It’s been an exhausting few days of…nothing…here in Ocean City, but for some reason I’m exhausted, so I’ll work on this post tomorrow. This will be one of the ones I’ve warned you about. For now, please enjoy these previews:
In case anyone was wondering, I went to bed before finishing my theatre paper the other night, but at least I had 4500 words. Over the past two days I’ve been adding to it, and I can confidently say that aside from a conclusion, I am done with it at ~5600 words. And of course, the syllabus was revised so that it’s no longer due on Thursday but a week from Thursday, after history and poli sci papers…so joke’s on me, I guess.
I did, however, condense that paper into a ten-minute version and presented it to my class today. There are seven of us in the class, so we each got ten minutes to presentation, followed up by one question from a prescribed class member, and then open discussion. I was the second to present, which was great since I hate waiting; I’d much rather get it over with and then have a much longer sigh of relief. My presentation itself went fair; I hadn’t really planned it much, but instead of writing out a script, I just had the document open on my iPad, and scrolled through it, pulling out points in the order which I wanted to share them. I riffed off the ideas and focused on making eye contact with others while I spoke. For some reason, this makes me feel like people are actually listening to me and not staring through me or imagining that I’m someone else, or a sandwich if they’re hungry. A lot of “ums” and “uhs” but I got the job done in under ten minutes.
I wasn’t really sure what my prescribed class question would be, but it ended up being a good one. I can’t remember the exact wording of the question – it was something about whether the playwright actually believed in seances at that point in his life or if he was poking fun at it – but the one who asked also noted that they’ve sensed a theme of fraud in my work.
My gut reaction was, are you calling me fake? But then, since I realized that my paper actually was about fraud, I was like…oh, you’ve got a point.
Last semester, I wrote and presented a paper on street gambling, and today, I spoke about mediumship and seances. So after hearing that, I could see how the connection could be made.
Honestly, hearing that was…strangely comforting, in a way.
Someone actually used my work to point out something that I’m interested in that I had never thought about before.
Before today, I never thought of myself as someone with a particular interest in this topic, but now that I think more about it, it seems true. One of the things that draws me to theatre and performance as well as headlines in the news are scandals and the question of “is this really going on? what is the meaning of this? WHY?” Goodness knows, I never make things easy for myself, and I am always up for a challenge. I love a good mystery and delight in solving mysteries of my own, which I’ve actually done. Part of my inspiration for a research project comes from…”there’s gotta be more there. And I’m going to find it.” I suppose you could say that about many other researchers, but for me, when I want to get to the bottom of something, I just fucking go for it until I find it, and if I can’t, I die a little inside.
This reminds me of one of my favorite lines from a favorite play of mine, Bluebeard by Charles Ludlam; in a contemporary theatre course as an undergrad at UMass, I got to play the role of Mrs. Maggot, and took great pleasure in saying one of my final lines in the play: “Women want an answer!” My inner sassy black lady came out in that performance, and I guess that she might be my spirit animal. Sort of like Loni Love, or Leslie Jones, or Loretta Devine, or even Sheneneh Jenkins.
But not Madea. Never Madea.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes…there’s something about frauds and cons and scandals that just lights my fire. If there’s a dead body, a love affair, a mysterious inscription, or any sort of deception, I’m there; but the performance of performance just makes me sizzle inside.
So, in conclusion…I could live with that. I could be “the fraud guy.” I kind of like that.
And to my friend: thank you for helping me discover something new about myself.
As I wind down a moderately successful Saturday, I sit on my couch enjoying the latest sporting event from the Winter Olympics in Sochi: Pairs Ice Skating, live. I’m not quite sure on the difference between pairs and ice dancing; I’m inclined to think that pairs is more about acrobatics and stunts, whereas ice dancing features more traditional dance moves and focuses more on artistry than aerodynamics.
