Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Circle Circle Dot Dot:: Theatre Thursday

As I was preparing for my doomed Theatre of the Oppressed workshop last week, I was remembering my work with Fringe Benefits.I began working with this fabulous company a few months after I moved to Los Angeles in 1999. I responded to a notice in BackStageWest, and was called in to audition. It was the beginning of a long relationship. I was cast in the show, Cootie Shots: Theatrical Inoculations Against Bigotry, which went from public performances to several school tours and Cootie Shots was made into a beautiful and fabulous book in 2001. (I appear on the cover. I have bragged about this before, but it bears repeating. And the book is a wonderful collection of plays and songs and poems and there is NO excuse for you not to own it and OH! now I know what I will be giving away to the fabulous winner of my blogiversary post! Winner to be announced SOON! Yippee!!).

Then we went on tour to promote the book, performing at bookstores in Los Angeles, and touring in New York (where I got to perform at the New York Theatre Workshop. How cool is that? Cool, if you care about these things. Which I do.). It was while we were in NYC promoting the book that I learned I was pregnant with The May Queen. We kept promoting the book and I performed while 8 months pregnant. I even stood on a box, making the whole audience nervous, I'm sure.
Our school shows and our promotional tour included a time after the show to talk with the audience. It was a wonderful chance to help them apply what we had just done, and to hear their stories.

I had read Theatre of the Oppressed when I was in college, but it was this company that taught me about it. I went on to lead workshops in middle schools, and from there we developed a similar show for middle school students, Clothes Minded?, which I also performed (I seem to be lacking pictures from that show, for some reason). Then I went into schools and helped lead Theatre for Social Justice workshops, where we worked with groups of students to get them started creating their OWN theatre pieces about discrimination they were experiencing in their schools.

The artistic director is a fabulous and creative person, who was invaluable to me last week as I planned my very own workshop. It was her words of encouragement that saw me through that day.

It was an amazing and inspiring time, an artistic alliance that is still bearing fruit today. It stands as one of the things I've done that I'm most proud of.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Hickory Dickory

I attended an audition today on Hickory Ave. To get there I drove on Dickory Ave and Dock St. I crossed Mouse St. Kid you not. Someone had fun naming those streets.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Cracking Under Pressure

Well, I'm back from my Theatre of the Oppressed workshop.

On the drive home I slowly recovered from the strong desire to crawl into a corner and start weeping. Now I just want to sleep.

I was, in a sense, set up to fail. The youth at this conference came expecting to spend a day at a "Servant event." They came looking forward to helping New Orleans and her people. They came with paint brushes and clothes they could get dirty. They had their refillable water bottles.

Instead they were assigned to my workshop; stuck in a room with me and 43 other people, playing theatre games, doing improvisations, and talking about using art to address the injustices around us every day.

Well, at least we had air conditioning.

I knew that this was the situation that I would be in. I knew it. But I had high hopes, regardless. I prepared for this, and very specifically spoke of our time together as a workshop that was preparing them to go back to their communities and SERVE. I outlined that as my goal at the beginning of the workshop and kept tying it back into that for the whole six hours.

The workshop itself went OK. On my part I had planned it well and we took EXACTLY the time we had been allotted. Certainly there were things I could have done better, but I don't feel like there was a glaring mistake where I fell down on the job.

And to their credit, they tried to be game. No one was hostile or mean or anything, and several of them were willing participants and readily volunteered to get up and play.

But I knew. I knew they were disappointed. I knew that it was not the experience that they were looking for.

I had groups from 3 different churches, and I think that they will go back to their congregations and use some of the theatre techniques to share with their congregation what they experienced at this 5 day conference. But I have no delusions that they are going to use this work to address oppression or social injustice. The passion and the interest just isn't there. It never was.

It was an exhausting 6 hours where I had to remain cheerful and soldier on. I had agreed to run the workshop and that's what I was going to do. I reminded myself that it was my job to do my best to equip them with tools to use this in their own communities. It was my job to do my best to inspire them. But I have no control over what they DO with these offerings.

And who knows, maybe they will indeed go home, and when an issue comes up they might think "hey... what if we addressed this using theatre?"


When the last person left the room my eyes filled with tears. I sat on the edge of the riser in the small hotel conference room we had been working in. And I allowed myself to fall apart, just a tiny bit. Because 6 hours is a long time to fake it till you make it.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Scattered and Inspired: Theatre Thursday

This has been a quite busy week, with things hitting me from many angles. Not a bad week, just busy, and germs of post have been filtering in and out of my consciousness as I try to muddle through everything else.

