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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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.

 

I went viral, and this is what happened.

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(Photo by Heather Stumpf Popio)

It started as a facebook status and it ended up in Huffington Post, the New York Times, and the London Mirror. This is what I learned from going viral.

A couple weeks ago I wrote a Facebook status that I also shared on my BLOG. In a nutshell, my blog was about all the nasty feedback I’ve received being a normal-sized woman who is an actress in the theatre world. I went on to to demand a call to action for diversifying casting in theatre for different races, body types, genders, etc. Finally, I proclaimed that I will no longer change myself to conform to an industry ideal, because I’m happy with myself just the way I am. You can read the original blog HERE.

1) DON’T PUT ANYTHING ON FACEBOOK THAT YOU DON’T WANT THE ENTIRE WORLD TO SEE.

Everyone has always said this, and I never paid much attention. But I now know that this is very very true. PLEASE HEED MY WARNING! Is your post something you don’t want your family to see? Your spouse? Your boss? Don’t. Post. It. It doesn’t matter how many privacy controls you have on it. I had my post extremely protected and it still went viral so quickly that I couldn’t control it. My friends encouraged me to make it public because the topic was striking a chord with so many. So, I made it PUBLIC. After that, it spread like wildfire. My blog was getting hundreds of views per minute, thousands of views per hour. Everyone I’ve ever met started messaging me, texting me, emailing me, calling me, tagging me, sharing my post. I had to turn off my notifications to everything on my phone because it was BLOWING UP and I was getting really overwhelmed. Which leads me to…

2) GOING VIRAL IS LIKE BEING ON DRUGS.

For a couple days I tried to respond to everyone that was contacting me. I watched my website stats exploding. I would hit refresh every couple minutes and the amount of views kept spiking. It was unbelievable and so thrilling. In my personal life however, I could barely string two sentences together. I was so overstimulated. I got distracted by everything. I retreated from being social. I felt like I was in a hyperactive daze. Scientists have said that a “like” on facebook releases dopamine into our brains. It’s that little rush of pleasure when someone “likes” your post. Imagine what thousands of “likes” an hour feels like. I’ve never done it, but I’m guessing it’s what being on cocaine feels like. I had to retreat into my bedroom and hide under the covers for a few days until my heart stopped racing.

3) SUDDEN ATTENTION BRINGS OUT THE GOOD…

In the midst of all of these stressors, I received the greatest show of support I’ve ever received in my life. Friends from all walks of life reconneced with me and said they were proud of me. Colleagues, mentors, family members, fellow actors, directors, casting directors, artistic directors, my fellow Navy veterans, and people I went to highschool with, all reached out to me and were so unbelievably supportive. The kindness of friends and strangers took my breath away. I was brought to tears by their own testimonies and their own experiences. I actually felt that for a moment, I was helping people and making the world the tiniest bit better.

4) THE BAD…

While the response was mostly positive, this kind of sudden attention also brings out the nasty side of people, even in friends. When I mentioned on Facebook that the attention I was getting was overwhelming, I was ridiculed by some. I heard I was “milking it for all it’s worth.” One of my friends made a good-natured Facebook status making fun of me, and a hundred people liked it. Many of those people are my friends. Some were there to laugh with me, but many were there to laugh AT me. I tried to take it all in stride.

5) …AND THE UGLY.

When a woman posts strong opinions online, the internet thinks she is fair game for abuse. It was so strange seeing pure strangers saying awful things about my intelligence, my talent, my body, and my agenda. Men were messaging me disgusting, derogatory, and explicitly sexual things and posting threatening messages on Facebook.

6)  IT DOESN’T LAST.

