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Creede Co-op Part 2

Posted by [email protected] on May 5, 2015 at 7:30 PM Comments comments (0)

When last I left you, those long months ago, I was on the brink of technological disaster. No, not brink. Falling down the pit. As I sat in a comfy chair in the living room with the two other women (in the living room, not the chair), I was contentedly working away on my play. Unaware that the writer's worst nightmare was lurking around the corner, I pressed "save." And it happened. My computer FROZE. I couldn't even see my cursor anymore. I did a hard shut down, assuming this would fix the problem. Little did I know that problem was much bigger . To this day I don't know what it was. When I tried to turn my computer back on, it got to the gray screen with the apple logo. And it STOPPED. Just sat there, being gray, taunting me with the possibility that it may continue turning on. But it didn't. Taking deep breaths and convincing myself everything would work out, I called Manuel. Surely he must be able to help. He owns a tech company. No. No, he doesn't know Macs. And the nearest Mac store is... not even in Alamosa. But he'll try. I would bring it to him at the next reading. In the meantime, I took my pen and notebook out to the deck. It will be okay, I told myself. Even if he can't get my computer working again, most of my work is handwritten, so I won't have lost everything.


There were, of course, enough good things happening to outweigh this one, albeit very frustrating, bad event. One such event was a trip around Bachelor Loop, a dirt road that goes high up into the mountains. It was so rough that the only way we could travel on it was in Ann's jeep. The jeep fit three passengers, and I took my trip around the loop with T.Y. and Tom. Because of the snow, we couldn't drive the entire loop, but we did see the place we would have come out had we completed the loop. It was through those gorgeous cliffs I saw at the end of Main Street when we first drove into town. (The picture doesn't quite do them justice. The colors are much more vibrant in person.) Up in the cliffs were old mines from Creede's days as a mining town. Further up Bachelor Loop was Bachelor Town. Once the crowded place where the miners lived, it's now an open field with a strong and constant wind blowing across it.

(T.Y., Tom, and myself at the end of Bachelor Loop. Don't ask me what Tom was doing. We were behind a "road closed" sign, and I think he was saying the road in his brain was closed. Or something like that. I didn't really get it. There were a lot of things Tom did that I didn't get!)


On the other end of Bachelor Loop, we had views no less breathtaking. We saw a group of deer grazing on a hillside. We drove along a narrow stretch of road with the mountain on one side and a terrifying drop on the other. It was worth it, though. The view from that road was astounding. I could even see it through my mud-covered window. We stopped once to look out over the town below and the mountains in the distance. I stayed back a bit, and Tom gave me quite a fright by stepping nearly to the edge, and turning his back to the drop. There were patches of snow where we stood that we slipped on a bit. Perhaps you can see a bit of the terror in my face...




As we drove higher, I was surprised to see fences and houses. Apparently there are people in Creede who want to be even more isolated. By the time we reached our highest point, the ground was completely covered in snow; in March! I was very impressed at this, since Seattle-ites usually get a snow cover that is little more than frost on steroids.


Something else that compensated for the computer disaster was the food. We were treated to two meals out (one at each restaurant), which kept me in leftovers for the next couple days. A potluck with the Creede Repertory's artisitc director was planned for the second night, but things changed. As a result, we had a mamouth and delicious pot of chili made by Mary, and cornbread made by yours truly that provided dinners for the rest of the week. We had green doughnuts for St. Patick's Day, specially made muffins for the morning readings, and one morning... Oh, that one morning... A friend of the theatre hosted Mary's reading in her delightful and unique home. She made one of the best breakfasts I've ever had, involving homemade coffee cake, sweet potato pancakes, and much more goodness. She also happens to be an amazing masseuse who offered her services to the writers. That was also a splendid way to aleviate the stress of having lost my work.


Back to that lost work... I was still holding out hope that Manuel could work some magic and be able to transfer my work onto another computer. It turned out to be wishful thinking. Manuel loaned me a laptop, and I began the tedious work of retyping everything. Absolutely everything, including the material I had written in the weeks leading up to the retreat. As I typed, I did my best to remember any changes I'd made on the first go around. As a result, I now have two versions of the script, which is not a terrible thing. It has allowed me to pick and choose the best material. This positive attitude is available only with hindsight, or course. During the retype-a-thon I was too panicked to think this positively. My goal those two days before my reading was to completely retype my work, and to recreate the scenes I had typed directly into the computer. It turned out to be much slower going than I'd initially thought. Never fear, though, for I had picked up something at the market to help me in this endearvor: 5 Hour Energy! This was my first encounter with the stuff, but I heard good things. Using this, I figured, I would not only have the days to type, but the nights, too. 