It's THURSDAY, at least for the next 30 minutes, and so it's Theatre Thursday. Last week I thought I had learned my lesson that you all really prefer these to have photos, but alas, I don't think that's going to happen today. We all shall just have to deal with the disappointment.

One of the things that is keeping me hopping this week is this ENORMOUS undertaking happening down in New Orleans, a gathering of youth the size of which continues to astound me. Luther@n youth who have come from all over the country for this convention, a huge part of which is volunteering their time and energies to help get our beloved and still recovering city a bit more firmly up on her feet. My fabulous husband has been working on this for quite some time, and just this week was pulled, at the last minute due to someone else having illness in the family, into the role of the local media go-to man. I have been watching him on TV and on the web with enormous pride.

But that is neither here nor there in regards to this Theatre Thursday post.

On Saturday I am leading a workshop with appx 40 youth and their adult leaders on using theatre to promote justice and social change. One of my many (did I stress many?) activities this week has been pouring over my books by the late Augusto Boal (he died May 2 of this year, which I just learned today doing research online).

Augusto Boal was a Brazilian theatre artist (later exiled from Brazil for his work) who developed Theatre of the Oppressed, a way of doing theatre that raises awareness of oppression and asks the question of how we respond to being oppressed.

I met Augusto Boal several years ago, at a workshop in Los Angeles. I worked with a company that did much Theatre for Social Justice work (oh... now there's a post I can do with some pictures... maybe next week??) and they paid for me to attend this workshop.

As I was starting to plan my own workshop for this Saturday, I knew that I would be using much of Boal's work. I tried to remember things from the workshop, and could only vaguely remember the room that we were in, and Boal as being a quiet but highly energetic man. However, as I was reading through my (signed, thankyouverymuch) copy of Games for Actors and Non-Actors (a way better and more comprehensive book than the title suggests) things were rushing back to me in images and sounds and emotions. It was a bit wild.

Anyhow... in lieu of a real post I thought I would share with you a quote that jumped out at me today:

Theatre should be happiness, it should help us learn about ourselves and our times. We should know the world we live in, the better to change it. Theatre is a form of knowledge; it should and can also be a means of transforming society. Theatre can help us build our future, rather than just waiting for it.

It's so hopeful and inspiring. It is making me long for the artists I worked with in Los Angeles. I miss this work. I didn't realize how much.

And it has made me want to get the leading of this workshop on Saturday RIGHT. So off I go to work some more on it...

Monday, July 20, 2009

I get no respect

The May Queen has been on a disrespectful roll lately. After a showdown at the end of an otherwise good playdate at a friend's house, she came home and continued to push the buttons. I don't believe in spanking, but when I told her for a third time to get into the bathtub and she turned and waggled her bare rear end at me, it was a pretty tempting target. I did manage to keep my hands by my side. And then as I was talking to her about her behavior and she put her fingers in her ears and started saying "la la la la la..." Well. My friend thinks I deserve mother of the year for not making her go out back to find her own switch.

I'm laying down the law. This will end. I do a lot of things well as a parent, and I probably rank up there as a top playful and fun mom. But I'm not always good about expecting consistent obedience and respect. I wanted her to have her mind and not follow the crowd all the time. When we first moved to the south I was even a bit put out by all the kids saying "yes, ma'am." But I am now seeing the benefits of it.

I know that this problem has some roots in my own lax attitude. Yes, part of it is just the age and testing limits and all that. Still, I have to acknowledge that I have not been clear and consistent in my expectations.

Fortunately, she is much better with other adults. And she's not this way all the time. Normally she's a pretty sweet kid. Thankfully.

Right now she's struggling to find things to do since TV and computer priveleges have been suspended. She knows she'll start losing toys next.

Right now I think she'd vote me meanest mom on the planet.

But in the end, she will respect me for it.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Just like that

Today I was called by a director I worked for last fall, and he asked me to play one of the girls in this play. I'm not familiar with the script, but the playwright is sharp, I know half the cast, and of course trust the director. So next week I'll be in rehearsals and in less than a month I'll be in front of an audience again.

And just like that my stage hiatus comes to a close.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sit down, you're rocking the boat: Theatre Thursday

When people find out that I'm an actress and my husband is a pastor the question that most often follows is some variation of "how does that work?"

