All posts by Jacquelyn

A-co-lyte: n. a person who assists a celebrant in a religious service

We’ve come to part 3 in our 3 part series on the Week With All The Things. As much as I love talking about that week, I am a really slow writer, and I will be excited to move on to  other topics. For now, though, let’s talk about Vadalna Tribal Dance Co.‘s very last performance, Temple, and how it effected my art and life. Be forewarned, this one is not as cheerful as the others.

Temple poster
The poster for Temple. It was somehow even more awesome than this looks.

Frankly, I don’t even know how to begin. It was a very long, very involved process that lasted multiple days in multiple locations with many, many people. The whole thing is something of a blur. A wonderful, very emotional blur. I know I won’t be able to capture the experience in this post, but I will try my very best not to disappoint.

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Vadalna has been a group for about 7 years now. They have a long history together with lots of pictures and memories and in-jokes and all of that. I have only been dancing with them for a few months, and I was just a guest dancer, so I was unable to share any of those common memories. I was not technically a “real” member of the group, and I spent most of the experience unsure whether or not certain “Vadalna-only” activities (such as putting together the scrapbook, signing the guest book, group photos, or even going up there early) were open to me. Let me make it perfectly clear, though, that they tried their very best to make me feel cared for, welcomed, and loved, but due to my mental illnesses and my own personal insecurities, I found it very difficult to really feel like I was part of the group. I only mention this because it factored into and somewhat colored my experience of the event, and I wanted to clarify that it was through my own failings, not through any direct action on their part.

An older photo of them
We Are Shangri La
A still from the video for We Are Shangri La/Echoes, to which our Temple choreography, Wise Enough, was the sequel.

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The whole thing actually began on Thursday night when a few of the Vadalna ladies, Naraya and Sam/Belle, went up to the site as early as they could to start preparing, and also because group sleepovers are fun. I had an editing meeting that night with Wendy and Pedro, a few of the folks behind the Highlands History Project and also some good friends of mine, so I couldn’t go until Friday morning. I packed up all of my cool little knickknacks, carpooled up there with two of the Vadalna ladies, Kali and Katie,  nerded out just as hard as we could, and soon (not nearly as soon as we expected, traffic was a monster) we were at the cabin we would be staying in, a town over from the venue. The cabin was apparently owned by the same people  who owned the venue (K and Natan of Star & Snake in Center Harbor, NH) and it functioned as our “home base” of sorts while we got everything set up. We did the scrapbook work (Katie and Kali did that, actually) and I took inventory of all the things we brought (which essentially means I put stickers on everything with people’s names on them and I wrote it down in my notebook) and then we were able to go see the space for the first time.

The plan was to set up the space all day Friday and most of the day Saturday, do the show Saturday night, have a party afterward, and then I wasn’t sure what was supposed to happen after that. If I had even a little bit of foresight, I would have known that the plan was to stay Saturday night, break down on Sunday, and then spend the rest of the day hanging out before eventually leaving. I didn’t figure that out until midday Saturday. My version of the plan was to do all of those things and then leave right after the show on Saturday night. That is how I planned my whole weekend out, going as far as to make podcast editing plans for Sunday. I blame myself for not being able to piece that one together, because everyone else seemed to know that’s what was happening. It was still frustrating. But we’ll get more into that later.

[In the interest of saving time, I will attempt to not go overly into detail about the Star & Snake, but that is a task that will prove somewhat difficult for reasons that will become apparent.] After receiving us and our stuff at the cabin, Naraya and Sam took us to church. Because that is indeed what the Star & Snake is: a former (what I assume to be Catholic) church that has been renovated such that it is now a performance venue-slash-artist retreat-slash-Pagan spiritual center. It’s even intimidating from the outside. We came around the back and entered through what I guess you’d call the back doors (which were flanked with stone statues of what I thought were supposed to be hooded monks) and we entered the main performance space, the sanctuary.

I’m a little embarrassed to say, but I was kind of underwhelmed by that part. It looked exactly the way I pictured it. Wood floors and walls, with all the pews and everything cleared out, and currently full of all our stuff. It wasn’t super impressive to me, because that’s exactly what I would have thought an empty church would look like. The stained glass was gorgeous, of course, but I wasn’t immediately struck with its beauty like I had been led to believe would happen, for which I felt kind of ashamed.

Star & Snake sanctuary
The sanctuary and the choir loft, after the 5 altars were built.

But then they took us through the rest of the space. I found that my infatuation with Star & Snake crept upon me very, very slowly. So slowly I almost didn’t notice it. They took us through the parlor with the stone fireplace, the divination room with the shrine to Kali Ma to whom the space is devoted, upstairs to the shibari room, further down into the healer’s room in the basement, the tattooing room where Natan could do ritual tattooing, and then they showed us the firepit and the water shrine situated on top of their actual wellwater source outside. Everything was so overwhelmingly beautiful and intricate, and somehow more so than the last. There were so many interesting things to see that I worry I’ll try to list them all and be here all day. After we had seen more or less every space we’d be using for the show, we were brought back into the Kali room so we could eat some of the food we brought. I remember sitting there on the carpet between the two indoor flower gardens (which I still haven’t been able to figure out…), looking over at the locked up shrine, looking up at the vaulted ceiling from which cloth curtains were hanging to decorate the divination table, and thinking one thing only:

“My life plans have changed.”

Which I’m sure I’ll get to in another writing, and has been on my mind a lot lately. For now, let’s move on.

The Shrine of Kali
The shrine of Kali, next to one of K’s paintings. One of the flower gardens was located to the right of the shrine, and the divination table to the left.

In any case, to speed things up, we spent much of the rest of the day building. There was lots of actual construction still underway that needed to be masked for the show, and we also had to build the five altars (for the four cardinal directions/elements and one in the middle for Spirit/Ether) in the sanctuary space. Vadalna assigned people to build specific altars, but I never wanted to be confined to just one. I owned a lot of really cool stuff, but I didn’t own anything that was cool enough to build one cohesive idea. So I bounced around between all of them and helped out where I could, and I’m incredibly proud of the way they all came out. That, by which I mean my taking pride in helping out, proved to be a theme of the weekend, but I wouldn’t figure that out until later.

The Fire Altar
The Fire/South Altar, built by myself and Kalidasi. And I think that person in the blindfold might be my friend Rebecca!

After a long day of building and organizing, we retired to the cabin for the night. And I do mean long. I think we all settled in to bed after midnight. In any case, the next morning, we had a ton of work ahead of us, so we went to a local café for a caffeine-fortified planning session. Which spawned one of my favorite photos from the whole experience:

Middle Finger
Naraya and Kali were very ready for the day.

Center Harbor is fucking adorable, by the way. That café was just the beginning. I would love to go back up there soon. Hopefully I’ll have the chance, because the Star & Snake will have plenty more events!

In any case. We spent most of the day of the show doing the little things. Sweeping, mopping, polishing, all the things that didn’t seem like they would be that difficult or necessary, but they took all day and really would have been missed if they hadn’t been done. Mind you, I didn’t like doing them, but I really felt like I was doing a Good Thing here by doing the little things that suck so that other people could focus on the Big Picture. The feeling persisted, but I didn’t pay too much attention to it.

Like I mentioned before, I was having a really hard time with feeling like an outsider at this event, and the more time ticked by, the deeper the feeling felt. After doing several menial tasks (that needed doing!) all day, I found myself cleaning one of the many mirrors. It was on the Fire Altar, and it was incredibly smudgy from being handled all weekend. I polished it. When I was done, I must have looked at it just right because I felt like I was looking through a window. It was really, really clear, and I was looking at an angle so I wasn’t reflected at all. It was kind of a bizarre experience, if you’ve ever had it.

When I finished with that one, for some reason, I needed to do another one. I wasn’t sure why, but I immediately grabbed my wash and my microfiber cloth, went over to the the Air Altar, and started polishing that one, too. That one was stubborn, though, so I had to do it two or three times just to get it to stop being streaky. And that’s the weird thing. I needed it not to be streaky. I needed to clean it. And then when I was done, I moved on to another one. And then another one. At one point, someone asked for a set of hands to go do another task, and I actively ignored that request so that I could keep cleaning mirrors. I can’t really describe it, but I viscerally knew in my heart that I needed to stay here and do this. To do anything else was unthinkable.

I should interrupt myself for a moment and give you a brief introduction to my history with religion and spirituality. I would consider myself to be an agnostic atheist at the moment, but that wasn’t always the case. I was raised in a Christian family, though my immediate family was terrible at practicing. I was baptized Catholic when I was 8 because my mother married someone who was Catholic (but, again, didn’t practice), but our family’s church is actually a less-crazy offshoot of the Mormon church (long story). Much like everyone who grew up in the 90’s, I started learning about alternative religions when I was about 11, and I was heavily studying witchcraft (specifically Wicca and Paganism) throughout my teens. Eventually, I decided that, even though I thought that some forms of Wicca were the set of beliefs that fit me the most accurately, I decided to stop practicing. It became clear to me that no one really has the answers, and I was frankly shocked at how many people who participated in such an open-minded belief system would regularly use definite and specific vocabulary to define the gods, magick, and the afterlife. When I made that decision, I thought of Wicca/witchcraft as being just like any other religion: a moral code to live by, a set of beliefs to make sense of the world around us, and ritual and tradition to make our brains happy, but ultimately unable to hold up under scrutiny. Which made me very, very sad and I don’t like talking about it, to the point that I am actively squicking out writing about this right now.

So fast forward to me in a Pagan spiritual center, building religious accouterments, serving as a Priestess in a “witchy-poo” show (as Naraya would call it, and being surrounded with the normalization of something that, when I practiced it, would have had to be kept very secret or hidden away. And then this feeling hits me, where I need to clean these mirrors. And I was fighting this notion (that I felt must be correct, but I was trying as hard as I could to ignore it) that maybe what was happening to me was a return to my old faith, and that feeling that something that used to be missing wasn’t missing anymore. But I was ignoring and ignoring and ignoring until I suddenly realized I was repeating the word “acolyte” to myself. Which was weird, as it’s a word that I know and have used before, but not a word I’m known for using often.

I thought the word meant “one who is training up in some art form or religious practice.” And I thought to myself, “Is that not what I am, in a sense?” After all, I was training as a dancer under the much more experienced, much more technically advanced than me Vadalna women. And after all, I was here in this temple taking care of the space before performing a sacred act in it, just like they do in monasteries and abbeys and temples from all over the world and all that I knew of religious orders from everything I’d ever read. Was I not basically, as I eventually called myself, the Work Study Priestess?

Shinto priestess sweeping
According to the Wall Street Journal, this is a Shinto priestess sweeping the grounds at Fujisan Hongu Sengentaisha shrine, Mt. Fuji’s main shrine.

From that moment, it clicked. I ran around and compulsively told all the Vadalna ladies this revelation I had (and it did indeed feel like a revelation) almost ad nauseum, but they put up with it like champs. The rest of my experience that night was seen through the eyes of the Work Study Priestess.

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The time was drawing nearer, and the preparations really kicked into gear. Performers began to arrive and I was becoming a little star-struck because they included people like Aepril Schaile and Matt (Em) Weston. We were all getting into costume and makeup (I had nothing special to put on my head in terms of jewelry or hair ornaments, which I had been feeling self-conscious about until I realized that I, as an acolyte, didn’t need to be as elaborate as the other priestesses) and doing a tech run-through and everything was running about as smoothly as anyone had any reason to expect.

After tech, we had about an hour until we expected to be able to start. I had brought two bottles of Viniq that someone bought me for my birthday but that I had never opened and I intended to share it as a toast with the Vadalna chicks. On a whim, I decided to go around to all the altars with the wine (I thought it was wine; I didn’t realize until later that it actually had liquor in it, and boy did I feel silly when I figured that out) and have it blessed, all the while kicking myself for how stupid an idea I imagined that to be, being an atheist. In any case, I called together the Vadalna women, I poured us all a very sparkly toast, and then I took the opportunity to invoke the god Dionysus (god of both wine and the theatre) before we drank it.

Viniq GIF
Literally us.

And then before I knew it, the show was ready to begin.

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First, the guests were led through the front door to the donation jar, then led through a set of sheer curtains and blindfolded by priestesses in order to participate in the opening ritual. They were then led through another set of curtains and walked, still blindfolded, to each of the five altars, where they would be able to remove their blindfold and meditate on the meaning of what they saw. Some of the altars were even interactive.

Opening Ritual
Writing down wishes to hang on the Tree of Life at the Spirit altar. With special guest appearance by my friend James!

After all this, they were led to another priestess who took their blindfolds and asked them to draw a card which would have a symbol on it. She would cryptically tell them to find their symbol and off they would go on their own. They would be led to one of the three rooms I already mentioned, where there would be a practitioner waiting to receive them. After roughly an hour, a priestess came around with a drum to lead them back to the sanctuary space for the dance performance.

The show was structured in the same way that many Wiccan rituals are: There was the consecration of the space which we had already done before everyone got there, Aepril’s invocation of the divine, and Aria Michaels Paradise called the corners and began to raise the energy. The energy and power would continue to be raised through the next few performers and then culminated with Vadalna’s performance, which was more or less all spinning, meant to evoke the spiral dance and be the spark which would ignite the world. Our song is also one of the only ones that used lyrics in English, which in my opinion would also make it the intention part of the ritual.

Are we not wise enough to give all we are?
Surely we’re bright enough to outshine the stars
But humankind gets so lost in finding its way
We have our chance to make a difference til our dying day

I do want to say one notable thing that happened to me during our performance. There was one segment of the song where we were supposed to “strike a pose,” so to speak. The lyric was “no one else can play your part” and we were to take up a pose that represented our priestess. In all of the rehearsals, I had been doing this kind of abstract tree thing because, where many people have adopted a “spirit animal,” I have apparently adopted tree imagery. But during our performance, I was all of a sudden struck with new imagery. Instead of going into my tree pose, I leaned over and held my hands as though I were holding a broomstick. Work Study Priestess struck again, and it felt really, really correct.