Note to 5 Hour Energy users or those who are thinking of starting: Just because your body is awake doesn't mean your mind is raring to go. Meaning midnight... one... two... I was wide awake, but at the same time too tired to continue working. So there I was, panicking over my partially typed play, both full of energy and exhausted, trying not to make any noise so the other writers wouldn't know there was a crazy person hopped up on 5 Hour Energy in the kitchen. Of course, I've just been found out as some of them are certainly reading this... right. now. Yes, folks, that's why the kitchen light was on when you woke up that morning.


Friday evening was the potluck with the artistic director of Creede Repertory. Among other things, we had some rather delicious vegetarian stuffed peppers. I made bread pudding. Then Saturday morning came. The writers and actors gathered in the living room. Manuel handed out the scripts, and to my horror, I realized I had sent him the wrong version. I'd typed up one to be read, and one with material that wasn't quite ready to be read. There was also a bit of experimental material I wanted to hear that missing. Ugh. How many more stupid things could I do this week? But the show must go on. I e-mailed the right material, and the actors did a wonderful job reading off of computer screens. My cast requirements also complicated things. I had a cast of eight characters, all of whom played other minor characters throughout. We had four actors. See a problem? It was difficult to keep track of who was who for the audience and the actors. Nevertheless, despite all these challenges, the actors did a beautiful job breathing life into my characters. They took my furiously typed words and lovingly brought out the music in them. I can't thank them enough.


Then came the discussion. Everyone had encouraging things to say. They saw things in my play that I hadn't seen myself. That's the beauty of sharing your work with others. You may think you know it inside and out, but someone else comes along and sees it from a different angle. They bring their own point of view, their own life experiences. If you truly listen to them, your work becomes richer. It turns into something bigger than yourself. On a side note, this is why I don't believe a playwright should direct his or her own work. Speaking from experience I don't wish to repeat,  playwrights spend so much time with their own material, by the time it gets handed over to actors, they can only see the play in one way. Seperate directors with their own concepts add a new dimension the playwrights wouldn't have seen on their own. But that is my personal soap box. There are many who would disagree with this point of view. In a discussion, however, no one would deny that a variety of input is in the best interest of a play. The insight I received from the discussion of my play inspired me, helped define my message, and confirmed that what I had to say was important. I am sincerely grateful for their help in pointing me and my new work in the right direction.


On our last night, we writers decided to sit down and have a dinner together. We cleaned out the refrigerator into our stomaches, and had rich, honest conversation. (A side note: When in conversation with a group of writers, be careful what you share. One day I caught one taking notes.) The next morning we cleaned up the kitchen after our wild party the night before and said our good-byes. Barbara kindly gave my storyboard and me a ride to Alamosa. I waited outside the airport for a bit because it hadn't opened yet. When it did, the security guard sat me down in front of the television with the remote control while I waited for my flight. I could get used to this small airport thing! After two episodes of Law and Order, my storyboard and I settled ourselves onto the little plane and watched Almosa shrink away. Thus ended my incredible adventure in little Creede, Colorado.

My next adventure: workshopping a musical one-legged...




(The gang on the porch or our house. Back row, left to right: T.Y, Jonson, Barbara, yours truly. Front: Tom, Mary)

Creede Co-op Part I

Posted by [email protected] on April 10, 2015 at 2:20 PM Comments comments (6)

Buried in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, along the Rio Grande, is a little town of four-hundred people. It has a total of two restaurants (besides a litte hot dog stand that opens in the summer), and one coffee shop that closes at noon. This is Creede, a tiny town with one main street and one street on either side. Yet right in the middle of downtown (which is about five minutes from the outskirts) is the nationally recognized Creede Repretory Theatre. This theatre is the life blood of the town. It was begun specifically to help the town's economy, and it does just that. It only has a summer season, but during that time audiences come by the thousands. They fill up the RV park just outside of town. They drive from miles and miles away, just to take in a week or so of quality theatre. 