To begin with, I am not what most people think of as your average church goer, let alone your average pastor's wife. You've probably picked up on that already. But faith is obviously an important part of my life, and I haven't done any shows that conflict with that. Sure, I've played characters that aren't model citizens doing things that are highly questionable, but as an acting teacher once said "I don't have to like Jason to play him and tell the story of Medea." It's about the story.

When I'm working on a show we don't advertise it at church. It doesn't go in the newsletter, I don't hang up posters. Largely this is because we can't do that for everything that everyone is involved in, and so we don't show special favor to my activities. Also, it helps control the information.

Most people know I'm an actress. Some of them keep abreast of what I'm up to, and a lot of them don't. I will always share what I'm working on when I'm asked. I know who is most likely to come see my show, either because they are regular theatre goers or because they are friends who want to support me. Those are the people who get sent e-mails and handed postcards inviting them to the show and giving them the details.

I always warn people about anything they might find shocking - language ("I use the f-bomb. A lot"), sexual situations, kissing, creating my own raunchy lyrics, etc.

The kissing seems to be the hardest thing for most people. I had a huge group of friends from church come to my last show, and their reaction to the kissing was pretty funny. They hid behind programs, were shocked that it looked like I enjoyed it. One 17 year old boy commented "I'm scarred for life." (His mother, on the other hand, said "I was just happy for you that he was cute.")

I've never been naked on stage. I have a general rule against it, although might consider breaking it for the right show. (Not that people are beating down my door asking me to do nude scenes. Although I did turn down the chance to be topless in an independent film about 8 years back.)

So far nothing I've done on stage has caused a problem.

I have done some shows that could be controversial - sexy, scandalous shows that have some pretty serious things to say about sex and politics and war and disease. Ive also done shows that are pure entertainment. And lots of shows in between.

Holly asked some interesting questions after my last Theatre Thursday post.

I'm intently curious with thoughts on how your congregation took in the triumvirate of controversial shows [The Vagina Monologues, Cabaret and Angels in America]? All have historical and political significance -- but do push socially touchy buttons. Did they just sort of take it in, in order to support you, and then shake it off later? Or did it make an impact in the sense of changing how they may think about war, or disease, or sexuality?

I'm not sure that the shows themselves had a huge impact, at least not that anyone shared, but I would say that being friends with me may have. I know that the people who came to my shows knew about many of my politics. They met my gay friends and in some cases welcomed them into their home, something that had never happened before. They heard me talk about the shows and why they were important to me. So it's hard to say where the impact of the show begins. Certainly there were folks who never would have gone to those shows had I not been involved. I do like to think that I broadened their minds a bit.

My husband has never had a problem with any of the shows I've done. We do talk a bit about how much to talk up certain things and around whom. Neither of us are afraid to rock the boat a bit, but we're also careful in how we do it. Maybe someday the boat will tip over. But so far, so good.


As long as I'm answering questions, Erin asked:
Now, about that naked man...
In Angels in America there is a scene in a hospital where the nurse (me) is checking out Prior's lesions, and he has to disrobe. It's not a sexy scene at all.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

14 thousand words

Here are some photos of the grand time we had on vacation. In no particular order.

Rock slide! This would have been painful even if I hadn't fallen on a large rock on our hike to the slide. It was still fun, but oh, my aching bum...

Peering at a puffer fish at the Ripley Aquarium in Gatlinburg.

We went up this Sky Lift, and it was at the top that we saw the bear!

My family in front of the largest stalactite in Forbidden Cavern.

If you look closely you will see The May Queen sitting on a log in the middle of this picture. Isn't it gorgeous?We spent a lot of time in this forest.

And no vacation is complete without food. MQ enjoyed the pizza pies we cooked over the fire.
S'mores for desert!mmm.... Watermelon!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Morris Dancing

While on vacation I read Disobedience by Jane Hamilton, and found this fun little bit about Morris Dancing, a May Day tradition:

The morris dancing we learned as children requires a set of four couples, eight dancers who skip like hell in various figures, knock sticks together, or flick their white hankies heavenward. The origins of the tradition are lost, but it probably has something to do with the pan-European agrarian fertility rites, and celebrations at sowing and harvest time. By the Industrial Revolution it was a bonding deal for the men in the English Midlands. They'd get up early on May Day, dancing at establishment after establishment, begging for beer with their performances along the way, getting drunk and then drunker as the day wore on. A lot of the older women at camp did morris dancing for a workout, morris dancing, the pagan precursor to the aerobic worship of the body, minus the spandex and the hand weights.

