Thursday, December 12, 2013

It's a Beautiful Day for Good News, Volume 1

Earlier this year, I started a semi-regular newsletter to friends that I call "It's a Beautiful Day for Good News." It's intended as my counterpoint to regular news outlets that would have you believe that the world is a scary and dangerous place, filled with rape, murder, abuse, fraud, and robbery around every corner, and 95% on fire at any given time. I can't watch the news anymore, because it depresses me to an intense degree. So, every so often, I gather stories that are refreshing and inspiring, about people doing lovely things for others, and it has been recently suggested (by my awesome brother) that I include this in my blog here. The motion was seconded, so here we are.

This first installment is made up of stories that I've shared through the newsletter previously, but I love them so much, I offer them here.

Seattle is planning to create a city park, wherein they will plant edibles that are free to anyone:

The Friendliest Restaurant in the World:

The Jiffy Mix company may not be perfect, but it's still a role model:

This little guy is pretty awesome, the way he pieces together where his dinner came from. Also, I applaud his mother, who really listens to him and respects his choice.

If you haven't heard about Caine's Arcade, you absolutely must go here. It's one of my favoritest stories ever, ever, ever.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Dramarama Presents: Works-in-Progress

I love the term "work-in-progress." It means, "I know it's not finished, but I want to share what I've got so far."

I used it a lot last night, when the fourth- and fifth-grade Dramarama acting students presented readings of scenes that the third- through fifth-grade Dramarama Playwrights worked on in class earlier this fall. The playwrights were the directors and narrators of their own plays.

This whole thing was an experiment in curriculum for me. I'd never offered a playwriting class before, and then, to attach it to the acting class was kind of risky. But the students did super, and I was very proud of them.

As families were arriving, I gathered the students at the front of the room to chat. "Is anyone nervous?" I asked. Several hands went up. I asked the lone boy, a fifth-grader, why he was nervous. "I'm afraid my voice will crack. Sometimes it does that." I smiled. Puberty's a struggle.

Every single student, actors and playwrights, had family members at the presentation. That is a wonderful, inspiring thing. 4:00 pm is a difficult time to get working adults to attend anything, and surely not everyone who wanted to come was able to, but there was not a single student who didn't have someone there to support them. That's thrilling.

I've posted a photo of the playwrights earlier, so here are the acting students:

I love my job.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Ephemeral Nature of Theater

Carrie the Musical closed over a week ago. I'm still sad.

I wrote this as a Facebook status after Chicken Heart closed in July. When Carrie closed, I thought about it again. I had intended, before re-posting it here, to embellish it a little to include the tender feelings I have towards this most recent theater experience, but I don't know what I should add or change. The feelings of writing/directing/producing a show and acting in one are very different, but both are deeply personal and extremely delicate.

Oh, I should say that I stole the title from a comment made by Robert Trussell when I originally posted it: "This is the best essay I've ever read on the ephemeral nature of theater." Thanks, Bob.
Theater is a funny art form. We work for weeks, months, even years toward the singular goal of putting up the best production we can. We must put so many everyday-life elements on hold during that time: adequate rest, relationships, regular meals and other self-care, other work, house work, any semblance of free time... We hope that we are able to communicate our intentions for the play, and worry... that we won't. At the first audience laugh, we exhale... just a little. But there's the next laugh line, the next visual gag, the next tense moment, the next calculated reveal... And before each one, we pray that everything we've done up until that moment was the right way to do it, and that audiences will find your work, in some way, moving.

Then, it's over.

That's the nature of the beast. Theater is temporary. That goal, that has consumed our lives for so long, is just...gone. Forever.

So we clean up the detritus of the production that strewn all over our homes and cars, and we try to get back into "real life," without The Play. Laundry and grocery shopping and social functions and family, oh, a meal, served on plates, eaten with forks, sitting at a table at home.

But there's been a death, of sorts. A major part of your life is no longer there, and we have to bury it before we can get back to the land of the living. There is a mourning period when it's gone. Sometimes it's just a flash, a minor adjustment, but sometimes, it takes longer to get over the loss, and it hurts.

