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.