Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Finding Your Calling/Asking for help...

Many years ago, I heard the speaker Marianne Williamson talk about how, after she had a spiritual awakening, she wondered what she would do for a living. It hit her one day that she was not going to find God's calling for her in the help wanted ads of her local newspaper! She asked God what S/he wanted her to do and she got a clear message. Go speak. She did not know who would show up in her audience, but she knew she had to do it. Of course at the beginning, it must have felt like a huge risk. But she rented a hall in NYC and began to give weekly talks on a by-donation-basis....and went on the become one of the foremost spiritual speakers of our time.

In 1999, I had a similar experience. I was thirty three years old and although I had begun developing my own solo performance shows, I still wondered where it would take me in terms of the bigger picture in my life. Also, I had a 2 year old daughter and at the time was only performing a few times a year and assumed that I would mostly be a stay at home mom until my daughter entered kindergarten...Then one day, everything changed. My daughters father called me from a business trip and said that he wanted a divorce. No discussion. It was over.

After a few hours of sobbing hysterically, some of the emotion wore off and stone cold sobriety set in. I had no way to support myself and my daughter. What would I do for money? Because I had a theater background, had not worked a conventional job in 10 years, and lived in a small town in the middle of the country, it would have been easy to collapse entirely. And that night, I did. But on my way down, I called on my faith. I think my prayer was simply "Show Me, Please, please, please show me" before I fell asleep.

The next morning I awoke from a very vivid dream. I saw the words "The Cancer Monologues" floating over Lincoln Center in NYC..It was very clear to me that I was to offer autobiographical monologue workshops to people with cancer. Which I did. In the beginning I was so uninformed and naive about business that I didn't even try to follow a regular model...I just showed up at our local Cancer Center and said that I wanted to do this. A small grant of $2,000 from the city of Santa Fe, provided the seed money for these free workshops....10 people signed up to write with me to share their amazing, devastating, poignant, funny, loving, angry and hopeful stories of living with cancer to an audience of friends, family and community member who were laughing and crying all night right along with them. The theater was so filled with light that night that I felt that the building might lift itself right off it's foundation and float up into the heavens.

When the audience rose in a unanimous standing ovation and the monologue participants took their bow, I was shaking all over. I was crying uncontrollably again, but not from fear, or desperation. From love and the knowledge that I had clearly been given my path. It was a gift, one that I could have never dreamed up on my own. It continues to bring together what I love the most...theater, healing, transformation, deep intimacy, connection and new ways of looking at a situation. I've gone on to do this process with people with HIV, mental illness, new mothers, Veterans and more....The road has taken me on many scenic by-ways and continues to shift and evolve. Right now, I am about to begin the journey of training others in this work.

For me, the answers to my big questions come from the depth of my connection to a spiritual presence beyond myself. It has given me everything really, and a creative life that does support me and my daughter in our financial needs as well as giving me the great gift of having a greater purpose to follow in this world...The gift of creative service and deep, fulfilling personal expression.

There is a miracle waiting around the next corner for each one of us. If you are wondering what your purpose is, I encourage you to write daily and ask for answers. Ask for a dream, then be willing to receive the answer. Follow signs, energy and messages that resonate. Then be prepared to receive the greatest gift possible...your authentic life that cannot be found in any help wanted ad, but is already written on your own heart.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Why it Took Me Eleven Years to Write my First Show

Honey Moon In India Story…( or why it took me 11 years to write my first solo show)

From the time I met Spalding when I was nineteen I wanted to write and perform a one woman show, but not only did I have no idea in terms of where to begin, I was utterly terrified. For the next ten years I worked in the theater quite a bit. I was living in New Mexico getting cast in productions back to back. In a four year cycle, I was cast in a revival of Hair, Edward Albee’s Seascape, Win Lose, Draw and one of the first Rep Production of ‘ The Kentucky Cycle” after it won the Pulitzer. I was in a few original, well-written plays by local New Mexican play writes. I had some interesting parts and I was doing work that I had once been passionate about, I got some good reviews and started to establish my reputation as a strong local actor, but something in me continued to long for more….

I spent a few years teaching myself to write. In the beginning, I wrote very poorly, but a commitment to show up at the page no matter what began to shift that. Inspired by Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way” and Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones”….I practiced doing morning pages daily (the drivel of one’s life…3 pages a day, no matter what) and free writes (compiling a list of topics and writing on one at a time, with a timer.) This process, of writing on things like” I remember”, “home”,” the first time”, “at 2:00 in the morning” etc. without stopping to pause, think or edit opened up my “voice” for me.

