It’s nice to feel proud.

Tonight I went and saw a show at my alma mater/workplace. I’ve admired the play for a while, since it was done downtown by one of my favorite off-Broadway incubators, Soho Rep, so i was thrilled when it was selected for the season. It’s appropriately edgy for this school (god forbid we do the expected) but it’s fresh, unique, and utterly do-able. I was proud to come from a program that would take risks like this, and with intelligence and deliberateness. This was thoughtful theatre. That meant something.

(It’s also pretty darn cool that we hired the playwright to teach Playwriting last Fall, and she’ll teach again this fall. Yeah, it’s pretty freaking cool.)

Last night we did our third runthrough of the show I’m currently rehearsing, which runs March 1 – 30. The run was really good, I felt great, and the director even specifically commented on how he thought I was really on track. It’s nice to do a show that you audition for, totally fresh and without knowing anything, get called back, and get cast. No politics, just good old-fashioned picking the right person for the part. And to do a good job– that’s the icing on the cake.

NOW it’s time for this little Belgian to go to bed.

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What have you been proud of lately?

The Ultimatum

I finally got the ultimatum I’d been waiting for:
If you take the acting job in Idaho, then you can’t be a full-time Assistant.

At the end of this summer, I will lose my job.

I have worked in this position since I was a sophomore in college, slowly taking on more and more responsibility. I have been salaried (LOW) for two years. This semester, my boss is on sabbatical so for all intents and purposes, I am running the Theatre Program. If I accepted the full-time position I’d have steady work with a good boss in a job I like and am good at, plus benefits, health, and a higher salary.

But I’m not taking it.

I should be terrified. I mean, I AM terrified. I haven’t been completely jobless in… ever. Really. And I like this job, and care about the work I do. But the main feeling I’m experiencing right now?

Relief.

Because this choice is not a choice. I can’t possibly forfeit a great, professional, $800/week gig for the stability of a day job. I have left other jobs for lesser gigs. I AM AN ACTOR. Not always, often not working, but this is my forever-job. I want to do this until my brain short-circuits and I can’t remember lines anymore, or until my legs give out and I have to play Blanche in a wheelchair. Admin work? That’s all to serve the dream.

So yes, I’m scared, and sad, and a bit nervous. But I have time to think and plan, and I have a little cushion of savings, and I have a wonderful man and a cat who love me, and I have a 2 month gig that will take me home to my family, who will help me move to the next step. And I will also have freedom. Which is scary, yes, but also… you know… freeing.

I know what I want. And that feels good.

13 Things I Learned in 2013

1. JANUARY: You can get an A+ in “being an actor,” but it still doesn’t mean you’ll succeed.

It’s about being ME, and living my life, and knowing, deep within myself, that this moment is temporary. To forgive myself when I get another “no” or I’ve gone months without a “real” job. To acknowledge that I’m WORTH forgiving. To trust myself enough to believe that the next job will come.

It’s not that you don’t do the hard work– it’s that you don’t depend upon it to make your life perfect. I don’t think I expected that when graduating from high school, or when I moved to New York, or really… ever. Until the last two years of being in the world. I’ve become more and more comfortable with it, but I have to constantly remind myself that the balance is the key. As one of my favorite professors loved to say about the process of acting (and, ergo, the process of living) is “always balancing, never balanced.”

2. February: I want all the things.

This is something that has surprised me about my relationship with A. I never dreamed about my perfect wedding, I never felt like anything was missing when I was alone, I never wanted anyone to spend money on me. But with A, I google engagement rings (not that I want him to propose yet, but again… suddenly I want all the things). I want him to buy me nice dinners. I want him to get his book deal so he can take care of our little family. I want to cook for him. I want him with me all the time.

This is not to say I’m going to get married and become a housewife and give up everything I’ve dreamed of– I’m just as ambitious as always. But I realized that I maybe do want some of the things we’re told women want, and that’s okay. Like Hannah, I feel weird about wanting all the things, but truth be told… I kinda do.

3. March: I know that there’s no quick fix to this.

Everything hurts me.
I’m easily irritated, and I hate that.
It is physically difficult to do anything, and mentally even more so.
I feel as though I’m wasting my life.
I am not entirely sure that “I am enough” for this business at all.

