A year ago I decided to put acting on hold. I told people I was tired of trying to fight my way into Equity auditions, tired of working for free and needed a breather to focus on playwrighting. All these things were true, but the biggest, truest (and most embarrassing) thing was that I’d suddenly and unexpectedly developed debilitating stage fright.Read More
- OnStage New York Columnist
White Christmas” is one of my all-time favorite films. I love classic movie musicals. They remind me of my grandma, who loved the genre and was a walking Wikipedia page able to recite every line and obscure fact associated with these movies. They make me nostalgic for a time I never knew, but often yearn for as a jaded(ish) single woman living in New York City longing for the day of chivalry and courtship. The grand romance and idyllic view of relationships is soothing to my cynical heart and I love disappearing for a few hours into the stories.
I love the way romance is portrayed, the way men are charming and courteous, the way women are treated and how the strong but feminine female character began to emerge at this time. I love that every male/ female encounter ends in a big, spin-y dance number. I love that the female is always, ALWAYS wearing a sweeping, flowing dress that twirls just right and that the dance is punctuated with the most romantic, Hollywood dip of a kiss imaginable at the very end.
All that said, I put off seeing “An American in Paris” for some time. Not because I had anything against it, but because I knew nothing about it. It was a movie musical I hadn’t seen, a show I hadn’t read reviews for—I was a blank-slate audience member. A friend who saw and enjoyed it warned that it was “heavy on the dance” so when I decided to go it seemed fitting that I would take my close friend who should have been a Rockette. Dance dreams—they’re damned hard to forget and sometimes I think we need reminding of the sweet daydreams we had as children. They fuel the daydreams we should have as adults.
My mom loves to tell the story of how my first theatrical experience was The Nutcracker when I was three. According to her, I wore a pink tutu, ballet slippers and was so enthralled I didn’t move from the edge of my seat for the entire show. My love for dance began with that show and I soon started dancing at Ms. Eva’s school of ballet. Ms. Eva was an elderly Czech woman who ran ballet classes out of her basement and while I loved dancing, what I loved more was the piece of butterscotch handed out at the end of class and then rolling down the massive hill in her backyard. Ten years later I was dancing competitively when I was diagnosed with severe scoliosis. For the remainder of my formative years I was braced from chest to hip severely limiting my ability to move, let alone dance. My dancing career was sidelined and even after the brace came off at age 18, I never danced again and didn’t really think much about it until “An American in Paris.”
We sat smack in the center in at the very back of the theatre but I loved our seats. As my friend said, this is a dance show and anything with an emphasis on dancing is better at a higher vantage point because you can see EVERYTHING—the entire scope of the show. With “An American in Paris” you want the whole damn picture because it’s beautiful. It’s a lovely testament to the film—which I watched the day after— and was delighted to see many of the original design concepts realized onstage. I tend to not like stage adaptations of films (I refuse to see the staged “White Christmas”) but this production is utterly sweet, without being saccharine and so delightful that for a few hours I find myself escaping into this lovely world of dance, romance and beautifully executed Gershwin tunes.
When the music swelled and the curtain lifted, I found myself (and my wannabe-Rockette friend) on the edge of our seats. We were enthralled by the music, by the dancing, by the sweet innocence of this 1950’s story and how well this production transferred it to stage. We were swept away by the phenomenally talented dancers, the choreography, the staging and the set design. There’s very little not to love about this production and there’s much to applaud as they’ve successfully taken what could be seen as an antiquated story with no real staying power and highlighted the very thing that makes it so wonderful: the dancing.
The little that I didn’t love?
One: that dang ballerina got THREE guys in the end. I can’t even get ONE to text me back. Come on. Two: the “come to Jesus” moment I had while watching extraordinary dancers cavort and twist and jump and spin. It’s safe to say that since I can’t even make it up a flight of stairs without my knees groaning that my chance at a dance career has passed me by. But I can still watch these extraordinary dance shows, from the edge of my seat, and enjoy every last minute. And they can’t take that away from me.
- OnStage New York Columnist
Dear Scott Rudin,
I saw your show last week. Well, the show you produced. You may have the money behind the production but you certainly don't have the soul. That belongs exclusively to the cast and creative team. Just so you know--the night I was there, the house was full and the collective audience energy high. This is a show people want to see.
