Theatre has been called a "dying art" (especially in THIS country) for a looong time. All my life, certainly. And yet, impractical and facilful as it was, I was still pulled to it. I kept trying to deny this pull until it was so strong, I just surrendered, once and for all. That was over twenty years ago, and while I've been plugging along steadily in my own way, via not only auditions, but also connections, as well as writing and producing my own stuff, I've only really started to feel somewhat "successful" in the past two years or so, at least in terms of seeing any substantial capital arise from my creative efforts.
Last night, I read the sad announcement that Book-It Repertory here in Seattle, whose final season I acted in (In The Time of the Butterflies back in fall 2022) is closing. Yet another hard blow to the local theatre community in a sequential series of them, beginning prior to the pandemic. And of course, the pandemic definitely didn't help. Because money. Because in this country, we have a devastating culture of valuing only what brings in capital.
So, what's a dedicated theatre artist to do?
It occurs to me there's a HUUUUUGE financial disparity between screen and stage. Both mediums are essentially doing the same thing: telling stories. Film, TV and Video Games are able to do this in a slicker way with more bells and whistles, but essentially, the goals, at least at the outset, are the same: to tell a good story to an audience to craves it. And make no mistake: the public craves these stories. But sure, it's much easier to turn on the tv than make the effort to get dressed, drive or bus to a local theatre, sit through a production which might suck, you might be too cold or too hot, or have to go through the bathroom, or get sleepy, you have to sit amongst other audience members who might be annoying in some way (loud candy wrappers??? talking during the performance??? etc), and then after the show, you have to commute back home. If you just turn on the tv, all you have to do is turn it off if it's bad, or change the channel. Go pee during the commercial, or pause your content.
Thus, as a whole, our culture values television, and by extension, film and video games, far more highly than theatre - these things are PRIORITIES to most Americans (I mean, what did we do during the pandemic, after all?) whereas attending the theatre is NOT.
But did you happen to realize they are both vital parts of the same ecosystem? You don't really have the others without theatre. Imagine, if you will, a country where all the theatres go belly up, except for high school and college productions. Fewer theatres mean fewer young artists will bother to learn the craft of acting, so these high school and college programs will diminish and eventually disappear. Theatre is a DIRECT PIPELINE to screen, oftentimes. Without the training born and bred in these programs, without the fertile ground of being raised into the artistic community through these fringe and regional theatres, the quality of artists stepping into film will diminish as well. Sure, the training might pivot and programs might begin to cater towards film acting/writing/directing instead, but we will lose a great deal of the richness in these artists who come up in their high school, college and fringe breeding grounds. By eliminating theatre, we're eliminating an entire food group of spiritual and emotional nutrition. We're already bordering on cultural anemia in this country, do we really want to remove more nutrients?
I sure hope not. As a multi-hyphenate artist, I will do everything in my power to continue - continue the conversation, continue the action, continue the work and continue to bend and shape my creativity to find the best and most unusual solutions to pull my greatest joy and exhilaration back from the brink and at least help bring it into remission, because an artless society is a dead society, and we are slowly careening towards the cliff.
I'd venture a guess there are THOUSANDS of screen artists in Hollywood/Vancouver/Atlanta right now who came up through the theatre. I'll bet a good chunk of those artists enjoy returning to the theatre now and again. I've heard many actors wax poetic about the stage, and how their screen work enables them to return to the stage and still keep a roof over their head. I've heard them say there's nothing like live performance, nothing like acting in the moment on a live stage with a reactive audience. I know this feeling well myself after returning after nearly two years of Zoom theatre during the pandemic. I appeased myself with steady, live-streamed performances, but the moment I returned to a real stage in October 2021??? FUGEDDABOUTIT. I haven't looked back.
As an actor (or playwright, for that matter), I've never been that interested in pursuing a film career, other than as a means to an end: do film to make money to finance more theatre. I've done both. In terms of being able to sustain an emotional moment, theatre is HARDER. If you get to a certain point as a stage actor, shifting over to film is merely a matter of being able to memorize quickly and find your mark. Being able to offer different emotional moments over different takes is a breeze to do from one moment to the next, compared to sustaining the same thing over a period of rehearsals and performances, so if you can do it on a stage, your emotional agility is already so finely-honed that taking on a film set is an emotional cake walk.
I'm not the only actor who knows this.
Well, folks in screenland, now is the time for you to PAY IT FORWARD. All you artists who are now multimillionaires who started in theatre - it's time for you to infuse these theatres with donations, and I'm talking about not just the big, for-profit things that are grinding out musicals adapted from previous movies, but I'm talking about the little regional houses like Book-It, like The Empty Space (RIP), like the Group Theatre (RIP) the tiny, experimental fringe companies doing the weird stuff that run on the energy of their courageous artists, or the tiny ethnic theatres consistently employing scores of diverse minorities. These theatres and their (often voluntary) staff/artists are BURSTING with creativity - all they need are the dollars. So why not put a nice chunk of your dollars back into the institution you came through? Pave the way for the generations who follow you. There are plenty of folks out in the world who are going to give money to health and social causes - as an artist, it's your duty to put your money into the continued existence of the thing that gave you your start.
Artists are shamans and healers of the spirit. These stories we're telling, via screen, canvas, paperback, song and stage are important. They matter. THEATRE MATTERS.
Periodically, I'll google myself, curious to see what's made it out into the internet stratosphere for public consumption, and I was doing that one day last month and discovered a spoken word poem of mine had won first prize in a contest I submitted it to back in March or something like that - SURPRISE! Only bragging rights, of course, but still pretty cool something of mine in a form I don't often put out in the world received recognition in any way. If you're curious, you can see the award here. And the poem, without further adieu:
©2013 by Carolynne Wilcox
(spoken word poetry)
My Dearest Babes,
It is with joy and sorrow I speak these words...
