Dancing on a Soapbox

 

prop.span

A scene from “Prop 8- The Musical” via FunnyorDie.com

When people ask me, in the nonchalant yet persistent way that people do, what it is I’m doing now, I’ve learned to keep my answer brief. I tell them that I went from studying Political Science to pursuing a career in the arts. Then, in response to their always quizzical look, I quip; “I went the completely opposite direction from where I started!”

When I wanted to work in International Human Rights Law, it was a profession that I could easily defend. One that was noble, one that would have made an obvious impact. But my heart still lived in the theatre. Rather than planning trips to speak at academic conferences, I just wanted to read plays and daydream about returning to New York to see the newest batch of shows. Cliché, perhaps, to call it my passion, but it’s true.

Now that I’m actually finding a place in the local theatre community and building a career there, I sometimes struggle when communicating the importance of the arts. Especially in our current political climate, when the defense of human rights, healthcare, gender equity, and inclusivity are on the forefront of everyone’s minds (and rightfully so).

And yet, this art, this thing called the theatre that I love so much, is what I have decided to pursue. And it’s challenging and crazy and I love it. I spend my days gleefully talking about theatre with others that love it like I do. And I no longer have to justify my silly fangirl obsession as a time-consuming hobby. It’s an asset to excitedly purchase Newsies The Musical online and watch it repeatedly. It’s research!

And I am also reminded that the arts are full of stories of resistance against injustice. That it is in fact, from these stories that I love, that I can gather my confidence in this new path that I’m on.

When I saw Newsies, The Musical for the first time, I was lucky enough to see it on Broadway with the original cast. It was something I had hoped would happen since I was a teenager- Newsies! Turned into a Broadway musical! I knew it would be nostalgic and, if the reviews and buzz were any indication, a fantastic production.

What I didn’t anticipate, what struck me most that first time that I saw the Broadway version, was the palpable anger that filled the stage. The righteous indignation that radiated off of every character. The exuberant and award-winning choreography that punched emphatic rage into lines like, “Try to walk all over us, we’ll stomp all over you.”

There’s a moment, right in the middle of “Seize The Day,”  that took my breath away. To this day, every time I hear that song I still choke up. And it isn’t a lyric that gets to me. It isn’t a swell in the instrumentation. It’s a grunt. A collective, choreographed, guttural, “HUH, HAH!”.

That collective grunt, the one that chokes me up, does so because of the scene that accompanies it onstage. The newsboys, having decided to strike, shout their anger and shake their fists in a great fury of a dance number. They throw their overpriced newspapers to the ground and stomp on them with both feet. And then, in perfect unison, they send up a groan of contempt.

It is moving in its boldness-  this is a Disney production after all- and in its heartbreaking, true-to-life premise. The newsboys were young, they were poor, and they were powerless. Still, with all they had to lose, they weren’t going to stand for the injustice heaped upon them. They were pissed, and they were going to raise hell.

A couple of weeks ago I took two friends to see another musical based on a story of resistanceHere Lies Love. It is another fantastic production with an incredibly talented cast and crew. The music, by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim, is contagious. The setting, where the audience is immersed in a night club and taught how to dance in sync with the action on stage, is thrilling. And because of the story line, like Newsies, it also has some highly emotional moments.

When walking out of The Seattle Repertory Theatre that night with my two friends, we were buzzing. We were so excited about what we had just experienced that we were chattering away a million miles an hour, talking over each other and bounding down the hallway. One of my friends was still wiping tears away. I turned to her, and found myself saying; “This. This is why I do what I do.”

Seeing this show had invigorated us. We were filled with joy and energy. I couldn’t sleep that night from the excitement. The thought occurred to me, this too, is how we fight injustice.

What I meant was that I believe strongly in the work of the arts to tell us important stories, and to motivate us to build community, to tell our own stories, and even to fight when we need to. Even when I sometimes struggle with the work itself, I am proud to contribute to the work of this community through fundraising. I am proud to play even a small part in making these kinds of experiences possible for audiences.

When we share our art, our craft- we participate in joy. Rather than feeling defeated and downtrodden, we are inspired and uplifted- and it gives us the courage and the strength to fight injustice. It helps us channel our anger into action. It gives us the stamina to keep going when the struggle seems endless.

Thinking through all of this, I was also reminded of Prop 8 The Musical from 2008. Marc Shaiman created the musical in response to Proposition 8 in California, which banned same-sex marriage. The three-minute, star-studded online video that he created for Funny or Die poked fun of Prop 8 in musical comedy form. At the time, he had this to say, “If I’m going to stand on the soap box, at least let me sing and dance.”

