Category Archives: NYC Life

The Invisible Sh*t (whose name is fear) That Holds You Back

It’s funny how much stuff can affect you. I’ve talked (and written) about this incident a lot – a journal entry when it happened, an essay in college, a blog post now – but sometimes seemingly innocent things blindside you with their importance, and this experience clearly has become (for me) a bit of a meditation on the nature of fear and, darn it, if I’m not still learning from it. Here’s the latest I’ve come to understand:

My alma mater. Go Camels!

Many years ago I participated in an outward bound-type of outdoor orientation program before starting college — a sort of pre-orientation orientation (sponsored by the school) to my freshman year. You know the kind of trip – take a bunch of about-to-be college students, take away their watches (so they’re on “nature’s time”), pile them into a bus, drive them up to the woods (hmmm, this is actually starting to sound like the beginning of a horror movie, but it wasn’t like that, I swear), hike them into some remote location, teach them to build lean-tos (no tents for these overprivileged teenagers), and have them participate in a randomized selection of outdoor activities that are meant to foster self-confidence and bonding – activities like caving, and white-water canoeing, and rock-climbing. I LOVED IT. No kidding, the trip was amazing! I remember being excited and exhilarated, and, yes scared, but that fear manifested more as excitement and exhilaration than as fear. The thing is that with the rock climbing and the caving I definitely had those moments of “oh shit, I’m totally gonna die” and that was super scary but the feeling was very recognizable as fear. I could look at it and say, “Nope! That ain’t going to stop me! I am DOING THIS!” and, you know, I did it. I climbed the rock. I paddled the canoe. I plunged into (and emerged from) the cave.

(SIDEBAR – I should mention, if you’re anything like me, these particular caves were not the kind of caves you picture when you think “cave.”

Less “ooh look at this spacious cave we’re ‘exploring’…”

 

And more “Holy Crap, these are two enormous slabs of rock that have been here with this tiny space between them for, like, since the dawn of time, what if they choose right this exact second to shift?”

You know those wide open spaces where you stand around with a group and say, “ooh look – stalactites, stalagmites.” No, siree, Bob! This was more of a wedge-yourself-into-very-tight-spaces-between-two-enormous-prehistoric-slabs-of-rock-hope-you’re-not-claustrophobic-and-if-you-weren’t-going-in-you-will-be-coming-out-oh-and-by-the-way-it’s-freezing-wet-and-super-muddy-caving-with-a-capital-C-CAVING kinda thing.)

 

Yup, this…

 

But, I digress. In the end, whether caving or rock climbing, the fear was clearly, you know, FEAR, and so, it was (well, not exactly easy to disperse but) at least identifiable as fear and therefore face-able. But then came the high elements course and the fear I experienced during it was a whole different animal. It was invisible. It wasn’t identifiable as fear. It was more easily named indifference.

“What’s a high elements course,” you ask? Well it’s a sort of obstacle/ropes course, about 50 feet in the air, suspended from trees.

An example of a High Elements Course

This is that wire walk thing I was trying to describe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nowadays you’ve seen things like it on American Gladiators, and other shows of that ilk, but at the time I’d never even heard of such a thing, let alone been expected to participate in one. These courses can be constructed in different ways, but basically, it’s a series of challenges comprised of logs, ropes, and wires suspended in the air. This particular one had an incline log, a balance beam log, a wire walk thing (two horizontal wires – one about 5 feet above the other – suspended between two trees) where you walk on the bottom wire and hold the top wire for balance, a series of ropes hanging from a wire between two trees where you had to cross from one tree to the other by transferring to each rope (Tarzan style), and, lastly, a platform with a trapeze (which, spoiler alert was too far away to reach even if you really jumped for it).


Staples in the trees between each challenge…and a sense of how high up the course is.

For the whole course you’re belayed (harness and safety ropes) and you traverse the course with your teammates yelling encouragement from the ground. Sounds great, right? What could be scary about that, right? I mean, how could it be scarier than rock climbing or rappelling or white water canoeing, right? Even 50 feet in the air, in the rain with all the surfaces slippery as all get out, right?

Wrong.

See, here’s the thing. I didn’t think I was afraid at all. I just had zero interest in doing the course. What it boils down to is that all of the other challenges – the rock climbing, the caving, the canoeing, hell, even the zip lining, I had heard about before. I was ready for them. I was expecting them. They were “things people did.” Even if it was just to face the challenges of nature, or just to get an adrenaline rush, all of these things were things that made some sort of sense to me. Yes, they were man’s attempt at conquering nature but in a practical way – “I need to get from here to there but there’s a cave, or a river, or a mountain in the way so I’ll crawl through that cave, or canoe down that river, or climb that mountain.” I mean that makes sense to me. But this? This arbitrary man-made construct suspended 50 feet in the air? Uh yeah, that made exactly zero sense at all. Especially in the rain.

So, when it came my turn to do the course, the guide was all, “Jessica, you’re up.” And I remember just thinking, “nope. I’ll pass.” I think I even said, “nope. I’ll pass.” When he insisted, I explained (very rationally, I’m sure) that I just didn’t have any interest in doing the course. He said, “there’s no reason to be afraid,” and I was shocked (SHOCKED, I tell you) that he would even consider it. “I’m not scared,” I said. “I just don’t see the point.” I was, no kidding, 100% certain that I was not afraid at all. I told myself I was indifferent. I told myself it was pointless. I told myself it was an arbitrary man-made construct and there was absolutely no reason I needed to participate in it. I was pretty self-righteous about it too, to be honest.

I told myself that if I was scared, I would feel, you know, scared. So, I resolved not to do the course. In the end, I was, in fact, the last person in my group to do it. And the only reason – the ONLY reason – I even stepped foot on that first log was because my guide (whose name I can’t remember but who I do remember was ridiculously cute in a Teva-wearing, “no outdoor challenge is too much for me” kinda way) asked me to just try the first challenge as a “personal favor” to him. So I did (because I never could resist doing a personal favor for a cute guy) and by the time I was up the log I realized that there were only two ways off the course – either freak right the fuck out and have to be lowered down to the ground like a goat in a sling (sorry, Jurassic Park reference), or just finish the damn course. And, not wanting to be the goat I just finished the damn course.

And here’s what I discovered at the end when I was leaping off the platform to grab the too-far-away trapeze. Number 1: I was absolutely sure that I was going to catch it. Number 2: harnesses hurt your crotch like a son of a bitch when they catch all of your weight. And, Number 3: there are all kinds of fear.

Sometimes you see your fear coming. Sometimes, you grab your fear by the throat and wrestle it to the ground. Sometimes, you outsmart your fear by consciously pretending it’s not there. And sometimes, it really feels like it’s not there. It masks itself as indifference and with that indifference it’s really easy to just ignore it and move on to the next thing. BUT, here’s the danger with that, and, by the way, here’s the point of this entire blog post (way to bury the lede, right?): If you think you’re indifferent to it and you ignore it and move on to the next thing?  Yeah, in the end I’m sure it will be fine. That next thing will be great and you’ll move along a little less brave and none the wiser BUT, you’ll miss it. I will say that again because it’s important – You. Will. Miss. It.

You’ll miss that big, beautiful, juicy, amazing, life-altering, wonderful feeling. Because, even though I didn’t catch that trapeze (and even though that harness hurt!) for that millisecond, when I jumped, I was SURE I was going to catch it. I was absolutely POSITIVE it was in my grasp. I knew it was impossible AND I knew I was going to do it. I believed wholeheartedly in that – in the possibility of the impossible. And even though, in the end, I didn’t actually catch the trapeze (because, big surprise, physics always works) that feeling never went away. From that moment on, that feeling turned out to be a new truth for me: The impossible isn’t just possible it will happen. If you push, and you try, and you believe, and you face your fear – IT. WILL. HAPPEN. And, I would have missed it. I would have missed that lesson, that understanding. And I never would have realized that fear is insidious. Fear can stop you not just cold, but also kinda lukewarm. You need to guard against it and you need to be vigilant because that thing you’re calling indifference? Yeah, most of the time, it’s just fear in indifference’s clothing. Don’t let it stall you. Don’t let it stop you. Don’t let it rule you.

