Friday, December 6, 2013

Letting It All Hang Out

Haven't done that for a while. Worried I might have forgotten how...people will say "it's just like riding a bike," but the last time I got back on a bike after not having ridden one in years, I went promptly over the handle-bars on a busy street in front of LOTS of people.

This should be fun!

Everyone is bitching and moaning about last night's TELEVISED LIVE PERFORMANCE OF THE SOUND OF MUSIC...and though I won't get into my initial gut responses to the majority of those people, I WILL get into what I think is the cause of my underlying gut response (which has lost me several facebook friends--LOL).

I live in a pretty small professional market. Tiny, actually, in comparison to Chicago, New York, or even Cincinnati (I'm told). A very incestuous, very close-knit (keep your enemies close) "professional" market. So tiny, in fact, that we haven't had a legitimate Theatre Critic in over 20 years. We've got reviewers--oh, we've got them in bucket loads. Mostly people who either take time out of their own performing schedule to review other shows, or people who work (or want to work) somewhere in this community. And there's lots of plot/story-line regurgitation, lots of commentary on the history of a piece (where it's note-worthy)--and very little actual discussion of the actual performance (aside from tech)--other than than the requisite fawning over all of the "popular" kids everyone loves to love because everyone actually hates them so much.

What do I know from other markets? Perhaps it is the same (to one degree or another) everywhere, but I can only speak to what I know here.

The fact of the matter is, this market likes particularly to fawn all over new, pretty people, and especially over people who come from other places to perform on our professional stages. As a matter of fact, in a couple of notable theatres, if you don't have a NYC address, you're not even considered legit--and it is unlikely you will ever land a leading role.

Fine. That's fine. They do what they do--and for the most part, it's really not bad. But what it has done, is it has trained a certain audience to believe that the REST of the "small, professional" theatres around town are not actually legit because they do not cast from NYC, or LA, or Chicago...or from wherever else isn't here. And that's bullshit.

Another problem is...because we haven't had an actual Theatre Critic here for over 20 years, there are some who pass for super stars...who just. aren't. There are shows that have been cast with the old, standard, presentational actors who do nothing more than a bigger version of themselves in every role--and everyone laps them up like warm cream fresh from the cow. Puh-leeease. Oh--and don't get me wrong--I've buttered them up and fawned all over them just like everyone else, because that's what we do (and how we survive?)--but it still sucks. (Oh, and don't get me wrong--I know for a fact that I've been mis-cast before and that people have fawned all over me because they felt it was somehow necessary--so I am not suggesting in the least that I am not guilty on both sides of the bet--I'm just sayin'.)

I think part of what I'm actually MOST pissed-off about, though, is something entirely different. I've worked in this market for over 20 years (I've batted that around a LOT in this post...and now I just feel really, really old), and I've made contributions. No. I mean, I have really made contributions. Let's see...I bet I can recount some of them here. Since I'm pretty much on the fringe of it all (wabbling towards extinction? Who knows...probably after this...), I have very little to lose.

The new rage for ensemble theatre? Yeah. I helped forge that trend. The company I started was based entirely upon the ensemble model.

Active, ongoing theatrical training for professionals (particularly in the area of movement and physical theatrical training)? Yup. Did that. Mostly only women felt they had anything left to learn (minus the ones being fawned over, mind you).

Collaborative theatre movement in our market. Bingo! Yeah. I thought it would be cool to collaborate with artists from all sorts of different mediums. Seemed like a great idea...until we mostly found ourselves collaborating with each other. Now we've got all sorts of stuff, including a fabulous fringe festival---headed up by an alumn of the ensemble theatre, no less.

And, just to be petty, our original (still in use) logo. It really is petty--I mean, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? Sure it is. I keep telling myself that.

But just so we're clear: even though this sounds very much like an artistic, ego-maniacal break-down (which, on some level, I assure you--it IS)--that's not even my point. My point is this: I HATE IT. I hate that I have this part of me who is SO petty, and so hurt, and feeling so forgotten, and so abandoned. I hate that person. Detest her. She is ugly, and pathetic, and in serious need of a good bitch-slap upside the head. She is angry and nursing festering wounds because she's never been lauded for any of her contributions--not once. Ever. And that has, apparently, hurt.

And that's why I'm here. What was it all ever really about, if at the end of it all, I'm left here being pissed-off about how under-appreciated/under-acknowledged I was? It was all EGO--period. End of story. Disgusting, un-artistic, self-serving twat. That's not art. That's got nothing to DO with being creative--and the very least, it is about taking more than it is about giving or sharing...and who the Hell do I think I am?

I think the disaster I am feeling right now is because I am seeing it all for the complete and utter bullshit that it was--and I am horrified. What if I'm not even an "Artist" at all? What if it was ONLY about feeding my ego, and this was just the arena I happened into?

