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.

Everything is Already Something Week 27: Happy Anniversary, I’m Unemployed!

Allison Page, drinking bleach and taking names.

Holy shit, you guys…I’ve been writing Everything is Already Something for a YEAR! (Well, 1 year tomorrow, but I write every other Wednesday, so you’ll have to settle for today.) And a crazy, crazy year it has been. Actually, it’s been a crazy month. I don’t even want to think about 12 of those back to back. That would be awful.

A little over 3 weeks ago, I got laid off. Isn’t that just soooo adult of me? When I think of layoffs, I think of somebody’s dad losing his job at the ceiling-fan-parts manufacturing plant or something. I don’t think about me. And it had never happened before. But here we are. The reactions from other people have been really interesting. Particularly the contrast between my San Francisco friends and my Minnesota friends and family.

Allison: “I got laid off!”

Mom/Aunt/Dad/Girl I Went to College With: “Ohhhh myyyy Goooood! What are you gonna do? Move home! What are you gonna do?! Ohhhhh myyyy Goooood! You’ll be homeless in a month! YOU’LL BE SELLING YOUR BODY ON THE STREET!”

Allison: “I got laid off!”

SF Friends and Acquaintances: “Hell yeah! You’re gonna make so much art now! Let’s drink hella drinks.”

Unemployed breakfast.

Unemployed breakfast.

The truth, of course, lies somewhere between those two things. Oh, and I’m an aunt now. That just happened a few days ago. I have a tiny nephew named Jacob! It’s…a pretty weird feeling. A combination of feeling very adult and also definitely not adult at all. I’m going through one of those glorious periods of my life where everyone else is having babies and I’m writing a political sex comedy. Deja vu.

I got all pumped up about self producing a play that I’m very passionate about this coming October…and then we had to bump it to 2015. This year is only two months old and it’s already throwing me for a loop in at least 6 different ways. I suppose it’s a good thing that I love change. Generally speaking, I roll with the punches. Mostly because I have the awareness to know that whatever happens, I will most likely be fine. I don’t know if my life could get as chaotic as it used to be even if I tried. Of course, I could be totally wrong about that and end up sleeping on the floors of closets again. I look forward to finding out.

The most surprising and encouraging thing about being unemployed is how bizarrely confident other people seem to be in my potential ability to not need a 9-5 job. As opposed to saying “Oh man, you better apply for this job at a grocery store so you don’t die.” there are people saying things like “Oh! Get a literary agent!” or “Just do more on camera stuff!” or “Write for this magazine or this website!”. I had a conversation with a friend of mine while she gave me a ride home from a reading of a new play the other night, and she expressed happiness about having a feeling that more and more of her theatrical friends and collaborators are transitioning from having to have full time desk jobs to making their real passions their full time endeavors. Like a switch from full time job with art on the side, to full time artist with jobs on the side. That’s a big difference. Often it also comes with a big difference in financial compensation, of course. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a job that pays those damned bills, and doing the passionate stuff after. I mean, I’ve been doing that my entire life, so I definitely feel it’s a valid way to create things in this crazy expensive world. But I think we can all agree that if we had the luxury of being able to dedicate more time to the things we love – that would be pretty great. That’s an overly optimistic expectation, obviously. The odds that you’ll find me at a desk in an office, or selling shampoo, or baking fucking peach pies for cash are pretty high.

Hello, sir! Have you considered switching to...to...I feel nothing. I am a husk.

Hello, sir! Have you considered switching to…to…I feel nothing. I am a husk.

But for now, I’m going to pretend that I’ll never have to do that, and see just how much cool stuff I can generate. (HINT: probably not as much as I wish I could.) It’s like my own personal forced artistic revolution. I would never have left that job of my own accord. I’d have to be an idiot to do that. Great pay, free food – I mean, I’m not an asshole. But the fact that I got laid off is giving me some weird opportunities to spend some time in my brain and figure out just what it’s capable of. Like when a guy who’s totally into cars gets a new car and says something like “Let’s see what this baby can really do!” and drives it as fast as possible. That’s what I’m going to do with my brain-car.

