I Am 35.

25 Jul

I am 35

I am… 35


I am 35 and I’m lucky enough to look younger than that

I am 35 and I’m afraid of looking 35

I am 35 and I’m afraid

of everything

afraid of a train turning a corner too fast and crashing to a fiery death

afraid of walking by myself with headphones on

afraid of walking by myself without headphones on

afraid of making eye contact with strangers

afraid I’m getting complacent in my art

afraid that I peaked in Texas

afraid that I have no more big ideas

afraid that I’ve limited myself to 5 minute concepts for a year and now I can’t get past it

afraid that what ideas I do have will stay just that – ideas – and my ability to craft a full-fledged work of art no longer exists

I’m afraid of being afraid

that my fear makes me lazy

complacent somehow

my fear keeps me stuck

my fear keeps me frozen

a cycle of fear I can’t escape

I’m afraid I’ll die with only a whisper of an artistic footprint on the earth

I’m afraid I’ll die feeling artistically incomplete

I’m afraid I’ll die

I’m afraid of death

which is why I’m afraid of everything

I am 35, which is how old my mom was when she died

I am 35 and I’ve spent the last 18 years trying to make my mom proud

I am 35 and I think about if my mom showed up and asked what I’ve done with my life

I am 35 and I still think about how much my mom loved to hear me sing

I am 35 and I wonder how she would feel knowing that I do theatre instead

I am 35 and I wonder if she’d be proud of me

every day I wonder if she’d be proud of me

of course she’d be proud of me

wouldn’t she?

or would she wonder what happened…

what happened

to change me from wanting to be a choir teacher to becoming some sort of vagabond pseudo-freelance theatre snob?

I am 35 and I’m finally willing to talk about these things

talk about my fears

my feelings

my hopes

my dreams

my fucking… aspirations or whatever

not just the typical “what do you want to do with your life” bullshit

but the real shit

“who do you want to be?”

“how do you want to live?”

“how do you plan to deal with your past so you can give yourself a future?”

I am 35 and my life is measured in bad shit

good shit doesn’t even rank in the first 5 things I think about

I had good times

I had GOOD times

I. Had. Good. Times.

but it’s easy to forget

it’s easy to dwell on the bad

I am 35 and I can finally admit out loud that I’ve hindered myself

I am 35 and I still use this repetitive device in order to write anything

I am 35 and I can’t write anything

I am 35 and all I want to do is create but my own fears and overthinkery holds me back

I am 35

This One’s For the Men.

13 Jun
Photo courtesy Robert Littwin

Photo courtesy Robert Littwin

It. Is. Hot.
It’s that time of year when everyone starts wearing less clothes.
Like me. In this sundress.
But I don’t wear this sundress for you.
I don’t wear it because I want to be hollered at on the street, on the train, in a bar.
I don’t wear it because I’m asking you to look at my bare shoulders or my ass.
I don’t wear it because I want you to say “I don’t like when girls wear maxi dresses.”
I don’t wear any of my sundresses for you.
And I don’t wear my other summer clothes for you, either.
Sheer cover-up thingies.
Tank tops.
Short shorts – and if my ass happens to hang out of them, guess what – still not for you.
Thin leggings that I wear under miniskirts and short dresses to hide the marks on my legs.
Strappy sandals – the strappy sandals are definitely not for you. Not for you to like or hate, to decide whether or not my feet are to your standards.

Actually, I don’t wear ANY of my clothes for you.
My dresses – the sweater ones, the tight ones that look like I stole them from the Mad Men set, the loose ones I use for dance and movement. Not for you.
My boots are not for you.
I want coats that flatter my figure and the warmth of them is secondary. That’s MY choice – it has nothing to do with you.
I buy jeans that make my ass look good – nope, not for you.
I put a scarf over my hair to make sure it doesn’t get ruined in rain or snow and it’s not because of you.
In fact, I don’t even DO my hair for you.
I don’t dye my roots for you.
I don’t put on makeup for you.
I don’t wear a push-up bra for you.

