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Gives No Fox….

The Story of My Pet Spider at Work

I was sitting at work earlier this week when a teeny tiny jumping spider hopped out of my keyboard. A zebra jumping spider to be exact, and I’ll have you all know I spent a few minutes of subjecting myself to some nightmare fuel to find out what kind of spider he was. Yes. I also know from this google search of doom that it was indeed a he.

Anyhow. This teeny spider jumped out of my keyboard and was crawling around on my desk. I paused to look at him. “Is something the matter?” my office manager asked. “No. A spider just crawled out of my keyboard.” I said, watching the little blighter make his way all over my pile of paperwork. “….do you need me to….kill it or something?” “No! I’m just…seeing what it’s doing.” And I slowly went back to work. I fully expected the little guy to just crawl off into the distance and go away.

Nope. For the next eight hours I had a little spider friend on my desk. I ended up naming him Fleming (because why not) and he would crawl under the keyboard , to the phone to the papers, in the papers, under the papers, back to the keyboard, along the edge of the desk, over by my water glass…in a nonsensical circuit.

The smarmy little bastard would hide IN my stack of papers and I’d be forced to shuffle them to not accidentally squish him. He tried to climb on my phone, but tapping on the desk made him jump back and think again. All day he’s crawl around and I’d watch him, occasionally going ‘DAMMIT FLEMING’ whenever he appeared to have a death wish by going into or under things and needing immediate rescue.

Suitably, at the end of the day he crawled under my phone and disappeared…..part of me hopes he hops out again to help me confuse my coworkers and give me some free entertainment……

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Rehearsal Diaries: That’s a Wrap

I’m a bad writer I know. Sorry. Was kind of busy being all on stage and stuff. The final installment of my going on about art and acting takes us backstage during the performances.

The thing about finally having the curtain go up is it’s pretty much – sink or swim. You either go out there, remember your stuff and do your best, or you flub on it fantastically. I’ve only witnessed one flub in my life. Most people when they get out there they do just fine. Being on stage, for me anyway, feels great – I get immediate feedback from the audience – laughter, gasps, whatever, and I know I’m doing my job well. This show was a comedy – and it made me so happy to know that the work I had been putting in for weeks was paying off every time the audience laughed. My scene partner and I did little victory celebrations after every run – we love entertaining .

Being backstage – however – is like being in the airplane before you go skydiving. You’re in the dark, you can hear the lines on stage, and you estimate just how long it will be before you have to go out. You run that stupid ‘fuck it’ line in your head – you know, the one that always always always screw up no matter how many times you’ve practised it. Then the ‘oh shit’ last minute prop check before  you go out, I mean the book you put on the stand was there earlier BUT IS IT REALLY STILL THERE?! IS IT?!? IS IT?!?! YOU SHOULD GO CHECK. There are people backstage, sometimes whispering, sometimes they’re supposed to be there, sometimes they’re not – you’ll trip over one of each. At least. Someone will be late and the stage manager will do that yelling whisper thing that they magically do and it will all get sorted out of fear (stage managers are not to be trifled with, in fact I suggest a ritual offering of chocolate before each show). Then it’s your cue, and everything just falls away. If the prop is there it is, if not it’s not and you improvise. Energy is at it’s highest, the lines just come out like second nature and there’s hardly any thinking involved. If you’ve rehearsed well with your scene partner any botched line isn’t noticeable, and the chemistry of the scene smooths over those small rough patches.

Then the scene is over. And if you’re like myself and my scene partner it’s high fives back stage and sighs of relief that we did the job well. As well as celebratory chocolate in the green room during intermission. The end of every show is treated as an accomplishment- and after the show it’s always fun to hang out in the lobby and let people ask you questions about your role and chat. Being able to make any sort of impact, be it making someone laugh, or think, or cry just by being on a stage for ten minutes is a really unique experience.

In short. It’s great. Acting is pretty great. It’s got some amazing moments, stressful moments, challenging moments, but on the whole it’s great, and honestly everyone should give it a go at least once in their lives.