Right after I get caught up on House of Cards.
And West Wing.
And Downton Abbey.
And Bob’s Burgers.
And Murder, She Wrote.
And every movie starring Cary Grant.
And everything on Hulu.
And everything on Netflix.

Priorities are hard.

TELL ME WHAT TO FEEL!

TELL ME WHAT TO FEEL!

See Allison live! Tonight 2/26 in a reading of Stuart Bousel’s EVERYBODY HERE SAYS HELLO! at the Exit Theater at 8pm, OR at PANELMONIUM!, 8pm Friday 2/28 at the Dark Room Theater, OR Monday, March 3rd in a reading of Rachel Bublitz’s UNDER THE GODS GOLDEN CLEATS, 8pm at The Tides Theater. More info for the last two events is readily available on Facebook.

Everything Is Already Something Week 10: Sorry I Didn’t Go To College

Allison Page is here to blow your mind and it won’t cost you 25K a year.  

In my mind, if you’re reading this it’s because you’re horrified beyond belief that I didn’t go to college. Don’t worry, you’re not the only one who’s gravely disappointed.

It’s been a few months since this happened so I feel fine talking about it… It all started one magical day when someone proposed that we change the spelling of “actor” to “acter.”  The internet conversation had turned to whether or not you call yourself an “actress” or an “actor.” As in, if you say “actress” clearly that denotes that you are covered in estrogen, and if you say “actor” you’re sort of going against that… ya follow me, here? I sincerely doubt it’s a topic that anyone outside of the theatrical world knows or cares about. Anyway, it’s one of those threads that is primarily a harmless list of people’s one-word responses to that inquiry. I add mine, which is that I say “actor.” My reasoning for that being less about “TAKE THE GENDER OUT OF THIS, NOW,” and more about the fact that I don’t like the actual sounds of that word “actress.” It’s like “panties”, or “moist” or “girth” for some people. I just don’t like the mouth sound. And it does sort of sound like I’m parading around in a ball gown carrying a teacup poodle, assisted by two strong men who are… god, that doesn’t sound so bad… anyway, I say “actor.” That’s just what I say. And a lot of us do so, actually. “Actress” sounds much too glamorous for what goes on in my life. I don’t think actresses should eat as many cheeseburgers as I do. An actress shouldn’t drink this much Guinness or swear like a sailor who got kicked in the dick. So – I’m an actor. Many other people add their two cents, and naturally I get a cute little notification every time that happens: “Slamalamadingdong also commented on blahblah.”  So I take a gander at the responses. Many of them are the same as mine. Some are different. And then – UH OH – someone has jumped the shark, kids. I see an “acter”.

Wait, what?

Let's call this shark I'm jumpin' over a SHAARK. With 2 A's!

Let’s call this shark I’m jumpin’ over a SHAARK. With 2 A’s!

Basically, she’s proposing we start spelling the word “actor” with an E, like “acter.”

Well, here’s the first problem: it’s not a word. And here’s the second problem: if you say “acter” to someone out loud… IT’S THE SAME. IT SOUNDS EXACTLY THE SAME. IT’S ONLY DIFFERENT IN YOUR MIND. Now, how many times has someone asked you what you do, and you’ve written it down on a flashcard and shown it to them? Would it be fair to say zero times? Never times? Not one times? None of the times? Because that’s how many times I’ve done that. I said that it seemed a little nonsensical to me, and that if someone wrote down that they were an “acter,” it would be hard for me not to laugh – which is fucking true. Now, did I have to say that? Did I have to say anything at all? No, I didn’t. I could have just sat there – probably eating cookies – and that would have been fine. It’s just that sometimes, especially the place where this particular conversation was happening, I get frustrated with the all-inclusive “Let’s support everything no matter what it is because that’s us being an encouraging group of women – never questioning each other’s ideas in any capacity. THAT’S how we grow,” mentality. And I guess, on this day, I just decided I didn’t want to watch one more shark-jump and I said something. Well, she wasn’t happy about it. And she definitely wasn’t happy that more than one person disagreed with her. Her response was that we’d made her “very tired”… okay… and that (and this part was directed specifically at me): “I’m a friggin’ Harvard Law grad and Mensa member… the end of that sentence leads to an insult, so instead, I’m off this string.”