Or do I?
Maybe I do.
Maybe I cover my cellulite.
Shave all the hair from areas you consider “unseemly.”
Wear flats when you’re shorter and heels when you’re taller.
Maybe all of it is for you because it has been systematically beaten into me that how I look is in direct relation to men.
Every morning, every decision I make before walking out the door is for you.
Sure, the guys at my work can wear t-shirts and jeans every day and be considered professional, but I should wear a nice top with my jeans because otherwise people will think I’m schlumpy and therefore bad at my job.
No, if I wear this top and get on the train by myself, there will be a dude who will purposefully stand too close to me and try to peer down my blouse and I’ll be afraid the whole time that he’ll try do something more than just peer down my blouse.
This is a nice dress but it’s too short and there’s a wind and my dress might blow up and everyone will see everything and I’ll be totally exposed.

It happened today, before I came here.
It’s 90 degrees outside but I should wear a cardigan over this dress because it’s so low cut and people will stare.
If it’s too hot, the dress will stick to my thighs and ass when I get up and people will stare.
The pattern is too loud, people will stare.
People will stare.
Men will stare and I won’t know if it’s good or bad, if they’re trying to fuck me or if they hate me or both.

I do a lot for you.
I don’t do enough for you.
I am tired of trying for you when you don’t ever have to try for me. For us. For anyone other than yourself.
So wear what you want.
But don’t be surprised if I turn the tables and holler at you when your ass is hanging out.

Photo courtesy Huck Poe

Photo courtesy Huck Poe

Stop Questioning Accusers.

9 Apr

I have been wrought for weeks, months, YEARS about the inability of people to believe when a woman accuses someone of assault/abuse/rape and is denied belief. I have tried for weeks, months, YEARS to try and articulate how I feel and my knowledge of the situation but I get too angry and I can’t write what I want to write.

So instead, I’m going to tell my story.

When I was 5, my mom gave me to her common-law husband, from henceforth known as Bill because that’s his real fucking name. (This might seem confusing so let’s quickly deal with it – my mom had sex with a dude and that bore me, and then she common-law married a different dude who sired her 3 boys.) She was deep in the throes of drug addiction and could not take care of me, so she handed me over to the man who was in charge of her other children, in hopes that I would get a better life.

I did not.

I moved to Colorado with Bill, my three brothers, his NEW wife, and her daughter.

Immediately it was obvious that Bill was a drunk and abusive to women. I say that because he beat the shit out of me, his new wife, and her daughter.

I was once put into a contest of eating dog food with the new wife’s daughter, and when I refused, a plate was thrown at my head. It was not the first time plates were thrown at me.

I dealt with it because I was resilient. I could handle it. I bruise easily on the outside so I could explain away the things my teachers saw. Falling down, playing sports… I had a million excuses and they bought them.

I never admitted my physical abuse.

But then…

We took a camping trip. My three brothers went down to the river with their “new mom” and I stayed at the campsite with my “new stepsister” trying to make a fire. Bill called her into the RV. I heard noises that didn’t seem natural. I went in and saw my stepfather molesting her. I screamed bloody murder and he shoved her aside and pinned me down on the camper bed. He pushed and pushed and pushed his fingers inside my 6 year old self and I yelled “NO NO NO” over and over again while the other girl laid whimpering on the floor.

Eventually my screams got his wife to come back from fishing. Bill managed to get off me in time for her to not see that anything OBVIOUSLY untoward had happened. When I immediately told her what had happened (including seeing her daughter violated), she chose not to believe me. When police were called because of the loud screaming I had done, she disavowed my story that we were sexually assaulted, and managed to convince her daughter to not proclaim it as well.

So here I was, a 6 year old crying into the wind and hoping to be heard.

I was immediately put in foster care. If you’re under 18 and you proclaim improper conduct, they put you in foster care. I actually had wonderful foster parents and I miss them from time to time. Not everyone is so lucky.

I never really knew what happened after I testified in the trial against my ex-stepdad (that’s what I call him now because I ended up getting a stepdad who was great later in life), but I heard he didn’t get much jail time. When I was 16, and helping my grandma clean out her file cabinet… I found out. Turns out that his wife created a fake person and pinned all the blame on him, and the court believed her. I have seen legal documents that state my inability to identify a witness (I very clearly identified him in court) and “evidence” that I was delusional.

I don’t really know how to press on with this story from this point because it’s hard for me to articulate and I think that what I’ve already expressed is enough.

The reason why I share this story is because my first instinct is to believe, with every fiber of my being, EVERY women who has accused someone of assault/rape/abuse. Am I more likely to believe it because of my experience? Of course. Am I ever fucking wrong? No.

