26 June 2019

Art and Fog (The Raft In The Sea)

I forgot how much I love the performing arts.

I'm into my third week living alone in a bigger city than I ever have before, and last week did NOT go well. As I suspected would happen, I felt unseen and unheard and trapped, not in the concrete/steel jungle, but in this huge empty house. I didn't (still don't) even have gas money to go out to a bookstore or something (nor would I have had money to spend at said bookstore). Longtime readers know this is a recipe for disaster, and by this past weekend I literally did not care about anything. I think I ate a total of three actual meals from Wednesday till yesterday (Tuesday), supplemented by Pop Tarts, watched TV for literally three straight days, and went off my asthma meds completely (mostly by accident, but that did not help matters).

At some point during that fog, between episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, I followed every actor/dancer/theatre Facebook group I could find in my new city. Between those and some groups I already follow from elsewhere, I found a handful of auditions, and most of them would accept video auditions.

Most were due this weekend and I'm gone this weekend, so I set aside today to film all of them in one go (I discovered if I pray enough, that piece-of-trash memory card does work intermittently. At this point it's better than nothing). And afterwards, as I sat sipping my peanut-butter smoothie, I felt... just a tiny little bit better. Acting and dancing for the camera all day had distracted me from the dark fog long enough to catch a breath.

I've hinted at this but never actually come out and said it publicly -- in April I decided to quit the arts. I had three shows outstanding at the time I made this decision, and I planned to finish those and then... fling myself into the artless abyss, whatever that looked like. I literally do not have any interests or passions outside the arts. Literally none. I assumed I'd die shortly after finishing my last show (which I suppose is still not outside the realm of possibility as I haven't finished that show yet). I stopped auditioning, I stopped looking, I stopped practicing, I stopped trying.

But today, having spent all day acting and dancing... I don't know if turning my back on all that training and joy is wise... or even sane. I often think I'm exaggerating when I say I can't live without the arts, but today reminded me that's actually true. It keeps me at least somewhat afloat in this dark heaving sea of life and depression that pulls me down into its depths with full intent to smother me.

To quit the arts is a literal suicide mission. But so much of the performing arts is dependent on someone actually casting you.

Say what you will about autonomy and self-sufficiency and independence and all that crap, my life is in the hands of the local casting directors.

25 June 2019


As I mentioned in a recent post, I have a fixed amount of money and that amount is rapidly diminishing.

I managed to peel the entire front off my vehicle, managed to land an audition with a fee that the company conveniently neglected to mention until I'd already committed to the audition, and probably should get counselling as I spent the last four or five days in a pit of suicidal rage. That will pretty well take care of my savings, and I haven't even paid rent yet.

What really annoys me about this (I realised while ranting into the void), is that I can no longer invest in myself. Self-care for me includes dance class, it includes driving around listening to music, it includes wandering shops, it includes photography, it includes writing, it includes auditioning, it includes counselling, it includes creating things.

But dance class costs money. And I need new tap shoes (again), which costs money.

Gas costs money. Wandering around shops usually costs money because I usually find at least one costume piece. Lord knows film and development cost money and my dear Pentax is in desperate need of service.

With Lila broken, my writing is severely curtailed. If I had an income, I could justify buying another word processor on eBay or something but I have no income so I can't.

Auditioning often requires me doing video auditions, and that requires me having a memory card for my video camera -- mine is full, so I went out and bought another but it turned out to be a piece of trash. A good memory card runs into the $100 range... I cannot justify that in my current financial circumstances. And heaven knows counselling costs money.

I can't create anything. I can't do anything. And as mentioned before, that makes me feel really useless. I want to make dance and writing and photos and art and maybe one day that will be a source of income. But right now I'm in a place where I can't continue with any of that until I can make these investments. But can I really justify these investments when I can barely afford rent and gas to get to rehearsals (I haven't really eaten in a week in order to cut down on food costs). I have no assurance that these investments will actually pay off... out of the literally dozens of auditions I've done so far this year, only two actually cast me (and one was with the school so they kind of had to shove me in somewhere though we all knew the director would rather have gouged out his own eyes than work with me).

I want to do all these things. I want to pursue these things, even though they're mere hobbies at the moment. I want to continue to hone my skills and develop my stage presence. I want to keep auditioning and making dance films and writing novels. I want to get counselling. I want to do and enjoy all of these things. But I can't -- I can't justify spending that kind of money on literally zero income with no assurance of return on my investment.

21 June 2019

The Useless Artist

It's been a difficult, discouraging week.

