Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Lifetime Achievement Award

Oh hey there, blog. How are you. I know it's been a long time since I've paid any attention to you. I could say I had forgotten you were there, but that is a lie. I knew you were there all along, full of blank draft pages and unborn witticisms blinking back at me from the eternal, empty white screen. Blog, I know you were there, just waiting to link me with brave Readers, to help us share a moment in time. The thing is, I just didn't know what to say.

If we were lovers, dear blog, then I was definitely the neglectful, estranged, frustrated jerk who just up and disappeared one day without a word or warning, leaving you in the lurch and maybe wondering why. Yes, I've done that before - not to other blogs I mean, but to people. Several times, in fact. Whether or not they wondered, I don't know. But you could safely say that by now, at this point in my character, it's becoming a pattern.

I should say I am sorry I disappear but the fact is I am not sorry.

Sometimes it just takes me a long time to be honest with myself about what I want. But once I know, I know. The jerk part is that once I am honest with myself about what I want, I am selfish about it. Once I see clearly, I use the clarity to make a decision and rarely bother to explain that to others.  It's not that I don't care. It's that I have stuff to go do.

It turns out, I really needed a breather from you, blog, and from other things too. In November my streak of artistically satisfying plays ended and I had a sort of a personal heartbreak. A sort of disappearance of a hope, you might say. I say sort of because it was a long time coming and a long time on repeat, and nothing actually happened other than that I woke up one morning fully aware and OK with the fact that I didn't approve of my own nonsense anymore, that the thing I was hoping for had never actually been on the table, that it was time to vaporize and re-materialize somewhere else, hitch my wagon to another star. My Dad calls it a Moment of Truth, or the Five Minute Rule: it only takes five minutes to be honest, really actually honest with yourself. Not that it isn't a little scary and hard sometimes. But in November, I managed to do it.

November was when my brain switched gears.

I panicked a little. I skipped out for a bit on certain things, hoarding my new found clarity. I stopped submitting for auditions. I stopped blogging, basically. I cut down on sleeping. I started dating pretty much everybody in New York City. (Just kidding. Only a handful. I am not actually cut out to be a man-eater.) And, on a deeper note, I had yet another Acting Crisis that lasted all day every day for a few months there: why am I doing this? Am I even doing this? What do I want to do with this? What have I done with this, and what do I want to do next? And, most importantly, WHAT IS THIS THAT I AM DOING?

In graduate school when I had another whirlwind episode, prompted by another heartbreak, my roommate Treasure said that in the days where I would disappear (and I would sort of disappear, coming home to our apartment only every four or five days to change clothes), she pictured me riding around the city on the backs of fire trucks, howling at the moon.

Close enough.

This time, though, my howl reached heaven and my life actually changed. Through a super cool and bright actress I know, I got an actual writing job. I prayed for it. My mom prayed for it with me. We prayed together as I pressed the send button with my emailed application. And twenty minutes after I emailed in my writing sample, I was hired. I jumped up and down, I bounced off walls, I danced and hopped and squealed for several weeks like a cliche from a 90s high school movie. It was an actual turning point, a bolt from the blue, a gift from God.

I may have never mentioned this to you, blog, but I had a very specific dream when I was a little girl. My kindergarten teacher asked everyone what they wanted to be when they grew up, and I said, "My own boss." I wanted to write and act. Those were the only two jobs I ever wanted. I wanted to have lovers from every country in the world and eventually children from every country in the world. I think my logic was, why just pick one? It is hilarious and amazing and somewhat disturbing to suddenly step back from my life right now and realize that I am actually doing it. (No babies yet, though, please.)

I am actually doing it.

Sure, there are points I'd like to hit in my acting career that I feel very far away from. I'd like to get great representation, star in feature films, win an Oscar. Sure. There are points in my personal life and finances that are not the best they could be. If I live long enough I'd like to someday get married and have kids (this is very hard for me to admit) and maybe - maybe - even open a savings account. But you know what? I am actually doing the things that I dreamed of doing when I was 6. If I don't thank God every day, shame on me.

This week, I got to go visit my 81-year-old Dad in Texas. Our time together is always too short and we try to cram a year's worth of presence and intimacy into a few days, so it's always super intense. We go and sit in Carl's Jr. because he likes it and we drink decaf coffee and talk for hours. I told him how amazed and excited I am about the writing job, about my weird new attitude about acting that I haven't quite placed or defined, about how strong and lucky and perhaps almost empty I feel, in a way that seems good. Maybe open is a better word than empty. Maybe full is a better word than empty. Maybe empty and full are the same.

And my Dad looked at me and said what might be the most important thing that anyone has ever said to me: "When I go, I get to go knowing that I've left the world a better place because you are in it. Because of who you are, not just what you're doing, but because you are a point of light in the world."