The amount of people who falsely accuse someone of assault/rape/abuse is minuscule. So all I’m asking, with this thing that I wrote, is that you BELIEVE THE VICTIM FIRST. Because I didn’t have that as a fucking 6 year old. So please give it to the human beings that you know and see on a day to day basis.

unedited ramblings about the patriarchy

10 Jan

Last night, in preparation for No Shame Theatre, I sat down and did a 10 minute automatic writing exercise about the patriarchy. Then I wore a monkey hat and read it in front of everyone. Below is a photo (courtesy Robert Littwin) and the writing. Enjoy.



the patriarchy made me wear this hat
the patriarchy got me on this stage
the patriarchy made me read this
the patriarchy wants me to say nice things about it
the patriarchy just needs love
the patriarchy is lonely
the patriarchy has a profile on Tinder
the patriarchy always swipes right
the patriarchy always gets left swiped
the patriarchy is that sad kid in the corner at parties who never talks to anyone and blames everyone else for not approaching him
the patriarchy is unnapproachable
the patriarchy is unattainable
the patriarchy is unsustainable
the patriarchy is unkillable
the patriarchy wants me killed
the patriarchy will try anything to shut me up
the patriarchy slut shames
the patriarchy body shames
the patriarchy argues about what is considered legitimate rape
the patriarchy is white
the patriarchy is #notallmen
the patriarchy is #alllivesmatter
the patriarchy is #shutthefuckup
the patriarchy makes me feel bad
the patriarchy makes everyone feel bad
the patriarchy cries itself to sleep
the patriarchy covers its sadness with anger
the patriarchy defends its anger with guns
the patriarchy LOVES guns
the patriarchy shits its pants like once a year
the patriarchy is the skidmark on your underwear
the patriarchy is NOT the old bloodstain on my underwear
the patriarchy is scared of periods
the patriarchy is scared of the entire female reproductive system
the patriarchy covers its fear with anger
the patriarchy channels that anger into the need to legislate what I get to do with my own body
the patriarchy makes me want to throw bloody tampons at people
the patriarchy is that dude who left a condom inside me
the patriarchy is that other dude who tried to fuck me while I was passed out and got confused when I woke up and ran out of his house
the patriarchy is a bunch of shitty white dudes being shitty but on a global level
the patriarchy is dudes being offended when we call out the patriarchy because they think “I’m not like that”
the patriarchy is ignorance and apathy as well as active shittiness
the patriarchy doesn’t sound like a real word anymore
the patriarchy wants me to stop talking
the patriarchy wants me to sit here in this hat and entertain you
the patriarchy doesn’t get what it wants from me… or does it
the patriarchy has made me write in a format where every sentence starts with “the patriarchy” and now I don’t know how to end this
the patriarchy is a mayo boy
the patriarchy injects hormones into our food
the patriarchy is sad my boobs aren’t bigger
the patriarchy invented Botox
the patriarchy didn’t invent everything but it definitely pretends like it did
the patriarchy can fucking suck it
the patriarchy probably doesn’t even like this hat

September 29, 1998.

29 Sep

My mom died on September 29, 1998. I don’t remember what time exactly, but it was late afternoon. I know that because while she was still alive, I sat in my room watching the clock tick down to when I would normally be getting out of school, furious that I had been forced to take the day off when my mom wasn’t even dead yet. I would have to miss days for family obligations and the memorial service AFTER she died, so it seemed like a great waste to me that I missed an extra day for no reason.

Yes, these were the thoughts the day my mom died. Bitterness that she seemed so spry and lively for the first time in weeks, not realizing that it’s a normal reaction in people with terminal illnesses. Frustrated at the amount of people in my house, clogging up the airspace with their sadness. These people who tiptoed around me, worried I might fall apart at any minute. These people who didn’t realize I’d been taking care of my mother for 5 years already, that I was completely and utterly prepared for the inevitable. These people were the ones who might fall apart at any minute. I was fine. I could handle it. I just wanted to go to school so I wouldn’t get too far behind in my senior year of high school.

I saw my mom in bits and pieces that day. She spent the morning in the living room, looking through old photos and laughing with friends and family. I hovered awkwardly, afraid to penetrate the “circle of love” or whatever the fuck nonsense was going on… but also staying close enough so that if she suddenly became weak, I could be there to catch her. Forget that my stepdad and grandma were there – it was MY job to take care of her. I had to do everything because I understood better than anyone else. The adults were just going to fuck it up.