I was in a show tonight and last night, a comedy piece put on by the department’s graduate student organization. Last night, we had seven people, and I was not nervous at all; tonight, however, the audience was packed, and 16 of them were friends of mine – mine – so that put on the pressure a little bit. It was script-in-hand and only about 35-45 minutes long, but tonight I was noticeable shaky – not with the lines or my voice, but my left hand/arm kinda had a nervous twitch that I was hoping nobody in the audience noticed. Maybe it was the spicy latte I enjoyed before going on, or maybe just excitement. It got better as the night went on, but by the end I kinda wished that I could do it all over again, feeling less shaky. It ended up being fine on the whole and it was nice to see everyone.
But back to the skating. This past hour, I watched pairs from Russia, Canada, Italy, and the USA do the “free skate” – I think that’s what they call it – and in three out of the four, someone fell on the ice. The Americans chose to skate to “Skyfall,” which is pretty but probably not the best song to skate to, solely based on the title. The Italians fared a little better, but the female skater took a hard face fall. The Canadian pair was better, but there was still a point where the woman was dangerously close to breaking her wrists. The Russians enjoyed a near flawless program, because…well, they were really good.
I’m not ragging on pairs or ice skating, at all, because it takes an incredible amount of strength, stamina, and coordination that I do not possess. In terms of pressure and exposure, there’s so much more. There’s the teamwork element that you don’t have when you’re out there on the ice – or the stage – alone. There was a little fear there of screwing something up on stage and falling flat, but being part of an eight person team not on international television and with no medals riding on our performance was comforting as we were able to work together and support each other. There is strength in numbers, and though I love performing solo at times, being with a group of people feels even better. And no matter how bad I think I am on stage, at least it wasn’t for a nation’s Olympic team, or televised to billions around the globe.
I need to remind myself of that more often.
Still, whatever possessed the Russian pair to pick “The Addams Family” seems to be working, as their performance tonight has been the only one without a single fall.
I don’t exactly know when it was that I wanted to be an actor, but it was probably sometime around grade school. Probably because my sister was doing a play and I wanted to be exactly like her. From 6th grade onward, I participated in every school play and musical. I never had a starring role, but I always got a character with a name and a few lines here and there. Most of the school plays were terrible. I was also in a teen acting troupe, and spent many summers at theatre day camps around Baltimore, which usually culminated in some sort of performance.
In college, I realized (well, in a sense) that acting wasn’t for me. Not that I shouldn’t act ever again, but that as a career choice, I had more options and better ones, options that would challenge me more and make me feel more fulfilled. I had a few bit parts here and there, but it wasn’t until I moved to Israel that I was in a full-scale production again, and for the first time, a lead – ironically, the one time that I wished for a smaller role since I was also dramaturging the show and doing stuff at the theatre during the day.
Tonight was the closing performance of Lights Out, the first play that I have appeared in since December of 2009 in Israel. It is an ensemble piece (as everything seems to be these days) but I spent the most time on stage, probably had the most lines, and was one of only two actors to appear in all three scenes. Lights Out was quite the journey, from volunteering for the role to getting formally cast to six weeks of rehearsals to six (well, seven if you count open dress rehearsal) performances. It was a huge time commitment. Mostly, I had a great time, but there was more than one night I went to bed angry/sad/upset (and on one occasion, didn’t even make it home before bursting into tears) and a lot of general frustration. I know I frustrated a lot of people, and though I try not to let stuff get to me, sometimes I got frustrated with others as well. Hopefully I made more friends than enemies among the people in the cast, but seeing as I probably won’t see many of them again until next semester, I guess their reactions to seeing me again in January will be all I need to know.
I had to sacrifice a lot for this show. I really, really wanted to do it, and was told that I was good in the role, but it meant giving up other things. I haven’t been to the gym or to dance class in a month, and I missed two consecutive weeks of Friday night services and dinner due to performances. Plus, I got way behind on schoolwork, self-care, and socialization. Every time I talked with my dad about it, with some complaint or another, he always said “you’re doing them a huge favor,” which is a true statement but kind of irked me after the first few times he said it because it felt selfish to hear and to imagine, and was the cause of a huge blow-up between us one night. I contemplated quitting, but the further and further along I went, the less prudent it seemed to leave the project in the lurch and make enemies of a group of people whom I considered my friends. I’ve never quit anything in my life and I guess now wasn’t the time to start. So I stuck with it, and suddenly it spit me out at the end of the semester, stressed but relieved that it’s over. Now, I have some time to reflect, take stock of myself, and really break down how I feel about things.