It was to this town, and supported by Creede Repretory, that I went in March to a writers' retreat. More specifically, it was a co-op. Myself and five other playwrights were the guinea pigs for a program the organizers plan to expand next year. The retreat was organized and sponsored by the HBMG Foundation out of Austin, Texas. The people behind were the founder and president, Anne Pittman and Menuel Zarate, themselves writers as well. You can check out them, their foundation, and an amazing new software Manuel is developing, the Human Stage, here: 

http://www.hbmgfoundation.org

http://www.humanstage.org

http://www.annpittman.com

http://www.manuelzarate.com

http://www.creederep.org


The Monday after Seven Ways closed, I packed my suitcase, shoved my storyboard into a poster tube and headed off to the airport at 3:30 in the morning. The flight was my birthday present, so I flew first class. After sleeping most of the flight, including straight through breakfast, my storyboard and I (this was very cumbersome piece of luggage, but it beat the bulletin board I had at home) arrived in Denver. It took a while for me to find the gate for my connecting flight to Alamosa (the closest airport to Creede, which was an hour away from the town), because it turned out it was downstairs. As I walked past A58, A59... and there was almost no one else around. I was sure I was in the wrong place. Maybe I'd stumbled into the basement? No, at last I reached the end of the hallway and found gate A63. It looked like a small town airport. The employees were chatting with each other, passing around the new flavors of potato chips. I was initially one of three passengers waiting for their flight. My flight was an hour late, so I spent quite a bit of time listening to how the mango salsa chips are disgusting, and how one of the employees had submitted bruschetta flavor last year. At last, the plane arrived, and my storyboard and I lined up at the "gate" (it was just a door to the outside) with two other people. We were led outside, and boarded a small plane that looked like it belonged in an old movie like Casa Blanca. They put my storyboard in the closet, and we were off on the bumpiest, loudest flight on which I had ever ridden. A kind older lady who lives in a green house with a smiley face on it  (the other two passengers and I struck up conversations before take-off) gave me an extra pair of ear plugs. An hour later we landed at Alamosa and I understood why the organizers, who were picking me up, had never asked how they would recognize me. I stepped off the plane and walked into a two room airport: there was the room with the metal detector, and the rest of the airport. Standing in one spot you could see baggage claim (that was not used), the rental car counter, check-in, and where they scan the checked luggage. There was a children's play place in one corner, and a security guard talking on his cell phone in the other. It was another world. Needless to say, my ride found me quickly: the only person of the three looking confused.




The hour long drive to Creede was, of course, gorgeous. Much of it was along the Rio Grande and we were driving into mountians with snow patches and brilliantly colored cliffs. On the way, I got to know Manuel and Ann a bit. I found out that some years ago Manuel worked with the theatres in Seattle. After mentioning I had a headache, I was also admonished for not drinking enough water to prevent altitude sickness. Whoops, I'd forgotten about that. After stopping at the grocery store for water and some less than tasty "grapefruit" flavored powder to help with altitude sickness, Ann and Manuel drove me up to the house. The other writers and I were being put up in a house on a hill overlooking Creede. The women lost the coin toss, so we slept downstairs in the basement, which was cold when the heaters weren't on, but oddly cozy. The owner of the house had decorated the room with costume renderings and, somewhat randomly, two world maps under which I slept. But sleeping in the basement really didn't matter. I didn't fly all the way to Colorado to write inside. I preferred to spend my time writing on the back deck. Even though there was still snow in places, at certain times the sun shone so hot that I actually got a sun burn. When it wasn't warm, I simply bundled up in my coat and extra blankets and kept writing. Being a little cold was worth it for this view: (please excuse the fact that this picture is sideways. I can't quite figure out how to flip it, but with some strategic head tilting, I think you'll get the... picture)




There are few things more inspiring then looking out over snow-covered mountains. I did realize the irony of it, however. The play I brought with me is about people in hiding, shut off from the world. As I wrote it I was looking at a vast expanse of some of the most beautiful sights the world has to offer. It heightened my sense of what my characters had lost and what they were hoping for in the future. My most memorable day of writing was the day when, sitting amongst fluffy blankets, with my head buried in a hood, it began to snow. It was light hail at first. Then the snowflakes came, landing on my blankets and staying long enough for me to notice the ornate crystal patterns. I stopped writing for a bit just to enoy being surrounded by softly falling snow. Except for the flume on the other side of town, Creede is quiet. Add snow to that, and it was one of those magical times when you feel like it's just you and nautre. You and God. This was wonderful, as one of the main relationships in the play on which I was working was between the main character and God. Inspired by this time alone in God's creation I wrote some quite touching scenes, if I do say so myself.


