Countdown

It’s been awhile, and I’ve been super busy. After I last wrote, rehearsals were constant. For the most part, the rehearsals for August have been making me really really happy, to the point where both of my doctors told me that I need as much theatre as I can get, as it elevates my mood so much.

But that doesn’t mean they haven’t been stressful. Johnna is a really hard part, and I still feel boring in the role. I’m hoping that, since Johnna is basically the audience presence in the play, having an actual audience will help me, because even though I’ve been trying out new things, I still feel static.
We’ve also lost about seven days of rehearsals because of snow, and it’s really taking its toll. We open in less than a week and we’re not ready. We have only most of the set, which we just got about a week ago, and because it has three levels, it requires a lot of reworking, if not entirely reblocking. This is causing a lot of distress for some of us. My anxiety was through the roof all through tech today, and the actor playing Barbara burst into tears before we started.

I’m trying to calm myself by remembering that we still have five days before we open, and that I completely believe in this talented cast to put on a good show. But all the talent and skill in the world can’t stop the giant blizzard that’s supposed to roll in while we’re rehearsing tomorrow, continue all through Monday, and into Tuesday. It would be a problem no matter what, but about half of this cast, myself included, live an hour or more away from the theatre. I decided that, if I were going to get snowed in somewhere, it would be better if I were two minutes from the theatre. And if worse comes to worst, the one cast member who lives four blocks away from the playhouse might have actors sleeping all over her floor.

And while all of this is going on, I get dizzy every time I turn my head because I’m being weaned off of my SSRIs. While I’m glad to be taking fewer brain pills, tech for a play in which things are always happening suddenly is not the best place to have vertigo.

As stressed as I am, I am so excited to finally be doing another show where I get to do five shows a week. It’s been years, and it’s the best kind of routine. I can’t wait to get started for real.

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Columbus Play Adventures Part 1

This weekend was The Weekend, when my first full-length play, my baby, was put up onstage for the first time.

I headed to my parents’ house on Tuesday and my mom and I left the next morning at nine. We stopped twice to eat/stretch and, after getting lost for awhile upon arriving in Columbus, got to our hotel around 6:30. We decided we wanted to go to Chipotle for dinner, since I love it and Mom had never been there, and Google Maps told me that it was a six minute walk up the road. Long story (and long walk) short, Google Maps lied. We stopped in an ice cream shop for directions and the employees told us that we were very far away from the restaurant. Some locals standing near us heard us talking and gave us amusedly disappointed looks. “There are so many better places to eat here than Chipotle, guys,” the woman told us. Then she and her husband led us to Betty’s, a restaurant/bar a block away. And as much as I love Chipotle, they were so right. We had some amazing hummus and I tried fish tacos (yum!)

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Signs in Betty’s

The next morning, we headed out to explore Columbus before opening night. We went to an area of the city called Short North, which had some really awesome boutiques. I bought way too many things while we were out- a nifty new hat (my ears were cold), some postcards, a notebook (I hadn’t brought mine, figuring I’d just take a pad from the hotel room, but we weren’t given any), some chili chocolate, and a Bell Jar shirt. While I did want all of these things, I also think I was trying to distract myself from my steadily building nerves.

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Legzzzzz

While my mom and I were exploring a great vintage shop (which housed many pairs of amazing shoes), I got a Facebook message on my phone. I didn’t know who it could be, considering that most of the people I talk to aren’t usually online at 12:30 on a weekday. It was the director of my show. “Hey,” she wrote. “I heard you’re in town. I just wanted to let you know that we had an emergency last night and may not be able to put the show up until tomorrow night.”