To start off, my beloved word processor Lila may be dead for good -- including some newly-written scenes for Kyrie that hadn't been backed up yet. She's been with me nine years, and I genuinely cannot imagine life without her (what? I'm single, it's not like I have a human to use that line with anyway). There was a scare in February, but she came back... she's a tough little thing, and I thought it was just a bump in the road. She alone was my companion in my teen years when I was isolated in the middle of nowhere, raising four kids, bullied at church, and trying desperately to stay on the nonexistent right side of an abusive parent without also compromising the safety of my siblings. She came with me to Saskatchewan and prevented boredom on many slow days at work. She was a key player in twelve novels and has been a huge part of the Kyrie revision so far. Without her, I don't know if that revision will ever get finished.

I'm living my dream now -- a west-facing window with both a skyline view and a mountain view, my tap floor in the basement for practicing whenever I want (within reason -- the walls are shared with neighbours), but yet, I'm trapped in the house because if I go out anywhere, I'll end up spending money. Money I don't have. Because literally nobody in Canada will hire me for even a basic, entry-level cashier job, let alone anything else I apply for (yesterday morning alone I literally applied for 36 jobs). All I have to live on for probably the rest of my life is a couple hundred dollars. I have zero income to replace what I'm spending on rent. (I'm not spending it on gas because I'm not going anywhere and I'm not spending it on food because I have no motivation to eat and also the money will last longer if I don't eat.)

I can't even make audition videos or even dance videos because I need a new memory card for my video camera. But I can't afford one. In today's online world, you literally CAN NOT get anywhere without the ability to record video and post it online. That's the only way people even have a chance to see what you have to offer.

So there it is. I'm in this beautiful city I can't explore, I can't write, I can't really do anything dance-wise, I'm locked out of a lot of auditions, and I can't even get up and go work a menial 9-to-5 because literally nobody thinks I'm employable... I, who have worked in literally three different fields and have a Bachelor's degree in yet a different field entirely.

Money can't buy happiness, but it can at least buy life... or at least a life worth the air I'm breathing. Right now I'm just taking up space and bringing nothing to anybody. I'm just sitting here quietly spiraling, and since I have no friends here, there's nobody to stop me. I feel unseen and unheard and of no consequence to anybody. For an artist -- for someone who has literally spent their entire life trying to create things that change people and make them feel -- this is the literal worst thing that could possibly happen. If nobody can see or hear me in any of my avenues of expertise (writing, dance, or theatre), that means I'm not having an impact.

And that means I'm useless.

18 June 2019

Anatomy of a Trigger

The worst thing I have ever been told in my entire (albeit relatively short) performing arts career was not "you'll never make it" (thanks, Mom), "you're stupid" (thanks, extended family), "when are you going to get a real job?" (thanks, Grandma), "you'll never pass the exam" (thanks, dance teacher), or even "God can't love you because you're a dancer so neither will we" (thanks, home church).

It was during a meeting with the director of my college program midway through my final year. It's fairly well-known that I'm not a flexible human being. I just wasn't built with long ligaments. Grace, sure, but not flexibility. This program director had been on my case about my (lack of) flexibility for a while by this point so I wasn't surprised when he brought it up again in the context of a course selection meeting. He threw all his old tired phrases at me about how you can't call yourself a dancer if you're not flexible and how I should be stretching more and I said, "I've been stretching every day for two years."

He looked me right in the eye -- pale water-blue eyes right into my blueberry ones -- and said, "You know what? I don't believe you."

I could have slapped him in that moment.

In one single sentence, he destroyed every ounce of self-confidence I had ever managed to scrape together. He invalidated not only my daily two-hour dance practice sessions, he invalidated nearly twenty YEARS of training and practice. I had suspected for years that no matter what I tried it was never good enough, and here was proof of it -- the man who had mentored me, who had called out my ability to act in the first place, who had even saved my life less than two years earlier, had just confirmed it for me. I wasn't good enough, and I never would be. No amount of practice would make up for the fact that I was just destined to suck.

That one sentence nearly killed me.

My depression intensified. I hated myself with a renewed passion and vengeance. I would practice dance until I literally collapsed, then get up and keep going until I collapsed again. And then I would get up and keep going some more. I neglected legitimate academic homework for practice. I went home for Christmas break and took pictures of myself doing a two-hour stretch session on Christmas freaking Day so I would have proof that I was actually trying. I was logging six hours of practice per day, and berating myself for not doing more. My sleep schedule -- which has never been solid to begin with -- slid completely off the rails as I stayed up later and later in an attempt to get more stretching in, to figure out why the heck I couldn't be good enough given the intense hours of practice.