Which brings me to the point of this post.
Things I Like About Acting
- I like being a part of something. Whether it’s big or small, just knowing that I’m a cog in the works of a production is a warm and fuzzy feeling for me.
- I like when I receive praise. During The Comedy of Errors the praise was pretty much nonstop, from everyone, everywhere I went. I played Dromio of Syracuse with all the energy that I could muster, sometimes putting it over the top to compensate for some of the crappier parts of the show and to distract the audience from realizing how low-budget and messy the show actually was.
- I like receiving gifts. Tonight I got a cocktail shaker, since my character sometimes takes a while to mix drinks. Getting flowers is always nice too.
- I like when I know I’ve done a good job. I’ve done some really bad jobs in some great plays, but when I can take a bad play and do a good job performing my role to the best of my ability, even better. Case in point: a play I was in during senior year of high school. I had a very small comic-relief role, but I milked it for all it was worth every night, making my exits with a flourish and listening for the laughter and applause to stop so the scene could keep going. A lot of the comments I got were along the lines of “you saved the play” and “I wasn’t interested in anything except for the moments when you were onstage.” That just about made my day.
- I like the feeling after the show, the afterglow, the rush you get when you realize that your next costume will be your pajamas and your next production will involve lying in bed for several hours.
- I like saying, “yeah, I was in that show.”
- I like wearing costume and makeup and getting to be someone else for a little while, kind of pulling a fast one on the world (“Hey, where’d Jacob disappear to for two hours?)
- I like the satisfaction I get by adding another show to my resume.
Things I Don’t Like About Acting (AKA Why I Will Never Become a Full-Time Actor)
- I don’t like memorizing lines. I’m just plain bad at it. For this show, I don’t think I had all my lines down until opening night. I was freaked out at the thought of having to go on while on book, which I’ve seen done before in community theatre and know that it does not work well. A lot of little lines are preferable, in this case. Long speeches – yeah, like that’s going to happen.
- I don’t like the drama within the drama. It’s hard to act with someone whom you dislike in real life, especially if/when that person is Public Enemy No. 1. It’s never a nice feeling.
- I don’t like having to help out at strike. I get really sad when I have to take the set down, it’s so final, like I’m destroying my character’s home.
- I don’t like the constant comparisons. A good director can get through the whole process without comparing one actor to another. I’ve dealt with productions where there has been blatant favoritism by the director, or where the director is constantly comparing everyone’s performances. Leave the actors alone for a minute before opening your mouth. Fortunately that did not happen for this show.
- I don’t like when there is nobody I know in the audience. Due to the limited seating and the short run, we had fewer than 100 seats available all told, and only 1 of them ended up being a personal friend of mine. It was really, really sad. Everyone I knew either a) said they wouldn’t come for one reason or another, b) said they’d come and then didn’t reserve tickets in time, or c) said they’d come but didn’t do anything at all.
- I don’t like the disruptions to my body clock. I am that rare type of person who can get by on very little sleep and food, but there was one string of days when we had rehearsals less than 24 hours apart, giving me little time to process notes, decompress, and freshen up. One night I came home straight from rehearsal, went to bed, and then woke up to find that I had one hour to get to rehearsal again. I haven’t cooked myself a decent meal in ages – it’s all been in restaurants or on the go, wrapped in plastic or in a box/bag/can.
- I don’t like facing barrages of criticism. I can take it usually, but sometimes it’s just…enough, let me live my life not in fear.
- I don’t like it when actors tell me what I should feel or what I should be doing. If I’m wrong, that’s what the director is there for. Usually, I’ll figure it out by myself, but I would never tell someone else what they’re doing wrong.
- I don’t like it when the techies act like all the actors are idiots.
There are probably more things on this list but I’ve been typing for almost an hour.
It’s been great being Oscar in Lights Out for the past six weeks, but I’m ready to turn the lights out on him.
