2017 was the year I learned most people agree that blogging is dead. As a brand new Twitter user, I can sort of see why, and yet (like most long-time bloggers, I suppose) I still feel the urge to write in this space occassionally. I first started keeping a blog in 2011, not long after I had gotten married and started a master’s program in literature. If you are brave enough to look back through the archives, you’ll see me experimenting with the whole “form” of blog posts. You’ll also get a glimpse of me trying to figure out if I even have a niche for blogging. (Spoiler: I didn’t… and I still don’t.)
The apparent death of blogging is actually pretty liberating. I don’t feel the need to post on any sort of schedule, I have no financial ties to this blog other than the $20 I pay each year for the URL, and there is obviously no brand here, other than myself. In fact, I regularly forget that this blog exists. Nowadays, this site is the landing page for my online “presence.” I put it on the top of my theatrical resume and my CV, just in case people want to look me up. And I suppose I keep it here (instead of just completely deleting it) because I carry with me all the millennial sensibilities of at least having something on the Internet that I can control.
But blogging is still the best venue for long-form, public reflection. And it’s that time of year when I’m glad to remember this space exists.
So, here is a little update on my year (my 30th!).
I failed a lot this year, particularly in audition rooms. Just some bad, embarrassing moments in front of people I was trying to impress. The usual. Also, I still don’t know what to even wear to professional auditions, let alone how to do them well. Just this week, I went to an audition where the women were wearing the full range of outfits: some looked like they were just coming from a holiday party and some showed up in their active wear. I wore character shoes like a total nerd, but I thought they looked nice with the outfit I picked. (I’m not even a musical theatre auditioner—those character shoes are just super cute and I paid a lot of money for them all those years ago…) Clothing aside, when I do get a callback, I think it tends to be because I get lucky with an audition side, but I have yet to get to a place where I feel like the version of myself that shows up in an audition room is an accurate representation of who I am. Here’s to showing up, though.
I’m slowly becoming a better professor. This was my seventh year of university teaching, and I’m finally starting to feel a groove with it. I still make plenty of rookie mistakes, but I’ve at least figured out a good rhythm for the work. I know how long it takes me to do things well, and I know how to budget time for those things. I’m also beginning to trust my instincts in a classroom more. Up until this year, I don’t think I realized I had “teacher instincts.” I’ve been relying on pure energy and a general excitement for my field, but it was encouraging to feel some instincts finally kick in.
I am one half of a creative partnership. BJ and I talk a lot about what a life partnership has the potential to be, other than just companionship. This year, we were way more thoughtful about how our partnership is a distinctly creative one. We love each other, duh, but we also have a firm commitment to supporting the artistic pursuits of one another. I want to help him navigate building his body of work for galleries; he wants to help me figure out what what my aspirations are for working in the theatre. And we’re both trying to figure out what sorts of choices we can make (where we live, how we spend our money, what projects we take on) that are mutually beneficial for us as artists.
I’m so tired of dressing up for things. This fall, I sucked it up and paid big money for a quality pair of jeans. What have I been doing buying such crappy jeans for so long? Nice jeans—real jeans—are incredible. I’ve been in a habit of being generally “dressy” in my day to day life, but something changed in the past few months. I’m tired of dressing up. I want to wear clothes (a uniform, maybe?) that allows me to move, isn’t fussy, and represents my personality. I’m especially tired of feeling like I need to change clothes before going into a rehearsal room. I want to bring my whole self to my work, and part of that (I think) includes me figuring out the most flexible costume for all of that.
I still love Romeo and Juliet. I took an educational risk this year by requiring my Shakespeare class to perform an abridged version of Romeo and Juliet. Many of the students expressed frustration at the beginning of the semester, not at the project itself, but at the fact that we were doing this particular Shakespeare play. They viewed it as a play about selfish, overly impulsive teenagers. And, yes, Romeo and Juliet has that, but I knew that this text would hold up for this particular group of students. By the end of the project, I couldn’t stop thinking about how this is really a play about friendships, and I think the students felt it, too. The lovers are certainly there, but the friendships of Romeo/Benvolio/Mercuitio and Juliet/Nurse are at the heart of this play. Seeing it performed by these students drove that point home for me. I will always love this play, regardless of people’s opinions.
I really, really like the St. Louis theatre community. When we moved to Greenville, I was super nervous about what it would be like to try and plug myself into the St. Louis theatre community, which is only about 45 miles away. That’s close enough to connect, in my opinion, especially after I commuted to theatre projects from Waco to Austin while we lived in Texas—a 90 minute commute that truly sucked the life out of me. Although my first year on the tenure track saw me harried and overwhelmed, I knew I had a better grasp on things going into year two, so I started auditioning. I feel really grateful to have been cast in a show this fall, especially since none of these people knew me at all. Ultimately, I think that’s what I like about this community the most, or at least what I’ve seen of it so far: they weren’t afraid to let me in, even though I was a total stranger. Yes, there is some incredible work for the stage going up in St. Louis, and that’s wonderful, but I’m more impressed with the way I’ve been treated as a single artist. There is respect, warmth, a growth-focused attitude, and just a general commitment to craft in this city. I’m grateful that I ended up in its proximity.
