28 November 2016

Things I Really Like About Being a Performing Artist

Note: this is, believe it or not, NOT a sarcastic post. This is a tribute to my reality; this life I love so much. I really do love these things.

- Doing makeup between scenes at rehearsal.

- Costume changes.

- Changing in random bathrooms (dancers know what I'm talking about).


- Driving to practice/rehearsal/performances with one hand and eating Subway with the other.

- The smell of makeup and hairspray.

- Costume fittings.

- Photo shoots.

- Memorising lines.

- Dancing to other peoples' songs while waiting backstage.

- Lining up right before you walk out with the choir.

- Learning new blocking.

- Hearing the full orchestra for the first time.

- Water bottles.

- Trying to walk quietly in heels or tap shoes.

- The full-cast onstage warmup.

- The director's last words before showtime.

- Waiting in the wings.

- Helping others with choreography and costume changes.

- Monologues for auditions.

- That moment when your ballet/pointe shoes are finally warmed up and responsive to your feet (Canadians in winter... you know where I'm coming from).

- Wearing that one favourite zip-up sweater over your practice clothes and it totally clashes with your turn-of-the-century dress or your silver tutu but you don't care.

- The prop table. Holding my water bottle since 2008.

- Posting teaser photos from rehearsals on Instagram.

- All those circled notes and breath markings and arrows and underlined consonants in the sheet music.

- Legwarmers.

- That one last run-through of the section you always forget with one or two others in the wings right before your dance.

- Memorising the programme order before the show starts.

- Footlights. Actually, all of the lights. Especially how the lights cut through all the stage fog.

- Watching the set get bigger and more detailed with every rehearsal.

(More to be added as I think of them.)

25 November 2016

Music Day - Sometimes By Step

I first heard the full version of this song when my dear friend asked me to sing it with her in church. To this day I still like her take better than the original. But that's not to say the original is to be sneezed at.

I was listening to it the other day because lately I've been on a Rich Mullins kick and suddenly... well, you know that moment when you're listening to a song you're heard many times before but all of the sudden EVERY SINGLE WORD of it hits you right in the soul? Yeah. Me too. It's what I live for. It's why I ingest copious amounts of music and am always looking for more. I'm always looking for that moment. And that's why I'm in the arts. I want to give that moment to other people. There's just nothing like it.

Rich Mullins was one of those guys who knew how to write a lyric. He's up there with guys like Mark Heard, Terry Scott Taylor, and Michael Roe. These people can paint feelings with words. That's a very rare gift, and we are so lucky that they had the tenacity to hold onto that vision in a world where depth is 'too depressing' and 'not Christian enough.'

Sometimes the night was beautiful
Sometimes the sky was so far away
Sometimes it seemed to stoop so close
You could touch it but your heart would break
Sometimes the morning came too soon
Sometimes the day could be so hard
There was so much work left to do
But so much You'd already done...

Title: Sometimes By Step
Artist: Rich Mullins
Album: The World As Best As I Remember It, Volume Two
Year: 1991
Label: Reunion Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.

If you were affiliated with the average evangelical church in the '90s and early 2000s, you probably recognise the chorus. Rich Mullins is primarily known for short repetitive choruses that congregations bludgeon to death, which is a shame because there is so much depth and richness to his poetry. However -- it does create a bridge from the average evangelical to actual creative art if said average evangelical does happen to research the history of it.

Nobody talks about heartbreak in Christianity. Nobody talks about days being hard. And even fewer people contrast that with the work God has done without getting stuck in a thin, cheesy water analogy that they can't seem to get out of (looking at you, Hillsong's Oceans). I'll refrain from the Christian-music-is-fluff rant here. But a lyric like this is real, refreshing, and hopeful. This is everything Christian music should strive to be. Poets and lyricists of the next generation, please take note. The future of songwriting may depend on it.

17 November 2016

Snapshot of the Last Rays of Hope

26 October 2016, 1.52am.

The other day I was flipping through my notes from Songwriting class. I took this class in the final semester of my AA degree, as a modular (week-long intensive) course. This was, of course, the semester when my entire life went to h-e-double-hockey-sticks.

