisle. I handed my pretend mother – played by Jan Carty Marsh – my bouquet, then Dave smiled, kissed me on the cheek, and I walked away to greet my groom. It was a lovely thing I’ve never gotten to do in real life. I’ve been engaged twice but never married and…well, who knows. The point is, it was a lovely moment. And even Dave admitted that though he doesn’t have kids, and doesn’t want them, he really enjoyed being parental in that moment.

Okay, calm down, let’s get away from all this sentimental bullshit. I was just sort of curious – do you read reviews of your show? Do you wait ‘til it’s over?

SAM BERTKEN – “I really, really, really, really think it’s a good idea not to read reviews until the show is over…I always end up hearing it from someone, and then the whole intention of not reading the review is moot so I let morbid curiosity take over.”

MOLLY BENSON – “I used to read them during the show, but I’ve stopped that. I feel like whether a review is good or bad, it can alter how you feel about your performance and self worth, in a positive or a negative way, and take the focus away from the performance itself.”

XANADU BRUGGERS – “I try not to read reviews during a show. I think it is bad luck. Also, they can totally get in my head.”

Yeah, but…sometimes you sneak a little peek, right? In your darker moments?

LORMAREV JONES – “I always read reviews. I want to be the person that doesn’t need them, but I’m not that mature yet. Someday, perhaps.”

ALISHA EHRLICH – “I read reviews during the production with one eye closed or hiding behind my fingers.”

Testify!

STEPHANIE WOZNIAK – “I read reviews. All of them. I actively seek them out. I like to know where I stand. And if they are icky, it kind of fuels me and I work harder.”

DAVE SIKULA – “I always read reviews and long ago learned to not take them either seriously or personally.”

KAI MORRISON – “I almost always read reviews during the run, if any exist. It’s about ego-stroking.”

PETER TOWNLEY – “I think reviews are basically useless and approximately zero people should read them.”

But what if they say something really nice about my hair?

PETER TOWNLEY – “If I want to hear another person’s opinion about a show, I will start a conversation with someone who is good at discussion and whose opinion I respect.”

Oh, fine.

Listen, I know this has been a long column for me, but that’s because I find it to be an interesting discussion. Thanks for taking the ride with me. Everyone has their own opinion on these particular matters, but when it comes down to it, I mostly agree with what Will said to me on that backstage couch Sunday night, 30 minutes before our beautiful little show took its final bow, so I’ll leave you with his words:

WILL LESCHBER – “It’s like immediate nostalgia. It’s not like one of those things where you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone – it’s like you know exactly what you’ve got as it’s going.”

You can follow Allison on Twitter @allisonlynnpage or accost her on the street on the way to whatever it is she’s on the way to all the time.

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9 comments on “Everything Is Already Something Week 9: The Post-Production Blues

  1. Ok Allison, what are you doing reading my mind? So good to know someone else thinks deeply (even obsessively) about these things…and is as sentimental as I am (often embarrassed to be). Bravissima!

    • Allison says:

      I can tell you this post has already sparked so many conversations about so many things with people, and I’m loving it. Everybody’s different and everybody’s the same! Oh, sorry, here’s your mind back! 🙂

  2. What sort of actor doesn’t like emotions? Sadness, melancholy, emptiness, bittersweet – all the varieties of it, are essential. I can’t understand folks who rush into busyness to avoid feeling sad. Feeling is what we do, as humans, and especially as actors. I ALWAYS get sad after a show closes. I mope and stare out the windows a lot and eat a great deal of ice cream and don’t return calls. It’s great and it’s miserable. Then it passes, and someone has a project, or an audition or something; life desires more of itself and I’m drawn in. Nothing wrong with that. Be happy about your sadness. It will pass so fast, like life itself. Don’t make it go by any faster than necessary. You’ll wake up one day and be old. It’s quite startling. Trust me on that…

    • Allison says:

      I hear ya, George. That very idea has been a topic of conversation with for the last couple of days: why can’t we just sit with the feeling for a hot second instead of needing to erase it immediately? Is it really that bad to think “Man, that was so great, I’ll never get to do that again…I’m just going to hang out with that thought for a minute and let it be.”?

      • yeah, exactly… is there any other art form… dance, I suppose… in which you work SO hard and so little is left behind… a program, a poster, a prop item you snagged as a souvenir? We may as well savor the existential weirdness of that… for a few days, perhaps… and all the promises the cast makes to each other… every time… ‘oh we WILL be total friends forever’. (I still miss the Tony & Tina’s crew… such excellent alcoholic adventures…) …*sigh*… and then turn and look forward again to see what amazing shit, or colossal disasters, are just up ahead.
        (PS. yo, Allison, are you still doing stand-up? Please make sure I’m on yr mailing list? I’m def a big fan.)

  3. Allison says:

    I’m so sentimental, that I spelled sentimentalist incorrectly. I’m an idiot.

  4. Loving this discussion. I like the way working on a show makes everything else lower priority. Hate how when it’s done all those boring things (laundry, etc.) become high priority—extra high because they’ve piled up. Need an excuse to deprioritize them again. Thinking of living off of hot pockets, since every time I go to the grocery store I buy stuff that never gets cooked and rots because I’m always out in the evenings at a show or something. Found a recipe for making 35 homemade hot pockets. Don’t have time to make them. Your blog affirms that I am not alone in my crazy lifestyle and is time to give in to it.

    Also, I don’t read reviews during a show or back covers of books. Even if I hear something general, like “poignant” I’ll have to struggle not to play to that or to wait for it in the book, “Is this poignant? No it isn’t. Yes it is.”

    As for hair reviews… My worst review in Edinburgh started out with, “American Annette Roman in an ill-fitting blonde wig…” Don’t remember the rest. Bought a new wig.

    • Allison says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, Annette! I’d love a bunch of homemade frozen hot pockets – that would make my life infinitely easier. On the topic of hair – someone once reviewed something I did when I had purple hair and commented that he felt it clashed with my blue shirt. I promptly rolled my eyes and told everyone the black-leather-beret-wearing guy could fuck off.

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