So what does all this have to do with production? I mean this is a blog post on a production company’s website, after all. Well here’s the deal…this job is hard. This industry is hard. We work and we struggle and we face our fears in the hopes of success and wealth, yes, but also because we are compelled to tell stories. We’re compelled to reach people. If we could do anything else in the universe with as much joy as we do this, we absolutely would. Hands down! No one – NO ONE – would choose this if any of us had a choice. I mean there’s no two ways about it. This struggling thing? It sucks. But it’s also who we are. And when something comes up professionally, you think, “Oh, big scary thing. I’m knocking that puppy down.” I think we all do that. But, what I’m saying here is, sadly, that’s not enough. Because sometimes the big scary thing isn’t big and scary at all. Sometimes we look at it and think, “yeah, I’m just not interested in that right now. I’m going to go watch reruns of West Wing instead.” And that’s the danger. We get lulled into that place of, “but I’m tired. I’ve been doing this for years with varying degrees of success, and I just want to binge-watch Netflix right now.” I hear you. Believe me. And you want to watch West Wing for a day, a weekend, hell even a whole week? Go for it, you deserve it. BUT, after that day, that weekend, that whole week, I am telling you – Put on that harness, hook up your safety ropes, do the favor for the cute guy, and just Get. On. The. FUCKING. Course. Here and now, I promise you it will be worth it. I promise you that you will be rewarded for it. In fact, I promise you – I PROMISE YOU – that if you climb up that first log and you get onto that damn course, in the end you will jump for that trapeze with all that you are and you will float down from the trees KNOWING for a fact that the impossible is yours for the taking.

And so, for now, I leave you with two of my favorite motivational memes:

You CAN do the thing…so just go do it.

-Jessica

Reach Beyond the Reachable…

As many of you know, I recently moved from one part of Brooklyn to another. Finally, with Within Arm’s Reach done for now, and with The Jane Games entering the editing phase, (and so taking less of my time), I’ve begun to unpack. And, as part of that unpacking, my ridiculously supportive (and super patient) husband requested that I sort through the 5 bankers boxes worth of memorabilia that I have moved from place to place over the past 10 years (in all fairness the 5 boxes started as 1 very small shoebox) and get rid of that which I “can’t remember the origin or emotional significance of.” Turns out, there was a lot to discard…but it also turns out sometimes being a packrat pays off. Especially when the stuff is from before the days of regular email, Facebook, and smartphones recording immediate photographs of every event. So, yes, I discarded a lot (like, 4 bankers boxes worth) but I also found some beautiful treasures, one that I want to share…

Some of you know of my Uncle Johnny, the artist who inspired me as an artist but also the inspiration for the name Going to Tahiti Productions (you can read that story here), and some of you actually knew him when he was still alive. He was a pretty cool guy — though not a talkative one (like me, he didn’t really enjoy talking on the phone, though, on occasion when we got to talking about a movie or book that we liked (or hated) the conversation would be animated and would go long into the night) — but letter writing was pretty much how we communicated. I would periodically send him a long letter about what I was up to and he would send me a card or a book or a note back to check in. But, whatever the letters or cards or notes or books contained, he always had some words of wisdom from an older artist to a younger. It didn’t matter that his medium was paint and mine was actors. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t making money with his art either, and that he knew that struggle wasn’t easy. It didn’t matter that he was 3000 miles away and we, East Coast Family, rarely got to see him. There were always encouraging words…we were always going to Tahiti.

So, while going through the memorabilia boxes, I came across this note card from Uncle Johnny. It doesn’t have a date and the envelope with a postmark is long since gone (even in my packrat ways, I did find a way to throw out envelopes from people who’s addresses I already had), but I think it’s from the mid-late 90′s. The note starts off, in response to a letter I sent him, “I…hope you are working 20 hrs/day and living off of adrenaline, intuition, and the euphoria that is show business/production.” And continues, “yes; bizarre, surreal, weird, monsters, religion, love: It must be Art.” Judging from that, I think I (and he in his response) was referring to the first movie I was a PA on in the city (ah, my days as a Production Assistant…another story all together). So that would put it in early ’96, after Atlanta but before I was officially living in the city. But, I digress…

I must have been philosophizing in my letter to him, because he goes on: “I also see that you have turned your predicament into philosophy (more Art, I’m so proud of you). Getting paid is the next evolution – no pay, some pay, now and then pay, low pay, little pay, more pay, steady pay…” The man knew of what he spoke. And then, this:

“Give the best you have, always keep learning, grow with each project, hang tough, Dream, reach beyond the reachable, be true to yourself – good things will happen.”

So, GTTP is following Uncle Johnny’s advice. After Molly’s current directing gig, I, Salome, she’ll be jumping in to Tahiti’s next show – a beyond words theater piece that is, right now, just beginning to take shape. And me? I’m jumping in full force to Farm Story, GTTP’s first foray into television. Regular updates are happening, well, regularly, here – primarily from writer and co-producer, Terri Viani (and occasionally from me), but basically, what you need to know is: our production calendar is set, crew interviews start tomorrow, fundraising is about to begin in earnest, auditions will start in late June, and, if all goes according to plan, cameras will roll on September 6th! It’s big…who am I kidding, it’s HUGE! It’s overwhelming. It’s scary. It’s new. It’s crazy. It’s television. It’s what I’ve been dreaming about. It’s utterly terrifying. BUT, I’m jumping off the cliff. I’m taking Uncle Johnny’s advice – I’m giving the best I have, learning and growing with each project, hanging tough, dreaming, reaching beyond the reachable, being true to myself…Get ready, folks, because here come the good things – Uncle Johnny said so. :)

 

What? Molly Is FINALLY Writing Her Within Arm’s Reach Blogpost!

Now that it has been a month since Within Arm’s Reach opened at the Secret Theatre, I feel like I can finally post my wrap-up without conveying with every word my stress about the show (I swear it was written long ago and not today). I didn’t want to pass the stress on to the audience or cast…or that is my excuse for this taking that long to post.

How can you be stressed when “Huhhhh” our mascot is around?

Those of you that know me are probably wondering: “Why so stressed, Molly? You’ve been working in theatre with multiple titles for the same project for nearly ten years now.” Perhaps this is true, but this is the first time I’d attempted to have four titles for a show. Although, Jess and I had always talked about me coming on to her “baby” project of Within Arm’s Reach as co-adapter and co-producer,  by the time we had an audience I was also set and costume designer.   That being said, stress was abundant in my life for this production as there are not enough hours in the day.

The entire process start to finish was very quick. Jess and I really didn’t get our hands dirty with the adaption until January and we opened in mid-March. Did I mention I’ve never adapted a novel into a script before? What would I do without Jess? It’s a question I asked during this process qite a bit. Adapting was a process that I had a love/hate relationship with at the beginning. Currently, those of you who saw our last production The Sandman’s Coming know this, I’m in a place where my biggest theatrical interest is exploring story telling without an abundance of words (or what I’m starting to coin as Beyond Words Theatre). Within Arm’s Reach was words, a lot of beautiful words. It was daunting to say the least.  It was fascinating to learn the parts of the story that Jess was very drawn to verse what I was.

Who said producers aren’t busy during tech?

Fast-forward through casting and  I suddenly realized, “Oh, right. I’m designing. Maybe I should start that.” It’s been a bit since I’ve costume designed a piece that I wasn’t also directing (I originally went to university for  costume design), so I was thrilled to jump right back in with this. Jess and I have worked together in so many ways, however, I can’t say I wasn’t nervous for our first director/designer show. Made even worse by the fact that I was designing the set as well as costumes.  Part of what makes Jess and I a great team is how differently we work. The rest of our design team got this a lot during tech. What’s the verdict on Jess as director and me as designer?  I would happily design for any show that Jess directed!

Within Arm’s Reach brought out one of my initial reasons for getting involved in theatre. The community of artists that is formed during a show, however fleeting, is beautiful. From late night/early mornings painting  the theater with Jess, to character chats with the cast, to listening to Ien morph the sounds of children; we had a truly wonderful group for this one.

This is all to say that sometimes, stress and being in a slightly uncomfortable situation end up creating a product that, at the end of the day, you are thrilled with. Of course though, it’s not ALL about me. Within Arm’s Reach would not have been the same without the wonderful cast, crew, donors, and audience we had and I can’t say THANK YOU enough to everyone involved. But, really, can I sleep now?

Cat napping at the tech table.

