On Dying, an Actor’s Obituary

I’ve hesitated writing this blog post because 1. it’s going to probably seem melodramatic to anyone who doesn’t quite understand from where I’m coming and 2. it feels like too much of a low point for even this blog, despite it being entirely about low points. I mean, I write about the silly, dumb stuff that happens to me in my life that isn’t life alteringly bad, so when I get serious things get awkward. #amirite

A part of me died this month. [Again, this is not for the faint of heart when it comes to what could be classified by misunderstanders as melodrama.] And it hurt, and it was surprising, and I’ll be totally honest right now, I miss it because it had been a really integral part of what made me who I am.

So here’s the backstory. I started out my life a piano playing kid, and I had this dream to not become a concert pianist but to land a job playing the piano in Nordstrom (I kid you not. That was literally a dream I had.) for the rest of my life and be really happy playing flowery music for shoppers. I think I probably also figured I could buy stuff there as well, so it seemed like a real plus. Piano, department store, cafe. I could live there.

When I was in eighth grade, my mother and I saw a local high school’s production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It wasn’t the first time I’d ever seen a show (or even that one — we were big theatre goers when I was younger), but for some reason that particular production really spoke to me. The lead, who was a high school drama prodigy (and is now a Broadway star/national touring co. Elder Price in “The Book of Mormon”), also choreographed the show, and they had the dance team in the ensemble, and … it was spectacular. (It wasn’t really, but it felt like it.) We left church early one Sunday to catch the matinee, which meant we saw all six performances that week, along with purchasing a video recording of it. We liked it that much. And something happened. I’m not sure if it was because I was an Asian kid trying to live the dream, realizing there aren’t a lot of Asian roles in musical theatre, or if it was the music (I mean, haters gonna hate, but that music is just catchy, and don’t even get me started on the megamix), but I knew the role of Narrator would be mine someday.

If Diana DeGarmo could do it, then darnit so could I.

If Diana DeGarmo could do it, then darnit so could I.

So I quit piano lessons. I began voice lessons, took Drama in high school, threw myself into the theatre world the best I could, and even signed up for some dance classes. I was going to be on Broadway, and I was going to be the Narrator, and it was going to be the best life I could imagine.

But, you know, stuff happens, and plans change, and I found myself entrenched in the choir department for the remainder of high school and the first half of college before switching majors to American Studies, which really means “eternal secretary with big dreams and a side of disenchantment.”

That’s the backstory.

When I got married, I became really blessed. I mean, that’s kind of an obvious statement because unless you’re in a loveless, destined for divorce type marriage, you’re blessed, and that’s just the way it is. But I was blessed with a remarkably understanding spouse who knew I wasn’t happy filing and collating all day long, and one day he came home from work and told me I could quit my job and pursue my love of acting for as long as I wanted. That’s the short version, anyhow. And I did. I quit my job, and I auditioned for shows, and I got cast in some of them, and I built up my resume and continued voice lessons and threw myself back into the world of theatre and got new headshots every time I changed my hair, and it was really exciting. Rejection happened, it hurt, but I moved on, and I knew things would turn out okay in the end.

But then my makeup artistry job started to not really pan out, and no one would hire me, and I stopped getting cast in shows (or even called back in a lot of instances), and I found myself sitting at home with the animals for several hours till Husband came home so we could play video games and talk and eat junk food (till I put us on a diet) and just be a family. Part of me was heartbroken, but part of me really loved it. I didn’t have rehearsals in the way of my relationship, I didn’t spend hours and hours and hours with people who weren’t my loved ones, I didn’t have to wear stage makeup or wigs or musty costumes that had been worn by dozens of other people.

Little Shop of Horrors, The Grand Theatre, Salt Lake City, Utah

Little Shop of Horrors, The Grand Theatre, Salt Lake City, Utah

And a little part of me started to die — the part that thought my happiness was intrinsically connected to performing. It felt like a good thing, like progress, and I looked at that death as a moving on, a growing up, a becoming closer to my husband and never wanting to turn back.

But it was just a little part, and that didn’t stop me from continuing to audition for shows — I just did so with less gusto and pizzazz. If I got cast, that would have been great, but if I didn’t … it wasn’t really the end of the world.

Of course there was a low point, there always is, and it hit with such incredible force that I kind of had to pick up my pieces and put myself back together, except I couldn’t find all the pieces in the rubble, and I’m still looking for them, half-heartedly, under a cloud of *sighs* clinical depression: I lost the role of Narrator. Twice.