I stopped eating, even though he never said anything about my weight. Partly because I didn't have time to actually make and eat food (that was a waste of valuable time that I could spend on practicing instead), but also partly in hopes that I could starve myself to death. If I couldn't practice myself to death fast enough to satisfy the insatiable need of ABSOLUTE PERFECTION, then I would take away food and hasten the process. And I grew to love that hollow ache in my stomach from the lack of food. It meant I was actually trying. It meant I was sacrificing. They say you have to sacrifice to be an artist and darn it, nobody was going to be able to say that I wasn't making sacrifices. Nobody was going to be able to say that I wasn't trying. Maybe if I starved myself I would be light and lean enough to be a good jumper without being exhausted after four jumps and maybe it would make it easier to get my leg up higher because it would be less encumbered with flesh. I grew to enjoy the feeling of my heart threatening to explode within me, the sound of my own strangled gasps for breath. My hemoglobin levels dropped to half what their normal levels should be and in response I pushed harder physically, because pushing through adversity is what artists do -- you're not a real artist if you're not facing insurmountable odds. According to the numbers I needed a blood transfusion and I talked my way out of it partly because I didn't want to be kept alive. If I died, I died. All I wanted was to be enough for everyone and maybe death was the only way to achieve that.

I was in the middle of a performance run at the time they found out how low my hemoglobin was and at the end of each performance I was coughing so much I would taste blood, so oxygen-deprived that I would start blacking out on the way back to the dressing room -- but every night I would dance even more full-out, push harder, strain further, smile bigger, knowing what the cost would be but doing it anyway because I would rather die than give a lackluster performance. I gave everything -- almost literally everything.

And it still meant nothing.

Nobody even noticed. At the cast party after the show closed, everyone was sitting around the table comparing texts that their friends/family/long-lost school mates were sending them congratulating them on their performance, and I got nothing. Literally nothing. I had friends at the closing show. They sent gushing texts to two of my castmates, fawning over how good they were... and I didn't get a single one. Not even 'hey, good job.' Nothing.

I had almost died to give the performance I did. Was it not good enough simply because I hadn't actually died? What more could I have possibly done? Was it even possible to be good enough for anybody or was the deck just permanently stacked against me? Should I just give up and save everybody the trouble of having to actually tell me to give up because I'd never be enough for them anyway?

I still don't have the answers to these questions.

09 June 2019

Living Deaths

The problem with being single and living a fairly transient lifestyle (like, say, freelance performing) is that people don't stay your friends after you've left their city. There's no loyalty anymore. I have lost DOZENS of very close friends because they couldn't even be bothered to try the long-distance friendship thing. It's not that it's 'too difficult' -- some of them literally do not even try. I'm constantly texting and emailing and writing to them (with some I even consider calling), trying to keep the lines of communication open, trying to keep updated with their lives, but no replies... no acknowledgement of receipt... nothing.

Eventually I just stop trying. You can only scream into the silence for so long before you finally get it through your thick skull that you're invisible and nobody will ever answer and so you stop trying because there's no point anyway. After all, you don't want to annoy them either -- assuming they're even seeing your texts.

It's so ridiculous. In this age of smartphones, texting, Facebook, Messenger, email... nobody can be bothered to stay in touch because (verbatim) 'I just don't talk to even my very close friends if they're far away.'

Yes, it takes a little intentionality. Yes, you have to sit down and type an entire 'hey, miss you, how are you doing?' into your phone (back in the olden days we had to actually HANDWRITE letters on actual paper and put it in an envelope which we then licked closed and put an address and stamp on it AND THEN had to take it all the way out to the mailbox or -- horrors! -- the post office three blocks away... but yeah, tell me again how typing two sentences on your phone is just too much effort for a person you claim to care about).

I know you all have jobs and 'are busy' -- but if you're too busy to at least fire off a ten-second two-sentence text three or four times a month, maybe it's time to re-evaluate your schedule. I have a married friend with a full-time job who volunteers a LOT at her church as well as teaching art and taking dance classes on the side and she still has the time to text me at least once a week asking how I'm doing. If she can do it -- I daresay a lot of you can.

This means that every single time I move to a new city, I have to start from square one. None of my friends from my last place of residence carry across. I have to start completely over. It's sad, it's annoying, it's upsetting. And what's more, when I do go back to visit, the reception from my 'friends' is inevitably cool, because 'life moves on and people grow apart.' I'm sorry? We grew apart because YOU DIDN'T EVEN TRY.

I've already grieved enough deaths in my short life. Please don't make me grieve the relational deaths of my still-living friends too.