My spirits are very low. And the thing that makes me the most happy in the world is so far away from me. I have nothing to look forward to. I don’t know what else to do. I’m scared and feeling very hopeless. Why can’t the universe throw me a bone? A small one? Any one?

I know this will pass. I know I will eventually work again. But right now I feel like my insides are made of hardening cement– heavy and painful. Nothing give me joy right now. Everything hurts. Everything makes me cry. I want to be nowhere; to hibernate until this time is over. And I just want it go away.

4. April: Our love is the truest thing RIGHT NOW, and for the time to come.

We talk about love a lot. So do most couples.
But my darling, I UNDERSTAND you. We FIT. “I” am not a “thing” without “you.”

Just wanted to share.
I never take you for granted.
I never am not surprised and grateful when you make me coffee.

Our love is energetic and exciting and romantic, but it’s also comfortable. It’s home. And that’s something that’s harder to put into words than the platitudes and poetics that make up the language of most relationships. A year ago, I couldn’t imagine a love like this.
Now, I can’t imagine my life without it.

5. May: Self-harm is the is the easiest game to play.

I’m always amazed by the ways in which I know how to hurt myself.

Food.
Cutting.
Watching videos of my boyfriend’s ex on his computer.
Saying “no” and staying in.

I have hurt myself more than anyone has ever hurt me.

6. June: The way I see myself, the way I see the world, has transformed.

Everything changes. It would take years and years to trace each seismic shift from its starting place, to its catalyst, to its change. There are patterns, of course. My triggers are familiar. Many of my dreams are the same. But the way I see myself, the way I see the world, has transformed, and on more than one occasion.

I’m okay with that.

As long as I still find those moments where all the pieces of my life, my desires, my city, can balance momentarily on a finger. As long as I feel those sharp flashes of knowing I’m exactly where and what and who I’m supposed to be. The inside transforms the outside, and the same is true the other way around. And maybe that makes me hope that I’ll never stop changing, that with each turn of the season and spin of the axis, I’m finding my balance on the point that feels just right, at least for a moment. And then I’ll fall off, only to tip and spin and flounder until I’ve found my perfect, temporary fit again.

7. July: I hate this business sometimes, I doubt my strength when the going is tough, but I honestly CANNOT imagine my life any way but this.

And those raw moments of the play, where the only thing that exists is the look in Reed’s eyes-the kiss or kill- or the way Angie skips onstage after a betrayal, like nothing has happened, or the genuine nerves and laughter of the epilogue– I am so much myself. I get to experience worlds different from my own, physical contortions, and heartache and lust and love, it really just boils down to ME, really looking, really hearing, really standing there and taking it, and letting myself feel every bit. No hiding.

It’s not really disappearing, I guess. It’s allowing honest feeling to seep out and be seen. I am actually standing there, actually slapping his face, actually kissing his lips, actually blocking her way.

And unlike life, much of the time, I get to experience it fully. That’s what I share with the audience. And that is joy. That is release. That is certainty.

8. August: I ate pasta for dinner. And I feel A-OK about it.

Starving made (and makes) me angry. Being hungry sharpens things, sure, and I’m more productive, but I’m also touchy. I’m isolated. Everybody and everything annoys me. It’s manic, but it’s also pissy. I’m never more outwardly angry than when I’m hungry.

Binging makes me sad. I turn inward here, too, but for different reasons. I want to be invisible. People don’t piss me off– I just feel as though I don’t deserve to be near anyone, like I’m worthless and I want to be alone. It’s almost more painful because of the shame. Not eating isn’t shameful. I don’t care what anyone says. For women, and anyone who has ever experienced an ED, eating is shameful. Not eating means self-control. This is not the objective truth, but it is the truth we live every day in this society. I would get more auditions if I was starving than if I was binging. If I’m sick from not eating, that’s almost understandable. If I’m sick because I tear into myself with food, punish every body part, my stomach and my brain in particular, I lack self-control.