Wise Enough
The only Vadalna performance shot I have seen so far.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but unlike the ritual observance and silence that followed every other performance, Vadalna received a few light “woo”s, one woman saying “we do, we do,” and one notable and poignant “Amen.”

Our performance was followed by Jaylee, who, like us, spun and spun and spun until she couldn’t spin no more, followed by Aepril Schaile one more time. This time, she was formally invoking the goddess Kali, and in doing so, she actually stabbed herself in the leg with her own sword. We all worried for her, but at the same time none of us were really that surprised that blood was shed during Kali’s arrival.

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When the show had officially ended, everyone was invited to party. There  were enough libations to go around, and we all ended up staying well into the night. I got to try K’s homemade blueberry mead (which was awesome!), watch some more shibari bondage, and watch everyone else have a great time. I ended up missing out on a lot of the fun social stuff because I went into a mental valley, but I stuck with it as long as I could. After all, I was a priestess and this was my temple. But around 1:00AM, I had kind of reached the end of my spoons, so my fella and my best friend, who had come all the way up just to see the show, helped me gather as much of my things off the altars as we could find, and then helped me find people to say goodbye to. It was at that point that I realized that they had mostly all gone back to the cabin already, and no one had told me. I was a little upset by that, but they were all adults, so independence is expected.

We left and made our way to the cabin. When I got there, only Katie and her dude were in sight. I hastily gathered up the rest of my things and packed them in the car. I had hoped to say goodbye to the Vadalna ladies before I left, but they were nowhere to be found. I awkwardly said goodbye to Katie, asked her to give them my love, got in the car, and went home.

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I would like to just say some final thoughts on the matter before I close the book on Temple for good.

  • The experience, quite literally, changed my life.
  • I learned that I’m not as well-adjusted as I thought I was, and that I have a lot more work to do.
  • I am a person who is full of fear.
  • I hope I can find another group of people as loving, talented, tight-knit, and visionary as Vadalna, and then swindle them into letting me hang out with them.
  • The world needs more beauty in it. Sometimes, beauty is painful.
  • I ended up looking up the word “acolyte” later and learned its real meaning. An acolyte isn’t a total novice who is lucky to be sweeping the floors. An acolyte is one who assists. I am not unworthy. I am that which makes things possible.

A presto,

JW

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Part 1: The Wizard and 14 Year-Old I

Part 2: 6 Things Never to Do as a Film Extra

6 Things Never To Do As A Film Extra

Welcome to part 2 of the 3 part blog posts I’ve been writing about the Week With All The Things! I’m your host, Jackie, and I have got even more fun perform-y type stories to spin you.  If you missed part 1, the entry about that time I auditioned for Wicked on Broadway, check it out here.

Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society...

I call this story…That Time I Worked on a Kevin Hart Film.

Stay tuned for part 3 after this!

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One of the projects I worked on recently was the upcoming Kevin Hart film, Central Intelligence. I was so grateful to be working on it, too, because I hadn’t done any film work through Boston Casting in something like 2 years. This opportunity was a couple of firsts for me:

  • My first big budget film
  • My first multi-day shoot
  • The first time I was given hair/makeup/wardrobe as an extra. In my experience, that’s highly unusual, especially with how many of us there were, which I’m told was about 400.
  • And my first time shooting in a location I was already familiar with (my old high school, which brought with it all sorts of feelings).
  • It was not actually the first shoot I had with a famous person, as I did an ESPN commercial with Macklemore a few years back, but with this shoot I was situated much closer to Kevin, and our interactions with him were somewhat different, so I’d say this one is more “official” than the other, even though they were both in a crowd setting.

Central Intelligence

I just want to take a moment to gush about the shoot before I focus on the main thesis of this entry, so bear with me. I know it’s one of those actor-y things to say, but it’s true: I feel so fortunate to have been able to work on Central Intelligence, and in my own hometown, too. When I was growing up as a poor, frustrated theatre kid with nowhere to learn or explore, all I wanted was for there to be more performance opportunities in Lynn. Now look at it. Major films are shooting there, not a mile from the house I grew up in. How unbelievably fortunate I am for that to be the case. I hope it continues on that way.

Even though we had two 14 hour days together, the production company and PA’s were so professional toward us and very well-organized. The food they gave us was delicious and there was plenty of it for everybody, which can be a problem when trying to feed 400 actors plus crew twice a day. Kevin was hilarious, and what I saw of the film is looking really great so far. We didn’t get to read the script or anything, of course, but based on context clues I assume that we were in some kind of opening sequence. And, blessings on their house, they tried their very hardest to pump in as much air conditioning as they could, which was awesome because it hit 90°F outside during one of the shoot dates.

According to the email that I got (at 1:30AM, but I’m not complaining) on the morning of the shoot, we were all to dress as though we were high school students in 1996. If I had been able to hit the store, I would have been able to come up with something much better looking, but I worked with what I had. (If you’re on the hunt for me in the film, look for the chick wearing purple leopard print leggings, red knee-high Doc Martens, blue plaid flannel, and a black lace skirt. Oh, and a bow. But we’ll get to that in a minute.)

I super loved seeing everyone else in their 90’s fashion. I personally loved that era’s style (except the part about being stick thin, naturally, as I never fit into that particular aesthetic, or the part where you were only beautiful so long as you were white and blonde), probably because that’s the decade I grew up in. I just couldn’t stop staring at all the scrunchies and overalls and plaid flannel. It made me want to go home and watch nothing but Clueless, The Craft, and Buffy until my eyes fell out.

I think my favorite parts of the shooting process all involved crew members, though. One PA insisted we knew each other and tried desperately to figure it out, but he never did. Another made a point to tell me how great I did right at the end of the second day. But probably my very favorite moment was at the top of the first day, when one of the hair stylists told me that if I came back for the second day without my hair freshly washed, he wouldn’t allow me on set. Why did I like that part, you may wonder? Because I like being held to a higher standard. It gives me a very specific set of goals at the end of which I can feel like I’m a better performer. And also? I think he was being hard on me because he liked me and wanted me to succeed. I think that because he gave me a hair bow that was kind of big and noticeable (black and white polka dots and so big and floppy that it almost covered my whole head) and he said “That’s ok, I want you to stand out a little.” It’s things like that that remind me that I really might have a solid shot at succeeding out there.

90's high school kids
Us, but with less plaid.

There were, however, some parts of the process that were less than stellar.

  • We were basically sitting on hard surfaces for 14 hours straight both days, whether it be in the gym where filming was, or in extras holding which was the cafeteria. I was, and am still a bit, in an unfathomable amount of pain. My ass was literally calloused and bruised from the experience for about a week. To top that part off, I also have a bad back, so when I tried to ease my butt a little by changing my position, my lower back would smart and seize up, and then I’d try to overcompensate for that and the rest of my back muscles would get tired and we wouldn’t have even gone to lunch yet. I never thought I would complain so hard about sitting down too much.
  • It was a closed set, so we weren’t allowed to have our phones. Makes sense. Kevin Hart is super famous and probably hates people snapping pictures of him all the time. There’s probably copyright issues with behind-the-scenes filming. Not to mention there was a naked man on set (guess you’d better see the film to figure that one out!) Knowing how much downtime we’d have, I brought my Kindle, so I wasn’t terribly bored (and I finished Witches Abroad! If you know me, you know how slow I read). But I did have a show, a film meeting, and an editing session to prepare for, not to mention I had a boatload of emails to send, so two 14 hour days without my phone was a bit of a set back for me. Also also, I had to miss a work study session at the Dance Complex and I couldn’t even call them because I never had my phone for any of the hours they were open after I booked the gig. Super frustrating.
  • I had also brought my new juggling balls with me, because hours of downtime would be the perfect time to grind away at my new skills. The only problem with that is that there were people everywhere, all the time. And these were social actor-y people. I knew that if I started practicing in extra’s holding that people would come over and try to talk to me, or ask if they could play with them, or just stare at me. I did eventually find a quiet place to go, the auditorium (also known as “the place I spent my entire high school career because of course I was a drama club addict”), but I only managed to sneak out there for like 15 minutes and when I tried to go back later on in the day, they kicked me out. It was only for people to make emergency calls on one of the crew’s cell phones, so I can understand the need for privacy. But still. That place used to be my home. If anyone shouldn’t have to ask to go in there, it would be me. Not that anyone was in a position to care about that sort of thing.
  • And once again. I love my work and I hope to get more work than I can handle, but…14 hours. That’s a long fucking day. I really can’t emphasize what that’s like.
High School Gym with Audience
Not actually us, but pretty darn close.

And with that, I wrap up the gushing over the experience and we get to the meat of the matter: being an extra.

Let’s begin with what an extra does. According to Wikipedia, an “extra” or a “background actor” is:

A performer in a film, television show, stage, musical, opera or ballet production, who appears in a nonspeaking or nonsinging (silent) capacity, usually in the background (for example, in an audience or busy street scene). War films and epic films often employ background actors in large numbers: some films have featured hundreds or even thousands of paid background actors as cast members (hence the term ‘cast of thousands’). Likewise, grand opera can involve many background actors appearing in spectacular productions.

On a film or TV set, background actors are usually referred to as “background talent”, “background performers”, “background artists”, “background cast members” or simply “background” while the term “extra” is rarely used. In a stage production, background actors are commonly referred to as “supernumeraries“. In opera and ballet, they are called either “extras” or “supers”.

Indeed. Not that difficult. As an extra or background actor, you are literally paid to stand there and do nothing, or next to nothing. We were hired to play high school students during a pep rally where we would cheer, laugh, and go “aww” at appropriate moments. It doesn’t sound particularly difficult or like it requires spending $12,000 on it (we did the math and it would have cost them at least that for all of use for two days, not counting union labor or any other consideration), but our presence was necessary in order for the movie to seem believable. It’s an important job, is what I’m saying. One worth taking seriously.

Naturally, basically no one took it seriously.

I don’t want to name names or anything (which would be difficult anyway because I didn’t really learn any), but I observed a lot of unprofessional, and at some points downright offensive, behavior on the set and I decided to put together as comprehensive a list as I could of everything I think you shouldn’t do on a film set. I’m sure I’ll leave something out.

Let’s begin.

  • Don’t talk. Pretty much ever. Socializing is a tricky subject on the set, as we are all actors and we could all use the contacts. You meet all sorts of new and interesting people during a shoot, and you may not want to pass up the opportunity to make a new friend or gain a few Twitter followers. But do keep in mind that there are 400 of us. We are basically a Hydra. If we all start talking (hell, even whispering) at the same time, we are already louder and more disruptive than anything else going on on set. Not to mention we waste precious shoot time. How, you ask? I’ll tell you.
    • The 2nd AD has to use a bullhorn to shout directions over everyone, and it usually takes several minutes to get us all paying attention and quiet.
    • The PA’s have to constantly be reminding us to shut up, and they’ve already got plenty to do without babysitting us.
    • In one particularly egregious example of this, one of the AD’s had to give us the exact same direction 5 times because half of us would do it wrong. In our case, he asked us to pantomime pantomime pantomime then laugh, yet every time they called action, half of us just started laughing right away. It’s not funny, it’s not cute, and I don’t care if you’re sorry.
  • Which feeds really well into my next point: pay attention. While paying attention and being quiet have a lot to do with each other, they are not the same thing. Know what is going on around you. Know what group you are in. Listen when they tell someone else how to fill out their paperwork so that they won’t have to repeat themselves. Don’t ask over and over and over again which group they just called. Don’t be the guy who’s group left 20 minutes ago. Don’t ask to go to the bathroom when you know we’re about to set up a take. Just…don’t.
  • Absolutely don’t do this next thing. During one of our long breaks when they kept us in extras holding, I was sitting at a table with a handful of people I didn’t know and they were chatting about where they had been sitting during the shoot. I didn’t tell them this, but I had actually been sorted into the wrong group by accident (their accident, not mine), so I got placed front and center near the teachers, the lettermen, and other specific-looking extras. Because of that, you may actually see me in the film. Hooray! But these people weren’t quite so lucky. They were sorted into the blue or the green group, which were on the other side of the gym, and more than likely on the outskirts of the crowd. They were apparently not content with their placement. “You know what I do?” said one young man in a blue shirt. “I just go and sit where the cameras are pointing. They film over there, I sit over there. I don’t care, I just want to be in the movie.” At this point, I looked up from my book in horror. He concluded with “No one has stopped me yet.” The young man next to him, who appeared to be of Asian descent, nodded, then said “Pretty much. I mean, they won’t even notice until they’re editing anyway.”
    • I hope I don’t have to explain to you why I find that kind of behavior disgusting. I will just assume that you know why I, someone who have worked behind the scenes on films before, am outraged at such a thing. Don’t do it, ever. Sit where you’re told to sit, do what you’re told to do, and never say anything you aren’t given express permission to say. There’s a special place in hell for people who make editing harder than it already is.
    • And by the way, I saw one of them trying that later that same day. They put the camera up really close to my group (so close that I was actually not going to be in the shot) and the young man in the blue shirt tried to work his way into some else’s seat. She had gone to the bathroom (another reason not to go to the bathroom if you can help it!) and he sat down in her spot. When someone else turned to look at him, he said “I don’t know where I’m supposed to sit…” At which point I was prepared to go off on him something fierce. Luckily I didn’t have to, because the girl next to him simply said “Not here.” And he was forced to get up and go somewhere else. I consider it a moral victory.

[A lot of this advice, you’ll find, stems from the same place: an actor’s desire for fame. Not because he worked hard or because he takes his craft seriously, or even because of his networking acumen. No, a lot of obnoxious things actors do on set is done because they wants their face to be seen clearly in the film. Which I understand. Hell, I want my face seen in the film, too. That is not an excuse to behave unprofessionally, nor is it an excuse to tamper with a film that has a net worth greater than your life.

