On Choosing Theatre

“So are you glad that you became a theatre artist?” he asked me, settling down in the seat which happened to be next to mine.

His question took me by surprise. He was my professor in first year and he’d learned many of my struggles and problems with choosing theatre. But I was still taken off guard. I just hadn’t thought about the choice in so long; it had become so routine, so mundane, so natural to me.

Yet I’d been mulling my choice, whether I realized it or not, over in my head this past Christmas and in the weeks since the break, too. My holidays were wonderful, but I was very much out of the “theatre loop” and I began to wonder what the heck I was doing all over again. Most of my “back home” friends are working and others are studying to be engineers and nurses or planning to go to law school post-degree. Where does theatre fit into all that? I wondered. I know that I love it, I know that I can do it, and I even know that God loves it, but is it really valuable to others? What’s the point?

It was hard to wake myself up that first Tuesday morning of school. Besides feeling burnt out from the last three semesters and the recent summer, the question of why we do theatre still rumbled in my head till it was sore.  Really, I was asking: Am I valuable? Is what I do needed? And if it’s not, why do it?

I resisted, at first. I refused to be excited. Every semester, especially the last, has left me strongly disappointed. I refused to feel that disappointment again.

But that first week took me by surprise. And so did the next. I was filled with absolute joy in the presence of what I loved. My classes were amazing and inspiring and much more than I could have asked for.

The truth is, in my state of resistance and bitterness, I began to love acting like never before. It became exhilarating once again, in more ways than ever. My play. My acting class and the scenes I’m involved in. Voice & Movement. They brought me the excitement I’d lost hope in.

This all came back to me as I answered my prof. “Yes. I mean sometimes I’m not; sometimes I’m just tired and worn out, I guess. It’s work. But we’ve been doing Meisner and these Lindy Davis exercises and I’m playing Sister Aloysius in Doubt and Much Ado is a challenge but it’s fun and well, I’ve never loved acting more.”

371

But is love enough? That’s the question I pondered next.

Does loving something make it valuable, useful, or right?

I’m definitely an advocate for doing what you love with your life. I believe in following your own dreams and not the ones someone else’s. But still. It can all be a little disheartening when other people’s dreams seem to be so useful and important and you’re left feeling like a joke. What then?

I’m not trying to play the martyr here. Theatre is hard, but I realize I won’t get burned at the stake for it. This isn’t Shakespeare’s time when actors were below slaves in status, or something like that. Yes, theatre and art are socially acceptable vocations, but sometimes I feel a little lost in the dust, as others, I’d assume feel, too.

~~~

“We’re the messiest of them all,” the aforementioned prof has said before. Often times, he’s right. We get dressed up and walk around campus doing photo shoots. We take classrooms apart so we can rehearse or fill them with camera gear for a promo video and clean up just in time for the next class to start. We make people sweat and quicken heart beats when we swear and kiss people we’re not married to and portray lots of conflict on stage. We put humanity, in all it’s flaws and horrors, on display for the world to see. And it isn’t always pretty.

Plain and simply, I find theatre valuable because I love it. I do it because I love it. Frankly, I don’t have to justify that.

I believe in its value for a lot of reasons. It teaches us to have empathy, both as actors and audience members. It is art and it allows for creation, which I believe is very biblical. Last but not least, people love entertainment and people like me who study BFAs in Acting provide that. And really, this list could go on but it won’t for now.

~~~

I get a lot of reactions on the answer that slips out of my mouth after the infamous student question, “What is your major?” That sounds fun! and Cool! or I could never do that! and What’s that like? are among the top. One person laughed out loud when I told him, but that’s a story for another time. Lots of people ask me what I intend to do with it, too. I tell them I want to be an actor.

This isn’t a pity party. As another professor says, we all have choices; it’s just silly to say we don’t. Thus, we honestly can’t complain about a lot of stuff because 95% of it likely stems out of the choices we’ve made. I made the choice to study theatre a year and a half ago. I continue to make that choice day after day. And I can make the choice to quit at any point.

025

I suppose what I’d like for you to know is that choosing theatre can be great. It is for me, at least. Choosing what you love, I think, is best. Do it, if you can. No matter what it is. What you do, whatever it is, has value because of Christ. He created everything good in this world and has an intention for it. So go out and do it. Choose what you love.

So yes, I’m glad I chose to be a theatre artist.

What about you?

