A Puzzle

So. I finished this puzzle. It’s Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria which happens to be one of my favorite places I’ve ever been. It’s 2000 pieces, so I guess that in itself is an accomplishment, but finishing this puzzle has been like getting to Mordor and back.

I started this puzzle when I went home at Christmas. I used to do puzzles as a way to escape within the house. I knew if I sat at the kitchen table and did a puzzle everyone would mostly leave me alone. I remembered past Christmases where my dad would come sit down and try to talk to me about stuff I didn’t want to talk about and I would give him the minimum interaction required, acting like I was completely engrossed in the puzzle.

The bigger and more difficult the puzzle, the better. It meant it would take me longer to complete and it would give me an excuse to not engage. Well, this year I didn’t have to worry about my dad trying to talk to me, because he had passed away the previous Spring. So I sat there and worked on this puzzle. I tried not to look at the chair my dad used to sit in when he tried to talk to me. I attempted not to drown in regret .

My brother put a TV on the table so I would have company. I was able to binge watch Dr. Who and work on this puzzle. I did this day and night until it was time for me to go back to Chicago, but try as I might I didn’t finish it. I was only 80% done. I ended up sadly breaking the puzzle apart and putting it back in the box and brought it home with me to Chicago.

I started to get superstitious, well that and I have an undiagnosed propensity for compulsion. I started thinking that my life would suck until I completed this damn puzzle. 2017 was bound to be as awful as 2016, unless I could conquer this. So I started putting it together again. I spread it out on my coffee table and worked on it while my roommate was out of town. I had finished Dr. Who at my mom’s house, so I started over and binge-watched the whole series again. I worked on the puzzle day and night. There was nothing fun about putting the puzzle together. I felt like I had to. I had to finish it. I was a failure if I didn’t, but try as I might I couldn’t finish the puzzle before my roommate got home. It was 80% done again.

I couldn’t leave the puzzle on the table because the living room was a disaster. In my obsession to complete this puzzle I had moved every single lamp in the apartment into the living room to construct the perfect jigsaw puzzle-constructing lighting. My roommate is a very neat person and I knew this crazy puzzle-constructing secret lab that I had created wasn’t going to fly.

I decided to move the puzzle into my bedroom so I could finish it in the privacy of my room. This is not the kind of jigsaw puzzle that stays together when you pick it up. It’s a thicker one, so it falls apart instantly. I flattened a couple of boxes and taped them together. I SLOWLY and VERY carefully nudged the puzzle onto my flattened boxes. The puzzle kept falling apart so this was very slow work. It took me over an hour to get the entire puzzle on the flattened boxes, but I did it!

I gingerly carried my contraption holding the precious puzzle to my bedroom, but the boxes were too wide to fit through my door. I tilted it ever so slightly to fit through the door and half the puzzle fell off and broke completely apart. Sobbing, I saved as much of the puzzle as I could and placed the flattened boxes holding it on the floor. The rest of the pieces I angrily tossed back into my puzzle box, and threw it next to the puzzle.

By this point I had finished Dr. Who again, so I started it again and I got in my bed and I pretty much stayed there for a month. I went to a temp job 1-2 times a week, I  half-heartedly went on appointments for my theatre company, but if I wasn’t there, I was in bed trying to disappear. I watched as depression piled on top of the puzzle. I threw laundry on top of it and paperwork and books until there was a mound there so big that you couldn’t even see a 3′ by 5′ puzzle underneath it.

As always happens, one day I woke up and felt slightly better. I was able to make myself breakfast and get a couple chores done. Action begets action, so of course small tasks grew until I was able to do more things. My theatre company went into high gear, and I had to snap out of it whether I liked it or not. I got a new day job that I enjoy going to. I somehow made all my deadlines and fulfilled all my obligations and one day I woke up and felt the healthiest I had in a long time.

Even though the fog in my brain had cleared, I was still sleeping in the bedroom of a depressed person. So a couple days ago I decided that the time had come. I started cleaning my room until the puzzle was uncovered. And then I sat down and finished the puzzle. I found myself overcome with emotion a few times remembering my dad, remembering the family trip to Germany where I had seen Neuschwanstein castle in person. I finished the puzzle in half the time it took the other two times.

As you can imagine, from moving it 3 times and it falling numerous times, it is missing a piece. It isn’t perfect, but it is finished. And I have kept the promise I made to myself. The promise that I can finish things that I’ve started. The promise that I would take better care of myself this year. The promise that I would figure out how to keep living and not just surviving. The promise that I could dig my way out of my despair. It’s a stupid puzzle, but it represents so much more, and now my year can begin.

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I think I’ll stay in my bubble. Thanks.

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I am a wild feminist who lives in Chicago and runs a musical theatre company. My friends and family are every color, religion, and orientation. I surround myself with people that celebrate diversity and inclusiveness. Okay. Do you get the picture? Super Liberal. Super Progressive. I live in the brightest blue bubble and I’d like to stay there, thanks.