Disclaimer: Any grammar/spelling mistakes were made to keep John on his toes!

Things completed and things beginning at GTTP…

On November 3rd GTTP completed two kinda big deal things – one personal and one business – but both had an effect on who GTTP is as a company.

In the interest of full disclosure, the time shown in the picture was the elapsed time from the first gun. My wave start time was about an hour and 15 minutes after the first gun.

The personal first – Yours truly (aka, GTTP Artistic Director, Jessica Ammirati) ran the New York City Marathon. As many of you know, I was supposed to run it last year before Hurricane Sandy put a damper on those plans, and after that experience I wrote about “Art and Sports and the things they Share” and, as my facebook peeps know, I already wrote a blog post about the experience of running it this year which you can see both on my personal FB page and on the ING NYC Marathon page; BUT, in this particular post, I’d like to just mention a word about perserverance. As in: have it, believe in it, keep doing it (whatever “it” may be). You see, #1 – I don’t really like running. No, I swear. I’ve been training off and on for this marathon for 13 years (yes I said years! And, though much of it was the “off” part of off and on, for the past two years it was serious running-5-days-a-week training) and I DON’T ENJOY RUNNING. I enjoy having done the run. I enjoy that when I’m running I can eat pretty much whatever I want and I won’t really gain weight. I enjoy the way my body looks and feels because of the run. But I kinda HATE the actual run. I keep waiting for that runners’ high to kick in…uh, I’m still kinda waiting. And, #2 – I’m a slow runner – I’m from hearty Italian peasant stock so though I can keep going, I can’t really get there fast. At my fastest (which was the middle 2-13 miles of the marathon), I was running about an 11 minute and 26 second mile. So, you know, not nothing but not exactly record breaking speed. And then, after mile 13 I slowed down a bit, and from 13-21 I ran about a 12 minute mile. And then I slowed down A LOT for the last 5.2 miles. The entire thing took me 5 hours and 46 minutes (and 18 seconds) to complete. A long time. I mean, it was under the 6 hour goal I had set for myself but still longer than the 5 hour and 30 minute goal I had really hoped for. But here’s the thing – it was awesome! I mean it. The run, the marathon, the experience? The FIVE HOURS AND FORTY SIX MINUTES (and 18 seconds) OF SUSTAINED PHYSICAL ACTIVITY?!?!? It was amazing. Hands down, freaking awesome, once-in-a-lifetime kinda thing here. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is (and I know it’s been said before much more eloquently than this but here goes): It’s worth it. Persevere. Keep pushing. Go after your dreams or goals or things you forsee for yourself. Or whatever you want to call it because most of the time it’s going to pay off. It can’t not. Not after you’ve put in all that time, work, energy, thought. 13 years ago, I had this wacky idea – “maybe I’ll run the NYC marathon” but more than that I had this thought – “I want to have this experience because I think this experience will mean something to me, will shape me in a certain way, will have an effect on the person I am.” And so I decided to pursue it. And, like I said, it was seriously off and on. There are whole years in there where I didn’t lace up a sneaker…but in the end, I had the experience I did because I wanted to do it, I prepared to do it, I pushed to do it. I persevered. And I did it. I did “___________” (YOU fill in that blank for you) and it was SOOOOOO worth it. When I was 10 years old, I had a similar thought, goal, dream, what have you – “I want to be a director” (it was actually when I was 6 that I first thought it but it wasn’t until I was 10 that I began to understand the thing I wanted to be and do was the job of a director). So, here I am 30 years later. GTTP is fives years strong and I’m doing this thing – this hard, exciting, scary, challenging, wonderful, life-changing thing. So I guess my whole point is…perseverence is cool, and I truly believe that, like gravity, it always works…

…and sometimes, that personal perseverance connects with someone else’s personal perseverance and you end up with a business accomplishment…which, of course, brings me to…

Luke Wise and Jill Rittinger in a scene from THE SANDMAN’S COMING.

The business thing that happened on November 3rd:

GTTP’s Managing Director, Molly Ballerstein, completed the run of her first GTTP show, The Sandman’s Coming. Slowly this company that I envisioned in my living room 6 years ago is starting to grow into it’s future shape. You see, I never planned for GTTP to stay my baby. I always wanted a partner.

Lantie Tom as The Heroine in THE SANDMAN’S COMING.

I was always hoping to find someone who would want to direct shows and help guide the company into the future with me. Yes, I want to direct but I want to direct as part of a family of artists, not out there on my own. And, with The Sandman’s Coming, GTTP has taken that first step into a new world. A world of LOTS of people’s ideas instead of just mine. A world of exploration, of partnerships and who knows what else. It’s an exciting step for us to take and an exciting way to do it. Because, guys? Seriously? Sandman was extraordinary. A movement theater piece that explored the nature of addiction, identity and human connection. That looked at addiction not in a sensationalistic way but asked instead, what do we do-how do we deal with additction when it isn’t sensationalistic? When it isn’t glamorous or tragic? When it is just a part of everday life – ugly, complicated, terrifying and banal – ordinary everyday life? Haunting and evocative, beautiful and moving, painful and transformative, this show stays with you long after the lights go down. Take a gander at a couple of the production stills above. We have more that we’ll be posting on the website shortly. The Sandman’s Coming was a truly powerful experience. And proof that GTTP is so lucky to have snatched up Molly as soon as we found her.

So that’s what we’ve just completed. Now, as Jed Barlet would say, “what’s next?” (Y’all knew I was a West Wing fan, right?) Because, in the end, you have to keep moving forward…ALWAYS. And moving forward we are with a couple of rather exciting events.

First Up:

Cat Lady Without A Cat

That’s right. Once again GTTP is co-producing Carrie Keskinen’s hilarious one woman show - “A hilarious and heartfelt story of one woman’s journey from a painful divorce to her new life in New York. Finding a dead mouse in her apartment is the catalyst for letting go of her past and fears of becoming a crazy cat lady, and discovering her true self.” And this time around GTTP peeps aren’t just on the producing side. This time around, I’m Assistant Directing the show and Molly is Stage Managing. Because the show’s first performance was sold out United Solo Festival, decided to extend and add a second show. Join us on Saturday, November 23rd at 4pm for the additional show. The performance is at The Studio Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street by 9th Avenue. Details and tickets available here.

 

December Benefit – GTTP talks SEX!

We’re currently planning our December Benefit – GTTP talks Sex! Ha, ha! Now you’re paying attention? Details to follow but for now, save the date – Before you head out of the city for your holiday festivities, we hope you’ll join us on December 20th at Shetler Studios for an evening of storytelling with the Tahitians.

Within Arm’s Reach in March

Molly and I are currently finishing the  stage adaptation of Ann Napolitano’s beautiful novel, Within Arm’s Reach. From Library Journal (Starred Review) – “Narrated in six different voices, this stunning first novel explores the multigenerational dynamics of one Irish American family and exposes misunderstandings and broken relationships… Although this exquisite, skillfully written gem addresses serious issues – e.g., guilt vs. loyalty, the past vs. the present – the narrative remains hopeful and includes ample doses of humor and wit.” In the next few months you’ll be seeing a lot from us about Within Arm’s Reach. We’re settling on a performance space and a crew in the next couple of weeks and will look at holding auditions in January. The plan right now (of course dependent on things like “what space is available?”  and “how much money can we raise?”) is for a two week performance run in March. Expect trademark GTTP elements – original storytelling and innovative use of lights, sound, set, projections, costume and movement. More details to come soon. And then more and more and more…