Not to mention that your actions have far reaching consequences. Do you want to work ever again? Do you want Boston Casting to lose their contracts because of one too many incidents with unprofessional extras? Do you want the film industry to stop coming to Boston because we’re hard to work with? No, of course you don’t. So get your shit together.

Moving on.]

Cute kitten
Here’s an adorable kitten to soften the blow of that rant.
  • I hinted at this earlier, but this is an even bigger issue than it seems. Do not change anything. By which I mean:
    • Clothes that wardrobe has ok’d you to wear.
    • Lines you’ve been authorized to say.
    • Your physical location.
    • Even down to the smallest facial feature and gesture, if you can help it.
  • The reason I bring this one up is because it came up at a different shoot I was a part of years ago for a film called Crooked Arrows. We were playing a crowd at a lacrosse game, and they put me on Team White Kid (the crowd cheering for the white prep school, which were the bad team in this film). We were authorized to wear Reebok clothing (they were a sponsor), clap, cheer, go “wooo!” and even chant at one point. One young man, however, kept shouting “Go, blue and white! Yeah blue and white!” Which I would have thought wouldn’t have caused any harm, but I was proven wrong when a PA pulled him aside and explained why he needed to cut it out. Apparently, if they caught that line during a take, it would render the take unusable. Why? Because that would technically make him a featured extra with a line, and they would have had to pay him more. A lot more. Not to mention the legal repercussions of if they got the take, couldn’t find him, and weren’t able to pay him more. Or if the precedent was set that you pay more to extras who don’t follow the rules. Imagine the Bedlam that would cause.
    • And if you’re reading this thinking that that’s just more reason to do it, then I frankly don’t know what to say to you.

[Prepare yourselves, folks. If you thought I was ranting before, wait until you see what’s coming up.]

Bunny kiss
Here’s a preemptive bunny kiss.

Now I’m going to talk about the famous people.

  • Please don’t applaud at every little thing they do. I find it obnoxious, and I’m not even a little famous. The extras on set had this nasty habit where they would try to endear themselves to Kevin by applauding when he entered the room, when he left the room, and when he hung up his phone (I don’t know why, but someone kept trying to video call with him between takes, which is a really bad time to do that). He and a friend of his (I didn’t know him, but I suspect he was famous, too) would play basketball between takes during slower parts of the day, and the extras would try to act like a sports crowd, cheering or booing where appropriate. (Please see my very first point if you want to know what I thought of that.) It’s fine to do it once, maybe twice, maybe even three times. But their celebrity does not mean that you need to wipe their ass for them. In fact, when Kevin finally hung up with whoever was trying to video chat with him, the crowd clapped (of course) and he smiled and said “Man, y’all will clap for anything, huh?” And a few people laughed. I didn’t laugh. He was smiling, but he didn’t seem to be joking.
  • And here it is, the part that offended me the most: please, please, please don’t ever, ever touch the talent. This one requires a little bit of a backstory, so bear with me. When Kevin picture wrapped (when they had shot the last scene they needed him for), we applauded for him (that time it was appropriate!) and he chose to make a little speech. He wanted to thank a bunch of people (specifically the 2nd AD for “taking the most shit,” which I thought was very cool of him) and then he insisted that “[he] wouldn’t be [him]” if he didn’t do what he was going to do next. He pulled out his phone and said he was going to make a video of himself for social media. He was going to start facing us (so we couldn’t be seen) and then at a certain point, he would turn around and reveal all of us in the stands, and then we would cheer real loud and that would be it. I repeat, that would be it. So he went about making the video, he said things like “I just wrapped on Central Intelligence, come see it next summer, etc etc etc.” (and some people started shouting early! Because who gives a fuck about direction, intent, and creating a moment, when you have “easily pointing your own voice out to your friends later” to think about?!) and then he turned around. And there was absolute fucking Bedlam. We stood up, we cheered, there was stomping, and then all of a sudden before I quite knew what was happening, half the crow rushed Kevin. They rushed him. They ran up behind him when he wasn’t looking, put their hands on his body, and stuck their head into his video without his permission.
    • I’m still kind of horrified that they did that. Is your desire to meet a famous person/have your 15 minutes of fame/be seen in something viral more important than this man’s bodily integrity? How dare you violate his space and his body like that? Are we animals? To be clear, I’m sure that he didn’t think of it that way. I don’t know what he was thinking at all. All I know is that I saw a crowd of people run at full speed at a black man and put their hands on him, and I was absolutely sickened. I don’t care that they didn’t do anything to him, or that no one was harmed. That’s not the point.

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Thanks for sticking around until the end! Stay tuned for the third installment in the 3 part series on the Week With All The Things, hopefully coming at you pretty soon.

A presto,

JW

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Part 1: The Wizard and 14 Year-Old I

Part 3: A-co-lyte: n. One Who Assists A Celebrant In a Religious Service

The Wizard and 14 Year Old I

[If you want to skip the backstory and just jump straight to the bit about the day of the audition, jump forward to the black line. If you want to skip even further and only read about the actual audition, skip even further to the part where it says “Scroll Here” and then read through to the other black line.]

I’ve been away for awhile. I’m 100% certain that I don’t have a following, so I’m sure it made no difference at all that my posts weren’t coming, but I like to at least be consistent. In any case, lots of stuff has been going on over the last few months. Lots of show prep, lots of trying out new jobs, lots of seeing shows, and yet not much to actually sit down and write about. It was more or less (stagnating) business as usual. And yet, out of the fog, there came this one week where I had three wonderful experiences which will be the subject of this and the following two blog entries. It’s the kind of week that makes you say “By the grace of whoever, let me be always this busy.”

I’d like to begin with that time I auditioned for Wicked on Broadway.

Wicked on Broadway
Yes, that one.

I found out about it on Playbill. Strictly speaking, I found out about it on Facebook, but it was hosted on Playbill. There was apparently going to be an open call for the understudy for Elphaba (the Wicked Witch of the West, the main character of the show) and the person who got it would be in the ensemble until they were needed to fill in. What struck me most was that the date (just 4 days away from the day I found it), address (somewhere I’d actually passed by a million times in New York City and never noticed), time (1:30PM on a Monday, the exact right time for a day trip), and music cut (the end of “The Wizard and I”) were written right there on the (free) article, highly unusual in a world where you need to be subscribed to things and pay someone money just to get in the door. Yet here it was.

Here I am, the page seemed to say. A role you can play, a show you know, and the one thing 14 year old Jackie would have wanted. And what are you going to do about it?

I’m going to go, I said back.

Of course, it did have to come right just on the one day of the week where Patrick and I had no extra money to throw at it, and it was too soon to justify him taking the day off to come with me. I couldn’t afford to drive in, and I could have just barely afforded the Lucky Star bus. In short, it was the best show for me to audition for, but at exactly the wrong time. And yet I still wanted to go.

I’d like to unpack that last thought for just a moment. Unlike many theatre kids, Broadway was never my endgame. Don’t get me wrong, it’s kind of like my Mecca, in that I will spend way too much time and money to go see a show there, and I admire their spectacle and their technical superiority to most shows you’ll see anywhere else. And wow, would I love a steady run on Broadway (not to mention that sweet Broadway paycheck). It would keep me in top performing shape, and providing for my family, while doing the thing I love. But. Moving to NYC and throwing myself up against the audition wall was never my immediate goal. Truthfully, I wanted to open my own theatre company in Boston (probably more like Lynn or Salem) and do edgy fringe theatre. I wanted to make art. That’s not to say that Broadway isn’t art, of course. What I wanted was different. More new work. More adaptations of fairy tales and Greek myths. More innovative technical choices. More poor theatre. More art.

And then here was this NYC cattle call that probably thousands of girls would turn up to (and by extension, make it well nigh impossible for me to actually have a shot in the world at getting the gig), and everything I am was burning to go. I thought I might actually die if I didn’t go. What am I to make of that?

Broadway cattle call
Like this, but 100x longer, all women, and outside in direct sunlight on a 90° day.

Anyway. The logistics were looking really bad, even before I went. Pat and I had maybe $30 between us, which would be just enough for a bus ticket (I thought; more on that in a second), but nothing else.

In order to be at the top of my game, I would have needed:

  • To get a coaching session during the weekend leading up to it (both to ensure that my voice was in good shape and to make sure  I was reading the music correctly) – $50/half hour
  • Make sure I had enough food and water to get through the day – anywhere between $10 and $30
  • Pat insisted that someone come with me because he’d heard too many horror stories about the bus ride, but despite my asking around, it was simply too close for anyone to take the day off.

Of course, I could afford none of those things. And then, if you can believe it, everything got better, and worse.

My voice teacher invited me to come in for a coaching. When I couldn’t pay, she insisted I come anyway. [Jackie’s advice: never expect free lessons from your voice teacher, ever, but treasure them if they come.] With her help, not only was I feeling much better about the caliber of my voice, but also I was able to learn that the way Idina Menzel sings the song in the OBCR, is almost completely not the way the song is written, at least at the end (which is actually fairly standard for belty songs like that; singers hardly ever do the exact correct notes). That was a very helpful tip to learn, because I could have sang it her way, done amazing, and have them think of me as unoriginal, or I could learn it the way it was written, which may be less entertaining but ultimately prove that I actually studied the song.

The only setback to this lesson, which otherwise went amazingly, was that my teacher accidentally started me in the wrong place in the music. We were told to start at measure 117, but in my copy of the music, that was halfway through a phrase. I figured we should start from the key change (“And I’ll stand there with the Wizard…”) but she thought that was ridiculous because that would be a supremely difficult place to begin, not to mention that she assumed they wouldn’t want more than 16 bars, so she started me a bit later (“And so it will be for the rest of my life…”). This will come into play later.

On top of that, one friend insisted I borrow the bus fare from her. She wouldn’t take no for an answer, and I was so incredibly grateful for it. (Don’t tell her, but I might have cried.) There were two problems with that. The first is that I looked more closely into buying the bus ticket because I haven’t taken it in years, and I came to find out that the ticket is actually much more expensive than I originally thought. What I thought was a $15 one way/$30 round trip turned out to be more like $25 one way/$50 round trip, unless you happen to order unpopular times and maybe also you’ll get lucky and your ticket will be $1. It was a whole big mess for which I was not prepared. I had to crawl back to my friend and tell her the amount just got higher. I was actually mortified. Luckily for me, she was perfectly fine with the price change. The second problem, though, is that she gave me a check the day before I went, which happened to be a Sunday, when my bank was closed. I tried to deposit it by the sorcery that is my smart phone’s banking app, but even then, the deposit took until Tuesday morning to actually go through. So I technically possessed the money, but I had no way to access it or use it when I needed it. This would prove to be a major problem.

In the days leading up to Monday, like I mentioned before, I asked around as hard as I could for anyone who would be willing to go with me. On a whim, I asked a friend who I had gone to the city with before, but that I hadn’t ever gone with alone. I said the same thing I said to everyone I asked: “Skip work on Monday and go to NYC with me?” Weirdly enough, her response was “I can’t promise anything right now, but I’m going to say yes.” Which made me pee myself a little. The only condition was that she was just as broke as I was, so she said she would drive me down there and handle gas and tolls and stuff, but that I had to pay for parking, which would be between $28-$35. That, I could handle. But again, she said she couldn’t promise anything, so I tried not to get my hopes up.

It wasn’t until Sunday that she was able to confirm for the following day, and I absolutely lost my damn mind. I was going! I’d have more money than I thought (even though it hadn’t come through yet, but surely it would come before the end of the day, right?)! I was auditioning on Broadway! What in the world was my life coming to?!

Thus it was that Monday morning, at 6:45AM, my friend and I loaded the car up with water and snacks and made our four and a half hour trek down to the Great White Way.

Broadway
But during the day, of course.

____________________________________________________________________________

The plan was simple. Park, locate the place, go fuck around until it was time to check in (this being the part where I changed my shoes and did my hair and makeup), check in/wait/audition, [probably some combination of pee self/cry/vomit,] wander the area for a bit, then leave. The day went more or less exactly like that, but with a few minor differences, which I discuss later.

My friend found a really great garage not far from the area (and she brought a coupon, which is why you should always surround yourself with people who are prepared to go on adventures), and it took us maybe a half hour to find the place. It was about 12:00PM and maybe 90°F at this point. Upon locating the building, I couldn’t help but notice the handfuls of attractive, well-dressed young women lining the street. Maybe “lining” isn’t the right word, because if I didn’t know that the audition were happening, I wouldn’t have even noticed them. They were standing on both sides of the street in small groups, acting casual. I figured (and I wasn’t wrong) that they were just there really early (we weren’t supposed to be there until 1:30, if you recall) and that they were going to just stand there and wait. I decided that was probably a good idea. So I told my friend that I thought I ought to go get dressed right away and then come right back. We found a McDonald’s around the corner and camped out there. [The beautiful thing about that area of the city is that there are maybe a dozen McDonald’s in the Times Square neighborhood alone, and they all let you sit in them or use their bathroom without buying anything. That is a useful tidbit for NY daytrips.]

There was a whole big snafu with the bathrooms not being nearly big enough for me to comfortably change (if you thought I wasn’t going to try to dress the part with an all black outfit and black and white striped stockings, you must not know bout me) and not having a mirror in which to do my makeup, but I solved that problem by proceeding to not give a single fuck. My friend and I parked at a table near the window and I just tried to do my makeup in my phone’s camera. I’m pretty sure it didn’t come out as good as it could have, but I did my best. My friend didn’t even laugh. Progress! [Jackie’s advice: bring your own mirror. Maybe even do your hair and makeup in the car before you get there. The only reason I didn’t is because I didn’t want it to melt off before the audition.]

