She Can Be Taught
Teaching a skill or a trick to another person is an art unto itself. You have to communicate what is necessary to the student in a way that is accurate, but you also have to be understandable in order for the student to be able to assimilate whatever it is you are trying to teach them. The biggest challenge is to try to communicate the information while considering that the student does not have the benefit of experience, which is something that you the teacher have in spades. If you are a good teacher you try to explain the finer points of your lesson while remembering that it is all still theoretical to your student. Hopefully, your desire is for the student to assimilate the information then be able to accomplish the skill or trick on their own. This challenge for a teacher has come up three times in the past month during discussions with good friends (and there was wine). Once while discussing teaching singing lessons, once while discussing teaching a new language, and once while discussing teaching me how to do this:
So I wanted to take a little time and share my journey, which is by no means over, as I learn to suspend my post pregnancy body from a rope using my own sheer will and my own upper body strength, then swing out over a body of water and a section of audience members who likely think it all looks pretty, darn easy.
Before my first attempt at doing a much shorter swing (that would only involve me having to swim in a few feet of water then dry off my ego and my body should disaster occur and I let go of the rope) I did dead hang after dead hang from my pull up bar, from a large ladder, from a sheet tied to my ceiling, and from the manila rope on the set. I gotta tell you, dangling for 2, then eventually three, and now 6 seconds does very little to calm the nerves when you consider that the consequences of losing your grip are a trip to the bottom of a body of water and a very bruised ego. Never the less, I screwed my courage to the sticking place, took about 20 deep breaths, and lifted my feet off the ground. I made it to the landing pad, barely, and after one swing back to the other side decided to call it quits for the day. I am now able to swing back and forth about 3-4 times before I think my arms are going to fall off and if I squeeze my knees together around the rope I can swing back and forth without touching. I should be attempting the above any time now!
So I want to give a few pointers for anyone else trying to traverse the finer points of swinging on a rope.
1) Your first time will be very scary, but it may not be as scary as the next time you come back and have had a few days to think about it.
2)Try not to think about it! For that matter try not to spend too much time talking about it either. Walk in and just do it as soon as you can as often as you can.
3) Some people feel that it is easier to keep your fists together at your chest, lock your elbows, and get "on top of the rope". I think it is easier to keep my dominant hand at my chest and my other hand just above my face. Neither of us are correct. The easiest thing to do is to not swing on a rope, over water, in front of people.
4) As you get a feel for hurling your body across open space with only a rope, your will, and your muscles to save you think about hurling yourself a little faster! The momentum makes it easier. Either give it a 3-4 step run, or jump up and slightly away from the rope in order to lift your legs.
5) You are probably not going to fall, so get out of your head. Remember #2? Try not to think about it.
Hopefully, someday I will be able to post a video of me doing this insane feat! I think I can!
Dads and Breast Pumps
Here's the thing, I've never been responsible to anyone except for myself. Sure, some would claim I have an unhealthy desire to gain the approval of my parents, but they are awesome so whatever; I spent two and a half years at the end of my twenties in a relationship while continuing to pursue my career, but to be honest he was never a consideration when it came to me auditioning for or taking a job that I really wanted. Maybe that was a sign, maybe not, but either way that relationship didn't last, and I reconciled myself to the idea that casually dating, partying with friends, and voraciously pursuing my career throughout my middle thirties, sans relationship and children, was the path that was laid out before me so I better get used to it. To tell you the truth I got so used to it, I was actually happy about it. Being single suited me. 2011 marked the seventh year since Brother and Mother had left me in New York with two bags and a pile of plastic tubs in Mom and Dad's garage to be mailed when I found a place to live. I have returned to the city again and again over the years- subletting, working in restaurants, auditioning, and taking gigs that took me out of town and around the world. It has been pretty frickin' awesome.
However, in April of 2012 I started dating one of my oldest friends and on New Year's Eve he proposed (8 months after we started dating, let the judging commence), in February we bought a condo in California, I gave up my lease in Harlem, got pregnant in May, and had an incredible wedding in September. I am not living the life I envisioned two years ago, but I am admittedly living one of the dream scenarios that I envisioned as a kid, and on top of all that I am frickin' happy! Like every single day for at least a moment I look at my man friend, my belly, my vaulted ceilings, my life and I am undeniably, irresistibly happy. But with all things there is a catch. It is a nagging anxiety that I wish I could squelch. After I pop this kid out am I still going to be a performer? A theater rat? A singer? An actor? An artist? Once I have a kid will I still be able to be me?
I couldn't spend months of my pregnancy worrying about this little quandary on my own, so I reached out to some of my performing/Mommy/superheroes and I asked them how they coped when faced with the same prospect. The resounding response was not only can I can continue to perform but I will HAVE to. Even my girlfriends who don't perform anymore said that I had to continue to pursue my passions after this little boy ripped his way out of me or I will go crazy. Of course, I'd heard that advice before- I mean I've been an avid watcher of rom-coms since puberty, but this time it was from the mouths of moms. Real moms. Moms who are my friends, because at 35, I realize, I have a a LOT of those. Thank goodness.