After the election I read all the same articles that you did about how staying in our bubbles cost us the election. I read about the poor white families in the Rust Belt and how we needed to try and understand where they were coming from. I read that we were to blame, sitting in our towers in our cities (I don’t live in a tower p.s., Trump does) wasting our time on identity politics and political correctness.

I bought into the narrative for a time. I unhid all my hidden friends on Facebook. I started following a couple of conservative papers. I tried to actually listen to the white people that feel disenfranchised, that feel like America has left them behind, rather than instantly bristle at their pro-Trump rhetoric.

And that’s all well and good. It’s great to reach out to people that have opposing views. It’s great to compromise. It’s great to find common ground. That all sounds great, yeah?

The problem is this. I will not bend when it comes to certain things; not even an inch. You want to talk about fiscal conservatism? Okay. Are you more hawkish in your views of war than I’d like? Fine. You’re pro-life? I think we can have a conversation at least. Maybe.

What I will not tolerate? The complete indifference and detachment for our fellow American’s basic human rights. I actually do NOT think that every Trump supporter is a crazy misogynistic islamaphobic homophobic racist. I don’t. What I DO think is that by voting for him, actively or not, you endorsed those ideas. It might not have been why you voted for him, but your vote supported a man who spreads hate about those groups of people. Living in a city and working in the arts and having a multiracial family, you are co-signing hate toward the people I love.

And no matter how hard I try to sympathize with the plight of the disenfranchised white folk, it always comes down to this. You have put my loved ones in danger. You have decided that your life is worth more than others. And I can’t abide by that. It’s a deal breaker for me and I don’t think I want you in my life.

Sound harsh? Well. I don’t know what to tell you. This was not just another election for many of us. We are in a fight for our basic rights. Some of us are in a fight for our lives. Telling us to get “over it” is ridiculous. We are at an impasse.

So, let the unfriending commence. Let’s hide folks with great aplomb. I will unfollow celebrities, news sources, and people that don’t value all human life and won’t feel bad AT ALL. I will enjoy my New York Times and Washington Post. I’ll keep watching Samantha Bee and Rachel Maddow and throw some John Oliver in their for fun. I’m done trying to convince you that humans should be treated like humans. Why is this an argument!? I’m done going to battle with internet trolls when I can spend my energy on more productive pursuits.

So how do we stay in our liberal progressive bubbles and not let this happen again? We surround ourselves with inspiring people that are taking action to change the world for the better. We get involved. We organize. We donate. We march. We build up new leaders. We gain wisdom from our political heroes. We run for office. We nurture all those little girls who woke up the day after the election and asked “why did the bully win and not the girl?” We raise them to be strong and pissed. We remember that we are on the right side of history, that change is inevitable, and that these are the death throes of the patriarchy. We remember that there are actually more of us and that if we can unite, nothing can stop us. 

So, I’m going to stay in my bubble. This is where the artists are. This is where the scientists are. This is where the economists are. This is where the journalists are. This is where the activists are. This is where anyone a shade darker than ecru is. This is where the future of America is. I won’t be convinced otherwise. And instead of popping our bubble, we will reinforce it. We will make it unbreakable. We will make it bigger and bigger until it envelops our country.

But the one thing we will not do? We will not lay down our guard. We will not underestimate you. You have shown yourselves now. We know what we’re dealing with and we will be victorious.

Coping Mechanisms

A person holding a globe on wooden background.

So I, along with most of America I expect, have been suffering from multiple personality disorder this last week. I waffle between wanting to run for president myself and not being able to get out of bed and every single emotion in between. I’ve been FEELING a lot. But I haven’t really DONE anything. I’ve posted a hell of a lot on Facebook. I’ve counseled countless friends. I guess that is doing something. But I haven’t done anything that didn’t involve my computer. Even now, as I’m typing this, part of me is screaming, “get off the damn computer!”

I was out of the country on a cruise on election day. I didn’t get back until a couple of days ago. While I was on the boat, I wanted to march. I wanted to protest! I was so frustrated that I wasn’t able to. I was surrounded by people I am politically opposed to. I wanted to get off that damn boat so I could DO something.

And now I’m back in the country, and I didn’t get out of bed yesterday. I watched bullet journal tutorials and caught up on home design blogs that I haven’t looked at in years. I actually used to be a home design blogger myself back in the day, believe it or not. But my point is, I spent an entire day doing this. Well. This and a lot of napping.

I run a theatre company. My theatre company’s mission is to empower and employ women. We’re preparing for our first big season and I have to be honest, the thought of figuring out how to empower women right now is daunting. How can little ole me empower women when it was just proven how much further we have to go than we thought we did…to get to equality…to get to my dream of intersectional feminism.

I’ve had a couple of low days now where I haven’t done much. I’ve been doing jigsaw puzzles and writing brain dumps which have helped immensely for me to at least identify what I’m stressed about. So often my anxiety level is sky high and I can’t even point out why. I mean…it’s pretty obvious “why” at this point, but you know what I mean. I’ll explain what a brain dump is at the bottom of the post. Maybe it will help you too?