My husband and a friend/former director once jokingly accused me that all the dreams for which I audition are dream roles, and I’m going to set the record straight right now that that is just not true. I have four dream roles, one of which I’ve already been blessed to perform, and the rest are just the icing on the cake, the cherry on top, any colloquialism you can think of that implies added bonus of delicious success. They are: Narrator (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat), Eponine (Les Miserables), Lucy (You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown), and Wednesday Addams (The Addams Family). I could be cast as Ursula in The Little Mermaid, Cathy in The Last Five Years, or The Witch in Into the Woods and be really over the moon, but landing one of those roles wouldn’t make my life complete, either, so they’re, you know, further colloquialisms I suppose.

Because Joseph changed my life so drastically, changing my career path from pianist in Nordstrom to Broadway star, and then from choir director/voice teacher to secretary to regional, decently-known actress, I always felt like I could land the role of Narrator and play it for the rest of my life without feeling too upset about it. It’s like when people ask you what one food you would eat for the rest of your life if given the choice; I’d eat up that Narrator role for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and I’d probably even snack on it in between meals. (And since your curiosity was probably piqued, the actual food answer is Thai.)

Thai-Food-Wallpaper-3To lose it once was upsetting. It involved a lot of crying, some therapeutic binge eating, the usual stuff that gets me through a sad time, but I knew there was another audition coming up for the exact same show and role because my state goes through these ridiculous phases of doing the same shows as everyone else all the time, so I prepped an audition piece and waited, impatiently, for the audition to come.

And I did a pretty good job. Good enough to be called back.

I did not do a good enough job to be cast.

The night of discovery was a kind of dark one. I mean that literally and figuratively — despite having a great morning and afternoon, the evening was immediately sullied, and on top of it, things were overcast. (There’s your regular dosage of sarcasm for this post.) And that’s when the part of me that had begun to die earlier — the part that wanted to perform onstage for the rest of my life, to dance under hot stage lights and go to Denny’s at midnight and have permanent mic tape residue on the back of my neck — completely gave up the ghost. At first, I thought it was mere acceptance, a sort of fast-acting hopefulness that told me it just meant another role was supposed to be mine in another show at another theatre, but by the next evening, I realized that wasn’t the case at all. I just couldn’t do it any longer.

Not getting something you want is just a part of life with which we all have to deal. But there’s something painfully personal about not getting cast in a show — you’re not just slipping into a cupcakery five minutes before closing to discover the chocolate raspberry cupcake is completely sold out or bidding on an item on eBay — you’re giving who you are as a person and a performer to a panel of judges. It’s not just your voice and your acting ability and how well you move (for the record, I’m a non-dancer who moves relatively well), it’s your entire self. You’re telling them that for the next several months you’re willing to be theirs, that you’re willing to give every ounce of what moves you, drives you, challenges you to have a handful of most likely unpaid performances on a stage to complete strangers because you love it that much. Rejection isn’t just saying you’re not a right fit like a job, it’s saying all the sweat and tears you put into getting where you are wasn’t enough for them. Forget talent for a second and focus on the other stuff — that you didn’t look right, sound right, or move right. Talent becomes secondary. You just aren’t who they want, but you’ve chosen a career path that craves being wanted. It’s desperate, it’s vulnerable, it’s often embarrassing.

Can we go somewhere else?

Can we go somewhere else?

The second and final death didn’t feel like progress at all. And I find myself itching to discover what it is that I need to live joyfully, to express myself because that’s what keeps me sane. I wake up wondering if the spark of performing has come back. It still has not.

I recently joked with my best friend that the real problem here is that I’m really only good at belting, so what on earth will I do with that if I’m not singing in musical theatre. And this might be the point at which friends and family rally around me and try to point out other things that I’m good at, but I’m truly great at belting because it’s what I love to do. So I don’t say that with arrogance as much as I believe, rather firmly, that you’re especially good at what you love. I have the ability to sing in a very specific way, and I don’t have anywhere to put it, and I’m at a loss as to what I should do next. I cannot belt sing in a box, I cannot belt sing with a fox.

And that’s the end. For now, at least. Fellow actors continue to ask me if I’ll be auditioning for upcoming shows, and I waffle around for their benefit, but deep down, the answer is a resounding no. I recently saw a show with a dear friend, and it was fun, but I didn’t love it like I used to love seeing shows because it really hurt. She told me afterward, when we slipped backstage to congratulate a friend of mine, that being backstage made her want to be in a show so badly, and my response was just a noise because I couldn’t agree. Being backstage made me want to jump into bed and not wake up till I felt less depressed (but being in bed is depressing).

