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...