My heart dropped to my shoes. We had come all the way to Columbus to see my show and now it wasn’t even opening that night? I wasn’t at all mad at the director or cast- an emergency can’t be helped- and I wasn’t feeling badly about myself; I was just disappointed. And at first, that’s all it was, just a slight feeling of being let down. But as the day wore on, I started to get sad. Then I got sadder. I started to say how sad I was out loud to see if it would make me feel better (only a little.) Because while no one had said the run was cancelled, I was afraid that’s what was going to happen. This fear doesn’t come from nowhere; last year, a short play of mine was supposed to be produced and then got cancelled two weeks before opening. This afternoon, my mom remarked how I hadn’t put anything on Facebook about opening night being postponed and I said, “I can’t handle being the girl who cried ‘Production!’ twice. I didn’t even want to get into it.”

Even though I knew I wouldn’t be seeing the show that night, my nerves didn’t go away. I texted my friend and fellow playwright Molly. “I am freaking out,” I wrote. “Is this normal?!” She wrote back, “YES. You will likely be freaking out all night.” And even without actually seeing my play, I was. Mom and I went out for pizza and I fell off my chair at the restaurant, then, a few minutes later, spilled my soda all over the table. The waitress asked me if I was drunk. Nope… just a nervous wreck.

This morning, I woke up in a bit of a doom-and-gloom mood. I was convinced that my play was never going to premiere. When we stopped for a snack his afternoon, I said to my mom, “If it gets cancelled tonight, can we go to the matinee tomorrow? I can’t leave not having seen it. Not after we came all this way.” All day, as we toured the beautiful German Village area of the city, I was praying that my phone didn’t go off with a text or Facebook message, sure it would be from the director, and every time I received a text from anyone at all, I jumped about a foot in the air.

But finally, it was too late in the day for the show to be cancelled for tonight. Instead of going out to dinner, Mom heated up some chicken fingers she had pre-made. I could only eat one and a half, I was so nervous. We got into our theatre-wear and headed for the youth center where the show was being held. Ten minutes before the show, hardly anyone was in the audience and I was really nervous that no one else would show up, but in the end, there were probably about sixty people at the show.

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Posters by the bunch

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Performance venue!

The set was very typical of a community theatre (no frills, simple sets and costumes) and so was the acting (most performances being okay, with some excellent stands outs) but what I cared about was the script and whether it worked. The show began and the first scene- done in complete darkness except for a light in a jar- looked exactly as I had pictured. And while the times the words I wrote were dropped, either because they were too fast, too quiet, or forgotten (which sometimes happened in large chunks) made me sad, I was in general happy with the way the show went. I wasn’t there to review the show; I was there to see how my script worked for timing and story, and I was able to do that. I took a lot of notes on what worked and what didn’t, and the audience was really responsive, which helped, too. One of the best moments happened at the very end of the show during Peter’s last line. The actress fumbled the line, saying the main character Mary’s name instead of her daughter Wendy’s, but it actually made the scene even more poignant and made me catch my breath, and now I want to look at the moment and see if the change will work. I don’t know if it will fit in the long run, but that’s why I, as a playwright, love to see actors actually perform my work- often they do or say things differently than I had in my head and it turns out to be so much better than I imagined.

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Peter and Mary in one of my favorite scenes.

I’m such a control freak that I can’t believe playwriting works for me. Usually I’m the kind of person that wants everything the way I have in my head, but oddly, I completely accept that the world I’ve constructed might be totally different than I think it “should” be. I’m fine with a simplistic set, or few costume changes, or colorblind casting, or what people will think of my words. Somehow, I’m able to accept that in the hands of a few dozen people I’ve never met, my play will become what they make of it.

Interestingly, one part of any kind of backstage work rings true for me as a playwright as well: the complete panic when someone drops a line and I know what it is. I’ve experienced this as a stage manager and assistant stage manager, and now as a playwright, and it’s just the worst thing because I can’t do anything about it. At least as an actor, you can work toward or around the line the actor dropped. I was also surprised that I knew what the lines were tonight; even though I haven’t looked at the script in months, I’ve spent so much time with it over the past three and a half years that it’s imprinted on my brain.