I’m just getting started as an actor, and I’m feeling way behind. I spent most of my 20’s in graduate school and not working in the theatre. But my friends from high school and college who knew right from the start that they wanted to work as performers spent their 20’s building the foundation for their artistic careers. At thirty, I feel pretty behind. I certainly don’t regret getting my PhD and finding an academic job. (I’m very aware that I’m one of the lucky ones.) It’s just that the whole process of going through graduate school, while incredibly formative, kept me from thinking critically about my artistic identity. Now that I’ve got the space to consider it, I’m feeling sad that I didn’t more actively interrogate this while in grad school. I was just so focused on finishing, not necessarily on what would be on the other side. I didn’t make much theatre during grad school—hardly any at all. I can’t believe I was able to go so long without it. Now, I feel like I have so much catching up to do. I feel genuinely jealous of my peers who had much more clarity early on.
Asserting my primary identity as a theatre artist is challenging, especially when my day job is so…well, identifiable? I had a conversation with my friend Cassidy about this while we were backstage at Of Mice and Men. I may think of myself primarily as a theatre artist, but my students and my work colleagues view me mainly as a professor. Cassidy also thinks of himself as a theatre artist, but his work colleagues think of him as this young, up-and-coming fundraiser. At what point does a person get to say what they are to the rest of the world, and the world accepts it? People view me primarily as a professor, simply because that job title is so identifiable. There’s an official element to this, too: I remember once BJ and I were crossing the border to Canada and the border police asked us our occupations (which they are required to do). After we sort of mulled around for a minute, not sure what to say, she finally asked, “Okay, so what pays the bills?”
I’m ready to take more creative risks. Even though I’m conflicted about the world identifying me as a professor, the surprising pay-off of being in an academic position is the straight up confidence it helps you build. You are considered an expert in something on your campus, and just living out this new role can make you feel more inclined to take risks. In 2018, I want to take more creative risks. I’m applying for a summer intensive with a theatre company I admire a lot, which would require four weeks of daily training/rehearsals in New York state. For someone who recently finished 6 years of graduate study, just considering “going back to school” (even for a month) is a risk in and of itself. I’m also ready to take more risks with playwriting. I finished my first full-length play about the Christian Quiverfull movement two years ago, did a staged reading, and now I’m struggling with whether I want to keep revising it or if I want to move on to something new. I’ve been thinking about this question specifically: what is something that only I am set up to write well? After a few years of flailing around, trying to model myself after female playwrights who are just different from me, I finally have some solid ideas. One very clear goal for 2018: finish another play.
Social media is a total drain for me, and I’m trying to figure out healthier ways of handling it. For most of grad school, I didn’t have a Facebook. I vividly remember re-activating it randomly, maybe around year 4, just to see a friend’s wedding pictures. The experience of logging back on was so overwhelming that I deactivated it again later that same day. I didn’t fire the social media engine back up until the spring of my PhD graduation, the thought being that this would be the easiest way to keep in touch with all the friendships I’d built over the past six years at Baylor. I’m glad that social media exists, but one of the things that frustrated me the most in 2017 was my weird desire to “check it” for no good reason at all. I don’t like something having that kind of power over me.
My iPhone 4 is still fine. It works. It takes crappy pictures. It has only about 5 hours of solid battery power. Keeping it just as it is, though, is also the easiest way I know to buck the interminable cycle of desiring bigger and newer tech.
Listening to the Indigo Girls on loop got me through this year, especially in the midst of our country’s political upheaval. I don’t really have anything to say about this other than to state it. Go listen to the Indigo Girls right now.
Eva Le Gallienne’s book on Eleonora Duse, The Mystic in the Theatre, is still my absolute favorite book on the theatre. One of my new research interests is the rhetoric of contemporary actor training, and books like this serve as an example of actors’ orientations to the work. For Eleonora Duse, working in the theatre was like being a priest to a religion, but not necessarily in a fanatical or sacrilegious way. She was practical as a theatre worker, yet that didn’t mean she rejected her Romanticism. This is a prayer of Aquinas that she passed along to Eva Le Gallienne. I’ve been carrying this around with me lately. An actor’s prayer if ever there was one: “Most generous rewarder! Endow my body also with splendid clarity, with prompt agility, with penetrating subtlety, with strong impassibility.”
Wishing you a peaceful Advent and Christmastide, y’all.
So we’ll do this again next year?