9. September: I am a participant in so many tiny universes.

Looking at A’s Facebook page today, loaded with those lovely “Happy Birthday!”s that pop up through the day, I noticed my universes converging. That’s how life goes, I guess, and love is the catalyst for it. Actors I worked with last summer post greetings after friends from college share their blessings. A knows these people and they know him because I exist. I love A, so I bring him places. I love my friends, so I make a point to go to those places.

I know I’m not the only one with these many orbiting galaxies, meshing and meeting, with only me, my strange and special life, at the center. How did I become someone whose world has so much variance? It makes me feel good. It makes me feel like I exist.

10. October: I have confidence that I can care for myself, for the first time in a long time.

Look at all this SHIT I had to fight through, tooth and nail, to get to this point. Look at how hard I worked. Look at all the time I spent fighting for the life I have now. I battled an eating disorder, crushing anxiety, self-hatred, depression, mania, self-injury in every way you can imagine, and I’ve come out the other side. And I have confidence that I can care for myself, for the first time in a long time. Isn’t THAT crazy?”

My life is nothing special to me, as I walk through it. And yet, I realize that I have walked through incredible forests, forded wild rivers. I am lucky to have it, and I am grateful. Overwhelmingly.

11. November: Eventually, someone will reach out to me because they want me.

Andddddd. Here is me letting go. After a day of excitement, then a day of so much nervous energy I could have powered NYC… And the video audition is taped, looks just fine, and was sent off to my agent. Now. I can feel good about this. I just need to stop fantasizing about it.

What’s next to get me excited?! Anyone? Mom and dad are coming for thanksgiving in two weeks! Artie and I have two movie dates next week! I have a play audition on Monday! I have amazing supportive friends! Life is good, y’all. And that’s the end of this chapter. Page turn, cover close, on the shelf, as high as it can go. :)

12. December: I love that in spite of EVERYTHING, every time the lights go down, my heart fills and beats just a little harder.

I love this community, despite its flaws.

I love this craft, despite its strangeness.

I love these shows, despite some of them being kind of dumb.

I love this city and its passion, despite the fact that it’s exhausting.

13.  2013 was not a “banner” year. My career was slow. The first bumps in my relationship appeared. I struggled with friendships, I struggled at work. I fucked up a lot. It’s hard to look at the strides I made last year (huge show, Equity card, agent, new boyfriend, moving in with boyfriend, new cat) and compare them to last year. Yet 2013 was not devoid of growth. It was just that the growth was subtler, harder to see, less exciting, less bright.

I rekindled incredible friendships through the process of R’s wedding.
I did a show that reminded me why I love the theatre.
I shot my first lead in a TV episode, and did really well. And had so much fun.
I am happier with my body, and also more content with my “recovery,” than ever before.
I took some great risks (new dance studio, solo vacation, new doctors).
I supported my boyfriend through a career change and the ups-and-downs therein.
I watched my boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend in a play, then watched her leave the state, and slowly stopped letting her hurt me (still working).
I had my final appointment with my amazing therapist.
I said what I wanted and boldly asked for things (“I want an audition for this.” “Could you please do the dishes?”)
I reconnected with my relatives (though my grandmother would disagree).
I attended my first wedding.
I looked more beautiful than I have ever looked before, and I felt that.
I accepted that there are things that I can’t do because they make me feel bad, and that’s okay.
I was more in love than I’ve ever been.

So yeah. 2013. Things happened. As we enter a new year, I want to continue to make things happen. I want to continue to take risks. I want to give back. I want to be kind. I want to keep learning.

What did you learn this year? And by the way, I’m so grateful for your presence in my life this year. Happy new year!

The best thing about my job:

A first year MFA playwright asks me to help him cast a casual reading. It’s really no big deal, but it’s still a reading and will still take place at the studios for an off-Broadway theatre. There are four roles. I come up with four students who will fit the roles. Three are upperclassmen (one a sophomore, two juniors) and a freshman.

Today, the freshman comes into the office. 

“I just wanted to touch base,” he tells me, “Is there anything I need to know? Will there be more rehearsals than just that day?”

“You know,” I respond, “I really don’t know, but I imagine it’s going to be very casual, and if there were going to be outside rehearsals, I’d have been told about them.”

His eyes shift a bit, and he stumbles over his words, “Do you mind… is it okay if I ask… am I allowed to know… who else is doing the reading with me?”