So, today? Today I decided to just send one email. Not to tackle my whole insane to do list, but just send one email. One email turned into two emails, which turned into three emails, which turned into a brainstorming session, which turned into me getting dressed, which turned into me making myself something to eat, which turned into me cleaning my room, which turned into me writing this blog, which turned into me feeling like a human.

OH I also deleted Facebook for the week. That helps too. TRY IT.

So just do something. Anything. Something small. It will grow. If there is anything I’ve learned from bouts of depression it’s that the only way out is action. Moving forward is the only way to move on. You can stay in park, but you aren’t going to go anywhere. So I’m going to keep this short and sweet. If you’re in bed, GET UP. If you’re at work, take a walk during your lunch break. Go look at something beautiful. Change up your routine. We can’t help the world if we’re completely broken. So let’s patch ourselves up. There are many challenges ahead.

Things that have helped me this week:

  • Harry Potter
  • Wine
  • Xanax (no shame)
  • Sleep
  • Jigsaw puzzles
  • Deleting Facebook
  • Making plans to take action
  • Cleaning my room
  • BRAIN DUMPS

Okay Brain Dumps: It’s really just what it sounds like. Write down every single thing that you’re thinking about. Good stuff and bad stuff. Write it all down. It doesn’t have to make sense. It doesn’t have to look pretty. You don’t even have to use complete sentences. Just write it out. And do WRITE it, rather than type. I use a big legal yellow pad and I filled three pages for my first brain dump. Once you have written down and identified a stressor, your brain automatically eases up a bit.

What have you done this week, or any stressful week, to take care of yourself?

 

If Hillary can’t win, can we?

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It is shocking that I’ve never blogged about Hillary Clinton. I am a feminist bloggerwho has been a supporter of hers since the early 90s, and yet I’ve never written about it. I remember the moment that my young heart started to burn with feminist purpose. My father was watching the news. They were covering the United Nations World Conference on Women in Beijing and I heard our First Lady say, “women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights.” I had never heard anything like that before. She became my hero.

As I got older, and bad things would happen to me, I would often think of her. When I was down, when I was mistreated, when I wanted to give up, I would think of her courage and conviction and it would help me keep going. Asking myself “what would Hillary do” got me through the day-to-day struggle and the unique challenges of being a woman in the military. Watching her survive attack after attack and emerge triumphant helped me deal with sexist theatre professionals as a young actress. WWHD became my battle cry and my comfort. I have often thought of her as a friend and confidant and her influence in my life has helped get me through some of the hardest times.

When she announced she was running for president in 2008 I was overjoyed. Then a brilliant young senator from Illinois joined the race and captured the nation’s heart. I was disappointed, but not hearbroken. She would have another chance.

When she announced that she would be running again, I knew that this was it. It was finally time. She had a 65% approval rating throughout the country. All of my friends who had supported President Obama were now supporting Hillary. It was too good to be true. An enigmatic gentleman from Vermont appeared on the scene who gave blustery speeches and who was a mensch and once again my friends turned from Hillary.

The primaries were ugly and the misogyny was rampant, but I took my strength from my candidate. If Hillary could suffer through it and remain full of strength and grace then I could bear the trickle-down effect.

And then it happened. Hillary became the democratic nominee. And I thought, “This is it! She will finally do what she is destined to do.” It was inconceivable to me that this life-long public servant would be beaten by a reality star who spewed hate speech. And my friends were coming around. Some begrudgingly…but some of them were learning to love her as I knew they would if they gave her a shot.

But I watched. I watched the media villify Hillary and I watched them normalize hate. I watched them normalize assault. If Hillary had said even one of the offensive things that her opponent said during his campaign, her bid would have been over. If any woman had made any of those gaffes, her political career would be over. I thought it was such bitter irony that our first woman president would have to defeat misogyny and sexism personified as her opposition.

But she didn’t win. The sexist won. Voldemort won. Sauron won. Panem won. The Empire won. Evil won. And that little girl who grew up loving Hillary is so confused. Good is supposed to conquer evil. Love is supposed to trump hate. And it didn’t. Hate won. And it has torn my world apart.

Every day I wake up and remember that Donald Trump is our president-elect and my stomach rises into my throat, my pulse rushes, and I feel lost. Tuesday night I started off cautiously optimistic. I didn’t think she would win by a landslide as many predicted, but I thought she would eke it out. I finished the night watching his acceptance speech, feeling hollow.

Wednesday I watched her concession speech and sobbed watching my hero fight back tears. I was filled with a new sense of purpose. I was filled with vim and vigor and FIGHT.

On Thursday I got pissed. Pissed at non-voters. Pissed at friends and family. Pissed at Bernie or Busters. Pissed at the #iguessimwithher and #ihatehillaryless folks. Pissed at white women. Pissed at the Rust Belt. Pissed at Florida. Pissed at men. Pissed at the FBI. Pissed at the media. Pissed at third-party voters. Pissed at some of the people who are now protesting on the street who didn’t support her on the ballot. Pissed.