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Peter and Mary

At the end of the show, the director told the two lead actresses that I was there and I got to say hi to them. They were great and wonderful to talk to, and it’s funny to be on the other side of the experience. I kind of wish I had been in this position before I was the actor trying to please the playwright, because then I would have known that it wasn’t really about that! For me, tonight was about the amazing fact that a bunch of people read and memorized my words and put six weeks of rehearsing, set building, composing, and general hard work into something that three and a half years ago was just a few scenes in the “PP Play” folder on my computer, with me dreaming of having it produced one day. It makes me want to cry from happiness just thinking about it. I am so glad to have had this experience, and it felt great at the end to have people who heard I was the playwright come over and tell me how much they enjoyed the play and that they could see a future for it. I am proud of myself and my work on this night.

sotmprog

I Don’t Like Surprises

It’s been a long day.

I’ve been working a lot, which is great, actually. I’ve made so much money in the past few weeks, compared to how much I used to make, that I feel like I’m swindling someone. But it’s not without its challenges, and today had a lot of them.

I got to work too late; I’ve been exhausted and kept hitting the snooze. Then I got to the store to see that I would have to go buy supplies after just one show, which wastes a lot of time, and ended up costing me over a hundred dollars (don’t worry, I get reimbursed, But still, seeing that number on the screen made me panic) and a lot of time due to a woman ahead of me in line who paid for each of her fifteen items separately.

Then I started my second show. The audience was not great: they wouldn’t answer my questions, and they just in general didn’t care. It was so bad that I almost stopped the show and told them to leave. Instead, I just got aggressive (or, aggressive for me.) I got very snarky and sarcastic, especially when they wouldn’t participate. “Who cooks here? No one? Wow, that’s unhelpful.” “What’s the worst thing to chop in the kitchen? Any ideas? No? Thanks, guys.” Et cetera. Sometimes this makes people laugh, sometimes it makes them look at me weird, but at least it gets their attention. But I noticed that one guy, in his twenties, was giving me a different kind of attention. When I would get super snarky, he’d laugh with everyone else, but in a sort of amazed, approving way. At one point, he leaned forward, snapped a picture of the box, and looked it up online, challenging me with the website price. It really annoyed me and I kind of snapped at him, throwing some sarcastic comments his way throughout the rest of the show to let him know that I didn’t want to hear anything more from him.

At the end of the show, I helped a lady with her purchase and the guy came over and asked if I could show him how to do a carrot on the shredder. I said of course, grabbed a carrot, and started to shred it. “You might want to use the safety handle,” he said. “I know,” I replied. He asked if I could show him on the machine, and as I grabbed for the clean one, he remarked, “You shouldn’t use the commercial one.” This made me stop. He held his hand out. “Hi, I’m Peter. I’m the New York manager.” “Yeah,” I sighed. “I figured.”

I usually would have panicked more, but for some reason I didn’t. Maybe because I knew it was a bad show; if I had thought it was good and he said it wasn’t, that would have upset me more. So as he gave me notes, I nodded, tried hard not to make excuses. He was really constructive about it, so I didn’t feel reprimanded and everything was fine. The only thing I was worried about was his opinion on how I treated the audience (and, uh, him.) Thankfully, he said he really loved it. “I like a new agent who isn’t afraid to call people on their shit.”

He did a show for me and then asked me to practice part of my show for him. That was when I started to get frustrated, because when I don’t get something right the first time around, I feel like I have failed. I got to the point of tears, which was terrible and embarrassing and just all-around awful. He was nice about it, but that just made it worse. Eventually, though, I got past it, did more shows, got more notes, and then he left me to my work.

It’s weird because while my experience with Peter wasn’t bad, merely jolting, it made me feel awful for the rest of the day. When I got home, I exercised out my frustration (Insanity!), but then just laid on the couch feeling bad about myself. I recently recovered, due to my roommates asking me to help them in a pinch, but I’m still not feeling great.