Theater is a funny art form. It's exhausting and frustrating and joyful and challenging and delicate and maddening and beautiful and triumphant and a will-o-the-wisp and a siren song and a phantom and a mirage. And it's why I have such a long, long list of projects, always waiting for me to come back to them.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Performance Reviews for "Carrie the Musical"

Yesterday was Review-reading Day. I did not read reviews of the show while it was still running. Even if they're good, reviews affect a performance, and I want to concentrate on doing the job I've been training for during the rehearsal process. A review is just one person's opinion.

Still, it's nice when you work so hard at a job, and get positive recognition for it. Everyone loves to be validated.

Robert Trussell, Kansas City Star:
"Chief among the show’s pleasant surprises is that Tara Varney, perhaps best known as a director of original work at the annual fringe festival, possesses a formidable voice, which she demonstrates as the religiously obsessed Margaret White."

Steve Wilson,
"Tara Varney plays Margaret White, the overly controlling and religious fanatic mother of Carrie. Her acting is robust and deliberate, yet her singing voice is even stronger. Her interpretation of the mother makes you first despise her and feel even sorrier for Carrie. Later you can feel her anguish as she begins to lose control of Carrie."

Bob Evans,
"...Margaret White, craftily portrayed by Tara Varney..."

Kristin Shafel Omiccioli,
"Leading the pack is Fringe Festival regular Tara Varney as Margaret White, Carrie’s fanatical mother. Varney’s mature voice expressed a range of emotions from “the crazy” to overprotective to even tender and regretful."

Read more here:

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Most Magical Place

I was pacing in a corner backstage during "Carrie" last week, running lines, when I came out of my circle of concentration for a minute and looked around.

I saw people in costumes, getting ready to go onstage, and some were coming off. I saw people in tech blacks, setting props. I saw blue-light silhouettes and shadows, weaving in and out of each other. I saw ropes and pulleys and run lists and set pieces. I saw costumes laid out for upcoming quick-changes. I saw masking. I saw props tables laden with incongruous items like a basketball, a candlestick, a laundry basket, a chopping knife, a skateboard, a pin cushion, drug pipes, a tiara, plates of apple pie, and empty beer bottles.

People were running to get where they needed to be on time. People were waiting for their cues. People were quietly joking with each other. People were hugging. People were tucked in corners, trying to get focused.

I sat in a chair behind the set and looked up at the two levels, joined by steep escape stairs. I saw screws and staples and stage light filtered through "window" coverings. I saw the shadows of actors onstage, and listened to their amplified voices singing, so richly. I imagined the stage manager in the tech booth, calling cues to the light board op and the sound op. I thought of the spot ops in their crow's nests, above the audience's heads. There are a lot of tech cues. A lot.

Backstage is not pretty. It's plywood and 2x4s and glow tape, stitched together in workable, but decidedly unattractive ways. It is usually crowded and often dirty. I get splinters constantly.

I took all this in, the sight of a place I've been thousands of times before, and I started to cry.

All these people, working together to create something that the audience won't ever completely understand the workings of. Even if they're in the industry, if they're not backstage, right now, they have no idea. And I don't either, when I'm the one sitting in the audience.

It's amazing. It's mysterious and inspiring. The energy and passion represented backstage during a performance is staggering. The whole of the production process is hidden away behind the curtains and flats. It's this massive, delicate secret that even the people involved don't always realize they are inside. It's fragile and ugly and chaotic and really, the most gorgeous, magical place there is.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Remembering My Creative Self

"Carrie" has put me in so many emotional and creative places in the last couple of months - places that I haven't been in awhile. The last few years, my creativity has been funneled into writing and directing, but being back onstage has started up the restless engine again, the one that requires much stimulation as fuel. I've been drawing (sometimes on myself) and other various types art-ing, and writing poetry again. I've been amazed by people again. I want to touch everyone and look into their eyes until I see the person they're trying to hide. And I want to be seen again. I've been hiding, and I didn't even know it.

My creativity habit, in recent years, has been me, alone, at a computer, for hours on end. This is punctuated by production meetings once in awhile. I was good with that.