Rehearsal Diaries: Art isn’t “Safe”

Acting can be really tough sometimes. Whether it’s that one line you never get right (for me there’s one for every show and I lovingly call it the ‘oh fuck’ line), or the part of your scene you just can’t get the emotions perfect, or that quick costume change from hell. Acting has its moments….for sure. It pushes you, it grows you, it’s uncomfortable at times, but if you’re open to it you always walk away a better performer than you started.

I’m not saying every boundary needs to be pushed. Or that discomfort and awkwardness should be required from any performer. By all means – every performer needs to take care of themselves and make sure that they are comfortable on and off stage. But no performer should ever be stagnant. Art is about putting yourself out there, allowing people to see your performance, and being organic about it. Personally, I try to use every show to gain a new skill or insight. I try different reads on characters, different stage movements, I push myself to really get to the heart of my character. Getting on stage is a way to explore, a way to experience things that may not be possible in your sphere of existence or even reality. Good art helps you grow while you work on it – you put yourself into your piece and things just start…happening. You both influence and are influenced by what you do in art or in this specific case….theater.

Art isn’t safe. The cast and the crew will give you a space to feel safe in – but art in itself is not ‘safe’ if you want to basically show up and play yourself. On stage, you will sometimes do stuff that you feel really silly doing, or say lines that are controversial, or wear a costume that is designed to really really really stand out and not always in the nicest of ways. You WILL mess up your lines – in my case at least once per run of a show. You WILL botch an entrance, or forget a prop, or something won’t work, or the cue you wait for never comes. Mistakes are inevitable. As a perfectionist I can promise you living through those mistakes is not always easy – but it is important to accept they will happen. I once was onstage as Puck and Oberon’s wig came flying off in the performance and I had to NOT break character despite uproariously loud laughter coming from the audience and no feasible way to make it look like what happened was intended in any way shape or form, it was a moment of panic for both of us but we kept rolling. Theater will put you in situations like that – where there’s no other option but to keep in character and go on – without showing you are going ‘OH SHIT OH SHIT’ in your head. You will grow through them, you will move on. The most dangerous thing you can ever do in a rehearsal or on stage – is to stop, freeze, and get upset that things are not going perfectly.

Art is not safe for someone who will not grow, for someone who will not learn to be like water and keep on flowing no matter what happens. Art is a supportive community that allows a safe space for you to try new things – you can try five different reads of a character in rehearsal, you can try various light cues or costume choices. But art is not a safe space for someone who wants to walk out the door the exact same person as when they walked in.

Rehearsal Diaries: Tech Week Jr.

It’s almost that time in the production schedule – the chaotic, painfully frustrating, OH GOD ARE WE GOING TO MAKE IT?!?!! time that is cleverly disguised as an orderly schedule on a calendar with end times that are hilariously too early. But we’re not there….yet. That’s next week. So tune in then for HELLFIRE WEEK.

But this week is tech week junior. When we’re all supposed to have our scripts out of hand (ha….ha….ha…..I tried….) and  feel confident in our roles and actually spend most of our time on the stage itself working with our props and the set pieces. The cool thing  about our current production is it’s all one acts. Six mini-plays in one production. So for many of us tonight’s run through the first act was our first glimpse of the other ‘shows’. Many of us (myself included in this) have been buried so deep in our own small portion of the show that we’ve neglected the big picture for a few weeks. Tonight refreshingly reminded us that our own one act is just a tree in the forest – but it also gave us a chance to sit back and relax, watch, and celebrate our fellow artists. It was fun to see what my usually close castmates had been working on the past few weeks while I was learning to speak gibberish. And it was rewarding to hear giggles while it was my turn to be up in front running my scene – all in nonsense. For the most part we haven’t even been assembled as an actual cast yet – just small groups here and there. Tonight, however, we started to witness the scale of the thing we are trying to accomplish together. Though slightly daunting, I’m fairly certain a wonderful end result is easily within our grasp.