On Friday I cried. I had hope. I had understanding.

Saturday I fell apart. It took me three days to figure out how I felt. I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t shocked. Although I feel all of those things. Ultimately, I feel betrayed. I feel more betrayed than I can remember ever feeling. If Hillary Clinton, who has every privelege in the world as a rich, educated, white, straight, cis-gendered woman and who is the most progressive and most qualified candidate to run for president in history can’t succeed….how can any other woman?

We were on the brink of progress. We were on the brink of history. And what I heard deafeningly by that defeat was “NO GIRLS ALLOWED.”

I re-watched her concession speech recently and I heard something I’ve never heard in her voice…not during the hearings, not during her concession speech in 2008; never. I heard defeat in her voice. Her vulnerable words were stunning. Just beautiful. What a lady. What a public servant. What a loss. I hope I’m wrong, but I do not think she will run for public office again. I think we’ve lost her. So I grieve for what might have been. For what may never be.

I know this pessimism won’t last. I have to snap out of it. My job is to empower women and I have to do that. But, “O Captain! My Captain!” I have to do it without my mentor. I have to do it without the example I have always held myself accountable to. And the sexist voices that society has embedded in everyone, including women have rushed back in. “You’re not good enough. You can’t compete with a man. They will never let you win.”

And I find myself wondering if we’ll ever get our shot. When will women be equally represented in our government? We are more than half of the country. We are the only disenfranchised group that is not a minority. We are the majority and still we have been held down since civilization began. We still live in a country where the highest office held has been Secretary of State and only 3 women have held that title. Out of 100 senate seats, we currently have 20 women serving. Of those women, only ONE is a non-white woman. Thankfully, we just elected 3 more non-white senators, but it’s still woefully unbalanced.

And get this. There have only been 46 female senators in our national history. Read that again. Take that in. IN OUR NATIONAL HISTORY. It’s going to take a long time for equality in representation, let alone a woman president. And I think part of my heartache is that I have now realized that it may not happen in my lifetime. The women of this country are more divided than ever, many of them voting against their own interests, many of them believing we live in a post-feminist society, and many of them thinking that we don’t need to lift each other up. And it leaves me feeling so confused. I don’t know if I want to protest. Or crawl in a hole. Or run for office. Or move out of this country. Or start a war. Or just give up. And that’s where I am. And it isn’t the brightest place. But it’s honest.

As a woman with thick blonde frizzy hair, who can rub people the wrong way, and is bursting with passion and ambition, who doesn’t know when to quit and can’t stand injustice, I take this loss very personally. I see a lot of myself in her and her defeat feels like mine. But don’t worry. I will rally. I will come out of this fog of uncertainty and pain and I will fight for those disenfranchised groups whose safety has been put in jeopardy by the rhetoric and action of this new leader.

I will rise from this stronger than before. How could I not? Look at the example that has been set for me. Thank you Hillary. Thank you for taking a shy girl that didn’t really fit in and turning her into a warrior. Thank you for helping me to stand up for what I believe in. Thank you for inspiring me to start my own company empowering women. We have never met, but you have changed and improved my life more than you will ever know. And for that…I thank you.

“This loss hurts, but please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it. It is…it is worth it.” -Hillary Clinton

 

Losing my Dad

 

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There is something that I’ve been trying to hide that I don’t want to hide anymore. I’ve been sad. I’ve been so unbelievably sad. There’s been a gnawing hole in me every day. Losing my dad is the hardest thing I’ve ever been through since I was in my early twenties and a different kind of tragedy occurred. The difference is, I can’t disappear from the world, or drink it away, or hook up with randoms to numb the pain. I’m an adult now. I have to pay bills. I run a theatre company. People are depending on me.

While I received so much support after losing my father, grief doesn’t go away in six months. It doesn’t feel as vast now. It’s pointed. It’s honed. It attacks me with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel when it hits. The last six months are a a blur. I don’t like rain as much anymore. I don’t enjoy singing like I used to. I stopped wearing makeup. I don’t cry at sad movies. I haven’t listened to Hamilton since he died.

I was frozen to whatever spot I was in, sometimes for hours. It was hard to get out of bed…out of my house…out of my car. I spent a lot of time sitting; paralyzed, willing myself to move, knowing that I had responsibilities. Sometimes it was a triumph that I checked the mail or washed my hair or did the dishes. I was barely holding down a job. You can’t call in “sad” so you go to work and you try not to fall apart.

You try not to let on to others that you are not well, but they can tell. You break down in a client’s closet because it’s filled with men’s dress shirts. You go into a grocery store to pick up a couple things and leave 45 minutes later in tears because you couldn’t decide what you wanted…because you want nothing.

On the good days you forget to cry. You forget you ever had a father and laugh and sometimes you even feel good. And then you feel guilty. You feel so guilty. If you don’t cry for a few days you feel so guilty.