So, blog, I just had to write again and say all that, to try to explain how the last months have given me moments and choices and gifts that changed me, and what was significant about them. Not everyone gets to hear words like that from their Dad. I really, truly wish they did. We need to know what we mean to people, what our lives can be. I am sharing this not because I want to rub it in peoples' faces or anything, but because I want people to know that you CAN say words like that, and that when you do, it makes someone's life. We have that power with each other. I want to share that you can disappear in a positive way, to transform and resurrect. That resurrection is real.

It turns out, life is pretty simple. I may never win an Oscar or really "make it" as an actor in terms of shiny money things, but I've made it. I may never be a New York Times bestselling author, but I have had my writing published and read by strangers who paid my rent for me. I may never actually have kids from all the countries in the world because that would be 196 children and that is just a totally stupid idea in retrospect. I may always be a little bit of a jerk sometimes, when I am hurt, because I am a human being and no matter how hard I try to do the right thing I will sometimes fail. Yet I see that I can try to do the right thing - I have that option to choose - and that is the important bit.

As far as I am concerned, my Dad just gave me the Lifetime Achievement Award. Even if I never accomplish anything else, I'm good.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Women in Film

Do you watch movies? Are you a human? Then this is important to look at.

Women comprise only 30% of speaking characters. And that's just actually dumb.

My vision is to be one of the people whose work can contribute to changing these statistics. Create, create, create! Not just because women are awesome and deserve fair treatment, but because art should tell the truth.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

I Peace-Out New York City

Lots of reasons to love New York City today.

1) Conversation at work included, "So this is random and hilarious, but speaking of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ..." Also, I went to work with one purse and left with one purse and two giant bags of gifts. Church ladies are the nicest. Also, all Hershey's kisses are gone.

2) Witnessed TWO verbal altercations that almost became physical. The first was while looking at the Saks Fifth Avenue holiday window display, and two chicks were getting into it over a dude. Holiday cheer, people...HOLIDAY CHEER! The second was on the train, when a woman started shouting "Hey pervert, stop staring at my titties! I don't like it and you are making me uncomfortable." Her shouting "titties" made everyone else uncomfortable, especially the older gentleman I accidentally made sustained eye contact with - a mood only compounded when her boyfriend then proceeded to remove his rings, threatened to pummel the pervert, and whipped the headphones from his iphone so we could all hear the uptempo ditty that he presumably meant to be the soundtrack to the Pummeling of the Pervert. To be fair to the pervert, the lady with the titties did have a rather large, inscrutable word tattooed on her cleavage that I myself was tempted to spend an inordinate amount of time deciphering. Odestinated? Marikesh? Orelia? It is actually impossible to say. And I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable, lady. I just was really trying to read. I'm sorry literacy and intellectual curiosity offend you.

3) Speaking of reading, I got to be a reader for auditions tonight and there is NEVER a dull moment on either side of the table, that's for sure. Note: the right answer to "can I touch you?" is always yes. No exceptions.

4) Pretty sure the apocalypse happened and we all missed it because it's 70 degrees and the humidity/B.O. factor is at it's summer high. I always hoped I'd at least see Jesus riding by on his white horse when this happened, but I guess I'm left behind...ugh...sigh.

5) One of my best friends lives literally two blocks from me and I was able to swing by on the way home while she gave me tea and edamame while debating the ethics and morality of dating. Meanwhile, her horny cats made parrot noises as if to challenge everything we said. Somehow I left feeling as if they know something we don't.

6) I'm leaving tomorrow. Which makes everything about New York City better. Beautiful-er. Brighter. Tolerable. Endearing. Gross.

BOOM. I love my adopted home. Merry Christmas, crazies.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Black Friday Night, Starving Artist Style

You realize your already open bottle of wine won't keep during the coming week, (the week you had vaguely resolved to abstain from all alcohol - you know, to cleanse), but since you like to economize and hate to waste foodstuffs of any kind, you decide you can't just throw away that open bottle. That's disrespectful, you know, to the starving kids in those remote places in the world you hear so much about. Once it's gone, THEN you can cleanse. Yeah, you could offer it to your roommate...but...reasons not to...

So, you pour a glass of wine or two for yourself whilst cleaning your room. It's Friday, after all, and shenanigans are in order. You deserve it and that's how you roll because you're a young vigorous beast. You're gonna clean that room cleaner than clean has ever felt before. Brace yourself, world.

As things progressively get more wild and crazy with you and your room, you're filling up that bag for goodwill like a boss and rocking out to Christmas music like a LEGEND, you suddenly realize that all of your belongings have either holes, wine stains, or both holes and wine stains.