I knew from the moment I entered the Music Box Theatre and heard tapping coming from behind the curtain, that I'd walked into something amazing. Audra McDonald. Billy Porter. Brian Stokes Mitchell. Come on. Full disclosure: I bought the ticket because I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell on the same stage again. I vividly remember my first trip to NYC at the age of eighteen, sitting next to my dad and bawling as the two sung the hell out of"Wheels of a Dream" from "Ragtime."
But I also bought the ticket because months earlier I read the feature that the New York Times ran on "Shuffle Along." I read it because I have a Masters degree in theatre and I can't remember a single mention of this show, or the quartet of men who broke major theatrical boundaries, from all my studies. I bought the ticket because I knew I needed to see the show.
So while I initially came for Ms. McDonald and Mr. Porter and Mr. Stokes Mitchell--Mr. Rudin, I stayed because that's ONE HELL OF A CAST AND SHOW. And it was immediately clear how vital this production is not only to the landscape of Broadway right now, but to theatre history always.
While the original production of "Shuffle Along" may have been problematic with a not-so-great book and comedy that fell short--what it did have was historical significance as one of the first shows to push racial boundaries by showing two black people falling in love onstage, by launching the career of some great theatre and musical performers like Josephine Baker, Paul Robeson, Nat King Cole and Florence Mills, and by being one of the first all black musicals to hit and be a success on Broadway.
It was the first show to feature a chorus of female hoofers, to spotlight syncopated jazz--and it was a show that navigated a new form of musical theatre and changed the sound to give us what we now recognize as "show tunes." It was, as Langston Hughes acknowledged, a cultural marker of the Harlem Renaissance.
And here's the thing. Your brilliant director George C. Wolfe didn't sit back and simply remount the show. I mean, two revivals failed in 1932 and 1952 respectively, and he wasn't about to try for a third. Instead, he jumped into and told the story behind the show, how it was created and why it is historically significant. He fought to bring it back into Broadway's consciousness, and to give us a piece of theatre history that most of us don't know, but should.
What Wolfe has done in framing the Blake and Sissle songs, and deliciously choreographed dance numbers with snippets of historical text, is to place the show and its creators back in their rightful spot in theatre history. He took the original "Shuffle Along" and dissected it-created a new piece inspired by the old production and gave us a gorgeous production that pays homage to a show that was at risk of falling into oblivion. It's beautiful and brilliant and important. And now, thanks to you, fewer people will get the chance to see it.
So, shame on you. Shame on you for preemptively closing what appears to be selling show out of what, fear? Fear that when Ms. McDonald leaves so will the crowds? Don't get me wrong, she's good, hell--she's the mother-loving QUEEN--but the rest of that damn cast will leave you speechless, breathless and wishing we could hit rewind on the dance numbers. Oh, and you know in the second half when Billy Porter sings the paint off the walls? I still get goosebumps thinking about it. So don't blame maternity leave or projected box office numbers of the Tony awards for your decision.
And in regard to the Tony awards? "Shuffle" received ten nominations. That's second only to "Hamilton" in terms of totals. In a season where people are spending their life savings, selling their kidneys and their grandmothers and getting fired from jobs for a chance at a last row ticket to "Hamilton,"it's not fair to say you're closing the show because you didn't win. Grow up.
"Shuffle Along"deserved the award for choreography, hands down. No questions asked. It just did. And it's a shame it didn't win. But that's life in the big city, pal. You just can't say "we're closing the show because we didn't win and my star got pregnant" and expect people to believe you. You're like an angry child who lost at marbles and is stomping away home.
What you're stomping away from is a piece of theatre history that needs to be told. People like me--people who have studied theatre for years and years and weren't taught this part of history, (because in most history books it's nothing more than a carefully calculated page of names and dates) need to see it. We need to know who Noble Sissle, Eubie Blake, Lottie Gee, Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles are and what they've did and why it's important.
This story needs to be told now, in this way--because sir, it'smasterfully, cleverly, carefully, poignantly crafted and staged. Have YOU seen it? Because if you had--you wouldn't be closing this show. If you'd listened you'd have heard Lottie say at the end about Florence: "She wouldn't stop performing because ifdid she did, people would lose their jobs."