I smile and say, “Sure! I’m waiting on one confirmation, but so far I’ve got you, [this sophomore], and [this junior], when he checks his exam schedule.”

And then this freshman’s eyes glow. To him, these upperclassmen, particularly the junior, who has been on the mainstage twice, are the BIG TIME. I can tell that inside, that beautiful thing is happening– adrenaline and happiness are blooming inside his chest. I know, because I remember that feeling. I never took for granted the opportunities given me, and I always looked up to the upperclassmen, for better and for worse.

Watching this 18 year old hear those names– the names of a 19 year old and a 20 year old– and put together the pieces that he’s been picked for something special… that made my day.

Those are the best kinds of gifts, and the best kinds of kids are the ones who let those gifts excite them.

Now I’m glowing. 🙂

High school is where the heart is.

Where I went to school, everyone knew who they were. We were the best, and that was proven because we were there.

We had yet to feel the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

I see the faces now that were my family in those days, and I feel this thin, clear string, like a fishing line, that links me to them.

We are different now– a little longer, a little stiller, little duller in tone– but with something inside that can only come from being trusted with a future from the age of 16.

I touch these waists, these shoulders, and I feel how we’ve grown thicker, tougher. Real life has no mercy for the special. We have experienced love now, loss, disappointment and frustration. We are thicker because we’ve blistered, then calloused.

And yet we are here. We touch, we whisper, we giggle. My hand around her waist, her squeeze, her voice, is the same as it ever was. The gasps over kisses shared, the bluntness of our expressions of love, the easy comfort of each other’s company.

When you are sixteen and the best, you are untouchable.
And yet, everything touches you.

Every face is burned into your memory, every nice thing ever said, every hurtful moment. The wind on the lake. The smell of her room. The slippery concrete, iced over, between the cafeteria and your 8am class.

We grew up together. We formed a world in which only we existed.

College was wonderful. I made important, remarkable friends in college.

But to be sixteen and on our own, hemmed between two lakes, yet without the bind of the “real world” telling us who to be, we were special. Our parents let us go so we could become who we are.

There is nothing like that place, and those years, in the entire world. We built it, and it’s stronger than that land, those buildings, or any one of us. If we went back it wouldn’t be there.

Where it is now is at a bar on Orchard Street, with arms wrapped around each other, easy laughter and genuine interest in each other’s minutiae. It is in a rehearsal room on 29th street, where suddenly you are not alone; the you of those moments when things started to become clear, are known by someone. It is in a Facebook message, where the years are no deterrent to the pull of that thin fishing line.

I am lucky. Not because I got to go to Interlochen, not that I was deemed “special,” not that I had good friends there. I am special because I was allowed the space to discover what was special about me. I never worried about “what I wanted,” because I had it. All that was left to me was creating the community I wanted to be with me for life. All I had to do was find my family.

And I did. I found Nora, Rebeca, Will, Drew, Auden, Holly, Warren, Tor. Even the ones who scared me– Loralee, Caroline, Chase– they are my family. We shared the moments in our lives when we began to realize who we were. We were there for the surprises, the meltdowns, the times when we suddenly realized what success, what struggle, what love WAS.

That can’t be replicated. I will never, never, have anything like what Interlochen was again. I had those years, and they live in me now. They will, forever.

I was sixteen and the best, and now I am 24 and ostensibly just like everyone else. And yet, I feel that fishing line, tugging, tight and secure, that binds me to the people and the moments when I realized who I was becoming.

These are my people. This is my universe.

Opening Night!

Complete, unbridled, nerve-tingling joy. That’s what I feel when I walk onstage.

I think a lot about what made me start doing theatre. It’s a common question. “When did you know you wanted to be an actor?”

What is hardest for me to parse is the kind of certainty I have about this career. For someone who has trouble deciding what brand of razor blade to buy, who vacillates about how fat I am on a daily basis, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is what I want to do. And the proof is in the pudding– I left home at 16 to study theatre, moved to NYC to study in college, and against all homebody, nature-loving odds, make my life in the big city.

I hate this business sometimes, I doubt my strength when the going is tough, but I honestly CANNOT imagine my life any way but this. I can’t even fantasize it.

