Going dark.

I haven’t published a new post on this blog in almost three weeks, which feels like a really long time. In truth, May was a difficult month for me. It had some lovely bright spots – like a trip to the San Francisco Bay Area to visit friends – but overall it was challenging, leaving me exhausted and drained.

I spent a lot of the month of May writing about my mother, both autobiographically (a theater piece I’m working on that will premiere in July) and fictionally (exploring the mother/daughter relationship that’s at the heart of my screenplay). All of this recent personal archaeology, combined with the fact that Mother’s Day and my Mom’s birthday are both contained within the month of May, left me feeling emotional and raw – like an exposed nerve – these last few weeks.

I tried to write my way through these feelings – I often do – but found myself hitting a wall. I started writing several potential blog posts, but abandoned them all halfway through. Sometimes what I end up writing turns out to be so dark that I don’t want to share it. Sometimes I catch myself falling victim to a “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” form of self-censorship. And sometimes I just want my life to look better to the outside world than it actually feels, to me. I guess all of these things are my own personal stumbling blocks.

As it can sometimes happen in this crazy life, it took something of a breakdown in order for me to experience a break through, or at least, a moment of clarity. At my lowest point, I was sitting on my therapist’s couch, crying because I was feeling sad and hadn’t been able to shake the feeling for several days. I had thought I was finally done with the waves of grief, but here they were again, rearing their ugly heads with a vengeance. “I am so tired of this,” I wailed. “When am I going to feel better?”

“What does better mean?” she asked, in that annoying way that therapists can ask questions you don’t have the answers to. And we sat in silence while I pondered what in the hell exactly I did mean. “I just wish it were easier to be happy,” I said, finally. “Like it used to be.”

“I feel like I’m doing everything I can think of,” I continued. “I exercise and I volunteer and I keep a gratitude journal and I practice self care. And,” I said, indicating, my therapist, “I’m here with you. Which is a big deal for me.”

“Yes,” she agreed. “You’re good at doing the right things. But what if, sometimes, there’s nothing you can do? What if, sometimes, you can’t fix it? What if you just have to let it be what it is?”

Nothing I can do? I was speechless. I am not used to doing nothing. It makes me feel weak and ineffective and powerless. But as I sat there, silently, feeling sorry for myself, I wondered if she wasn’t right. Have I been trying too hard, pushing too stubbornly to be someone and something I’m not?

Going dark scares me. It’s a slippery slope, and after watching my mother slide into blackness and never come out, I am terrified that the same thing could happen to me. Perhaps that’s why I fight so hard against the dark days when they come. But I have to admit, not only is denying my sadness not working, but it’s wearing me out. What if I could learn to simply sit with those bad days, to embrace them, even? What if I could do it without judging myself, without worrying that others will judge me, or distance themselves from me because I’m too difficult to be around? What if I could allow myself to be sad when I’m feeling sad without fearing that those feelings will swallow me?

Maybe going dark – on occasion – isn’t so bad. Maybe it’s just like the weather. Some days it rains. Some days the sky is clear and blue. And no matter how bad the storm, it will always, eventually, lift. And as anyone who has ever enjoyed hiking in the city I live in – Los Angeles – will tell you, the best time to ascend a mountain is the day after a downpour, when all the smog has blown out, the air is clear and beautiful, and you can see for miles, all the way down to the ocean.

Until next time, friends.

Noir.

SNE010

It was a Saturday morning in early March, and I was helping to run a photo shoot at an Italian restaurant in Burbank. A photo shoot for a play series I was co-producing – a series of film noir-themed one-acts. I had just returned to Los Angeles after spending ten days in the Pacific Northwest on important family business, ten days that culminated in a freezing, cold, bleak weekend in Medford, Oregon, during which we buried my dad.

And now it was back to L.A., back to business as usual. I was already behind – I’d missed the first table read of the plays while sorting through clothing and property at my parents’ house, hadn’t been able to focus on production emails in between taking meetings and organizing funeral arrangements with my sister – so now there wasn’t any time to lose. The photo shoots were a start; black & white character headshots to be used as a marketing tool to promote the show. We’d booked actors in thirty-minute increments and one by one they arrived at the restaurant with their wardrobe and props. Many of the actors were close friends and as they arrived, they hugged me, asked how I was. ‘Fine,’ I said. ‘You know.’