In – Between

About a week ago, I handed in my two weeks’ to the touring company. With the colder months approaching, the tours will be slowing down. They will pick up in October because of Halloween, but with September being so bare bones, schedule wise, I figure I might as well spend that time training for the new job (live infomercials in stores) instead of waiting to get thrown a tour.

I didn’t get a response to my resignation e-mail, and I thought it was my boss being her usual passive-aggressive self. I expected to log into our scheduling system and find myself inundated with tours during the time I had declared myself done with the job. Instead, my calendar is blank for the entire month. Again, I figured this was her passive-aggression, but today, I got an e-mail from my boss basically saying, “I’m so sorry, I’ve been out of town for the past few days… Can you please work for us through October?”

I said I’d see, but I thought it was interesting how a boss who abuses her employees thinks that I would be quick to say yes to working for her more, when I had another opportunity. This is the boss who got annoyed that I had to go my uncle’s funeral, and the one who expects me to have extra hours laying around in my day to work if she demands it.

But this company is understaffed, so I am in a position of power: they need me, and I can say yes or no. My boss asked if she could fix it by giving me more hours. “Tell me how many more you need, and I’ll try to make it work.” She doesn’t seem to understand that even if I worked all day every day for them, I still wouldn’t be able to support myself, but I don’t see how that can be a surprise; she knows how much I earn and she also knows how much it takes to live. Plus, her treatment of me certainly hasn’t, until that e-mail, shown me that my time was of any worth to them.

So with my not being scheduled for September, for now it looks like this past Friday was my last tour. I was surprised not to be working over the weekend, but since I worked a few jobs for most of the week, it was nice to get to sleep in on Saturday and Sunday. Then, when I was awoken by thunder yesterday, I was more than happy to stay cozy in my bed with my laptop while the rain pounded against the window. But by midday yesterday, I was restless. The novelty of having the whole day to myself had worn off. When I have a whole day every now and then, it’s a gift. But now I’m in the position of that being the norm for possibly a week longer, and that’s kind of killing me. Thankfully, I am working at the university on Thursday, so hopefully that will make me feel useful again.

I’m also in between two beginning stages of taking anti-depressant medication. I took my first pill two Saturdays ago, got my dosage upped this past Friday, and now I’m waiting for it to actually start working. It might take another four weeks, which kind of sucks, but I’m just hoping it works at all- otherwise, I might have to start all over with another one. But it’s too soon to tell either way.

We’re Not Playing Anymore

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This past week has been a week of realizing that everyone around me is growing up. Last Sunday, I drove back to my hometown to attend my friends Lauren and Brent’s wedding. I went to high school with both of them, and on Sunday, they married each other.

This marks the third friend’s wedding I’ve attended. For my friend Kendra, who is two years older than me, it was a day where I watched my slightly older friend do something that slightly older people did. But for my other friends, who are the same age as me, it just feels like it’s a really elaborate game of dress up. Instead of being in the playroom or the backyard by ourselves and wearing old dance costumes, we’re all dressed up in big-person clothes that fit us and we’re in a public place with a lot of other people and official, legally binding words are being said. And even though I knew the wedding was coming and what was going to happen, both times I’ve been standing there going, “WHAT IS HAPPENING?” It hasn’t seemed real, though it unquestionably is. At my table, I was the only one who was not married, about to be married, or had marriage on the mind.

This feeling only increased today. My aforementioned friend Kendra had her baby shower today. Her BABY SHOWER. Very soon, a little boy with half her DNA will enter the world and she and her husband will be responsible for keeping that little boy alive. Believe me, I totally believe in their ability to do this, but it’s still a bit jarring to realize that this is the same girl with whom I shared a tiny dorm room my sophomore year where we ate food that was bad for us and kept Law and Order: SVU on all day every Tuesday.