I wrote a play for 5 woman modeled loosely on the structure of Ntozake Shange’s “for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf”….This structure is basically one of individual monologues strung together. Pre-maturely, I showed it to a New York producer who basically trashed it. I went into a lot of angst, doubting my talent. But thanks to Julia Cameron who said to keep walking as an artist no matter what, I did not collapse into a pit of despondency. I continued to write and write some more.

And somewhere along this journey., I fell in love…I fell in love with a man named Steven and I fell in love with a spiritual teacher named Gangaji. Life led me to begin living the story that would become fodder for my first show.

India itself was not what I expected nor was the guru. We arrived and he was talking about how woman could not get enlightened because they got their periods. Not exactly the bastion of enlightenment that we’d traveled thousands of miles to see….I remember getting off the plane and smelling shit. This smell permeated through the entire country. We left the guru, struck out on our own and got sicker and sicker and more and more desperate. A miserable honeymoon, A good story.

It fit the model of the hero’s journey beautifully. The hero’s journey is the “call to adventure”, the obstacles, pitfalls , stops and starts along the road. The overcoming obstacles to continue walking on the path…In the end the hero will have to do what she knows she cannot do. And from this place of courage, defeat and failure, she will be forced to deepen her resources and transform. Transform to meet whatever challenge is in front of her…To gain perspective on whatever is in front of her. And gain the faith and help, both internal and external to move on.

Honeymoon in India followed this structure to a tee. As I lived it, I was unaware that it would become my first show. We are all living epic journey’s. Archetypal. All of us. When someone comes to and says they do not have enough material, I say “look at your own life”…Where have you known the call to adventure? Where have you had an obstacle to overcome? How did you do it? Where were you/ are you a hero? It is actually enough and share your own story. That is a secret . You are already enough. Your show already lives inside of you.

With that said, one must be fearless in the telling of the story. One has to slow time down, choose material that has drama to it and is big enough for the stage. I have worked with someone who is a twenty year AIDS survivor, an actor who’s dad was a small time Mafioso, a young account executive in San Francisco who is bi-polar and had a break with reality. I have worked with a mom who told a very funny story of the first year of her life after her child’s birth and a 10 year old woman who based her solo show on an interview with a friend who had a stroke. She went on to write and perform that character in a wheelchair, presenting her friend’s story in first person.

What does it mean to “slow down time”?

You must take us moment by moment through your story. It is like painting a picture. We want the details…we want to know what that moment felt like, smelled like, tasted like to you.

The reverse is also true….If you give us a wide sweeping overview….if you generalize, we wont get it. It will mean nothing to us.

“Pregnant Pause”

The story of Pregnant Pause was the story of my pregnancy with my daughter told through the people around me. They were the inspiration for the characters that told my tale. There was my neurotic Beverly Hills Jewish Mother in Law”Bubbie Bobbie”, My Waspy Connecticut Uber Consevative grandmother “Nanny”, There was my Birkenstock wearing Mid-wife “Yoda”, My working class Rochester based second cousin “Rusty” and my New Agey acupuncturst ex-husband “the husband”…I wove together an autobiographical story, but told in by creating characters and telling the story through their eyes. The story became funnier and more outrageous as I married my autobiographical journey of pregnancy, birth and delivery and told it through the voices of the characters around me. This is where it rose from a mundane story into a theatrical voyage of wit and discovery.

“A Woman’s Work”

One day in 1999, a fellow performer called me up and said she had been thinking about an idea for a show based on the Studs Terkel song “Working”. Her concept was that three of us, all female solo performers, write a show of monologues about the back story of woman and work. I utilized characters and experiences from my own life and wove them into “fictional” characters. The first one was Barbie, as in a Barbie doll. She was speaking at the Barbie Convention and began to unravel onstage..She had a nervous breakdown in front of the audience. The second monologue I wrote was one of a woman receiveing an Academy Award for best actress. In her speech she is thanking the Academy profusely and begins to wander into a story about what a miracle it is that she is actually here..how just a few years ago, she escaped from a physically abusive marriage with an alcoholic. She goes into the story of how she escaped with her son and how dreams do come true…Then, abrubptly, she begins to take off her gown and starts to scream “don’t come up here Honey. I’ll be right down, yes, dinner’s almost ready” The audience realizes in that moment that she was in a fantasy of the Academy Awards. She is the woman who is still being beaten by her husband.

3 woman, doing 3 monologues each around a theme worked wonderfully. We were each strong as writers and performers in our own right and were able to hold our own with each other. That is very important if you are thinking about collaborating on a monologue show with other people.