Years ago, when I was still in college getting my B.A., I was in my apartment one afternoon between classes and caught a terrific interview with Julie Andrews on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” She was there with her daughter Emma promoting a series of children’s books they had begun writing together. At the time of the interview, it had only been a few years since the infamous attempt to surgically remove nodules from Andrews’ vocal cords left her beautiful singing voice damaged beyond repair. Even today, you can still detect a slight raspiness to her speech. What I recall specifically from the interview was the way in which Andrews spoke of her new writing venture with such glowing delight and excitement. She was so proud of the work she was doing, and you could tell that she loved it very much. It was inevitable, of course, that Oprah would eventually come to ask her if she missed singing, because God knows that we, the fans of that angelic, four-octave range of magic missed hearing it. When the question was finally asked, Ms. Andrews became very quiet indeed, but I don’t remember her becoming somber. After a brief, reflective pause, what she finally replied was ‘of course’ she missed singing, but that she also recognized that without that loss, she would never have discovered the joy of writing the children’s books with her daughter, or how good she turned out to be at it. As you may or may not know, Andrews went on to continue acting in film and animated roles, and even became a Dame for her contributions to the performing arts. But she also continued to write her children’s books, and just this past April she and her daughter launched a story podcast to keep children entertained during the pandemic. I confess that even I, with so much uncertainty and pain in the world right now, have found some comfort and solace listening to the voice of Mary Poppins tell me a story or two. You can check out Julie’s Library here. (I’m not crying, you’re crying!)
While the TV and film industry in the United States is taking steps to start up production again, none of us were prepared for work to stop as abruptly as it did, or for so long a period of time. I also have a deep ache in my heart for live theatre and music venues, many of which operate hand-to-mouth pandemic or not, who don’t foresee normal operation resuming before next year. My agency sent out an email a couple of weeks ago which basically said to all of their clients ‘Have hope. Everything will come back so be ready for it!’ (Thank you, About Artists – I’m grateful for you every day.) There have been moments these last few months where I’ve felt lost in an abyss of wondering if that’s true. But I’m happy to report that those moments are slowly becoming fewer and far between. And something that has helped is remembering that little cue from Dame Julie, encouraging me to try as best as I can to be open to new experiences and embrace what this hiatus has taught me about myself: Among other things, I’m quite good at growing plants, cooking banana bread, and making Bloody Mary’s (I mean really reeeally good Bloody Mary’s). I’ve developed a deep need to be outside as often as I can, and I’m not only looking more closely at my surroundings but appreciating how beautiful and charming they are (perhaps because I’m not whizzing by them at lightning speed). And I’ve also learned that acknowledging one’s vulnerability does not mean a lack of strength or resilience – it more often than not is strength and resilience. And it can make you more appreciative of the beautiful souls you have in your life who show up, via Zoom or 6 feet away, and say “Girl, me too!.”
We’re all in this together, and we will “get back to it.” But it will undoubtedly look quite different for a while. Personally, I will continue to take comfort recalling the resilience and adaptability of Ms. Andrews to carry me through, and how she seemed to maintain her glow through it all. Or if she did lose it for a while, she eventually found it again. And if the bulb or filter for any of us is a bit different than before, how much does that matter? Isn’t the important thing that we find our own way(s) to be happy and shine?
Whenever someone expresses to me their love of marathons and long distance running, I immediately envision every other thing on the planet that they could be doing with their time and wonder what could be wrong with their psyche that they prefer pain to beauty in their life. Running isn’t the best thing for you. Do it excessively, and the wear and tear on the body can be irreversible. (I’m thinking of my parents and the joint replacements that I will eventually inherit.) Nevertheless, I recently found myself inspired by a colleague and dear friend to use such potentially debilitating foolishness as a way to bump up my cardio.
I was interviewed recently for the NYC Theatre blog People You Should Know. And when I was asked to name some artists who have had a significant influence on my career, I found myself discussing the odd coincidence that the ones who have inspired me the most either had late starts or slower, steadier climbs up the ladder. “Fast is how it’s supposed to happen.” That’s what this industry and the world at large seem to try to communicate to us about success. Developing the stamina to run for more than 5 minutes was something that I thought I’d never be able to do, or at least assumed it would take me longer to build up to than most people. But did that mean I shouldn’t even try? Why did I decide to shoot for a 5K at this point in my life when I’ve always hated running and would rather chew glass?
To exercise patience, and to prove that I can.
The first ½ mile was definitely the hardest. “Oh my God, and I’ll have to do what I just did a total of more than six times? What the hell was I thinking? I’ll never reach that. Marathon runners can suck my--” but then I stopped myself… Everyone’s on their own journey and life’s not a competition blah blah blah yadda yadda yadda. If this is where I’m at in my life, there’s a lesson in this experience here and now that I’m supposed to learn. When I quit smoking, I remember two things that helped immensely with that process: being nicer to myself, and taking it one day at a time. Each day as I made my way to the gym, I told myself that I had to do at least a ½ mile (this is all with no walking breaks, BTDubs). Everything after that would be measured in increments of 0.05, which at the pace I run takes me roughly 38-40 seconds to do. I can run for another 38-40 seconds. That’s a hell of a lot easier than another minute, or 5 minutes, or 2 and a half miles! Breaking the goals down into smaller amounts meant that before I knew it, I had another ¼ mile on the meter, then ½ mile, then 1 mile! I found that if my brain focused on the big huge thing to achieve, it felt further out of reach. But .05 miles? That’s easy! Well, not easy. But more doable.