After she did get too weak, we moved her to the bed, and people went in one at a time to say their goodbyes (their words, not mine; I was still convinced she had a few days, even weeks left). I stayed in my room. Counting minutes. Staring blankly at my stupid magazine pictures of teen heartthrobs and desperately wanting to tear them all down. Organizing my shelf full of silly ceramic cow figurines that I could never bring myself to get rid of even though I knew I was too old for them. Making a point to avoid any and all people in my house.

A knock at the door. I didn’t respond. A friend of my mom’s tentatively opened the door.

“Wanna get out of the house?”

“Yeah, let’s go.”

This friend of my mom’s sort of felt like a friend of mine too. She was a little younger, and she was excellent at asking the right kind of nonchalant questions that managed to get me to open up about things I never talked about. She was my mom’s “cool friend.” I was glad to go with her, because I knew she wouldn’t push me to talk. The last thing I wanted to do was talk.

We went to a flower store and made a bouquet to put in my mom’s room. I picked out lilies because they were my mom’s favorite flower, and I paired them with daffodils and tulips because those were my favorite flowers. They didn’t really go together well, but my mom’s friend filled them in with the requisite baby’s breath and some smaller flowers I didn’t recognize. It was the perfect bouquet – colorful, eclectic, and a little bit messy.

As we pulled back up to my house, my mom’s friend finally said the thing she was probably thinking the whole time. The thing that probably made her offer to get me out of the house in the first place.

“You should take these in to your mom and spend some time with her.”

“No, you can take them in. I already spent my time with her.”

“She’d like it more if you brought the flowers in, I think.”

“She’s barely conscious, she won’t even know it’s me.”

My mom’s friend sighed, took a long pause while she stared me down. “Tashina, I know you think it doesn’t matter, but you have to say goodbye to your mom. Even if you think it won’t matter to her, it will matter to you. Because after she’s gone, you won’t be able to forgive yourself for not saying goodbye.”

I nodded, fighting back the first time tears had come to my eyes that day. “Okay.”

I went inside with the bouquet, making a point to ignore everyone else in my house. I opened the door to my mom’s room, and my grandma was laying on the bed next to her. She looked up at me, then shifted her attention right back to my mom. I set the flowers on the dresser and sat down on the other side of my mom. I held her hand, it was clammy and cold. The only sounds in the room were the oxygen tank my mom was using, and my grandma softly whispering “it’s okay, you can go, it’s okay, it’s time to go” over and over and over again.

But my half-brothers were supposed to show up. They were supposed to have time to say goodbye too. My mom had to hold on until they got there, it wasn’t fair if she died before they got there.

I told my grandma as such, and she just shook her head and kept repeating her mantra. I sat there, holding my mom’s hand, looking at her gaunt, pale, barely conscious face. And somehow, without even realizing it, I began matching my grandma. “It’s okay, you can go, it’s okay, it’s time to go.” We didn’t speak it in unison, we barely spoke loud enough to hear each other, but we were together in that moment. That small moment which felt like an eternity. That moment which stopped suddenly when my mom took one last long breath in, and rattled an exhale that said “it’s okay, it’s time for me to go.”

I left the room as soon as I heard that exhale. I didn’t need medical proof she was dead; I KNEW I had just witnessed it happening. I walked quietly to my room without anyone seeing me. Everything else was only experience aurally; my grandma going into the living room, the rushing sound of countless people going into my mom’s room, the broken wails of agony as the entire house realized what had happened. I was silent, hugging my knees to myself while I sat on the floor and let the tears fall down my face. There were no wracking sobs or other outsized displays of emotion.

What I realize now is that in that moment, I was beginning the process of building up an impenetrable emotional exoskeleton that would take over a decade to even begin to crack. If I’m being truly honest, that exoskeleton really started as soon as I found out my mom was diagnosed with AIDS. But the day of her death was when the real work started. My subconscious is still filled with fear of connecting with people, of getting too close to someone who will inevitably leave me in some form or fashion. It is a deep-seated emotional issue that I continually deal with on a day-to-day basis.