All of the records screeched just now, in case you couldn’t hear that.

What’s the end of her brilliant sentence? How does she know I’M not a Harvard Law grad? How does she know I’m not the Mensa-iest Mensa Member this side of the Mississippi? Is she gleaning what information she can from the “about” section of my Facebook profile? Did she call Mensa to make sure I didn’t sneak in when she wasn’t looking? Facebook was likely her only source of information.

The thing is – yeah – I’m not a Harvard Law grad. (And if I were, I would say “graduate” because “grad” sounds stupid – like “Cali” and “totes.”)

It’s true. My only “higher education” is in the form of a year and a half of cosmetology school at Northland Community and Technical College in my teensy hometown of Thief River Falls, Minnesota. And guess what – I didn’t even graduate!

Allison on a good night.

Allison on a good night.

I realize I’m disappointing you right now, person-who-is-reading-this, and I’m sorry. I wish I had gone to college. It’s one of the big regrets of my life. The thing is, I didn’t come from a family of people who said things like “Strive for excellence! You can be anything you want to be! Get good grades and go to a stellar college! ACHIEVE!” That just wasn’t my reality. So many people never leave my hometown. They work at the same snowmobile factory their parents worked at their entire adult lives. My mother has, for the most part, been a housewife since she married my dad at 19. That’s what she wanted for me. Get married, make babies, live within blocks of my parents’ property, shut up, ride a horse once in a while, grow old, and die. Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic… but it’s not too far off course.

So for the first chunk of my “adult” life, I tried to live her way. I got engaged at 19 (PARALLELS, Y’ALL) to a very nice boy who had been the captain of a neighboring town’s football team. I was going to cosmetology school because she knew I was just independent enough to need to get an actual job and thought that would satisfy me, and was trying to be happy with that. But I wasn’t. I wasn’t happy at all. The only happiness I could find was in the theater company that I had started at 18. I worked tirelessly at producing shows for a community of people who really only wanted to go to the local community theater to see a production of Oklahoma because it had a shitload of kids in it. I gave them something different and developed a following, which was surprising and great, but it just made me want to do more. Each show was more ambitious and took more of my time because I hated reality to an absurd extent. I didn’t give a shit about giving my grandma a perm. I did the bare minimum at school because it was the last thing I wanted to waste my energy on. Pretty soon I was spending less and less time with my fiancé, and when I did see him, I tried desperately to engage him in deeper conversations – but he just couldn’t do it. He didn’t have opinions about anything I had opinions about – or really anything else, either.

My mother had instilled in me an intense fear of living. She had done it to protect me, and she didn’t understand how it could be a bad thing. She loves me, she’s my mom, she doesn’t want bad things to happen to me. But it was a bad tactic, because I didn’t know how to live. I always knew that I was different from her, but I was afraid to assert it in real ways because I hadn’t dealt with the fear of the unknown. What if I diverged from the path and just fucking DIED IMMEDIATELY? Even so, I started to change things for myself. I called off the wedding, left my fiancé, threw myself even more into my theater company, started working as a radio announcer, started writing scripts, started… STARTED… I was finally fucking starting my life. And by this time, I was done with cosmetology school. I hadn’t graduated because I didn’t care nearly enough for that, but I was licensed which is all I needed to get a job, which I did. I used the money I made trimming mullets at Walmart (not joking) to build a bigger and better stage, more intricate sets, get more elaborate costumes, pay higher royalties for shows I really wanted to do, and to give myself a cushion in case nobody came to see whatever weird show I chose next.

Then I went to Thailand, while I was there my best friend died, I came back home to Minnesota and then… that was it. I was done. I couldn’t live that life anymore. I moved to San Francisco with one bag and $500 I got from a medical study testing the side effects of muscle relaxers and here I was.