We then went back to where we had gone before, across the street from the building, under some scaffolding. By then, more people had turned up, such that they were much more obvious now. By happenstance, right at the exact moment I found a place to stand, a young man had come out from the building and started talking to us. He was saying (in what I imagine was his “trying very hard to be polite” voice) that he appreciated that we had come all the way out just for the call, and he appreciated that we were excited and had arrived early, but could we please go away? We weren’t supposed to be there for another hour or so, and not only was it boiling out, but also we could get in trouble for loitering. Needing little more than “go away” as impetus, my friend and I went away. Weirdly enough, many of the other women didn’t leave right away. [Jackie’s advice: leave right away. Do what the casting people say. No, not to endear yourself to them or brown nose, although I suppose it would have similar results. But rather because this is their job. This may be a huge, once-in-a-lifetime thing for you, but this is what they do every single day. They do not have time for your bullshit. They wouldn’t be coming out here and telling you to do something unless someone else were telling them to tell you to do something. Make a PA’s life easier. Just shut up and do what they say. This will be touched on in more detail in the next blog entry.]

My friend and I went for a stroll. We didn’t have anywhere in mind. As she said when we were originally making plans, “It’s New York! How boring could it be?” We found ourselves all over. The Toy’s R Us, a Payless (she used to work at one and she has two weddings coming up, so shoes were on her mind), a few dorky souvenir shops. The really weird thing is, it felt like the entire city was singing the same song. Everywhere we went, there would be a beautiful girl on a street corning, and if you leaned in close, you’d hear her singing the end of the Wizard and I. I found myself looking around at all the people (and there were so many people!) that we passed, and wondered how they could possibly go about their day. Didn’t they know there was an open call for a Broadway show? Why weren’t they there?! And then, of course, I remembered that I wasn’t even there, and that, even in New York, people do occasionally do other things with their lives.

I decided I wanted to return a little early, so we went back to the building. I very distinctly recall that it was 1:26PM when I got back to where I was supposed to be, because that’s when the doors to the building opened and a small group of people carried out some tables. It was around this point that it occurred to me that I wouldn’t make it living in New York. I don’t know why, but I expected an orderly queue to go down the street, complete with PA’s running up and down the line giving out name/number tags and collecting resumes.

That’s not what happened.

Instead, like some kind of herd, all the women at the exact same time, darted across the street (which was live, with cars actively driving down it!) and formed a mob around the table. I was kind of impressed, actually. After a moment of hesitation, I joined them.

Artist’s rendering.

This next part is one of the most interesting facets of the audition process, in my opinion. It made me wish I had majored in sociology. As I joined the mob group, I noticed that among the women literally pushing and shoving each other to get to the table, there was barely any sound. Oh, the women were grunting, of course, but there was no intermittent “move,” or “watch it,” or “get out of my way,” as I expected. There was instead a very delicate, very feminine symphony of “ouchies,” and “excuse me,” and “wow, so many people!” I almost laughed out loud. Here was this unruly mass of wriggling bodies fighting to get the center just to grab a little slip of paper and fight their way back out again, at an event that many would consider one of the highlights of their lives, and all the could do was fall into that learned pattern of submission and politeness? Mind you, I’m non-violent. Even if I thought it would win me the role, I wouldn’t harm a hair on any of their heads, or even start being rude to them. That’s just not how I do it. (Another good reason why I probably wouldn’t make it in the Big City.) But I’m frankly shocked that there weren’t fistfights breaking out, or at the very least some pointed threats. It gave me a lot to think about. [In case you were curious, the girl-itude that stuck out to me the hardest was when one particular young woman fought her way to the center of the group but then couldn’t find her way out again. In a moment of what I assume was frustration, she burst out into song with “Let me out! Let me out!” to the tune of “Let It Go.” I felt a strange mixture of feelings at that moment.] [Jackie’s advice: just get in and get out. Don’t push, don’t shove, don’t say anything (unless it’s “Sorry” for when you step on someone’s foot or something). Just get your slip and get the hell out of the way. It isn’t about you.]

Guess what you can do about people getting in your way in line?

As it turns out, I got an amazing time slot, 2:50PM, which made me feel much better about the parking situation (they charge by a certain number of hours; if my slot was too late, we wouldn’t have been able to use the coupon and the price of parking would nearly triple). My friend and I went away again. We stopped at yet another McDonald’s and filled out my paperwork [Jackie’s advice: neatly, with a fine ballpoint pen, and in all capital letters, with an asterisk next to anything confusing]. Upon closer inspection of my paperwork, I noticed that they clarified what the music cut was. It was not only a different place in the music (measure 138, not measure 117), but it was also a different lyric, which ended up being, you guessed it, what I originally thought it was. Oops. Luckily for me, I’m flexible, so I wasn’t too thrown by that new development. I was, however, a bit nervous because I hadn’t practiced that bit before. What if they judged me for singing it like the recording, the only way I knew how? Oh well. I didn’t exactly have time to fix it. My audition was in less than an hour.

After that, my friend and I wandered some more, ducked into this or that store for a little bit of air conditioning (I don’t know why, but I very distinctly remember that the last  store we went into before my audition was this beautiful Forever 21), and then went back to the building. I was supposed to report back 5 minutes before my slot, but not a moment sooner. We wandered up and down the block for a few minutes until it was the right time. The last thing I did before going up was change my shoes. I didn’t want to tire myself about by wandering up and down the city in heels.

As it is, I was actually almost late for my elevator. You see, I thought I was the only one with my time slot. I wasn’t. There were probably more like 20 of us all for the same time slot, and we all had to be ferried up by elevator and organized into neat lines by color of slip. (Mine was green. Others were pink.) I mistakenly assumed that they gave us that time slot to prevent us from arriving too early, not too late, so I purposely waited until about a minute later than I was told to arrive. [Jackie’s advice: be detail oriented. If they say 2:50PM to arrive at 2:45PM, be in the area 10 minutes early, but be where you need to be at the exact time you need to be there.]  But I did manage to get to where I needed to go, at nearly the right time.

About the elevator, though. More girl stuff I don’t understand. They managed to stuff a bunch of us, plus the elevator guy, plus the (what I assumed was the) PA into this tiny little elevator and they brought us up 10 flights, which as you can imagine is not a quick trip. Everyone was getting kind of nervous and the close quarters didn’t help the awkwardness at all. The thing I’ve noticed about actors, especially female-presenting actors, is that they are usually very interested in reaching out and talking to others when they are put in a position to be around strangers. One of them in the corner, a young blonde, fairly tall woman, started joking around with the elevator man. Was he being paid extra for this? Was he happy to be surrounded by beautiful women all day? The PA made a joke about how his extra compensation was that he was allowed to audition, and the elevator burst into fake laughter. “He’s already got the part, girls,” one woman said between laughs. “We can all go home now.” I tried desperately to keep a straight face and not roll my eyes.

Maybe I don’t understand how these things work. After all, I’m not a working professional, and I probably didn’t get the gig. But that sort of thing has always irritated me. Yes, be friendly. Yes, be charming and sociable. No, don’t brown nose. It makes you look like a vapid yes-man. But of course, what do I know? I’m just some chick from Boston. [Jackie’s advice: never assume you know what is the exact right thing to do at an audition, and certainly never tell others they are doing it wrong. Unless you’re the one giving the audition. And maybe even then.]

Anyway, after a few agonizing minutes, we arrived at the correct floor and got out. PA’s attempted to sort us into lines, which of course didn’t go well. No one was properly listening and no one seemed to know what color slip they had. [Jackie’s advice: work the other side of the table every so often. When you’re the one who has to work with the actors instead of work as one, you will quickly learn what kind of behavior is acceptable and what kind of behavior will make the PA wish they hadn’t come in that morning.]

They finally got us sorted into lines, we handed in our headshots and resumes, and were sorted into another set of lines. At this point, I did make a gaffe, and I almost didn’t mention it here, but if I’m going to be insanely detailed about everything else, I might as well talk about it. My voice teacher pointed out to me that they might assume I can’t dance because I’m fat, so I decided to take a second resume with me. One for acting with my real people headshot, another for dance with a live performance shot. Seemed legit to me. As I walked up to the woman collecting our paperwork, I fully intended to say “I’d like to give you my dance resume as well.” I thought it would convey a little bit of control without giving them the option of saying no. Something I picked up at the call center. Instead, what came out was “Is it alright if I give you two resumes?” Oof. After backpedaling as hard as possible and seeing the look on her face, I just left it alone and got in line. An hour of planning and $3.00 at Staples down the drain just like that.

From what I could see, there were 3 or 4 lines going at the same time, all leading into a different studio area. It was about as efficient as this process could possibly get. I remember thinking that I was pretty jealous that they just had this studio space that they could use whenever they wanted.

Speaking of first thoughts. The first thing I noticed were all the posters on the wall. The place was (almost literally) wallpapered with posters and playbills from what I assumed were all the shows that this particular agency had cast. If I had been a little bit less prepared for this event, it would have made me feel incredibly intimidated. It kind of does when I think back on it. I also remember passing a few people who were very clearly not there for the audition (a lot of men, mostly) who were sitting on these kind of cushioned islands spaced intermittently, which our lines were wound around. I wondered what they were doing there. Not in a bad way or anything. I just wondered what brought them there, and what they would be doing. I found myself looking at all the PA’s, mostly young women around my age, mostly white, and I wondered how they got that job. I wondered if they were actors, too, and if working that job would eventually bring them closer to the stage. I wondered about a lot of things that day, but none of it got resolved.

As the line I was in got shorter and shorter, I tried to distract myself from the impending event, and the knowledge that I probably didn’t sufficiently warm up or anything (because I’m a perfectionist, you see, and nothing I do is good enough). There was a very talkative woman in line directly in front of me (who I must admit I judged at first because she was wearing a t-shirt, jean short shorts, and flip flops; let me clarify, I don’t care if you wear those things regularly, I just didn’t think it was acceptable audition attire) who I learned was actually on vacation from the Netherlands with her sister and found out that the audition was happening while they were already here. Which made me feel terrible for judging her, being that she didn’t really have another choice in attire. Her sister was there as well, but she was in another line. The woman behind me had flown out all the was from the West Coast where she attended a performing arts college. She was apparently going into her senior year. I don’t remember much about her. Just that she had dark curly hair, she was very excited, and at one point, she said “This is the moment I have been waiting for my whole life.” I had somewhat mixed feelings about that sentiment.

The line was getting shorter. I used the last few moments before I went to collect my thoughts. Through the wall, I could hear some girls singing, but not others, so the studios were mostly soundproof but not totally. They were doing some interesting things vocally in there, but I tried not to dwell on it. I confirmed that they were in fact singing from the place we all agreed upon (“And I’ll stand there with the Wizard…”). It was at this point that I felt like I had something of an “in,” because about 2 years ago, I attended one of my voice teacher’s audition workshops. While there, we watched a video of a demo audition that took place at a voice teacher’s conference, run by some Big City casting agents, showing what they were looking for in a potential cast. One of the things they mentioned was that at these cattle call auditions, you aren’t supposed to introduce yourself like you would at a smaller audition. If you walk up there and begin with “Hello, my name is….” they will automatically assume you have no idea what you’re doing. So that was one piece of information I already knew before going in, which would have really thrown me off if I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to do it. I probably shouldn’t have, but I made sure to tell the girl behind me.

And then, sooner than I would have thought, it was my turn. The girl from the Netherlands came out of the room, the PA smiled at me, and then said “You can go in now.”

Scroll Here
…if you only want to read about the actual audition experience. Stop at the black line.

I opened the door and walked inside.

I was a little disoriented at first because I had been peeking in when people opened the door to enter or leave, but I was only able to see the hardwood floors, the white walls, and the big windows letting in tons of sunlight. I had thought the table would be in front of the windows, but upon walking in, it was actually off to my left, and the piano was practically behind the door. I wouldn’t have even bothered mentioning such a negligible detail, accept that it almost threw me off before I even did anything.

I made sure to smile as soon as I walked in, just like I was taught. I closed the door quietly behind me, because that just seemed polite. As I spun around, I was delighted to see the very same young man who had come out onto the street earlier behind the table, alone. That actually made me feel a bit more comfortable because at least I felt like I already knew him a little. He wasn’t a total stranger. That, and he was pleasant-looking, not very intimidating. I partly credit my performance to him making me feel comfortable. He said “Hello, Jacquelyn.” I don’t remember what I said back. I assume it was “Hello there.”

In any case, I kept smiling and walked to the center of the room (there is usually an X to mark the spot; in this case, there wasn’t) and waited until he had finished shuffling through paperwork. He found all my stuff, looked up, and said “Alright, Jacquelyn, let’s get started.” I said “Alright,” and started to sing.

I can barely remember what actually happened while I sang, but a few things crossed my mind:

  • Damn, this whole beginning part basically sounds like the recording. I bet they’ve already stopped listening.
  • Fuck fuck fuck I can barely hear the piano! Damn my easily-blocked ears!
  • Well shit, that key change came out great. I was really worried about squeaky larynx, but it’s not going too bad so far.
  • Argh, spoke too soon. Oh well, it was just one wavery note.
  • Oh good, we’re starting the part I’ve rehearsed. Excellent. Wow, it’s amazing what my body will just do with enough rehearsal. (Because at this point I did something we call “getting out of my own way” in acting class. Meaning I didn’t over-think any of my choices. I just did exactly how I rehearsed it without my conscious brain really operating.)
  • Oh shit, was I off music there? I can’t really tell because my stupid ear is stupid blocked stupid. Oh well. Keep going.
  • Don’t forget, tongue on the back of your teeth during that bridge note…and…nailed it.
  • Oh yay, we’re at the end now. AND IIIIIIIIIII (WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOUUUUUUU BUT DON’T ACTUALLY SING THAT OH MY GOD)! Wait, should I have closed my eyes there? Was that a rookie mistake? No, Idina does that all the time. This is Broadway, hello? This is no time to half ass it.
  • It’s over.