My father and I didn’t have the best relationship at the end. He was a very difficult man and he put me through a lot and towards the end I was keeping him at an arm’s length. I was worried that if I let him in, he would see how angry I was with him and I didn’t want to hurt him. And by “not hurting him” I hurt him so much more.

When I started blogging about body shaming and misogyny and lack of diversity in the theatre world my dad reached out to me with this.

Getting combative and going rouge is going to put somewhat of an ending to your efforts to make it big in the theatre. You are going to be viewed as a rabble rouser by many. I am not worried about you. You have to live your life as you see fit. But you aren’t going to change a thing. The theatre business is what it is. The people that you really want to listen to you won’t. And it’s a shame. But go ahead and try if you are feeling it this strong. We have your back and always will.

It hurt me so much. I never responded. I was furious. Now that I re-read it, I see the part that I missed. “We have your back and always will.” I wish that I had HEARD that. Because of this email, I didn’t want to share my new theatre company that I was launching with him. He’d ask me how it was going and I’d just say, “fine,” not wanting to share that part of my life.

He knew I was depressed after getting off the national tour of Sister Act. He knew I felt like my theatre community had forgotten me. I couldn’t even get a callback at The Marriott for Sister Act, the very same show I had just done for a year. The same doors that had always been closed to me hadn’t budged an inch. I was bitter and sad and angry.

I could never hide what I was feeling from my father so I would avoid him. I didn’t want him to know. I shut him out. I turned off all emotion when he would try to talk to me. I turned cold. He was trying to connect with me. He knew he was nearing the end, even if I didn’t.  I was so pissed at everything he’d put me through in the last 5 years that I refused. I have to live with that. I have to live with the fact that he died suddenly and  alone. I have to live with the fear that he died feeling unloved. Our last conversation was a battle over Trump and Hillary. We raged at each other, but calmed down at the end. The one thing I hold onto for dear life is that my last words to him were “I love you daddy.”

I was in rehearsal when I found out. I looked down at my phone. My mother and brothers were trying to get ahold of me. I saw the words “he couldn’t keep anything down…he died…” I threw the phone on the floor. I knew it was my dad even though my grandpa is ninety-six. I remember someone asked me what was wrong. I remember them hugging me. I think I cried? I remember going to the bathroom and sitting on the floor. I talked to my mom. I called Eric. He told me to come home. I tried to return to rehearsal but they had me go home after giving me a hug parade. I called Danni on the drive home. I called Kate to tell her I didn’t think I could work the next day.

I went to Virginia. I dealt with my one brother raging, my mother deflecting, my other brother trying to have a stiff upper lip. I watched my tough brothers sob while they gave their eulogies for my father and I sang for him without a tear or a catch in my throat. I saw my brother eye me suspiciously, like I wasn’t having a strong enough reaction. I held my other brother’s hand like it was a lifeline, turning purple from the tension, while he sobbed next to me as I sat there blank and numb.

At my mom’s house, we laughed, we reminisced, my brothers picked me up and tossed me back and forth like I was a rag doll. We cooked and did jigsaw puzzles. There was life in that house for the first time in a long time. But when I was alone I broke down. I chewed xanax like candy.

I came home and opened a show a day later, and launched a theatre company, and produced a benefit, and opened another show, and produced another benefit, and opened another show, and produced another benefit…and now I’m getting ready to open another show. I’m in pre-production for two more benefits. I’m in pre-production for my theatre company’s first season. It’s only been six months. And I’m trying to hold it all together. And I am succeeding, but I haven’t taken care of myself in a long time.

I have to start forgiving myself. I have to forgive myself for not forgiving my dad before he died. Sigh. It’s complicated. I forgive him now. And I know he would forgive me. He always did.

I also have to forgive myself for not having it together this past 6 months. I know I’ve let some of you down. I know I’ve said I would do some things and then didn’t do them. I’ve quit jobs, missed callbacks, skipped appointments, not got back to people. And I am sorry, but I also forgive myself. I’ve been barely functioning living a high-functioning life. And it’s been hard. And I have to give myself a break.

I don’t regret having an imperfect relationship with my father. What makes me sad is that I didn’t have more time to be imperfect. More cold stares, and rash outbreaks, and difficult talks, and messy holidays, and hugs, and long talks, and movies with him, and exploring the world. More of all of it. I don’t wish it hadn’t been messy. We fought and struggled so much because we loved each other. Because we wanted to get through to each other. We wanted to understand each other. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. I treasure every complicated and unpleasant moment with him because I still spent it with HIM. I would love to have a fight with him right now. Or a hug. Or both.

The main thing you realize when you are going through deep grief is that you are not the first person to feel this way. Almost everyone you know has lost someone. We are all suffering, sometimes silently sometimes not. It’s a shocking revelation. It doesn’t make sense. It feels so insurmountable that surely no one else is feeling this too. But they are. And everyone grieves differently. There is no rulebook. The 12 steps of grief is bullshit. There are no steps. There is no method. You just get through it as best you can and put one foot in front of the other. And love the life you’re given for as long as you’re given it. And that’s all.