Advertisements

Time

Sitting in his office that sunny spring day, my prof told me it — my goal of becoming a physical actor — would take time.

“It won’t happen overnight,” he warned. “You have to work at it.”

I nodded in mock patience. I told him that I could do it because I wanted it enough.

022

Time.

It is what I don’t have these days. And what I’ve never had enough of.

Sundays are currently my only day off and only full day at home. I have 24 hours. And it seems they all get wasted somehow. The clock ticks, the timer dings, my break is over.

Homework, rehearsals, commuting, walking from class to class. Eating, sleeping, scrolling through blogs, reading my Bible. Cleaning my room, ironing, taking a sip of freshly brewed coffee. Wondering, questioning, learning, seeing, waiting. Loving and living. This is what constitutes time.

And I wish there were more of it. Or that certain things took less time. Or something.

At the end of the day, I’m tired, worn out, fed up with the time I’ve spent, wasted, and worked.

 

But then, there is a different kind of time. Or a different view on it, at least.

When we wait or after a while of working towards something — after time itself has past — we start to reap time’s harvest.

A friend sits down across from me just to talk.

I finally take a risk and go with my impulses while doing a scene in Acting class. I allow myself to fail boldly and it works.

I start to feel at home with university friends. I start to open up and share, to laugh naturally, smile spontaneously, learn and love.

These are little things. Mundane acts, perhaps to you. But to me they are monumental.

Because I have been working and waiting and wanting to find them. I put the time in and I reaped the rewards of patience and work. I wanted them so badly that I was willing to wait the time it took.

And I realized that it was time all along. The friendships didn’t come in the first week and the response to impulses didn’t happen at first read. They took time. Like anything worth having would.

This is the beauty of time, I think. The hard work, perseverance, the rewards. The life we can only get from waiting weeks, months, or years.

The clock is ticking. I have homework left from last week that must be done by Tuesday. My tomorrow is full and my head is weary from the week. I feel the heaviness of the clock and the fact that there is never enough time.

Yet time, I’ve learned that time is burdensome and beautiful all at once. So, I’ll try to embrace the beauty as I go about my busy days.

Because time is a beautiful burden. We carry time like a weight from day to day, but at the end, we come to see the beauty that would not exist without the time it took to get there.

What are the beauties and burdens in your time today?

Learn To Walk Again

I don’t remember what it was like to learn how to walk. I don’t recall the crawling, falling, tears, or tumbles.

There are many things we forget, in life. Unimportant, unnecessary, needless, little, things, as we say. Memories that would be impossible to remember.

And other memories we push away, toss to the side, try to remove the hurt. Forget. Forget. Forget.

 

I started university last fall, signed up for a Theatre major. I thought I knew. I thought I’d be ‘safe.’ Safe from memories, hurt, too much thinking, and tears. I figured I’d be happy, doing what I love, and that I knew what it’d be about because I knew what theatre was.

But theatre, I learned is an exploration. An exploration of others, of course, but also, of yourself. And that exploration can be scary and strange — a lot like learning how to walk for the very first time.

 

One day, my professor told us to lie on the ground on our backs, feet and legs and arms and hands spread out. And she told us to learn how to walk again.

It was hard and a little strange. But I made myself fall and I got back up and fell again and tumbled to the ground. And I remembered so many things.

You see, we can forget things in our mind, but the body remembers. There are certain things, programmed it would seem for eternity. Your mind may forget, but your body will not.

The body remembers its scars and scrapes and bruises. It remembers each tumble and fall. The body recalls what you’ve done and said to it, the ways you’ve abused it, the times you’ve felt shame, the people who hurt you. It knows how you cried from the nasty words and the blood that you shed and the heart that was broken. And you tried to forget. You tried so hard. But the body remembers what the mind does not.

 

As Christians, sometimes I find there is this stigma attached to our bodies. We’re constantly finding fault with the flesh. They’re impure, passing figures, after all, liable to grevious sins, we’ve been told from the pulpits and in Christian books.

Yet if we truly believe that the Father created us, we know that our bodies are His good and perfect creations.

And if we admit with our tongues that He sent His only son, in flesh and bone, through the body of a woman, we cannot deny that our bodies must be for His glory.

 

So learn to walk again. Today, tomorrow, this week, this year. Learn to love yourself, to know yourself, and the body you’ve been given. Learn to be whole and know that God made you. And He made all of you.