I have never forgotten that quotation. I like to think that perhaps a little bit of that sentiment lived in the mind of  Harvey Feirstein, Jack Feldmen, and Alan Menken when they wrote Newsies, and when the choreographer created that emotional stomping sequence.

I am wholeheartedly on board with this idea of climbing on top of the soap box to sing and dance. I am going to continue to revel in the joy that theatre brings me, to work to keep it funded, and to share it with my community. And when I get really pissed about injustice, I’ll channel that joy and energy into action.

And I’ll keep dancing while I’m doing it. HUH, HAH!

There’s a Place for Me.

 

contweet1

In January of 2013, I posted on Twitter about the need for a BroadwayCon to exist. I had often scrolled through my Twitter feed and felt pangs of jealousy as superfans of everything from comic books to plastic pony characters had conventions to gather together and geek out with others who shared their passion. But where was I, uber theatre fan, to go? Thankfully, I’m one of the lucky ones that has found a life-partner who shares my love of all things theatre (love you, hon!). But still, it was usually just the two of us, alone in our car, screaming out the lyrics to Brotherhood of Man at the top of our lungs and scaring everyone else on the freeway as we passed by.

But THEN, one fateful day two years later, it happened.

bwaycontweet

February 5th, 2015, Mischief Management announced that they, along with Anthony Rapp of Rent fame, were putting together exactly what I had always hoped for: BroadwayCon. My little Renthead heart, which had plastered posters of the Original Broadway Cast of Rent on my dorm room walls the way other people proudly displayed Nirvana and Trainspotting posters, skipped a beat. I was SO IN.

mecon

From the moment I walked into the New York Hilton for the very first BroadwayCon, I couldn’t stop grinning. The motto “There’s a Place For Us” surrounded me on official BroadwayCon merchandise and  in excited murmurs  of participants everywhere I turned. Many of the artists and guests who spoke that weekend shared the sentiment that they wished a BroadwayCon had existed when they were growing up. They reminisced that today’s stage door culture and Ham for Ham street performances are a far cry from the rentheads who waited in patio chairs on street corners for orchestra tickets (there were no apps for that!).  I related to what the fans and artists my age were saying. I remember being the girl who checked the renthead listserv (where I had to get all my Broadway ‘celebrity’ news) daily from my dorm room in Seattle, where I longed to be able to get to New York to be at the Nederlander in person. I devoured stories of those who had met the cast and seen the show multiple times, and I gathered every piece of press I could find on the show. To be at BroadwayCon was to be in a place filled with other people who had had similar experiences. And we were sharing those experiences side by side with younger people who are now reveling in the widespread access and appreciation of all things Broadway. They were all people who shared a love of the thing I love. It was a game changer.

The Con brought me several moments of tears- tears of joy, tears of relief to have found a place to belong. But also, there were moments of confusion as I wrestled with the fact that here I was, in my mid-thirties, and though I had loved theatre all my life,  I had never had the courage to pursue it as anything more than a hobby. I wanted so much to truly belong to this community, to be immersed in it, to contribute to it, and to embrace it as a large and valuable piece of who I am. At the time, I was about to embark on a graduate school career that would include studies of the theatre in relationship to political and cultural climates, but wouldn’t leave much time or space to actually participate in it.

It’s hard to believe that that was only a year and a half ago. Now? Here I am, diving in to the theatre life with both feet. I owe a lot to that first ever BroadwayCon. Much of what happened that weekend would eventually shape the future I am creating for myself. There was the sheer delight of sitting in a lighting design panel, the thrill of breathing the same air as Jonathon Groff, Laura Osnes, and countless other Broadway artists I adored. The stirring of frustration and need for dialogue after panels about the lack of gender equity in Broadway, or about producing old favorites that are problematic in their presentation of women and people of color. The fact that I loved every minute of it is what I remember when I get discouraged about the difficulties of making a career change.

I am not creating something new here, that I know. I am deeply inspired by the work and enthusiasm of the amazing Broadway Girl NYC, aka Laura Heywood. And there are also already people here in Seattle doing a fabulous job writing about the local theatre scene. I am working on compiling a list of resources that includes all these fantastic people, and I hope to collaborate with them on this thing that we all love. While I will never try to be anyone else or copy their work, I do draw encouragement and wisdom from people like Heywood. I am blown away by her excitement, her dedication, her grace and positive outlook while she blazes a trail for the rest of us. I leave you with some of her comments from a panel at BroadwayCon 2017, about being a Professional Fan. Oh, and I’ll see you at BroadwayCon 2018!