He said thank you. I always understood that to mean “No thank you” in situations like this. That video I saw before insisted that if they wanted to hear more, they’d ask for it. So I heard “thank you” and thought “I didn’t get it.” And you know what? I was ok with that. I mean, not really, because I really, really, really wanted the gig. But I felt kind of at peace in that moment. I heard (what I thought was) him  saying “no thank you,” I knew I did what I could, and I said “Thank you very much.” And I meant that sincerely. Thank you for seeing me. Thank you for hearing me. Thank you. Very much. And then I made for the door.

As I opened it, I heard one of the men say my name again. “Jacquelyn.” And then I shut the door. I have no idea why they said my name again, but it made me smile.

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And now for the awkward dismount.

I left the room, and for some reason, I had no idea what to do next. I saw other women come out of the rooms before, but I somehow missed what the did or where they went. I wondered if some people were being asked to stay, or if they just automatically knew where to go after that. I did not. So I walked up to a PA and (lamely) asked “Do we just…go?” She said yes and quickly told me where to go, but I must have missed something because I somehow got lost. This was not a big suite. It was kind of embarrassing.

I finally figured out where I was supposed to go, and I waited in silence for the elevator to come back up. It was not a very big elevator, so only about 5 women could take it at a time. As I started to settle back into real life, I heard the women who had just joined me ask each other how they think it went. “Fine,” one said. “Not too bad.” “I think it went well.”

I remember thinking “But if they didn’t ask us to stay, doesn’t that mean we aren’t in the running anymore?” To which one of them replied “Well, they had to extend the audition by two hours just to see everyone, so…” It confused me deeply that she could hear my thoughts, until I realized I had asked that question out loud. Much less creepy, but distressing in a much different way.

The elevator came. We got in. It went down. We got out. We left the building. I remember waving at the elevator guy on the way out, but I didn’t know why he was sitting at the desk instead of working the entrance elevator. I didn’t think too hard about it. And then I left the building.

I stood around outside waiting for my friend, until I remembered that they asked us not to loiter before or after our audition, so I wandered around a little while.

I am having a really hard time remembering exactly what happened after I left. I don’t remember feeling out of it at the time, but I must have been. I remember it feeling dreadfully normal. And yet here I am, having very few memories of what happened after. All I remember is my friend and I wandering for a bit longer, me not feeling like changing back into my sneakers, and then finally me suggesting we go to Dallas BBQ, which is a New York City tradition for us.

My friend saved the day again when she offered to pay for more than her share of dinner and cover parking after all. I felt tremendously embarrassed that I had to rely on her, but then if I were her, I would have helped me out too. (Don’t worry, when we had the money, we made sure to get her $50 for her effort. Not soon enough, in my humble opinion, but we do what we can.)

We had this really fun server, but I wasn’t able to catch her name. She called us “love” and dear,” and she was super adorable. Between her, my friend ranting about work (which is one of my favorite types of conversation to have), the view from the upper floor, and the Captain America specialty drink, it was a great way to wind down.

Captain America
This is the Captain America. They have a different specialty drink every time I go. Don’t tell them, but I totally steal those little test tubes.

Somehow, through some magic or other, we ended up back at the car. My friend used her final trick (via her couponing skills) to make the parking fee go down by over half. Then we drove back home.

In between listening to musical soundtracks and chatting about what we want to do the next time we come back, I got a phone call from a Massachusetts number I didn’t recognize. I answered it. It was Boston Casting offering me a job as an extra on the film Central Intelligence for the next two days. Of course I took it right away, sight unseen. That was an interesting experience. Coming away from an audition and getting another job on the way home. It was nearly as satisfying as if I had gotten the Wicked gig, which is to say, pretty fucking satisfying.

But that is a story for the next entry…

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Part 2: 6 Things Never To Do As a Film Extra

Part 3: A-co-lyte: n. A Person Who Assists A Celebrant In a Religious Service

And for the record, I still haven’t heard back from them, so I’ll go ahead and assume I didn’t get it. That’s show business, kid.

A presto,

JW

I’m A Perfectionist (Apparently)

This one is going to be short, because I just want to check in before the craziness that is this coming month.

I would like to begin by saying that I fought this idea the idea that I might be a perfectionist, for a very long time. To me, it seemed like that a perfectionist was a person who had their shit a bit more together than I do. You know the type. The kind who meets deadlines, with perfectly immaculate hair and clothing, the kind who never misses an appointment or is late for a meeting. They may or may not hold others to the same standard to which they hold themselves. They find themselves in leadership positions because they can’t handle of someone else’s protocol. Not to mention the state of their home. (Perfect, obviously.)

Conversely, I’ve always had very little control over my environment or myself. It’s always bothered me somewhat acutely that I couldn’t have things the way I wanted them, but that’s just kind of how it goes when you don’t have the time or the money to fix it. My hair is always a mess, my clothes don’t match, I have terrible skin, and, though I try to be 15-30 minutes early for most things, it’s not always possible, and I am occasionally exactly on time or even 5-10 minutes late. In my mind, a perfectionist would never allow themselves to be less than perfect, and if such a thing were to happen…well, I guess I never got that far.

Perfectionists

Anyway, I existed in that way pretty much for my whole life. It wasn’t until a few years ago, when I started dating my current partner, Patrick, that I was presented with the idea that I might be the dreaded P-word. He called me it in passing, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world.

“What do you mean, ‘Perfectionist’?” I asked him.

“I mean,” he started. “Haven’t you ever noticed?”

He then listed off some reasons.

  • When faced with the inability to do something perfectly, I don’t do it at all. I’d rather never start something than turn out a shoddy product.
  • I get unreasonably panicked if there is a chance of being even 1 minute late for something.
  • I somehow have both a “fuck ’em all” attitude and care immensely what others think of me.
  • I tend to focus more on the details than on the big picture.
  • And I cant’t emphasize this enough: I just straight-up won’t do something if I think I can’t do it well.

This behavior has changed somewhat since I’m come to recognize it for what it is. That took much longer than I would have thought, though. Patrick directed my attention to it years ago, but it wasn’t until maybe a few months ago that I accepted it to be the truth. As Jason Pargin (AKA David Wong from Cracked) said in one of the last episodes of the Cracked Podcast, “Most people don’t come quietly to the truth. They have to be dragged away from their own beliefs kicking and screaming.”

But now that I do know, how am I supposed to deal with it? Being that I perform, I definitely have the “opportunity” (as I saw on The Office once, “an opportunity is the name you give to something you don’t really want to do.”) to address my need for perfection every time it comes up. Some days, it’s enough to start from the outside (“Today, I’m just not going to get the hang of this, and that’s ok. I’ll try again tomorrow.”) but some days I have to work a little harder.

Performing is wonderful, and it is something I love. But sometimes I get so wrapped up in the “right way” to do things and all the logistics involved that it leeches all the fun out of it. What’s the point of performing or producing or writing if it’s no fun? And that’s why I need to keep an eye on it. I need to kill my insecurities, or be killed by them.

And just in time, too. I’ve got too much shit to do.

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Thanks for reading! Here’s a quick rundown of what I’ve been up to:

  • The Xena Quest is coming along really well. I just finished Season 1 of Xena and Season 2 of Hercules, I’m almost through with reading The Art of War, I’ve almost reached my inverted incline plank goal of 60 seconds (my best time is 55 seconds!) and when I do, I can move on to steeper inclines (or just go full vertical, whichever is easier). I have been running irregularly thanks to my bestest friend and her gym membership, but I hope to get on a more regular schedule soon. And last but not least, I plan on doing the Mudderella run this year. It’s not official yet, since I haven’t paid the registration fee, but I have the makings of a team and a training schedule. Not too shabby.
  • I have some events coming up soon, and they are all incredibly exciting! Take a look in the sidebar for more information. I hope to see you there!
  • I’m officially a work study at The Dance Complex in Cambridge. If you’re a student there (or want to be), be on the lookout for your resident studio cleaner!
  • This next part is a little NSFW. I’ve already had a profile on FetLife for a few years now, but I drifted away from it for personal reasons. I recently decided to come back to it, and I’m looking to build a nice, supportive community for myself there. So if you’re on there, feel free to give me an add at fiddleronthmoon. No funny business, though.
  • More vague than I’d like, but there you go. Several of my productions are coming along nicely behind the scenes, but there’s not enough to go into right now.
  • I’m going to start creating a monthly newsletter outlining my plans for the next two months. Be sure to subscribe, and keep an eye out for that.

 

What have you been up to lately? And what gets under your skin?

 

A presto,

JW

“I Have Many Skills…” or, The Xena Quest

[DISCLAIMER: Hopefully you don’t need me to tell you that I don’t own Xena or Hercules or anything Renaissance Pictures has produced, and in fact have absolutely nothing to do with them either way. No copyright infringement is intended.]

Well hello there, intrepid fans and awesome people. I wish I could write more frequently than once a month, but I apparently lack the ability. I don’t know why. Maybe I’m just not that interesting? I don’t know. Either way, I appreciate you tuning in when I can manage to get a post written. It means the world to me.

Which brings me to the topic du jour: Have you ever seen Xena: Warrior Princess? You know, that campy spinoff of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys that lesbians really love? They both used to air back in the 90’s and then they were in syndication for awhile, and then at some point, they spawned a prequel called Young Hercules, a kid’s show starring a teenage Ryan Gosling (who is unfairly dreamy in it). Well, some of you may know that I have this…thing…with chronology. As in, I need to watch all the parts of a thing in the order in which it was intended to be viewed, or else I feel uncomfortable. I didn’t do a lot of TV watching in the 90’s as a result (I watched a ton of cartoons and stuff, but I couldn’t watch things like Buffy), and I never experienced more than a passing glance at the aforesaid camp. Now that the internet is a thing, however, I can watch whatever I want in whatever order I want, no matter how obscure. Which means, in a roundabout way, it’s catch-up time.

I’m not quite sure when it happened, but a few years ago, someone showed me an article about Etruscan warrior women and it had a (really, really great) picture of Xena attached. My immediate first thought was “Oh my God, I love Xena!” before I realized I had never actually seen most of the series. I just knew who she was through social context. I decided that I should watch the series the only way I knew how: by looking up a suggested viewing order and following it. Now, because Xena is part of a bigger universe, the order I chose starts at the chronological beginning, with Young Hercules, through Hercules TLJ, and then TLJ and Xena kind of alternate. I intended to watch it all the way through.

What can I say? I’m a bit crazy.

I’ll be real, though, it’s kind of a lot to take in. I’m on my second time trying to get through it. The first time I tried was while I was in Italy. I got halfway though Hercules TLJ and only a relatively little ways into Xena itself. (That can be blamed in part on the terrible reception involved in getting the episodes, which could only come 4 at a time, most of the time.) I’m now giving it another go, and I’m still about halfway through the Young Hercules phase. I anticipate getting through the whole running order and probably watching the whole thing again in the future.

But why? you’re probably justifiably asking. Why even bother?

Well, because of the Xena Quest, of course.

xena

Oh hey, look. I tied in the title. I probably should have started with that, actually. Oh well. Better late than never, I guess.

Way back when my friend sent me that article and I remarked that I inexplicably loved Xena, that same friend told me that I seemed like Xena. After all, I was a strong woman and I reminded her of some of the other strong women she looked up to. And to that end, I also kind of looked like her. After all, I had brown hair with bangs, blue eyes, and I was almost 6 feet tall. And you know, come to think of it, I might as well be  Xena.

I decided to oblige her.

xena2

Admittedly, I did it for myself, too. I had never seen the show, but everyone knows who Xena is. She’s a strong woman warrior who takes no shit and has many skills. Who wouldn’t want to be that?

At this point, though, I wanted to point out that I had no intention of actually changing anything to look more like her. I have something of a sensitivity about my weight and my entire history up until this point (childhood bullying, a lifetime of being told nothing but how fat I am, rebelling against The System that has decided I’m “less than” because I have a fat body) has made it so that even just the idea of losing weight is almost traumatic to me. Seriously. I cry sometimes. So before anyone asks what my goal weight is or anything like that, just know it’s not really like that. I want to focus more on the learning and the skills. I have a natural aptitude for that, and I want this quest to lift me up, not make me feel like a failure. I’m aware that learning these things may alter my body just by virtue of moving it more and using it differently, and I am totally A-OK with that. I look forward to it, in fact. It’s not the idea of my body changing that scares me. Believe me, I’ve pined for a thinner body many a pre-pubescent night. It’s the idea that someone is making me change my body that upsets me. As though I’m doing it for somebody else. That does not sit well with me. I love my body no matter what, and that means that when it gets thinner and more muscular, I will love it then, too.

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It’s times like this that I get down on my knees and thank the gods, so to speak, for the internet. Thanks to the internet, I was able to find that suggested viewing order I mentioned above, all the episodes of all the shows, including the super-obscure and hard-to-find pilot-features not available on the streaming programs, several well-compiled wikis with all the information I could ever want on every character, episode, and reference, and, most importantly, a list of every talent Xena exhibits throughout the entire series.

The first time I looked at the list o’ skills, I was pretty sure I could actually hit most things on it. Granted, some of the things on it are physically impossible (growing extra limbs, being a shaman, rising from the dead, etc.) but everything else seemed a crash course away from reality. I took up handstands during my first go at the Quest (while I was overseas) and I realized that just a handstand, never mind all the other acrobatics I wanted to try, would take anywhere from 6 months to a year, if and only if I practiced like a motherfucker to get there. I’m not afraid of hard work, mind you. Never have been. But I am acutely aware of the fact that none of us have that long on this Earth and I always worry about wasting time I don’t have. (I’m aware that time will pass anyway. I never said it was a logical fear.) Not to mention that some are doable, but more trouble then they’re worth…

Xena1

Yeah. Like that one.

And yet, with all that, here I am doing it again. Only this time, I’m narrowing down the list and only choosing two or three of the more memorable attributes. I think ultimately what I’d like to do is be able to make appearances as her. I’d love to get myself a battle costume, go to a convention, and be able to bust out a standing backflip anytime I wanted. But that’s more of a “cross that bridge when we get to it” kind of vision. So what bridge am I at now?