One of the members of our ensemble made a comment, almost off-handedly, about the fact that bad luck seemed to follow me around when I produced this show. ‘Maybe you should stop doing it,’ he said. I flinched, shrugged it off, and kept going.

But in truth, he had a valid point. We were now in the second year of the noir play series, and ever since I’d been working on it, ever since my co-producer – my husband James – and I had developed the concept, bad things had been following me around. In the weeks leading up to year one’s production, our beloved dog succumbed to cancer, and just a few days later, my dad was also diagnosed with the big C, his prognosis terminal.

After dad’s diagnosis, my mother – I think, in a desperate attempt to feel better – booked a trip to L.A. to see the show, took one look at me and promptly fell apart. And when I say fell apart that is a grand understatement. She unraveled before my eyes. She went into an emotional tailspin during which she spent a week holed up in her hotel, too sick to travel, visited frequently by the hotel doctor. I passed the week on high alert, fielding her frantic phone calls, until, finally, she ended up in the emergency room. I kept vigil the entire day, helpless, watching the heart rate monitor as her pulse raced at frightening speed, as she maxed out on anti-nausea meds and still couldn’t stop vomiting, as the doctors were unable to diagnose her with anything other than severe anxiety. They sent her home with a whole slew of Ativan, and the next day she was back in Olympia. The show went on, though my mom never got to see it. And three months later she was dead.

Fast forward to year two of the noir play series, to the aforementioned photo shoot, to March of 2013. My father had just died, succumbing to pancreatic and liver cancer roughly nine months after his stage four diagnosis. Shortly before my mother’s death, my grandmother (my mom’s mom) was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and the shock of my mom’s passing caused her to spiral suddenly and rapidly. She erupted in rage fits and it was no longer safe for her to live at home, so my uncle placed her in a full time care facility. When I visited her the week after my dad died, she barely knew me, though just three months earlier we’d talked on the phone nearly every day, mostly about my mom, about how sad she was, about how she didn’t understand what had happened. Now here she was in a wheelchair, with pink painted fingernails and childish plastic barrettes in her hair, a vacant look in her eyes.

And the show went on. In the space in between my parents’ deaths, in the months where I rarely slept through the night, during the days that every time a number with a 206 or a 360 area code appeared on my cell phone and my heart momentarily arrested (Dad? Are you OK?), I found a play that I fell in love with. It was called Speak No Evil, written by a Chicago-area playwright named Michael Moon, whose work we’d produced in the first year of the series. He had such a fantastic grasp of the noir genre, such a beautiful, lyrical way of writing, I emailed him and asked if he had anything else. And Speak No Evil arrived, a simple, compelling story about a mute street vendor who witnesses a murder, and enlists the help of a down and out private detective to clear his name. I didn’t care what other stories we produced, I wanted Speak to be the centerpiece of the noir festival. In fact, the play touched me so much that it inspired an even greater ambition: to produce it as a film.

And so time went on, filled up with acting rehearsals and directing rehearsals and production duties. It went and went and went and suddenly we were at tech weekend, the weekend that all theatre geeks know as ‘hell,’ because of the long hours in the theatre working out all the stuff that’s less than fun like lighting cues and music cues and scene changes and, well, tech. It was on a Saturday morning in mid-April, the very beginning of tech weekend, that I got the call. My grandfather’s voice on the other line, distant, strained, final, telling me that my grandmother had died. I had known it was coming – she’d been in hospice for weeks – but I didn’t know it would come quite so soon. I didn’t know it would come then. There would be no funeral, just a summer barbecue to celebrate her life, when the weather was better.

So I took the call, and I went to the theatre. And I told no one. Not my friends, not my half-siblings who’d already been through hell with me over our dad. Not even my husband. I kept it to myself and went on with the show. That seems crazy to me now that I did that; that I kept something like that from everyone. But the truth is, I was just tired. Tired of all the tragedy, exhausted from talking about it, tired of re-living the same sad events over and over, of having to manage the reactions and emotions of other people when I told them, tired of the ‘I’m sorry, I have no idea what to say’ look, or worse, the ‘there must be something wrong with you’ look, the look that caused a fellow actor to note that bad things kept happening to me while producing a show revolving around noir – a genre that literally means black – as though I had somehow invited this dark storm cloud to visit me and hang over my head, as though I had unwittingly cursed myself. As though this were all my fault.