 

 

 

 

So, About Grad School…

blog

In my First Ever Blog Post, I gave a little glimpse into where I’ve been and where I I’d like to be going. There is a lot to unpack in the “where I’ve been” segment. I find myself telling people that I went from one extreme to the other- from Political Science to The Arts. While there’s certainly more to the story than simply, “Grad school didn’t work for me…” it is am important piece of the puzzle. Here’s what I wrote about it in January of this year when I made my decision:

I’m a quitter.

Did you know that I trained for a half marathon once? It was years ago, maybe 2008 or so. I had been running for a while at that point, and I had all the special running socks and armbands and such, and read all the running magazines. If you know me at all, you know that when I try something new, and like it, I dive in. Hard. I fully immersed myself in the running world. I had done several 5ks and at least one 10k, and a half-marathon seemed like the logical next step. It’s what everyone in the magazines was doing.

At first, it all went great. I enjoyed enlarging my regular three-mile loop in incrementally bigger circles until I was running 4.5 – 5 mile tours of my neighborhood. My feet began to blister and I loved every minute of it. “Yah! I’m a real runner now!” was the thought that echoed through my head as I pumped my tired legs up the hill towards home several times a week. I began running longer stretches on the weekends. Six miles one Saturday, seven miles the next. The longer runs were challenging, and they tired me out, but I kept it up. Then came the day I had planned to run eight miles.

My husband Jeff was training with me, and so we ran together on the weekends. That particular Saturday, we mapped out our eight mile run and headed out for our usual routine of a run followed by breakfast. For about the first six miles. Jeff easily jogged in front of me, keeping his pace to mine, and I cranked my Ipod and settled in for a long haul. Then, around mile seven, something happened. Not an injury, not a cramp, no wardrobe malfunctions or anything like that. I was just…. done.

I stopped, looked at Jeff, and said, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” It was a little hard to understand. I had been training for weeks. I had already registered for the race. I wasn’t hurt. I was tired and sore but perfectly capable of continuing on. I just didn’t want to. It wasn’t something I spent time deciding. I hadn’t weighed the pros and cons, I just knew. I knew it in my bones. I was done. Right then and there, several miles from home, standing in the middle of the sidewalk, it was as if my body and my spirit teamed up to make the choice without me- this is over. And that was that.

Even though I knew for certain I no longer wanted to train for a long race, it was sad to give up that particular goal. I realized I had really set my heart on having had run a half marathon. I wanted to be a ‘real runner’ and be acknowledged as such- I wanted to fit in in runner’s circles. I wanted to wear the Seattle Marathon t-shirt while running around Greenlake and nod in acknowledgement as I passed other runners wearing the identical bright yellow jersey. I wanted to put one of those cute little oval stickers on my car that simply read, “13.1.”

All of those things- the t-shirt, the sticker, the ‘real runner’ label, they were all status symbols, of course. And I wanted them, I really hungered for them at one point. And maybe it seems obvious that those things would never bring me true fulfillment. Like, duh Kristin, read a self-help book once in a while, it’s all in there. But for me it was a bit of a wake-up call. Running my little three-mile loop around Greenlake two or three times a week makes me happy. It makes me feel healthy, it gives me time to clear my head, it calms my anxiety, it gives me an excuse to buy a new cast album and dance all the way around the lake. And that, I realized, is all I need. It’s enough. And it’s good. Even if I can’t compare marathon stories or join hardcore running clubs. Even if it makes me a quitter. And so I did, I quit training.

My decision to pursue a PhD felt a little like deciding to run that half marathon. I love school, I love learning and studying and collaborating with fellow academics. I follow a lot of scholars on Twitter, I read the SCOTUS blog, I attend lectures on the UW campus. After returning to school to complete a long-unfinished bachelor’s degree and graduating in 2010, I was on such a high. I loved every minute of that degree. I wanted to continue on that path forever. I wanted to stay in school and live there for the rest of my life. Pursuing a career in academia seemed like the logical next step.

As most of you know, there were several things that barred me from taking that next step right away. I spent several years caring for and supporting ill family members. Besides the time commitment that I gave to them, it also took a mental and emotional toll. Still, I entered into academic conversations when and where I could. I researched various masters and PhD programs and fantasized about traveling the world to speak at conferences, and of wearing one of those cool, multi-colored Doctorate sashes over my robe on graduation day. Eventually I worked up to GRE prep courses and then took the test twice. I spent an entire year contacting old professors, writing and revising personal statements, and finally submitting applications to five different graduate schools.