I will love and miss my dad forever. And it’s heartbreaking, but oddly comforting that this feeling will never go away. I wouldn’t want it to. I want it to still hurt when I’m 80. The pain feels good because it means there was love. And no one can take that away from me.

 

Wake Up Calls

Do-the-best-you-can-until-you-know-better.-Then-when-you-know-better-do-better.

“Stop making your POC friends be your 101 class because we are getting exhausted.”

-Deanna Myers

This was a plea from an artist of color at a recent town hall held to discuss the casting crisis we find ourselves in in Chicago theatre. Recently there have been a number of scandals in the Chicagoland area about white actors being cast in latinx roles. The most recent one being the casting of a white Usnavi in Porchlight Music Theatre company’s production of In the Heights. Many of my brilliant, hardworking, empathetic friends who are artists of color are getting bombarded with requests and demands for clarity on the issues of inclusivity, diversity, erasure, and authentic casting. They are completely worn out and understandably frustrated.

Well, I am of the belief that it isn’t their job to educate us white folk on how all this works. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t reach out and learn from and more importantly COLLABORATE with artists of color to gain better understanding. What I’m saying is…do as much research and learn as much on your own before you do so. You wouldn’t jump straight to an advanced class on a topic you know nothing about, right?

Before I get into it, I have to apologize. I am one of the ones who has stayed quiet about the Porchlight controversy. This one hit close to home. Some very close friends and collaborators are involved. I truly thought they had made an unfortunate, unintentional mistake that they couldn’t walk back from by casting a white Usnavi that they thought was Latino. I assumed that everyone had learned their lesson, that this was a wake-up call for the actor, and that it would NEVER happen again with those on the artistic team.

And more than that, POC members of the cast had reached out to me telling me that they were having an authentic experience. Who was I, as a white woman, to tell them that they weren’t? To take that experience that they were excited about away from them? So I stayed quiet watching it escalate and escalate. Every time I thought that it had passed, it reached a boiling point again. It is my privilege that allowed me to sit back and “wait for the storm to pass,” justifying to myself that I had spoken out on many other scandals and many other issues and that I’d just sit this one out. I was silent because I felt like to speak up would betray my friends. But what I’ve realized is, to not speak up is to betray my community. Being woke is a constant job and we can’t be lazy or we’ll fall back asleep. Also, I think I can help. I have a somewhat unique perspective. I’m a white woman who has more experience with authentic and inclusive casting than most.

The first thing I’d like to talk about are the various wake-up calls that I’ve had while casting. The first one happened on my very first casting gig. Bailiwick Chicago was casting Aida and I had my eyes set on the role of Amneris. I emailed the director and the casting director telling them that I would love to audition for Amneris, but that if they didn’t see me in the role I would love to help with casting. Casting had always been a bit of a fascination with me and I cast things in my head all the time.

They told me that they were going in a different direction with the show but that I could help with casting admin. under the tutelage of Lili-Anne Brown. I heard through the grapevine that the “different direction” was that they were going to try to employ a full POC cast. I felt a tiny bitterness raise up, they wouldn’t even let me try for the role because I was white? Wasn’t that taking things a little too literally? We started casting and that sentiment felt foolish. I was dead wrong.

Aida is set in AFRICA. Which I knew of course, but up to that point the show had been traditionally cast with the Nubians played by black actors and the Egyptians cast as white. I never questioned it. It had never dawned on me that it wasn’t appropriate to cast white people as the Egyptians. It slowly became OBVIOUS that this was the way to go. Watching Lil cast the show and watching how the actors fulfilled these lead roles better than any white actors ever could was eye-opening. The story was so much more powerful cast in an authentic way. Bailiwick Chicago also hired Deeply Rooted Dance Theater to choreograph the show. It was beautiful and was a huge success, selling out and extending. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before and I learned that there are some stories that aren’t yours to tell.

My love affair/obsession with authentic, inclusive casting was born. Lil and I worked together casting many shows after that and when she became artistic director of Bailiwick Chicago, I took over casting. My first job was casting Mahal, a play by Danny Bernardo. This was my second wake-up call.

Mahal is about a Filipino family. I had seen the reading of it and I loved it so much. I was honored to cast it and determined to get it right. I called in everyone I could think of that might be of Asian decent. Thank goodness I had Danny on call helping me along the way. There were a couple of close calls where I almost called in someone completely inappropriate. There was a WHITE GIRL that almost fooled me. To be fair she almost fooled Danny too. That headshot was crazy. Anyway, I realized that I was completely uneducated, not only in what our Asian-American Chicago theatre talent and resources were, but in (I’m ashamed to say) being able to differentiate between different types of Asian actors.

I could have hidden behind my ignorance and been afraid to ask questions. But I didn’t do that. I had two Filipinos in the casting room and I leaned on them heavily and they had the patience of saints while I negotiated my way through the casting process. And we put together a beautiful cast, where the entire Filipino family was played by Filipinos. This would not have happened without having Filipino artists in the room.