04 June 2019

JCS Debrief

I was recently in a production of Jesus Christ Superstar.

I initially turned down the role (for several reasons) but two and a half months after the show was cast, just before rehearsals started, the producer asked me if I would reconsider my initial refusal. I agreed to reconsider and within three days I committed to JCS. At the time I had heard the soundtrack exactly once in my entire life (the day before I said I'd do the show).

Even at first, I didn't particularly enjoy the show. The ensemble work in the first act felt like paper to me -- happy, happy, light, light, fluff and fairy floss. I am not any of these things and I kind of despise shows that require me to be that because life is not that.

Then I had to take a week off from JCS to open my concurrent show (Sound of Music), and when I returned to JCS, they had blocked all of Act II. I saw it for the first time in rehearsal on a Sunday night. I was coming off of nine straight days of rehearsals plus the opening weekend of Sound of Music (which, Nazis aside, is arguably one of the lightest and fluffiest feel-good shows ever written) and I was not prepared for what was about to hit my heart.

Even in the high school auditorium we rehearse in, even with a dollar-store toy gun for a stand-in prop and the cast still dressed in jean shorts and assorted show t-shirts, the second act completely arrested my attention. I watched unblinking as the priests surrounded Judas, then left him to spiral alone, the scream, the clatter of coins falling... that was the day I began to get excited about this show.

I knew going in that I would be stretched vocally (and heaven knows I needed the help), but as we got into opening week my acting abilities were also challenged... as ensemble in the show, I was part of the mob that screamed for Jesus' crucifixion. We were told to spend the second act in a state of joyous murderous glee, enjoying the trials and the whipping and the death -- "you don't have television -- this is your entertainment. You're loving this," the director told us. And somehow that clicked in my head. I developed an alter ego, a person who grow more evil and twisted with every rehearsal and every show of the run. The sardonic smile grew bigger, the screams grew louder, the facial expressions more judgemental. I'd watch, breathless from the weight, as Judas died in agony and thirty seconds later I'd be out on the stage, watching in a dark and horrific glee as Jesus was whipped.

The crucifixion grew harder to watch every night. Even though I knew it was acting and I knew the man on that cross on the stage wasn't the real Jesus, it still took all of my concentration to keep up the persona -- to keep laughing at the cross. It wasn't the remnants of my religious upbringing making it hard -- it was the experience of watching this kind man suffering and struggling and then ceasing his writhing, that sudden awful stillness. The line from the show that haunted me most was Jesus, on the floor before Pilate, gasping, "Everything is fixed and you can't change it."

Usually after I've done a show I have to abstain from hearing the music for at least a year after the show closes because it's been so overplayed (even if I like it... I have a VERY low tolerance for overplaying music), but within a week of closing JCS I was listening to the soundtrack again. I have never, ever done this with any show I've ever done before. This is how deeply this show impacted me, even as a performer -- I can't imagine what it was like for the audience, to go in blind and have the full, finished product radiate out in its full intensity from the stage. I fully believe that it would have taken an audience more than one viewing to fully comprehend the depth of what the director did with that production.

By the end of the run, I felt that I'd grown in my acting abilities, but it was only a subconscious feeling -- I didn't dare admit it even to myself. I shone bright and big -- that was my goal and that was what I did. I was screaming for his death, darn it, and it couldn't be half-hearted. To be so into the role scared me a little, but I convinced myself to press into that dark space, just for the week, just for the run, just for the stage. But I didn't dare acknowledge that this might have been growth -- how many times do I think 'wow, I've grown a lot in this area' and then someone tells me I'm the worst actress/dancer/singer they've ever seen? Better to not even have the initial hopeful thought than to hope it's true and then have that hope torn to confetti.

At the cast party, one of the other actors -- who I'd only met during this show -- looked me dead in the eye and said, "You are amazing. I'd always watch you from across the stage... I really think you should keep acting. No -- actually, I don't 'think' -- you NEED to keep acting." I didn't have the heart to tell him I'd already planned to quit the arts. But my friend who did know I was planning to quit was sitting right beside him, unnaturally quiet, undoubtedly listening, most likely making an 'are you hearing this?' face at me. I could only manage a 'thank you,' from the deepest part of my heart. He barely knew me. He didn't know I'd planned to quit. But here he was, not just hinting -- literally telling me not to quit acting.

I don't know yet if I'll heed his advice. It's been a difficult year in many ways (including but not limited to performing). But I'm glad I got to be in this production. It was one of my greatest artistic experiences and if it does turn out to be one of my last, then I'm glad to go out on such an incredible note.