In this instant gratification society that we are living in, our attention span is very short. People will move on to the next viral sensation in a few days, if not a few hours. Make sure you’re checking your filtered messages on Facebook. That’s where I received messages about being interviewed, being on the radio, and participating in some podcasts. And this is my advice if your blog suddenly goes viral. PUT ADS ON YOUR SITE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.  I didn’t do this right away, because it didn’t cross my mind until a couple of days after my blog had already reached its peak of views, but if I had I could’ve made a little bit of money. And hey, I’m a starving artist. Every little bit helps A LOT.

 

Overall, despite some nasty side effects, it really was a very positive and cool experience. If I had it to do again, I would stress about it a little less, I would not sit like a crazy person and hit refresh for a day watching blog stats spike. I would accept the positive feedback without second guessing it. Of course hindsight is 20/20. Going viral was never on my bucket list. It wasn’t something I was striving for. It just happened. Anyway, I know how to deal with it all now. And if something like this ever happens again, I’ll be ready. 🙂

Do Better

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(Photo by Joe Mazza at Brave Lux)
I’m a stage actor based in Chicago. I’ve been a working actor for ten years. I have been very lucky in my career in many ways. I have worked with and for incredible people. I have also heard this:
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-“You really need to lose some weight if you want a career.”
-“You won’t work until you’re forty, because you’re never going to play the love interest, but after that you’ll work a lot.”
-“You would need to lose twenty pounds for the role.”
-“You’re not believable as a love interest.”
-“You should really wear more makeup, and show your cleavage more.”
-“We can work with your body type, but if you are serious about this career you need to have your nose and teeth fixed.”
-“You don’t have a commercial body type.”
-“They told us you were smaller.”
-“I mean, you’re good-looking, but you’re not beautiful.
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There is more. There is so much more. This is just a sample. For the last ten years I have been conditioned by my industry to hate my body.
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Not all of the above things were said with malice. Most of those individuals thought they were helping or didn’t even realize they had said something inappropriate. Some of them WERE helping, and did help me land a role I wanted. It doesn’t change the fact that I, an average-sized woman have dealt with so much sizeism and sexism in one of the last industries where you can discriminate against someone because of how they look. And if I’ve dealt with it, I know others have and that some have it worse, way worse.
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The statement that bothers me the most is “you’re not believable as a love interest,” because it’s a damn shame. I have played the love interest before. Being believably in love with another human on stage just happens to be my specialty. (Also, I take issue with the term “love interest.” Men are never referred to in that way, even if the woman is the lead. But that’s a different fight for a different day.) Am I not right for the particular love story you’re telling? Great. But to say that I am not right to ever love on stage EVER? Horseshit.
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I just did the casting for a local Equity musical and we saw all types of women for the female lead. Three of the women called back for the role  that weren’t the typical “love-interest type” actually thanked us for seeing them for a role they would never normally be seen for. I’m so glad that it made them happy, but I’m so upset that this is an anomaly. We need to do better by them. We need to be braver. Those of us who affect casting decisions need to be as brave as the actors bearing their souls in front of us.
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So how do we change the game? Artistic directors, casting directors, directors, anyone involved with casting…we have to do better. Not for me; I’m fine. I have become less interested in being a “cog in the machine” and more interested in becoming a part of the solution. But we need to do better for those who come after me.
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We NEED to diversify. If you are involved in the producing process, ask yourself, “Does my show have specific plot points related to race?” No? Then you should think about looking outside the caucasian race. “Does my show have specific references to body type?” No? Then you should be open to other body types. “Are there some roles in my show that could possibly be re-allocated for women to play?” Yes? Then think about switching the genders of those roles. And don’t forget the trans community, the disabled community, the community that brings you into a new perspective.  Be Actively Inclusive.
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And, don’t expect these different groups to just show up, seek them out, invite them, include them. Do your due diligence and make your company one they feel welcomed to be a part of. It’s worth the extra work.
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Theatres wonder how to stay relevant; how not to die off once their main audience literally dies off. This is how. We need to start casting in a way that looks like the world that we live in. Casting predominantly white and male is antiquated. It doesn’t fly anymore. If we don’t change with the times, we will become irrelevant. And worse, it’s UNCREATIVE in a CREATIVE art form. We have so many more types of stories to tell with so many more different types of people. Let’s do better.
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And as for me?  I’m taking my body back from this industry. It hasn’t been mine for 10 years. I will no longer lose weight for you. I will no longer try to mold myself into what I think you want me to look like. I will no longer starve myself for a quick weight loss to please you. I will no longer change myself in any way for YOU. When I take all the pressure to change myself away and I take all the negative feedback away, I realize that I actually like myself. When I stop worrying that if I speak my mind people will not like me or worse…DUN DUN DUN…they won’t CAST ME, I like myself A WHOLE LOT. This is my New Year declaration.
 