Let's not use a star's pregnancy as an excuse for closing either. Ms.McDonald had a planned a hiatus from the show. You had another brilliant performer lined up to step in to her role and moreover, you have a cast of actors and an ensemble that are nothing short incredible. They wouldn't have won the "Outstanding Chorus" award from Equity if they weren't. Yes, Ms. McDonald is a force, and I thank my lucky stars that I've seen her onstage twice in one lifetime but you know, I actually think she said it best when she reacted to your closing notice. "I'm devastated that my brilliant extraordinary Shuffle family won't be able to continue sharing this important & vital show. I love them so."
That was abundantly clear throughout the entire show and then again at curtain, when the entire company stood together for a singular company bow. Neither Ms. McDonald, Mr. Porter and Mr. Stokes Mitchell stepped out in front of the cast. They stood together. The show you backed is about a musical sensation, a historically groundbreaking show that could easily be lost in a single paragraph of a theatre history book. This "Shuffle Along" is about the company that mounted "Shuffle"in 1921 and the company that's honoring it in 2016. Your creative team, cast and crew stood together and created one hell of a piece of theatre. They stood together.
It's a shame you won't stand behind them.
Hey, everyone else? Go see this show.
- OnStage New York Columnist
- Twitter: @timmingto
I'd barely begun reading the playwright's note when I wondered how the show would end. Would it be the classic boy meets girl, falls in love and summer romance and la la la Judy Blume or would playwright Gregory Moss subvert it, tipping what we've come to expect from stories such as these on their sides? Ultimately, the resolution he gives us is exactly right. We get a sweet, thoughtful, relatable play about four people looking for home.
"All love is unrequited love," says George, the narrator and only non-teenage character in this play. We meet George immediately, as he directly addresses the audience--a device I thought I'd hate, but quickly came to love because I quickly came to love George. A widower with naked, gnarled feet, ratty clothes and carrying a coffee mug he inspects the ocean at sunrise just inches away from the front row of the tiny theatre at Playwright's Horizons. With this action he invites us into the world of the play in what could be a cliched way, but here is anything but.
We're starting to really invest in George with his idiosyncratic, charming opening monologue whenDaniel interrupts. Daniel has been onstage this entire time, in fact, Daniel first appears as the house lights go down and the stage lights, up--a device I love. He exists in silence a while until he plops down and moves through a comical bit taking off his Converse sneakers and emptying boatloads of sand in the standard 1-2-3 punch format.
Daniel is staying with George, his mother's stepfather, while his mother is off "finishing some things up" a topic we revisit occasionally but never really learn more about. Daniel is summer people, as Izzy will soon remind him. Izzy barrels on stage strutting and commanding and with an absolutely magnetic presence. Her energy and insane talent spark the play into action.
Izzy encounters Daniel in a battle of wits stemming from an argument over a broken sand bucket. The two spar back and forth with an energy that only extraordinarily talented, young actors playing well-written characters can do. There's an immediate investment in Izzy, Daniel and the relationship that's bound to develop, though I often felt that Daniel's character was underwritten in comparison. Izzy is such a strong, dominant force that we needed Daniel's character to meet her, or at least contrast her, which unfortunately never came to fruition throughout the course of this otherwise impeccable play.
In fact, Daniel's character is the least developed of all four characters. Jeremy, our resident villain and comically ridiculous foil, is as richly developed and dimensional as Izzy. George roots in our hearts from the beginning and slays us by the end--his final scenes and monologues brought me to tears. It's Daniel, the Romeo to our Juliet that fell flat for me. I always wondered what else there was to him besides being the outsider, because he was literally and figuratively the outsider against this tremendous cast of characters.
That said, these young actors were superb. I had an immediate reaction to each and every one and as an ensemble they couldn't have worked better together, especially under the brilliant direction of Carolyn Cantor. I recognized Daniel as one of the many boys I loved in my youth--skinny, nerdy, gawky and awkward with the slightest hint of "is he gay?" Izzy hit me like a ton of bricks with her posturing and peacock-ing. I instantly loved and hated her as she appeared in a crop top and super cutoffs with an enviable figure and impressive diaphragmatic breathing. I recognized her as one of the girls in my youth that I would have been both jealous and terrified of. Jeremy was as bro as bros' get but revealed over the course of the play to be a gentle, funny almost pathetic character that had you halfway rooting for him to get the girl.
Indian Summer is the type of play I was desperate to be cast in during my undergraduate years of theatre training. It's the type of play that touches the truth and awkwardness of adolescence and breathes life into rich characters. It's a play suited to young, hungry actors eager to dive into rich characters. Izzy's monologue at the very end, as she connects with George, brings her character arc to a height I wasn't sure she'd reach, but she did. George grounds a teenage love story with an eccentric profundity that comes with age, experience and loss. Jeremy is funny as hell and Daniel, well Daniel is a boy that many of us can remember loving at one point in our young lives.