Monday, July 13, 2009


I'm standing in the kitchen. My husband walks in.

"Your hair is red."

"I know, I dyed it."

"It's RED."

"I know, I dyed it!"

Many of you have asked for a picture and update on my new dye job.
I tend to be the picture taker in my family, but I was able to find a few of myself among the vacation photos.

The red is most noticable when the light is hitting it just right. This often means that the top of my head is flaming red while the bottom looks almost regular brown.

As I've had it for longer it seems to be settling in; I think it looks more red than it did when I first dyed it.

I don't hate it, but I'll be going back to my regular color. I've noticed that it has changed what I look good in. For instance, red. I love wearing red, and am often told it's a great color on me, but with the new haircolor... not so much. Purple is weird now, too.

People did notice, and I got some compliments and some "um... I don't care for it" (mostly from family). Fortunately it wasn't horrendous.

But I have a new appreciation for brown.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Lessons from my vacation:

Never trust a 6 year old to apply sunscreen to your back.

Nieces are cute, until they teach your child to repeat every word you say.

Bears like garbage.

Hiking is good exercise, and a far cry less boring than an elliptical machine.

I'm out of shape.

The May Queen is a champion hiker.

The prettiest rocks are in the national forest, and you are not allowed to take them.

But you can find some nice rocks in streams outside of the national forest.

I'm glad I don't have a DVD player in my van, but glad I have a portable one for long days of travel.

Camping in a trailer with a bathroom and a holding tank of water comes in handy when a construction crew hits a water main and water is shut off in the whole area, forcing the campground to lock the bathroom doors.

A decade later and in a different state, but they are still singing many of the same songs at camp.

The Happy Meal law of supply and demand: you will keep stopping at McDonald's and buying their crappy food in hopes of receiving the coveted SCRAT Ice Age toy, which obviously does not exist, and is only dangled before small children as an incentive to get them to ask to eat at McDonald's for every meal.

If you buy just the toy and not the Happy Meal, the toy will cost you $1.49.

Sliding down a natural rock slide in mountain water that is just this side of freezing numbs you enough that you almost don't notice all the bruises you're getting. ALMOST.

Just because you've recently spent nigh on $1300 to have your air conditioner fixed and it's working when you leave home doesn't mean it will be working when you arrive at your destination.

Traveling 14 hours (including stops) in one day in a van with no air conditioner through the south eastern United States will NOT kill you.

But the migraine at hour 13 comes pretty close.

Kittens grow quite a bit in 2 weeks.

Nothing says "welcome home" like endless laundry and a trip to the grocery store.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Baring it: Theatre Thursday

I'm still out hiking through the hills, so I will sate your Theatre Thursday lust with these gratuitous photos from backstage at Cabaret. When I auditioned I told the director that I would be comfortable wearing lingerie on stage, but that after giving birth (nearly 2 years prior) no one really wanted to see my bare stretch marked belly.
I'm second from the left. I LOVED those big fishnets, and wish I could find the guts to wear them in real life. Mein Herr. Singing in German and dancing on a chair. Good times.
Money makes the world go 'round. (I'm on the far right)

Oh! That reminds me about how I would practice the songs while driving in the van. The May Queen was about 20 months old, and would ask me to play Money over and over again... she loved the part when the EmCee would make the raspberry sound! She would giggle and giggle and do it herself and giggle some more!

Don't Tell Mama that I posted this picture a few weeks ago when I wrote about understudying.

There were some people from my church at the time... you know, the one my husband was a pastor for... who came to see the show. They were only mildly scandalized. After all, I had already done The Vagina Monologues, and was just getting them warmed up for Angels in America. I didn't bare much flesh in that show, but I did share a stage with a naked man.

(and may I just say that now I am singing "Money makes the PANTS go down, the PANTS go down, the PANTS go down..." Do the PANTS never end??)

Monday, July 6, 2009

Out of touch

Sorry if I haven't been by your place in a while. I'm currently camping in the mountains of North Carolina. With no electricity. And obviously no internet connection. Makes blog reading a little difficult.