But while I’m not taking those kind of huge, very public steps, I’m still taking some of my own. I’m looking at changing jobs for the millionth time this year, auditions for my play are happening in two weeks, and today, I took my very first antidepressant pill in attempt to get my life back. I guess I’m a real adult, too, in my own way.

Bye Bye, Sarah…

It’s been five days, almost to the hour, since I closed Time Stands Still.

I mentioned in my first entry about the show how scary it was because it was a challenging show. Three days before the performance, however, I was scared for another reason: people still did not know their lines. Because I was so scared by the script, I had my lines memorized really REALLY early, so it was frustrating and terrifying to me that just days before the show, I was still begging my costars to run parts of scenes with me because cues weren’t being picked up. I wanted so badly for the show to be good, and by the day of the last rehearsal, the show seemed to have fallen apart. But during the final rehearsal itself, the show kind of fixed itself. It wasn’t perfect, but being a superstitious theatre person, I was okay with that.

I think that, barring shows at my college, this was the show where I had the most people coming to see me. This made me both more nervous and more excited, and backstage before the matinee, my heart was beating so fast and all I could say was “I’m so nervous. I’m so nervous.”

The first show- which was attended by mom, my friends Kara and Meg, and my therapist- went pretty well. All throughout the rehearsal process, our director had been trying to get us to pick up the pace, and our nerves finally made us do that. The show itself is very emotional, but my character is not, and the electric charge of the show was making me feel intense emotions that I had to work not to show. My mom and I had dinner together before I had to report back to the theatre to have my gruesome makeup retouched. The second show- which was seen by my significant other and my friends Jamie, Maria, and Jackie- went just as well as the first. Since that was our final show, I missed saying lines as soon as they left my mouth. I could feel Sarah slipping away from me, and when I exited after my bow, I started crying.

Something that amazed me was that when people came over to me after the show and told me that I did a great job, I felt like I deserved it. Usually I’m really awkward about receiving compliments about my performances, but I just wasn’t this time.

This show has been such a growing experience for me. While I always work hard during shows, I really pushed myself for this one. I was terrified that I wouldn’t know my lines on time, so I used every spare moment and was memorized ten days early.  Even with my three weeks of bronchitis/cold/recovery, I did what I could to lower my vocal register and make myself sound older. I tried to be more in my body, unlike the awkward 20-something that I am. I learned how to walk with crutches and a cane and how to do a stunt fall while wearing a leg brace, without hurting myself. I researched PTSD and the locations where Sarah travels to for work. I put SO much work into this part and I feel like it came through, at least for the most part, in my performance. Finally during the last few days, I felt like I was skillfully playing a woman sixteen years my senior. For the first time in my life, I thought, without prompting, “I am a good actor.” And that in itself is a huge step.

I miss the show like crazy. I miss playing Sarah and I miss playing opposite my costars. I miss rehearsals to look forward to after a long day of teaching and I miss writing about Sarah and her life in my notebook. I just miss it.

Aside

Dual Entry: Therapy and Theatre

The first time I wrote about my mental health, it was November and I was very sad (etc.) and had only just made the decision to start therapy. The last time I wrote about it, it was February and I was doing better. Since then, I have learned my diagnosis: depression with anxious features. I didn’t write about it for a few reasons, most of them having to do with the fact that though this is a blog about my life, it is not a blog about my depression, even with its prevalence in my life, but there’s also the fact that it took me a really long time to accept my diagnosis. I knew that something was wrong, and I was quite sure it was depression, but I didn’t want to admit it. Besides the general stigma about mental health in the United States, to me, depression meant being suicidal, and to be so would be my worst fear. I have since been corrected about the second point (the first one, sadly, is true), but after starting therapy in December, I was sitting in my therapist’s office in April and said something along the lines of, “It’s like depression… if that’s the problem.” She looked at me and said, “Do you think you DON’T have depression?” I gave a twitchy half-shrug, half-“can we please stop talking about this even though you are paid and schooled to say things like that to me and have it be the truth?” “Because you do,” she continued. “It’s diagnosed, DSM-official depressive disorder.”