I can see now that I kept myself busy to avoid feeling like the world was collapsing around me. I can see now that finding quiet, dark backstage corners to stifle sobs before they became uncontrollable and then going back to work wasn’t normal or healthy. But all I wanted was to do what I loved, to immerse myself in storytelling, to be creative, to find my heart again. All I wanted was to feel normal again. All I wanted was my life back.

So I became an expert. An expert at work, an expert at holding it all together, an expert at being everything for everyone. In a little over a year, I co-produced nine one-act plays, and took on the biggest creative endeavor of my life, Speak No Evil, the movie. While I can admit that the work was an attempt to manage my grief, I remain incredibly proud of the things I accomplished during that horrific year. But I can also see that I took it too far. That, in holding it all together, I covered up uncomfortable truths. I took care of far too many things – and people – that I had no business taking care of. And I never took care of me.

So now it’s another year. And there’s another show. And the show must go on. But this time, it’s going on without me. Because after all that time holding things together, I’m finally falling apart. The thing I never wished for – that grief would catch up with me and knock me sideways – has happened. Without my consent, against my will, it has happened. And while I wish that the grief hadn’t entrenched itself so firmly in my chest, it has nevertheless, found its residence there. I wish this wasn’t the case, but as a beloved teacher of mine once said, ‘so much for wishes.’

This week, thanks to the generosity of a friend, I’ve been passing my days alone in a beautiful home by the sea. A place where I can spend the week writing and reading and taking long walks and lying in bed with the windows open and the ocean waves lulling me to sleep. A place that’s safe and quiet and serene. I know a week isn’t enough time to process and heal from everything I’ve been running from, but it’s a start. Slowing down does not come naturally for me, but life has taught me that sometimes, you have to submit. To give up, and give in. And to have faith that when all the falling apart is over, I’ll be able to piece myself back together – stronger, better – and begin again.

Until next time, friends.

Alley Panorama 2

Action.

I am an actor, a writer, a producer, and (occasionally), a director, and I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by a wonderful community of creative people.  I believe that actors are incredible, passionate, and generous people.  Unfortunately, the life of an actor in Los Angeles tends to wreak havoc on even the most grounded, gifted, and good-hearted folks.  Having just come off our production of PL.A.Y Noir, I spent a lot of time with 11 other actors, all of whom are not only seriously talented performers, but are exceptional people.

But the sad reality is that it seems like these are exactly the types of people who are most often plagued by self-doubt and insecurity.  It’s the smart ones, the really gifted ones, who get most offended by the game of being an actor in L.A., and end up getting the most hurt by it.  It’s true, there are a million ‘if onlys’ standing between you and what you think will make you happy.  If only I had an agent.  If only my agent was better.  If only I was getting more auditions.  If only I was getting the right kind of auditions.  If only I booked that one job, my life would change forever.  And on and on.  In a town populated by b.s., when so much seems senseless and unfair, it’s easy to turn cynical, jaded, and bitter, especially if you’re smart enough to know better.

So what to do?  I’ve always believed that the main reason people become frustrated and angry is that they feel powerless to change their situation.  The antidote to this helpless feeling is action and in the case of actors – or any other artists – the answer is to turn all that negative energy into the thing you were born to do:  create.  Write something you’d like to perform, shoot a short film, get together with your friends and put on a show.  Creating your own projects is a hell of a lot more work than waiting for someone to give you a job – I can speak from experience here – but it’s also an incredibly powerful feeling to take matters into your own hands and be the boss of your own life.  And there’s a curious by-product of taking action that I’ve noticed again and again in my own life:  whenever you’re busy doing other things – creative things – opportunities come in in ways they never do when you’re sitting around, waiting for the phone to ring.

I think the only way for an actor or any other creative type struggling to ‘make it’ to stay sane is this:  stop waiting for things to happen.  Stop blaming other people for what you didn’t get.  Stop making excuses for why you can’t create your own work.  There will never be enough money or time, and you’re right, it will never be good enough to meet your own monumental expectations.  Do it anyway.

Most of all, stop agonizing over what you have no control over, and stop waiting for someone else to give you permission to be great.  Be great anyway.

And here’s the magical part:  as a performer, you are storyteller, blessed with the gift of being able to change people.  On any given night, an audience member coming in to watch your play may really need to hear the story you have to share.  Maybe they’re sad and lonely, maybe they’ve had their heart broken, or maybe they just had a crappy day and want to laugh and forget about it.  As performers, we get to tell stories that have the power to move people, to make them feel something, to allow them to – just for a little bit – forget about their problems and the baggage of their day.  That’s a powerful gift and it’s our responsibility to use it, as often as we can, and as passionately as we can.