There were a lot of journaling exercises in that class, and it was strange reading some of what I had written in those exercises. At that point in the semester, Brittney had been dead for less than a month. Our family friend was in the final stages of an extremely aggressive cancer and would in fact die less than two weeks later. The two divorces that jaded my entire concept of familial love and care had already burst on the scene (though the extent of the fallout remained to be seen). Less than a month later, God would withdraw His presence and comfort from me and my cousin would die a horrible sudden death two months later. In short, this was in that very intense upheaval period between all those things, and my notes from that class are a unique snapshot of a very short time in my life where despite all the crap I still retained some true faith that it was for good (which left when my cousin died). This was a fleeting moment in my spiritual life, though one can very easily see the torment already in my head.

We had to write a total of six songs for the class. Because I was so completely overwhelmed, I turned out six of the worst songs I have ever written in my entire life, and because of the way everything panned out (in terms of stress, abandonment, and the subsequent loss of inspiration that still haunts me), they have, so far, turned out to be the last. I vaguely remember the concepts behind two or three of them, but the one that stands out to me is the one I wrote for Brittney.

It was composed in a rush before I had really had time to process her death so it was cheesy as heck and because my piano skills are crap the accompaniment was only a couple of token chords in the background just to say it was a song. But I still remember the metaphor I used and I remember the prof in his feedback asking if I wrote poetry because it sounded like I do. I remember feeling incredibly honoured that he would even ask me that -- this was also two years to the week since I had discovered the magic that is Daniel Amos and the songwriting of my artistic hero Terry Scott Taylor (who is nothing if not poetic).

Reading these notes, I was surprised how much hope in God I still retained at that time. Most of the terrible things had happened already by this point. If my cousin hadn't died and God hadn't withdrawn His presence from me, it would have been all uphill from there. Reading those notes made me feel, for the first time, very disconnected with who I used to be. This girl who wrote those notes was hurting but she hoped through the tears. For better or for worse, I am not like that anymore. Hope is a faded memory. I am very conscious of the fact that I have put up a wall to protect myself and nobody is tearing it down -- not even me. Maybe if the wall is strong enough God can't get through to hurt me anymore. It's destroying my fledgling performing arts career (because not only can nothing get in, nothing can get out), but what does that matter anyway? There's no hope for any of that.

15 November 2016

The Black Hole

Sometimes my self-hatred flares up even worse than usual. There's always a low-grade undercurrent of it throbbing through my head, tainting everything I see, hear, and do, but sometimes it rages across me so strongly that it completely stops every other thought and my brain literally feels like it will melt from the acid racing through it. And then I lock up in every area of my life -- sometimes to the point where I literally cannot talk.

It's been particularly bad this semester -- I'm taking eight classes, which I thought I could handle because I did it my last semester, but I failed to realise that last time I took eight classes they were all performing classes. In other words, they were things I have a natural aptitude for and also they don't require papers. This time, they're all academic classes. Which means papers. I may be a writer, but I'm in my third year of post-secondary and I have yet to write a half-decent paper. Academic writing just does not come naturally to me, and that, coupled with my already-crippling perfectionism, is a source of EXTREME stress. I don't have time to actually write the papers either, because I'm attending the eight classes... Add to this the fact that the flat has the LOUDEST heating system ever -- it literally wakes me up every time it runs. And I sleep like the dead. I have three very loud alarms set on my phone every morning and for the past three days I slept through every single one of them. But the heating system in the building wakes me up every. single. time. Add to that my already-near-crippling insecurity about my vocal abilities and the hit my performing abilities in general have taken, and you have a dangerous cocktail.

When I start into serious self-hatred mode, I get into this loop where no matter how much encouragement I receive, its effect is gone within seconds of my receiving it. I learnt long ago how to manipulate people into complimenting me, and though it's one of the things I hate the most about myself, I find myself doing it anyway at these times. This, of course, makes it worse because I already feel bad about myself and then I catch myself fishing for compliments again and then I feel even worse for putting the other person in that spot (seriously, there is nothing more awkward than being in a conversation with someone who is plainly fishing for compliments -- and I hate being that person), plus the encouragement I do get I suck dry within seconds and then start begging for more -- all without giving a single bit back. I'm just a black hole eating compliments and I can't stop it. So I hate myself even more for not being able to stop it, for not being able to live on one compliment a year like every one else does.