I've had my time on stage--so now I pick and choose VERY carefully, because my time is truly precious. But all of the things I think I ever created? I'm not so sure about that. Today I am questioning EVERYTHING. I know that I have (at least) been a part of creating really good things...but I am questioning, now, my intention. My consciousness. The seeds I planted.

I look at what has brought me to this moment--and all I can see is an egotistical desire to be noticed--to be "the one." Somewhere. It was suggested to me, today--during my break-down--that I leave people behind. The funny thing is...I'm the one who always feels left behind. How crazy is that? What that says to me, is that the person who accused me of leaving them behind was dead-balls-on...I feel abandoned, because I abandon things. That sucks. I'm left standing here alone feeling sorry for myself--when the whole time, what I've been doing is leaving a wake of people feeling abandoned by ME. And the "Artist" in me--if there really even is such a thing in me--what does that say about the things I think I've created?

All of the things for which I feel I should have been lauded...are just things that I did to make myself feel better about me, and then I found the next better thing to make myself feel better.

So here we are. Sitting on the precipice of...I don't know what. Self discovery? Sitting here in the dark listening to music, feeling VERY alone, and knowing that it is all of my own doing. I want to emerge with some new, more elevated consciousness/reality--but I'm just going to end up walking out into the snow to my car, hoping beyond hope that the dogs have a parade when I arrive home (as they are prone to do).

And all of my ranting? I've burned bridges. Several, today--of that, I'm sure. The change will happen when I walk over that next bridge...and I haven't left someone behind. I guess that's the lesson. I couldn't really care any less about The Sound of Music if I put effort into it...but this has felt cathartic.

I think I'm going to like being back in the blogosphere.


  1. So I've been thinking about this since I read it and how I wanted to respond, IF I wanted to respond at all. (Clearly, I decided to :-)
    First I have a question: what exactly is a True Theatre Critic? That's not sarcasm; I really want to know. I know we have the volunteers, and I know we the paid employees who are sometimes drunk. But there are also some who are neither volunteers nor drunk. Maybe I don't know what it is because I've never had/seen/read one? Inquiring minds want to know.

    Next: I'm not going to waste your time by telling you to "let it all go" or to "find yourself" or other such hippie bullshit because you know that's not how I roll.
    I will say, however, that I have felt many of these same things about these same companies and people. While you seem to be using your realizations and rants for self-discovery, I use mine to judge people and then try to create better/more art.
    To each her own, I suppose.

    Some of these things are even the reasons I left our mutual organization. Some of these things are why I found it repugnant that said organization was still using the same name even though it was nowhere near the same company with the same goals.
    I do not hope for anyone's failure (most of the time), but I pick and choose very carefully which pieces of art I see. Companies whose values are so at odds with mine are at the bottom of the totem pole. I want to support friends and colleagues AND be entertained. When both my time and money are in short supply, I am super picky about what I see (based on all of the above).

    When I read the P-D article about "training," I rolled my eyes and thought the exact same thing you did: "Hello, we already did that YEARS ago!" We did it, and no one wanted to play with us. Remember when "that other company" refused to collaborate with us? and then had the audacity to attempt to poach some of our members? I thought about ranting, but I let it go because I didn't find a purpose in ranting.
    I'm finding myself in that spot a lot lately. I -could- rant, but who cares? UNLESS someone asks me. If someone asks me about such-and-such company, or what it's like to work with such-and-such actor, I'm more than happy to share. And I have.
    It's a ridiculously small and incestuous community here, and people who are hard to work with won't be hired again. Likewise, companies who are full of crap soon fall apart. I can only make sure I'm doing the things -I- want to do and that -I- am proud of (and fuck 'em if they can't see that).
    And eventually the chaff does falls away from the wheat: the P-D just published an article on another company, run by horrible, untrustworthy people, that has thrown in the towel. And I knew it would happen, and it did.

    (To be continued...)

  2. Part 2: Here are the things I've noticed:
    Artists/actors can't run businesses. It's true. It's why O. Girls fell apart, it's why we fell apart (in our original form), it's why others will continue to fall apart. Moreover, I don't think they should. What I've noticed in the companies which continue to thrive is that everyone has one job to do (mostly). There is a business person. There is a director, and there are actors. But the directors don't also act, and neither do the business/admin. people. While we wanted a collaborative company, the truth is there have to be some people "in charge" of some things otherwise those things won't get done.