This isn't surprising, really. If you are honest with yourself, you sensed the truth deep in the core of your being and felt it coming. Somehow, though, halfway through the second mason jar of wine and elbow deep in your t-shirt drawer, it becomes distressing. My god, everyone in the world must know you're covered in holes and wine stains all the time. Why haven't your friends told you before? Do they secretly laugh at your holes and wine stains after you leave parties? Yes, your work uniform is all black, but SURELY they can all see the wine stains. How can you face them again? THEY KNOW.

You must fix this. You can't remove the stains because that requires practical homemaking skills and some serious hand-eye coordination.

There is only one way out. You must shop. Yes, shop.

But you can't. It's too late for you even though there are technically 15 minutes of Black Friday left, because even the online Black Friday deals don't change the fact that you already spent your potential shopping money on wine. You already spent two hours online canceling an order because you couldn't afford it. You already spent your day not trampling people to death in BestBuy because, let's face it, you don't know how to use an iPad yet.

You need another glass of wine.

Wine...wine...there was something you had decided about wine...to finish the bottle tonight? Right?


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Feeling All the Feelings

The Cherry Orchard at Horace Mann Theater
Oh boy, it's been a fall, y'all. Last time I remember knowing what day it was, it was definitely August 21st. Or 22nd? A Tuesday?

I am always thankful for the busy. Sure, I cry into my whiskey in the shower out of sheer exhaustion sometimes. I definitely drink whiskey in the shower, yes. I know because there's probably still a cup in there. And as the weeks go by and I sleep less and forget to eat, I end up having to wear children's shirts at work because I forgot my uniform, and I start making questionable decisions about who to bark back at on the subway...sure...but all in all, busy and sleep deprived are the bread and butter of any working actor. We like it when we can't feel our faces because we rehearsed until midnight and had to get up at 6 for our dayjob. We like it when we have to cram for an audition after our brunch shift and before tech. We'll be the first ones to tell you that, and simultaneously complain.
The Weirdest Tree I've ever climbed.

But really, I can't complain. I don't know if you remember this one day in August, but I do. I was such a mess that I had to blog about it, but the friendly fellow I auditioned for sans shoes or make-up made the surprising decision to go ahead and cast me in TWO of his plays anyway. So, I've been doing that. I got to work with wonderful, talented, insane people on The Weird Tree, a devised and very physical play based on an Eastern European fairy tale, as well as a notably non-traditional rendition of The Cherry Orchard. See the balloons? The snow drifts? It was pretty magical. And, while all that was happening, I also shot two short films and went to Los Angeles for a week. Because reasons.

It always happens at once, and you have to just go ahead and feel all the feelings and get it done.

Varya doesn't care anymore.
At the beginning of the year, my former roommate and I declared that 2013 would be the Year of Awesomeness. We had said 2012 was the Year of Men, so, 2013 definitely had to be something else. Various 20-something problems aside, I think our prophecy has come rather close to the truth. It was the first year I got very specific and clear with myself about what I wanted. I wrote a list of professional goals, all of which are neatly checked off even though it's only November. It's kind of amazing, actually, and humbling in the sense that many of the goals came about through channels other than my own pursuit. Some of my goals came and found me. After they roughed me up a little bit, we got along great.

Perhaps it was simply a matter of confessing that I wanted them, that I was willing to risk failure for the sake of saying their names out loud. LA, for example. I have been thinking of scouting out the town every since finishing acting school, but it was always a little scary to find the money or the time. So, finally, with a little help from my friends, I just went and did it. I forced myself to make some uncomfortable but right choices personally. I asked for what I needed, and mostly got it. But I had to ask. I had to own it. And now I grow less afraid with each whirlwind.  There will be valleys and peaks, and I now know better how to navigate myself in them. It's not so much navigating the changing landscape of my career, I am finding, but how to craft and navigate myself. 
You have to ask for what you want, Lopahkin!

And I can't skip any steps. It's all connected. I have tried so many times in the past to skip steps. I've so wanted to fast forward to the money days, the married days, the champagne in a slipper days. But you just can't. First you have to grow. You have to go through the whole process, from excitement to disappointment to joy to brutal teeth-gritting to drudgery to joy. The ending never comes first.

I am always in such a hurry to get to what I consider to be the good stuff. But how the heck do I know what the good stuff is? When I look back over the last few years, I realize that my perspective at the time was a little muddled, and I can only assume my perspective now is equally muddled. Only later can I really see how the decisions, work, and time were building up toward something new. Now we see through a glass darkly...And I really do think it will all come together when it most needs to, in the way that is best. Cheesy, but yeah. I am actually having this moment of realizing that something very cliche is true. Not in a tie-dye and crystal kind of way, but in a frustrating, painstaking, reality way. Blah blah blah.

So, with all of my latest projects winding down, I am feeling all the feelings. Pride, elation, thankfulness, and the inevitable post-show-slump. And I am not avoiding any of it, because I want to feel all the feelings. Preferably through a buffer of whiskey. Then, and only then, can I press onward and forward.
I got to wear my glasses onstage! It's the little things.