Imagine my surprise last week when I texted my friend, “2.2 miles! Less than 1 mile to go!” Would you look at that? And then today, as I powered on and on and began feeling lightheaded around 2.6, that’s when the 40 seconds trick really came in handy. “Less than a minute… I can do it. I don’t have to do it all today, but I can go for less than a minute more.”
When 3.1 appeared on the monitor, I thought about doing another 40 seconds, but decided I deserved a rest. Slowly, I decreased the machine belt to a walking pace and beamed from ear to ear. My immediate impulse was to text my friend. I did eventually, but first I took a quiet moment to savor the sweet feeling of pride. Think about it: when was the last time you remember being actually, genuinely proud of yourself? There I was cooling down, smiling like Clark Griswold at the end of Christmas Vacation and saying to myself, “<<sigh>> I did it.”
I have absolutely no desire to run a full marathon, or even a 10K. There are too many books to read, shoes to buy, spa days to be had, etc. But I confess, I did discover a bit of serenity listening to 90’s music and watching “Teen Mom 2” as I channeled Jesse Owens for a little while. I also did a thing that I once thought I could not do. And that’s pretty awesome.
The hit-you-over-the-head moral of the story?
No matter what you might be running towards, focusing on the finish line can be overwhelming, perhaps even discouraging, and slow you down more than you realize. But 0.05? Less than a minute more? That’s how the race gets run -- one small victory lap at a time.
On September 16th, I begin a nine-day intensive training workshop with the marvelous Shakespeare & Company, and I am delighted to find myself anxious and giddy like a kid before the first day of school. It will have been five years since I’ve had my butt kicked like this in class (longer, if you consider that my last year of graduate school was more of an apprenticeship than classwork).
I. Cannot. Wait! :)
I’ve always loved the work that Shake & Co. does as well as the people I’ve been lucky enough to meet there. And I’m excited to play and learn from the likes of artists that one friend and colleage refers to as “the dream team” (Tina Packer, who I got to see do her marvelous Women of Will this season, Dennis Krausnick, and Dave Demke). I’m also very much looking forward to breaking a sweat and connecting with a new group of artists in my classmates as well. The schedule is going to be intense (although to be fair, it’s not advertised as the ‘NYC Shakespeare Spa Vay-Cay’). To sum up, for the next 9 days, if I’m not studying Shakespeare, I will be working. And if I’m not working… I will be sleeping. It’s going to be a test of discipline and time management, which are things I’ve always handled fairly well. And it’s also going to be a test of focus and energy, which are things that, like most people, I occasionally waste on things that perhaps I shouldn’t.
So, with the exception of the infrequent Instagram post as I do love me some photography, I am signing off from all social media. Over and above the incredible work that my agency does on my behalf, I always pound the pavement to network and get my own auditions as well. But this week, I leave all scheduling in their hands. Healthy food, as much sleep as possible… for the next nine days, consider me a hermit of my own artistry. ;)
With the same perfect skin and piercing eyes, obviously… some things even I am powerless to change.
When Bette Midler was bringing her “Divine Intervention” tour to Madison Square Garden a couple of years ago, I was elated at the idea that I was finally going to see my first event ever at the world famous venue (even though I’d obviously seen her in concert many times before). Imagine my Bette-worshipping face, illegally using the office computer at my then dayjob, every atom jittery with anticipation, online with credit card out and ready to purchase at 9:59am. At 10am on the dot, I clicked the mouse on what I felt was mine already by divine right, and read “Tickets Unavailable.” Wait, what? They’ve been on sale for two seconds, how is that even possible? After several failed attempts, I finally started browsing around the interweb on some of the better-known RE-sale sites, and lo and behold, there they were: my tickets, and so many others, available for purchase for double - in some cases triple - the price.
I was devastated.
I was also, as usual, not to be beaten. Upon looking over Ms. Midler’s entire tour schedule and doing a bit of research, I was able to not only see her in concert once again, but I used it as an opportunity to visit someplace new. So a few weeks prior to her show at the Garden, where I would have had to sell my eggs to afford nosebleeds, there I was…. second row up from ground level, seeing my longtime hero entertain and inspire thousands in the heart of New Orleans. It was incredible, AND meant to be.