Acting, I guess, is a way of disappearing as much as it is a way to have lots of people see you.

As a kid, I was often sequestered in my room, either by choice or by being sent there for being bad. Around 11 or so, I had access to my dad’s big dell laptop, and I discovered that many screenplays were available, for free, in big databases online. I embarked upon a major project– using imdb and google, I made a long list of movie roles I could potentially play in films that had already been made. From that list, I’d work to find the screenplay online. Once I found it, Id sit in my room and read it, all the way through, reading out loud (acting) the character I imagined playing.

My favorite role, for a lot of reasons (not the least of which was because I loved Renee zellweger), was Alison lohman’s part in WHITE OLEANDER. Despite endless searching, I couldn’t locate the screenplay online. So I did what any slightly obsessive, wholly dedicated twelve year old would do– I watched the movie and literally transcribed the screenplay, word for word. As I recall, it took a number of hours.

So… I don’t really know. It’s a long answer.

I can tell you that I started as a dancer, and while I was incredibly flexible and pretty talented, what I liked the most about dancing, really, was the acting. And that’s, I think, what made me a good dancer-at least the kind of dancer people noticed. Dancing was more accessible to me than, say, acting classes, and required less time-wasting with other kids. In ballet class, everyone was quiet and I felt like I was moving forward. Acting class was frustrating for me, as I was surrounded by a bunch of distractable kids who wanted attention. I did great at boarding school. 🙂

So tonight, in the final dress rehearsal for the show I’m doing for the next three weeks, as I shifted my weight into contortions, leapt and fell to the floor with control, and swept around the small stage in well-practiced patterns, I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Using my body in my acting (in this play, to do clowning and commedia) feels RIGHT.

And those raw moments of the play, where the only thing that exists is the look in Reed’s eyes-the kiss or kill- or the way Angie skips onstage after a betrayal, like nothing has happened, or the genuine nerves and laughter of the epilogue– I am so much myself. I get to experience worlds different from my own, physical contortions, and heartache and lust and love, it really just boils down to ME, really looking, really hearing, really standing there and taking it, and letting myself feel every bit. No hiding.

It’s not really disappearing, I guess. It’s allowing honest feeling to seep out and be seen. I am actually standing there, actually slapping his face, actually kissing his lips, actually blocking her way.

And unlike life, much of the time, I get to experience it fully. That’s what I share with the audience.

And that is joy. That is release. That is certainty.

Doing your Homework

Like most people who call themselves actors, I’ve known what I wanted to do for about as long as I knew what “acting” was. I started in dance, and I was quite good, but the parts I liked most in dancing were the acting parts. I always got the bit parts in The Nutcracker (“sled girl”, “naughty ladybug,”) and was always better at modern dance than ballet, where I could more openly express emotion. I still love dance, but really, it was a just a portal through which I discovered what I actually want to spend my life doing– theatre.

As you all know, if you’ve been reading, I’m well-trained. I went to the premiere performing arts boarding school to study theatre for my last two years of high school. I attended a top-tier university in New York City to study acting. I’ve been an apprentice at two different, well-known festivals, and I received my union card about a year after graduating from college. No one can deny it– I’ve done my homework.

As a kid, I had OCD tendencies. I was a perfectionist. I couldn’t ever be late. No “puffies” in my ponytail. I never missed an assignment in school. But I was also a very, very angry and a very, very sad little girl. I mean, let’s just diagnose it right here– I was bipolar.

I’ve written here about how my eating disorder(s) is a part of my psychological struggle, which I’ve been fighting since childhood. I started restricting unconsciously, because I was working too hard. I was trying to be too good. In recovery, I “let myself go,” got messy and angry and ugly and gained too much weight and fell apart and was late and fucked up all the time. Neither were gold-star moments in my life (and by moments, let’s call a spade a spade, I mean YEARS).

I think a lot about those two parts of me– the perfectionist homework-doer, who crosses her T’s and dots her I’s, and loves the feeling of succeeding because she put in all that hard work; and the messy girl, who forgives herself when she falls apart and trusts herself to make it to the other side, and who knows that sometimes hard work just means getting through the day.