And then everything was really fucking hard. For 4-and-a-half years I was almost homeless. I slept on floors the majority of that time. I moved 10 times. I once lived in a 2-bedroom with 6 people in it. 3 people slept in my room. I was on the floor with a pillow and a blanket. That lasted for months. I once lived in a closet. I shared a futon in an efficiency studio with another girl and two cats for 6 months. I stayed on my friend’s father’s couch and ate Hormel chili every night because it’s what I found in his cupboard. I lost 40 lbs from lack of food and walking everywhere. I lived on 300 calories a day for a while. I worked as a man’s assistant – he did not treat me well, but every once in a while he would buy me a sandwich. I worked 5 hours a day for minimum wage 4 days a week, because that’s the job I could get. A coworker found me crying doing laundry in the back room and gave me $40 and I have never, EVER forgotten that she did that for me. I was lonely a lot. I was cold a lot. My shoes were full of holes. Sometimes I couldn’t afford toothpaste and deodorant and I would sneakily use someone else’s. I dated a man who turned out to be an alcoholic whose life was even more in shambles than my own. My mother tried to convince me to come home at every possible opportunity but I just wouldn’t. I did my best to hide the reality of my daily life from her.

Then I started doing standup. Then I started doing sketch. And improv. And then teaching it. And then booking shows. And then I got an agent. And then I wrote some commercials. And then I acted in some stupid, stupid Japanese TV show that meant I could finally BUY A BED. I had a bed. When I bought it, I cried in front of the woman who sold it to me. I didn’t have sheets for about a month, so it was just a mattress for a while, but I didn’t care. I had a bed. I got a job at an amazing bookstore. I didn’t make much money but I was extremely happy there. Robin Williams told me I was funny…and then it took me 2 hours to get home because I couldn’t afford anything but the bus and I didn’t have the money to go out with anyone for a celebratory drink. Then an opportunity popped up at a giant gaming company. For a writer. They wanted someone who could write comedy, make things short and punchy, be creative… man, I could do that! I did a million and two writing tests… the guy wanted to hire me!… and then he quit. Devastation. Depression. Still living in a house full of clowns with nut allergies. Then another opportunity pops up… same company. I did a million and three writing tests… AND I GOT THE JOB! They didn’t ask for my educational background until I had already been hired, just to put it in their files. I was able to afford my own apartment downtown. My own apartment. I started getting cast in things I really wanted to be cast in. I honed my skills. I practiced. I molded. I created. I wrote – and not just dialogue for games, but other things too. I wrote screenplays, short plays, play plays. I worked. I worked really hard. I still do.

Not going to college has been a big, ugly chip on my shoulder. I’m sad about it sometimes because I wish I had that experience. I didn’t have the resources to go – or I certainly didn’t feel I did at the time – and I didn’t quite have the gumption I have now. I was still in the gumption-development phase of my life. And Mensa has never come a-callin’. There are several opportunities I couldn’t take because I don’t have a degree. And that’s always going to be the case. There’s always going to be something I can’t do because of that damned piece of paper that doesn’t exist in my life. I hate to be cliché, but I’m about to be, so prepare yourself for it…

That does not define me.

My lack of college education does not define me and it never will.

Maybe I’ll go to college some day. I’d like to do that. I’d feel good about that. But for now, the 4-and-a-half years I spent on the brink of disaster is going to have to suffice, and I’m okay with that.

Everyone is entitled to have their own opinion. You can have yours, and I can have mine – but when you start throwing your education around like it’s an excuse for everything you’ve ever said to be taken with a heavier weight than someone else’s words? Well, I think they’d even frown upon that in kindergarten, and I totally graduated from that.

Also, Harvard says “acter” isn’t a word. Double also, Mensa says you’re a doodoo head.

Hey, Mensa’s words, not mine.

No Mensas were harmed in the making of this blog. You can find Allison eating a sandwich at work or on twitter @allisonlynnpage. And thanks to Cathy, who will probably never see this, for the $40 in 2009 – it was a really big deal.