So it’s no surprise to me, then, that the same situation is happening right now with the new limited Broadway run of Hello Dolly. I was on StubHub just the other day and saw one performance listed with tickets starting at over $800. Cool! That’s more than my parents’ mortgages. One particular Wednesday evening show boasted that it had 499 seats available. Really? 499? That’s like, what… almost half the theatre? I swung by the box office a couple of weeks ago and learned that they do have standing room available for $50. Not bad. I’ve seen a couple of hard-to-get-into shows that way, and it’s tolerable. Although most SR tickets in the city average out closer to the $35 range. But that’s not my biggest dilemma…
As far as musicals go, I don’t particularly care for Hello Dolly. And if memory serves, there is a significant portion of that show that “Dolly” is not in. So each time I’ve contemplated waking up before dawn and heading to the theatre to wait in line, for the first time in my life as far as Bette is concerned, I find myself questioning whether or not it’s worth it. And it’s kind of breaking my heart.
But there’s a very special reason that I am, as of right now, still considering it.
At the time I saw “Divine Intervention,” Bette was just shy of her 70th birthday. There she was, for two hours and twenty minutes with no intermission, singing and dancing and changing costumes and telling jokes with more energy and vitality than most people half her age could only dream of. She really was a marvel to behold, and I thought ‘Where does she get it? Where in the world does all of that energy come from?’ And by curtain call, I realized…. It’s because it’s still fun for her. After all these years, she’s still having the time of her life. And isn’t that the point? With everything this business puts you through, if it’s not fun, then what. Is the GD. Point?
Bette reminds me to check in with myself once in a while and ask, ‘Are you having fun?’ She reminds me of a little girl in a small Ohio bedroom with pink carpeting and unicorn wall paper who used to dress up and sing along to cassette tapes with a smile beaming from ear to ear. Who ingrained in herself the timing of the Sophie Tucker jokes, even though their vulgarity escaped her at the mere age of nine. The same little girl who hid a VHS copy of the “The Rose” in the bottom drawer of her dresser because she knew her parents would say that she was way too young to watch it. (And how lucky those parents were that THAT was their daughter’s wicked idea of rebelling instead of drugs or teen pregnancy.)
So, with Bette in town for the season, I decided that 2017 would be the summer of fun, both professionally and personally. It will involve singing more and taking new types of lessons and classes and writing and day trips and practicing the piano and workouts that involve dancing. It’ll be re-focusing on what I want the work to be, not what I think it should be. And with a vocation that often involves balancing six pots on a four-burner stove, I think I’m not alone when I say that every once in a while, I sometimes find myself too caught up in the latter.
As the divine one says, "Cherish forever what makes you unique. 'Cuz you're really a yawn if it goes."
Who knows… maybe in the coming weeks I will wake up one morning and rush to camp outside the Shubert Theatre for a couple of hours. We’ll see. But there’s one thing I can say for certain; thanks to Bette, I know that whatever I decide to do, I’ll be having a marvelous time.
** July 19th Addendum: Turned out I couldn't stay away. Pics from my first StubHub splurge below. What an incredible revival, and Bette inspired with every note and gesture.
Question: Is it normal to shed a tear or two of joy after the big "Hello, Dolly" musical number? I'm, uh... I'm asking for a friend.
Like manna from heaven, several projects have hit the airwaves and graced the rialto as of late featuring some incredibly strong female performances. In what can sometimes feel like crawling through a desert wasteland searching for a good role, not only to play but to watch, I was recently planning a night of theatre with friends and having to choose between The Little Foxes, War Paint, or A Doll’s House Part 2. At home later that week, I pondered ‘Ok, now that I’m all caught up on “Feud: Bette and Joan”, is the new “The Handmaid’s Tale” out yet?’ All of that, AND Edie Falco’s on her way back to TV for a hot second. (#PrayerWorks) How marvelous to see so many female driven stories enjoying such critical and commercial success. It’s not only seeing great work being done by actors I admire that inspires me. Many of these stories being told about women right now seem to have a common underlying theme connecting them. It was recognizing that theme which helped me to make a decision regarding the marvelous idea I had for my birthday this year.
As someone obsessed with Bette Davis and Jessica Lange (and on most occasions Susan Sarandon), friends will attest that I was anxiously awaiting “Feud” for almost a year. Nothing about the real life history of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford conveyed in the miniseries was new to me, nor did I find the dramatic licenses the writers took in telling the story terribly irksome. What I truly loved was the portrait Ryan Murphy painted of those two women at that stage of their lives and careers. It made one contemplate how much stronger they would have been as allies instead of enemies. I was even more enamored of the vulnerability that Lange and Sarandon brought to Crawford and Davis respectively. Lange described the series as an exploration of “ageism and sexism, and how you either survive it or you don’t.” By the time the series ended, not just actresses but many women I spoke to had enjoyed it very much. They also found themselves disappointed over how little seems to have changed since then.