I predict Indian Summer will become a staple in college theatre departments. Izzy's monologue will be the hottest pick for young actresses eager to show range, chops and talent in two minutes. And Gregory Moss will find his rightful place amongst the best new playwrights' of our time.
Moss says in the playwright's note that Indian Summer is a love letter to Rhode Island. But it's much more than that. It's a love letter to the fleeting moments in life that we want desperately to hold on to but can't. It's a love letter to the part of ourselves that we know we're not brave enough to touch in this lifetime.
It's a love letter to the romances we've all had that have ended long before we stopped loving. And while Indian Summer itself takes up just a moment of time in the lives of its audience, the impact it will have can best be described with some of George's last lines:
--that margin of sun-lit warmth after the end of August that always feels exceptional, like a pocket of unexpected time, a little reprieve between seasons, in which things people lives and stories are given the chance to collect themselves to reconfigure and, possibly, to CHANGE where one finds oneself invited, by God, or Nature or the whims of climate, to merely enjoy the surprise of it...
It will be no surprise when this play finds a place on college campuses, in the hands of passionate, young actors and finally in the hearts of the lucky audiences who get to experience the beautiful, fleeting moments of Indian Summer.
- OnStage New York Columnist
- Twitter: @timmingto
"the end is in the beginning and yet you go on." - Samuel Beckett
I almost didn't go on the date. Seven months ago I nearly turned back toward home as I was steps away from the bar to go back to my local and the young neighborhood lad I'd been flirting with (to distract myself from bad heartache months earlier). Instead I sighed, silenced my phone, walked in and up to the guy I'd met on a dating app (to distract myself from the bad heartache months earlier).
I almost didn't go on the audition. Months after this first date, I was asked, along with another actress (who happened to be a dear friend) to audition for an upcoming play festival--one I participated in and enjoyed a year earlier. However, I'd recently stopped acting because of debilitating stage fright and was only entertaining this audition because I held the director in such high regard.
I met the guy. I went on the date. I knew with 99% certainty that as charming, interesting and interested this guy appeared to be that I wasn't going to accept a second date with him. But I did. I accepted date after date after date until six months had passed and I was suddenly forced to face the fact that I'd fallen pretty hard. For the first time since my marriage, I was in love. I was in love with this guy that I didn't think I'd ever see again and had nearly written off for superficial reasons and an overwhelming fear of intimacy.
I read the script. I went on the audition.While interesting, it was one-dimensional and I didn't hold high hopes for how it'd translate onstage. The fact that it called for a German accent was enough to make me want to throw the audition altogether, and I joked with the guy that I was half-considering it. (He strongly encouraged me not to). I was 99% sure if cast, I wouldn't invite anyone to this production.
I got and accepted the part. It seemed foolish to turn to down the role or any role in a field this competitive. Also, a very quiet voice in the back of my head told me I needed this part, this show. I began rehearsals. Over the course of a few weeks I battled actor insecurities--includingk zat damn German accent, but found myself enjoying the hell out of the rehearsal process. A dynamite director and talented co-actor will do that.
Then one day in the midst of rehearsals, I was blindsided by a breakup. The guy I nearly walked away from months earlier, walked away from me and the "us" we'd spent months building. In a moment, I was forced to face the intensity of feelings I'd kept at a comfortable distance. Rehearsals for the show quickly turned from something I had to do, to a respite and distraction from my heartbreak. The time I spent in rehearsal, a guaranteed two hours where my mind refused to wander to the breakup and I found that the more I focused on the play, the less I focused on him.
A strange thing happened in that time. As I was trying to heal my heart from the pain I'd felt after falling in love and having it yanked away--after convincing myself that I was going to wall up my heart entirely in order to avoid this kind of bullshit again, I began to fall in love, little by little with the strange and fascinating little play that I'd been ready to walk away from.
It was not lost on me that I'd nearly done the same with him months earlier. Theatre has always been an escape for me as an audience member, acting has always been a terrifying necessity in my artistic life, writing an expression of myself I'm not always comfortable voicing aloud and all three fulfilled needs that nothing else could. This little play was suddenly bigger than I ever anticipated it would be.