 
 
 

New Dreams

I have one more day at home before flying down to Sarasota, FL to continue the Sister Act tour. Today is New Years Day. Today is supposed to be the day that you start anew. You’re supposed to come up with things that you want to change. You choose your resolutions. I’ve been thinking about that for a couple of days now. The thing is, I can’t think of any. Is that weird? Let me explain. No. My life isn’t perfect. Of course I want to be more patient, nicer, thinner, wear makeup, give someone the time of day, save more money, be more active, be able to fly to the moon, travel to Hawaii, etc.

I guess that resolutions are kind of merging in my brain with goals and dreams. It’s all the same thing for me right now. And for the first time in a long time, I have NO IDEA what I want. None. Zilch. Nada. Clueless. This started to become apparent the other day. On Facebook there is a thing going around where you name your top 5 musical theater roles.  I got tagged, and I was so excited. I love talking about my favorite roles! Evita! Fantine! Elphaba! Aldonza! Every fallen woman that’s every been written in the cannon!

For some reason, I had a hard time putting these roles down that I’ve been obsessed with since I was a teenager. I wasn’t excited about it. I thought about my favorite roles that I’ve played…Mother in Ragtime, Emma in Tell me on a Sunday, Lou Ellen in Oh Boy, Violet in Violet, and Ruth in Dessa Rose. What do all those roles have in common? I had no idea they existed. I didn’t grow up dreaming about playing them. They were all a complete surprise and my biggest theatrical blessings. I had no pre-conceived notions of how to play these roles, or expectation of what these roles could be.

I ended up making up my own musicals: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as Clementine, Battlestar Galactica as Starbuck, Hillary Clinton as Hillary, Mists of Avalon as Morgan Le Fay, and Queen Elizabeth as Elizabeth. The thought of playing THESE roles put an unquenchable fire in my heart. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t be honored and thrilled to play my girlhood dream roles.  What I’m saying is that I have new dreams. Dreams that I don’t even know what they are yet. Dreams of the  unknown.

I wrote up a 5-year plan a couple of New Years ago. It included theaters I wanted to work at, accolades I wanted to receive, certain agencies I wanted to represent me, etc. Through the years, no matter what things I achieved, part of me has been unhappy because I haven’t been ticking off enough of the goals on that list.

This year I have no list. I have never in my life been more uncertain about what the year ahead holds for me. I don’t know where in the World I will be. So much is up in the air right now. I’m going to let the chips fall where they may. A couple of months ago I was really stressed out about all of the uncertainty that I’m facing this year. And now? I’m not. I don’t know what happened. Part of it was listing my favorite roles. Who knew a Facebook fad could illuminate my life so much for me? Ridiculous.

I don’t know what’s coming and more importantly, for the first time ever, I don’t want to know. I don’t want to plan. I don’t want to make lists. That works for some people. It doesn’t for me. My life has never followed the typical road, so why on earth did I think my career would? I face this year ready. Ready for it all. If you told me this time last year, that I would be on a National Tour DANCING and singing, I would have laughed in your face. I hope that a year from now, I am doing something equally bizarre. But I won’t be laughing at it this time. I welcome it.

Happy New Year my friends!

Painted-heartHarmony

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