Farm Story filming

GTTP is thrilled to make this announcement: We’re about to move into the world of film and TV production! As a director I love love love theater but from the beginning I’ve also always wanted to direct in the film and tv world as well. So, why haven’t I, you ask. Actually I have a bit – I made a music video for Camilla Ammirati’s awesome song – The Ballad of Chicken McGann (which you can see on our GTTP Youtube Page) and I made a short film of Skin Flesh Bone – but I’ve never made a full length film or television pilot for a couple of reasons. #1) As you know, although theater ain’t exactly cheap, it’s definitely cheaper than film and tv production. In the past, thanks to all of you, we’ve been able to raise the budgets for plays but the starting budget for a television pilot episode is exponentially higher than your average low-budget theater production. So, we haven’t jumped in before. #2) I knew that raising the money for and actually filming a television pilot would take a LOT of my time – as in – all of it. And I didn’t want to abandon theater production while I went off to spend all of my time on a television show. #3) I’m not a writer. Though I’m a decent interpretive artist, I’m not exactly good with the creative writing thing. And so, I’ve never had a script that made sense as the first episode of a television show. BUT NOW – all three of those things have changed. (Actually #3 and #2 changed and that made me willing to jump in and change #1). So #3 changed with the entracnce of  Terri Viani, a dear screenwriting friend of mine. She has written an amazing script for the pilot episode of a television series called Farm Story. As you know from previous blog posts we now have Molly on board so there went #2. She will spearhead the theater stuff while I flit off to film Farm Story (see the next paragraph for more details on that). And so, we’re ready to jump into #1 – the money. Going to Tahiti Productions will coproduce the television show with Terri’s company, The Writer, Ink Productions and I will direct Farm Story. All that being said, GTTP’s official involvement in Farm Story won’t really heat up until Within Arm’s Reach is nearing completion but, if you’d like to follow the progress of independent television production (a formerly unheard of field that, with the advent of the internet  and inexpensive (but high quality) film/video technology, is now becoming more common), check out our Farm Story blog here. As of right now, (and, of course, dependent on fundraising) we are planning to film in New York and Virginia in late June/early July of 2014. Although we are THRILLED to be taking this step, as I said, this doesn’t mean that GTTP will stop doing theater. While I’m off rehearsing and filming the first episode of Farm Story, Molly will be here running GTTP and working on her own show…

Commissioned show

…which brings me to another GTTP first – it’s an exciting 5th Anniversary year for GTTP! For the first time GTTP is commissioning a show. (We’ve hit the big time now, kids!) Molly is currently in discussions with a playwright friend to write a collaborative movement/theater piece that will feature original music and will hopefully run around the same time that I’m off filming Farm Story - so, late June/early July.

Workshops, classes and readings oh my!

And, last but not least – we were so excited about our last round of workshops and classes that we’re going to do it again. Stay tuned in January for class and workshop announcements. We’re also planning to launch our reading series starting in the new year.

We hope to see you at one of the many upcoming events as GTTP heads into the second half of our 5th anniversary season.

Birthdays and Theater…for me…

I had a crazy realization the other day…in all my theater work, I have never been doing a show on my actual birthday. Rehearsals, possibly; theater classes certainly, but an actual performance? nope. That is ca-razy to me. Ok, let me back up a little…

The birthday dessert at Le Bernadin on my 40th birthday courtesy of Steve and Maricar

Birthdays are a big deal to me. They always have been. When I was growing up I was usually awakened by mom, dad and the sisters outside my bedroom door singing happy birthday to me. I would emerge from my room and my folks would have put a few “morning presents” on the table with streamers and a rogue balloon or two so that I would have something to unwrap first thing. The presents were never anything major just little tchokes or something practical, like socks or tights or something – it didn’t matter what the gift was as much as it mattered that there was a little something for me to unwrap. Morning presents were always important – so important, in fact, that the year I was at the National Theater Institute my mother plotted with my roommate, Kat, and a few of my friends at NTI, Lynn and Cathy, to meet outside the dorm the evening of October 24th, so they could pick up the box of morning presents to smuggle into the room and under Kat’s bed so that after I went to sleep they could set up the morning presents. It’s always been a thing in my family. My folks did it with my sisters too. For each other, on their birthdays, my mom and dad leave little notes hidden around the house for the birthday girl or boy. To this day, if I’m visiting the house in Connecticut and I pull open the freezer anytime in late March or early April, I might find a post-it that says, “happy birthday! love, me” with a smiley face on it – a birthday note from my dad to mom. Or, if it’s late October/early November I’ll find a “happy birthday to you! love, me” post-it from mom to dad, in the bathroom medicine cabinet…point is, I was brought up with a healthy respect for celebrating the day you entered the world.

The homemade pistachio birthday cake my friend and former roommate, Sarah made for my 40th – my 40th birthday was very special…

And, of course, I think it’s clear from reading htis blog, theater is a big deal to me too. Theater is holy to me. When I’m worksing on a show, even when it’s 2am and I’ve been working an 18 hour day, I’m at my happiest. I’m the most “me” I can be. Things make sense when I’m working on a show. SO, it was crazy for me to realize the other day, as my birthday approached and I realized I wouldn’t really be able to do any special birthday celebration on the actual day because I would be running box office for a show. Which means, I’ll be at a theater…my church…on my birthday…working on a show…does it get any better? The confluence of events that made that happen are amazing to me and the mere fact that, in all the theater I have done – and, honestly, it’s like 28 years of theater (almost 20 of them professional theater) the mere fact that I’ve never had a performance on my birthday? It’s astounding to me! And, now, I’m THRILLED to hit this milestone and discover (as if there was any doubt) that I’m truly in the right place. You know how they say you know your dream job when it’s something you’d do for free? Well I think the phrase should actually be “You know your dream job when it’s something you’d happily do on your birthday”. Looks like I found my thing…

And just another thing in the category of Crazy Coincidences That Add Up To TRUTH! How perfect is it that not only does my birthday fall during this production (I’m of course talking about The Sandman’s Coming tickets available now!) but Molly too will celebrate her birthday during the run of this show. I mean, it doesn’t get any better than this. Celebrations shall abound!

Anywho, if you find yourself free this evening around 8pm, come on by Shetler Studios, 244 West 54th Street and join us for our second performance of The Sandman’s Coming. Tickets available here and at the box office.

HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE from Tongue in Cheek Productions

Recently I had the opportunity to see Tongue in Cheek Theater’s production of Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive, directed by Jake Lipman, at The Bridge Theater at Shetler Studios. Yes, the same Shetler Studios where we’ll be opening The Sandman’s Coming on Thursday. In fact, How I Learned to Drive will be running right next door to us for several of our performances. Now you might think that would be a bad thing – why would we want competition? Right? But really it’s just such a wonderful coincidence of timing. You see, I LOVE Tongue in Cheek Theater. After Going to Tahiti Productions, they are, hands down, my favorite indy off-off-Broadway theater company in the city. I’ve now seen 3 shows of theirs - Our Town, The Mistakes Madeline Made, and now, How I Learned to Drive – and I am continually impressed with the high caliber of work that they do. And, the idea of having them next door to us while we are doing our run? Well, that’s just all kinds of good mojo and we theater people are very big with the mojo.

Jake Lipman as Li’l Bit and Lynn Berg as Uncle Peck
photograph by Maeghan Donohue c.2013

But I digress – this is a review so – How I Learned to Drive. I walked into the show knowing nothing about it…no, that’s not true, I knew the play had won a Pulitzer…I knew Jake was directing it…and, uh, I knew it had something to do with driving? (I mean, that’s in the title). But, seriously, I knew very little about it. I know, I know, you’re thinking – “but Jess, you’re a theater person! Of course you know How I Learned to Drive.” Nope. I knew nothing about it and, because of my whole spoiler thing, once I realized I was going to see it, I didn’t want to know anything about it. I just wanted to see it fresh. So I went into it cold – I had no expectations (beyond my normal expectation of a TIC production: that it was going to be an evening of good theater) – and I wasn’t disappointed.

Ok, for the spoiler averse, skip this paragraph: How I Learned to Drive chronicles the formative years of precocious teen, Li’l Bit (Jake Lipman), who yearns to get out of her small town and away from her dysfunctional family. The play tells the story of a troubling relationship Li’l Bit has with an older man; and, using driving as a metaphor, it explores issues of pedophilia, incest, control and manipulation. To be honest, the subject matter makes it a bit tough to watch and yet, in the hands of Ms. Lipman and her cast it was a thought-provoking, surprising, funny and, at times, devestating, show.

The cast was superb across the board but I need to single out both Lynn Berg as Uncle Peck and Ms. Lipman herself as Li’l Bit. First a word about Lynn Berg. This is a tough role, folks – a really tough role. It would be so easy for this character to come off as really skeevy and that’s it. I mean, the character is a full grown adult, in an incredibly inappropriate, (not to mention) illegal relationship with a young girl. But there was such subtlety to Mr. Berg’s performance. It’s not that you were sympathetic to him exactly (you know, read the previous sentence), it was more that, through Mr. Berg’s performance, you see Uncle Peck as a victim as much as a predator. And, you see genuine kindness and affection from Uncle Peck. You see why Li’l Bit is conflicted in her feelings for him. AND, you see something not easily characterized as sensationalistic or flashy. It’s instead just the easy grubbiness of real life situations that are complex and painful and confusing.