I forgot about backstage. I forgot about onstage. I forgot about holding hands and taking a big breath together and jumping into the water. I forgot about being with people, silently, in the dark, waiting for our entrance cues. I forgot about grasping hands, exchanging glances, and bowing for an audience who is expressing their appreciation.

Now, suddenly, I'm there in it again. And I'm not the only person in the group who makes up songs about whatever is in front of me at the time, or the only one who gets excited about finding feathers and pretty leaves, and thinks, "There must be something I can do with this." I'm not the only one who makes jewelry and raunchy jokes. I'm also not even the best at these things. It is inspiring to be around people who do it better than I.

I forgot that I need to be stimulated, all the time. By people and their wonderful, magical, bizarre, impulsive, generous whims. They feed my Imagination Monster.

And here I thought I had become an introvert. I just forgot.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Tuesday Restlessness

We've finished two weekends of Carrie the Musical so far, and I've noticed that, starting about Tuesday the following week, I start getting really restless. Irritable. Listless. Lethargic and anxious and almost explosive, all at the same time. That doesn't even make sense, but it's still true. There's a storm brewing inside me.

But why? Obviously, I miss the show and I'm eager to get back. But get back to what? The material?  The camaraderie? The attention? The mental/physical/emotional workout of acting, balls to the wall? (Ovaries to the...rosaries?)

This role takes me to ugly places. It isn't "fun." I love it and cherish it, yes, but that's not really the same as having fun with it. But it's allowing me to explore some darkness that I otherwise would not permit myself to express, personally. In that darkness is a lot of vulnerability. It's hard to be vulnerable, especially in such a public way. There's something primal about exposing those raw parts of yourself... and getting to blame the character. It's not me, no. I would never do that. But Margaret... She's vicious.

There's also a lot of energy there, in the dark. It's constructive, in a way. When you're in the dark, your goal is to create light in some form. Sometimes, it just takes grabbing matches, but other times, it requires the furious and unrelenting rubbing of two sticks together, praying for a spark.

It's exhausting.

So I get to Tuesday, and I am without that scary, yet energizing, outlet. And I won't get it for a couple more days. And I'm restless and cranky and sad and lonely. And, if I could just stop sitting around in between-show depression, I would explode.

Monday, October 14, 2013

"How did the show go?"

Actors get asked all the time, "How did the show go?" It's nice that people ask.  I know you may be genuinely interested in me and my vocation. I appreciate it, I really do. It doesn't seem like a hard question to answer, but it is. For me, anyway.

There are so many areas of "show" that question could mean: Did I remember all my lines/blocking/props/music/choreography? Did everything go as rehearsed? Did I feel connected to my scene partners? Were there any missed cues? Was there a large audience? Did they enjoy it? Do I feel good about my performance?

"How did the show go?" seems to want a pat answer to all of these questions at once. For me, there are only two levels of performance: "I sucked," and everything else. Choice 1: black. Choice 2: every shade of gray. Both answers have a lot of information and emotion attached to them. Generally, I don't even know how it went anyway. I have no idea how to critique myself anymore. And I don't even know if that's a good or bad thing.

My inclination is to answer all questions honestly, but I don't think most people actually want to hear how the show really went, because the answer can be long and complicated and difficult to communicate. The question is usually a pleasantry, like, "Hi, how are you?" which, usually, really means, "Hi, give me a quick, small-talk answer about your current state of being, I'll respond similarly, and we'll get on with our lives." It's not that we don't care about each other, but we're busy people, and intimacy takes time.

And frankly, when you ask me about the show, I probably don't want to go into any detail anyway. Because I'm pretty much never satisfied with my work. But I can't really tell you that, because then you feel you have to give me some kind of pep talk, and that's not a necessary burden for you to have to carry.

So, "How did the show go?"

It was great. Thank you for asking.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Letter to the Parents of my Dramarama Playwrights

Hello, Dramarama families!

I want to tell you about an observation I made yesterday, regarding your remarkable students.

As I'm sure you are aware, students are now sharing their work with the class, and receiving feedback from classmates. Instead of "that's good" and "that's bad," we use the phrases "What worked for me..." and "What confused me..." Sometimes, it's hard to hear that something you've created could use some improvement, and I often see the light dim in the eyes of the student who is sharing, but it only lasts maybe a minute. Then they immediately see changes they could make, pick up their pencils and start crossing things out and rewriting with enthusiasm. It's pretty awesome to see.