I’m glad I asked.

What I’d like to focus on right now and for the following year or so is this:

  • (The obvious precursor is a general sense of well-being. I’m not going to go straight into all this stuff without feeling like I can handle it. I, however, get to decide what that means for me.)
  • Acrobatics – For me, this means just handstands for right now. I want to reassess when I get to the full handstand, but right now, I’d love to move on to things like flips and splits.
  • Dance – Strictly speaking, Xena isn’t a master dancer, but she has done some dancing in a handful of episodes, and dancing is very important to me in my own life. That’s where I’m starting. I’m already taking ballet lessons at The Studio: A Dance Center for Adults (and soon, hopefully Belly Dance with Katie from Vadalna!). The fella has also agreed to get me a membership to Datura Online, where Rachel Brice will be able to kick my butt from the comfort of my own home.
  • Martial Arts – I learned that all the actors studied a type of kung fu for the show, but that, had Xena actually lived, there would have been a martial arts technique available to learn in Greece during that time. I’m not terribly interested in learning how to do the two-men-enter-one-man-leaves dance, so kung fu it is. After I get a bit more financially on my feet and have got the dancing stuff under my belt, I plan on going to Bruce McCorry’s in Peabody. This will include hand-to-hand and then will (hopefully!) eventually turn into sword work as well.
  • Yoga – I think she only does this in one episode or so, but I think yoga is a very important part of being healthy. It’s a different approach to health. The quieting of the mind, the lengthening of the spine, the ritual, etc. I’ve already been doing it (badly) for years, but I always come back to it.
  • Singing – She only sings when she feels moved. As singing is a big part of my life and I’ve already had a little bit of training, I don’t plan on training in it right now. I’d love to go back to training with my amazing teacher Linda Balliro, but I will have to put it off until later in the quest. Time and money are factors. But know I’ll be singing and thinking of Xena!
  • Military Tactics and Education – This one isn’t on the list, but I thought it was important as I watched the first few seasons during the first Quest. She has studied war both on the field and on paper. I’m generally a peaceful person and I’m very much not a warlord. I think to really understand how brilliant a warrior has to be, I need to study tactics. I have a copy of The Art of War, and I’m hoping to also get myself a copy of Henchmen of Ares.
  • The costume! – Enough said.

The first step, as I mentioned above, is a general sense of well-being. I’d like to address that for a second. First thing’s first, I need to get back into running (for the endurance factor, and because I find it the most zen of exercises). One of my rather dreamy goals for this year is to do the Mudderrella obstacle run in October. I’m not sure I’d be able to get myself in shape by then, but it doesn’t offend my brain as an end goal, and I think the idea of a sporting event designed to be a safe space for women is just peachy.

I’ve already began a small feel-good ritual just to get my creaky bones moving in the morning: I do a short wrist warmup I learned from Gold Medal Bodies, followed by a 5 minute Sun Salutation more or less every morning. I try to follow it immediately with handstand practice, but sometimes I’m starving by this point and can’t wait to eat any longer. Handstand practice is comprised of me doing inverted wall planks while checking my posture and breathing and seeing how long I can hold it for. Right now, my top time is 25 seconds. Once I get to 60, I can work on making the incline steeper, until I’m fully inverted. I might start adding some regular floor planks to my ritual (as one of the awesome people at Theatre KAPOW is doing), but I haven’t done that yet. I’m trying to be easy on my poor wrists, which have both been badly broken in the past.

And that, ladies, gents, or whatever you are, is the Xena Quest. To recap: watch Xena, be a badass, learn skills. It’s like it was made for me.

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Thanks for sticking around until the end! I realized halfway through the writing of this entry that I never officially announced that I have recently been invited to be a guest member of Vadalna Tribal Dance Company! Here’s proof! This is a big part of the reason why I am really stoked about getting back on track here. I’ve been noticing that my body doesn’t like the cold weather, what with all the old injuries flaring up and the not wanting to leave the house because I’m afraid I’ll slip down the stairs and all that. I know I say this a lot, but I really need to get back on track, especially with some of the projects I’m hoping to be a part of this year. I really don’t want my body acting stupid to be the reason I get left behind.

With that said, I have some great things coming up! I’ll be acting in Punishment Without Revenge by Lope de Vega with the Upstart Crows of Salem, and I’m working on 3 or 4 things I hope to get produced sooner rather than later. These things are:

  • a weekly or monthly open mic
  • a podcast production of The Last Flight of Victor Zoran, a radio play I wrote. We’re still looking for sponsors, if you’s like to advertise with us! Send us an email at fiddleronthmoon@gmail.com.
  • a super secret show I’m not ready to talk about, but I promise it’s happening soon.
  • getting my shanty group, Letters of Marque, off the ground and back in the dirt where it belongs.

What about you? What are you questing for?

 

With all my love,

A presto,

JW

Auguri di Buon Anno; or, The Year of the Lists

Happy New Year, so to speak. I hope it’s been treating you well so far. I’m not usually one to do the resolution thing because I find they never work and I find that true change needs to come from necessity. Not to be too “nose up” about it, of course.

Let me tell you a little about what has been going on over the holidays.

  • I lost my job due to my personal health issues.
  • I’ve been looking for muggle work, but without much hope.
  • In the interim I have been focusing on theatre, art, dancing, and writing.
  • It is still taking up so much of my time that I have no idea how I managed it before.

Seriously. I don’t know what the deal is. Maybe I’m just filling whatever time vacuum I have with art and that’s why it feels longer? Maybe I’m just painfully slow? I don’t know. Either way, the first thing I did (after assembling the massive backlog of projects I had shoved off to the back burner) was tackle the murder mystery party I wrote for my friends for our New Year’s Eve party. (If you are interested and would like me to write a murder mystery party for you, too, please inquire!) The theme was time travel and everyone chose a historical figure to play. I gave myself (and the lovely and wonderful Lakiah, without whom I would still be writing it) 3-ish weeks to write it, which should be more than enough time. Even when I was writing and researching all day into the night, it still took us right up until the day of to get it done. It took just an impossible amount of time to do. But, I’m told, a good time was had by all, so that makes it worth it in the end.

I’ve also given myself a few goals, but I don’t think of them as New Years’ resolutions. While I was working, I told myself that I would do X, Y, and Z, if only I had the time, which of course is what all working people say. And then I left my job and suddenly I had all this time on my hands. It just so happened that it fell just after the holidays but right before the new year. Normally, I try to give myself specific goals (as NerdFitness says, “that which can be measure, can be changed”), but this time around, I can’t seem to find anything specific. I did some “soul searching” (if you want to call it that) and I was literally just…unable to find an actual tangible thing to work up to, like I had in the past. Handstand? I’ll live if I don’t do that. Lose weight? Nahh. Produce X amount of work? I don’t think so. In the end, I was only able to find “general” and “more specific” goals for the foreseeable future. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

General:

  • Produce good work
  • Love my body, and myself
  • Show people I love them more
  • Consume good work
  • Figure out what beauty is
  • Keep Moving. <—-This one turned out to be the one I’m holding onto the hardest to get me through.

More Specific:

  • Keep at the yoga (I do a sun salutation every morning, which started by accident), and then make it harder.
  • Sign up for a race. Aspire to the Spartan Race eventually.
  • When one project ends, start another immediately.
  • When you see something wrong, fix it.
  • Get a job, or not.

I’m very privileged (in general and) in that I have the luxury to decide if I want to work right t this moment. In my situation, it would be better if I had a job because bringing in money would be the best thing for me to do. With the money I would be bringing in, I could pay for lessons, pay my student loans, buy pretty dresses (which is something 7 year old Jackie would never stand for), and generally just have Patrick’s back when shit gets rough, as well as feeding the all-important Savings Monster. Patrick has told me, even a shitty part-time job would take some of the edge off.

But you know, the more time I spend with myself and examine my actual health and well-being, the more I wonder if I am even cut out for working in the real world. I haven’t been diagnosed officially yet (because, shocker, it’s hard to go see a shrinky-dink when you can’t afford her rates), but I undoubtedly have some kind of unholy combination of old spinal injuries that never healed/anxiety/depression/suicidal thoughts and tendencies/unresolved grief/PTSD (actually, I lied, that last one was diagnosed) and it makes it extremely difficult to function in normal people society. I heard a good friend of mine, a woman who is disabled but able-bodied-presenting, once say the following:

If you’re disabled when you do things you don’t like, but you can do things you do like just fine, then you’re not really disabled. You’re just uncomfortable.

I suppose, in the end, that I should take her word for that, being that she is the disabled one, but I can’t say as I agree wholeheartedly. In my experience, I find that I have a tremendous amount of difficulty motivating myself to do even those things I love and couldn’t live without (auditioning, dancing, writing, cooking, etc) but that I find it easier to motivate myself through love than through any other medium. It’s much easier for me to force myself to play guitar because it makes me happy than it it is to force myself to go to work which makes me actively unhappy, but I really must emphasize that none of it is ever actually easy.

I’ve told Patrick before that it’s not that I want everything served up to me on a silver platter. It would be nice, but I certainly don’t want that. Everyone needs a challenge to grow and develop as a human person. But you know what would be great? If maybe one thing weren’t so tough. I’m trying to avoid being melodramatic here, but please bear with me for a moment. Because of the injuries I sustained as a very clumsy child, I’m in searing pain every moment of every day. Getting out of bed literally hurts to do and, like every normal human, I have to do it every morning. The yoga helps very minimally, in that it’s keeping one small but persistent kink in my shoulder at bay for the moment, and I’m told that generally “being more active” will “help” with the pain. “Help,” not “heal” or “stop.” Just “help.” Which means, in Layman’s terms, that in order to avoid a life of Pain Level 7, I must force myself to be in Pain Level 9 for a little bit every day in the hopes that one day I will be living at Pain Level 5 or below. Forever.

If you know me very well, you might know that I hate the concept of “forever.”

But I didn’t want to get into that particular discussion today. I apologize. (Although, on a more personal note, I am going to be going back to therapy soon and seeing if I qualify as being legally “disabled.” I would much rather not be disabled, of course, but I very well may be. In any case, I need to consult a professional before I go around labeling myself.)

Moving on.

_______________________________________________________________

Above, we discussed the idea of working.  Having a job and all that. But what actually is “working”? I ask because, shortly before losing my job, I started making a list on the first page of my brand new notebook that I bought for just this occasion. The list was titled “Jobs for an Artist.” It had bullet points like:

And on and on it went. But art is a full-time job, I began to think to myself. Why can’t I just do that? On the next page, I made another list. It was titled “My Day as a Working Artist.” It had a sort of chronology for how my “work day” was going to go from start to finish. I won’t replicate it here, because it’s a bit naive, if I do say so myself, but more or less it consisted of:

  • Wake up
  • Eat and work out
  • Work
  • Apply for work
  • Do chores
  • Work some more
  • Pick up Pat and take the evening off. Weekends off as well, unless something was planned for that day.

What even is a working artist? What even is work? Now, I ask that you don’t think me so naive that I somehow made it to this point in my life without realizing that art doesn’t pay. I know it doesn’t. I also know that sometimes, it does.

I met a woman in college who described herself as a “working actor.” I don’t remember her name, which an old teacher of mine joked meant that she must not be very good, but I believe it was Katherine. She was giving a talk to us in my freshman year, so naturally I was too dumb to know what a good question was, and I wasted it on a dumb embarrassing one that I don’t even remember. Someone else had the good sense to ask about her daily schedule. What is it like to be a working actor? What does your day look like? At that moment, this look crossed her face that I’ve never forgotten. She looked exhausted, frankly, and like she wasn’t too enthusiastic about what she was going to tell us next. Again, I don’t really remember what exactly she did with her day, but she was a member of a musical in residence in Boston where she sang and danced in the chorus, and I think she also said that she was teaching and giving talks all over the area. The way she described it, she was working well over 40 hours a week, taking more or less every gig that came her way, and she was barely making ends meet. I never forgot that, despite how much I forgot the details.

Similarly, I follow Humans of New York on Facebook and I saw one picture not very long ago that really resonated with what I’m trying to say here. The quote associated with the photo was this:

“I’m a classically trained singer in a culture that values classical music less and less.”

I find this to be truer every day. Art is valued less and less as time goes by, but it is still very much needed. Can you just imagine what would happen if one day people just stopped making movies, or television shows, or writing books of magazines, or if they stopped tattooing or illustrating comics or telling jokes? We are so necessary it hurts. We are so very, very needed by our society, and we are needed by ourselves. I’ve tried to give up art. I’m sure most artists have. But we’re in the same boat that most pilots are. We are born with a fire inside us that we can’t ignore. We feel the drive to do whatever form that fire takes (painting, singing, flying a plane, whatever), and everyone takes advantage of us because they know that we must do this, no matter what, pay or no pay.

Then, they demand that we not only do what we do for a pittance, but that we be the best at it, a veritable expert. Being an expert requires classes, years of experience with little or no pay, often promising only “exposure” (Malcolm Gladwell states in his book Outliers that no less than 10,000 hours of practice is required to make you a master of any craft, though the verity of that statement is debated), college degrees, excellent training, connections, appropriate clothes and shoes, taking care of our bodies, the instruments through which we channel these desires, and multitudes of considerations that would be too tiresome to list in full.

And what do we get at the end of it? More often than not, nothing but the satisfaction of having done it. But satisfaction isn’t enough to make a home or raise a family. It’s certainly not enough to pay my student loans, my bachelor’s degree being another theatre-related expense.

So I ask again. What is work? Is art work? Do we deserve to be compensated fairly for our work? What is “fair”? I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot, considering it is now my every day reality. I’ve wondered if it wouldn’t be easier to go back to the patron system, or if there were some kind of government subsidy or something. I don’t know. I’m not an economist. I’m an artist, and I work very hard. I just feel like I deserve to be compensated for making the world a little more beautiful.