So stop waiting for other people to give you permission to do what you were born to do.  Get out there and do it.  Your unique voice, and your decision to use it, is something that nobody can ever take away from you.

Until next time, friends.

Getting more fun out of life.

When did life become so much work?  Seriously.  Have you seen that commercial – I think it’s for a cruise line – where the voiceover says something like ‘Do you ever feel like everyone’s having more fun than you?  They are.’ – and then they tell you to go to Aruba or some other tropical island to rediscover your fun?

I hate that commercial.  I mostly hate it because that damn voiceover guy is right.  Everyone is having more fun than me, and it pisses me off.

Even with stuff that is supposed to be fun, it always ends up being work, too.  Take, for example, the play that James and I are producing:  P L.A.Y Noir.  The whole point of producing a play is so that we can act and direct and do all the fun creative stuff that we love to do, play roles we don’t get cast in, and collaborate with our friends.  Super fun, right?

I’ll tell you what’s not fun:   all the crap you have to do as a producer to make sure the show happens, before you can get to the fun.  It’s not fun to wrangle schedules for 5 one-acts with overlapping casts, 12 actors, and 5 directors.  It’s not fun to send 50 emails a day about all kinds of logistical stuff you didn’t realize you needed to worry about, because it was supposed to already be taken care of.  It’s not fun to stress about finding rehearsal spaces, because the theater is never available.  And it’s not fun to worry about allll the stuff you shouldn’t be worrying about yet because it’s too early to worry about ‘potential’ problems that are still weeks away, when you have current problems right in front of your face that you need to deal with here, today.

Sigh.  Do you see my issue?  It’s quite possible that I need to meditate, or take a valium, or both.  But short of chanting or medicating myself, or taking a Caribbean vacation (I’m still mad about that commercial), what’s a girl to do to inject more fun into her daily life?

I think it has something to do with learning not to take things so seriously, to enjoy the journey, to take fun breaks (Really?  Am I at the point in my life where I need to schedule time for ‘fun’?), to not sweat the small stuff.  But for an admittedly type A control freak compulsive worrier like myself, ‘learning’ how to pause the craziness and smell the roses is damn hard.

I guess admitting that you have a problem is the first step toward recovery.  So here I am, admitting it.  I want to have more fun and not stress about everything, but I have no idea how to do it, or where to begin.  If you have suggestions – no matter how simple, or alternatively, how extreme – I’m open to hearing them.

In the mean time, it’s Friday, so I guess I should get started on that fun thing.

Until next time, friends.

Actions speak louder than words.

I sat down to write this blog as a rant about flaky people, and actors in particular.  We’re casting a couple roles in the film noir-inspired one-act play fest – P L.A.Y Noir – that James and I are producing, and held auditions last weekend.  When looking for actors, I first reached out to people whose work I know.  When the friends I wanted to bring in who were right for the roles we needed to cast weren’t available, I asked for referrals from friends whose opinion I trust, and when that still yielded few results, I resorted to my least desired option and posted a public casting breakdown.

Why would I be so reluctant to cast an actor whose work (and more importantly, work ethic) I don’t know?  Here’s why.  When putting together one round of auditions, I easily invested at least a dozen hours of my time contacting people, narrowing down selections, contacting more people, reviewing resumes, sending out audition sides and directions to the audition location, and then printing out/stapling/highlighting the appropriate sides per character.  I’m not complaining, because it’s a job that needs to be done, but I just want you to know that putting an (organized) casting session together is not a small feat.  It takes some doing.

As last weekend was a holiday weekend (Easter/Passover), I called actors we were interested in to check on their availability.  I talked to several of them on the phone; several others left me voicemails or emailed me to confirm that they were available to come in.  All told, by the Thursday evening before our Saturday auditions, I had confirmed 13 actors to come in and read for us.

By Friday afternoon, three of the actors who the day before had told me they were available had cancelled.  One of them had a legitimate excuse; the other two were pretty lame.  One girl actually had the nerve to tell me to call her the next time I was casting something.  Yes, because that’s exactly what I’m looking for:  someone who’s not even reliable enough to show up to an audition that they confirmed the day before.  Next.