You always knew your mother carried within her
A mysterious secret
Something which caused her to be a little distant at times,
Something she longed for, but her love for all of you
Kept her from:
The thing of it is, it used to be part of me
And I part of it.
The sea. THE SEA.
Endless, inviting, enveloping
It was my home, my name, my family
It sang to me, and I sang back
Beautiful wordless melodies
Of sand, of surf
Of depth and mystery
And one day, I pulled him out – your father –
I heard him, from miles away, struggling to keep afloat
He was drowning, you see
And I couldn’t let death claim him in my home.
Once on land, he sang to me, charmed me, took me home
And slowly, languidly
That sunkissed afternoon
The haunting musk of sweat and seaweed lingering heavy in the air
I let him strip my skins and hide them away…
And I stayed. Stayed!
I made his home, bore his little ones, and you know,
We had a good life in our little green cottage by the bay.
I longed for it. Pined for it.
My home beneath the waves
Communion with sand, salt and skin
It would call to me and I strained to hear its wordless music
But my heart held you all dearly –
We had such a happy home by my beloved waters –
Duty and love pulled me back...
And anyway, I couldn’t find my skins,
And the years wore on.
One stormy day, awaiting his return,
Awaiting clothes to dry by the fire,
I gazed out the window and –
The seas turned black for a moment...
I knew he was drowned,
Taken in forever by the febrile ocean
And life was suddenly sucked of color,
Rendered dull and meaningless,
All the little ones gone away...
And I looked out at my
Once-home waters with fear and dread,
And the years wore on,
And I began to grow old and bent.
One day, cleaning dusty, forgotten cabinets of his
I found them. Almost mistook them for
Old celluloid negatives
threw them away!
I drew them out, soaked them in my laundry bucket,
They began to revive.
Spotted and thick, almost glistening by the firelight,
I wondered if
They’d even fit me anymore!
But they are part of me and re-adheared like new.
And now, my dear ones, I look out to the swirling waters before me
With a strange mixture of fear, yearning and some long-buried sense of freedom and love
I’d forgotten I ever knew!
It pains me to say goodbye to you, my sweet babies!
But you’ve grown so strong, and mother couldn’t be prouder.
I raised you to be yielding but fierce,
Like the tides from whence I came.
I must go!
But you’re half me as much as you’re half him,
And if you need me,
You need only go to the water’s edge and call.
Wait for me, and I will come.
I walk towards the salty waves
Prepared to sink or swim underneath them forever.
...I wrote it during the Spoken Word class I took years ago (2013) with Daemond Arrindell, and performed it for the end-of-class showcase performance. Recently, I've dusted it off both as a performance poem, and have also adapted it as a monologue.
SO a few things have hit over the last 24 hours that feel a little bit connected, but I’m starting to learn that many things are connected, so maybe it started before that, especially since some of this will connect to work/self from the past.
Last month, my collaborator, Hannah and I worked on a proposal for Strawberry Theatre Workshop’s call for proposals for “Strawberry Jam” - it was meant for directors, which I am NOT. I have always kinda hated directing, to be honest. I’ve done it a couple times. The product usually comes out well, but my enjoyment of the whole process is usually stressful and I don’t have fun. Hannah doesn’t consider themself a director either, and there was a moment where we were both pondering on this call for, specifically, directors. But the proposal also stated they were open to people trying it out, so we went ahead with writing the proposal, deciding we’d co-direct. We went with the simplest thing we could think of: two solo plays of mine focusing on women in Greek myth as well as a 3rd piece Hanna would write. I’ve already performed my own two pieces, so figured I could borrow from those previous experiences, and also, that would afford us a small, manageable cast we could work with one-on-one or as an ensemble. I feel like I do well with the actor-to-director part of the directing process, the in the thick of it moment of coaching them within a scene, but less well with managing an ensemble, being in charge, talking to designers, etc. We put my name as the “lead” director on the proposal, as we though I might have better name recognition, with the intention of both of us being at the helm, and perhaps practicing a model, to a certain extent, of direction by committee. We spent a good chunk of time working on it, over about 3 weeks, and submitted it on March 15th, with the understanding we’d hear back by April 15th if our proposal was accepted. Now, STW is a very well-regarded organization within Seattle’s theatre community, so I wondered if I was (once again) aiming a little high...but I also had the strangest inner feeling we were going to get the gig.
And let’s get to my own status within the Seattle theatre community over the past 20 or so years, as the red-headed stepchild. I haven’t historically been offered many opportunities, and have had to create many for myself. I don’t know if it’s my good diction, my unwillingness to play nice, or my low threshold for bullshit, but I’ve never felt part of the “in” crowd in Seattle’s theatre community, and after having gone to Baltimore and slipped in kind of easily (perhaps through my grad-school status), I felt it was less “me” than Seattle or perhaps me and this community not quite meshing. Seattle’s theatre scene, for one thing, likes to think of itself as super progressive and experimental, but now that I’ve left the community for a few years and seen actual, amazing experimental stuff, this scene is kind of in its infancy. It’s gotten better, and thank goodness for On The Boards, but by and large, experimental = camp around these parts. And I also don’t necessarily think of myself as all that experimental, but I do like to employ experimental ideas, and I love to devise work in the true sense of the word, rather than just showing up as an actor and have other people guide the devising. All this to say: things didn’t change that much when I returned from grad school, other than my own aesthetic and sensibility. I’ve still by and large, been the red headed stepchild who had to claw and bite to receive many opportunities.
Something has shifted, however, post-pandemic - partially within myself as much as outside me. For one thing, I’ve now worked as an actor on two professional shows over the past year, and been invited to audition in another that was one of the best projects I’ve ever experienced, and yet another bucket list classic I’ll begin rehearsals for in June. Also, I’ve been on a bit of a roll as a playwright, having been accepted as a resident playwright to Parley as well as a company playwright for Pacific Play Company, and have been not only generating a ton of work on both scores, but have had many of my pieces go up onstage over the past couple of months. Like, between the two, the respect I’ve craved for 20 years from my peers is finally starting to seep in. People actually SAW some of these things and are noticing my work positively, for a change. After SO MANY years of hustling, it’s nice to finally see a little payoff for all that hard work.