One thing about me. Trade secrets! When I’m casting, I choose my battles. There’s usually one casting choice that I feel passionately about where I will devote all my energy and advocate strongly for that actor. I was leaning toward a non-Filipino actor that I loved for one of the roles and it was the role I had decided to fight for. So I dug my heels in a bit, trying to make headway in the discussion. Danny turned to me and the director and told us in the nicest way possible that it wouldn’t be authentic and might be borderline offensive to a Filipino audience. And it dawned on me. I hadn’t thought about them. Not once. Not for a second. I hadn’t considered the audience. And the actor we cast instead of my pick was absolutely brilliant AND authentic. I was dead wrong.

After Mahal, Lil and I got into a rhythm. When the show called for authentic casting, we made sure to cast appropriately, even if it took extra effort. When race wasn’t a major part of the plot, we would strive for as inclusive a cast as possible, re-purposing roles that were traditionally cast as white for actors of color. These two practices I have carried with me into every project I work on.

I’ve had many more discoveries and wake-up calls along the way. I am constantly learning and constantly trying to do better the next time. In the end, I am still a white woman advocating for actors of color in the casting room. I try to be a good ally. And I am a big ole fan of our rich embarrassment of riches when it comes to actors of color in Chicago and I try to spread my enthusiasm to those around me in positions of authority. But hear me. I am a great part of the team but… HAVING ME IN THE ROOM IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR HAVING AN ARTIST OF COLOR IN THE PROCESS.

I know this is all really confusing. I know that things are changing really quickly and it’s hard to keep up. I know that you’re afraid of saying the wrong thing. Hell. I’M afraid of saying the wrong thing most of the time. I know that people are having strong reactions to casting situations that didn’t seem to be a problem a couple years ago. The goal post is moving farther and farther away and getting more and more specific with what is acceptable and what isn’t and you might feel lost.

Start with those two practices. Go back to the text every single time. Pour over the script. Does it call for a certain non-white race in the script? Is that integral to the plot? Cast it that way. It is no longer acceptable not to. Is race ambiguous or not integral to the plot? Find opportunities for inclusivity. Every project is an opportunity to cast in a way that looks like the world around us. Broaden your mind past our preconceived notions to include actors of color, more women, different body types, trans actors, disabled actors, etc. It will enrich your shows. It will enrich the experience. More of the audience will see themselves on stage. It can change the world. We literally have the power to change the world if we just move past the discomfort of having to admit we’re wrong.

That’s what we need to do. I confess, I think I’m right most of the time. But when I’m proven wrong, I will admit it. For the white actor playing Usnavi to respond to the question of whether he’d do this all again with, “one hundred percent. I now stand more firmly in my own beliefs than I did before all this,” is insanely disheartening. Up until that point I thought as a community we were making progress; that we were getting through to people. How this young man could watch the same town hall that I watched and not want to do better next time is beyond frustrating. I REALLY hope that that quote was taken out of context. I’d like to see the paragraph it belongs in. Because if that’s IT, then this experience which could be a serious wake-up moment for this actor has gone to waste.

Up until this point I had chalked it up to youth on his part. I mean… I thought it was appropriate to do a monologue from MEDEA when I was 15. I was always a little dark, kids. Anyway, my point is…we do dumb shit when we’re young before we know any better. I really wanted to give him a pass. How would he know this is inappropriate? In college we are taught to audition for anything and everything and not take no for an answer. He’s straight out of school. This was his mess up. We all get one, right? But you have to LEARN from it. You have to grow. That’s the whole point of making mistakes is that the next time we don’t make the same mistakes. And what is becoming glaringly obvious is there are many that don’t think anything is wrong.

So how do we move forward? As artists? As a community? When so many have put so much work in and still can’t reach someone? We keep trying to change hearts and minds and stay available for those that want to learn and change.

But if that doesn’t work? I have faith in what’s new. I have faith in the changing of the guard. I do hope that the established theaters in town come along for the ride, but in the meantime those of us that can’t let the status quo continue will be making our own art. We are going to be casting in rooms with people who are just as excited about inclusion and authenticity as we are. We won’t have to convince people through shame and threats of poor optics to be on the right side of history. Because there is an army of like-minded people who are coming up right now. Literally none of us are doing this for the money. None of us. But we are passionate and we are loud and we will not be denied. If we can’t change the old guard we’ll create a new one.

My time at Profiles

I worked at Profiles for two years. While there I was an actor, assisted with casting, and assistant directed three productions. I had heard the same rumors everyone else heard before I got cast in Sweet and Sad. I decided to make up my own mind, knowing that if something inappropriate began to occur I would be out of there right away. “I’m tough,” I thought. “I’m a Navy girl. I know how to handle myself. I’ll be fine.” My friends warned me to watch out for Darrell. Some even said things like, “don’t sleep with him even though you’ll want to.” I laughed all of this off. That’s a normal warning that girls give other girls that are starting a show with a womanizer. “Don’t sleep with (fill in the blank).” It’s such a common thing to hear.

