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.
Day to day thoughts, rants and mental detritus.