Most of my performing Mommies said that Dad is key. If Dad has your back and your breast pump has your front then you can make it work.
So here's hoping that after this last year's hiatus, the dizzying happiness I've had in my personal life will infect my professional life with opportunities that add to the happiness frenzy, and that my little boy likes musicals!
If It Scares You...
...you should probably do it. Wise words that inspired me to sign up for an acting class with the very accomplished, energetic, and enthusiastic Rocco Lapenna. (Check out the links below) A few months ago, I decided to forgo my yearly battle with seasonal affective disorder (or the winter blues), so I sublet my apartment in New York to spend Thanksgiving, Christmas, and January with my long time friend but new found love of my life, here in California. As our relationship has grown and my devotion to him has become more clear, I've realized that Southern California is my home. Forget the fact that my family moved to California when I was nine years old, that most of my closest and oldest friends live here, or that my college and post college years found me living in this one region of the country for the longest period of time when compared to any other throughout my life. New York has always felt temporary even when I was happy. So here I am. My last contract ended so I came to hang with the boy, head back to New York in February and finish out my lease until July, then pack up my crap, sell my furniture, and come back to the Golden State to see what this new chapter has in store for me.
These three months may be a stopgap, but that has not deterred me from making plans. I have been discussing projects with my fellow and others, I have volunteered to sing at a fundraiser and in a school project, and I signed up for an acting class. Last Wednesday was week two and all I can say is I had a rough one. I started the class feeling confident and prepared, but after one misstep early during our four hour time slot I went into a complete tailspin. The negative self speak would not turn off, the worries about my age, my talent, my castability, and my choice to move across the country again (not to mention making that choice for a man) started to overwhelm me. Hell, I even started to feel too tall. I had reverted to my 13 year old self. So with nowhere to hide, no song to sing, hands shaking and a gorgeous, confident, talented, 18 year old scene partner to read with, I could not get out of my own head. I was a mess. Fortunately, Rocco pointed it out and moved on quickly. An hour later, when class was meant to come to an end, I slipped out while several of the other students stayed over to finish their work. My teacher took a moment to say, "you had a terrible class today, but you better bring your black ass back in here next week and try again." Actually he said, "Bye, Brooke," but I think my interpretation captures his true meaning.
So after spending a day pondering my meltdown I remembered a few things. I haven't had to work in the way you do in an acting class for ten years. When you spend two weeks, eight hours a day putting a show up you just put your head down and go because it is all about the result. Class is all about the process, and though it feels a little masturbatory to me right now there will be tangible results; a more confident, comfortable, and relaxed artist- me. I am in the middle of a self imposed upheaval in my personal life. Even though I am switching gears and moving across the country that does not mean that the relationship I have had with my career for 19 years is over. It just needs to evolve in a way that considers my relationship with this new person in my life and the new place I've decided to live. I didn't take this class because I thought it would be easy. The twenty somethings (and teenagers!) in my class are discovering who they are, they are excited to take on the world, and they haven't been bowed by the many struggles of being an artist. They are brave. So I have to be brave as well. I've been all the way around this earth, I've moved across the country four times, I've been in love then heartbroken, and still managed to fall in love again, and I have passionately pursued my life as a performer for almost twenty years. I think I can get up in front of 13 strangers and have real emotions in imaginary circumstances!
As long as I don't screw it up.
Looking for a place to do some scene study in LA? check out Rocco Lapenna's class at The Director's Playhouse:
What I Signed Up For?
Well, my last contract ended on October 20th. Receiving unemployment benefits has proven to be more difficult than performing Chekov in front of my Russian, college professor having not consumed any vodka. Nerve wracking to say the least.
Applying for unemployment has become a full time, week long job. Last year, when I was living in New York, you were required to apply in the state you were living. Now, you claim in whichever state you have wages during your base period which is not necessarily your last date of employment. Because I didn't get through to CA until Friday afternoon and what I learned is that I have to apply in New York, I couldn't speak to anyone until a week after I actually became unemployed. Since no one gave me incorrect information, I cannot back date my claim, and in New York, there is a mandatory waiting period, so my benefits will not kick in until two weeks after I was unemployed. That is, they will kick in if and only if New York determines that I can receive benefits at all. Not to mention that tiny, little Superstorm/hurricane named after my Mother, that knocked out the unemployment offices in New York on Monday and Tuesday.
Now I just have to send a fax, yes, I said a fax! Then wait to hear back from New York. Fingers crossed and prayers by my Mom, and hopefully I won't be reduced to Top Ramen and selling my body on the street. The life of an artist?
Me- "I guess I just miss being creative." Abigail- "But you get be creative you are going to auditions." Leave it to my new friend Abigail to always look on the bright side. As we lumbered down Broadway headed away from the bar and towards a fabulous, rooftop, Fourth of July Party, over looking the Hudson, there was one thing that was clear, my fabulous summer had resumed, and the deep, dark depression I had slipped into during the month of July had subsided at last. A few fabulous parties, a free ticket to The Book of Mormon, and a visit from my best friend Amanda with baby bump in tow, and I am feeling good.