I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being. – Oscar Wilde

Other Peoples’ Kids

When I told Husband I wanted to get back into acting, I don’t think he (or even I, really) realized that would lead to 2014 being The Year of the Neverending Rehearsals. I was cast in a show early on in the year, beginning rehearsals in February, and damned if I haven’t actually had a break from rehearsals since then (three shows later, and no, there haven’t been breaks for performances because all three shows have overlapped because life). I begin new rehearsals at the end of this month, only two weeks after my current shows closes.

Because choosing the arts means a lifestyle change. Because artists are passionate and fickle and obsessive and so self-conscious that it would make even a tween cringe inside.

And it’s been crazy and fun and so anxiety-inducing that I’ve forgotten how to sleep or frankly what sleep is, instead opting to lay in bed, with the puppy snoring at my side, wondering just how we’re going to get ten clown characters in and out and back into their clown makeup with five minute breaks between scenes, one makeup palette between the entire group, and the utter idiocy of some certified makeup artist insisting upon basic corrective otherwise (oh wait, that would be me, and I’m mad at myself). [It’s my blog, I’ll run-on sentence if I want to.]

Community theatre is a weird animal. I’m just going to go ahead and say that with no segue because it’s a standalone statement that will forever and ever be true, amen. First of all, it’s entirely volunteer-based, and if it’s a city, chances are the money for set builders and stage crew and painters are extremely low, which leads to a bunch of artsy fartsy people getting together and trying to use tools and, like, measure stuff.

Barnum stage

Laughable, by the way.

But it’s rewarding in a way that semi-professional or professional theatre simply is not; you build this rapport with your fellow castmates you couldn’t have otherwise because you were hunched over a platform for several hours in the blistering heat painting everything black, because you hauled props from literally every random place props could possibly be to an outdoor theatre space,  because one night at rehearsal things were abruptly ended because the rare but indomitable Utah monsoon hit and your lights and mics went out. You went through stuff.

Because I am Lucy IRL.

Because I am Lucy IRL.

It also carries with it challenges that make you want to gouge your eyes out. See also: other peoples’ kids.

Having done two shows thus far that involved only adults and being cast in another that’s the same, I’d kind of forgotten what it was like to perform with a bunch of little humans who 1. you can’t swear in front of and 2. want to know why you’re doing what you’re doing and 3. occasionally carry with them stinky attitudes.

Scratch that — who always carry with them stinky attitudes.

The thing about theatre of any kind is that no one’s really above it. And if someone thinks he/she is above it, then either he/she is Idina Menzel or hasn’t bothered auditioning for any shows or roles deemed unworthy because ain’t nobody got time for that. And yet you get those brilliant kidlets who, for whatever reason, determine at some point during the rehearsal process that they have somehow been duped into the whole ordeal. That their initial decision (by their own volition) to audition was actually forced upon them because NO WAY would they stoop so low as to perform in the ensemble of a community theatre production.

Or maybe that’s not what they think. Maybe they think something entirely different but lack the human capabilities to express anything other than that sentiment because they’re like puppies or babies, unable to intimate their feelings, so instead they whine and cry.

My current director tells us all the time that we’re “always auditioning,” even through the rehearsal and performance process. The kidlets remain unphased. She calls them out during scenes because they’re talking or giggling or touching their hair or breaking character. They smile and keep on keeping on. They even decide to make snide comments to those around them (including me, which, go ahead honey because I can be snide all day erry day, and if you ask me “Is your cat dead yet?” one more time I WILL CUT YOU, and for pete’s sakes leave the other kids alone when their faces get red during the dance numbers because sometimes faces get red during dance numbers), and the littles take note of it. It’s like we’re breeding a generation of Regina Georges in the theatre community.

Regina George

And it gets tricky for a person like me who is child-free but still a full-fledged adult. Because do you say something? Do you just let it go? What about the underdogs who can’t stand up for themselves against kids like that? Do you just stand back and watch it happen and feel bad about the world? I know some parents who say, “I’d want to know if my child were acting like that,” but would you really, guys? I don’t think you actually would, especially from a person who refers to her cat and puppy as her children.

Other peoples’ kids, man. Other peoples’ kids.