________________________________________________________

Thanks for listening to me up on my soapbox like that. I appreciate it. Let me give you a little rundown of some of the things I’ve got on the “Projects To Be Done” list:

  • Practice guitar and make more guitar videos
  • Produce a show with my fledgling theatre company, Mischievous & Troublesome Productions. (Official announcement!)
  • Organize a weekly open-mic
  • Write more. That could really take the form of anything, but I want to write and distribute a few films and plays.
  • I have a small collection of poetry I’m working on, and I’d like to arrange them in book form.
  • I have some costumes I’m working on that need to be finished and photographed, like the patchwork cloak.
  • I’m writing an article that I hope will be accepted by Cracked, one of my favorite websites.
  • I have 4 or 5 auditions lined up for the near future, and hopefully I’ll be telling you I have more shows coming up soon!
  • I want to write and record an album with some friends of mine.
  • I’m working on a handful or practical art projects that use plastic bags and bottles because they make me uncomfortable to throw away.
  • I want to play around with my new tech gear, a quality webcam and USB mic, and see what I can produce with them.
  • Arrange my home play library, make it fully functional to the “public.”
  • Organize my home office, which I hope to think of as my home base.

I think at this point that it’s a good thing I don’t have a job right now because it’s looking like I’ll be real busy! Let me know what you folks want to see from me, and let me know if you want to get involved. I love collaborations.

A presto con amore,

JW

The Woman With A Hundred Names, and A Thousand Stories

Carol Marchese. Virginia Mead. Miss Virginia. ‘Gin. All manner of familiar monikers, and a few curse words thrown in, too. Ma. Nana.

Let me tell you now about my grandmother, my biggest inspiration and my biggest fan. (Excepting, of course, my best friend Lakiah Clarke, who is always down for any dumb idea I might have, and the incomparable Jen Tarr, who will not only go to all my shows, but she’ll go to them twice or three times and then hold an academic discussion afterward. But I’ll talk about them some other time.)

As some of you know, I started a new job about a month and a half ago. My commute was only supposed to be about 45 minutes long, but because this is reality, it’s more like an hour and 20 one way. After the initial panic of being on time and following the GPS had faded, I started drowning the gaping silence that is being alone on the road by listening to podcasts on Soundcloud to pass the time (mostly the Cracked podcast and Adam Tod Brown’s Unpopular Opinion, which you should totally check out).

Normally, my grandmother (who I refer to as Nana) will call me or I will call her every so often. Not once a week, but more or less that. Recently, I had been so busy in my day-to-day life that I had totally lost touch with her. Every time I wanted to call her back, I had to go do something else. Before I knew it, three months had gone by with no word from me. This disconcerted me for obvious reasons. She’s not old, not really. She’s just about to turn 70, but she’s more active even than I am. It’s not like I’m worried that she’ll drop dead at any moment or anything. But I would hate to have the opportunity to call her and talk to her, and then pass it up because I was too busy, only to find out that the unthinkable had happened in the interim. The thought terrified me, but what could I do? It’s not like I could just make time appear where there was none.

So  a few days after I started my training at the new gig, I married those two fears together and, in so doing, killed them both: I call her twice a day (except on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday) and we chat over Bluetooth for about 3 hours during my commute. If you’re wondering what we could possibly talk about during all that time…well, you’ve never met my Nana.

She lives down the Cape in a house that’s been in our family for 70 years. It can get lonely because it’s so far away from everything, but she’s got her own thing going on down there. She works at Wendy’s because social security isn’t enough for her to retire on and she’s survived over a year’s worth of turnover. At the same time, she takes care of a handful of elderly women who are unable to take care of themselves, and she’s done that for most of her life. It makes me wonder who will take care of her when she’s old (which she insists she is not now and never will be). She has not been to many places, but she’s done many things. I could talk about her all day.

One of the funny things about Nana is that she never really talks about herself. Oh, she’ll tell us all about what she’s up to these days, how work was, what’s going on at church and all that. But she never really talks about herself as a person with hopes, dreams, fears, and expectations of her own. That’s the funny thing about our conversations, though. When you talk for 3 hours every day, you run out of pleasantries after awhile.

That goes both ways. I’ve accidentally almost told her about some of the more nuanced complaints in my life, which would not have gone over well, as she isn’t a big fan of politics or sexuality as discussion topics. But still. When you’re done trading anecdotes, sometimes you get into some really deep, really rewarding talk. I’d like to share with you now some of the things I’ve learned about my Nana that she hasn’t necessarily kept hidden, but that just never came up until I asked.

While her stories are many and varied, I would just like to focus on three of them: The Story of the “Gentleman,” That Time I Had to Type Up An Electronic Copy of Her Resume, and The Day Her Husband Left.

Let’s begin.

___________________________________________________________________________

This one came up a few weeks ago.

We were chatting about something or other, as usual, when the subject of my best friend came up. Lakiah has been around for so long that she might as well be one of the grandkids, so when Nana asks about her it’s because she genuinely cares about her and wants to know what’s going on in her life. I told her all about how she’s fine, everything’s more or less ok for her, I’m trying to get her to apply at my job, blah blah blah, and also she’s got all these health problems.

Nana jumped right on that. “Her gallbladder’s acting up again? Why doesn’t she just get it removed?”

“She tried. Every time she goes to the hospital and someone looks at him, he’s perfectly well-behaved.” (Lakiah’s gallbladder had been such a presence in her life that she named it “Steve” and had been referring to him with male pronouns.)

“Well, honey, why don’t they just take it out anyway? She’s obviously in a lot of pain and she keeps getting herself in and out of the hospital.”

“They don’t take her seriously, just like they don’t take you or me seriously.”

“Oh, I see,” she said with a sigh. “They just tell her to lose weight and send her on her way.”

And then we talked about that.

Now, my Nana is not political. Never has been, never will be. Nor is she particularly outspoken on social issues. But she’s a big woman, and she’s been alive for a very long time. For some reason, I never put it together that people must have, at some point or another, disrespected her for her size in the last 70 years. I just never asked.

“Yeah, you know how it is, Nana. Sometimes, people make all kinds of assumptions about fat people, and they think that entitles them to talk badly to us and treat us like we’re second class citizens.”

“Oh, you ain’t kiddin’, honey. I’ve been putting up with that garbage my whole darn life, and it ain’t gonna stop anytime soon, that’s for sure.”

Huh.

“Really?”

“Oh yes. One time when I was in my early 40’s, a gentleman took one look at me, and told me to get in the car, and then drove me right back home.”

“Wait, what? Like, a stranger asked you to get in the car?”

“No, he was my date.”

Wow.

“Wait, back up. Someone agreed to go on a date with you and then backed out when he got a good look at you?” This puzzled me because my Nana is not well-versed in online dating, not to mention this event happened 30-ish years ago. This “Gentleman” either must have known her already, or it was a friend-of-a-friend. It seems strange that he didn’t know what she looked like.

“Yep. He took one look at me, told me to get into his car, and then dropped me back off at my house. Oh, but you know, I did see him some years later. He must have seen me, too, because he was looking away from me just as hard as you please.”

“He was pretending not to see you there?”

“Yep. And that was the last I saw of him.” With the tone she used to say this, she could have been reading me a grocery list. It was like it didn’t bother her at all.

“Don’t you think that’s…odd?”

“Oh no, honey. It happens all the time.”

“To you?”

“Oh, not anymore. A man hasn’t looked at me in years. But it’s happened to us big women since the beginning of time.” If I could, I would have told her that no, it hasn’t. Being fat was actually an attractive feature for some of history, but that’s obviously not what she meant so I let it go.

“Doesn’t that bother you?”

“No, not really.”

“Why not?”

“Because it was his loss, not mine. I’m doing just fine without miserable people. You don’t like me? You can walk on by. I don’t need that sort of nonsense in my life.”

Damn right you don’t, Nana. Damn right you don’t.

___________________________________________________________________________

A few years ago, Nana retired. She had been a preschool teacher for as long as I could remember, but due to health complications, financial trouble, and retirement age rapidly approaching, she decided to try out the retired life and hoped she wouldn’t be hurting too hard for her paycheck.

After a few months, though, it became apparent that social security wasn’t going to cut it and that she was going to have to go back to work. She wasn’t super happy about that, but she’s always had an impeccable work ethic, so that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that there’s no such thing as a written application anymore and she had failed her Basic Computer and Internet Use course for the third year in a row. (Did I mention she was working on her Bachelor’s degree at 64? She was.) That, and we both thought she had finally paid her dues to society and would be allowed to just relax and do her own thing for 20 or so years before she died, but that’s neither here nor there. (I’m a wee bit upset about it. Sue me.) So she called me, her favorite millennial, to come and help her apply to jobs online.

I made the trip down to help her, but I wasn’t optimistic. The last time she had a job before she retired, she had been a preschool teacher living in Lynn, a leftover from when she relocated to take care of my Mom before she died. She quit that job at the end of the school year and then moved back to that family house I mentioned in Onset/Wareham, which is 2 hours away. It’s not like she could just get that job back. I was going to have to find her a brand new job in a place that, while she had found work in schools there for many years, was going to have to be a year-round gig somewhere close enough that she could walk (with her two replaced knees!) just in case her shitty van decided to die, or if she couldn’t afford the gas to get there that day. It was a daunting drive for me, to say the least.

I arrived. We had lunch and caught up a bit. Then she took out her brand new laptop that she had hoped to be able to master and just couldn’t get the knack for. I was caught somewhere between pity that she wasn’t “in on” how great technology has made my life, and minor annoyance that I couldn’t figure out a way to teach her how to open the browser and look for a job. As my teacher friends tell me, it’s hardly ever the fault of the student if the teacher can’t figure out how to teach.

The first thing I did when I got on the computer was search for teaching jobs. That’s the only thing she’d ever done, to my knowledge. She didn’t want to sit next to me while she did it because her feet were acting up, so she was pacing around the kitchen as we talked. Every job I called out, she said no. Instead of asking why not, I just refined my search with what I thought the problem was. Closer to home, different hours, farther south, different requirements. She didn’t care for any of it. So finally, exasperatedly, I said “What do you want to do, then?”

“Anything but teaching,” she said. “I’m done with that.”

“Oh.”

I never imagined that she didn’t like teaching. In my mind, she’d never done anything else. I imagined that she wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t her calling. This was a whole new Nana I was talking to.

“You don’t want to teach anymore?”

“No, not really.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m kind of over that now. Besides, I’m too old. I don’t have to do that stuff anymore.”

I didn’t catch that the first time she said it, but I remembered it later. I moved on.

I started looking into receptionist work, working from home, entry level this or that, but there was just nothing I could find that would satisfy her. She conceded to apply to a few places, though, because, as she told me, she knew she shouldn’t be picky. The only problem was, they needed an electronic copy of her résumé and she didn’t have one yet. Not only was her computer brand new, but she had never needed an electronic copy before. I offered to type it up for her.

She kept it in a folder in a safe in her bedroom, and I momentarily wondered how many other people had been taught to do that in their job prep at school. I took it into the kitchen, and I began to type.

At first, it was easy. Times New Roman, size 12. Name. Address. Etc. The first surprise came when I was putting in her educational history.

“You got your high school diploma in 1977?”

“Yes.”

“Wasn’t Mom born in 1964?”

“She was.”

“You didn’t finish high school?”

“Not right away, honey. You see, when my mother died, my father told me that I was going to have to be the mother now, and that it was my job to take care of my brothers and sisters, and that it was his job to make the money.”

“Your dad told you to drop out of school?”

“Not in so many words. But yeah, I guess so.”

“Why didn’t he just take care of you guys? You know, like a parent?”

“Oh, you know men, honey.” Unnecessary gendering, but whatever. “He would have had no idea what he was doing. Besides, he told me that that’s all I’d be good for, so I’d better start now.”

“Wait, back up. Your father told you that you would raise children all your life and that’s it?”

“No, honey. He told me that I should take care of other people because that’s what I was good for. So I did.”

And she did. All her life, that’s what she did.

I kept typing. She finished her high school diploma well after her last child was born. She was finishing her associates degree in the 80’s, not long before I was born. As the kind of person who finished high school, went right to college, and finished college in 4 years, I wasn’t quite sure how to respond.

I kept typing. It wasn’t really until I got into the early work history that I realized I didn’t know a single thing about my Nana as a person.

“Is this a typo?” The dates looked like they were overlapping. The end date of one job was well after the start of another by a measure of years, and that was true of the entire résumé. I assumed she just typed the dates in wrong.

“Nope.”

“This says you took care of Mrs. Cooke for 4 years, and worked at the factory at the same time.”

“Yes, I did that. And then Mrs. Cooke died in ’76, so I found someone else to do, and I did him until ”78. But of course by then I was teaching.”

“And you were taking care of…Mr. Hess while you were teaching?”

“Yes. Until he died in ’78.”

“Are you telling me that you’ve never worked fewer than 2 jobs at a time…ever?”

“I guess so, yeah. I never really thought about it like that. ”

I couldn’t believe it. I’d never asked before. It had never come up. But this woman has been taking care of her brothers and sisters, her own children, her grandchildren, her preschool kids, and her elderly patients pretty much non-stop for literally her entire life. And at no point was that what she actually wanted to do with that life.

I can’t begin to tell you how angry that made me, and still makes me. My grandmother is a human, with a calling. A “destiny,” if you’re into that. She never even had a chance to explore or realize that part of her life, because man after man, starting with her father, told her that caring for children is all she would ever be good for. I couldn’t control myself. I needed to know.

“So…if you never wanted to teach or take care of people, what is it you want to do?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I don’t think there’s really that much out there for me right now.” But she was lying.

“No, forget that. Forget all of that. If there were no rules, if money were no object, what would you rather be doing right now? What is your dream job?”

She didn’t hesitate, not even for a moment.

“I want to open a bakery.”

Halleluia.