When I first told my Father I was moving to New York, he said that, "every city is the same, just with it's own quirks. What matters is that you surround yourself with good people." Soon after I realized that I was feeling a lot of inner turmoil in regards to my career, living situation, and tenuous relationship. My friend, Derek, called me out of the blue and took me to Cleopatra's Needle for a little jazz and martinis. My verbal diarrhea combined with my inability to keep track of what I had just been talking about prompted him to say, "what the fuck is wrong with you?" at least once. Every time I get depressed, my body seems to start working independently of my brain. I have a hard time waking up and going to sleep, and the slightest provocation can send me into a fit if tears. On occasions like that, I simply tell myself as often as I can, "nothing is as bad as it feels." I also try to heed Dad's advice, and wrap my self in my own warm blanket- conversations with my friends.
My other dear friend Chris had slipped into a similar state despite the fact that only one week prior he had won tickets to the fan performance of The Book of Mormon, the foul mouthed, religion mocking, multiple Tony award winning show created by the same guys who brought you...wait for it...South Park. Since my tip about going to the daily lottery had lead his name to be entered into the drawing for this special performance, he thought it was only obvious that he would take me along. It was not, however, so obvious to me. Me- "I can't believe you won those tickets?!" Chris- "yeah! It's on July 1st at 2p. It's general seating though so there will be a line. And if they try to make me work I swear to God...", Me- "soooooooooooo- who are you taking?" Chris- "You, dumbass. I think that's only fair!" He showed up at my door around 11 am and I cooked us a quick lunch. After he spewed a string of verbal attacks on the city that I recently decided to call my home, I made him promise to spend the day noticing and remembering the charm of the city, and we were off. As we followed the line from the doors of the theater to it's end, I ran into one person from almost every sphere of my life. Winners of the fan performance tickets stood in a line that snaked across 50th street, down eighth avenue, east on 49th encompassing an entire city block, had it not ended up switch-backing under the shelter of a hotel parking lot. Claiming aisle seats in row Q of the orchestra, laughing until we cried, and heading down to Union Square for dinner at a cute little place called Chat and Chew, I definitely felt like we had recaptured the charm of the city.
The past week was a whirlwind of auditions, bars, restaurants and Amanda et Alex, my best friend and her husband, in from Paris for five nights. They brought the eldest of her younger brothers, Scott, along with them and the youngest, Jeff, is here for the summer, working as intern at a financial company. My busiest day went something like this: 8:30 wake up, 9:30, work, 5pm done, 45 minutes at TJMAXX for some quick shopping for an upcoming wedding, 7pm dance class, 9:30 home, 10:30 Hiptix party with the cast of Death Takes a Holiday, including my buddy, Mara Davi, midnight to a bar opening, 2:30 in a cab, 3:15 bed. Swap out an audition here and there, or maybe a morning of laundry, a trip to a piano bar, or possibly apartment hunting and you will have a clear depiction of my five days with the Louis'. Today I am so tired my eye is twitching.
Which takes me back to Abigail's comment and my need to recognize when I am doing good things for myself, my career, and my life. My never ending quest for work in the theater and beyond has taken me to Chelsea Studios, Actor's Equity, Pearl Studios, and Ripley Grier more times in the past two months than I would ever describe here. Which, when you think about it, is ironic because this is my "professional blog". Instead I am describing my depression, frustrations, relationships, and daily happenings. Well at least I am doing it in a creative way!
The Day Before Rehearsal
Today I am sitting in Heine Brother's in Louisville, KY, and tomorrow I will be rehearsing a show in New York City. I have spent so much time auditioning in New York city that the studios where most auditions are held, have become a second home to me. You can ask at the front desk where the best lunch spots are near Ripley Grier or Chelsea but my favorite spots are better. Perhaps you need to find the bathroom so that you can change only to realize that there is a dedicated changing room at Chelsea studios, well, I have been there done that. For the next ten days i will be locked away at Chelsea Studios rehearsing for the tour of All Shook Up, and even after all of these years, starting with a new company still makes me anxious.
The stellar reputation of the theater that I am working for aside, you never know what you are going to get when you walk into a rehearsal space for the first time. The first twenty minutes are always filled with introductions reunions, and games of 6 degrees of separation, and that's even before the official day has begun. Will the stage manager be organized? Will the director be collaborative but decisive? Will these kids just out of college get on my nerves in an hour or a month? Will I live up to the expectations they developed through the audition process? Do I even know how to do a musical? My resume says yes, but my neuroses says maybe, maybe not.
Still, I have signed the contract, I can't back out now, and their is no point in worrying about tomorrow, because ready or not, it is coming.
Since the age of sixteen my adventures in music have taken me all over the country. After years of bouncing around I've made Orange County my home. Here are my stories.