Hey Remember How I Used to Blog?

Here’s what happened.

I took a lead role in a community theater production over the summer, and then I basically had no free time. I worked a half-time job (I know, I’m a total wuss because I wasn’t even working full-time) and spent dozens and dozens of hours rehearsing and performing and whenever I was on the computer, I didn’t really feel like blogging.

*Because sometimes I’m just a bad person.*

And then I quit my job and went to Disney World and got sick and started makeup artistry school, and I realized my blog wasn’t going to write itself (last colloquialism of the post, I promise) and I was probably losing followers, and the last thing I need in my life is for fewer people to like me. I just really like being liked.

So.

Let me tell you about the time I auditioned for a lead role in a professional theater company because I didn’t really know what exactly a professional theater company entailed and figured it would be more or less the same as community theater, except paying (which, I mean, is sort of accurate except NOT EVEN AT ALL, I AM SUCH A MORON). So I put on a dress and did up my makeup and worked with both voice teachers on my 16-bar cut (yeah, I have two voice teachers now, no big deal) and met my best friend, K, at the theater to razzle dazzle a bunch of strangers who would either receive me well or look at me, stone-faced, and say “thank you” after I sang. And to be honest, I figured this was just my foot in the door for the production staff to start getting used to my mug.

Husband + iPhone = best headshots I've ever had. Seriously.

Husband + iPhone = best headshots I’ve ever had. Seriously.

As it turns out, they liked me well enough (see also: I’m Asian-American in Utah — but seriously the director laughed several times in all the right places, so I think they did actually like me, and it’s just an added bonus that I’m, like, the one Asian actor in the entire state) and told me, upon finishing my audition, that they’d like to see me back the following day FOR A LEAD ROLE. This was baffling to me. I thought perhaps they were confused. I left before they could change their minds.

But here’s the thing. I realized in high school, after a brief stint thinking I might end up on Broadway, that I’m a great singer, a mediocre actor (this has improved thanks to my most recent director, Andrew Hunsaker, to whom I am eternally indebted), and a bad dancer. So I changed my plans because a lot of people on Broadway dance. It’s just kind of a thing, although why I have no idea because I think singing and acting SHOULD JUST BE ENOUGH, thankyouverymuch.

And I’d auditioned for a dance-heavy show.

WHICH I realized the day of callbacks, when almost every single woman was donning a leotard and the world’s shortest skirts and dance tights and character shoes and tap shoes, and I was walking around in my H&M leggings and then sitting in the corner eating glue, waiting for my turn. And then I kind of blew it. I was funny enough and charming enough and I sang really well under the circumstances of getting over a nasty head cold I picked up in Disney World (yeah, I got sick in Disney World, how lame is that). But dancing.

Photo courtesy of nytimes.com

Photo courtesy of nytimes.com

To be honest, if I’m at a dance or a mixer (I don’t even think those exist any more, and I don’t really have a lot of opportunity to dance these days unless I make it so, see also: the dance party I threw together post-Aida when we were breaking down the set, and by “we,” I mean the rest of the cast while I danced around holding an electric screwdriver so it looked like I was participating — I kid, I kid … that was more or less how it happened, but no one ever had anything for me to do, or perhaps they realized I’d be ultimately worthless in their attempts to go fast and just had me be guardian of the tools) then I’m not too bad. I’ve got a good sense of rhythm and I’m very bendy and limber and I can get down. But if I’m given choreography, particularly that of the fast variety, and I’m surrounded by people who know what they’re doing, I kind of freeze up and forget how to move my feet at the same time as my … everything else. And that’s what happened. I shuffled my feet around and stared very intently at the feet of the man to my left, which almost led to a collision, and I walked away feeling rather dejected.

But we’ve got the race card. And I was called back for a principal role at a professional theater on my first go around, so every once in awhile, I am struck with a false sense of hope like maybe, just maybe, I’ll make it into the show. As a set changer or something.

Something you should know and might already know if you’ve been following my blog or are my friend: I’m ridiculously impatient. Ridiculously so.

I just found out tonight that casting won’t occur for another 2-4 weeks. WEEKS. As in I will probably see at least 4 more photos of baby bumps from a couple friends. As in I could go on the Special K Challenge and lose 6 lbs. As in I could grow my hair out almost an inch. Things just HAPPEN in 2-4 weeks.

Ugh. Gross. Put me in a medically induced coma. Cryogenically freeze me. Anything to make the time pass.