Mr. Berg has a capable counterpart in Jake Lipman as Li’l Bit. Her performance as well is subtle and powerful, funny and heart-wrenching. In her hands Li’l Bit is such a real person – a study in contradictions – strong and weak, old and young, knowledgable and naive – and you believe the conflict she feels in her relationship to this older, wiser, (inappropriately) affectionate man who clearly sees her in a way the rest of her family doesn’t. It isn’t cut and dry, it isn’t titillating and sensationalistic; it’s real and ugly and painful and confusing and funny and haunting and so so sad. And, as a director myself, I am truly amazed at Ms. Lipman’s ability to guide a production at the same time she completely merges herself into it.

The Women of HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE
photograph by Maeghan Donohue c.2013

The supporting cast – Michael Edmund, Holland Hamilton, Shelley Little and Joan D. Saunders are equally fine. Playing multiple roles who orbit Uncle Peck and Li’l Bit, each actor has the challenge of playing “Greek Chorus” members as well as specific characters and they all step up to the task with skill and grace.

The play is beautifully directed – actually it’s the best kind of direction – not noticeable. The pace is perfect and the show flows beautifully. It was so smooth that when I first sat down and realized there was no intermission, I was concerned. How would I sit through 90 minutes of, you know, talking? (I know, I know. That’s, like, what theater is. And I love theater, so why would I be concerned by it? And yet, I’ve seen so much…so so much…bad off-off Broadway theater (Hell, I’ve seen some bad on Broadway theater) that the fear of being trapped with no intermission, is a legitamate fear – it can be interminable). But, of course, in the always deft and capable hands of Jake Lipman, I had nothing to worry about.

The simple evocative set – an oversized picnic table and two benches – seamlessly becomes the front seat of a car, a dock at a fishing hole, a hotel bedroom – at the same time it gives you a sense of nostalgia for a seemingly simpler and easier time.

In the end, How I Learned to Drive is about a woman learning the rules of life the way some of us learn the rules of the road – from friends or loved ones, slowly,  frighteningly, sometimes painfully, but always, in the end, on our own.

How I Learned to Drive runs through November 2nd. Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8pm. All performances are at The Bridge Theare @ Shetler Studios (literally right next door to Theatre 54 where we’ll be performance The Sandman’s Coming - just saying). For tickets and further details visit the Tongue In Cheek website and don’t miss this terrific and haunting production.

 

Five years is wood, right?

That’s right folks! As you may have seen in our newsletter, GTTP is FIVE YEARS OLD this month!!!!!

And, in celebration of this milestone, we’ll be having a whole bunch of events throughout the season, including shows (of course) – speaking of which, have you bought your tickets for The Sandman’s Coming? (I may have mentioned – they’re on sale now) – workshops (we’re planning two workshops – improv and audition skills – for October and several throughout the rest of the season – stay tuned for details), cabarets – we’re ironing out the details of a storytelling cabaret that will be happening during the run of The Sandman’s Coming (tickets on sale now) that we hope you will join us for – seminars (we’re currently putting together a seminar for early career directors – details to follow) and parties - at the very least we’re planning an anniversary celebration that should coincide nicely with the winter holidays – so we hope you will stay tuned…but, that is actually not what this post is about. This post is brought to you by the number 5 because this post is about our 5 year anniversary or our 5th birthday or however you want to look at it, this post about us having made it, in an over-satureated, theater town, to our 5th season!!! A milestone we would not have seen if it weren’t for all of you out there!!!!! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for your continued support. And, since this post is about a specific number, I thought I’d give it to you by the numbers – 10 to be exact – so here you go…

1 – as in – ONE DREAM that refused (and continues to refuse) to die. For me the dream of directing was so powerful that it started us all on this journey. It’s been a weird and wonderful trip so far – a dream trip, one might say, and I hope we’re just at the beginning…

2 – as in – the number of novels GTTP has adapted into stage productions (Dreamers of the Day, and Jane Austen’s Persuasion) – see our Past Productions page and previous blog posts for details on these amazing and exhilerating shows.

3 – as in – the third novel GTTP will adapt for the stage after we premiere our adaptation of Ann Napolitano’s Within Arm’s Reach, in late winter/early spring of 2014. I know, I know you’ve been hearing about this for over a year but it is now OFFICIALLY on the calendar, people! It is on the calendar and the script is halfway completed. We’re currently deciding on a performance venue and we are aiming for a late February/early March production run. Stay tuned for details.

4 – as in – the number of times GTTP has performed at The Secret Theatre. One of our all time favorite performance spaces, The Secret Theatre is consistently bringing new and innovative productions to their little corner of Long Island City – not so secret anymore. We hope to be back at our unofficial home in the spring, but in the meantime, if you’re looking for quality indy professional theater in Queens, check them out and take in a show.

5 – as in – we’re five years old, y’all!!!! Haven’t you been reading this post?

6 – as in – the number of theater women (who haven’t worked directly with GTTP and aren’t Tahitians per se but that) I have connected with thanks to/because of my work with GTTP. Connections I would not have made if GTTP didn’t exist – women I can’t imagine not having in my life. They include – Jane Dubin, producer - ANN, Peter and the Starcatcher and unFRAMED; Patricia Klausner, producer – Pippin; Caroline Rothstein, writer, performer and producer, http://bodyempowerment.tumblr.com/Bailie Slevin, a former theater professional who is now on a mission to bring fiscal health and education to the entertainment community – a mission she pursues through her company Entertaining FinanceMelanie Jones, writer, performer, dancer and producer – Endureand; last but not least Jake Lipman, actor, director, producer and founder of Tongue in Cheek Theater who will be doing a performance of How I Learned to Drive at the other Shetler Studios Theater during our run of The Sandman’s Coming. These women have been incredible – helpful, motivating, supportive, and generally wonderful people I’ve been honored to share the female theater community with. I hope that they are only the beginning of this circle of incredible theater women that GTTP has entered into.

7 – as in – the number of different aviatrices (the aviatrix is what we call our logo), our incomparable graphic designer, Christine Diaz, has designed to individually accompany each production (we don’t have one for Dreamers of the Day or the first In the Ebb  as we sadly hadn’t yet discovered the awesomeness that is Christine at the time we were doing those shows). When she came on board, she branded GTTP and continues to design all of our beautiful production art. To see all of the aviatrices, check out our About Us page.

8 – as in – the number of productions presented by GTTP since we opened our doors (curtains) - In the Ebb, by Camilla Ammirati, Dreamers of the Day, adapted from the novel by Mary Doria Russell, Skin Flesh Bone, by Camilla Ammirati, Full Disclosure, by Ruth McKee, Cat Lady without a Cat, by Carrie Keskinen, Jane Austen’s Persuasion, adapted for the stage by Laura Bultman, In the Ebb (Redux), by Camilla Ammirati and Bella’s Dream by Dana Boll. More details on each (except for Bella’s Dream because I haven’t had a chance to upload the pictures but will hopefully do it soon) can be found on our Past Productions page.

9 – as in – the number of productions we will have under our belts when The Sandman’s Coming opens on October 24th. Did I mention? Tickets are on sale now.

Which brings me to: 

10 – as in – years – our next big milestone – that, with your help, we’ll reach in another five.

Thanks for getting us here! We hope you’ll continue to join us on this extraordinary, exciting, incredible journey!

See you at the thater!!!!

Four weeks down…and ONLY ONE to go!!!!!