Our first tech rehearsal was the night of the Tony Awards. After rehearsal as I raced home, I spotted the broadcast in a bar and ducked in in time to hear Frank Langella give his acceptance speech. I fought back tears as I heard him talk first about finding success late in his career and later honor the victims from the Orlando Pulse shooting just a night before. In one overwhelming moment, it hit me: I had been so willing to dismiss a script based on my snobbish snap judgement (a judgement that as a playwright, actor, director and artist makes me cringe) that I nearly missed out on something that was proving to save me from the myself.
As I struggled with nerves the closer we got to opening, the more I thought of the 49 people who'd never get to do what I was given the opportunity to do. I repeated a variation of a theme that everyone seems to repeat in the wake of a tragedy but it was no less true. In one tragic moment, an insane number of young lives had been taken. I still had mine. I had the opportunity to get onstage and act. To connect. To love. To lose. To live my life. Suddenly my insecurities and idiosyncrasies and habitual ways of thinking seemed really unimportant. Every night after that, I hit the stage with a belly full of nerves but an need to act that I hadn't felt in years.
As I left the theatre opening night you could have knocked me over with the praise and congratulations our show received. On my walk to the train I tried to figure out how I could have so quickly misjudged this thing that was turning out to be an extraordinary event in my life. The play restored my faith in myself as an actress. It helped me quit the debilitating stage fright I'd experienced for two years, which prevented me from pursuing gigs, and ignited a new drive to be onstage. It allowed me space to breathe deeply in a time when tears came easier than breath.
As the euphoria and adrenaline from the show faded away during my trip home, my thoughts returned to him. It occurred to me that while I used the play to distract myself from him, I'd unintentionally found new footing as an actress. While I used him to distract me from myself I refused to acknowledge that this thing that I'd called casual for so long, was anything but.
As heartbreaking as the end of the play was, as I moped through days of post-show blues I discovered that cracking yourself open to be the most truthful representation of yourself as an artist touches euphoria. It is as satisfying and fulfilling as finding your character and zat damn German accent.
As heartbreaking as the end of the relationship was, I discovered that I did, I do have the ability to be vulnerable, to open up and to love. Romantic intimacy had been nearly as terrifying as walking onstage, but not anymore.
Falling into a show is not unlike falling in love. Both require you to close your eyes and just jump. To be vulnerable, honest and open to whatever comes next. To trust that it will work out. Or not. Both are equally valuable. And maybe when these things end-be it a play or a relationship- they're the best kind of endings because they mean you've lived some monumental moments. And we should all be so lucky to keep getting chance to love, to lose and to live.
- OnStage New York Columnist
Why pay $60 for a rear balcony ticket in a Broadway or Off-Broadway house when you can see a show for free? Instead of queuing up at 6am with the rest of the hopeful theatergoers, download the TodayTix app and enter the lottery. I had to read the email four times to convince myself I’d won seeing as I was so used to my daily “Try Again” message from the “Hamilton” lottery.
When I visited New York City in 1999 for the first time, the Delacorte Theatre was one of the first places my dad took me. It was March so it wasn’t open, but I distinctly remember gazing at the outdoor playing space, with the park as the backdrop and city behind it and thinking, this is amazing. And it is.
Fireflies & A Random Raccoon.
As a kid from the midwest fireflies are a novelty to me. When the sun set stage lights came up, little sparks of light accompanied the theatrical lighting, flitting around the actors, stage and set. There was something about this that set this experience apart from every other theatrical experience, and made the whole thing feel, well, magical. Also, right before the show started a brave raccoon trekked backstage and made an impromptu pre-show appearance for anyone sitting far house right in the theatre. Wildlife cameos really take a theatrical production to the next level.
My theatre companion and I chose to partake in the classiest of all spirits—boxed wine, because the Delacorte allows you to bring in your own food and beverages (with the exception of glassware) and this is an incredible thing, especially when you’re used to spending $64 on a sippy cup of vinegar-y wine at every other theatre. Might I recommend the economical Bandit boxed Chardonnay to go with your hopefully free ticket (and possible raccoon sighting.)
The Tony award winning actress plays Pertruchio with such swagger and skill that I almost wondered if she’d studied under my all time favorite Shakespearean actor—Mark Rylance. Her ease with the language, willingness to muddy it and make it her own, to let it live in her body made for a captivating and standout performance. Hell, I wanted to kiss her.