Another ‘stronger together’ story I enjoyed recently was War Paint on Broadway. My weird reaction to War Paint was that I remember leaving the theatre thinking ‘Ok, I had a lovely time. But on paper alone, it really isn't that good of a show.’ And YET, there I was in the days that followed spying back on more and more moments that I enjoyed and parallels that were making me think about the bigger picture of then vs. now. Patti Lupone and Christine Ebersole portrayed Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden, both of whom built cosmetic empires at the same time in the United States and went through a lot of the same struggles; discrimination, troubled marriages, heartbreak with their children (or lack thereof). They made attempts to tear each other down and almost destroyed themselves in the process. Like “Feud,” this production also asked the question, ‘How much stronger would they have been had they worked together?’ And again, audience members I’ve talked to experienced disappointment and frustration over how real and present those struggles and prejudices still are for women since the “accomplishments” of those two very incredible pioneers.
Throw Hulu's new adaptation of “The Handmaid’s Tale” into the mix, a speculative fiction depicting a dramatic and menacing takeover by ultraconservatives, and you might just flat out get pissed… and nauseous… and scared at the few moments in the miniseries that seem to be not too far off from our current reality. (Author Margaret Atwood originally published The Handmaid’s Tale in 1986, btdubs.)
So there I was at the beginning of my birthday month wide-eyed at some amazingly talented women (The Little Foxes is also a must-see) with two words at the forefront of my brain: ‘stronger together.’ The idea I had for my birthday was to take advantage of my artist-gypsy lifestyle and put it to some good use. Even living in the same city, scheduling a simple cup of coffee with one person can be difficult. And there are lots of us who have lived and worked in many different places with many different people from around the country and across the globe. I began to theorize how many people that I’ve crossed paths with would be willing to buy me a drink for my birthday if time and distance were not an issue. Assuming that I had charmed a significant number of people in my brief time on the planet, I picked a charity and sent out an S.O.S.: “I’m forgoing an actual party this year. Send my cocktail money to Planned Parenthood!”
It was hard picking just one charity. But the stories I’ve seen recently combined with what’s going on in the world today moved my heart in the direction of Planned Parenthood. PP has been there for me in the past with free exams and free birth control. They warned a dear friend of mine that she was at a higher risk for ovarian cancer making her able to be more on top of that than had she remained unaware. There are so many other women I know personally who have benefitted from PP; I could go on and on. And if certain members of my government want to tell me that getting raped or bringing a human into the world is a “pre-existing condition,” then I feel we have one of two options. 1) We Lysistrata anyone moronic enough to believe this. Or 2) We stand together. We #StandWithPP
My birthday isn’t quite here yet, but already I’ve raised over $1,000! Actually at the time I write this, the dollar amount is the same as Norma Desmond’s address in “Sunset Blvd.”, for anyone who’s a movie nerd like me. I’m overwhelmed by the people near and far who have contributed so eagerly. This birthday fundraiser has taught me two wonderful, heartwarming truths - that I’m blessed with the people I’ve met on my journey thus far, and that there really is more good in the world than bad. I’m posting my link below. When your birthday rolls around, be sure and let me know where to send your drink to.
There are a lot of funny memes surfing the internet as of late in regards to “Me at the beginning of 2016 vs. Me at the end of 2016.” You get the sense that people are not only referring to their own personal lives but commenting on the state of the country in general, the implication being that 2016 is not going to go down in the books as a super awesome year overall. As I do my own end-of-the-year assessment, I'm discovering that my 2016 is actually ending on a pretty wonderful note, even though it started off in a much darker and more desolate place and it took quite a bit of strength and effort to turn it around. And I'm overwhelmed with an immense amount of gratitude.
At a time when the tide was just starting to turn, I found myself walking through Central Park one late afternoon with a dear friend of mine; a brilliant soprano who was yapping away one of her marvelous conspiracy theories in my ear. I had just seen The Taming of the Shrew at Shakespeare in the Park a couple of days prior to this, and where she and I were walking just happened to be in the vicinity of the Delacorte Theatre. Suddenly, I noticed two women walking up the path in our direction. Recognizing the blonde bob of the woman on the left, it occurred to me: ‘Oh my God. That’s…. I think that’s Phyllida Lloyd.’ (She directed Shrew as well as countless other productions that have made me inspired and excited to do what I do!) As our two parties passed each other (in what seemed like slow motion), I felt my breath stop as I listened closely for the accent so that I could be absolutely certain that it was her. And sure enough, I realized ‘Yes. Yes! It is, it’s totally her!’ I felt my heart and artistic soul start to dance being so close to greatness! But then… I choked. And when my friend saw me frozen in time as they walked away, she asked me what was wrong. To which I whispered, “That’s one of my favorite directors on the planet right now.” “Well go talk to her!” she exclaimed. “No,” I said, “the show is still in previews and they’re probably talking shop. I don’t want to interrupt. Let’s go. Let’s just go.” So, we continued on, but by the time we were outside of the park, I sat down on a bench and just started to sob. When my friend tried to console me, I said “I’m chicken sh**! This is what’s wrong with my life! I don’t speak up, I don’t grab opportunities with enough gusto. I’m just, I suck!” Yeah…. I was having a little bit of a moment. The soprano talked me through it and I calmed down, and eventually we marched on. And as someone who tries to make it a habit of searching for the positive, I thought ‘Ok, well… what have I learned from this moment? What I’ve learned is how deep the pain of regret feels when I suppress such a deep desire to speak up; when I don’t grab an opportunity or don’t share with someone who inspires me so much that I’m grateful for them. So, next time, no matter how afraid I am of sounding like a wide-eyed doofus, I will speak up.'
