The Real World, Theater Edition: What I Don’t Need Anymore

Barbara Jwanouskos, focusing.

It’s actually really fitting that for the first month of the year we decided to focus on downtime and balance. I’ve felt the need lately in all aspects of my life –professional, personal, and artistic– to really take a solid look at myself and what exactly I want to achieve in these realms, and to make decisions about what I don’t need.

You all know that in my downtime from theater, writing, and work, that I practice kung fu and tai chi. I’ve mentioned before how the lessons learned from the pursuit of that art meld into other areas of my life. Most recently, I took a seminar, in which, I was reminded of how MUCH I truly do carry around! The task was to try to relax as much as possible while retaining the bare minimum of structure. It’s like you’re going on a backpacking trip — you want to pack light.

So, you’re thinking “great, so Barbara is tense, so what? So is everybody and what does this have to do with theater?” Which is probably pretty valid. I guess for me the connection and the a-ha moment in both activities, is that in order to progress further you need to give up something. And again, this might be kind of a duh realization. Still, I think it’s a good reminder and a good self-check to do every so often.

I have a couple writing goals for the year:

-To expand my portfolio by writing new plays. I don’t yet have a goal, but I figured at the very least writing one new full length, one short play, a short film, and revising my play “i stole lance armstrong’s bike” would be a hefty set of goals for the year.

-To get my personal website up and running. This one is so easy that I continuously put it off.

-To write consistently, as in every day. I used to do this more and fell out of practice with it, but to relate back to tai chi again for a moment, the time I started making deep, yet subtle (though absolutely tangible) progress when I made the small goal to practice for at least ten minutes every day and to write afterwards notes on what came up. I have a stretch goal to practice in the morning and evening and each month to increase my practice session by 1 minute.

I’d like to bring in some observations of why these things seem so hard to actually DO (especially consistently). Well, there’s my work schedule, there’s where I live and my commute time, there are the other commitments I have, and then add in the very necessary social outings with friends and family. But there’s also a lot of stuff I could cut out — for instance, really pushing for a fulltime job (I have been already, but I could make some even more pointed decisions to create more time). I could not volunteer myself for as many theater (or other) pursuits.

This one is hard because for me sometimes (especially when your role as writer is to be erm… writing) because I like being involved and socializing. I like helping out. I was talking about this with some of my friends the other night and it’s like, I have this need to only focus on my projects (and of those only the ones I really care about). We were reflecting that everyone else is certainly going to survive without us and no one would probably notice in the first place. Maybe this is sounding too pessimistic, but it really was an affirmation that I believe the work I do has meaning. So why get mixed up in other people’s art children dream projects because you want to “be involved”? I can be involved in a variety of ways. I can make plans to hang out with friends if that’s what I want to do. And I can support organizations, projects, and worthy causes in a variety of ways.

So, to digress for a second, by now maybe you’re like, “Wait, I thought this column was going to shift to interviews…” Well, you know how life goes. As it happened trying to balance all the above stuff and still try to fill my cup before I burned out, I got the timing wrong on my first interview of this year. And so yes, I did decide to write this as an alternative to that. Hopefully it is valuable or possibly interesting to others. But honestly, I don’t care. Not in a “I really don’t care about the content of this blog” way. I do, I absolutely do. I mean “I don’t care what others think about my decision to address this situation in this manner and what I think that they think it may say about me as a person, my abilities as a writer, or my aptitude to be a conscientious theater citizen.”

Phew! I know that’s a mouthful, but this gets to the last thing I’m willing to give up in order to swiftly achieve my goals: thinking. I’m sick of thinking and I’m all about doing. Thinking is great sometimes, but it gets to be natural. I can’t shut it off really. All I do is redirect and intensely focus on what I’m DOING. Maybe I’m over-emphasizing this point, but actually I with I had some companions on this “less thinking, more doing”. I’m so sick of navel-gazing theater to death. Can we just do it? Can we just write plays? Perform in things? Find a makeshift place to put on a play? Even if it’s really slow to get all the pieces in place. Even if it wasn’t as good as it could have been. I wonder if maybe I could do this (and possibly others, though I am certainly not interested in forcing or even working to convince anyone), maybe I could create some great art!

Barbara Jwanouskos is a Bay Area based writer and member of Just Theater’s 2014-15 New Play Lab. Website coming soon…

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Everything Is Already Something Week 48: I MADE IT!

Allison Page, sliding under the finish line.

You’ve heard it before: “I can’t wait until you’ve made it and I get to say I knew you back when…” Well, I am happy and proud to say that everyone who’s ever said that to me can cash in on that statement because I MADE IT, BABY! That’s right. I have reached the tippy top goal. I have climbed the mountain and am standing at the top with a flag pole and the flag is waving in the wind with my visage printed proudly on it. And what is the goal? What have I accomplished? Am I on Broadway? Or in a Scorsese movie? Or in a Broadway adaptation of a Scorsese movie directed by eight of my personal heroes?

US director Martin Scorsese poses during

No.

I’m working on things I’m passionate about.

OH SHIT THAT’S SO DISAPPOINTING, ISN’T IT? Sorry, cab driver from two years ago who is waiting to brag about my fame – that’s my version of making it. I don’t have those other goals. All I want out of being a theater artist is to be a theater artist. Would a trillion dollars be cool? Yeah, obviously. I’d love to fill a yacht with caramel sauce – who wouldn’t? But I am in no way, shape, or form attempting to make that happen. I want to work on things I care about…and that’s all. I just want to always do that. But nobody wants to hear that. That’s not sparkly and fun. And it’s maybe a little too easy, some might think. I mean – it isn’t – so those people are stupid, but they’ll still think it along with “I wonder what mud tastes like.”

I’ve felt this way for quite a long time. I doubt I’m the only one, either. But it sure seems hard to understand if you ask my grandma. (Other things that are hard for her to understand include “Why won’t you eat my sauerkraut salad?”) Every person working in some sort of artistic field goes home for the holidays and has to answer some questions. Except those few people that come from a family of other artists who totally get it, and even then they’re still your family so there’ll be something somewhere they don’t understand about your life. But the truth is, grandma, I’m doing exactly what I want to do right now.

I heard this great/cheesy thing yesterday: “Don’t wait for someone to discover you. Discover yourself.” UGH, SO CHEESY.

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But I totally agree with it. Everyone’s got their own goals and dreams and hopes, but I’m not trying to climb any ladders. Which isn’t to say that you shouldn’t do that, if that’s what you want to do. And that also isn’t to say that if some giant thing came along I wouldn’t do it. If Scorsese comes knocking, cool. But I’m not waiting for that. How awful would that be? If I spent my whole life waiting for something to happen when in reality I fully have the power to just do shit myself? And that isn’t the sound of me settling either. I can see how someone could say that (GRANDMAAAAA!) I actually am truly fulfilled doing the small and mighty things, because they don’t feel small to me, they feel important.

Oh God, this is too inspirational. I can’t go on much longer. The point is – I MADE IT! Someone play a trumpet for me! Roll out the old bath towel – we can’t afford one of those long red carpets to walk down – and let’s get this party started!

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No, but really, I have to go figure out how to raise a few thousand dollars for this show next year otherwise the set will be made out of cardboard. Heyyy, cardboard set. Not a bad idea.

Allison Page is a writer/actor/director/person who exists in real life as well as on Twitter @allisonlynnpage.