A Diverse, All Female Cast.
As the issues of gender parity and diverse casting rises to the forefront of the theatrical world’s consciousness, this is a leap forward as we meander towards creating more opportunity for women in the arts. Given the relative scarcity of female roles in Shakespeare (and knowing that in Shakespeare’s time the female parts were played by boys or young men) for the Public Theatre to mount an all female production of “Shrew” is most definitely sending us in the right direction.
And there you have it. Six reasons to hit “enter” on the Today Tix app for The Public Theatre’s production of “The Taming of the Shrew.” But, as my theatre companion and I told a woman walking her dog outside the theatre who asked about the show afterwards—this “Shrew” misses the mark.
But first a disclaimer—this was the first night/preview and it’s to be expected that they’re working out kinks and it will likely find better footing as the run progresses—but there are still a couple of big problems with the production.
It was a big to-do when the Public announced the would be kicking of the 2016 season of Shakespeare in the Park with an all female cast for “Shrew.” I was thrilled by the news and knew I’d tried to see it despite never being able to get tickets in past years. While “Shrew” isn’t my favorite Shakespeare play (I’m continually cringing as I write“shrew”) and I find it a problematic piece—I thought they had a brilliant, golden opportunity to address the themes of misogyny, gender stereotypes, and trans awareness in this production.
But they didn’t. In fact the entire production felt off to me. The directorial concept wasn’t clear, it felt as if the goal was to do as much as possible in a quest for zany antics and over the top humor and instead, it just all fell short. Framed within a beauty pageant (a potentially great vehicle for the show) the time period was muddy, the musical landscape of the show jumped back and forth between decades and this proved confusing and difficult to determine which world the play was meant to live in. The decision to include a “Trump” character for cheap laughs and then avoid tying it into the overwhelmingly misogynistic nature of the show felt like an intentionally missed opportunity and that was incredibly frustrating.
And then we get into gender. Men in drag is, almost always, inherently funny. Women in drag is just not as funny. It’s interesting to watch and I applaud the actors’ commitment and choices made within the framework of that artistic decision, but it just didn’t work. One of my original expectations for the show (and I fully acknowledge this as something I’d just decided would be included in the production) was the acknowledgement and navigation into non-heteronormative relationships. I wanted to see at least ONE of the main relationships be between two women, not a woman and a woman in drag. I wanted there to be an acknowledgement or at least an exploration of gender identity, of trans rights and trans relationships and they had so many opportunities to do this and didn’t take any of them. And that’s a big, big problem for me.
Finally, I audibly groaned when Pertruchio and Kate fake kissed. I can NOT understand why they avoided that opportunity. It felt almost as if the production screamed “We gave you an all female ‘Taming of the Shrew’ and that’s as far as we’ll go! It’s cute to have women play men but we won’t make them KISS each other!” Fake anything onstage reads as just that—FAKE—and to fake kiss is the stuff of junior high school productions and should never be an issue in a professional production. Ultimately, it read as borderline homophobic and a little offensive.
In the end, everything about the show felt tentative and too safe and not what I expected from a director who brought an acclaimed all-female “Henry IV” to St. Ann’s Warehouse last year. I love so much about Shakespeare in the Park and the Public Theatre but this “Shrew” is hardly shrewd and unless you can win tickets through Today Tix, I certainly wouldn’t stand around and wait for this one.
People cock their head in surprise when I tell them I’m an avid baseball fan; that I’ve gone to spring training three times and love listening to baseball on the radio and keeping score at games. Perhaps I don’t look like a “sports person” or maybe word got out about the dramatic ending to my very short career in team sports, when, at my first T-Ball game at the age of six, I shuffled up to the batting tee, dragging my extremely lightweight bat behind me and proceeded to whiff at the ball four times (the fourth time more a violent assault on the ball than anything resembling baseball) before I was forced to walk back to the dugout. Stephen-the-mean-redheaded-boy taunted me, I started sobbing and walked right past my team off the field and into my mother’s arms. My first and last T-ball game was over and I knew I was not cut out for team sports as a player or a fan. Game over.
Fast forward to age 24. I sat with my aunt and uncle at a Twins baseball game in 2005 and they very patiently gave me an abridged but comprehensive version of what was happening on the field. Halfway through the game, our rookie starter, Scott Baker, just recently brought up to the show, called time out and the catcher Joe Mauer trotted out to the mound and spoke to him glove to glove. As the story goes, Baker told Joe that his cup slipped during his windup and he wasn’t sure what to do. Mauer just looked at him and after a long pause said, “Well go fix it, man!” And Baker did.