Eventually, 2016 afforded me with a new agent, a new apartment, new friends, and new freelance work opportunities. It also saw some exciting acting gigs and a play almost two years in the making that is finally near completion. None of it happened quickly, and none of it happened without breaking a sweat (or, as you’ve just read, shedding a few tears).
What it also afforded me was a marvelous trip to England the first week of December. Among my many adventures across the pond, the heart of the trip was seeing the Shakespeare Trilogy at the Donmar’s new theatre near King’s Cross. It was a day full of 3 plays that starred Harriet Walter and a marvelous ensemble, and all directed by the wonderful Ms. Phyllida Lloyd. After having spent time with Ms. Walter on the Sonnet film last year, I decided to send her a thank you note backstage along with a copy of the piece I wrote in regards to that day; again, seizing an opportunity to share with someone that they inspired me, they helped, they made a difference. Low and behold… in between the first and second shows Ms. Walter sent me an email thanking me for what I had written and insisted that I not run off (as I said I had planned to do as her day would be long), but she asked instead that I meet her in the bar after the show. Well, ok Harriet Walter, I will do that. As I people-watched in the lobby waiting for the Dame to change, my eyes eventually made their way over to the bar AND… would you look at that; there was Phyllida Lloyd, almost six months to the day after I choked in the park. Inspired by the amazing work I’d just seen and recognizing the rarity of being given a second chance like that, I refused to let the opportunity slip away again. Doofus or not, I trotted on over and tapped her on the shoulder. “Ms. Lloyd?” She turned and smiled, perhaps a little surprised at being recognized. “I have to tell you… you and I passed each other in Central Park several months ago, and I have regretted ever since not telling you that I think your work is amazing. So… you’re amazing! Ha. And thank you for today. It was so inspiring and incredible.” She giggled and said “Oh my goodness, that is amazing. And thank you so much! I’m so thrilled you enjoyed it.” “I did, thank you. Have a wonderful evening.” “Thank you. You as well.” That was it! That was all I wanted. Redemption achieved. #micdrop
Harriet Walter has a lovely quote at the end of Other People’s Shoes where she differentiates between this idea of faith vs. wishful thinking. “Wishful thinking,” she says, “is of no use to anyone, but faith can make a difference. At any rate, we may as well act as if it might, just in case it does.” It was that time with her on Pomander Walk last year when I started to find my sense of faith and trust again, and which gave me the strength to jumpstart a new beginning which has brought me so many things that I’m grateful for. And my redemption with Ms. Lloyd at King’s Cross has confirmed my belief that nothing is ever your last chance; it only becomes that when you decide to stop taking chances.
Thank you to these ladies. And thank you to everyone who made 2016 a year that I will forever be grateful for.
Picture this scene in your head for a moment… You’re going about a normal Sunday morn. You’re enjoying breakfast, contemplating how to make the day productive, thanking stars above that the pre-school next door is closed for the day so no screaming critters are disrupting your zen. As your sip your beautiful java with breeze and trees outside your Brooklyn window, you see that an email has arrived with a very rare and surprising invitation: “Would you by chance be available to hang out with one of your biggest heroes for the day?”
This happened. To me.
In my three and a half years in New York, I’ve had the fortune of working several times with New York Shakespeare Exchange. The relationships that I’ve formed there are ones that I hold very near and dear to my heart. And it is well known to a few members of the clan that I am a great admirer of one Ms. Harriet Walter. Sorry…. now Dame Harriet Walter (though she might cringe slightly with cool embarrassment at the correction). To give you a better idea, NYSE Associate Artistic Director Cristina Lundy referred to Henry IV at St. Ann’s Warehouse (in which Ms. Walter appeared) as my “Walterpalooza.” While I applaud my friend’s clever play on words, I must say that I find labels to be immature. Even if my iPhone screen in the weeks that led up to our attendance may have been this…
The situation was that despite her busy schedule, Ms. Walter agreed to shoot a short film for the Sonnet Project the weekend Henry IV closed, and I was brought on board as Associate Producer. At the prospect of meeting a hero, everyone hopes for virtually the same thing: That you’ll be cool and controlled, that you won't stutter like an idiot or say anything which would indicate you’re actually an imbecile in business-casual clothing. Upon seeing pictures from the day posted on social media, several friends and colleagues commented immediately, “Did Ruttle Die?” “Ruttle, are you still with us?” I’m proud to say that Ruttle was a little more quiet than usual, but proved to be calm and quite useful on set. Nothing asinine came out of my mouth, and watching Ms. Walter work and hearing her stories made it quite a magical day.