“Not a big one, mind you. Just a small one. I’ve thought about running it out of my kitchen, if I thought the Board of Health wouldn’t have a heart attack…”

She talked about her bakery for another hour or so, stopping only to answer a question or two, and then continuing again. She had clearly thought about this for some time.

“Why haven’t we talked about this before?” I asked.

“I don’t bring it up too much, so that’s probably why.”

“Yes, obviously. But why not?”

“Because I haven’t got the money, honey. Or any idea of what I’m doing. Oh, I wish I would win the lottery! I would spread that wealth around like I don’t even know what…” and suddenly she was onto another topic, and we didn’t talk about it again that day.

I wish I could say that I helped her start up that bakery, and truthfully I tried, but starting a business is not something I am the least bit versed in. I was afraid that we would get taken in, or that she would get financially shafted, or that she would fail and lose everything. I stopped looking into it. Maybe one day, I’ll look again. In the mean time, I’ve encouraged her to work on her menu by inviting her to sell refreshments at my shows whenever I have a say in that. She likes making people happy, just like I do. Her particular brand of happy happens to be baked goods. Mine happens to be performing (and the occasional actual service role). Putting them together seems to make sense.

I still really hope she gets her bakery one day, though. She deserves it.

_______________________________________________________________________________

This entry is already much longer than I intended, and I’m sorry for that, but this story is just too good to pass up. It came up earlier this week on the way to work.

My grandfather died before I was born. I never knew anything about him. In fact, I still know very little about him. I know his name was Frederick Mead, and that he was Irish. I also know that he drank, smoked, that he was less than courteous to the women in his life, and, as my Nana always phrases it, “decided one day that he’d had enough” of their marriage.

That phrasing is very important.

Now, I’ve heard some pretty shady things about this man, but I really can’t stress enough that no one ever talks about him. I assumed it was because no one quite remembers him well enough because he walked out or because they weren’t old enough to have had a relationship with him.  Also, I never asked.

So I was driving to work and I got trapped on The Awful Street (my title for Lowell Street in Peabody, which always has traffic for the high school and if I get stuck on it for more than a minute, I lose reception). Honestly, I can’t even really remember what we were talking about, but whenever I get caught on that street, we prepare ourselves for just in case we get disconnected by talking about something that isn’t very important. In this case, she apologized for talking about something personal, which I don’t actually recall. But in response, I said “That’s ok, Nana. I always appreciate it when you tell me stuff about you that I didn’t know.”

“Really?” She asked. “Why’s that?”

“Because I feel like I barely know you, even though I’ve known you for almost 25 years. I like when you bring up more of the personal stuff about your life. It makes me feel like a grown up.”

She thought that was pretty funny, but she didn’t know what I meant.

“You know, like the stuff that just never came up when I was a kid. Dating, health, drinking, work, that sort of thing. We’ve just never really talked about it before.”

“Oh, yes, that’s probably because I wasn’t dating anyone when you were growing up. Why, I haven’t been sexually active in almost 25 years…” and she started to talk freely and openly.  Apparently, I just needed to ask, and the floodgates would open.

She continued to talk as I was stuck in 10 more minutes worth of traffic. I wish I could remember this conversation more clearly, but it was still pretty early for me, I hadn’t had my coffee yet, and I occasionally zone out when I’m stuck in traffic because I’m so annoyed that it’s happening. At some point, though, she went way back into talking about her husband. I was glad she did, because she doesn’t usually bring him up, but she was mostly just saying the stuff I already knew.

“And then of course he decided he’d had enough. I’d already had two kids and was pregnant with another, and he’d decided he’d had enough with our marriage. Of course, he would always want the bedroom part, but when it came to everything else? He couldn’t be bothered.”

I don’t know why I asked this, but I’m glad I did.

“So what was it that actually made him leave? I don’t actually know.”

And, boy, did she give him a good reason. This is what happened, as she tells it:

She married him when she was very young, because back in “those days,” if you weren’t married by 18, everyone thought there must be something wrong with you. So she married this man, though it’s still not clear why it was this man specifically, and she got pregnant with my aunt. At first, he was apparently just fine, but as soon as the children got involved, he wasn’t interested in being home with them, or with her. He still wanted “the bedroom part,” but he simply wasn’t part of their marriage after that.

At this point, she says, he started hitting her. She said she didn’t think too much of it because he “wasn’t really hurting her,” but she didn’t try to cover it up or lie about it either. (Which, in my opinion, is good, because many women who are domestically abused don’t feel safe coming forward about it, and that doesn’t usually end well.) One day, her father, a decorated sailor with the US Navy, noticed the bruises and asked her where they came from. When she told him that “Freddie” had been hitting her, he didn’t ask why. He didn’t ask for how long.

He just said, “I’d like to kill him.”

As she tells it, that is the first time she really saw what her husband was doing as a problem. Of course, by then, it was a bit late. She was stuck with him, by the standards of the time. So she asked her friends for some advice. One of her friends who lived in Maine suggested she come up for a visit, maybe a few days, to clear her head a bit. Naturally, she took her up on it.

Her friend gave her a shotgun. She said “If no one’s going to protect you, you’ve got to protect yourself.” Nana almost didn’t take it. Almost.

She spent the whole drive back down to Massachusetts hoping to God that no one stopped her on the highway, since the gun was just sitting there in the backseat. She didn’t go into it too much, but I imagine her drive was filled with thoughts like “I don’t even know how to use one of these things,” “What happens if it turns out I need it?” “What will my kids think?”

It turns out, it wasn’t long before she needed it.

My grandfather, who I can’t emphasize enough contributed to my genetic makeup, had been out drinking every night that week. He would stumble home, yell and scream and demand things, start swinging at some point, and then pass out. One of those nights, Nana was waiting up after the kids had been put to bed. As soon as it got to be a certain hour, she went into their room, got the kids, and stuffed them into their closet, telling them not to come out. Then she continued to wait.

A few minutes later, she heard him coming up the front stairs. She grabbed the shotgun and waited behind the slightly-ajar front door. As he came up the stairs, she pulled the door open and pointed the gun at his head.

“You just turn around right now and go back where you came from,” she said very quietly. “I don’t want you coming near me again.”

He apparently stood there momentarily, in disbelief. Then he got angry.

“You wouldn’t dare,” he said, laughing a little. “You’re too much of a coward.”

She cocked the gun. He ran. To hear her tell it, he practically fell down the stairs to get out of his own way. Nana says he went away forever that night, and she never saw him or heard from him again, at least until he died some years later.

“And if he had known there weren’t any bullets in the gun, this story would have probably ended a lot differently.”

I burst out laughing. I laughed because she had great comic timing, but I also laughed because that’s what I do when I’m nervous. If he had called her on the fact that she didn’t load the gun, he would have killed her. That is a fact. My Nana, who I love very dearly, would have been no more way back in 1965, when she was still pregnant with one of my aunts. Who knows what he would have done with the already-born children he never wanted. These are facts I have to live with now. And if I have to, then by God, so do you.

_______________________________________________________________________________

I don’t quite know how to end this entry, other than thanking you for sticking with me for 4550 words. Thank you for reading. Keep in touch. Tell me your stories. Love one another.

A presto,

JW

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

 

Hills and Valleys: An Accidental Hiatus

I accidentally took a month off from performing, rehearsing, auditioning, writing, and trying to get involved.  I still perform at work, of course (If you remember, I work at the Salem Witch Dungeon Museum. Have you visited me yet?), but I haven’t been actively trying to get out into the world for a few weeks. I’m not really sure why that happened, but I’m pretty sure I needed it.

I would like to preface this entry with a few things, just so we’re all on the same page:

  • I have a mild case of what I think might be clinical depression. I was diagnosed with it as a child, but then nothing came of it, so I generally refer to it as “undiagnosed,” and therefore I don’t bring it up a lot. No one likes to hear someone ramble about an illness they may or may not have, right?
  • I take responsibility for my thoughts, emotions, and actions, though I don’t claim to have any control of the former two.
  • I don’t blame any of the projects I was working on, nor any of the people I was working with, for this accidental vacation. It seems to have been like something out of a Steinbeck novel. Something That Happened.

I guess the easiest way to describe it is to say that I was tired. That’s certainly one of the factors. When I was performing, I was busy all day, every day, with very little time to rest. As anyone in performance, or really any kind of endeavor that requires a go-getter attitude, will tell you, that’s just the way it is and will always be. I know that, and I’m ok with that, and I’ve always known that that is what my life would entail forever and ever, amen. But sometimes, the mind is willing but the body is squishy and weak. I needed some time where I could mentally decompress, spend time with my friends and family, and generally just get enough sleep and make my own food. When I was multitasking, I just didn’t have the wherewithal.

Another factor is the rejection. Again, anyone will tell you that theater is 98% rejection and you have to be ready for it. I like to think that by now I have a Master’s degree in rejection. It’s a pretty solid part of my life, and anyone who knows me well knows that when I fall down, I get back up again. But sometimes I can’t. Sometimes you get rejected 6 times in one day. Sometimes you get rejected for a sure thing while you’re in the middle of an argument with your boyfriend. Sometimes you sign up for Boston Casting and get 50 background work notifications and don’t book a single one of them. Sometimes all your friends are headlining and you still haven’t actually played a character with a name and a partner scene. Sometimes everyone you admire tells you that you should have chosen tech instead. Sometimes, all that rejection gets to be too much of a mental burden and it actually interferes with your ability to function as a human being.

That last part isn’t an exaggeration, though it does sound a bit hyperbolic. I would apologize for that, except that it’s true. I have been doing a bit of self-observation and I have identified two different kinds of energy I exist in. Other people might call them “mania” and “depression” but I don’t actually understand what those two words mean in that context. I refer to them as “hills” and “valleys.”

A hill is when I wake up feeling good, not as sore as usual, mentally prepared to take on my day. For me, that usually manifests itself in the desire to work on a project, like practicing guitar/finally tackling the project of learning how to edit video so I can record myself playing through the justinguitar.com Beginner Songbook (which can be found here, if you’re interested in watching), working on my patchwork cloak project, going out and doing errands, and all that stuff. I just generally feel pretty good about myself and the world I live in, and I just want to go out there and get a piece of it.

But then there are valleys. A valley is when I feel so sore that moving often feels extraordinarily difficult and I wake up feeling like I can’t possibly get through this day. Valleys are difficult to explain. It depends on the severity, I suppose, but they all usually have the same core elements in common: I feel like no one likes me or wants me around. I don’t particularly want to do anything, and I am often heard saying “sure, whatever,” “if you like,” “whatever you want,” “I don’t care,” and other noncommittal platitudes. I either lose my appetite altogether, or I develop an appetite only for sweets, and therefore usually supplement the valley with a further sugar crash. I lose interest in habit-forming, so I can’t convince myself to practice a skill, exercise, do my chores, do my hair or makeup, etc. I sometimes consider risky behavior, which may or may not include disappearing mysteriously, picking fights with loved ones, and, on a particularly drastic low, suicide.

Valleys are not pretty, is the point I’m getting at here. I don’t know why, but they often last much longer than hills. A hill might last a day, two if I’m lucky, and a valley might follow and last for a week. Patrick, my boyfriend, says that my hills have been getting longer, but I don’t believe him. I started measuring them and it turns out I was right. Not that I want to be right about this particular thing. After my last performance, which was on May 10th, I decided to take just a short break. Just long enough to clear my head and get some rest. I could feel myself entering a valley and I wanted to give myself some space to deal with it. It ended up taking a whole month. That’s the longest one to date. I hope it’s the longest I’ll ever have.

But there is also one other reason, which I have been hesitating to say. I don’t think I could finish this entry in good conscience without it. I don’t think I’m becoming any more professional, no matter how hard I try. For the last few shows I have been working on, I had a tardiness problem. In my book, wasting other people’s time is one of the worst sins a person can commit. I’ve always had a tardiness/absence problem, ever since I was a little kid in school. I’ve spent my whole life working on it and I’ve got it, for the most part, under control. But it’s been drilled into the back of my head that I’m always late, it’s my default setting, and if I’m late, even once, I’ve failed. If you look at it objectively, though (and I’m a weirdo who has actually charted it out), I’m only late an average of once per rehearsal period. In other words, once per 6 weeks, give or take. Ideally, I wouldn’t be late at all ever, and in fact would show up 10 minutes early. As my old Master Sergeant used to say:

“If you’re on time, you’re late. If you’re early, you’re on time.”

The real meat of the matter, I suppose, is feeling like I don’t deserve to work if I can’t be a professional. During the last two shows I performed in (both belly dance shows), I was having a hell of a time getting to where I needed to be, both literally and figuratively. I know this doesn’t really matter in the scheme of things, but I really did try my hardest to get to everything I was scheduled to do, but I made the mistake of overscheduling myself and being a human. Thankfully, I was lucky enough to work with some outspoken people who would tell me directly when my action were affecting them, and I have had some incredible discussion with other working performers about professionalism and what it means, so I have definitely come away from the experience with something. I think the most important thing I learned is that it’s ok to make mistakes, as long as you’re honest about them, and work to make sure it’s the exception and not the rule. Letting go of my mistakes is not really how I’m hard-wired, which means I’m going to have to work extra hard on that one.

You can see why maybe I had some reservations toward publishing this on my professional website. I think you’ll find as you get to know me, though, that I am nothing if not an open book. And since I feel not only comfortable but actually better being open, honest, and public about my situation, I thought it only fitting to explain to my fans and friends exactly where I have been all this time.

As for what I’m up to now, I got picked up to do some rehearsal assistance for Unreliable Narrator‘s next show, Human Contact. They are a great group. I’ve worked with them in the past and I’m stoked to have been asked to work with them again. After that, I have a few auditions lined up, so hopefully something will come of them, I’m looking into going back to a few classes, and I’ve finally got started working on my play library, which is something I’ve been dying to get started for years now. I’ve also got a very big, very special show in the works, but that’s for another entry…

Thanks for listening. I hope you’re day is going well.

Vi ringrazio dal profondo dal cuore,

JW