…and so it begins…

When I was little and still thinking I would ultimately have to have real babies (as opposed to the theater babies that my shows always are) I remember asking my mom what pregnancy was like and she answered “long”. I said, “but it’s only 9 months, right?” (Seriously, my 7 year old brain couldn’t really process 9 months, I mean to me – I thought years were long, months were short). And my mom said, “nope, first of all, technically pregnancy is 10 months, not 9, AND it feels like 9 months and a year! That last month goes on forever!” Of course then she said, “and yet, there’s still never enough time.” Again something my 7 year old brain couldn’t process (too long but also not enough time) so off I went to make my Barbie dolls re-enact scenes from Sesame Street. Ok, ok, I know, you’re all thinking why is she telling us this story? I thought this was a theater blog. I’m getting there, hang with me.  Whenever I go into a tech week I always always think of my mom saying “9 months and a year…and…never enough time.” As an adult, of course, I totally understand how something can be both things-too long and too short-and every time I do a show, as the first performance approaches, I feel that pressure – too long/too short – building in my entire system. Now, at last, I get to the point. Tech week is about to begin – my own final month/year of pregnancy with this particular show-baby.

So, for everyone keeping track, here’s a quick recap of this past week. The week began with the last of the scene work. It’s always amazing to me how the closer you get to the end of the rehearsal process, the more you find in the work. All of the actors start to come off book and as scripts leave hands and actors are free to really connect and communicate on stage, the discoveries start to flow. The moments come together and the show really starts to take shape. We spent the first half of this week finishing scene work. On Thursday I also got the chance to work individually with the actors who have monologues during the show-a chance to really delve and play with those moments. On Friday we did a line-through with the actors (basically everyone sits in a rehearsal room, and runs the show for lines. The stage manager, in our case, the luminous Molly Ballerstein, is on book and at the ready when an actor calls “line” to feed them their text and we cruise through the show). In my experience a line-through right before tech can be extremely helpful for getting everyone ready for the runs that are about to begin…and then, and then, and gentlemen and then…(sorry, a little PIPPIN moment there. I promise, that review is coming soon. ANYWHO I digress (big surprise, I know)). And then! This past weekend we jumped in to run-throughs. Finally we got a chance to see if our running time is anywhere close to the run time we quoted on all of our promotional materials (turns out it is) and we got to see a glimmer of what the show will be.

It’s also during this last week before tech when the slow hand off of the play begins. Although, as a director, I am of course needed through opening night, this subtle shift in control and responsibility starts in that last week before tech where, with each passing rehearsal the show becomes less and less mine and more and more the actors’ and Stage Manager’s production. As producer and director I’m always still up to my ears in the production until the end – it is not a rare occurence that I’m at every single performance, but officially, I start handing my baby over to others to let it find its legs. It’s always an exciting time in the life of a show (and also a teensy bit sad).

So, now, we head into tech week and I get back to that pregnancy story-too long and yet too short. So, for those of you not particularly familiar with theater…how to describe tech week? Organized chaos? The definition of chaos theory? Chaotic? (Are you sensing a theme?) I can’t speak to what it is like on Broadway, or even Off-Broadway (though I suspect, that though there’s more money in those worlds, it’s not that different from the off-off-Broadway environment) in low-budget, independent theater it’s like this: You remember finals week from school? The lack of sleep, the intense studying, the feeling like at any moment some little thing will go wrong and you’ll ruin your entire future in one fell swoop? Remember the fear but also the exhilaration that a screw up, as bad as it would be, would launch your life in a totally new and unexpected direction? Remember the stress building up so much that sometimes you needed a primal scream or two to get you through the day? That’s amateur hour compared to tech week. Pfft. Child’s play. And the director/producer keeps all the plates spinning; makes sure all the decisions get made – God I love this job.

My tech week will (most likely) look like this:

It will begin with load-in. VERY early in the morning, I’ll make my way to the space and open up the theater and get my first good look since we booked it. I’ll realize exactly how big a playing area it is and start to envision what the final

The hat in the foreground as the owner of the hat (Molly) hangs lights in the background (on the ladder – I guess less backgound than mid-ground).

product will actually look like. If possible, I’ll sit for a minute, on the stage, by myself, before anyone else arrives, and just soak in the empty-theater-ness of the place – that feeling of potential magic that an empty theater practically oozes. Then, I’ll meet up with the tech director and start unloading the set from the truck. Soon after that, or during that, some helpers will arrive, as will the order from the lighting rental house. We’ll hang lights, and put set together and throughout the day we’ll prep the dressing room, and clean the space. The costume designer will drop off costumes and the projections designer will start testing images in the space. We’ll have some sound tests of the speakers and slowly but surely, an empty open space will turn into the world of Bella’s Dream. And then we’ll do it all again (well not the unloading the set part, just the turning the empty space into Bella’s Dream part) the next day. Tuesday, Molly and I will test out every set piece and walk the pathways of the show for safety – as a director, I’ve always said, I won’t ask any actor to do something I wouldn’t feel 100% safe doing myself and as a stage manager, Molly would say the same so only after we test everything and know it’s safe will we hand set pieces off to actors. We’ll also glow tape the crap out of everything so that the backstage looks like the game grid from TRON. Then, Tuesday night, the actors will arrive and we’ll have our first walk through of the show in the actual space. Wednesday will be a long tech day, doing recordings and filmings for elements that are featured within the show, costume fittings, and general tech stuff before we start to really look at the lights and hear the sounds and see the projections, projected larger than life on the screen. Thursday is our cue to cue. For those not familiar with a cue to cue, it is exactly that, it is the whole show but just going from technical cue to technical cue. It is an absolute necessity but usually a hard and tiring day for all. Friday will be run throughs, Saturday will be run throughs and dress rehearsal and then Sunday – we’re off to the races with our preview!

…and in the end, though everything will somehow get done, none of it will happen exactly the way I’ve planned or expected – it’s the nature of the beast – and I’ll have to shift plans on the fly…but, either way, Sunday night, we will have a show…speaking of which, have you bought tickets yet? Preview tickets are only $12! All other tickets $18. Be sure to pick up your tickets ASAP – only 15 performances.

So, yeah, that’s tech week. I’ll do another blog post as soon as I can to let you all know how it went but the best way to know for certain is to come see the show. See you at the theater!

 

Three weeks down and (Holy Good Lord) two to go…

That’s right folks – we are only two weeks from opening (two weeks and 4 hours to be exact). Actually, technically, our first performance is our preview on June 16th (special discounted tickets available here) so really we have less than two weeks until we open but the official opening night is June 18th.

I can’t believe that we’re already done with three weeks of rehearsal. This has been an incredibly exciting week. We did our first run though on Saturday which allowed designers to really see what we’re doing with the show. I’m so please I managed not to cause any heart attacks, particularly from Sam, the Lighting Designer, as he realized exactly how much of the very large playing area I’m using and therefore he will need to light. He took it like a champ, truly. :) And Amanda, Costume, and Andre, Projections also were able to see, respectively, how the costumes would need to move on the actors and dancers, and how and when the actors and dancers would be moving in front of the projection screen. But for me, the most exciting thing was to see the whole show, from start to finish, as I haven’t seen it (or at least haven’t heard it) since our very first read through a whole 3 weeks ago…And it’s extraordinary to see it come together, (if in fits and starts considering it was our first run through) and more importantly see how it will come together over the next two weeks as props, costumes, sets, and other tech elements begin to get added in.

For anyone not interested in my musings about the directing process – feel free to skip this and the next paragraphs. For everyone else, enjoy: Recently I was accepted to an SDC Symposium on Play Directing, which will be happening a week from Monday and as part of the symposium, I was asked to send in a bio and think about my directing style and that exercise gave me the opportunity to try to observe, “what exactly it is that I do when I direct.” It was a really interesting exercise for me. It turns out I do in fact have a method, it’s just so ingrained in how I do this whole theater thing that I never realized it was a method. I already talked about my process during the first week of rehearsals which is usually a lot of discussion and some improv centered around who the characters are and what their relationships are to the other folks in the play. And then we move into blocking and that’s really just me figuring out where exactly I want everyone to go on stage. Sometimes that’s instinctual and sometimes it’s not but it always eventually comes. The really nice thing about blocking is that usually, when it doesn’t look right, it also doesn’t feel right for the actors and before I say anything about it they sort of self adjust – or stop what they’re doing, look me in the eye and say “dude, this is crazysauce – not gonna work,” and we fix it together. So the blocking and character stuff is usually pretty straightforward. Kind of the utility work of the process. But scene work? Ah, scene work is where the magic happens. Scene work is the art…at least to me.