This hit me like I hadn’t known it all along, as hard as the day I knew I needed to go to therapy. I discovered all over again that I have depression (PLUS! Lucky me, I got the anxiety for the low, low price of panic attacks and social awkwardness.) It took a week or so for me to accept this, a week that led into May which led into fear and panic relating to the anniversary of my friend’s suicide, a reaction- mental and physical- that lasted for days on either side of the actual date.

Since my starting therapy, I’ve had a few what might be termed relapses, despite my improvement over the months. I kept having trouble living my life; I’d cry on the way to work every day and all I could think about while I was there was going back to bed, partly because I couldn’t bear to face my life but also because I was so tired all the time. There were a lot of other depression-related symptom that were keeping me from living my life fully, none of which were helped by the outside influences of being fired and the anniversary, to name just two.

There were a lot of would-be wake-up calls going on during those months: the increased severity of the symptoms of course, but also the way my depression was ruining some of the most important relationships that I have. I resisted responding to these, though, because even though I knew from my therapist, my significant other, and every positive treatment-related article/blog/site on the internet that a combination of therapy and medication was the most effective approach, I was scared. I don’t even like taking ibuprofen, so the idea of ingesting something that would change my brain chemistry scared me. To be honest, it still does. A lot.

But then one day, around the anniversary of my friend’s suicide, I was very sick, in every way. Besides the mental anguish I was going through, I was also feeling the grief physically. My whole body ached and I had a headache so blinding that I probably shouldn’t have been driving. But I did drive, to my therapy session, where I said nearly nothing for fear that I’d collapse into tears and ruin the small scrap of composure I had managed to keep hold of. Immediately afterward, I drove to an audition. I could hardly see, my head hurt, and I certainly was in no state to attempt to get a job. The audition itself was fine; for a non-Shakespeare actor, I performed the assigned monologue all right, and the director nodded enthusiastically as I sang a folk song a capella. If I had been watching it from the outside, I would have said the audition was good. But I knew that I wasn’t at my best. I knew that my mental state, my combined grief and depression, had negatively affected my ability to perform in what is a job interview in my profession. I had been fighting against taking medication partly because of my career; I feared it would prohibit my ability to feel the gamut of emotions. But here I was, feeling negative emotions to the point that it kept me from accessing the feelings I needed to to do my job. My argument was moot.

At the moment, I am not on medication. I asked my therapist if I could take the month of June, which I correctly assumed would be more normal in the way of overwhelmingly bad moments. to experience my mental state unmedicated. So that’s what I’ve been doing. And to be honest, it’s been hard to accept that I might still need medication because this month has gone so well. I got cast as the lead in a great show just a week before I started teaching theatre to kids, which at this point can be considered the best job I’ve had since graduating. Rehearsals are hard but rewarding, as is the teaching, and spending longer hours at a job that I enjoy has masked my depressive fatigue as the fatigue resulting from hard work, making me more willing to accept my tiredness at the end of the work day. I’m also just happier in general;  the kids I teach are a joy and it’s so rewarding to hear them proclaim that they wish theatre class could last all day, and then I go and do the work that I love in rehearsal. The other day, while discussing all of this with my therapist, she said, “I’ve never seen you smile like this, ever.” With a statement like that, and with the way I’ve been feeling lately, it’d be easy to keep saying that medication is not for me. I CAN still experience happiness, even experience it more often than sadness. That’s good to know, because it hasn’t happened in months.

But just because it’s happening now doesn’t mean that it will last forever. The show will end in early August, the job just two weeks after, and I will return to the way my life used to be. Maybe I’ll be happier, but maybe I won’t. Because I’m not cured. I still have depression and anxious features. And as afraid as I am of medication, I’m even more fearful of having this for my entire life. So I guess the question is, am I brave enough to help myself? The answer is as yet unclear.

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