It took a total of two solid years, but I did it. I got into a master’s program that I knew I could use as a stepping stone to get me into a PhD program. I worked hard my first quarter and succeeded- getting 4.0s across the board. I had one professor and one advisor believe in me so much that they both offered their free time to help me publish various things I was working on. I made a few friends and found new and exciting things to research. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t the program that I wanted to be in, but it was a start.

It was during this first quarter that another family member began suffering health problems. I considered leaving my graduate program when they were diagnosed. But I decided against it. Those dreams of being a ‘real scholar’ and wearing a cool “She wants the (Ph) D” t-shirt were real and powerful. Besides, I had spent the last five plus years working towards this. I had left a successful career in early learning behind (that I had no desire to return to). What else was I going to do?

My first quarter, a rousing success by academic standards, came and went. During my winter break I planned to be festive and celebratory and enjoy the holiday season. But instead, something happened that I didn’t expect. I was a wreck. I was so tired. And not a ‘I’ve worked hard and feel so accomplished’ tired. But a deep, sad kind of tired. I hardly pulled myself out of the house for two weeks. I didn’t even realize how I was feeling until three days before I was due to return to school for winter quarter. I started to cry, and I couldn’t stop. The day before school started again, my heart was heavy, and I felt so lost. I grabbed a bottle of wine and made Jeff drive me to one of our favorite beaches.

Sitting on a freezing cold rock overlooking the gorgeous Deception Pass, I peeled off my gloves just long enough to pour myself a glass of the bold Syrah that had been aging in our wine fridge for several years. I felt the deep purple warmth spread through my gut. I took a deep breath, looked at Jeff and said, “I think I’m done.”

Jeff nodded, took a sip of his own wine. He looked back at me and told me something I didn’t even realize I hadn’t seen, “You were miserable.”

He was right. I thought about how I had postponed ordering my winter textbooks until the last possible minute. I still hadn’t ordered my parking pass for the quarter, or transferred my loan money into my tuition account. All of those things I had done well in advance before my first quarter. Thinking about doing them this time actually make me sick to my stomach. I thought it was simple, ordinary stress. It wasn’t. My body and my spirit had teamed up again to make a decision, and was trying to tell me. I was done.

It wasn’t that I no longer loved research, studying and collaborating with academics. Like with running, I still wanted to do it. It still made me happy. But oh god, the striving was killing me. The constant hustle to meet the next deadline, to keep up my GPA, to find funding for the next quarter. I thought I was supposed to stick it out- that it was the sign of a strong, intelligent person to put my head down, work hard, and get through the sucky stuff to get where I wanted to go. We hear so much about ‘work ethic,’ and about people who ‘succeed’ against the odds. Giving up sleep, giving up security, giving up personal time and the little joys of life to meet a goal- that is a value that our culture holds dear.

Well, forget that. I’m done. I’m coming out today as a quitter. You can keep your ‘work ethic,’ I don’t want it. I want to cook meals for my family members when they are ill, and not have to rush home to finish a paper before midnight. I want to nurture my marriage. I want to play at the playground with my niece and nephews while they’re still little. I want to laugh with my friends over cocktails. I want to read trashy novels, drink wine on the beach, go to the theatre, travel to new places, and still be in bed by ten. And yes, I want to learn, to study, to collaborate with other thinkers who are making contributions to our communities. But, for now, I don’t want to do it in a marathon. I don’t want to do it just for the medal at the end. I want to do it in three mile increments- to do it because it makes me dance. To experience the joy in it again.

And so, I quit. I dropped out of school.

I know that some people will judge me for it. I know that some people won’t understand how I can be happy living in such a small house, wearing clothes from Goodwill, driving an old beat up car, and having no letters after my name. And it’s okay, they don’t have to understand. It’s not for them to understand. I trust that those of you who love me will accept me no matter what, and will not be disappointed with me for making this choice. I’m not certain what lies ahead for me. It won’t be easy forging a whole new path. But I know I made the right decision.

Arts Funding and Mid-Life Crises, aka My First Blog Post.

Big_River

I got some good advice recently. (No, it wasn’t, “Hey, you should start a blog!”) It was wise words from a friend about how I could change my approach to my seemingly never-ending job search. I know, I know, this is a theatre blog. Don’t worry, I’ll get there.

Perhaps a tiny bit of background is in order.

I’m in the throes of a mid-life crisis. Ok, maybe that’s a touch dramatic. I’m 38, and I’m trying to figure out what the heck I want to be when I grow up. Perhaps this is entirely normal. Or perhaps I’m flirting a little with lunacy. Or perhaps a bit of both in equal measure. But there you have it- I’m a woman in the midst of a life and career change, and it’s messy and uncertain and terrifying and thrilling.