Here’s the first one: I like to dance.
Here’s the second: I’m not that bad.
Here’s the third: I’m not that good, either.
My first real encounter with dance was probably as a child, in synagogue, of all places. On holidays like Simchat Torah, we would dance with the Torah in the social hall, an event that would go on until late in the night. One of the reasons I liked it was because I got to stay up late, and the other was that I got to be a part of something. The dance of choice was usually the hora; the faster, the better. It was a way of expressing my love for Judaism without having to eat special foods or spend hours praying in the sanctuary. I remember feeling so special when my dad would put me on his shoulders, or when someone like Mr. Reich would spin me around on a chair, using purely centrifugal force to keep me from flying into the crowd.
The only dancing my parents ever did together was at weddings, and even then, limited to one slow dance where they mostly stood in place and rocked back and forth. Some of my happiest childhood moments were when my mom and I would sometimes dance around the kitchen together, just the two of us, usually while singing or humming “Shall We Dance?” from The King and I. My parents never really knew where my interest in dance or sense of rhythm came from, as neither of them danced much growing up. My dad, however, did say that my grandfather (whose name is my middle name) was “rather light on his feet.” But since I never got to meet my grandfather, who died before I was born, and there was no video taken of him dancing, I’ll just have to take my dad’s word for it.
In middle school and high school, I participated in every single school musical. Most of them were terrible. I forgot exactly where I was going with this thread, but suffice it to say that I enjoyed being on stage and dancing with the chorus, especially when I got to use a prop, wear a fancy costume, or do a solo or a difficult step. Most of it was “step-together-step,” but since I mastered that pretty quickly where others were still watching their feet, I could focus on performing for the audience. In junior year, I even got to be Dance Captain for one of the numbers in that year’s show, Oklahoma!, which made me feel great – earning a leadership role rather than being voted on it by peers (read: popularity contest).
I had put dancing aside in college, but then a girl from down the hall told me about a beginner’s jazz dance class, and it fit right into my schedule that fall of my freshman year. I joined a few weeks into the semester, and learned that there were other people who enjoyed the challenge of memorizing choreography (I was never as good memorizing lines as I was steps) and enjoyed dancing as a fun hobby where we could burn some calories, make new friends, and get a chance to just jump around for no good reason in the middle of the day. I always associated dancing with being part of something, part of a community. If you dance by yourself, everyone looks at you and thinks you’re crazy, but when you’re dancing with a group (and even better, doing the same moves at the same time), everyone looks at you and thinks, “that looks like fun,” and “wow, I wish I could be dancing right now,” or maybe even “wow, I wish I could dance like him.”
Although my friend dropped the class, I kept on with it and moved to intermediate level the next semester, and did two semesters of advanced jazz until I switched schools and they didn’t offer dance classes for non-majors anymore. I did think about making it my major, but that’s another story for another time. All the while, I focused completely on jazz dance though, no other types. I wasn’t interested in modern dance, and I didn’t want the stereotypes associated with ballet, so jazz was a happy medium. I was always jealous of the tap class though, but I didn’t have the shoes or the courage to try, a choice I regret.
My favorite parts of the semesters were the end, where we would dance in a recital. The first semester, we did a number from the Chicago soundtrack. It was not challenging, but I got to dance front row center, which made me feel special. Next semester, we did a routine a la Center Stage to a Stevie Wonder song, “Higher Ground.” This was my favorite, because it told a little story: we walked onstage with our bags and started stretching as if we were starting a class as the song started, and then once Stevie started singing, some of us started the routine, and one by one we all joined in. Then, we had a mock “dance battle,” boys vs. girls. Since there were only four of us boys, four of the best girls “challenged” us and we danced them offstage in return. Then, we did a reverse of the beginning, with everyone coming on stage to do the routine one last time together before peeling off one by one until the stage was bare. The next semester, we did a jazz/modern combo to “Ngankarrparni,” one of my all-time favorite songs, sung by Peter Gabriel on the soundtrack for Rabbit-Proof Fence. The dance itself was a bit slower in pace and more technical than before, but I had a great time nonetheless.
