Finding My Flavor: In which I reflect on my last day at the Dungeon, and what it taught me about life, art, and other people.

[Most of this post was written backstage at the Salem Witch Dungeon Museum on Sunday, August 31st, my last day.]

Part 1:

Well, this is it. My last day at the Salem Witch Dungeon Museum. It appears my jailer’s fee has been paid. (Har har har, Puritan joke!) I’ve only been here since April, but it somehow feels like both an eternity and a couple of weeks. For those not in the know, April 1st is the beginning of tourist season in Salem, and November 30th is the last. Most people are hired at the Dungeon under the assumption that they will stay for the whole season, and especially October. So, naturally, most people leave for September.

I was lucky enough to get a big girl job through a fellow Dungeonette, Maura, and I’m all set to start that in just over a week. It will be a desk job with a regular schedule, which is exactly what I needed. I know most people in the arts say they’d rather die than have a desk job, but I see it as a chance to have a “corporate America alter ego,” not to mention more money than I’ve ever been paid, regular hours to schedule projects around, and the ability to leave work at work.

I’m also looking at it as an opportunity to invest in myself. I’ve had the good fortune of observing my more successful friends on social media, and I have noted the key differences between them and me; not least of which is that they get out there, train hard, produce things, and have a clear idea of who they are and what they want. Most of those things (not the last one, we’ll touch on that later) involve having money. Classes are expensive. Costumes are expensive. Going to see all your friends’ shows and then partying/networking with them afterward is expensive. Producing is wicked fucking expensive. Not to mention all the other stuff that you need to do to get good at something but that you just don’t have the time for when you’re working overtime at a low-paying job, like making sure you actually practice your skill outside of class (cough, cough, guitar, Jackie) or making sure you get enough sleep so you can kick whatever illness you managed to pick up right before your 4-day weekend (which does not mean the same thing to theater people as it does to normies). The point being, now that I will have (marginally) more money and free time, I am taking it as a cue to invest a little more into myself and my art by making sure I get both my body and my mind taken care of. I have neglected myself for far too long and I worry that the damage may be irreparable.

But back to the Dungeon.

I am sitting here in the back room for the last scheduled time, and I’ve been reflecting on all the things this place has taught me. I firmly believe that, even if a job is only held for a week, it was for a purpose. (This is, admittedly, a very hard belief to foster when you don’t necessarily believe in fate, destiny, religion, or purpose, but that’s beside the point.) And you know what? This place has certainly taught me more than I thought it would.

Let’s do a brief recap:

  • On People, or Why You Should Expect the Worst
    • I should stop trusting that people will do the right thing (re: touching the exhibits, trying to get inside the exhibits, trying to open doors that are clearly closed and locked, trying to get into the prop torture equipment, etc)
    • I should also stop trusting that they listen to a single word I say (re: getting to the end of the tour and asking me a question I have already answered, pronouncing Tituba’s name wrong despite the fact that they’ve read it at least once and I’ve said it no less than three times, etc)
      • Addendum to above: I should also stop thinking people are smart, or that they care about the minutiae of everyday Puritan life. They generally stop listening because they came here for the affliction fit and to see how horrible the Dungeon was. They don’t care that the charter had been revoked years before, or how long the land boundary issues went on for. Although, to their credit, they will dig an extra story or two, provided it be hilarious.
    • I think people should be required to see live theater enough times in their childhood that, when they come to a show as an adult, you the performer don’t get the impression that they would rather die than be in your audience. Seriously, if you’re that guy, don’t be that guy.
    • You can’t tell what language someone speaks just by looking at them.
    • Canadians are really mean.
    • Sometimes, the people who care the most about what you’re saying are the last people you’d expect. In my case, the people who were the most interested in the history of the place and my personal tidbits were little girls, middle-aged white women, black or Hispanic teenagers, and the two or three huge biker guys who looked like they were bored during the show.
    • Some people don’t think playing on their phone during the prologue or the scene is rude. This leads me to believe that they don’t think the actors can see them, which would not surprise me in the least.
    • Against all odds, people will believe fiction over you. (re: “personal research,” The Crucible, “that show ‘Salem…’”)
    • To their credit, most people will keep their judgments to themselves. The rest of them will be shitheads.
  • On Myself, or How I Learned to Let Things Go
    • It took me 4 or 5 months before I eventually accepted that no one was listening to me. I knew it before then, of course, but I still stubbornly kept pushing my 9-minute prologue in the hopes that someone would appreciate it. Some time in mid-July, it finally got through to me that either the audience didn’t have any investment in our local history, or they had already gone to one of the million other museums in the area and therefore had already heard it. After that, I found a comfortable median: Give a shorter prologue that all but skips the history altogether and focuses on the story in the scene, while at the same time giving the people who may actually be interested a few “ins” during the tour. That way, if they really do want to know, they can ask.
      • This helped to reenforce the point. No one asked.
    • I have learned to love coffee. I was never a big coffee drinker, partly because my Mom always told me that I would never get through college without it. (I totally did. Suck on that, Mom! [justkiddingIloveyou]) Even when I worked at Keurig, I pretty much only drank tea and hot chocolate. But then I moved to Italy. I drank cappuccino and macchiato with everyone else like I was supposed to, but I was never really addicted to coffee until the Dungeon. There were 2 Dunks within walking distance, not to mention a handful of cafes and one delightful French bakery, so there was always coffee readily available. And of course Patrick has been drinking coffee for years, so it was just one more excuse to jump off the caffeinated deep end. Ever since May or so, I’ve been experimenting with all sorts of different coffees, trying to find my flavor. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.
      • That being said, I had my first pumpkin coffee last week, and let me tell you, it is the beginning of an era.
    • I was already a socialist before I worked there, but the Dungeon showed me what socialism looked like in practice. I hate to talk badly about a professional connection, so let’s just say that the place needed some work that management was unable to give it. Because of that, we Dungeonettes sort of needed to fend for ourselves. If the costumes didn’t fit, we’d make our own. If they didn’t get washed, we’d wash them. If the cobwebs got too thick, we’d get rid of them. There was an interesting dichotomy between the attitudes people had about this. There was the “Yes We Can” camp of thinking, and there was the “We Shouldn’t Fucking Have To.” As I usually do, I planted myself firmly on the wall between them. I’m proud of us for taking care of ourselves, but there is nothing more frustrating than knowing that you’re not valued.
      • Side note, most people had a “If I owned this place…” story. Ask me about mine sometime.
  • On Theatre, or What The Dungeonettes Taught Me, Whether They Knew It Or Not
    • Jenna W.
      • When shit gets tough, improvise.
      • Never input too much energy if you’re here 5 days a week., or you’ll burn out.
      • Never settle for less than you’re worth.
      • It’s ok to be a nerd. In fact, the normies are the weird ones.
    • Jenna L.
      • Never underestimate your education. Or someone else’s.
        • Sometimes, having a smart person in your neighborhood is reward enough for contributing to someone else’s education.
      • It’s true what they say. You can’t fake motherhood.
      • Your Irish heritage is beautiful.
      • You’re not doomed to failure if you have a fucked up family.
    • Demi
      • Life doesn’t end at 40. In fact, your career gets much better by then because they stop expecting you to be pretty.
      • Sometimes, an experience is worth an interstate commute.
      • Greek food is delicious.
        • Sharing is caring.
      • You’d be surprised at what you will find at the junkyard.
      • It’s ok if you’re not an expert. You can become one.
    • Laura
      • Don’t forget the music.
      • Work is important, but don’t forget what’s really important.
      • Never let the kids walk all over you. And remember, it’s for their own good.
    • Lynne
      • Sometimes it’s more fun to mix bad ideas and create a good one.
      • Don’t take yourself too seriously. You’re here for longer than you think.
      • If no one will let you perform, do it yourself. Even if you have to work 3 jobs.
      • Raise hell when they take your space away.
      • If they make you stand up when a doctor walks into the room, drop out of medical school. It’s not worth it.
      • The scene is tacky. But that doesn’t make it any less fun.
    • The Girls Out Front
      • Why burn a bridge when you can bomb it to hell?
      • Sometimes makeup is less disguise and more war-paint.
      • Sometimes you’re more sexy after monopause.
      • When someone is a blithering idiot, you can either hope they stop being stupid, or you can put on a happy face and tolerate it until they become someone else’s problem. The choice is ultimately yours, but they will eventually leave.
      • The tour is only 25 minutes. You can survive anything for 25 minutes.