    Regarding collaboration: everyone wants to play, but no one wants to work. There are very real logistics that have to be decided (times, dates, props, edits and cuts to material, etc. etc. etc.), and when dreaming of our artistic utopias, we forget that. Or I think other people forget that. Me, I'm always Negative Nancy, so those things are at the forefront of my mind. Just like the saying that writers write everyday, artists still need to continue to work and train even when they're not feeling the "creative spirit," too. Reliability and consistency are just as important (if not moreso) as creative juju. Collaboration is great, and I love it when it works out in whatever degree it does, but there is still work to be done, decisions to be made, and yes, sometimes a hierarchy has to happen.

    On being jealous hateful bitches: OHMYGOD, YES. I know exactly that feeling you're describing, and I hate it, too. It's why I consider my relationship with theatre a "love/hate" one. Those thoughts rear their ugly green heads with me, too; I don't think it ever goes away. I think, perhaps, it's a reminder of some kind -- why am I doing this? What is really important?

    I acknowledge the feeling, and I may even rant to one or two chosen individuals. Then I try to remember to take my meds (that's not hyperbole; I'm having mood regulation issues). I may indulge a bit in the fact that I wasn't recognized for what I did. And then I try to take solace in the fact that the ones who matter know that I'm awesome.
    I've also never shied away from the fact that my ego is a large part of why I do this. I LOVE the recognition, the applause, and the laughter. I'm not ashamed to admit I love seeing my name in print and that I print off (positive) reviews for keepsakes. I'm an attention whore, and I know it.

    Those aren't the only reasons I do this, but they're a part of it, and when the recognition doesn't happen, it does hurt. And I think it's okay to feel hurt for a bit. And then move on to creating something new/better/different.

    Lack of recognition is also another reason why I left. I did some great things which would not have been possible without our company and my time there. I was so grateful that I was doing what we set out to do: to grow and learn as artists. The proof that it was working was in my updated resume. Consequently, I was always incredibly hurt and disppointed when so few fellow members showed any support at all.

    Speaking of moving on: since you brought it up, I'll admit it, yes, I felt somewhat abandoned by choices you made during our tenure together. There were times when Andy was there (beating his stick and screaming at us) that I would joke, "You're not my real mom!!!" But that's kind of how I felt. Things often fell to pieces without you there and without a clear indication of who was "in charge" or "second in command." Not always, of course, but there it is. That's a feeling I had during at the time.

  3. The last bit (curse you, word limits!):
    So now what do we do? I don't know. I've found a new home of sorts where I love to work, with people I seem to work well with (although I know plenty of people who "hate" them). It's not the same because the goal is not the same (producing shows vs. training and learning). I'll admit I'm looking forward to doing some movement again on a weekly basis, but it's a tentative feeling. I'll be guarded with new people or old people who I have trouble trusting; we'll just have to "see how it goes."

    I think that's all I got. I wanted to let you know that I read this, that I felt the same, and how I've felt in the past.
    Now I should write some more, too.

  4. I wrote a comment last night, but for some reason it did not publish. Still getting used to this blog. Oy.

    First of all, than you so much for giving such wonderful feedback--I am so grateful.'s nice to know that I didn't write this in a vacuum. I'm glad to know that someone not only read it, but thought so carefully about it. I really appreciate that.

    I have to say, I felt bad about writing the bit about "real Theatre Critics," because we do, in fact, have a couple of really wonderful Theatre Reviewers--but there is a difference. A Theatre Critic, to me, is someone completely removed from the actual process of creating theatre (and, often, even from the people who DO create theatre)--and has no problem calling bullshit when bullshit exists. A true critic can be critical--and when there is an actor/actress up on the stage who is just doing their particular "bit" for the umpteenth time, calls it. A lot of what we have from our reviewers does nothing more than reinforce the bad that happens all the time, mostly, I think, because it is REALLY difficult to call bullshit on friends and say things like, "such and such actor/actress couldn't act their way out of a wet paper bag," and then go out for drinks. I think the last reviewer we had in St. Louis who was closest to being a critic was Harry Webber (Weber?)--who was a dear man, but he was honest and had an eye for what was bullshit and what was not. He was often very unpopular, but he was often very accurate, and I miss him. I think Dennis Brown is another who had critic potential, but companies who didn't like what he wrote made it impossible for him to do his job. I actually ran into him at a Walgreen's, one day...and he stood outside and told me point-blank what he thought about an atrocious show I had been in, and that it was beneath me, and that I needed to take more care in my accepting of roles, or else I was just going to be another of those actors who whore themselves out as set decoration! BOOM! (And...he was RIGHT).

    I need to think more about your wonderful comment. I am sure that I have more to say--but, perhaps, we should just get together and have a drink sometime?

    Because I adore you. And I really appreciate you opening up like this...and I think we may be onto something here...


  5. Thank you for answering the theatre critic part. That does make a lot of sense.
    And yes, the downside of Blogger (versus the old JS) is the feeling that one is writing in a vacuum all by her lonesome.
    See you tonight, hopefully!