This has been a hard year for me in a lot of ways. I think it’s why this day is affecting me more than usual. Normally I celebrate her birthday instead of her deathday, but my memories of that day have been pushing to the forefront of my mind for the last week. Is that why I needed to write all this? Because it’s been 17 years and I can remember almost every detail of that day perfectly. Because I know that I will never forget the details of that day. Because I’ve talked to a lot of people who have lost their mothers (or fathers) more recently than me and my answer to their question of “does it get better?” is always “no.” Because the feeling never gets better. It gets less frequent, but it NEVER gets better. We understand that life spans dictate our parents will usually die before us. (I’ve watched my mom deal with the loss of a son and my grandma deal with the loss of a daughter and I realize that it is a different and uniquely horrible experience, but that is not my story to tell.) But a relationship with a mom or a dad (or both, if you’re lucky) is something so important that the loss of that bond is devastating. This seems obvious, I know. But it’s hard for people to understand unless they’ve actually dealt with it.

And that’s okay! I’ve had friends legitimately feel bad because they can’t fathom the pain of losing a parent. This is a good thing. It’s something no one should worry about until they absolutely have to.

I don’t really know how to wrap this up. I’ve word-vomited via my keyboard for over an hour now, so it’s probably time to stop. There is no pat ending here. I’m just going to publish this without proofreading it and feel minimally better about being able to release these feelings, because that wasn’t always something I could do.


20 Aug

If you’re not a theatre person, I encourage you to run away now. NOW. GO WHILE YOU STILL CAN.

Just the theatre kids now? Great. All of you read this: 17 Things Only Theatre Kids Will Understand and prepare for ALL OF MY FURY.

Look, I agree with number 1. I am a pretentious theatre person, and I vastly prefer “theatre” over “theater.” To me, theatre is an art form. Theater is a location. There are thousands and thousands and bazillions of arguments about this, but regardless of what people say, there is no hard and fast rule. I believe my usage is correct, and I hate when anyone doesn’t adhere to my guidelines. But whatever, everyone has their opinion.

And I guess that’s the point of that STUPID STUPID SO FUCKING STUPID list. It’s the author’s opinion. However, it’s not the first time I’ve seen this kind of shit. The amount of people who seem to exalt “theatre kids” on the internet tend to make the same incredibly insipid points:

  1. You must have come out of the womb tap dancing to “Tomorrow” in order to be a true theatre kid.
  2. Theatre kids MUST LOVE musical theatre.
  3. No theatre kids were born before 1988.
  4. You learn all you need to know about theatre in high school.
  5. All theatre kids are incredibly self-centered, but in an adorably hilarious way. (Yes, even non-actors.)

Let us address these points, shall we?

You must have come out of the womb tap dancing to “Tomorrow” in order to be a true theatre kid.

First of all, everyone stop making Annie jokes.  That thing came out in 1976. There are maybe 2 good jokes left for it, and I can guaran-fucking-tee you’re not gonna make one. (Yes, I realize that I made one, but this is my blog and I can make all the stupid Annie jokes I want. I’m also a hypocrite.)

Secondly, this need to impress upon people that you must love theatre from birth is absurd. Yes, I was in my first play when I was 5. I played “itchy letter I” (save your STD jokes for the end) and while I remember the experience distinctly, I cannot, with any sort of certainty, say that it has any bearing on who I became as an artist. Why would it? Why would some silly role in a play about the alphabet have ANYTHING to do with who I am at 32? Or who I was at 16?

Look, there are probably some of you who started acting at 2 months old and have been in like 367 shows even though you are only 20. Congratulations. You’re a different theatre person than me. And I RESPECT THAT. But just because you played a baby street urchin in a community theatre production of Les Miserables doesn’t mean you’re better than someone who didn’t start doing theatre until they were 40.  (You’re gonna notice my musical theatre references are crap; I’ll get to that in a second.)

Theatre kids MUST LOVE musical theatre.

OOH LAWD this point makes me want to throw a grenade into the middle of Broadway. (Is there a “middle” of Broadway? I don’t know, man, it sounded good at the time.) Look. I get it. Musical theatre is very popular. People like a little or A LOT OMG IS THIS EVEN TECHNICALLY THEATRE AT THIS POINT BECAUSE IT FEELS LIKE AN OPERA singing with their plays. Also, dancing is fun and when people are good at it, it’s awesome to watch. Talking, singing, AND dancing?! What’s not to like?