Writing in this breathtaking beauty was only part of the great opportunity I had in Creede.  Aside from having alone time to focus solely on writing, I was surrounded by incredible, experienced playwrights. There was Tom Evans, a college professor who has taught in England, had many full productions of his work, written a book, directs and designs sets. He could also name drop with the best of them, having had Kenneth Branagh and Ben Kingsley guest lecture in his class. (I do believe I also overheard him mention an argument he had with Edward Albee.) Then there was Mary Burkin, an entertainment lawyer who writes and performs in LA. She has Theatre, TV, and film credits to her name. She could also do some impressive name dropping, including Lee Meriwether and Robin Williams. Then there was Barbara Shaw, a former speech therapist who now is the board president of a theatre in Aspen. She's won numerous awards for her writing in theatre and film. There was T.Y. Joe, a Korean retired teacher who has been produced all over the place. During the week he wrote a fabulous and touching Noh style short play. Finally, the playwright closest to me in age, Jonson Kuhn, who has been produced many times, as with the rest of the playwrights. The play he brought with him has been chosen to be read by The Script Readers in London. I don't know how I fit into this mix, but I am so glad I got to be in it! I asked questions when I could, listened in to coversations, anything to glean as much information as possible from the combined experience in the house. Not only were these playwrights experienced, but they were supportive and eager to encourage a young playwright. Though I didn't have much to offer in conversations, and couldn't do an ounce of name dropping, they treated me as an equal, a playwright in my own right, and not a novice. Even so, they were there to answer my questions, listen to my frustrations, and reassure me that what I was working on was worthwhile.


Everyday someone's play was read by the professional actors who were permanant residents of Creede. We listened to the stellar, cold read performances, then discussed and critiqued the play. The environment here was one of creation and not competition, so the discussion was kind and supportive, even if it was brutally honest. We did not sit and critique what the playwright should have done, or what they did wrong. Instead, we talked about what they did right, what they were trying to say with the play, and how their creation could be made stronger. I didn't have much to contribute to these sessions. I made a few positive comments, posed a few fairly surface questions. Personally, this was more of an opportunity for me to learn. We discussed the arc of a story, character development, consistency in theme and storytelling devices and so many other things specific to each writer's play. Everything was helpful for all of us, as it was easily transferrable to anyone's work. As I sat in the room with decades and decades of professional experience, I soaked in the comments and discussions. I eagerly, but quite nervously, awaited my own reading, which was to take place the last day. 


Then, half way through the week, technological disaster struck...

7 Ways to Workshop

Posted by [email protected] on March 13, 2015 at 1:25 AM Comments comments (0)

I've recently finished taking advantage of an amazing opportunity given to me through my internship with Northwest Playwrights Alliance. Bryan Willis invited me to sit in on the workshop rehearsal for his new play, Seven Ways to Get There. It is a play about group therapy- an incredibly difficult script to write, as Bryan was juggling seven different very involved stories of quite distinct characters. Making it a cohesive whole was no mean feat. He also had the challenge of creating a female therapist leading an all male group, who had enough, shall we say, balls, to hold her own and not become a device. The actress in that role helped a great deal in its development, Bryan told me. He managed to meet all these challenges and the end result was a beautiful piece of art; stories clashing into each other, overlapping. Characters healing, hurting, changing each other through their own successes and failures. Bryan earned the review that called him a genius.

I got to not only watch Bryan develop this, but see the actors and director shaping and enriching the play as well. What a privilege to watch these seasoned professionals work! The amount of talent in the room was humbling. Not only were the actors brilliant, but the director, John Lang, is one of the hottest directors in town. As a recent student of directing, I couldn't have been more excited to watch him work. The entire experience was beyond what I'd thought I'd be getting to do less than a year out of college. "Do" of course is overstating my role in this process, which was sitting in a chair in the corner trying to stay out of the way. Do you realize how sore you get from spending six hours trying not to move? A minor annoyance that was more than worth it, though. I learned valuable information about the playwright's role in a workshop. It is much more stressful than I'd imagined! I watched Bryan sit behind his computer editing even as the actors played the scene. He spent many days sitting out of rehearsal to write, often spent lunches in front of the computer, and rewrote up to three scenes in one night. As he had about a two hour commute at the end of the day, this must have taken its toll. I hadn't realized playwrights had to be so hardy! All the while, Bryan gave me bits of seasoned playwright wisdom that I gratefully logged away. One was on the importance of standing up for your script. No one will do that for you, and while listening to comments is important, there comes a time when you must be hard-nosed so the script remains your script. I learned that playwrights are the only theatre professionals who don't have a union. Actors, stage managers, even lightboard opperators all have their own unions. But playwrights are on their own. There is the dramatist guild, but this isn't a union like actors equity. What that amounts to is that it's up to the playwright him/herself to ensure the script is treated with respect, not changed without their consent, and that the playwright is treated with respect as well. This is going to be a challenge for me, who enjoys writing partially because you spend quite a bit of time working alone, with no conflicts. It will be an adventure when I start into my own workshop.