Catch you later.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Swinging: Theatre Thursday

Last week I wrote about understudying. Being a swing is similar. I was a swing for Tony n Tina's Wedding, a popular interactive show, for a whole season. As a swing I was ready to go on as several roles... a few main characters and then one of the caterers. Playing the role of one of the caterers was a cheap way for them to get servers... I'm sure we didn't make as much as paid restaurant staff. We had characters and names and interacted with the audience, in addition to serving food. We just weren't one of the characters in the storyline.
I actually really enjoyed playing Pat. I made her a bit of bad @ss, and spent a lot of time talking up the customers. I would have whole tables chanting my name when I walked by. Without having to follow a script I had a lot of freedom to just play. I learned a lot about improvising and interacting.

As a swing you're pretty much guaranteed that you'll get to go on eventually, and very likely you'll be called on to take over a role. I never ended up taking over a role because I really enjoyed the benefits of swinging for this show: I could work when I wanted to, and could take off when I needed to. The year I was a swing with TnT I did at least three other shows that required me to take a month of weekends off. I just told the stage manager I would be unavailable those weeks, and gave her a reminder call when my run was over. I was usually back on the dance floor dancing to the Macarena and YMCA the very next weekend.

The basic structure of this show is that it begins with "wedding guests" arriving, and the caterers serve hors d'ouvres and mingle. A few of the other characters arrive and mingle. Then the wedding ceremony begins. The ceremony itself is completely scripted. Then comes the reception, complete with food, dancing, etc.

The actors are given a timeline based on the songs that are being played at the reception. There are things that have to happen at a given time. It might be a scripted moment out on the dance floor. Or it may be a more improvisational moment, like snorting cocaine at a patron's table, having a fight with X person in the corner about Y situation, bumming a cigarette over at the bar. The audience is sure to get all the key points of the plot, but there will be nuances and subplots that not everyone will be in on (part of the mingling with the crowd is gossiping about all the things going on, directing attention to certain places, etc).
Leading the crowd in singing "Sons of God"

I was hired to swing as Sister Albert Maria, formerly known as Terry, cousin to the bride. The script gives detailed backgrounds, descriptions of the characters and their relationship to the other characters in the show, and asks some leading questions about what will happen to that person this fateful night. "The nun," as we all took to simply calling her, is defined as a "pretty... turdball... full of complexities and thus unpredictable." I played her with a lisp.
My mom came and saw the show. Here she is hanging out with the sister after the nun has loosened up with a few too many drinks (occasionaly men at the bar would buy us drinks... of course the bartenders knew to give us the nonalcholic version during the show... but after the show we could collect on the real thing!)
Here's a little tidbit of unexpected information... the men attending the wedding (i.e. THE AUDIENCE) cannot keep their hands off the nun. Every night I played her I was pinched and grabbed. Men tried to lift my habit. Everyone wanted to dance with me. Perhaps they are playing out repressed Catholic schoolboy desires? It was wacky. All the men in the show are given explicit instructions to help defend the nun. And it is needed.

I was also hired to play Marina, the geeky, young bridesmaid who everyone tries to ditch all night. I played her once.

The part I ended up playing the most was that of Connie, the 8 months pregnant maid of honor. I never expected to play her. It was towards the beginning of my time as a swing. I had gone on as Marina the night before, and hadn't done "the nun" yet. I walked in at call time expecting to get ready to play Pat. The stage manager approached me and told me that the girl playing Connie couldn't be there. And that I was going on. She handed me three pages of a photocopied timeline proclaiming "Connie" across the top, and told me I would be fine. I had not learned her dance moves for the Spice Girl number (fortunately, since she is preggers, she fakes most of them anyways). I sat at the makeup mirror next to "Tina" and she talked me through the show (meanwhile I was getting the evil eye from other swings who HAD been hired to swing for Connie. I'm not entirely sure why I was asked. I guess the stage manager just liked me). I went out with a copy of the timeline in purse. I stole glances at it in the bathroom and under the dais during dinner. I did indeed make it through the night just fine, and went on to play Connie many more times... under far less stressful circumstances.

Working on Tony n Tina's was an experience. It's not high art, that's for sure. But the audience loves it, and working on it for an extended time and in unexpected circumstances taught me a lot about developing a character and thinking on my feet. There was also a great lesson in finding ways to keep things fresh over a long period.

But the most lasting lesson I took away is that every wedding has a bit of TnT in it. I will never, EVER be able to attend a wedding without thinking about a moment from that play. Certain bible readings, songs (for years I ran for cover at the first strains of The Hustle), toasts... sometimes I still can't quite contain the snicker. And it's been a decade.