For this is what I learned from going back and learning to walk again, tumbling a bit and getting up.

Fail Boldly

My first memory of failure is from Grade 9. I failed a Science test. I’ll never forget the shame I felt. Like I was stupid, unable to do anything well, an idiot. That’s how failure made me feel that first time.

I think I was always kind of afraid of being a failure. I think we all are.

I spent high school watching my step and setting unreachable goals. And hoping I’d never fail again.

Then, I started university. And they told me that I had to fail to pass.

I don’t remember when they said it — whether it was during orientation, in my first acting class, or when I went for my advising session. But I know I heard this strange and impossible quote: Fail Boldly time and time again throughout September, October, November, and December.

I didn’t get it. Failure wasn’t good. I’d spent my life striving for just the opposite and I couldn’t imagine why anyone else wouldn’t.

Maybe they meant that you just had to be able to admit your mistakes and show that you were humble. Maybe failing boldly was just being able to laugh at your self. Maybe it wasn’t really “failure.” Perhaps it was just an artsy phrase or a figure of speech, I convinced myself and continued to hope for perfection. Because I couldn’t comprehend why anyone would ever want to fail on purpose.

I didn’t get it. My first monologue mark in the beginning of second semester reflected that. And I hated my work, felt like a failure, and considered giving up. I just couldn’t really, flat on my face, fail boldly.

The rest of the semester unfolded in a weird, tearful mess of beauty and growth. And slowly, I learned. I began to undo, to understand, and to fail.

I can’t explain it completely. But I do remember when I willingly failed boldly for the first time.

It was the end of March. The day had been bright and spring like. I’d memorized and learned and cried over a monologue for weeks. And now I stood, a bit breathless, a bit tired, a bit nervous, after the group audition, in the middle of the stage. I was alone and absolutely vulnerable. Right there, I lay one of my greatest hopes out and put myself on the clothes’ line. And as I opened mouth and began the text, I lay everything I had down and just let it go.

I had that actor’s moment where you don’t feel memorized and the words just slide out of your tongue as if you’re saying it for the first time. I stopped thinking about my audience or how I looked. I let myself be, for a moment. I felt a strange peace in my soul and my stomach, instead of the butterflies that usually reside there. I think I let the Holy Spirit in and it felt like He carried me on His wings.

And I think I failed. Boldly.

And I realized that failing boldly isn’t really what I thought it was after all. Failing is allowing yourself to be human. Its giving yourself the freedom to live and breath and let yourself move. Failing boldly is finding rest and growing and trying again. Its submitting yourself to the gift of Jesus and letting him take control of your life and future. Failing boldly is about grace and peace and life.

I don’t know if this is really what my professors meant about failing boldly. But this is what I learned when I tried. And as I think about this coming year, I hope to stay in this state, to tumble a bit, and fall on my face and then get back up again.

I hope you’ll try it too — failing boldly isn’t so bad as we thought.

To Be Transparent

Yesterday, a word stuck out at me: transparent. I was reading unChristian by David McKinnon and Gabe Lyons.

That word has followed me throughout this year — each time I meet up with it, pounding at my heart’s doors to get me to submit to it’s meaning.

Transparency; to be seen right through your skin. That’s how I see it.

Letting your guard down. Flinging your arms out and not caring what other people see. Allowing others into your lives and letting them see your heart. Not hiding anything, not staying back. So easy to describe, yet so very hard to actually do.

I often live in a world of masks and make-up. I like to hide behind a thousand layers and pretend that is me. I forge relationships and I try to hide when people walk by, hoping they won’t see my soul, yet praying that they will.

It is strange, the way this works — this transparency business. I hate to let go yet I love the feeling when I finally do. I loathe to be transparent, but I’m so unsatisfied in this daily grind of pretending, lying, and losing.

 

I remember a conversation I had with a professor back in February. We were talking about acting; I wasn’t sure why it had suddenly become so hard, dissatisfying, and just not enjoyable.

She pointed out that maybe getting on stage and baring my soul, standing naked, was what I didn’t like. Because acting isn’t pretending to be someone else or hiding behind a character. In theatre, we must use our self, from the very depths of our soul, without holding anything back.

I think she was right. I didn’t want to do that. Or I was scared to. And that was keeping me from what I loved.

But I don’t want to be kept back any longer. I want to let go, to be free, to be transparent.