Speaking of my workshop, Bryan was kind enough to sit down at lunch with me one day and talk about how that process begins. He gave me practical advice on how to lay the groudwork, namely, what to discuss with the director. There were little things I wouldn't have even thought of until we were into the workshop, like, is the playwright going to be allowed to talk to the actors, or should everything go through the director? I can see how a simple thing like that could easily cause tension in the room. And tension is a great enemy of creativity.

Back to the topic of comments, I learned just how important a thick skin is in playwriting. During table work every bit of the scipt was scrutinized, right down to individual lines, that may be only a few words long. In depth conversations about charcter motivations and needs, and big picture conversations about character arcs and what the scene accomplishes were part of the table work. While actors and director did not pull their punches, the whole atmosphere was constructive. On criticism of your work, Bryan has told me something that will stick with me for years to come: Listen only to the comments that help you tell the story better. Anything that doesn't help is not worth your time. I have experienced both kinds of comments. If you listen to the comments coming from those who want to find something wrong, or want you to tell a different story, you are bound to be discouraged and question your talent. If you listen to the first kind of comments, however, you will be inspired and grow. The trick is telling the difference.

Other various things I learned through this experience:

  • Taco Del Mar makes excellent quesadillas. And they sell brownies. A good place.
  • ACT actually has over seven stories. I didn't know theatres got that tall! 
  • Viewpoints is a bit of a joke in some professional circles. Having just taken directing from a professor who loves viewpoints, and taught me to love it, too, this came as a surprise, and made me a bit sad.
  • Good luck finding parking when there is a convention in town. (ACT is right next to the Seattle Convention Center.)
  • Despite the colored walkways and arrows, the Convention Center parking garage is a fairly easy place in which to get lost. 
  • Professional actors are hard core. They rehearsed six hours a day, six days a week, and came in memorized on scenes they'd just gotten the day before. I thought I was a quick study, but they put me to shame.
  • Finally, the perks of knowing the playwright: To see the play, I paid for the cheap seats (the good seats started at about sixty dollars). I had yet to sit down when Bryan found me, said "these seats won't do," and took me and several other friends of his to about the fourth row at the best angle (the show was in the round). 
The Monday after the show closed, I packed a suitcase and flew off to Colorado for a writer's retreat. Another opportunity I will write about next time!

Onward and Upward!

Posted by [email protected] on January 31, 2015 at 2:55 PM Comments comments (0)

 

So much has happened since my last post. So much so that I don't quite know where to start. I have seven, count 'em, seven unfinished blog drafts. I think I'll start simply. Here is how my career has progressed since last I wrote:

1) I quit my day job. I was so young and naive, thinking I could get any significant work done in fifteen minute breaks. A few days into my job (did I mention I'd gotten a permanent job in a special-ed kindergarten classroom?) I was so exhausted when it came to my breaks that I either stared at my notebook unable to think, or sat with my head resting (more like succumbed to the exhaustion) on the table. Therefore, as of a couple weeks ago, I am now officially and only a freelance writer. This has many perks: For the most part, you can sleep in. There are no children wiping snot on you. You have the time and energy to dive into your creative projects. There are, of course, downsides: No steady paycheck, uncertainty, and frustrating days of little progress due to the dreaded writer's block. Still, it was worth it, because...