I’ve always enjoyed and appreciated a good dance routine, and always kept songs in the back of my head for something I should make some sort of routine for, but I never returned to jazz. On my trip to Ecuador with DAT, we took a salsa class and learned Andean mask dance from a real Andean, in the Andes. I fell in love with a monkey mask in the market and tried to summon the spirit of the monkey to help me dance, but being cold and barefoot on a floor made up of jagged, pointy rocks made it hard to focus. In the show that we subsequently performed off-Broadway, my character got to lead the others in a dance, so I’ve technically danced in an off-Broadway show, which is a cool trivia fact even though I was in an uncomfortable lion mask rather than my happy monkey.
In Houston, I discovered the Texas two-step and regularly made a fool of myself doing it with friends on Saturday nights at Wild West. I was never that good, but I usually got a few girls to dance with me before the night was over and usually managed not to mess it up too badly. I was so jealous of the cowboys and cowgirls in their boots, moving gracefully around the floor. Usually the burlier the guy, the better dancer he was, which was always a surprise to me. No matter how much I watched them twirl, dip, and toss the girls, though, I could never get it quite right, although I couldn’t have been that bad at it considering that sometimes I got a second or third dance from the same girl. I also went out to a Latin dance club occasionally, and with very little knowledge of it, gave it my best shot. I could tell I looked awkward and wasn’t the best out there, but my partners usually said, “no, you were great.” Even if it was a lie, it made me feel good, or at least better than the guys who didn’t even try to dance at all.
Even though I have mostly only danced for fun (and in my kitchen), and haven’t had much training, I enjoy it. I like the way it makes me feel. Standing still, I am alone, I am nervous, and I am vulnerable. When I’m in motion, nothing can touch me, hurt me, harm me; the faster I go, the more invincible and protected I feel, and no one can catch me, unstoppable and invincible. The planet Earth is hurtling through space at breakneck speeds, spinning and spinning on its axis; when I was younger, I could feel it moving beneath me. When I did, I would have massive panic attacks, convulsing, throwing myself on the floor, my body temperature turning white-hot and then very cold, issuing a visceral ululation from my throat the entire time. Usually they only lasted a matter of seconds, and when I was alone, I could usually cry my way out of it until I felt whole and still again. My father got used to it, but whenever my mother saw me entering this panic mode, she would hold me down flat on the ground until my body stopped shaking. I got used to it too, and through the years have had fewer and fewer episodes, shorter and shorter, until they stopped altogether for awhile. Over the past few years, I can probably count on one hand how many times I’ve had one, how many times I’ve felt the Earth move under my feet. When I dance, I don’t ever feel the Earth move; I move, on the earth, through space and time. I set my own course, and I am in full control of my brain, my skeleton, all the way down to my feet. I am a beautiful creature, strong, wild, and free. I feel special, inspired, and unique while at the same time a member of the greater human race, protected like an animal in its pack; gentle, like the willows in the field move together in the wind; and magical, spinning and flying high, following Peter Pan to the second star on the right and straight on until morning.
So, recently, here in Madison, I saw a flier taped to a pole, advertising free ballroom dancing lessons. I decided to give it a try, because it sounded fun. I went, and I had a great time. Since then, I signed up for regular classes, and I’ve gone back a few times since, including tonight. These guys and girls can really dance – I thought I danced okay, but looked and felt like a complete fool when stepping out on the floor. The people seem mostly pretty nice, except for a few who seemed stuck-up, but I’m not going to let their attitudes deter me from not going back. It’s so much fun and it looks beautiful, and best of all, includes the element of community, with partnerships not just encouraged but required for each dance. That’s what I liked about dance in the first place. Hopefully I’ll make new friends in the beginner class, and maybe even actually start to look beautiful while dancing these difficult, precise steps. Maybe one day I’ll learn enough to even choreograph a routine of my own, or be in a competition. Even if I don’t, I will try to have fun, and I will feel collected, coordinated and confident in myself on the dance floor of life.
But know this: you will never, ever see me twerking, that’s for damn sure.