So how did I get here? Let’s see:

I gave up a successful career as an early-learning professional and independent consultant.

I went back to school to study international law and human rights.

I took five years off to care for a family member.

Then, I went back to school again with the intention to pursue a PhD in political science. I dropped out after one quarter.

And finally- I decided to follow my lifelong passion for theatre and go into the performing arts professionally.

Questions? Yah, me too. Loads of them. But there’ll be plenty of time for that later. For now, back to my first ever blog post. Which is quickly going off the rails already. Where was I? Oh yes, the good advice.

A friend from the Seattle theatre community and I were enjoying our delicious Tom Douglas Tacos one afternoon, when I explained that I am struggling a bit with what types of jobs to pursue after my current, temporary gig ends. Most of my non-teaching experience is in development and events for non-profits, which I’ve done as a volunteer for several years. In January of this year, I got hired as the temporary Event Assistant at Village Theatre.

Working in arts funding is something that I take immense pride in. My connection to my current work home, Village Theatre, actually began when I was just twelve years old. My father came home one night humming the tunes of Big River, the musical he had just seen in their lovely little theatre space in Issaquah. It wasn’t long before he and I were circling the block in his old Honda Civic singing “Muddy Waters” at the top of our lungs while the Broadway cast album clicked away in the cassette player.* It was with great pride that twenty years later, when Big River returned to Village Theatre, I was able to buy two tickets- one for me, and one for my dad. Together, we sat in the shiny new Everett theatre, sang along to our old favorite songs, and I felt deeply grateful for the love of theatre that my father had passed on to me.

When I walked into the Village Theatre offices as the new Event Assistant this past January, I brought with me that memory of my father and I watching Big River together. Knowing that the funds I was helping to raise would create similar memories for our patrons informed my work and inspired me to see the potential in every donation.

That all sounds pretty good, right? Like, yes, I’m in the right place. And oh god how I love just being in the theatre everyday. Still, committing to a life comprised primarily of being seated at a desk eight hours a day… it gives me pause. My entire career in early learning was spent on my feet, interacting with families, students, and fellow teachers. I absolutely loved rolling up my sleeves to mix paint colors one minute, and then meeting with colleagues and parents to collaborate on creating an arts curriculum to fit this class’s unique interests the next. While paperwork was always a necessary evil, it never took up the majority of my daily routine. But now, in an administrative position, even in a place I love, I find myself mostly alone with a screen.

I’ve spent a lot of time hemming and hawing about this dilemma. Loving the organization and the outcomes of my work on one hand, and missing the collaboration, creativity, and variety of work that I crave on the other. I’ve thought about going into the production side of theatre. I absolutely love the idea of working behind the scenes, on props or casting or stage managing. I’ve tried my hand at house managing. I’ve considered internships, apprenticeships, freelancing, you name it. I’ve been bouncing around trying on as many hats as possible, hoping that one eventually fits perfectly. There are things that I love and value about each role I’ve tried,  including fundraising, an yet I haven’t quite landed anywhere long term. Adulting might be overrated at times, but having some certainty, some career path and possibility for a steady paycheck, are still things I’d like to have.

After hearing all of this, my friend gave me the following response (ok, maybe not exactly this, I’m paraphrasing in my own words):

Don’t look for a particular “job.” You don’t have to decide that you are absoeffinglutely committed to a long-term career in Development. Or Production. Or Seat-Filling. Or whatever. You have serious skills. You deserve to be somewhere that you love your work. Because god knows you’ll bring all your badassness to wherever you go. So start looking for an environment that you can be a part of that feeds you. When asked what kind of a job you’re looking for? Be honest. Say you’re looking for a role where you can have variety in your work. Where you can build relationships with your co-workers over coffee in the breakroom and meetings where you collaborate on projects. Where you can be part of a team, work with your hands as well as your brain, where you can have a healthy work/life balance, and be appreciated and supported. Go looking for that.

Everyone needs a friend like this. It is good advice, no? It makes sense to me. And certainly feels better than having to have everything all figured out right here and now. Truth be told, depending on the day, it feels entirely fabulous and full of possibilities- or- actually kind of unrealistic and impossible. Either way, I think it’s good advice and I’m gonna give it a try. Stay tuned!

 

*By the way, I totally cried while watching this performance before pinning it here. Just in case there was any doubt that I am, in fact, a total theatre nerd.