2) I have a pseudo-kind-of-internship thing. Thanks to some serendipitous connections, I am now working with the Northwest Playwrights Alliance as a sort-of Gal Friday for Bryan Willis (the head honcho). What that means is I get to help him out with his projects and read scripts that are submitted to NPA. Script reading is basically training for a playwright. You learn what's out there- what kind of work is being written. You learn what works, what's exciting, and what kind of writing doesn't stand out. I've read some amazingly artistic plays, and I've read others that are 90% exposition, or have milk toast stories with cardboard cut-outs in the place of characters. I got a great lesson reading one fairly bland script, when I realized that it was very near my writing style. I took a look back at my own work and was able to see it more as an outsider to make adjustments. There are quite a few more things I could write about this gal-friday-ing, but I'll save that for later entries. For I must get on to:

3) My musical is going to be read by NPA in the fall. (I will be bragging more about this as the date gets closer.) Equity actors, professional director... With my inferiority complex, I never thought anyone would like my script enough to give it a read like this. I'm also workshopping it this summer. (Again, more bragging as it gets closer.) I'm a little worried, as apparently I wrote some ridiculously challenging music. (See my music page, "First Fright." I had very talented singers, yet it still is a bit scary in places. Of course, though it did not produce a perfect quality recording, it was a wonderful learning opportunity, and that piece has since been revised.) But that is why you workshop things, to work out the kinks. This summer will be an adventure... And finally, it's not official yet, but...

4) I applied to a writer's getaway program put on by a theatre up in the mountains of Colorado. If you can get yourself there and feed yourself, they'll put you up, and you get an entire week to buckle down and work on a project. It's "first come, first served," but they still have to believe in you enough to give you the time and space. When I applied, I had to tell them what project I would be working on. I chose one that's been running around in my brain for a while, because it is extra artsy and unique. As a new playwright with a small resume, I figured having something unique was my best hope of catching their eye. The only problem is, the project I promised them requires a considerable amount of research, from which I am taking a break at this moment. If I'm accepted (I have a phone interview on Monday), I need to have this research, that includes interviews, boning up on Dutch literature, and relearning the history of the Holocaust, completed before I go. That gives me about two months. Not really the time I'd like, but it has certainly given me the kick in the pants I needed to get moving! More about this later if I'm accepted. Fingers crossed, prayers, hope, hope. hope!

Those are the big things happening in the life of my budding career. There is much excitement, coupled with the nagging feeling I'm in over my head. Ah well, I shall get over that. Onward and upward!

 

The Day Job

Posted by [email protected] on September 4, 2014 at 8:40 PM Comments comments (0)

The Day Job has begun. I am now officially a substitute paraeducator. In education layman's terms, that's a fill-in teacher's minion. It started bright and early (well, bright and early for a recent college graduate who has spent the last few weeks enjoying a very well earned summer vacation) at seven-thirty with... The Phone Call. Anyone who has worked in substitute education (I'm fairly certain that's not official education jargon, but it really should be) knows about The Phone Call. It can come any time starting at about five in the morning. In your dazed post-slumber state, you are expected to both listen to and comprehend a computerized job offer. But the really tricky part is remembering it. This is problematic when you are so tired that you fall back asleep directly after receipt of The Phone Call. It gets even more difficult when you start dreaming about The Phone Call. In the past, I've accepted several jobs in my dreams and woken up desperately trying to remember at what school I was supposed to be working that day. Thankfully, there is an internet listing of all the jobs you've taken to help separate dream from reality. And you know you are fully at The Phone Call's mercy when, upon your phone alarm going off, you answer the phone and try to type in your employee ID number. It is kind of fun, really. You feel a bit like a spy: "Your mission, if you choose to accept it..." Though the phone never does self-destruct. Now there's a way to wake up a sub... But that's another topic. This morning I received The Phone Call from a live-and-in-person person. This was fortunate, as I initially hung up the phone thinking I was turning my alarm off. I hadn't been expecting work until after the orientation (filling out paperwork while watching safety videos) which was a week or two away. But short-handed desperation meant I got to fly out of bed and down to the district office, hurriedly fill out my paperwork and get fingerprinted before rushing off to save the day in an under-paraed elementary classroom. Being a substitute often feels like being an on-call doctor - ready at a moment's notice - but without the PhD and living wage.