Tomorrow we run the second half of the show, and then from there on out it’s running the whole thing. Working each transition, figuring out where the props go backstage, assigning people to move set pieces, aiming lights, and putting in some sound effects for good measure. My scene partner and I totally have this. We spent hours rehearsing last night – memorising, swearing, reworking parts of the scene to make it flow better, and of course eating cake. The other parts of Act 1 were looking solid. Our director was grinning from behind his sketchbook. Our production manager has not had nearly as much work recently due to us knowing our shit (finally). Props are almost fully curated. The tech crew has been having it’s own little secret cult meetings to plan and plot their version of witchcraft for the final product. We’re almost ready to put on a show! But it’s the calm before the metaphorical theater shitstorm! Which in some ways is the most uniting part of the show… Despite our impending doom, this week we will eat, drink, laugh, recite, and say ‘FUCK’ when we miss our mark or skip a line….for next week….we’re probably going to all be eating our feelings and exhausted.

Spring Walks

It’s a bit unseasonably warm where I live – but it’s been that way all winter (spoiler alert: mosquitos will be awful this year). All through February and March I have been out amongst the trees and tall grasses trekking around to sit and read, drink my tea, and sometimes write. Sometimes I’d actually just walk for hours and see where I ended up, or what I could see, or how far I could go before I had to turn back due to impending nightfall.

February Trees
Crap…where did I park again?

I’d get really far sometimes, blazing miles into a loop of trail, or sometimes I would walk slowly and notice the leaves and branches, listen for critters skittering about in the brush, and not get very far. Sometimes I’d practically get out of the car, walk ten feet, and sit down and read for awhile. There was never really a mission to ‘go’ anywhere – and there’s great release in that.

Buck

We live in a world where everything is fast paced, instant, go-go-go-go-go until you drop dead. Stillness is unheard of. Stillness is frowned upon – it means we’re not generating content for facebook likes, or working until we fall over from exhaustion. In fact, stillness often means we’re taking time to stop, observe, and think – and we all know what THINKING does to people. Yes, I’m a bit of a hippie.

Cypress Trees

We live in a state of chronic busyness. We’re always moving, always stressed. Even when we go hiking or ‘out’ it’s with other people we spend the time chatting and distracted from the world around us. We are too caught up in ourselves to see anything bigger. This is why I often walk alone – despite weird looks and hushed conversations from passers by. Yes. I am that weird girl who is out in the woods sitting on a rock sketching, or the odd looking girl who’s walking painfully slow down a trail looking up, down, and all around at everything. I stop and notice the shadows, or reflections in puddles. I sit quietly and watch the deer go by. I get out of my head and out of my frantic life for a bit and just notice and reconnect with the world around me.

Daffodils
Easter walk amongst the daffodils…

My most recent walk was Easter. Despite the warm weather of this winter most of the Earth had stayed asleep through February and March. Leafless trees, no green, puddles of mud, short clipped grass with no bulbs in sight, yellow dried out tall grass, and only the occasional squirrel to really speak of. April has refreshed this more bleak landscape. Redwing blackbirds, geese, and songbirds were hopping around and up in the trees. Spring peepers (frogs) were deafeningly loud near one of the shallow marshy ponds favoured by ducks. Traces of green are starting to show on the trees. And of course- the flowers. Bulbs are everywhere – bright yellow daffodils and the many different hues of tulips and crocuses have crept back into the scenery once more.

RW blackbird

Walking is a great escape. I get to breathe. I let the millions of small mostly insignificant things (in the long run) fall away for a few hours and reconnect with the other forms of life around me. I see things put back into perspective. I realise the things that are actually important again, and start to shelve the things that aren’t. I get out of my head and into the reality I’ve been overlooking. I become myself once more.