Friday, October 4, 2013

September When It Comes

And then, ten years later, you become an overnight success.

Your life can change in an instant.

This is something I often joke about with many friends and colleagues and family members - the myth of the lightning strike that turns you from a nobody to a contender.

Not to say there's no such thing as the bolt from the blue that flips your career. That absolutely happens, perhaps in showbiz more often than any other industry - but rarely does it come out of nowhere and strike a random target.

You work really hard preparing yourself, building your skills, simmering your passion, navigating a dynamic and deadly landscape of extremes, braving conditions that would discourage most egos and navigating tough choices. You do all of this every day, so that you're ready when it happens. You constantly fight to improve your changes, position and posture yourself to be the best possible conductor for the power jolts.
 You want to be hit. You will yourself to be hit. You pray. You submit. You study. You interview. You toil and earn and fight and create and never stop so you'll be ready when the universe aligns.

The secret of successful people is that the universe aligns not just once, not twice, but many times. And this alignment is partially in our control, and partially not.

It seems like I spend a lot of time not necessarily having the stereotypical "big breaks," but rather experiencing nearly constant small breaks. They add up. Down the road, if you stick with something long enough and maintain laser focus on your vision, all those small breaks put together will be the "big break." It's just that no one other than myself will know just how many tiny little breaks, threats of rain, thunder, and electrical storms preceded the lightning strike.

There's a calm before every storm, but the storm always comes. Like a hurricane, my acting career seems to be arced in a tempestuous parabola. It's a cycle of work, preparation, searching, work, preparation, searching, work...Calm, storm, eye...jobless, working, regrouping...

September was a month of little lightning strikes for me. After a few fallow months, I booked an amazingly creative original play and two film jobs all at once. Both film roles were in projects I didn't audition for, and were opportunities supplied by artists I've met over the years and stayed in touch with. And one of those films, to my surprise and delight, brought me my first Taft-Hartley and, once all the filing is complete, my SAG/AFTRA-eligibility.

We spend a lot of time as actors waiting for our big breaks. We sometimes forget to mark and celebrate the small ones. Becoming SAG/AFTRA-eligible was one of my goals for the year, and I was behind schedule in my plans to achieve it by producing my own new media project. Then, BANG, the universe brought me a role through a fellow Actors Studio Drama School alum, who reached out to me. And this school chum, a bolt from the blue, has changed the course of my year. What a gift! Lightning struck and a seemingly small break, one short film role, brought me a big milestone. Thanks, Chelese Belmont, for furnishing such a significant moment in my life (and producing an amazingly fun shoot, can't wait to see the finished film!).

What I am trying to say, dear reader, is that we must always be ready for September when it comes, whether it is a burst of work or an opportunity to use down time in a constructive way. When the small breaks begin that domino effect, you don't want to be caught napping. I want to be standing up, saying yes, and full of decisive action.

We are always building toward something.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Sex Machine

Today I literally pulled a muscle and popped an ankle trying to be "sexy." The fact that it was in rehearsal as a prostitute character does not mitigate the shame or magnitude of this epic fail. But it does lead inevitably and conclusively to several indisputable truths about my life that settle once and for all certain doubts and knock certain people off their high horses - while simultaneously raising some interesting questions.

The facts are these: 1) never should I ever try to be sexy, it's obviously bad for my health; 2) strippers are to be envied and admired for their skill, control, and athletic prowess, and I should fall at their feet in reverence as so many other members of the human race are wont to do; and, finally, 3) I should just stop. I'm not a sex machine. I'm not a twerking goddess. Being on the Education For Life - i.e. abstinence - Team in high school has left it's permanent scar. Yes, that was a real thing that I did. This fact is also indisputable and epic. Fellow former EFL-ers (I know you're out there) know exactly what I mean.

The questions today's little incident raises, for me, are these - in this particular order: 1) SEX; 2) what is the line in acting between trying too hard and not daring enough; and, lastly, 3) how did I roll my ankle? I was barefoot.

I do not have answers for any of these questions, especially #1.

Anyway, embarrassing as it is to admit, "sexiness" onstage is rather an Achilles heel for me. The moment a director says, "Be sexy," I try to be sexy, and it's a disaster. I grow an extra left foot and begin to aspirate. Not sure why. Oh yes, that's right, because I DON'T UNDERSTAND WHAT THAT MEANS AS AN ACTION. No doubt therapy is in order.

My take away from today, though, is actually a throw-back to graduate school. In voice class, which was usually my favorite subject throughout the years of training, our insightful guru Margaret Jansen was fond of saying "Trying is dying." (This always echoes in my head in Yoda's voice, no offense to Margaret..."Do or do not, there is no try...")

Anyway, trying is dying. Perhaps even literally. I'm lucky it was just my ankle this time.