I did it a few times. For audiences even. For my professors on the night I decided that I wanted theatre and there was nothing else and that I was going to give everything I had to get what I loved. And though transparency was harder than anything, it felt better than every pretense I’ve tried.

 

Transparency is Biblical, too, I think. In that book I was talking about — unChristian — the authors talk about being transparent in our Christian lives. All too often, as Christians, we hide our sins with good works and pray that even God won’t see our short-comings. It’s a crazy double standard yet we do it. It’s hypocrisy and it doesn’t help anyone, including our selves.  And Jesus wants our hearts. He wants our whole hearts — not just half or a quarter. I think, after all,  that Jesus calls for transparency, too.

So let us be transparent. And let us start today.

I Am An Artist

He referred to it as “your art.” And I always smiled.

He meant theatre, really. Theatre was what I did. I was an actor. And he, the man with the thick Dutch accent who sat in front of our pew, got to know me because of it.

It started with some advent monologues that I did at church one year. He commented on them and we began to talk. He came to my plays. We continued to talk. About theatre, church, opera, God, and…art.

~~~

When I first entered university last September, I heard the word ‘art’ again and again.

The art department had their pictures in the hallways. And my friend was an Art major. She was taking Art 181.

But I was in theatre. And I took Acting and Theatre classes and went to see plays.

Yet I always heard the word ‘art.’ Theatre artist. We are theatre artists.

Art must be specific,” one particular prof repeated, again and again.

I had to take a history of music, dance, visual art, and theatre class. And we were all there because somehow, we — freshly emerged from high school, recently uprooted from the only familiarity we’d ever known as we were — were considered artists.

Next semester, we discussed what art was, whether it was subjective or not, what good art and bad art was, how art could be considered kitsch and so on. We even had to do projects, in place of essays, in which we created our own art.

I didn’t understand it all at first. I’d never considered myself an ‘artist’ before. I was just someone who liked acting a lot. Art was for people who painted pictures and created masterpieces — not little old me.

And time and time again, the question came up… what is art?

And to be completely honest with you, I still don’t know.

~~~

My Voice and Movement professor had us make short scenes in which we did things from our daily lives: getting up in the morning and talking on the phone. We presented them to the class.

I worked and worked and worked on a monologue. Night after night and day after day. I wept over it. I laughed and learnt. I tried to hide and then let myself go, I brought people in to watch and give me suggestions. I rehearsed. I auditioned with it one night in late March and gave it all that I had and I lost something strange and good and scary and gained something more.

I learned how to move in a Shakespeare monologue. I developed a physical score that scared me to death but gave me new life. I did it for my class and a friend told me that was when he knew that I wanted to be an actress. An artist.

I look back and I think, “Well, maybe I do know what art is after all.”

~~~

I remember the last conversation that we had — it was about art. He leaned against his walker, talking swiftly in the usual way. He spoke of my art. He praised art and  said that it was important and part of God’s purpose.

I smiled. These were both new ideas to me, which I’d come to realize, through tears and aggravation, in my first year of university. Yet this was what my friend had been trying to tell me all the way along.

I don’t think we ever talked again. The man with the thick Dutch accent who talked about ‘my art’ went into the hospital soon after. I always meant to visit him, but I homework piled up and I never did. I regret that.

He died before my final exams began. Before my first year finished. And a few weeks before, as we spoke about art in the fellowship hall, I never would have guessed.

I couldn’t even go to the memorial because of exams. And so, it doesn’t even really seem that he is actually gone.

It makes me sad to confront his loss — so I try to forget sometimes. But when I’m at church, I see his empty spot and the tears creep in and it is hard to sing.

Yet he gave me something that I’ll never forget. He left a precious gift on earth for me to cherish and learn about forever.

The man with the thick Dutch accent, who used to sit in front of us at church, called me an artist. And he said, just like the Lord said when He created the universe, that it was very good. 

The End Of Myself

“Bend your legs! Get down!” my prof told me. Timidly, I wobbled my legs a bit into a crouching position. “More! Don’t be afraid of your legs!”

I tried again. And again. And again.

He told me to do more things. To move in more ways. But I just couldn’t. I tried for what seemed like a thousand times, but every time, he’d tell me to do it again.

‘”Run around the room and scream!”

I ran. And tried to scream. But I could only laugh. Awkwardness, timidity, insecurity crowded my soul.

I’d asked my professor for help with my physicality as an actor. We were working one of Titania’s monologues from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I’d told him yesterday that “I knew I could do it because I wanted to.” But just then, we hadn’t even gotten past the third line.

“I can’t do this,” I told him before we parted ways. “I’ll just never get it — all my life I haven’t,” I said through tears.