DSCF6001

Rehearsal Diaries: And so it begins…

Well,  in just under a month I’m on stage in another show. I love acting – it’s like my break from academia and the real world. It stretches me, gives me a chance to interact with the world in new and sometimes very strange ways. I get to see things through someone else’s eyes, and say words that aren’t mine in a way that is a blend of myself and that other person. It’s also crazy fun!

This time around though, I opened my script to find my lines completely in total utter gibberish. The words are sort of English but not. My role is a teacher teaching a made-up language as a con to make a quick buck. Most of the time I speak in this made up dialect – honestly – it’s quite difficult. Not in the sense that the words are hard – but that the melody and rhythm is hard. I can’t do caricatured body language to translate what I’m saying, I have to rely on HOW I use words and my voice and HOW my face and body move when I say things to convey what the “translation” is.

Tonight was fun – I put different spins on various lines, feeling out and trying to find the song in the words that would make everything click and be both hilarious and compelling. The language is made up so sometimes I have the freedom to infuse random linguistic influences – this word is Russian, that one is German, that one is Italian. The character has to be charismatic, slick, and convincing – after all, they are selling a fake product here. It’s a fun script that feels insurmountable in terms of memorisation at present, but when it’s read it somehow feels do-able, like the fake language I’m speaking starts to slowly make more sense as I read through my lines again and again…am I going crazy? Probably. It’s weird to see my mind adjust to a language that is purposefully nonsensical without me really trying very hard.

Since I teach it’s easy for me to ‘play a teacher’ so to speak. I can get up and point at made up words on a white board with ease. Lecture and coach my fake student with zero problems or hangups. But the character isn’t easy on the whole – after doing a few reads I came to the conclusion that this con-artist has lots of levels to show the audience in a short amount of time. While most other roles have a two hour show to expand, contract, shrink, grow, twist, and morph – I’m doing a one act. I’ve got roughly fifteen minutes to show the audience about five or six layers of my character without making things awkward. It’s a challenge I’m really looking forward to!

Oh well. I’m fairly certain that madness is part of art. It’s at least certainly part of the fun of theatre! But please, in a few weeks if I’m posting in gibberish – send help…

Nerdiness! Stop being sorry for it!

I’m sorry…I’m a nerd….

As an educator it’s always frustrating to hear this. I recently guest lectured for four classes – and could tell the students were interested and engaged with the subject matter (history). Many took notes, asked excellent questions, and would come up to me after the presentation. However, what struck me as sad was how many came up to me all excited, going ‘Oh! I was in Wales last fall and when I was there I saw…oh….sorry….I’m just like….. a huge history nerd!’ …..I literally just spoke for an hour about staring at walls in old buildings and YOU’RE SORRY!?!?! YOU’RE THE NERD!?!?!?
Even when I teach my writing classes I get “I’m just a nerd about ___, sorry….” prefacing or suffixing readings during the mandatory and usually dreaded sharing time. Usually what’s being shared is amazing and original – and actually the most compelling pieces are commonly shared from teenagers – after they finish apologising to me for their interest in whichever genre they’re using (usually horror). I get apologies from people as young as 13 and as old as 70, sometimes I get wonderful life stories – and people are still “sorry”.
So where does this impulsive need to be sorry for being interested in anything slightly not ‘normal’ come from? Why is it that we can be interested in history, or art, or even science but not “too interested”? If you’re a professor or a field expert or a professional artist you can be as unapologetically interested in whatever you like, but if you’re just starting out or it’s your hobby or it’s not your full time ‘thing’ it’s suddenly not OK for you to voice your interests? Why is it more shameful to be interested in things like history and science, than it is sports and movies?   Why is some knowledge praised and other knowledge criticised? Why do we have this pervasive idea that you can ‘know too much’? There’s really no easy cut and dried answer here, but it’s something to at least ponder.
The fact of the matter is simple – people shouldn’t be apologising for finding things interesting, or getting excited about learning, or discouraged because they are interested in some tiny little niche area of the world that most people don’t care about. So – instead of next time being all sorry about getting interested at a talk or class, or geeking out over a museum exhibition, or just in general being excited about something that you don’t consider ‘normal’ – be really happy and proud that you have these kind of interests – look at it as a contribution instead of a hinderance.
 And for the love of God, if you’re ever at one of my lectures do NOT come up afterwards and say you’re sorry for being interested!