My first day of rehearsal I met this infamous ladies man.  We got along great. I was never attracted to him, but I loved acting with him. He would look at you with this crazy passion in his eyes and send all this energy your way. He gave you so much on stage. I lapped it up and gave it right back. It was intoxicating.

My time at Profiles was a happy one filled with what seemed to be mutual respect and understanding. The company members were my friends, confidants, and artistic collaborators. It was my artistic home. I loved the realistic style of acting. I loved staying after the show in the dressing room and talking til the wee hours of the night about how we can make a certain moment better. There were notes after every show and I LOVED it. Nothing was ever good enough for us. It could always be better. I strove for that perfection.

It was a boys club, sure. I had to dance around some egos, sure. But what woman in the theatre…in LIFE…doesn’t have to figure out how to dance around some male egos? Or so I thought at the time. I began to pride myself in how I could trick them into thinking something was their idea, when it was really mine. And even if I didn’t always get the credit, the show was better for it. I felt important and needed and like a true collaborator. Other members of the ensemble would say that Darrell and Joe treated me differently than other women, that they actually treated me like an equal. I wore that like a badge of honor. I felt so inspired and included that I knew I had to find a way to stay. So I assistant directed the next show, and the show after that.

I reached a point where I simply didn’t believe the rumors. My experience was a better test of the truth than some rumors that I had never heard substantiated, right? Any time I had heard any allegations it always happened to “a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend.” It didn’t seem credible. They laughed off the rumors at Profiles too. I heard stories about crazy ex-girlfriends and ex-wives.

I moved on from Profiles because after spending almost a year assistant directing their shows, I wanted to act again. I went back to doing musicals. I did a national tour. I wouldn’t say we lost touch, but we didn’t keep in touch either.

Last year while I was still on tour, I saw the original post on Facebook where “not in our house” was coined. I knew from the comments that they were talking about Profiles and WHO they were talking about at Profiles. I was disturbed, but I brushed it off. Surely those men who were all in steady relationships, never partied, barely drank, that I constantly teased that they were “SO boring”…surely they couldn’t be the same men in these salacious stories, could they?

I pulled my car over to the side of the road last night and read the article in The Reader about the pattern of abuse at Profiles. I read all 12,000+ words. After I read it, I sat in my car for an hour before going home. I felt numb. I started shaking. The thought that there were women who had nightmares about a place that used to feel like home to me was a hard thing for me to accept.  When I got home my brain was still desparately grasping for ways to defend my old colleagues. My roommate stopped me and said, “I don’t understand why you’re being devil’s advocate about this. It really surprises me.” I stopped. It surprised me too. I’m an activist for women’s rights. I run a theatre company celebrating women. Why was I clinging to the last bit of hope that these stories weren’t true?

Because they were my friends. Because they were my heroes. Because they inspired me. They made me feel like a true artist. Because I learned more about acting and directing there than anywhere. Because I’m PROUD of the work we did there. Because it is literally breaking my heart to say #notinourhouse about Profiles because I know it means accepting the truth. But I must say it. Because it’s inexcusable. It’s intollerable. NOT IN OUR FUCKING HOUSE. Just because it didn’t happen to me doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

And you know what? It DID happen to me. Not at Profiles. But it DID happen to me. It happened when a director tried to sleep with me after the very first rehearsal. It happened when a celebrated older actor showed up to a show, took one look at me, and said “mine” and then him and his friend tried to get me drunk at a cast party and take advantage of me that night. It happened when a director cast himself in the show so he could “make out with me.” Talk to a woman who was young in the theatre. Just pick one at random. Chances are it’s happened or is HAPPENING to her. And don’t exclude young gay males being targeted by older male directors! They are just as vulnerable.

It’s happened to most of us. This is not a union thing. It’s happening in non-equity theatres and in equity theatres alike. It’s happening with some of the most respected names in the community. This is not even a Chicago thing. Or a Theatre thing. This is the culture of our society. This is the mess we have to dismantle. This does not begin or end with Profiles.

But Profiles is definitely culpable. I know that now. I think what hurts me the most is that I wasn’t just an actor at Profiles, I was in a position of some authority. I was supposed to protect those actors. I thought I was. I thought I had their backs. I was so proud of them. Some of them affectionately called me “mama.” It makes me sick to my stomach. When I look back now I can see possible little warning signs that I brushed aside at the time. And things are starting to come to the surface. Things I didn’t know. I was too wrapped up in my own artistic experience to pay attention.

To the casts of Hellcab 2012, Dream of the Burning Boy, and Hellcab 2013: I’m so sorry. I’m sorry if you needed protecting and I didn’t protect you. Anything you need, I am here for you now. I vow to spend the rest of my career making sure actors who work for me feel safe. Thank you for listening.

Harmony

 

If you are experiencing inappropriate behavior in your show, with a colleague, or at a a theatre please reach out to NotInOurHouse.