Last night, immediately after class, I attended an evening of play readings by adult playwrights. There was a Q and A session after each short play with the playwright, and all audience members received comment cards, on which they could give written feedback to the playwright about their plays. I was in charge of collecting the feedback cards at the end of the evening, and handing them to the playwrights, so I was there when they each started reading through the audience's comments.

One playwright scoffed at the comments he read about his short play. Although he asked, on his card, if certain elements were "confusing," when people responded that they didn't understand his play, or indeed, they were confused by this or that, he literally said, out loud and rather mockingly (most of the audience had left by this time), "'Oh, I'm confused!' 'It didn't make sense!' 'I don't understand it!' Well, tough. It is absolutely clear. It's theater. Get over it." This upset me greatly, because he asked for feedback, then rejected all non-positive statements out-of-hand, as person after person told him that they didn't understand what he was attempting with his script.

I understand that egos are fragile and that it's hard to hear criticism. But he asked, and if he wants to improve communication with his audience, he'd listen.

On the way home, I suddenly juxtaposed this guy's reaction to honest feedback with our young playwrights' reactions to theirs. And I was incredulous at how much more willing these young people are to take the input and get back to work, striving to be better writers.

Your children are inspiring me. I wanted you to know that.

Thank you-

Interview with Steve Walker, KCUR, October 3, 2013

Egads! Theatre Company Brings Fresh Blood To The Musical 'Carrie'

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Come see me in "Carrie The Musical"

I have the tremendous pleasure of playing Margaret White, Carrie's mother, in the Egads Theatre production of Carrie The Musical. It's a fantastic and super-challenging role that I am deeply grateful to be working on.
For more information, go to the show website.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

"The Unusuals"

The Coterie's
Funny Bones class
Grades 5-7
At first, they looked like a regular improv class.
But we soon found out that they were exceptional.
They dared to take risks.
They worked together, and learned quickly to say "yes" to their scene partners.

They astounded us with their dedication and humor, and they decided to name themselves.

 Meet "The Unusuals."

Don't Change that Channel! class

The Coterie's
Don't Change that Channel!
Grades 3-5
To create a "television show," it takes a lot of planning...
...a lot of collaborating...
...a lot of observation...
...and, of course, a commercial break...

...before you can go "on the air"...

...and triumph in your own game show! ...or sports show... or police drama... or cooking show...


You Too Can Run the Zoo! class

The Coterie's
You Too Can Run the Zoo!
Grades 2-4
This is a very dedicated group of fictional-animal lovers!
First, we have to decide what we need for our zoo.
And, of course, we're going to need maps for the visitors.
Celebrating our successful invisible-animal-capture adventure!

Funny Bones Improvisation Class

The Coterie's
Funny Bones Improvisation Class
Grades 5-7
This class moves pretty quickly, so I could only get decent photos when they were sitting down!
Gibberish Translator: Interviewing a person who speaks an unknown language is a tricky situation.
Eager volunteers!
Improv class is the only place where you are encouraged to pick up hitchhikers.
Yep, just another day in improv class.

Coterie's Theatrical Makeup Class

Theatrical Makeup
Grades 4-7
Design and Application

Uh...someone had better call the zoo and see if they're missing anything...

He said he was in sixth grade, but he's looking a little scruffy. Maybe I should check his ID.
Monet's Water Lilies
Who knows where you'll find inspiration?

Theatre Sampler, spring 2013

Theatre Sampler
Grades 2-4
In this class, we explore a different area of theatre each week, including:
Makeup Design...
...Stage Makeup Design Application...

 ...and Stage Combat.

 (Turnabout is fair play!)

This Is Not a Box (Coterie)

This Is Not a Box
Grades K-1
It's just a box, right? No, it's not!
It's a train...
It's a house...
 It's a hidey-hole...

 It's a car...

It's a turtle shell...

It's anything to can imagine it to be!

Coterie classes, winter 2013

Comedy on Your Feet
Grades 8-12

Where the Sidewalk Ends
Grades 2-4