Here’s the thing, though: SOME THEATRE KIDS DO NOT ACTUALLY LIKE MUSICAL THEATRE. Well, I don’t know anyone who HATES musical theatre. It’s mostly that we don’t prefer it, but we’re so inundated by the idea that one must love musical theatre in order to love theatre at all that it makes us react with the hate and vitriol we normally reserve for the experience of having to eat Ramen for the 15th day in a row. If you press a musical theatre-hating kid hard enough, they will admit that they like a show or two. But seriously STOP MAKING A THING OF IT, I’M SORRY I DON’T LOVE WICKED, BUT NOT EVERYONE HAS TO LIKE IT, AND JESUS CHRIST IT’S NOT LIKE I’M SITTING HERE EXPLAINING TO YOU WHY YOU SHOULD LOVE CHARLES MEE WITH A FIERY PASSION. (Although you should at least check him out. By clicking that link I put right there.)

No theatre kids were born before 1988.

I understand that Tumblr is more suited to the younger folk, and a bunch of babytoddlerinfantchildren are running blogs and I’m too old for the internet now, but is it REALLY so hard to open your age horizons? I know I just mentioned above that I don’t love Wicked, but let’s look at that point from Thought Catalog’s FUCKTARDED FULL OF FUCKING IDIOCY list: “You’ve seen Wicked at least twice, and if not, Defying Gravity got you through your middle school crisis.” Is it so hard to just have written that “Defying Gravity” got you through an emotional crisis? Does it matter that you were in middle school? The only thing it tells me about the author is that she is a GODDAMN BABY and that apparently people had middle school crises. Just… be aware that old people hang out on the internet sometimes, y’all. We’ll stop being assholes about how young you are if you stop SHOVING IT IN OUR MOTHERFUCKING FACES.

You learn all you need to know about theatre in high school.

What IS this? I can’t believe it’s a real thing. 75% of the points made in that SHUT UP SHUT UP MY GOD SHUT UP list reference high school. Maybe not specifically, but having done theatre in high school, I get the subtext.

Not only do I see this online, I see it in real life. People in college who are convinced they’ve learned all they need to know, so there’s no point in paying attention to their professors. I know that there are professors who may seem useless; find something to get from them anyway. Or go to the library and check out books about theatre and learn something new. That Terrance McNally play you did in high school? Yeah, that’s not the end-all be-all. It’s the first step. The next step is becoming a better artist and remembering that NO ONE GIVES A SHIT ABOUT WHAT YOU DID IN HIGH SCHOOL after you graduate. Like, literally no one. If someone is engaging you in a conversation about high school, they either A) are really nice people who are super fucking  bored, or B) are waiting for you to stop talking so they can annoy you with their own story about high school. So shut it, grow up, and make yourself better.

All theatre kids are incredibly self-centered, but in an adorably hilarious way. (Yes, even non-actors.)

Oh, for sure, we are definitely self-centered. But there is a line. I mean, WHAT THE FUCKING FUCKSHIT IS THIS: “Few things got under your skin more than getting the crap costume, like, are they trying to sabotage the miracle that is your stage presence? Jealous. All of them.” What? Why? Really? Do people really think this?! That TERRIBLE HORRIBLE NO GOOD VERY BAD list is rife with this kind of bullshit. I’ve seen other things on the internet that basically hit on EVERY aspect of theatre in this way. Directors, designers, playwrights, stage managers… you name it. And yeah, like I said, we’re self-centered. That’s the nature of being an artist. But to see it presented online in such an ABSOLUTELY obnoxious way makes my blood boil. It’s not cute. It’s something that NON-INSANE theatre people try to temper because it’s an ugly personality trait that will never go away.

That said, on the next show I direct, I hope to be all “LOOK Y’ALL I’M THE DIRECTOR SO I’M JUST GONNA PLAY ALL THE ROLES AND YOU’RE ALL FIRED jk guys BUT SERIOUSLY DON’T FUCK UP BECAUSE I’M CRAZY.” Because apparently, that’s FUNNY and AWESOME. (Well, I AM funny and awesome, but that’s a blog for someone else to write because I’m trying to suppress my vanity.)

Basically, what I’m saying is this:  true theatre kids are kids who love theatre and can’t imagine not doing theatre. Doesn’t matter your background, genre preference, or position in a production. I said plenty of judgmental things above, and I can imagine people will react to it just like I reacted to that RICOCKULOUS PIECE OF ANAL PROLAPSE list that I linked to 1000 words ago. But theatre people are all judgmental and pretentious (I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU SAY, YOU ARE JUDGMENTAL AND PRETENTIOUS, AND THAT’S OKAY BECAUSE WE’RE JUST BETTER THAN EVERYONE ELSE), and that’s what makes us great. That, and you know, making art and stuff.