In addition to the numerous performances that give reason to the deep admiration and respect I feel towards Harriet Walter (I’ll never forget her “Kill Claudio” in Much Ado at the Royal Shakespeare Company… every sphincter in the audience puckered in dismay), I have also read both of her books and listened to her interviewed a number of times. And I’ve always found her to be so… well, for lack of a better word, cool. In Other People’s Shoes, she’s as quick to delve into her unique insight regarding Hedda Gabler research as she is to share the story of when she accidentally got drunk while shooting a French film. She explains how to maneuver your way through dealing with a difficult director, but acknowledges at the same time that what we as actors need and desire from a director is practically undeliverable. Here’s this marvelous mountain of talent, and yet one feels that they could share a lovely unpretentious cup of coffee with her. It’s as though she’s mastered the fine balance of taking the work seriously but not herself. What incredible wisdom and energy to aspire to.
So… why now? Why the random gift of Harriet Walter falling into my lap right now? One lesson from the day was the reminder of how energy can be infectious. Upon my arrival, there was this beautiful spread of food and drink, and one of the director’s friends kept insisting, eventually with ferocity, that I partake. It got to the point where I wanted to grab this lovely woman and yell, 'That is Harriet…. WAL-ter in that chair. I can barely breathe right now, and you think I’m going to digest some smoked FISH?! You’re out of you’re mind!' But Harriet was kind, calm, friendly, and lovely… answering questions about Henry IV, sharing the story of accidentally getting lost in the Bronx a couple of weeks prior. And because of this warm energy, my breathing regulated within a surprisingly short period of time. Something else I remembered during that day was the fact that she’s always been very open in her books and interviews in regards to what is referred to as her “slow burn” or “circuitous route up the ladder.” As I find myself in the middle of transitioning from the stallion out of the gate post graduate school and settling into a steadier climb up my own ladder, I will be honest and say that I find myself momentarily overwhelmed and worried at times for what I know in years to come will be little reason, yet the reasons can feel quite big in the here-and-now. But Harriet mentioned that day, in regards to her own professional journey, how long she'd been doing Shakespeare, and it made me realize something that I hadn’t really thought of before... Upon doing the math, I deduced that her more mainstream work on stage and screen really only started to take off when she was about my age, even a year or two older. And yet she doesn’t strike me as someone who ever worried whether or not a break would ever come. She just trusted that it would, did her work, and kept going. And what a cannon of work it's turned out to be. I met a French lady on the streets of New York a few months ago who was telling me of her new apartment that she'd just moved into in Brooklyn. Her favorite thing about it was the tree in the front yard. “I love trees,” she said. “They remind me of something beautiful. Well, first of all, they are beautiful. And, meh…. they’re in no rush. But they do grow.”
What I ultimately gained from the paths of Harriet Walter and I intersecting at that moment in time, she at her end of the spectrum and me at mine, was a cosmic pat on the shoulder reminding me that she, this artist and this person that I admire so very much, had a slow burn… and things turned out pretty ok for her. And even though I may get frustrated at times that I will probably be a slow burn myself, I should trust that things will be ok for me too. My Music for the Prose colleague and dear friend Daniela said to me at one point, “You’re going to be on set one day with someone looking up to you like that.” And I said “And I will be as kind and generous to them as Ms. Walter was to me.” Just keep going, Ruttle, and don’t worry. Play it cool… like Dame Harriet.
Last weekend, I had the honor and the privilege of being invited to perform at Cleveland Play House's Centennial Celebration; a.k.a., to be a part of history. This marked my first trip back to the land of Cleve since completing my M.F.A. at the playhouse three and a half years ago; a short time, to be sure, and yet in many ways it seems like a lifetime ago. I was thrilled at the chance to play on those lovely stages with those lovely people again, but I couldn't help but be a little curious as to what it was going to feel like returning to my training ground for the first time since my departure. Except , no doubt, that I would be told by all how I haven't aged a day. :)
As part of the celebration, I was brought back to perform as part of New York Shakespeare Exchange's ShakesBEER troupe as well as three of the Centennial Plays, the latter being a series of nine plays developed by CPH's Playwright's Unit commemorating various aspects of the theatre's history. In addition to Centennial obligations, I also participated in a Corporeal Mime class with some of the first year M.F.A.'s. Who would've imagined me dancing with delight to revisit the gondolier and tasting the pain of Martha Graham leg lifts? ("Don't bring that knee in too far, Ruttle!" <<whip!!>>) Despite not having a lot of time to wine and dine, I enjoyed the opportunity for CPH and I to see how one another has grown during our time apart, and to form and rekindle relationships that I hold very near and dear to my heart.
Grad school pushes you to the brink, man, and it can and will momentarily turn you into what the Brits refer to as a "nutter." It's no wonder though; you've voluntarily placed yourself in a three year vacuum. It's fourteen hours a day in the same space with the same people, and many aspects of your life outside of that vacuum go on hold. You choose this asylum because you want to fine-tune your instrument, to take your career to the next level, to "be better." I became a better actor at CPH, most definitely. And taking what I learned, settling into life in New York, I've managed to find a confidence and a peace (especially within the last year) that I didn't have as the student desperate to please. Those around me in Cleveland last week who knew me back then said that they could see the change, the more settled Kelli. And while my roles that week involved much running around from venue to venue, I also recognized a sense of feeling grounded that I don't think I had when I was there before.