~~~~

My pastor says that when we are at the end of ourselves we find God. Job was a the end of himself. Brought there through suffering and strife.

As Christians, we often see the end as something bad and to be feared. We stay in the shallow end or maybe on the sand, too afraid of the deeper waters ahead. We don’t like the word ‘end.’ But the end of ourselves is only the beginning when we know Jesus.

~~~~

I held back the tears when I got home. I put on a flowy skirt and a tank top — clothing that made me feel like Titania. I thought it would help.

I went outside and shivered. Even late March was much too chilly for spring clothing.

There, in the comfort of my own backyard, I tried it again. I tried to move, alone, outside. But it was the same as before. I couldn’t. I fell down in a ball on the ground. The cold grass absorbed me and my tears and trembling limbs.

 I was at the end of myself.

But at the end of myself, I prayed. Prayed like I’d never prayed before. Prayed for something I never thought I could or would pray for.

~~~~

Job lost everything. Everything he’d ever had or known. He was at the end.

But in that end, He found God. Not that he hadn’t known God before, but I don’t think he’d really known Him until that point. At the end of himself, Job saw God.

~~~~

“That was wonderful!” My prof burst out, less then a week later, after watching me perform my monologue. This time it was complete with an active physical score; I was bold and daring beyond belief. I had moved fluidly and without shame.

I smiled hard. His affirmation tasted sweet. But even sweeter was the knowledge that I had reached my end and come back even more whole than before.

I recalled the beginnings of my monologue creation. I had laid on the living room floor after leaving the cold outdoors. I prayed on the ground, long and hard. And then I got up. And it happened. All at once. And looking back, I know that it wasn’t my doing at all. At the end of myself, I found the beginning of Him.

Vulnerable

Vulnerability. Complete, utter, raw honesty. I dread it more than anything.

“Elizabeth!” the sound of my name, spoken by my prof awoke my mind’s childish nightmare. I had known this moment would come. Of course it would. But I hated it all the same.

The music played and I flitted across the room. Everyone else followed my ridiculous motions. I was embarrassed and uncomfortable beyond belief. A thousand memories from my life, in which I’d danced and utterly failed, punched me in the stomach. What am I doing here? I wondered.

We were dancing in Acting class today, in case you were wondering. It was called “Finding Your Character’s Physicality.” My prof put on some music, asked us to dance in certain ways, and then finally, made us lead. All of it begged for my vulnerability–something I did not want to give at that moment.

My scene partner and I rehearsed for almost four hours. We searched for that vulnerability for our scene. We even prayed for it. It’s funny because that is exactly what I wanted yet I was so terrified of actually finding it, that I blocked myself off in every way that I could. Sometimes vulnerability is the very thing that you truly need, but what you convince yourself you don’t want.

I don’t like to be vulnerable. Its embarrassing–just like dancing in Acting was today. Its painful–you have to open up a part of yourself that you’d really like to hide. And its scary because there is the fear that once you let yourself go to someone, that person is going to hurt you.

Tonight, I let a lot of that go. I didn’t want to do it. I kicked and screamed my way there. But it needed to be done because I realized that there is no real person or real relationship when you hold yourself back. Only a fake, uncomfortable body uttering things that don’t really make sense.

You see, I’m a classic at pretending. It’s not that I mean to lie or that I’ve never had a true friend before, but on a day-to-day basis, I’m not always real. It’s hard for me to be who I am, from the inside out, with everyone I meet. Why? Because I am afraid of hurt. I’m desperately scared to know what people see when they look right through me. And I am hopelessly frightened of being left behind. These are the fears I have when I look someone in the eye and talk to them. This is what I face everyday–the fear of vulnerability. The fear of honesty. The fear of relationship.

The funny thing is that I am not afraid to write. I never have been. I don’t care if a million people read this and know my fears, but saying it to your face would be a lot harder.

But I am going to change that. Step by step. I am going to say it to your face. I am going to be real. Ask you how your day has been. Actually give you a hug or a touch. Put you first and listen hard. Talk in a real voice and bare my real thoughts, emotions, hopes, and dreams. I am going to dare to be vulnerable—because that is where true relationships are at.