Why am I so needy? Why do I have to be that awkward person who takes but never, ever gives? Why does the coveted encouragement only last all of ten seconds before its effect is gone? Compliments don't make my whole day or even my whole minute -- they fade too fast. I'm torn between wanting more, hoping the next one will be the one that lasts and wanting to die so I can stop asking so much of so many and never being able to reciprocate.

11 November 2016

Dancing With Depression - Gene Kelly's Alter Ego Dance

I found this thanks to Operation Tap's Gene Kelly week on Facebook back in August. I had never even heard of it before.

1944. The height of World War II. PTSD is barely an acknowledged mental condition at this point, never mind depression. Yet Gene Kelly -- whether he intended to or not -- personifies the condition with more accuracy than thousands and thousands of modern dances for fundraisers ever have, even after depression started to be recognised as a legitimate mental illness. (I say this as a longtime sufferer.)

It's all here -- the whispers, the dark lonely alley, the feeble hopes, the self-hatred, the fear in his eyes, the tension in his shoulders, the careful drawing of breath, the double reeling him backwards on an invisible string, the double leading the dance -- controlling him, trying to wrestle it down but unable to get a hold of it...

It's the doppelgänger from the ¡Alarma! Chronicles stories. It's the ghost of the heart (wait, that's still ¡Alarma! Chronicles...). It's the Identical Twins, Paul's war on his own sinful flesh.

Words fail me. But this dance... it touched me. Very, very few dances do. But this was one of them (the others are Astaire and Charisse's Dancing In The Dark and Kelly and Astaire's The Babbitt And The Bromide).

Watch. Breathe. Don't focus -- not yet -- on the fact that it's 1944 and everything is rationed and money is tight yet Gene Kelly manages to film a dance with himself. Do that later. Watch the story, the feelings.

Title: Alter Ego Dance
Artist: Gene Kelly
Film: Cover Girl
Year: 1944
Columbia Pictures.
Watch here.

Even the very end illuminates how depression works (SPOILERS) -- he takes a trash can and throws it at the double in a last-ditch attempt to destroy it. It disappears, but there is shattered glass in its wake. (And how long is it really gone?)

Likewise, depression can be beaten -- but only temporarily, and often at a price. And the shattered glass left around us when we've managed to win one fistfight often sends us farther down into the dark alley, wondering why there isn't a way to beat this thing without completely destroying ourselves. Sometimes the trash can is alcohol. Sometimes it's drugs. Sometimes it's food. Sometimes it's suicide. But there are always pieces to pick up. It never just 'goes away.'

06 November 2016

National Novel Writing Month, Day 6

Wrote a death scene for the first time since before that glut of death that was 2015. Last year's novel featured several offstage backstory deaths and one on-stage near-death, but nothing 'for real.'

Today I killed off my MC's mother. She was originally supposed to have been dead before the novel opened, but at the last second I decided to establish a relationship between MC and her mother first. I didn't think I was that attached to her -- I was barely 7k into the novel and I did literally no character development before I started writing -- but I haven't cried like this since the week my cousin died. Even when I killed the FMC in Kyrie (at the 48k mark) I didn't cry this hard, and I was much more emotionally attached to that character than I am to anyone in this current story.

I don't really have a point I'm making here, apparently. But it struck me. I didn't realise how hard it would be writing death -- any death -- after losing all those people like that.  I just realised as I was typing that last sentence that the MC is about the same age as my cousin was. It had never occurred to me until today that I hadn't written any deaths since then.

All I can hope is maybe that's broken my writer's block. I haven't written anything substantial since April 2015 (the November 2015 novel doesn't count because it was so forced), and even on this novel I was behind within two days. I started today at 5,200 words -- I'm supposed to end today at 10k and because of my schedule next week I had hoped to finish out today with something more like 14 or 15k so I have a cushion for next week because I will have to miss a few days (two papers due by next Sunday, plus full class/rehearsal schedule and three performances in two days for Remembrance Day).

Word count goal for Day 6: 10,000
Current word count: 9,130
Oilers wins this month: 2
Free meals: 3
Papers written: 0
Papers due: 2
Loads of laundry done: 2