By Saturday morning, another actress had cancelled on me.  Another flake, another lame excuse.  Something like, ‘the thing I was going to later that day got moved up by a few hours.’  Really?  Now we were down to 9 actors.  Still, not too terrible.  Let’s see if they actually show up.

All told, out of the 13 who originally confirmed, we read six actors that day.  Out of the 9 left on the ‘confirmed’ list, two never showed, and one called me to cancel while were at the audition (her story, that she got held up at another audition, I actually believed).  One of the no-shows didn’t surprise me, because, when I called to invite her to the audition, she answered her cell phone while on the treadmill at the gym, talked to me while running (I’m not joking), and when I told her why I was calling, it was clear she had no recollection of submitting for the project, and no idea what I was talking about.  A-mazing.

So what is the moral of this story?  As I said in the beginning of this post, I originally sat down to write a rant about flaky people.  But it has been several days since these events occurred and my irritation has subsided, so I’m looking at this from a more philosophical vantage point.  What strikes me as fascinating is why all of these people who claim that a successful acting career is their dream, who are striving to succeed in one of the toughest businesses on earth, when it comes down to actually having an opportunity to do what they say they love, would waffle.  Is it self-sabotage?  Fear of success?

And lest you think this was just an isolated incident, we’re holding another round of castings this weekend, and I’m experiencing a similar phenomenon.  So what’s the deal?  I can only speculate.  But I do know this:  while actors seem to be particularly guilty of the crime of flakiness, it’s not just them.  More and more, I’m noticing the phenomenon of the ‘maybe’ commitment.  In other words, agreeing to a commitment and sticking to it – a plan with friends, a job, a date, whatever – only if something better doesn’t happen to come along.

I know that stuff happens.  Life intervenes.  Things come up.  Plans change.  Have I never bailed on a commitment that I’ve made?  Of course not.  But I can tell you this:  in my life, as well as in my experience producing theater, the people who are reliable, the people who show up when they say they’re going to and who do what they say they’re going to do are like life rafts.  They are rocks of Gibraltar.  It shouldn’t be this way, but unfortunately it is.  Because, here’s the truth:  if you are a person who consistently and reliably follows through on your commitments, you are one person in ten thousand.  It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in or how you choose to make your life, this act alone will make you stand apart from the crowd.  Because it does not matter what you say you’re going to do.  Talk is cheap.  It matters what you actually do.

Think about it.

Until next time, friends.

Play Noir.

She was a real classy dame, a siren in silk stockings.  The type of broad whose shade of lipstick alone could halt the traffic on Sunset Boulevard. . .

O.K. so I just made that up.  A bit ridiculous, perhaps, but random phrases like that have been popping into my head lately, as I’m currently immersed in all things noir.  For those not in the know, here’s the 411 from Wikipedia:

Film noir is a cinematic term used primarily to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas, particularly those that emphasize cynical attitudes and sexual motivations. Hollywood’s classic film noir period is generally regarded as extending from the early 1940s to the late 1950s.

Crime, usually murder, is an element of almost all film noirs; in addition to standard-issue greed, jealousy is frequently the criminal motivation.  In other common plots the protagonists are implicated in heists or con games, or in murderous conspiracies often involving adulterous affairs. False suspicions and accusations of crime are frequent plot elements, as are betrayals and double-crosses.

 Film noirs tend to revolve around heroes who are more flawed and morally questionable than the norm, often fall guys of one sort or another. Certain archetypal characters appear in many film noirs—hardboiled detectives, femme fatales, corrupt policemen, jealous husbands, and down-and-out writers.

That’s right.  Murder!  Suspense!  Mayhem!  Oh my.

My husband James and I are currently at work on a slate of film noir-themed one-act plays aptly named Play Noir, scheduled for production in June at our artistic home, the Actor’s Workout Studio in the North Hollywood Arts District.  Scripts have been chosen and casts and directors are being nailed down as we speak.  We’ll produce (through our company, Punk Monkey Productions) five short plays, all revolving around classic noir themes like greed, lust and betrayal.  Expect trench coats and fedoras, slinky black dresses, ruby red lips, and lots and lots of mood lighting.

Over the next few months, I expect you’ll hear a lot about Play Noir as James and I are not only producing the show, but acting in it and directing a piece or two as well.  It is, as we say, a real passion project.

So brush up on your Maltese Falcon, your Third Man, your Big Sleep, and stay tuned for all things Noir.

Until next time, friends.

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