Right then and there, with a wardrobe malfunction in the middle of the show, I thought—Well shit. Baseball is kind of like theatre.
I find baseball to be the most inherently dramatic sport to watch. It’s the Long Day’s Journey into Night of sports. It requires commitment and patience, and like theatre, is slowly losing its grip on American “smartphone” audiences with our fleeting attention spans and proclivity to fast-paced, violent sports like football. It’s rare to find a theatrical audience willing to commit to a three plus hour show without complaining and the same seems true with baseball. We seem more focused on rushing to the end of an event instead of enjoying the beauty of watching something play out.
And then there’s superstition. I don’t think you can find a more superstitious set of people than baseball players and actors. As an actor AND baseball fan, when my team is winning, I’m so superstitious I shouldn’t be allowed to leave the house.
Last week, when the Mets faced the Cubs in game four of the NLCS, my Mets t-shirt smelled like a combination of deodorant, Chanel No. 5 and sweat. The underarms were still damp from my exuberant cheering the night before. I was wearing the exact combination of jewelry from previous games where we’d won and while my nails were chipped, (and despite hating chipped nails) this particular shade of Essie polish was the color I was wearing when they won and I wasn’t about to chance it with a fresh manicure. My orange underwear was on its second go-round for the week and I was seriously considering carrying Febreeze in my purse to the bar. I was a hot mess.
Because obviously the outcome of NLCS game 4 was completely riding on whether or not I was wearing my orange underwear.
The level of superstition in baseball is on par with superstition in theatre. Justin Morneau, formerly of the Minnesota Twins, was known to eat exactly the same meal (# 4 off at Jimmy John’s) and drink the exact same drink (Punto Slurpee, made exclusively by Nick Punto containing 1/2 mountain dew, 1/2 slurpee) prior to each game. Offensively, he stood guard by first base and obsessively swept the dirt off first base between each batter in a manner befitting the most neurotic of people. I understand that. There’s comfort in consistency and if its worked for you in past, if it’s yielded a “win,” it’s hard not to adopt it as a routine until it becomes, well, superstition.
Before I go on stage, it’s imperative that I’ve run at least three miles that day, meditated twenty minutes, put all my stage makeup on prior to arriving at the theatre and once there, have walked through my blocking and sped through my lines on an empty stage with my “show soundtrack” in my ears prior to house open. Ten minutes to “places” I do three complete sun salutations and at “places” I take three deep breaths and jump up and down three times. It’s no wonder I love Morneau.
Baseball is a dramatic event with a clear cut beginning, middle and end with a series of well-made plays along a clear cut arc. Years of training make way to a series of auditions and if you’re lucky and talented you can make your way from the Farm Leagues to the Show, much like a performer with luck and talent can make their way from off-off Broadway to Time Square. A team can have a terrible start to the season and still clinch a spot in the post-season just like a show can have a shaky start during workshops and later win a Tony award. Every game is rife with action and drama, good guys, bad guys, heroes (Daniel Murphy!), enemies (Chase Utley!) and humanity. And like theatre, a crowd of people gather, a community of fans form and together in one place, watch and share in an event that will never be repeated in exactly the same way.
The players in baseball, like the players in theatre serve a distinct purpose. There’s a collaborative effort from the defensive players in a baseball game where communication (Call it!) and cohesiveness is key and that’s no different than an ensemble in a play. If you don’t work together as a tight knit team, remain present in the moment and communicate effectively; lines get lost, balls get dropped and other teams drive runs in and audiences out. Offensively, a batter walks up to the plate and all eyes are on him —it’s his responsibility to hit it out of the park, much in the same way that when Hamlet walks center stage to deliver “To be or not to be” all eyes are on him and the expectation is, that this soliloquy will be a home run.
Last week I stood with a hundred other Mets fans in a bar, watching the end NLCS game four play out. We all stood with clenched fists as our closer wound up to deliver a pitch to the batter who represented the last out and a clinched title for the New York Mets. Familia set up, threw the pitch and as the ball flew through the air towards the pitcher at the plate, silence descended across the bar. We all waited, together in the same moment for the batter’s response. He was nearly still as the ball crossed the plate into the catcher’s mitt. A moment passed, and we all awaited the outcome, the next line in this unfolding script. The batter threw his bat and began to walk towards first, assured that the pitch would be called in his favor. A nanosecond later, the umpire called a strike. He was out. The Mets were in. The audience erupted, sharing a second of time that could never be recreated in exactly the same way, but would be remembered by everyone who shared it in the moment.