When it comes to scene work, turns out I have a method here too but this method is a little different (or maybe it’s not. Sidney Lumet has a famous line that I absolutely love and agree with: “directing is like sex. Everybody does it, but you’re not quite sure you’re doing it right, and you’re always curious about how other people are doing it.” It’s totally true, so maybe my method isn’t different at all but whether it is or not, this is how I do it.) Basically, I have the actors do the scene and I observe it. I ask them how they’re feeling with it. If it feels right to them. And then, if it doesn’t feel like it’s working for me, I change something. Usually working outward from the periphery characters in to the main character in the scene. Basically, I just keep changing things. Kind of like throwing a bunch of stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. Shifts, adjustments, suggestions, notes, until the scene starts to take shape. Usually I see something. One of the many times through the scene I see that spark and know in my gut – “ooh, that! Do that!” and then I usually jump up and down a little and actually say – “ooh, that! Do that!” Somewhere during that process the final scene really takes shape. It’s amazing to watch it happen. And, although it always follows a particular format, it’s different every time because each actor and each role and each experience is always different from whatever came before. The other thing is that, with all this work, even when it’s Right-with-a-capital-R, things will change, things will continue to grow. Because, theater is organic. Theater is alive. Theater changes with each performance and each experience. It’s one of those things I love soooooo much about theater. And it’s a joy to be a part of.

But, I digress (I seem to do that alot but then again, I guess that’s kind of how blogs work, right?) ANYWHO…so THIS WEEK, we will continue with scene work and we’ll have a chance to do nitpicky fixes of moments that aren’t quite working but by the weekend we’ll be into full run-throughs and our chance to fix major moments will be over. It’s fast. Every show I marvel at how fast it goes. But I digress aGAIN. Monday, S**T gets real! – we load in to the Flamboyan at CSV and the sets and costumes and lights and sound and projections and everything technical starts to come together. Tech officially begins and though I’m hoping I’ll find a way to do the “4 weeks down…1 to go” blog post – I’m saying it now, don’t hold your breath waiting for it. It will most likely not come until the night before we open. :)

Also, there’s still two weeks left on our Rockethub campaign. Thank you to everyone who has donated so far and for everyone else out there be sure to check out the sight and join the Bella’s Dream family. Get cool rewards, watch the awesome teaser video (put together by yours truly – I know, I’m so modest), read updates on the project from me and Dana Boll – (multi-hyphenate extraordinaire) playwright, choreographer, actor and co-producer and support the show even before we open.

Speaking of opening night – TICKETS ARE ON SALE NOW!!!!! Be sure to snap up your tickets as soon as you can. They’re selling like…well not quite like hotcakes…but what’s the next fastest seller? And, if the $18 ticket price is a bit too steep, keep in mind there are discounted $12 preview tickets available for June 16th at 5pm.

See you at the theater!

 

The Joys of Talented Friends…

So, I’ve spent the last couple of posts kinda complaining about things that are tough about this business so today I wanted to talk about one of the wonderful things – through chatting with, working with people, networking and the general “birds of a feather flock together”-ness of theater folks – it’s very easy in this business to make friends with and establish connections to an incredible network of talented, like-minded folks. One of those people (in my tribe) is Jake Lipman, Actress and Artistic Director/Producer of Tongue In Cheek Theater Productions. We met through a mutual acquaintance who thought, “huh, you both are women with theater companies who have similar views on the world and are, like 5′ tall, y’all should meet” and introduced us. I know what your thinking, you’re thinking, “well, I don’t know if that’s really enough similarities to base a lasting friendship on, there must be thousands of women with theater companies out there.” In response to you I say 1) frighteningly, there actually aren’t all that many women-run theater companies out there so we’ll flock together whenever we can AND, more importantly, 2) one of my mother’s best and longest friendships (we’re talking like 40 years here) came about because a mutual friend of theirs noticed they were both pregnant at the same time and so “would have a lot in common” and that acquaintance turned into a life-long friendship (see the 40 years thing). So clearly, if the universe wants you to be friends with someone, it will find a way to push y’all together, even if, at first glance, the similarities are only on the surface.

But, as usual, I digress… Tongue in Cheek is the same company that brought us last October’s terrific production of Our Town and, after that experience, you can imagine, how excited I was when Jake invited me to see Tongue In Cheek’s latest production, The Mistakes Madeline Made by Elizabeth Meriwether at The Bridge Theater at Shetler Studios. As I’m coming to expect from TIC Theater, this dark comedy was a great evening of theater, the only major drawback of which was the short run – only 7 performances. The play follows the story of recent grad Edna who takes a job assisting a wealthy family. She is visited by visions of her late brother Buddy and micromanaged by an insipid boss, Beth, compelling her to rebel with the help of quirky co-worker, Wilson. As she tries to find her way, throughout the play, Edna dates a series of pompous writers.

The play was filled with very funny/slightly surreal moments, which in and of itself was not much of a surprise considering the playwright would go on to create and produce the Fox television show New Girl, starring Zooey Deschanel. But what did surprise me was how moving the play managed to be in the midst of some “wackiness” and though I’m sure that was a factor of the writing, it was also due to the direction by Brock H. Hill and the work of the extraordinary cast.

Speaking of that cast – to be honest, the entire ensemble was wonderful. As Drake/Jake/Blake, Joe Mullen, with very little stage time, managed to create 3 entirely different characters while still portraying a clear archetype – “the pompous writer”. As Buddy, Jeremy Patrick Hamilton found the grounded reality of the “ghost” character, making him seem both a figure we completely know and a cipher we could never hope to know at the same time. Jake Lipman (and yes, I said she’s my friend so I’m a bit biased, but I’m also a director, I know real talent when I see it, and perhaps that is one of the reasons she IS my friend) Jake Lipman was hilarious as the insipid boss Beth, but she also played her in that way that only truly good comic actresses have of making sure that the character isn’t aware of the joke. Ms. Lipman’s Beth was so real that I actually broke out in a cold sweat at one point flashing back to conversations with those pointlessly irritating and particular bosses I’ve had in the past. Those bosses who’ve attended management seminars and read leadership self-help books and think, think, they are brilliant, people-managers. They think they’re the exact person who knows how to get the best out of talented people but instead are just completely clueless as to how to inspire committment, loyalty, and talent from their staff. And yet, in the midst of that very real portrait, Jake also gave us these little glimpses into the fact that as irritating and insipid as Beth is, she’s also a real person with feelings of her own-feelings that can easily be hurt. A.J. Heekin took a role that could have just been irritating or self-conciously quirky and turned Wilson into another real person, struggling with idiosyncracies and tics. Because of Mr. Heekin’s deft touch, very subtly and very quietly, Wilson moved from what seemed to be peripheral character to become the very heart of this little show. And Shelley Little – what to say about Ms. Little? I mentioned Shelley Little in my review of Our Town as I had been impressed with her work there but particularly in The Mistakes Madeline Made, I was blown away by her portrayal of Edna. We easily caught Edna’s wry humor and sarcastic shell holding everyone at arms length, but it was Shelley’s extremely moving portrayal of Edna’s inner weakness that, when exposed, became quietly devestating. By the end of the play, much to my surprise, I found myself reaching for tissue after tissue. (And, because it’s one of my pet peeves when an actress can’t do this, I want to specifically applaud Shelley Little for crying actual tears instead of just scrunching up her face and being “sad”. I’m a sympathetic crier from way back, so the actual tears were truly moving. )

As with Our Town, TIC once again was able to bring me humor interspersed with really moving, and emotionally effecting drama. Although The Mistakes Madeline Made has finished its run, I would like to HIGHLY recommend that you get yourself on their mailing list and be sure to catch whatever project they next have up their sleeves. You won’t be disappointed!

For more details on Tongue In Cheek Theater be sure to check their website here.