About Collaborative Theatre

26 Jun

My friend Dawn Glover runs a Facebook page called Theatrica ThNerd. (Click on the name to check it out.) Basically, she’s gathered many friends and colleagues to write about different theories/aspects/genres of theatre. She asked me to take a crack at collaborative theatre. and below is what I wrote.

I’ve been involved with Sundown Collaborative Theatre since 2008, and as you can tell from the name, we take collaboration seriously. Even within collaboration, however, there is a necessity for hierarchy because a theatre company is a business, albeit one run by artists. It’s important to assign these artists roles in which they will excel, rather than expecting someone who has never even THOUGHT about non-profit management to be as informed as someone who has been working in that field for years.

Think of it in the simplest terms – you and your friends get together (let’s say 4 people) and decide you want to do some theatre. Maybe you choose a play that one of you wrote, or you decide to create a devised piece, so as to avoid paying for rights. “This way,” you might think, “we don’t have to deal with any of the business stuff!” Wrong. If one of you wrote it, does that person get more say? Should one of you also be the director? If it is a devised piece, how do decisions get made? Who is going to find a place to perform? Collaboration is not easy. TRUE collaboration, many would argue, does not exist. There must be some kind of system in place. Having spent about a decade creating devised pieces, I can definitively say they are more successful when there is someone in charge, and that automatically negates the idea of “true” collaboration. Or does it? Does creating a hierarchy in collaboration actually make it MORE true than everyone throwing ideas at a wall and arguing until some sort of compromise is reached?

Let’s go back to our 4 person example, using the devised piece option. Day one, you sit down and delegate roles outside of creating a piece together. Person 1 is the spearheader, basically acting as a production manager, making sure rehearsals move along and decisions are being made (while still respecting that everyone’s voice is important). Person 2 acts as a stage manager in a sense, taking notes of points made so that everyone doesn’t have to sit down and lose momentum any time a new idea is brought to the table. Person 3 is the design coordinator, assessing any items that will be needed for the finalized piece. And Person 4 is the location scout, ensuring you have a place to perform this finalized piece. These roles are not exclusive; someone may need help in their role, and others should be expected to help out in any way they can. But a system allows the production to move more smoothly, even if you’re all rehearsing in someone’s living room, worrying about breaking lamps or stepping on dogs. Delegation is KEY in collaboration.

Now think about it on a bigger scale, in terms of putting up a written script with a production team behind it. You need a director, a stage manager, designers, and actors, at bare minimum. For me, as a director, it is important to encourage collaboration and full input from every person involved in the process. However, at the end of the day, decisions have to be made, and creatively, those decisions fall to the director. There is a hierarchy, but within that hierarchy, every person can make decisions that change a whole process. Maybe you’re an actor, and you decide that you want to take a well-known character in a direction that’s not typical for the role. Suddenly, that choice affects the whole production. Does the director allow this decision, which might compromise or change his/her concept? Does the costume designer need to re-think his/her design choices? The marketing might change, even; at the very least, you’ve got someone dealing with PR who is nervous about how this atypical character choice will affect reviews. It’s all connected, which is what makes theatre so collaborative, regardless of the form it takes behind the scenes.

Something that I love about Sundown is that over the years, we have managed to garner a pool of artists who knew very little about the business of theatre but who were willing to learn, and whether people stayed with us for 5 years, 1 year, or even just a few months, I like to think that those who left were able to utilize that knowledge in their artistic endeavors afterward. But we need people in charge in order to allow others to learn. We need the type of people who know how to delegate, how to take on a little more responsibility, how to pick up on new skills quickly in order to train those who may not have the same abilities. Furthermore, we need the people who are often referred to as “followers” in our society, which comes across as derogatory. I prefer to think of them as supporters – people who will do anything they can to help create art they believe in, regardless of their role in the company. The point is, everything works more smoothly in a collaborative work environment if people fully understand their jobs. And because it is treated as a collaboration, people are also expected to contribute to assignments outside of their own duties. Having clear roles for everyone doesn’t mean anything if people aren’t fully pulling their weight.

So the next time you’re involved in theatre in some capacity, ask yourself, “What is my role? Am I fulfilling my duties to the best of my ability? In general, am I doing all I can do right now?” If you can answer “yes” to all of those questions, you are helping create a collaborative environment that can allow theatre to thrive, no matter how big or small the production.