Which brings me to opening up my email last night to find our proposal to StrawShop had been accepted...YIKES!!! So now I have to be a director. I had a moment where I considered turning down the proposal and just telling Hannah we hadn’t been accepted - because I know doing this is going to bring a WHOLE LOTTA STRESS my way, and lots of it probably won’t be fun - but I also really thought about this after we submitted the proposal - maybe it’s the Universe’s way of telling me something, and something important will be revealed during this process. So I forwarded the acceptance email to Hannah, and we’ll discuss further during a celebratory dinner in a few days. I guess we’re doing this!
...and now we enter into the next part of this missive, that being a digital class I took today about getting yourself unstuck as a writer. One of the exercises was a guided meditation that invited us to relax (you know, all the things: focus on your breathing, relax your muscles, notice your senses, etc) and find where in our bodies felt the most comfortable, and I felt the answer coming somewhere from my solar plexis, and it screamed at me:
Yes, the pea. Not your ordinary garden variety pea you use in pea soup, of course, but The Pea I first met in Hans Christian Andersen’s Princess and the Pea during childhood - you know, the prince was trying to find a real princess and couldn’t, then one night, a woman knocked at the door saying she was a real princess. The Queen put a pea on the bottom of twenty mattresses and twenty featherbeds, and the princess couldn’t sleep that night, because she felt the pea beneath all this covering, and that sensitivity meant she was a real princess.
Pertaining to my own personal mythology, I wrote a poem in undergrad which I called The Princess and the Pea after I wrote it, because it inadvertently recalled the fairy tale, but without actually saying it - “...deep, deep down, under all the thick, masking layers of myself is something small, rare, pure, and perfect. It is all of me, I am all of it.”
Aaaaand of course, just typing out those words brings a sting of tears to my eyes. It meant a certain thing to me then, but also again, in my early 30’s during an acting class exercise about “the decisive self” at Freehold, where we were to imagine ourselves having been paralysed and today, after many months of rehab, we were going to walk for the first time. I remember something in my solar plexus propelling me to the wall of the studio so I could prop myself up and stand - it was an extremely emotional exercise for me, as someone who struggled with weight issues when I was younger, and between getting to the wall and realizing how precious my (oft-maligned) legs were in that I CAN WALK, and a valuable lesson. My old poem about the pea came back to me as we wrote about the experience afterwards, because while trying to get to the wall, I could FEEL THE PEA in my solar plexis....ahhhh, the power of the pea.
...So to have it speak to me again, over 20 years later here in my bedroom in this beautiful little house that chose us to live here was such a gift and reminder to me, whispering back to me yet again, “It is all of me, I am all of it.”
The card I drew today was “Crossroad”. Instead of examining it and describing it, I went straight to the description in the book, which talked about “upcoming decisions” and “a turning point in life”. Interestingly, the pieces Hannah and I have proposed for Strawberry Jam are about women having limited choices, so it resonates on many levels, and even harkens back to the last line in my friend Orla’s Uncaged I wrote about last weekend: “they looked down at the woman beneath...waiting for what she was going to do next.”
The pea has been there, since I was little, propelling me forward, despite fear, despite feeling like a fraud and a charlatan, despite the worry my peers don’t think I’m worthy or “cool”, propelling me to the next step: push yourself across the floor, prop yourself against the wall, take a tiny step” and “write this piece, develop this proposal, hit send”.
Am I, at last, a Real Princess?
The tree in the background no leaves, really, though the photo is light green - maybe it is a spring tree, just getting ready to sprout with new life? It’s the home of a butterfly, and there are birds flying in the distance. There’s a big hourglass imposed on the tree’s trunk, with mirror images of leafless branches on one half, and full, leafy trees on the bottom - the hourglass also seems to invoke an infinity symbol, vertically. There’s a transparent heart at the base of the tree, and I can see some of the roots.
Weirdly, it reminds me of this monologue I performed years ago, just coming out of Freehold, written by my friend Orla, who I coincidentally, just saw last night as she passes through town back to Ireland. I hadn’t seen her since my thirties, and she was part of a small group of friends who went through 9/11 together back in 2001, here in Seattle, and the show this monologue was part of came out of that. She brought the monologue up last night, when I mentioned I had just done “In the Time of the Butterflies” and alluded to similarities between butterflies and birds, which were prominent in the piece she wrote, and both birds and a butterfly present themselves in this card. In Orla’s monologue I performed, the narrator opened up her chest and tons of birds flew out, and all stood on the tree above her, “waiting for what she was going to do next”. It was an extremely powerful monologue for me during that time, but as I’ve discovered, throughout life, you can still have dialogue with art you made in the past, in different ways. It appears this piece wants more dialogue.
This morning I woke up to find a physical manifestation from a recent energy shift. A teacher in Boston produced a cut version of my play, Loom, for competition in the Massachusetts Educational Theatre Guild annual high school contest. They won the preliminary round, but alas, didn’t go further than that. Still exciting, though, and just having the piece discovered on NPX completely unsolicited a few months ago in the first place began a bit of an energy shift for me in terms of my own writing, so when the teacher wasn’t paying me my playwright’s fee for use of my piece, I started to go down an unpleasant road. Immediately after they were done, he asked me for my venmo, which I gave him, and then: radio silence. Two weeks later, I sent him a gentle reminder. Another week of completely silence. I started wondering what I was going to do. I mean: $200 isn’t a life-changing amount, but it’s more the principle of the thing. I kept thinking of what I was going to do: write him a nasty email, threaten to talk to his higher ups at Everett High School, try a heartfelt, artist-to-artist email...I went so far as to look up faculty and staff at the high school, doing a google search to find out more about him. I was actually getting a little anxious and stressed out, and the initial excitement of the play being selected, performed and winning the preliminary round started getting polluted by my bad feeling. I thought to myself yesterday: I don’t want to be that person who threatens and tries to manipulate. Maybe I just make my peace with the fact I’m probably going to get stiffed, and let karma do the rest of the work. I don’t know. Universe, please help me figure out what to do. It felt like an energy shift on my part.
And this morning, I had $200 sitting in my Venmo account. The universe didn’t even answer me with what to do: it just rewarded me with what I was struggling with all along. And yes, the $200 is nice, but more important to me is the ENERGY SHIFT I arrived at on my own, not only was it its own reward, but I also got the actual $$ I was due, without having to write any letters or really, do anything other than be patient and make my peace.
It makes me wonder if the tree with the birds from that long-ago monologue is still there, on my astral plane, and if those birds have been watching me ever since. I think of other subtle energy shifts I’ve made over the last few years, and how my life has changed because of them. It’s not like, a 100% transformation, of course, because there are still threads that connect me, and I’m still learning and growing. But I definitely LIKE the person I am now more than I liked the person who performed Uncaged back in 2002. I feel like those birds have been watching me make missteps for SO LONG...or maybe I shouldn’t think of them as missteps. Maybe it’s just part of the journey.
When I read the description for the card’s meaning, after having written all the above, it’s weirdly SPOT ON: “...as a time factor, it indicates a long time either into the past or the future. It is a slow growth; the tree also does not grow overnight...keep going with things that are important to you.” This is not all, but it definitely tracks with what I’ve written based on the experience of being paid for Loom and the experience of performing Uncaged during a time of huge, personal transformation.
More than anything, it assures me I’m starting to move towards something a little more deliberate, energetically, and more sentimentally, assures me I am still, in fact, ON THE PATH.
A quill pen soars over a cityscape, pages with writing and inkblots are caddywompus leading up to 8 caged blackbirds whose friends seem to have flown free. There’s Latin underneath: “Solam veritatem Nerum quid refert Quod nullus et omne quod non est verum”, which loosely translates to “What does Nero mean by the only truth, that none and all that is not true”, according to the quick online “Latin to English” translator (thanks, Google!).
What’s coming up is that much-revered concept of perfect truth, which has been a thing, or should I say Thing for me in both past and present, indeed, I have it tattooed on my throat chakra, guided by some mysterious force back in 1999, before I even knew what I was doing and what a throat chakra was. I just wanted something cool tattooed in the hollow between my collarbones, and a flower seemed too cutesy, but I knew it had to be something meaningful; I just didn’t know what.
I was drinking a tea tonic in the spring of 1999, a thing that had been popularized by such brands as Snapple, Fruitopia and SoBe - the latter had a line of tea tonics, and the first one I drank had the Japanese kanji for “Enlightenment” on the inside of the bottle cap. “Ooooh,” I thought, “this would be a great tattoo!” ...and promptly lost the bottle cap, but decided that was okay, because I could just buy another tonic, so I did, and this one came up “Spirit”, which I surmised was even better, and then I lost that one, too. The third one (why do things always happen in threes?) came up “Truth” and I knew THAT WAS THE ONE.
And then I lost that one as well, but on buying, losing and buying one more, all came up Truth, and that was the bottle cap I took to Gypsy Jill at American Beauty Tattoo up on Capitol Hill, a couple stores down from the Café Vita (which would eventually turn me into a playwright in another few years...LOTS of things happened in the ensuing few years in a one-block radius from that tattoo parlor. Hmmm...) and got my Tracheotomy Truth Tattoo (if I had a nickel for every time someone has asked me “Did that hurt?”...). It had just been an idea, at first, but the weird synchronicity and rule of threes made me feel like I was being swept away in something bigger, and indeed, it was like that tattoo revealed a veritable Pandora’s Boxful of personal truth in the following weeks, months, and years that made me feel like I was finally on the path I was meant to be on, and so many things fell into place for me over that following year it felt like magic.
Gradually, the magic ebbed, but I kept on my path, and it reared its head here and there, but I’ve felt it REALLY tugging at me for the past couple of years. I’m not sure I can pinpoint exactly WHEN I started to feel caught up in it again, because I keep looking back, I find more that could be The Point, but I wonder if maybe it had to do with the creation of our play (co-written with Jen Smith Anderson) A Series of Small Cataclysms, which began as an exercise because we wanted to work on something together and culminated in ushering in a global pandemic...and the aftermath.
It may have been the moment Eris crashed into my script. Kinda like the Angel crashed into Roy Cohn’s apartment in Kushner’s play, except my “angel” in this case was The Greek Goddess of Chaos herself, and all I could do was get out of the way and let her speak. Shortly thereafter, I ran into an acquaintance I hadn’t seen in awhile, and our quick conversation stolen in the moments just after I’d met with some collaborators at a café and she’d popped in just before a witchy class at the nearby Cunning Crow (RIP). The witchy class intrigued me, and we vowed to get together for drinks “soon” to discuss.
We did, a few days later. Jessica, a friend of a friend I’d hung out with a few times with previously and I became friends after that - her staunch rejection of her stern, Christian upbringing had led her to discover her own extrasensory connection to the world, mostly the Norse goddesses, and sitting right there at Gainsbourg in Greenwood, I told her about Eris and she told me “Yeah, there’s a long line of Greek goddesses waiting to get your ear.” Considering what I’d been writing about for the past decade, I couldn’t argue.
Over this next year, I visited Greece, and then the world began to change drastically, following the election of a vain, populist US president who seemed to really want to be a dictator or a king. The only thing I could do was keep making art as the world around me seemed to be falling apart. Jen and I continued working on what would become Cataclysmsand the world began to transform into something I could barely recognize.
The bottom fell out of my personal world with the death of my mother just as we were about to go into rehearsals for Cataclysms in January of 2020. Jen and I met in a café on Mercer Island so I could give her a report about how rehearsals were going. There was this weird flu out of China that was starting to take up rent on the evening news, but still didn’t really seem to affect us. Jen and I mused about our play, which seemed to be magical of its own accord, and she brought up some kind of weird planetary alignment involving the actual planetoid Eris, where apparently, we were going to see changes that hadn’t been seen since the reformation. We both laughed nervously - yeah, it would have to be something huge. We couldn’t imagine what.
About two months later, after a delayed opening weekend of Catalcysms, (which contained its own fictional pandemic and real world body count) we cancelled the final weekend as the world went into lockdown at the beginnings of the COVID-19 pandemic...that “weird flu out of China” had not only taken up rent on the evening news, but had effectively taken up rent EVERYWHERE, and people started dying and our world REALLY BEGAN TO CHANGE.
I don’t necessarily want to talk about the world’s huge changes over the past few years, other than my own, inner changes have seemed to mirror some of these giant, universal shifts. That magic that visited me when Eris crashed into my script in November of 2013 has led me to this place where I’ve been surfing a wave of something for awhile. And it’s involved a great deal of personal “letting go” and “letting be”.
I was unceremoniously laid off my little marketing job at Freehold in Nov 2020. Though I quickly attempted to “get back in the saddle” with applications in to a few administrative positions, I also quickly discovered, during interviews for these jobs that I was just...DONE. Sick and tired of towing the line for The Man. Sick and tired of busting my ass and giving a shit only to find myself expendable when it came down to it. I was supposed to give my left damn kidney for under $20 an hour, and they could do whatever they wanted. I was initially devastated at getting let go from Freehold, where so much of my artistic journey was nurtured during the initial, magical time of the Truth Tattoo, but after seeing what else was out there, I suddenly found myself Out of Fucks. Fuck busting my ass for $18 an hour. Fuck these people who wanted a pound of flesh so they could lay me off whenever the mood struck...and yes, FUCK FREEHOLD, TOO. Totally sacriligeous to my previous self, but congrats Freehold, you helped birth a monster who took this long to gestate and become whole.
OR A GODDESS.
I threw my fucks out the window after that. I guess it was as symbolic a death as any, so this phoenix could rise from her own ashes. My Mother’s Ashes. My cat, Vixen’s Ashes. The pandemic and my subsequent and swift dismissal from gainful employment ushered in a personal renaissance, and not only did I continue to act, via Zoom and livestream, but I unearthed several old and buried pieces previously deemed (mostly by others until I believed it myself) unsuitable for human consumption. Looking through most of them, I realized those critics had been WRONG. These pieces, while not perfect, definitely had more legs than I’d given them credit for. One by one, I began rereading, reconsidering, revising them. One by one, they began to come into the light, and one by one, they began to transform into viable pieces of magic and theatre.
This shift in the breeze was subtle at first, a light, cool breeze on a hot autumn day, but it picked up force and blew through most sectors of my artistic life. I’ve been on a professional role that started in 2021, and my momentum isn’t slowing.
The wind of Truth propelling me to so many wondrous and magical things that summer of 1999 has served me well, and continues to be the path I walk. Maybe I wasn’t ready for The Whole Thing back then; I must be ready now. I can feel the wind blowing, sweeping me up, gathering strength.
Going back to the Lenourmand Card in the Mirror Self deck, which was my writing prompt for today, I guess “Letter” has been a letter from Truth to me, reminding me I’m STILL on that same path, my trajectory continues, and I’m beyond excited to see what’s next!
Aaaaaand we're OFF!
Opened my umpteenth show last night, Dante Green's An Incomplete List of All The Things I'm Going To Miss When The World Is No Longer produced by Dacha Theatre at Theatre Off Jackson in Seattle's International District. And - I have a few things to say.
I'm getting old. I've worked on many shows since my first outing, playing Mother Rabbit in a little play whose name I don't remember at YWCA kindergarten in Singapore.
While every piece has something memorable about it (I mean: some plays/experiences are just memorably bad, and some on an EPIC scale!), there are those handful of shows you work on as an artist that tick off a whole lot of the boxes you want to tick...
Some of the ones that stand out to me over the past 25 or so years:
The Maids, performed at the Freehold Studio Series in 2001. Freshly off my year-long Meisner training, which felt very thorough, my scene partner, Alyssa Tomoff and I had done a scene from Genet's play for our end-of-year showcase, and decided we wanted to produce and perform in the whole thing, since we already had done all the work for the scene. It was my first experience producing. More importantly, it was the first time performing a full production after a hiatus of over 6 years. We only had 4 performances - to me, it felt like a blueprint for how I should work going forward. Also, playing the character of Solange ended up turning me into a playwright a few years later, when I wrote my first play, which was a sequel.
So, fast-forward to 2004, when a company I was friendly with (Theatre Unlocked) got really excited about my idea to produce Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream on the Fremont Troll! It wasn't necessarily the production I had envisioned (my version would've been at night with lighting and we produced only matinees on a very shoestring budget), but I remember being so joy-filled at getting to play Helena and really digging the ensemble I got to play with. It was also a good reminder I didn't have to wait for someone to do a thing I loved and just hope I got cast (never mind got to play the part I wanted), I could set things in motion MYSELF.
A whole lot more years and productions later, Stings Like Acid came into being with New Amerikan Theatre. I had done an abhorrent production of The Scottish play (see above: memorable experiences that were REALLY BAD), but wound up with some great friends and collaborators, because doing awful work sometimes bonds a cast as well, and that included my friend Kirsten McCory, who had just recently launched NAkT. She and I, as well as her collaborator, Telisa Steen embarked on a year-long writing/devising adventure, which included two excerpted performances at both the Freehold Studio Series and the First Fifteen Series (at 18th & Union), before culminating in a full production that included Butoh movement and mask work. And did I mention we WROTE the thing as well, a wonderful blend of contemporary stories and mythology I'm still really proud of.
There are other honorable mentions between then and now, including a 2016 bilingual version of Lorca's Blood Wedding in Seattle parks, the ensemble-devised feed/back with MAP Theatre at 12th Ave Arts in 2017 and of course A Series of Small Cataclysms, co-written and produced with Jen Smith Anderson (under the Mythodicals Ensemble umbrella), which turned out to be as cursed and fraught as that Scottish Play, and got cancelled by COVID-19 a week into its run (though we did get an extra performance on Zoom later that year, courtesy Rebecca O'Neil of The Shattered Glass Project).
Which brings us to the tippety-top of 2023, with An Incomplete List... and I see I'm not going to get any less long-winded, but it's MY damn blog, no one's likely to ever even READ it, so I can be as fucking long-winded as I like! HAHAHAH. I likely wouldn't have auditioned for this piece at all. The Artistic Director (Mike Lion) of Dacha saw me during the run of In The Time of The Butterflies (Caridad Svich after Julia Alvarez) at Book-It Rep and invited me to the callbacks.
Of course, I was flattered - I'm very EASILY flattered (mea culpa?) after a lifetime of being bullied, underestimated and disregarded. All you have to do is tell me I'm talented or pretty and I'm basically your friend for life. But UGH, a MUSICAL. I don't really do musicals. I don't really LIKE musicals. The last time I did a musical was in 2003, and before that 1992. So, strike one. But, okay, the premise (the last party on the last day of the world) sounded kinda up my alley. Whatever. I'll do it, I was invited, it felt rude not to. But I'd pretty much made up my mind I wouldn't accept any offers. I was tired after Butterflies, and wanted to really celebrate the Christmas season.
Callbacks were just before Thanksgiving, at Theatre Puget Sound in the Seattle Center. And basically: there's nowhere to park for free there, unless you go waaaay up on Queen Anne Hill (which I did that night, sue me, I'm CHEAP). I sang the song "Enough" from In the Heights, and flubbed up the lines closer to the end. Whoops! Not looking good. Then I read a bunch of sides which were kind of intriguing, and left thinking well, if I were offered the part, I might have a little more trouble saying no, but I'm still going to say no, especially after walking all the way back up the hill to my car, pant pant pant, and anyway, I screwed up my song, the only way they'd cast me is if they were more interested in the acting part of the auditions, where I was strong because I've been doing this forever and I'm usually pretty solid when I resonate with the material.
I got the offer the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and was given 24 hours to decide, and did I have any questions? Yes. I do have questions. Questions about where we're going to rehearse. It's harder for me to get to the center of Seattle now that I live in the Rainier Valley, and without the cushy subsidized parking Book-It provided, Seattle Center is a challenge to get to/park at and I didn't feel like I wanted to either climb up Queen Anne Hill most nights, or walk through creepy Belltown to get to the bus stop after dark. But no: most rehearsals were going to be divided amongst several venues throughout Seattle with easier parking. I grudgingly accepted, still not having read the full script.
I remember walking into the door that first night of rehearsal and seeing a bunch of kids in their 20's and thinking OH NO, what am I getting myself into? But immediately, I started talking to them and realized these kids were going to be different from what I'd experienced in the past. The director, Nansi Dwendi arrived and had us circle up, to introduce ourselves, our pronouns, the role we were playing and our daily "rose and thorn" (something good that happened today as well as something not great) AND THEN WE READ THROUGH THE SCRIPT AND LISTENED TO THE MUSIC. Judging by the energy in the room after that, I could tell even then: this was going to be something special. We closed with another circle, where we were asked to give someone else in the room a compliment until everyone had received one.
I kinda rolled my eyes inside. Oh great, I thought, another touchy-feely thing, I'm already shitty at giving compliments unless I REALLY feel them, so now I'm going to have to really think about it every rehearsal. UGH.
But you know what? I began to see what a brilliant thing this actually was. Because you spend the whole rehearsal looking for THE GOOD in others, that's what you're focusing on all rehearsal. It's very sneaky in bringing in positivity. It creeps up on you. Because also, you hear compliments from others and if you've been disregarded your whole career, it just really makes you feel seen, appreciated and respected. Like, I'm not sure I've ever felt this RESPECTED by an ensemble before, and really, it's all I've ever wanted.
We opened last night. I ended up inadvertently chatting up several of my cast's mothers during our interactive pre-show last night (all of whom are closer to my age than most of the cast themselves), and Dacha threw us an ice cream & champagne party onstage afterwards to celebrate. We have 11 more shows. I am exhausted. I injured my achilles tendon during a dance rehearsal a couple weeks ago, and it still hurts and I'm wearing a brace. But it's also exhilarating to finally show our baby off to audiences, and I hope they'll get as much out of it as we have, because we definitely have.
by Carolynne Wilcox
I’ve always been a cynic – from the time I figured out Santa didn’t actually exist (I figured it out shortly after my 8th Christmas, because Santa had stopped both at Grandma’s house AND our apartment that year, which didn’t seem logical – plus he seemed to have several different types of handwriting, which seemed fishy to me). Which was why I never bothered even entering the “meet Santa” lottery that year. My friend Megan entered my name, and wouldn’t you know it, I WON. I rolled my eyes in disdain. Oh goody, I thought, I get to go have my photo taken with some mall santa and get a candy cane and maybe an autograph. Yipeee.
WELL. The next day, the doorbell rang, and I found a big red box stood on my doorstep, complete with a glittery green bow. I thought I heard a high-pitched giggle, but I didn’t see anyone. When I opened the box, a huge burst of glitter hit me in the face – which normally would’ve made me sneeze, but it seemed to hit my cheek with a tingle and then burst out of existence – that was odd, but I dismissed it, finding an envelope inside, resting on something red and furry, which turned out to be a heavy, warm snowsuit! Inside the envelope was a ticket to Finland, with instructions I was to be picked up at the Helsinki airport and transported to my destination. I was to leave the following week.
I’d seen the Gordon Ramsay buddy program where he teamed up with two other Europpean dudes in the culinary industry and gone to “the north pole” in Finland, so I assumed this must be where I was going – definitely cooler than a mall santa, for sure! But nothing could’ve prepared my cold, cynical heart for what was to come next.
A small man with pointy ears greeted me at the airport, said his name was Sven, and seemed to know exactly who I was, and shuttled me “this way” with his adorable what I assumed was Finnish accent. I was groggy and jetlagged, so I let him escort me to his car, which was just an ordinary SUV, a red Nissan Pathfinder, I think, but as I said, I was exhausted, and promptly fell asleep in the backseat.
I woke up what must’ve been hours later. It was dark and the SUV had stopped. Sven was nowhere to be found, but there was a knock at the backseat door, which then opened and a smaller man with pointier ears, who proclaimed himself as Gunter escorted me through the snowy woods...which would’ve been pitch black, but for the brilliant northern lights dancing above our heads. We came to a small clearing with a tiny log cabin. We set my things down in the cabin and I didn’t really have a good look around, because he took me outside again and showed me a little sauna outhouse as well as a small hole dug into a frozen lake with a ladder. He instructed me to remove my clothes, get into the sauna for 15 min, quickly jump into the freezing hole, and then go back into the cabin and bathe.
Dumbfounded, but always hungry for a new adventure, I did as I was told – sweated profusely in the sauna where a tiny woman with pointy ears (Lilja) helped me keep track of the time in the sauna. It felt exhilarating to leave the boiling sauna and go out into what must’ve been significantly below-zero air, and I jumped eagerly into the hole, but climbed up the ladder twice as fast, where Lilja handed me a robe and escorted me back to the cabin, where she put me in a tub of water that was the perfect temperature between warm and scalding, and proceeded to scrub me nearly raw with a salt-scrub and hard-bristled brush! Afterwards, she brought me the softest red, woolen pajamas and put me at a table laden with figs, berries, rye bread, butter, cheese and smoked, salted fish. There was also a creamy salmon soup. While I devoured EVERYTHING, because I didn’t realize how hungry I was, and it was all delicious, Lilja built a roaring fire in the fireplace. The she left, but not without instructing me to sleep well – “you’ll need it!”, and to be ready in the red snowsuit at dawn.
Being a habitual insomniac and sleeping for so many hours on the way from the airport, not to mention being intrigued about what was to come, I didn’t think I’d be able to sleep at all, but like with everything else, I’d underestimated the experience. I hopped into the little twin bed, which was like lying on a firm, pillowy cloud, the most comfortable mattress I’d ever been lucky enough to rest my body on, and hopped on my phone to try and get a message to Megan, but barely registered I had no reception before I fell soundly asleep, waking up who knows how many hours later in exactly the same position, with the phone lying on my chest, feeling completely refreshed and tingly.
It was still dark outside, but according to my phone (which was fully charged, despite the fact I fell asleep before I could charge it!), it was dawn...not much light that far north in December, I surmised.
There was new, clean and steaming bathwater for me again, and, as if on cue, a knock at the door, wherein Lilja took me out to repeat the sauna/cold plunge/bath-and-salt-scrub experience again. Lilja told me to be ready in an hour.
The fire was still roaring in the fireplace, and there was food on the table – similar to the night before, rye bread, cheese, butter, salted fish, plus little pies and pastries, berries, and some hot, stiff coffee. Once again, I discovered a roaring appetite within, and devoured EVERYTHING. I looked outside again, to see things had lightened up to a dim twilight, and guessed it must be a typical December morning around these parts.
I put on my red snowsuit, and thank goodness there was no mirror so I couldn’t see how ridiculous I must’ve looked! I grabbed my phone again to see I had about 10 minutes left, just enough to trot a quick message off to Megan! But of course, I still had no bars, so I just sat for awhile, allowing my thoughts to catch up to me, and wondering about the experience that was to come.
At this point, I wouldn’t exactly have called myself a True Believer, but a spark of belief was beginning to take root inside me, once I tallied up all the slightly magical things that had already taken place seemingly before my eyes, starting with the disappearing glitter bomb from the initial package. A knock at the door bounced me out of my reverie – it was Gunter, again, waiting to escort me to The Man Himself – St Nicholas, Papa Noel, Father Christmas, I was ready to meet Santa Claus!
TO BE CONTINUED
At first, we didn’t even know they were there. Little things started happening in our idyllic, semi-rural community of farmettes. First it was Old Lady Capshaw down the lane – accusing the kids of stealing her apple pies or reading glasses off her front porch. We didn’t pay it much mind then – she’s 92 and her memory isn’t what it used to be. Chalked it up to her misplacing the glasses or not actually baking the pie. After it kept happening over months, we questioned all the kids – ranging in age from 5-17, across all 7 farmettes – and they all denied stealing anything. Had no reason to doubt them, they loved their old granny Capshaw, wouldn’t’ve done anything to cause her distress on purpose.
Other things started to go missing, and not just off front porches. Hens didn’t seem to be laying as many eggs over the summer, and small items missing from the clothesline. A hammer taken out of Horace Johnson’s tool shed and little Charley Harris’s jr Big Wheel. We were all trying desperately to be neighborly and not blame one another, but it was obvious a thief was in our midst. We’d smile at our neighbors on the street but cast an eye of suspicion after they passed.
They got bolder in the fall – parts being taken out of tractors, locks broken, bags of grain missing from silos, an entire hog taken right out of her pen on the Henderson farmette! And on around Halloween, Charley’s big brother Jimmy was out in the pumpkin patch to collect future jack-o-lanterns one evening and heard a rustling in the corn nearby, then claimed to have seen a shadowy figure running away with a sackful of corn. He used it to scare the little ones, so we only half believed them, until other strange things started happening.
First Jenny Larson, who was 12 years old and never told a lie in her life, said she saw three dark figures near the Johnson barn when she was walking home from the Sadie Hawkins dance at the Junior High, which lent credence to Jimmy’s story. She turned away to ask if her friend Hannah had seem them and then they were gone, but she swears she saw ‘em. Old Man Jones was fishing out by the Snyder Pond - which is way out on the periphery of the community – and says he found a small lean-to under a big boulder with four little bedrolls and a bunch of other stuff, but when he brought some of the other men to scout it out, it was gone. And strangest of all were the...mobiles? talismans?...that started showing up all over the place, in trees, under porches, inside milkboxes and barns – small, crudely-fashioned figures of animals and people whittled from wood or woven from reeds and cornhusks.
That Thanksgiving was tense as we all gathered in our houses, gathered for meetings, took turns walking the parameter keeping watch for any weird activity – and weird activity we did see, but always at dusk, always on the periphery, always out of the corner of our eyes. We tried to keep a watchful eye, but eggs, hens and livestock were still disappearing out from under us, and several folks heard giggles even as they heard quick footsteps taking flight.
As the first snows started to fly, the odd footsteps that led to nowhere started appearing. And early on Christmas morning, young Harvey Weaver and his new wife had gotten up with the chickens to milk the cows and as they headed back to the farmhouse, saw four dark figures leaning up against the fence on the Larson’s north field, watching them. Standing and sitting, lined up against the fence, watching, unmoving, unafraid.
That’s when the kids started disappearing, one by one.
Which American do I pick? The Mormon or the Texan? I probably shouldn’t be so confused – after all, I already have plans to marry the Texan and go to Texas with him. But...
I’ve been dating the Texan for two years. He’s funny – he makes me laugh, and I can completely be myself around him. He’s cute, too – in a nerdy way. I’m just not sure I ever pictured marrying someone like him – it’s not as romantic as I expected it to be with your beloved.
The Mormon is here on his mission, we’re not actually dating, but...I allowed him to “convert” me. Ha ha – not really – I’m Jewish, after all, and that’s how I’ll stay, but he’s cuuute and so very earnest, and we can’t date because of his mission, so yeah, I allowed myself to listen to his teachings.
My parents would be scandalized if they knew this – they like the Texan – he comes from a good family, though he’s not jewish, either.
But the other day, something happened. Me and the Mormon were talking through a chain link fence. He told me his mission was almost over, that he was leaving. My hand was on the fencepost and...he covered my hand with his...which is a HUUUGE no-no, because he’s on his mission! So I knew I wasn’t imagining it, that there was something between us! My heart nearly exploded, it was sooo romantic.
I went home and cried.
I went out with the Texan. He could see how miserable I was, and figured out why. Well. Do you know what he said?
“I hate to see you so sad. I know why you’re sad. I have money saved for us to travel back to Texas, but you can have it. You can have it, and you can follow him. I just want you to be happy.”
Now how’s a girl supposed to respond to that???
I married the Texan, after all. We married here, in Montevideo with our families there to witness. I moved to Texas with him, but we didn't stay long - moved to California to teach at Peace Corps camp, where we had our oldest daughter - then moved onto Vermont. I took a trip back home when the baby was about 7 months old, so she could meet her Abuelos, and do you know what my mother told me?
The Mormon came back.
Yes - around the time the baby was born, the Mormon knocked on her door. He was done with his mission, and had come back for me. HE CAME BACK FOR ME! Now that's something out of a romance novel if ever there was. IN the novel or the film, of course, the heroine would drop everything to be with her ONE TRUE LOVE - but of course, real life is stranger and more mundane by turns. I loved The Texan too, and now we had a baby to think of. And I was happy in my new life.
The Mormon married someone else and had three kids. The Texan and I saw the whole world more than twice over! And also had three kids. The Mormon and I exchange holiday cards every year. Everything worked out the way it was supposed to, but I'm a storyteller, and sometimes I wonder what might've happened if...
MEETING AT THE RAINBOW BRIDGE
By Carolynne Wilcox
Woman walking through unformed haze of underworld,
searching for something.
Hello...? Is anyone here?
Sound FX: purring
Sound FX purring & kitty trills
Vixen? Vix? Is that you? Here, kitty!
Vixen enters, woman dressed in vague suggestion of a
beautiful, dainty, but feisty calico cat.
Oh, my sweet baby!
The two reunite, joyously.
Oh, sweet baby, I missed you SO much!!!
Missed you, Mama.
You can TALK!
All speak language heart. Meow.
I can’t believe it. I never thought I’d see you again.
Vixen headbutts and nuzzles woman vigorously.
Woman scratches Vixen’s head..
I’m so sorry.
What sorry for?
Wish we’d taken you to the vet sooner. Wish vets would check more deeply
at the first sign of something wrong. Wish those cretins making medicine for
cats would make the pills smaller.
You always wanted me to watch you & pet your butt while you ate.
I’m sorry I didn’t do it often or for very long. If I could go back...
Okay! Mama. Love.
Awww, sweet pea, I love you, too. You can’t imagine how much.
Losing you was one of the worst things to ever happen to me.
Know, Mama. Stayed around – watched. Talked you. Talked Echo.
Silly black cat.
Echo took care of me...after. In her janky way.
Silly black cat. Brat.
She missed you, too. You were her whole world!
She stepped up! I hope I didn’t...make you...stay around.
Wanted to. Missed you. Love. Love.
Vixen rubs all the way around woman’s legs. FX: purring sounds.
Awww, Vix. I’m so happy to see you.
She walks towards the exit.
Smiling through tears
Yes. Go together.
Woman follows Vixen out.
Day to day thoughts, rants and mental detritus.