Here's another interesting observation...
I felt just as much love last week, if not more, coming at me from all of those warm faces I was returning to as I did when last we met. And yet when many of them knew me merely a few years before, they knew "Grad School Kelli" - slightly out of tune, moments of neurosis, over-anxious about the future, and too concerned with what other people thought. But still, then just as now, love. As I packed and said my goodbyes, I pondered: 'What is that?' I asked myself. 'Is there even a word for it? What do you call a group of people who support you through change, who cheer you whether you're near or far, who love you before and after you've become a better you?' As the wheels of the plane sped and lifted off from the Cleveland runway, the word came to me...
Family. That's a family.
In New York, I've made it a yearly ritual to take photographs of the Fall leaves in Prospect Park. They're changing a little more slowly this year, and because of all of my travel this season, I was only able to make it to the park early in the transition, when the leaves had just begun to change. At first, I was disappointed... 'The pictures won't be as good with only small hints of color. There's still too much green!' I thought. But I went for a morning walk one day and took the pictures anyway. And with new perspective, I found a beauty in the beginning. It was early in the state of change, and it was definitely a different sort of beauty. But what I saw was that with mere hints of orange and yellow and red mixed in with the green, there was a marvelous sense of anticipation. Even only partially transitioned, the trees were still beautiful. They were still worth seeing. Thank you to my Cleveland family for recognizing this concept before I did, and for always embracing me and making me feel loved both before and after I reached a deeper hue.
Until next time...
I am a firm believer in the necessity of “Should-less Days.” Should-less days are free days in which nothing you do is allowed to start with the words “I should.” I should get my laundry done. I should email so-and-so. I should clean out the closet in the back room. On Should-less Day, you are only allowed to do things that you want to do; trying that new taco place, eating froyo for breakfast, going to the Met because it’s been ages since you’ve seen it. Taking these days is necessary because they force us to hit "pause" on the continuous drive, force, and push towards our goals and create a calm and an ease that opens us up for the good things we’ve been working towards to come naturally to us. Something else these days can do in the stillness that they create is teach us one or two valuable lessons that we may have been needing to hear. Case in point…
This past Should-less day was an excursion to Kykuit, the Rockerfeller estate in Tarrytown, with my friend JB. I took the train up enjoying the grand view of the Hudson and Palisades, and she drove over from across the water to meet me. No spa day for us; we nerded it up for a historical landmark J We got there with enough time for an hour’s worth of catch-up and coffee before getting on the bus to head up the hill. Less than five minutes before the bus was supposed to arrive, JB’s husband called to say he needed her car because his was dead and he was going to be late for a show he was performing in at the Fringe that afternoon. “Of course, I’m on my way!” When she got off the phone, we had a brief moment of Oh crap, but what about Should-less day? “You should still take the tour. You go ahead, I feel bad.” she said. (She used the word should. Faux pas!) “Well yeah, I want to do the tour, but the point was to see it together.” We went back and forth like this for a bit, knowing that there was very little time to be going back and forth because she had to leave. Finally the image popped into my head of me up at an estate with a bunch of people I didn’t know and JB stranded at her house by herself - - no girl talk, no shared adventure, no recap over a great meal afterwards. “You know what,” I said, “let's stick together and just figure something else out.”
Before we were back over the bridge, Plan B was in place – “Trainwreck” and our favorite Italian place in the city. #boom It wasn’t Rockerfeller, but there would be laughter and wine. We were content.
Upon arrival, the hubs had discovered within the last 60 seconds that his car was, in fact, drivable and suggested that we go back to take the tour. We were officially in a farce. After a brief contemplation, JB turned to me and asked “Do you think we can make it?” We had 35 mintues until the last tour of the day. I said “You drive, and I’ll call to switch our tickets.” (No refunds or exchanges policy, you say? Pardon me while I whip out a little Ruttle Charm, upstate New York.) The tickets got switched, we made it in time to use the poddy, and had an absolutely marvelous time.
I’m in the habit of asking myself now, What, if anything, am I supposed to be learning from this moment? I find it eases worry, disappointment, and stress in general if I believe that I’m in the right place at the right time and everything happens at the right moment and with good reason. So, why the hiccup with the husband’s car? Especially if we wound up doing the tour anyway! What lesson(s) could be taken away from that experience? And here’s what I came up with…
1) When a hiccup happens, and you have the choice between going it alone or sticking together, stick together.
2) Try not to be bummed for too long. Maybe Plan B was what you were supposed to be doing anyway. And it can be just as fun.
3) Sometimes hiccups are what they are – very brief, and not as serious as you originally thought.
And now the big one!.....