Thank you, Dungeon. Thank you, Dungeonettes. You’re beautiful. And as we all know: once you’re in, you’re in for life.

 

 

Part 2:

I’ll be blunt, I have no idea who I am.

I know that my name is Jackie, my favorite color is blue, and I have a deep propensity for red Doritos. But I’m having a lot of trouble figuring out what it is I want to do in this world. Oh, I know I want to produce and perform, and I know I love playing guitar and being in dance class. That being said, people have described me as a “Jack of all trades,” which, being that my actual name is Jack, is a more accurate statement than I’m comfortable admitting. I have a deep appreciation of so many things around me that it is becoming a daunting task to pick one. 5 or 6 different kinds of dance and movement (ballet, modern, tap, yoga, aerial, gymnastics), blogging, reading (books in Italian, the classics, theory texts, research, reading for fun, children’s books), 6 or 7 instruments (singing, violin, piano, guitar, different kinds of drumming and percussion, ancient instruments like the aulos) and listening to new genres of music, different styles of acting, not to mention things that aren’t art-based. I look around at all the things surrounding me, and I think “I want that. I need to do that. I want that beauty to come out of my body, too.” The biggest problem with that, of course, is that there are too many things, and none of them seems to have a stronger pull than any of the others.

I suppose, if any one of them did, my job would be easy.

You know, I have spent a little time lately observing some of the people I admire via the miracle of social media. I feel a bit like a stalker, but still. One of the things I have noticed is that you can sum each of them up in one sentence. “Oh, Zehara Nachash? Yeah, I’ve heard of her. She’s the one with the snakes and the PRIMAL dancing, right?” “Oh, Mary Widow? You mean that awesome burlesque chick who likes David Bowie, the Muppets, heavy metal, and foxes? She’s bomb.” (Pardon me while I drop names.) It’s like a little taste of who they are as a person. A flavor, if you will.

It’s made me think a little about what my sentence must be. I’ve spent probably way too much time thinking about it. What is my flavor? What do I taste like?! Wait, don’t answer that…But no matter how much I think about it, I can’t seem to sum myself up. What is it I do? What is it I want, specifically? And how can I take that hypothetical want and turn it into a reality? I’m starting to think it’s impossible.

I’ve been trying a few different methods to figure it out, though. I’m reaching out to take classes. I’m going out to see shows more often. I’m meeting new people. I’m spending more time actually doing the things I say I want to do. I’m sure that makes perfect sense to everyone else. “Obviously,” you probably say. “That’s what you’re supposed to do.” Yes, you’re correct. There’s this awesome infographic that sums up my opinion on the matter, though:

So what do I do now? That’s a good question. From here, what I plan on doing is going back to the gym, fighting off some of this depression, and getting back out there. I was fortunate enough to be personally invited to a few projects that are coming up, which is great because I took myself out of the audition circuit for awhile. I am fortunate enough to have people in my life who value me and my work. I am eternally grateful. So I will be in 3 upcoming shows (which can be found on my event calender), I have one audition scheduled, and I’m on the lookout for a new class to take. Any suggestions?

Thank you so much for suffering through 2500 words. You’re the light of my life.

 

A presto,

JW