Being an actor, or an artist of any kind, I think is finding a constant balance between these two extremes. And I don’t think I quite anticipated it upon embarking on my life. I guess I expected that if I did all my homework, I’d just be a really good, successful actor. And god knows I did my homework. But life isn’t quite like that.

There is the work, of course. The side of the “biz” that’s just nose-to-the-grindstone.
1. Look at audition listings every day. Make notes about when the EPAs (Equity calls) are.
2. Attend the EPAs (this means getting downtown to sign up for a slot at around 7am, while your appointment may be as late as 4:20 and the auditioners aren’t even really looking, since the call is just required by the union.)
3. Say yes to any audition that comes my way via my agent or some other means. Appointments are how you book jobs. Getting appointments is the key.
4. Say yes to any reading/workshop offered. At least you’ll be acting, and maybe, just maybe, someone will see your work.
5. Keep your headshots updated. Spend 500+ on top-notch headshots every two years.
6. Make a demo reel. Film it professionally. Spend the money to get it put on Actors’ Access.
7. Prepare for your auditions/readings/workshops/roles IF YOU’RE LUCKY.
8. Attempt to follow your agent’s suggestions– lighten your hair, lose weight, clear up your skin, dress better.
9. Stress out over what outfit to wear for each audition. Have days where you pack three changes of clothes and shoes, plus makeup and hair stuff, plus resumes/headshots and sides, and carry them in a backpack over your huge winter coat in 3 degree weather in NYC.
10. Oh, and during this time you’re not actually making any money acting.

Now, that’s all very extreme, and not every day is like that. In the last couple of weeks I’ve been blessed to have had a number of auditions (that 3 changes of clothes thing is a real true story from last week), and even a couple of callbacks, but failed to book the job. I’ve gotten so close I get apology emails from the casting directors (this NEVER happens).

And that’s where we come to the funny thing about the arts.

You can get an A+ in “being an actor,” but it still doesn’t mean you’ll succeed.

Frankly, some of the people I run into at auditions are those kinds of people– they go to every open call, they send thousands of postcards to CDs and agencies, they buy books to help them organize their finances, and they know EVERYTHING there is to know about EVERYTHING.

Hilarious true story– those aren’t the people that get cast. Those are the people who wait tables and wait tables and work HARD and never book a union part and end up as waiters. Or as indie theatre producers, or who get married and move to Philly. Now, this isn’t a hard and fast rule, of course. Everyone should do their homework.

But acting isn’t like school (unfortunately for those of us who did really well in school). In school, you turn in your homework on time, do a great paper, test well, and you get an A. Just like that.

As an actor (or an artist of any kind), you show up on time, do all your work, do it really fucking well, and then you never get a call. It’s like working really hard on a ten-page paper, turning it in on the due date, and having the teacher take one look at at it and say, “Oh, no, I prefer Georgia to Times New Roman,” and trash it right in front of you. You want to say, “But look harder! It’s so good!” or “I can edit that so easily, just give me a chance!” but it’s already round-filed.

All this to say, I think that it’s important to balance. If all I did was “work” on my “career,” I’d feel like a major, total failure. Because after all the hard work of the last month (okay, no, monthssssss since my last job) I haven’t had any measurable success.

But it isn’t just about the homework. It’s about being ME, and living my life, and knowing, deep within myself, that this moment is temporary. To forgive myself when I get another “no” or I’ve gone months without a “real” job. To acknowledge that I’m WORTH forgiving. To trust myself enough to believe that the next job will come.

It’s not that you don’t do the hard work– it’s that you don’t depend upon it to make your life perfect. I don’t think I expected that when graduating from high school, or when I moved to New York, or really… ever. Until the last two years of being in the world. I’ve become more and more comfortable with it, but I have to constantly remind myself that the balance is the key. As one of my favorite professors loved to say about the process of acting (and, ergo, the process of living) is “always balancing, never balanced.”

“The power is in the balance: we are our injuries, as much as we are our successes.”
Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible

“You will be fierce. You will fearless. And you will make work you know in your heart is not as good as you want it to be.”
Ira Glass

“It was possible to feel superior to other people and feel like a misfit at the same time.”
Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot