Thursday, August 3, 2017

I am a Failure.

Now, don't argue with me on this title. I am a failure. I've failed. I will continue to fail. I will always, always fail.

At least, I hope so.

Not this kind of failure, though. This is a whole new level.

Variations on a Theme closed Saturday. We did not win Best [Average Attendance] of Venue. That's happened before, and it's usually a fair bet that we will. We did not place in the Top Number/ Percentage of Total Attendance of the Festival. We had six performances: The first two were decent, attendance-wise, the second two were small houses, the fifth was good, and the sixth was strong. Those two in the middle hurt our chances of winning Venue, irreparably. But that's not what I was upset about.

I was upset because I was working hard to get people to come see our show - my first solo-written production. I was upset because these people who agreed to join this project are remarkable, as people, as friends, as teammates, as skilled creatives, and I wanted more people to come appreciate them and their hard, hard work.

And it was hard, hard work.

There are productions where everything falls into place simply and beautifully. The schedule is simple, the work comes easily, and everyone loves each other and is ready to commit 1000%. Those productions are very rare.

This was not one of those.

There are productions where not everyone is on the same page, and even if there's plenty of politeness and such, some people just aren't excited to be there, and it rather casts a pallor over the entire experience. Those happen fairly often.

This production was not one of those, either.

There are productions where everything *should* be the right combination of people, schedules, temperaments, material... but they somehow just don't jibe. Those are not uncommon.

Not that either.

The rehearsal process for Variations was difficult. To begin with, the schedule was really hard to set. In fact, it was in constant flux. It was no one's fault, really, we're just a bunch of busy people with our own personal struggles that can't NOT affect what we're doing.

A partial list of various Life Hurdles dealt with during this rehearsal process:
Child care
Rehearsals for other shows
Commercial shoots
Physical illness
Physical injuries
Mental illness
Mental/emotional injuries
Medication mix-ups
Moving residences
Day jobs
Relationship difficulties
Co-parenting difficulties
Transportation troubles
Out-of-town work trips
Out-of-town family obligations

These are not excuses. Everyone experiences this stuff. It's just life. But during this process, I became keenly aware that everyone single one of us who was putting this show together was going through extremely trying - life-changing, in fact - times. And yet, we all made it to rehearsal. Well, most of the time. I think everyone had at least one rehearsal that Life crushed as a possibility, for whatever reason. And then, there were lots of revised rehearsal calendars floating around, for a bunch of the other reasons.

So it was not an easy rehearsal process. In fact, it was difficult. But we had this one thing going for us: Everyone wanted to be there. Even if depression was gnawing some of us from the inside out, we beat it back for a few hours to come to rehearsal. Even if someone had to go to one rehearsal for two hours across town, come to our rehearsal for three hours, then go back to the first one, they did it. I can't count how many time I hugged people, either as they showed up to rehearsal, or as they left, and one or both of us ended up crying.

Because it's hard. Theater is hard. Life is hard. The two together can be almost impossible to navigate.

But these inspiring people... They wanted to be part of this project. They wanted to be there, often to support each other, even if that was a blankets-over-your-head-because-the-world-is-too-big day.

After the show opened, and I was away from everyone, I cried, because I'd failed: at publicity, at house counts, at review-receiving... at everything I could think of that measures success. I wanted this to pay off, at least emotionally, for my team, and I didn't think it was. Every single other show Bryan and I have ever done was in the Top Ten Best-Attended; we had THE best-attended show in 2010 and 2014. Nobody was coming to see this show, and it's surely because I'm a crappy writer with delusions of grandeur. (Mind you, others surely think that I have delusions of grandeur. I really far way away a lot don't feel that at all.)

One day (okay, at least two days... um, three...), mid-run, I was in the shower and crying again. I suck. I can't do anything right. I've disappointed my cast and crew, I've disappointed the audience, I've disappointed the Fringe, I've disappointed myself. I don't know whether anything I've written is any good. I've blown it as a director, and I've absolutely tanked as a producer.

Then I heard my past self tell others, "Fringe is a great place to fail."

I've said it so many times. I've been quoted in articles as saying that. I even said it to another Fringe artist, just before the festival started this year. But I hadn't failed. All of our shows have done really well. All of them, since 2008. We took risks, sure, but they'd always paid off, some better than others. But I could say in bios and interviews, "All of our show have been in the Top Ten."

Because that's success, you know.

And saying that Fringe is a great place to fail, when you can say "blah blah blah, Top Ten every year," well, that's a little on the hypocritical side.

And that's also an extremely narrow definition of success. In fact, it's not even my definition. It's how I think others will define success, and I claim it, so I can appear successful to them. Like, trying to be the cool kid at school, so others will like you. I hate that. And it never works anyway.
Image result for something inspiring funny brosh
The answer is always yes.

Sometimes, a student will ask me if I've ever been on Broadway. It feels like I'm being tested: Anything less than Broadway, and you're a hack. But truly, I never wanted that. No, I've never performed on Broadway. I don't even want to live in New York. But that's not the true measure of my success, because it never even sounded that appealing to me.

I told myself, with the shower water running down my face, I need a new definition of success. Because I'm hearing beautiful things about this show. Not like people are going to tell me that it sucks or anything, to my face, but they're holding my hand... looking me straight in the eye... hugging me... whispering in my ear... tears welling up... This isn't being polite, this is being moved.

It means something to them. The words I wrote, the team that created this production... This is important. This is what I love about theater. This team is creating a space for people to laugh and cry and think and feel. This is why we do what we do.

This is my definition of success.

But this is what failing apparently looks like, because house counts, "Best of," et cetera.

So my success often looks like failing to others.

To people who are not me, it's easy to see that I'm not a "success," by the standard definition. I'm an individual, doing my own thing, with a few select, sincere, passionate, and hard-working friends surrounding me. They believe in me, and with their considerable help, we're able to create things that inspire others.

Image result for I failed michael jordan
Yeah, but can you explain the significance of the coin in
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead? Didn't think so.

When I got out of the shower, still crying, but for different reasons now, I found a flood of texts from my dear friend, and Variations cast member, Marcie. At the very same time I was reframing this experience, she was too. Her new definition of success complemented mine. So I mashed them together.

I am proud of this play. I am proud of my beautiful, tender, gentle, loving, hilarious, hard-working, tough team. I am proud of their work. Of our work, together.

Was it perfect? Aw, hell, no. It never is. That's why we keep doing it. But was it meaningful? Very, very definitely.

House counts (which I never had any control over anyway) aside, I reached every one of the goals that I hadn't realized I'd set. That's because I'd set them my senior year in college, 1994.

I was auditioning for the Kathleen Turner (yes, that one) Performance Scholarship. It was a big to-do: two monologues, a song, an essay, and an interview with the panel. I had no chance. I was up against the biggest deals in the department - people who are now on TV and in movies and, of course, on Broadway. But what the hell, right?

During the interview, which took place with me still onstage after performing my audition pieces, I was asked something to the effect of, "Where do you see yourself in ten years?" (I hate that question. I have never been able to wrap my mind around it.) I answered that, if no one hired me, I'd create my own theater, even if it was "in a closet, with a friend shining a flashlight on me."

I left the audition feeling good. I didn't know why. Because that certainly was not what anyone wanted to hear about my big plans for the future. But, screw it, theater was the important thing, no matter how it happened. I had no chance at this scholarship anyway. Right? Why try to sugarcoat?

When the department head came down to where I was working in the scene shop a couple of days later ("Put the paint can down first, Tara"), and told me I'd won, I screamed and jumped up and down and hugged him and laughed. It was just so preposterous. How could that even happen?

One of my instructors (and panel members) caught me a few days after. She told me the reason that she voted for me because of my interview answer. I couldn't believe it. I'd been so... unambitious. She explained: "That's the attitude you have to have. That's exactly it. Create it yourself. Do it."

What I thought was unambitious was actually very ambitious. I see that now.

This production was a success in a hundred different ways, most of which people will never know about. Some people, maybe those who had shows in the Top Ten, might consider Variations on a Theme a failure. But that's an awfully narrow definition.

The cast of Variations on a Theme: Mike Ott, Amy Hurrelbrink, Parry Luellen, Marcie Ramirez.
Not shown, because he's backstage, striking props: the lovely and talented Michael Golliher.

Friday, June 23, 2017

"Variations on a Theme." And "Variations on a Scene." Two titles, because two shows.

We're baaaa-aaack!

After taking last year's Fringe Festival off (actually, not really - we just helped others with their projects), Bryan and I are plunging headlong into 2017's Fringe... with two shows.

And I wrote them both.


We're producing (and I'm directing) my play, Variations on a Theme. Bryan is heading the second project, Variations on a Scene. I expect many people to get confused by the titles as they travel...  I mean, flock to... nay, storm the theatres to see them both. So I shall explain.

Variations on a Theme
It all started the summer of 2009. I was preparing for Lingerie Shop rehearsal, our second foray into creating our own theater, via Fringe. I was putting out some snacks, but had to wash some dishes first. As I suds up a spoon, the thought hit me, very hard: These people trust me to wash dishes the way they would wash dishes. That seems like a given, I suppose, because everyone wants clean dishes, but I know some people who have displayed questionable dish-washing skills. I realized my cast assumed that I was going to do it the way they expected me to. I also realized that they would be rather upset with me - and for good reason - if they discovered that, say, I'd washed the dishes without using soap, or with cold water, or that I kept them in the hamper with dirty laundry, or something.

Bryan and I had been living together for a couple of years at this point, and suddenly, any arguments we'd ever had (there aren't many to choose from, really) made sense. I learned to make oatmeal with milk and brown sugar; he makes oatmeal with water and butter. Clearly, he is wrong.

This is a silly example, of course, but it essentially applies to everything that we disagree on: we are different people, with different experiences, but we assume that there's only one way to make oatmeal, because that's what we know. There's one way to wash dishes correctly. There's one way to raise a child. There's one way to best get to your driving destination. There's one way to make a grocery list (his is just a list of stuff, mine is a list of stuff in the approximate order in which you will encounter them in the store - which makes way more sense, duh).

However, we do agree on the really important stuff.

I discovered a link between this observation and a recurring stumbling block I encountered teaching acting classes. There's a standard improv game called "What Are You Doing?" It goes like this:

ACTOR 1 ties her shoes.
ACTOR 2: What are you doing?
ACTOR 1: I'm making lasagna.
ACTOR 2 starts "making lasagna."
ACTOR 3: What are you doing?
ACTOR 2: I'm vacuuming Jupiter.
ACTOR 3 starts "vacuuming Jupiter."
ACTOR 4: What are you doing?
ACTOR 3: I'm fishing for compliments.
And so on...

Sometimes, someone would say something that had multiple meanings, like "I'm painting a house." That could mean, "I'm using this paintbrush to apply paint and change the color of the exterior of this house." It could also mean, "I'm standing at an easel, with a palette in my hand, using this paintbrush to render an image of a house on this canvas." Which one is the correct interpretation? Both are, of course. The conflict arises when Actor 1 would tell Actor 2 that their interpretation was not the one they meant, and should change it to reflect the intention. No, no, no, Actor 1. Actor 2's interpretation is correct. You just assumed they would know what you meant. Hence, the link to my observation of different life experiences (and ambiguous phrasing!) leading to breakdowns in communication.

Then, of course, there are outside reasons for communication issues as well: to-do lists, schedule conflicts, phone calls, emails, project deadlines, current surroundings, literally speaking different languages... and dark moments in one's past, such as abuse, a house fire, a car wreck, the death of a loved one, divorce...

So this show's theme variations = road blocks to communication. Which isn't as heavy as it may sound, I swear. I mean, Three's Company ran for eight seasons, and every single episode was based on a misunderstanding.
Image result for threes company
For real, though: There are 47 ways to interpret this photo alone. 
Variations on a Theme is nine unrelated two-person scenes, and in each, someone has something they need to say, but for some reason, can't. Most are funny. Some are not. For a couple of them, I challenged myself to write completely outside of my comfort zone.

There's a cast of four incredibly dear, smart, dumbfoundingly talented people: Amy Hurrelbrink, Parry Luellen, Mike Ott, and Marcie Ramirez. Also, Michael Golliher is my assistant director, and is currently keeping me sane, because making theater, folks. It's nuts.

Variations on a Theme will be presented at the MTH Theater in Crown Center as part of the Kansas City Fringe Festival:

Fri, July 21 at 8:00
Sun, July 23 at 5:00
Mon, July 24 at 6:30
Tues, July 25 at 9:30
Thurs, July 27 at 8:00
Sat, July 29 at 6:30

Variations on a Scene
I remember when I was doing my first play in high school, my dad asked me why it took so much time. I mean, every night? For weeks? I tried to explain about learning lines, and music, and choreography, and scene changes, and how that all multiplies by x-number of cast and crew members. Truly, at that point, I didn't know the half of it.

Most non-theater people are pretty ignorant of how a production comes to be. Being ignorant is not a bad thing. I'm ignorant of what all goes into brain surgery and carpet installation and the stock market and making a soufflé. All of those things (and so many more) mystify me. And I'm not inclined to learn about those things either. Other things want my time and effort.

Bryan thought people might be interested in peeking in on the actor's process. Makes sense. I'm asked about it all the time. (Particularly, "How did you learn all those lines?!") But, you know, an abbreviated actor's process. Because other things want your time and effort.

Now, if only we had a play that was made up of several short, stand-alone scenes... aha! Variations on a Theme will work just perfectly, thank you.

So Variation on a *Scene* puts two actors, Jay Coombes and Caroline Dawson, onstage, without having any idea what script they're about to be handed. They read it cold for the first time onstage, and the rest of the performance is them, rehearsing the same short scene, exploring the script, and making character and relationship choices.

We did a test drive of this concept several months ago, using different actors and a different script.
We got some good feedback. As it turns out, non-theater people did find the acting process interesting. As did the theater people we'd invited. It's interesting to note that each group thought the other group might not find it as compelling as they did, themselves. Hm. Assumptions based on past experiences, anybody?

Scene is improv, but with a script. The words on the page are the only boundaries. Everything else is up for interpretation by the actors - many interpretations. Jay and Caroline will be given a different script for every performance, and they're not allowed to see Theme until after their last show. They have no idea what they're getting themselves into. *maniacal laugh*

Scene will be performed at MTH's Stage 2 in Crown Center. You don't even have to leave the space to see Scene AND Theme! We totally did that on purpose, for your convenience. (No, we didn't. But it's awfully nice that it worked out that way.) Show times for Variations on a Scene are:

Mon, July 24 at 6:00
Tues, July 25 at 7:30
Wed, July 26 at 9:00
Fri, July 28 at 9:00
Sat, July 29 at 4:30

Tickets for all shows are $10, with a one-time purchase of a $5 Fringe button, that's yours to keep forever! (All the cool kids have one.) Tickets and buttons are available at the Fringe office on the lower level of Union Station, and at all venues.

I'll be there, possibly at the bar, staving off my anxiety with Shirley Temples and popcorn. I'm so hard core.
Image result for shirley temples drink popcorn
I can't believe I actually found an image that fit that search.


Friday, April 14, 2017

It's a Beautiful Day for Good News, Vol. 10

Oh, I'm so ashamed. It's been far, far too long since I've posted good news for you (and me).

If you're new here, this is the reason for this section of my blog: Everything sucks. At least, that's what the news would have you believe. That's how they make their ratings/money. Americans, in particular, looooove drama. Twenty-four-hour news, I suspect, now takes the place of soap operas, where we used to get our drama fixes. (That's a super-scientific claim, BTdubs. I have all kinds of memories and superficial observations to support it.)

I need to remind myself that, really, there's far more good in the world than is popular to report. And maybe you need that too. And that's why "It's a Beautiful Day for Good News."

I'm going to try to make a little change, due to recent feedback I've gotten regarding this blog. I'm told that posting many links at once - no matter how great they are - can be a little daunting to get through. So I'm now going to experiment with limited my shared stories per post, but then hopefully post more often.

We'll see. If you have feedback - on anything of this - I'm happy to hear it.

Strangers leave server a $400 tip - and that's just the beginning.

Officials wouldn't allow a teen athlete to box in a hijab, so her opponent protested.

Dads show their love and support by participating in their daughters' ballet classes.

Bonus: cat comic.
Image result for cat cartoon head "good place to sit"
Marcie sent me this, because my face is evidently a comfy place for my cat to relax.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

2016: My Year in Review

2016. There's a lot of talk about how much it's sucked. I see that; I understand.

A lot of artists that truly impacted my life died this year. Not to be insensitive or pessimistic, but it's not going to get better in 2017. See, age happens. Every day, we all come closer to the end of our lives. That's just how it is. Those that we look up to are generally older than we are, so we're bound to witness the end of some lives. It's no fun, but it's not because 2016 sucked any more than any other year. I'm trying to remind myself that birth is as common as death, and think of all the people born this year who are going to change the world. That's comforting, and vitally important. We are responsible for making sure they don't lose the creativity that's inherent in all tiny humans.

My own personal 2016 has been a mixed bag too. I started it with a severe ankle sprain and broken wrist bones, and so spent a lot of time with doctors and therapists. The good things that came from that include the lesson of asking for help (again), the knowledge that I hate Vicodin (though it does take care of that pesky pain), and the massive fun of telling every student a different story when asked me what happened (including "BMX," "ostrich racing," and "rival caroling gangs").
Also, the nurse who made my cast responded to my question,
"I only get to choose one color?" with, "Nope."

So there's good, even inside the bad.

And on that note, here are some of my personal/professional (because they're the same thing, in my life) accomplishments for the closing year:

I directed:
- Project Pride's Gears and Queers (co-directed)

Project Pride is one of the best things I've ever done. I love these brave and loving young people so hard.

- Mimi Dafoe: True Confessions of an Aging Starlet, by Kevin King, for KC Fringe

Starring Devon Barnes and Bonita Hanson. They are insanely beautiful,
intelligent, talented, hardworking, funny, kind, and generous people. I love them.

Also, the lovely and talented Julie Denesha interviewed me about my love affair with Fringe.

- Almost, Maine, the fall semester school play. Yes, it's sweet. It's also deeply moving and hella smart. I'm going to have to direct it again. And I'm beyond proud of the dedication of these students, and their growth as actors and technicians.

I performed in:
- "Now Grieve, Now Stop," my brilliant friend Laura Isaac's performance piece
- Baddest Auditions, at KC Fringe, in which I continued to evolve a character from the previous two installations.

My character went by the name "Dysmenorrhea."
Two people understood the joke. One was my mom.

I wrote:
- "MegaDamnGurl," a script for a devised scene in Gears and Queers
- "Clickbait" (ditto)
- "The Lost Generation" (ditto ditto)
- "Blood Moon II," a short piece of a larger piece that doesn't know yet what it's going to be when it grows up.
- "Royals" (same)

Yeah, no scripts, but I've been researching some story ideas that are flittering around in my brain.

I A'ed some Qs for:
-The Unicorn's staged reading on our newly-expanded script for Sexing Hitler.

I drew:
Among other random things...

It's What I Could Do for My Country at War, Tara Varney, 2016

Childhood is Where the Die is Cast, Tara Varney, 2016

At the Feeder! Two of Them!, Tara Varney, 2016

I've also been working on a mural at school, in the hall outside of the theatre, in my "spare" time.

Don't judge! It's not finished!

I sang:
For my - I don't know - twelfth? season, as a Dickens Caroler.

I love this job. And these people. And this Santa.

I taught:
- Intro to Theatre (middle and high school), at Kansas City Academy
Yeah. I don't even know.

- Theatre Study (HS), at KCA
High school theatre students taking a test. Because you might as well be comfy. And/or in a box.

- Theatre (MS), at KCA

Okay, this isn't a picture from theatre class, but sometimes you just need a puppy break.

- "Search the Sea," a Coterie acting exploration class for 2nd-4th-graders
- "Ready, Set, Act," another Coterie class for 5th-7th grade actors
- "Acting for Dancers," a workshop conceived with my inspiring friend Amy Hurrelbrink
Amy is intelligent, talented, gorgeous, professional, imaginative, and courageous.
And a goofball. In other words, perfect.

- "Audition Lab" - actually two sessions - a Coterie summer camp
- Two "Fantasy and Gore Makeup" sessions, also a Coterie summer camp

A glutton for self-makeup-punishment.

- "Summer Term at Hogwarts," Coterie summer camp, and ohmygod, so fun! (But then, I'm a Ravenclaw, so...)

Oh, the potion ingredients were all perfectly edible, and even tasty... at least, separately.

Potions class.

- "Legends and Mythmakers," a Coterie spring class
- "Magic Tree House," Coterie - pretty much entirely devised by the 2nd-4th-graders in the class. Fun, but so. exhausting.
- "Scenes with Sherlock Holmes," Coterie

...which brings my count, since 2012, when I thought to start keeping track, to 964 acting, stage makeup, theatre exploration, and playwriting students. Dang. How is that possible?

I'm currently spending most of my time researching lesson plans for my spring classes at KCA and The Coterie, but I have some script ideas that need attention too. If anyone has an extra couple of hours per day they're not using, I swear I'll fill them up with good, solid arts education and thoroughly-researched original scripts.

What I Did on My Winter Vacation

I'm ignoring the fact that I'm their only theater teacher.

May your 2017 be bright.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Unicorn Theatre's Staged Reading of "Sexing Hitler"

The year is 1941. German soldiers in occupied territories are contracting syphilis from prostitutes in astounding numbers. The disease threatens the stability of the Third Reich. To solve the problem, Adolf Hitler orders the creation of inflatable pleasure dolls that the soldiers can carry in their packs to satisfy their urges.

Yes, this is a true story.

Some businesses did not particularly want us to put our poster up. Go figure.

Bryan and I wrote Sexing Hitler to present at the KC Fringe Festival in 2012. When we started gathering the team to work on it, we knew we were taking a gamble. It was based on a great historical tidbit, but what we were planning was new ground for us.

First, we asked our good friend and previous cast member, dancer/choreographer Amy Hurrelbrink, if she thought that it would be possible to tell the story of various relationships/sexual fantasies solely through dance. She answered, "Ummm... I don't know. Let's try it."

Love that woman.

The scantily-dressed one. That's Doll Amy in action.

Then I thought, Wait. Does it make sense to create original choreography, for an original play, and cram it into previously-recorded music? No, no, it does not.

Knowing the style we were going for, I approached Alacartoona, a local band with a fantastic pseudo-German cabaret style. Not everyone was available for a project that Bryan and I couldn't really describe anyway, and I'd just barely met them to begin with, but Christian Hankel and Kyle Dahlquist decided to jump in.

Andy Garrison, as Himmler, talks to Christian Hankel, as one of the many experts of eugenics of the time, with musical accompaniment by Kyle Dahlquist, Richard Walker, and Sergio Moreno. And their drinks.

At the same time, we were putting the cast together. We wrote the script with the voices of Marcie Ramirez and Parry Luellen, both beautiful and giving actors, in our heads. We knew them to be reliable, supportive, challenging-in-a-good-way, and ready for just about anything.

Concentrate... look at ME... not the doll's... parts...

Then, Andy Garrison, an actor and acting teacher, whom we knew and were friendly with, and had seen perform, but had never actually worked with before. Previously, though, he'd been fairly brutally honest about another play of ours that didn't quite work for him, and we so appreciated that he took that risk.

Okay, great, but we needed someone to play the Soldier. This turned out to be really, really hard. We needed someone who could play several different characters, and dance. Dance well. And be available.

We auditioned so many people, but none of them were the right one. I contacted an actor/dancer that Amy and I had worked with a few years before, Eric Tedder. Turns out, he has just gotten back into the country, from shooting a movie in Hong Kong, and was looking for a project. I auditioned him. He was everything we'd wanted. And more.

I'd like to introduce myself: I am your dream come true.

Bryan and I had written the script, but right before the first read-through, he suggested that we not give the cast the climactic scene. If this was to be a true collaboration, he said, we would let the team come up with the ending. I was scared, but he was right. Ultimately, the team came up with a much, much stronger ending than the one we wrote.

From left: Andy Garrison, Amy Hurrelbrink, Eric Tedder, Marcie Ramirez, Parry Luellen, Kyle Dahlquist.

The first read-through was stressful for me, because hell, I didn't know what we were getting into. It turned out that Christian and Andy both knew a thing or two about WWII, and they were asking questions that made me nervous, because even after all of my research on this particular topic, they knew more about the war overall.

Ohgod, ohgod, they know I'm a fraud. I don't know what I'm doing. They're going to quit, and this will never happen, and I'll be exposed as the amateur I am, and my career (what there is of it) will be destroyed, because I'm stupid and talentless and misguided and an impostor.

Spoiler Alert: That didn't happen.

From left: Parry Luellen, Kyle Dahlquist, Richard Walker, Sergio Moreno, Eric Tedder, Andy Garrison

Christian was writing music, and came to me to say that he needed more musicians. I got scared, because of all the mouths to feed: the smaller the team, the more money we could pay each of them. More to the point, we had a pretty solid collaboration going already, and I was worried about messing that up by adding people that I'd never met before.

Sergio Moreno, percussion, and Richard Walker, keyboards, joined us. They were a perfect addition. Along with stage manager, Ryan Puffer, and the lighting designer, Shane Rowse - who made it better what I was even hoping for, while still admonishing me for costuming everyone "in aggressively gray-scale" - we embarked on what was to be probably the most challenging and beautifully collaborative artistic experiences of my life.

Fortunately, for everyone else on the team, too.

I love all of these people. So hard.

We are fortunate that Sexing Hitler may still have another life. The Unicorn Theatre, here in Kansas City, is presenting a staged reading of the freshly-expanded-into-a-full-length play, with about 30 minutes of new material, this Sunday at 7:30pm.

I'm very excited, very honored, and kind of scared. It's not only a brand-new script, it's also a brand-new creative team. The original production is so very, very close to me. Those people. That experience. The playwright/entrepreneur in me is beside myself with enthusiasm for this possibility of national exposure, but I'm also selfishly clinging to the memory of what it was.

Of course it will be different. It should be different. I'm afraid that, if I go to rehearsals (which Bryan and I have been invited to), I will try to make it was it once was, not let it grow into what it could be.

But I need to let it go. I need to send it off into the world and see how it fares for itself.

The Unicorn team:

Director: Ian Crawford
Brian Paulette as Heinrich Himmler
Amy Attaway as Haschen, the Doll, Francis Galton
Logan Black as Arthur Rink, Puppet, Oliver Wendell Holmes
Laura Jacobs as Senta Schneider, Puppet, Margaret Sanger
Andy Perkins as The Soldier, Puppet, Madison Grant 

Join us. It'll be great. I know it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Death of Artists

Time. You know?

December 31 and January 1 touch each other, yet we start over measuring time on January 1, and then lump it in with all of the following 364 (or 365) days, and judge it as one good or bad year.

So far, I'm hearing that 2016 sucks.

David Bowie died. I reeled from the shock.

Then Alan Rickman, and I cried.

And Doris Roberts. I was sad.

Last week, Prince. I wore purple for three days straight. I painted my toenails with paisleys. I wrote "Rest in Purple" on my arm.

Did you think I was kidding?

And I, like so many others, thought, "Why? Why so many artists who made our lives so much more enjoyable, who taught us so much - why so many, seemingly all at once?"

I don't follow celebrity gossip. I refuse to click the star bait, on principle. They're just people, for crying out loud. Their jobs happen to make them very well-known, but they don't deserve to be pestered like they are.

But these artists - they're important to us. For whatever reason, they insinuate themselves into our lives, and inspire us.

Maybe we want to emulate them. Because, somehow, by being a famous artist, they're cooler than we are. Maybe emulating them is one of the ways we learn who we really are, by trying on others' outrageous hats, and through that, slowly discovering what works best on us.

Maybe we like the escapism, and are grateful for them to create a world in which we're happy to get away from ourselves.

Maybe we just want to feel. That's what artists do best. By exposing their truth, they move us. Maybe we need their art to get through a tough time. Maybe it reminds us of what's important in the world. Maybe they make us want to dance, laugh, think, cry, howl at the moon, have sex, relax, smile, reach out to someone, get off our collective asses and do what we've been dreaming about.

So it hurts when they're gone. Partly because we never knew them, though it seemed like we did. It seemed like, through their work, they let us read their diaries. They played a big-enough role in our lives that, somehow, we should have known them.

And I caught myself thinking that 2016 sucks. Look at all the brilliant artists we've lost already, and it's only April. Next year's Oscars will cut out all acceptance speeches just to make time for the "In Memorial" segment.

In a whirl of trying to find something positive to hold onto, I thought, "What's the opposite of an artist's death?"

An artist's birth.

The first time I ever babysat a real baby (as in, not just a child), I think I was twelve. Maybe thirteen, who knows. I do remember watching this infant, just a few months old, and starting to cry because I realized that everything that was happening to him, he was logging somewhere, and creating his story of the world. I remember realizing that his brain was literally forming, and that weirdly, distantly, in a way he'd never remember, and that I'd never know how, I was helping to create the world he was experiencing. And I felt a tremendous sense of responsibility about that. If I was part of forming his world, I'd do my best to make that small part loving and fun and accepting.

We don't know which of the babies will grow to be our next Great Artist - the one who will inspire another generation to do more, feel deeper, and create new. They've already been born. You may already know them. They might live in your house, even. Or down the street. You may stand behind them in line at the grocery store. Maybe they'll catch you singing at the top of your lungs in the car, when you think no one is watching. Maybe you'll ask them about their favorite book, as they wait, with their parent, at the oil-change place. Maybe you'll see them pretending to be a frog in the middle of the department-store aisle, and maybe you'll tell them how cool frogs are.

Maybe they won't be an artist at all. Maybe, a scientist. Maybe the President. Maybe an inventor.

Maybe a teacher.

It's funny how thoughts and memories and connections all pile up and slam into you in a single moment, then you try to tell someone - or blog it - and it seems so long and tedious, but the thought, "an artist's birth" and the realization that I am an arts educator collided in a big beautiful emotional explosion.

And I feel a tremendous sense of responsibility about that.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

It's a Beautiful Day for Good News, Vol. 9

Hey, there! I know, I know, it's been awhile. I missed you too! Oh, it's just been a crazy, CRAZY, few months. No, actually, a lot of it wasn't good. Or maybe it was, but it was in disguise, and I'm still trying to discover its secret identity. Of course - there have been lots of good things, too - really good things - but most of those came about by going through the bad stuff and making it to the other side. Or at least a small clearing.

I carry this Winston Churchill quote around in the corner of my mind, for such times:


Eventually, you will come to the end of your hell, but only if you don't stop and sit there. You've got to keep moving.

It's so much harder to avoid taking an indefinite journey in hell if the media is telling you that there is no end, that if you find your way through this hell, there's another waiting for you, and another, and another, it will never end. You should be scared. We have lots of "reasons" to be scared - look, here's another! Bet you hadn't thought of that one, huh? That's right, go hide under the bed. That's the only place where the monsters can't find you. Oh... oops. Sorry. I was so worried about making sure you were scared of the Out There Monsters that I forgot about the In Here Monsters. So many Monsters! They're everywhere! Aren't you terrified?

Personally, I battle the Dark by looking for the Light. It's there, always, but most people seem to be so fixated on the Dark, that it's hard to remember that if it wasn't for the Light, the Dark wouldn't even be there.

So here is the ninth installment of my semi-regular post of Light. Seems appropriate for this time of year, seeing how we just passed the solstice, and are on our way to longer, warmer, and (literally) brighter days.

I just noticed that all of these stories are about children. That's also a lovely coincidence with the holiday season.

A child leaves a note of apology in a book at a Toronto library.

Another child calmly, silently confronts a shouting bigot with a symbol of love.

A seven-year-old donates the contents of his piggy bank to a vandalized mosque.

A touching father-and-son moment happens on-camera after the Paris attack.

An unbelievably eloquent six-year-old describes how she wants her parents to behave after their divorce.

Happy holidays, everyone. Keep going. You'll make it.

"I'm trying to focus on the good stuff here, people! Lalalalala! I can't hear you!"