“Welcome to a New Kind of Tension…”

Is it just me or is Green Day’s “American Idiot” on the radio much more frequently than it has been in the past eight years….I’m beginning to think there might be a bit of a message in there… I mean honestly….I’m fairly certain this dog would do a better job of running our country than our  president-elect.

This dog for president
I mean, look, he’s all dressed up and ready to go work in politics somewhere…

OK so  I promise…..PROMISE….I usually keep out of politics. I usually NEVER write about politics. Everyone gets really pissy and it always ends up with people throwing things and someone getting a bloodied nose. However, after this week’s events and the impending inauguration….I felt a bit moved to express some thoughts.

Anyhow, this week we saw President Obama’s final address, which was moving, reassuring, and dignified. He talked about the past eight years and the various successes and challenges that came from them. He talked about our nation’s history and how democracy is not always clean and how “For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back.” He reminded us that even the founding fathers of this country couldn’t agree on most things and that the strength of America is in its ability to adapt, and encouraged us to get involved in being active voices for change. Many of us teared up as he thanked and honored his wife and family. Whether or not you like Obama, you have to admit, it was a well written and beautifully delivered address.

We also saw President-elect Trump’s press conference, which was…different. Somewhere in between the comments about the “much hacking going on”, the wall building, the being a germaphobe so of course that whole prostitute scandal can’t be real, and the “you’re fake news!” to a reporter…I had to facepalm a bit. His pride in getting rid of healthcare for millions, the way he made a big show of separating himself from his company, the real irritating going on and on about Hilary and the Democrats (it’s like he thinks he’s still debating) – all these things just don’t bode very well. Where’s the eloquence? Where’s the trying to unite Americans instead of undoing whatever Obama did as fast and haphazardly as possible? Where’s the respect for other human beings?

Spoiler alert: You won’t find those things.

Then there’s that whole beginning to repeal Obamacare. Admittedly, Obamacare is not perfect, it needs revision, but it’s better than nothing. For millions of Americans removing laws regarding pre-existing conditions is a death sentence. The kicker is the voting done on removing crucial access to healthcare for millions of people took place rather sketchily in the middle of the night….which seems to be the new time of day to start voting on things…if you remember that whole ethics thing from a few weeks ago that is…

The next four years (though Trump is forecasting eight) are going to be bumpy to say the least.

The First Post

The first post of any blog is super awkward. So let’s just get it out of the way and pretend it never happened. It’s kind of like a first date that way. There’s excitement, nervousness, and you’re constantly looking for some sort of exit strategy to save  your dignity if things go horrifically wrong. It’s all about appearances, first impressions, which are allegedly important. If the page was a person it’d be sitting across from you at some tacky Italian restaurant with a plate of fettucine alfredo fidgeting with its water glass going “So, do you watch any movies?” No. I live under a rock.

First posts suck! There’s a massive swathe of blankness that’s dying to be filled with something witty – but not too witty, it’s the first post you wouldn’t want to drive readers away! But don’t be too serious, serious is boring. Make sure you’re out there but not too niche while you’re at it! You have to be all the things and none of the things simultaneously for the sake of ‘finding the right audience’. Which is a bit crap. Then you start to type things out…and after three words and several variations of “This one time…” you hit the backspace button until it’s almost worn out trying to find the ‘perfect hook’. Usually this is where the panic sets in. Oh no. You’ve created a blog. Now you can’t even write a first post. Good job. But for f—s sake it’s the first post, a few posts from now no one will even remember it. So here’s my first post, may it be down to earth, slightly entertaining, and forgotten in two weeks.

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