Monday, September 27, 2010

The Joy of Sewing... and sewing... and sewing...

I rarely costume shows anymore, but I took the opportunity to design and build the women’s costumes for theatre KAPOW's recent production of Hedda Gabler. I did it in part because I love the show, and in part because I love the period. If you are going to build a show only once every few years, why build an easy one, right?

I planned ahead as best I could - sketching designs, finding patterns, shopping for material in June. After I returned from my six weeks in New York at the Atlantic Acting School’s summer intensive, I got down to building the show. Here are some reflections on the five weeks I spent chained to my machine (that’s how it felt).

It is so nice to be able to see and touch the product of time spent on something. This is true not only for the finished product of the whole costume piece, but for all the steps along the way as well. Even 15 minutes pent in front of the machine can have a tangible result. I have always known that I am a task and goal-oriented person, and I was reminded of that often during this process as I compared time spent sewing with time spent doing other things. But while those other things may not have the same tangible result, they do serve a purpose – if nothing else, to provide that contrast and make us appreciate the productive times.

Things always take longer than you think they will. Always. Sometimes a LOT longer. It is hard to plan accordingly. But if something if worth doing, it is worth doing right. And there is no substitution for attention to detail. And trimmings. And accessories. But they all take time.

Sometimes, you have to abandon the pattern or the directions and follow your gut. I’ve frequently fallen to “improvisational scenery” in my times as a designer and builder for companies with larger shoestrings than budgets. But I am much more comfortable there than in the “improvisational dressmaking” stream I found myself fording during this process. It was enormously challenging, but I found that I could apply three important things I spent the summer learning to engage with regard to acting: bravery, will, and common sense.

Again, I am struck by how many areas of my life my training this summer has affected, for the positive.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Reflections on my summer training

This summer I was blessed to spend six weeks in training at the Atlantic Acting School’s summer intensive. So much happened in those weeks, it seems impossible to reflect on it all and describe it all. I am struck almost daily by how much I learned, how much I grew, and how much I changed over those six weeks, and in the weeks since.

I have always thought of myself as a tenacious and hard-working person. I learned this summer that I did not know the meaning of those words. I have learned that I can be tenacious, and I can be hard-working, but that I have not been previously. It took me almost three weeks into the program to finally embrace the 8 am – 10 pm days in studio, plus time in the morning doing vocal and speech practice, plus hours after 10 back in my room reading plays, learning lines, and trying to keep up with things like laundry. One of our teachers said, “I know you are tired, the fatigue feels unbearable. But let me tell you now: you will never not be tired. The fatigue will always be there – some days more than others, but it will always be there. It is not an excuse.” So true.

Breathe. It sounds so simple when you say it. Just breathe. But there is so much in just a breath. I was amazed to realize how much tension I carried in my body without realizing, and how much that restricted my breathing. Who ever thought letting go of tension could be so much work in and of itself? These are the things that pop into my head on a regular basis now: “Is your mouth open or closed?” “Drop your booty” “Keep that head on top of your spine” “Where are your feet? Under your hips?” And at least twice a day I touch my fingers to my forehead to relax by furrowed brow and stop the “11s” from leaving their mark. There is progress, baby steps. I hardly ever wake up with my jaw locked and sore from clenching and grinding my teeth in my sleep anymore.

There is so much that I don’t know. There are so many wonderful plays that I have not seen, books that I have not read, and music that I have not heard. There is so much in the world that all of us can still learn. We must surround ourselves and fill our lives with good work, good food, and good people.

I have never had the courage, strength or understanding to think of myself as an artist, much less to call myself an artist. I learned that being an actor is hard, hard work, and is not something to belittle or downplay or be ashamed of. I was inspired by teachers and fellow students whose work elicited both laughter and tears. I was driven to work harder than I ever have at anything before to overcome the fear and doubt that have ruled my mind for so many years and to embrace the strength and beauty that work led me to. More than anything else this summer, the moment that means the most to me was when a fellow student said of me “There is an artist.”

I am an artist. It is not easy, and it does not come without sacrifice, but I will continue to work hard at it every day. I wake up an hour or 90 minutes earlier than I did before the summer. I walk 30 minutes almost every day, and six days out of the week I do my vocal practice and my speech practice. I must continue to work to find time to read more, to take a yoga class or a dance class, and also to enjoy my loving husband and my amazing daughter. It is not easy, and it does not come without sacrifice, but I will continue to work hard at it every day.

Thank you to everyone who was a part of my summer at the Atlantic.