It's not a bad deal for an artist, though. What I love about this job is that, while giving me the time I need (evenings, weekends, holidays, flexibility to take days off) to further my career, I am doing something that I, personally, find fulfilling. There are few things as satisfying as seeing children succeed, especially if you've had the privilege to watch a child strive toward a goal, and have helped them reached it. As any teacher can attest, children give you laughs, intentionally or unintentionally. On a less noble note, if you're working in the right programs (i.e. my favorite: special ed) you get to play games, cook (I once got to teach a class to make apple pies!) and even go on field trips. It's like you're back in kindergarten (complete with accidents and perpetually untied shoelaces). The one drawback is how much energy is required. I have this theory that children are energy dementors; they feed off of adult energy, sucking teachers dry as their own hyper level increases. I've been having a difficult time coming home and working my actual career. Just the thought of sitting down and thinking is exhausting. Therefore, weekday evenings have seen me curled up on the couch and letting my mind take a break by catching up on reruns of MASH and The King of Queens. Even this blog entry has taken me a week to complete; after spending all day watching preschool phonics songs on Youtube, I've been having difficulty stringing intelligent, grown-up words together.

I suppose this is the joy of the artist's life: learning to balance The Day Job and The Career. I sometimes wonder if it's realistic to pursue a field that demands your heart and soul while working in a day job that also requires great commitment. When working with children, one can never be unengaged, particularly with special needs students (they might mentally check out, bite you, run away, or all three... Oh the stories I could tell!). This means pondering my next play or puzzling over a scene that is giving me grief (which is how I spent my college PE classes...) is virtually impossible. Fifteen-minute breaks are semi-useful for this, but there isn't a great deal of quality work that can be done in that short amount of time. Then I realize the wealth of fascinating characters with which I am surrounded, and I'm not just talking about the kids! It is also helping me grow in learning to work with so many different kinds of people and handling conflict. Most significantly, I am learning to be flexible and teachable. Going into a new job every day certainly requires that!

So bring on the Day Job. Every artist goes around dead tired, anyway, right? I'll develop a taste for caffeinated coffee, hide the TV remote control from myself, and use those fifteen-minute breaks to the max. How lucky I am to have the opportunity to pursue my passion, and help teach children the skills they'll need to chase after their own!

 

From Guettel to Glass

Posted by [email protected] on July 9, 2014 at 8:20 PM Comments comments (0)

As a recent college graduate, I have been looking back at my journey and growth as a young artist. My eight years of education took my views and tastes concerning theatre and music in a direction I would not have guessed when I began as an enthusiastic young freshman. This is the case particularly in my composition education. At age eighteen, I entered Pacific Lutheran University with one goal: learn to write like my musical theatre idols: Steven Schwartz (just as every teenage girl, I was obsessed with Wicked. I could sing along with every second of the soundtrack - including the harmonies - cherished my book of vocal selections, and yes, sang "Defying Gravity" for my last voice recital); Adam Guettel (you know, that Tony award winning composer of Light in the Piazza. I admit I still get "ear-gasms," as my roommate dubbed them, whenever I play that CD); and Stephen Sondheim. What dedicated student of musical theatre is not head-over-heels in love with the work of Sondheim? In high school and the early part of college I could certainly be considered a die-hard fan. I named my cat Sondheim. I named my stuffed cat Steve. I checked out the score of A Little Night Music from the university library to analyze the mechanics of his brilliant music. Of course, I am still in the "Sondheim is a genius" camp. His clever and insightful lyrics, warm harmonies and patter song style still delight me whenever I pop in one of his CDs. But when my composition teacher last year told me he considered Sondheim more of a wordsmith than a composer, I didn't consider it a personal insult, as I had eight years ago.

The wonderful thing that college, and time, does is widen one's views. It challenges an artist to move past what is pretty and pleasing and take on something that is a bit harder to understand. If an artist is willing to take that step, the art becomes richer and even more exciting. So it did for me once I decided to heed my professors' advice and explore the unfamiliar. Composing is much more intriguing when one is taking risks rather than attempting to emulate someone else. I am amused when I think back to my first composition of college- it was incredibly tonal, using the chord progression made famous in everyone's favorite piano piece, "Heart and Soul." It was written for two singers accompanied by what essentially amounted to a mini symphony orcehstra. If I say so myself, it was quite pretty. Then I look at my last piece- written for six singers, a wine glass, finger cymbals and a triangle, it had a tonal identity crisis, and never resolved. As for my taste in shows, my eighteen-year-old self never would have imagined I'd be absolutely breathless with excitement upon finding a live stream of the entire production of Einstein on the Beach!

And so, having geeked out on everything from Schwartz to Glass, I begin my post-college career, always eager to explore the unfamiliar, embrace the confusing, and try out the ridiculous! This will be fun...


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