I think about success a lot this time of the year. In the theatre world, it’s award season which means everyone is measuring the successes and failures of the last theatrical year on Broadway. In my world it means I’m reminded that another year has come and gone and I’ve not achieved the goal I set for myself at age eighteen.
Without fail, for every year since I was very young, I have watched the Tony Awards. From ten-year old me sitting in my family living room inches away from our big box television thinking, “someday that will be me” to the 32-year old sitting in her box-filled New York apartment just days after arriving in the city thinking, “someday that will be me,” the Tony Awards hold a special place in my heart.
As I got older, went through all kinds of theatre training and ventured out into the strange business that is show, I became more cynical, even weary of Broadway and the awards they handed that first weekend in June. Having a close-up view of Broadway highlighted the dirty secrets of 42nd street where money reigns, commercialism thrives and spectacle often trumps storytelling.
That’s not to say I don’t love Broadway and love it with every ounce of my ten-year old being—I always have and always will—I just now see it for what it is and I know as an artist, you should not-you CAN NOT measure your success with a 42nd street gig.
Still, I sat in Times Square with two close friends and a thousand strangers and watched the show just blocks away from Radio City Hall. This year wasn’t just a sentimental salutation. I was there for a very specific reason. John Cameron Mitchell.
JCM is one of my artistic heroes. He represents passion, perseverance, artistic integrity and is a champion for all the people sidelined by life. Trask and Mitchell’s show, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a show that continues to change my life and JCM is the type of artist I strive to be. I wanted to hear his acceptance speech for his award and recognition that is long overdue. I needed to hear it to be reminded that everyone’s success looks different, arrives differently and that sometimes a career in the arts isn’t a quick sprint, but a long marathon.
Two and a half hours into the show, as we crept closer to the end, I thought-there’s NO WAY they won’t broadcast his award. What he has to say, people need to hear. As the show wrapped, I stood in disbelief that they chose not to air his 1:36 minutes worth of musings on Hedwig, art and gratitude. Personally, I think we could have done with one less Cummings/Chenowith moment in order to honor an artist who has changed lives, saved lives and jolted Broadway into the real world.
This is one reason why, as much as I love the Tony Awards, as much as I still hope someday to stand on that stage and accept an award, I refuse to measure success with Broadway credits and American Theatre Wing awards.
Every June I sit and think about what it means to be a successful actor. I’m 34, have a master’s degree in performance and playwriting, was trained at an acting conservatory in London and hold a bachelors degree in both theatre and writing. I also don’t have my equity card, haven’t treaded the boards of anything other than an off-off-broadway stage in Brooklyn and when I’m asked, still shake my head “no” when asked if I’m a professional actress.
I think of the high school acquaintance who has a very successful career in musical theatre here in New York City. I think of the undergraduate who arrived in New York City months after graduating and landed an off-Broadway gig. I think of my ex-husband who has a list of television credits that landed him an agent and opened doors to more auditions. I think, I think, I think I could drive myself crazy comparing myself to other artists. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me. I’d be kidding myself if I said it didn’t knock at my insecurities to know that I’m not where I want to be and others are.
Does all this mean I’m not successful? I’m not working on Broadway, but I’m working. I work when I can, and work when I can’t. I sit down at the computer after eight hours of day job-ness and write. I get on a train after eight hours of day job-ness and travel an hour and a half to rehearse equally as long for a show that won’t provide a paycheck but will exercise every actor muscle and jump start my soul. I work with other artists and learn and collaborate and am constantly inspired to keep moving. I work. I’ve never stopped working.
And I won’t. I’ll never stop working for the art that makes me feel whole and truthful and alive. I know how big my dreams are and know that there is a lurking reality that I may never find myself onstage at Radio City Music Hall accepting a Tony Award. But I also know that I won’t ever stop running, walking or crawling towards what looks like success to me, and that-THAT- makes me a successful artist.
"People say, everything’s been done, there’s nothing new. I say turn off the internet, combine all the things you love in the world and make something special that’s lasting.”
-John Cameron Mitchell, 2015 Tony Awards