4) There may be a moment or period of time where you think that something you’ve been looking forward to isn’t going to happen. But when/if the opportunity presents itself again, and you’ve managed to remain positive and open, you can work with the society around you to make what you’ve been looking forward to happen afterall.
Thank goodness for Should-less Day J
Someone was unkind to me today.
It happens. Whether it’s a stranger on the street, a family member, a friend… people are sometimes not very nice to one another. A bad day may make one irritable, insecurity can serve as the root for the criticism of others. Instead of letting this moment roll right off my shoulders, I allowed the energy to penetrate my calm exterior shell and burrow its way down into my chest, my stomach, my inner chakras in all their radiating colors. I couldn’t wait to get home and meditate the negativity away with “The Honest Guys” and Tension Tamer Tea (or “30 Rock” reruns… also very good for the soul). But as it goes in NY sometimes, the cherry on the cake of a rough moment was that trains were a mess, and I probably could have made it back to my Borough faster by camel.
I found a seat after my 14th train switch next to an elderly couple who didn’t speak a word of English. It wasn’t until after I sat down that I noticed the woman seemed a little agitated; her husband quiet, just along for the ride. Actually, she irritated me slightly when I got on the car because she was using the space next to her as a seat for her purse. (#BadNewYorker) But she moved it quickly when I asked politely to sit down. Eventually she began asking me frantic questions in whatever language was theirs about ‘Avenue N! Avenue N!’ Avenue N, I thought. Where the hell is that? So I got out my HopStop app and realized that not only were they on the completely wrong train, but getting them headed in the right direction involved several steps and more English than they seemed capable of.
I decided to write out the directions on a sheet of paper and attempted to indicate on a transit map what it all meant. The woman pretended (badly) to understand. I thought Well, if they get confused on one of the platforms they can just show the sheet to someone else and that person can direct them where they need to go. One of their transitions was coming up, which also meant that I was a mere 2 stops away from my tea and relief. I went to take one final look at this tiny woman as she gripped tightly to the paper I’d given her – white hair, furrowed brow, a husband who spoke less English than she did – and I suddenly found myself spying back on my negative experience from earlier that afternoon. In an instant, the idea of leaving them broke my heart. Yes, I was exhausted, yes I’d had to pee since Midtown, YES I had just been treated like shiitake by someone… But I just couldn’t leave them. How could I bank on another stranger to willingly direct this poor, elderly couple in a foreign land where they needed to go when my day had just reminded me that even someone you know will sometimes just as soon pee on you as look at you. The train they needed happened to be a train that I sometimes take to get home, so when the car doors opened, I ushered them to follow me and we all got out together. In the hustle and bustle of this busy terminal, the poor woman was trying to extract any last bits of information she might try to decipher from me, as if some new inflection of the word “R Train” might make us suddenly fluent in each other’s language. Finally, I pointed to me, then I pointed to her, then I put my hand on her shoulder, and making the walking gesture with my two fingers told her, ‘It’s ok, we’ll go together.’ And the sigh of relief and the look of gratitude that came over this woman’s being was enough to melt my heart in the maddening crowd.
During our train hopping and platform switching, I managed to figure out through our great language barrier that they were from Poland visiting family (Bialystok, to be specific… I pulled up a map on my phone once we were above ground). After some successful and failed attempts at small talk, we were finally on the right train, and the faces of both husband and wife lit up when they saw ‘Avenue N’ glowing in tiny red lights on the subway marquee. She asked for my phone number and I gave her my card. Later that evening, her brother called me. “Miss Kelli. Tank you so so very much. The people you helped today are ok. They are with me now.” I expressed how grateful I was that he called and that I felt so much better knowing they found him and had arrived safe and sound.
It can be easy to dismiss people when you're feeling down. Hey, let it be someone else’s problem, someone less tired and over it. And I must confess, for a split second I was headed down that path. Then I thought of the continuing domino effect of unkindness and became more sad at the thought of letting it continue instead of decreeing that the energy would stop with me. At the end of “Philomena”, Judi Dench’s character forgives someone who’s wronged her for several years and her friend says “What, just like that?” And her response is a shocked “No! Not ‘just like that.’ That was really hard. But I can’t go on being angry and bitter. Like you.” I guess I got a little Ricky Gervais in “Derek” today also… “I just know that when I’m good, I feel good. Kindness is magic.” It’s a seemingly simple idea, and yet if it were simple, more people would do it I suppose. Maybe the need to help these people came from the desire to prove that No, people are still good by nature. There is still kindness and it can be dominant when we choose it to be and by the power of Gray Skull, I WILL NOT BE BEATEN!!! It wasn’t the cure for cancer, but it felt like a small victory. Perhaps one can view the effort of turning negative energy into kindness the same way as starting a work-out routine; it’s really difficult at first, but once you get into the habit, it gets much easier and you don’t feel right or you miss it if you skip a day. Little dominoes first, I guess. But what I can see is that the light at the end of this tunnel appears much brighter than the one before I switched trains.