Learning to Release it with Love…

So, it’s time I talked about that green eyed monster…and no I’m not talking about this guy  from Monsters Inc…although, come to think of it, he was a green monster and he had an eye but the eye was aquamarine so technically he’s not a green eyed monster so much as he’s a green, aquamarine-eyed, monster…but I digress. No, the Green Eyed Monster I was talking about, of course, is jealousy. I have to say, although I can get pretty jealous in my personal life (I mean I am a Scorpio after all) most of my jealousy is confined to the professional world. And, I gotta tell you, it’s a bitch. I mean it. Don’t get me wrong, I have no issue being jealous of people I don’t know personally who have ridiculous success who doesn’t deserve it (insert any Kardashian name here). Although honestly that’s less jealousy than disdain. And I don’t mind getting on my high horse about people who have ridiculous success AND talent – dude I get jealous and snippy and generally rant-y about Lena Dunham like you wouldn’t beLIEVE (then again, I have yet to see Girls (what? I can’t afford cable let alone HBO) and am basing my entire opinion about her on the movie Tiny Furniture (which I hated) and an interview she gave in EW magazine), but I respect that she’s talented and self confident and completely without body issues so I’m good with her there. I just absolutely get jealous that someone so young and talented is getting heaps of acclaim and money and opportunity and pretty much everything I’ve been struggling for for like 20 years and seems not only not phased by it but in fact as if she was entitled to it all along. Of course, maybe that’s my problem – I’ve seen it more like something I would love to have but not something I was “entitled to” per se. Maybe I should just wander around completely self entitled. I’m sure that would make me a sought after party guest.

ANYWAY, I digress again because I’m not even talking about the people I don’t know who are wildly successful. Who gives a crap about them. I’m talking about that jealousy that rears its ugly head instinctively even when it’s the successes of people I love. You see, I have people in my life – loved ones, friends, acquaintances, who I genuinely care about and yet, when I hear about one of their successes (especially in the entertainment world) my immediate instinctive thought is not, “OMG that is soooo great for her/him” nope it’s “ugh, why can’t stuff work out that well for me?” And not ONLY do I initially think that, I think it in the most whiny, irritating voice in my head that it is possible to create. Forget about the fact that my very next thought is always, “OMG that is soooo great for her/him”. Forget that my heart swells with pride as if I had something to do with her or his accomplishments. Forget that I have been known to turn actual cartwheels of excitement in honor of someone else’s accomplishment. I just can’t seem to get rid of that green eyed monster.

And so, as I witness this behavior, I’ve been wondering a lot lately whether it is the nature of the artist. We spend so much of our time seeking approval. And though we may play a good game – honestly in most aspects of my life I could give a crap what people think of me – when it comes down to my art, I want to be loved. I want to be applauded, I want to blow people away. I wonder, is the jealousy ingrained in us creative types? It is a pretty competitive business and I’m not a compteitive person. I just want to do my thing and make a living at it. So maybe, the fact that it is so competitve makes me subconciously see other people’s successes as taking something away from me. But, the thing is, I don’t believe that’s true. I honestly believe there’s room for all. We make our own fate. I believe it, I know it. So why, oh why, do I consistently react with jealousy even if it is just in my own head? Because I really hate it. I mean really really hate it. I want to just be that zen person who never has a bad thought about others but who just honestly generously reacts to the success of others. Maybe I just need to keep making more of my own success so that I can kick back and rest on my laurels and not even notice the laurels of others. Or maybe I should just start ignoring all of the people I love – no, I don’t like that option at all.

So, instead  I’m trying to change it. See, I’m too smart to think that I can change my immediate emotional reaction to something just by saying “don’t feel that, Jessica.” That’s like saying, “gentle reader, don’t think of an elephant.” What happened? That’s right, you totally thought of an elephant. No, I’m not going to change it like that. Instead, I’m trying to accept that those feelings are a part of me. As much as I don’t like it, it’s true. Pissy, jealous, petty, snippy, instinctive emotions are as much a part of me as they are a part of anyone else and to pretend they’re not there only makes them fester and grow. So, I won’t ignore them and I won’t pretend I don’t feel them. I will just acknowledge them as my crap and no one else’s. In the end they’re completely one sided they come from me and only me and actually have nothing at all to do with the friend or loved one who has accomplished so much. I’m sure at their core those emotions are driven by fear so, after looking at those feelings, acknowledging them as my own, I then have to release them with love. Because they’re a part of me, they’re mine, and if I don’t want them, only I can get rid of them. “Goodbye jealous feelings. You ain’t wanted here no more.” I don’t know that it will make a difference but I sure am gonna try…and if that doesn’t work, I just need to find a way to genuinely collaborate with each and every talented person I know.

:)

For those of you not aware, that “collaboration with with each and every talented person I know” is going strong as ensemble member Dana Boll and I co-produce Dana’s play with dance: Bella’s Dream which will run through June with Yours Truly directing. Details and tickets will be available soon.

 

 

Perseverance (The Importance Of)

Disclaimer: I couldn’t come up with a good picture that really went along with this post. Sorry, just a whole lotta words and heads up, a couple of them are naughty…

Except for the occasional theater review, you may have noticed GTTP has been a little bit absent from the Blogosphere. (I’m sure you’ve all been breathlessly waiting for an explanation of where Jessica and GTTP has been). Well, lucky you, I feel like it is time to explain my absence. My other blog post today is all shiny happy with very exciting updates and, if you’d like to read that go ahead and skip this post entirely and see the shiny happy post here (ah the joys of simultaneous posting). But for those of you brave enough to embrace the darkness (heh. How ominous does that sound?), here’s the deal.

As you know from previous posting, last year was a bit of a crazy year (in a good way). GTTP (and in this instance the GTTP I’m referring to is yours truly) was up to its ears in productions. Starting with my directing gig at The Secret Theater, I went directly from directing The Day Job by Julia Blauvelt, into co-producing Cat Lady Without A Cat by Carrie Keskinen and then into directing and producing Jane Austen’s Persuasion by Laura Bultman, and right into directing and producing In The Ebb by Camilla Ammirati at the NY International Fringe Festival. Let me just say, that for as crazy as the schedule was, there is nothing quite as awesome as going from gig to gig to gig. It gives meaning to your life (or, in this case, my life) and it’s wonderful to know that you’re devoting all of your time and energy to the one thing that you know – completely know down in your boney bone bones – you were put on this earth to do. So that? Was awesome! …end of post.

Heh. Ok, not end of post. There was a downside. And here it is, gentle readers. Just because I know that I was put on this earth to direct (and produce) it doesn’t mean the universe recognizes it. And there was this tricky little thing with going from gig to gig to gig…and it’s that same tricky little thing that plagues all of us “starving” artists. That’s right, folks. Say it with me. Money. In that, there is none. No that’s not true. I have the most AMAZING supporters, which is to say all of you. I am WELL aware and INCREDIBLY appreciative of the way all of you have pitched in with money, time, encouragement and general support over the years. There’s nothing quite so wonderful as saying, “huh, how am I going to come up with x amount of money for this show?” and then checking Rockethub and seeing that x amount money has showed up from donors. It is a wonderful and amazing thing. But, unfortunately, for what I’m trying to do, it’s not enough. Don’t get me wrong, I know your hard earned cash is exactly that and you need to give what you’re comfortable giving and I’m not trying to imply that your generosity isn’t appreciated. No, on the contrary, it is EVERYTHING and it is a perfect launching off point. But, what I’ve been realizing, the longer I do this, is that we need more and we need bigger. Money and audiences, that is. In order to get to the place that I might one day make a living at this, we need to make that jump from small company surviving on individual donations into a company that makes its money through grants, or corporate sponsorship, or investors or all of the above…we need to jump.

This need was particularly noticeable last fall when I was hoping we were making that jump. I finished The Fringe Festival, completely ready for one of two things to happen, either – some variation of the pipe dream – someone of influence, someone with money, would have seen In the Ebb and decided he or she wanted to be GTTP’s patron or I’d get a directing agent who would launch me into a world of gigs for which I would get recognition and get paid a real salary and that salary would, in turn, enable me to subsidize my GTTP work or we’d get so noticed and so well reviewed that we would be instantly skyrocketed to fame and success (or at least to a budget level that would allow for a decent salary for all involved) and I’d get help in making GTTP really happen – OR – (more likely) I would go back to my 4 day jobs for 4 months, make some money, expand the ensemble, and come back in the spring for our next show, which would be a contributing factor to that jump happening, like now.

But here’s what happened…nada. No, that’s not exactly true, I did expand the company and we are now an ensemble of 28 artists and technicians and you can read about that in the other blog post (you know, the shiny happy one). But, except for that, nothing happened. No pipe dream, and no day job (there just wasn’t much work for me last fall). So I spent a few months trying to figure out what I should have done differently and what I could do differently in the future to make sure that that jump I was talking about earlier, would — no, will — happen.

Because, here’s the thing, I’m tired. I mean it. It’s exhausting to keep pushing, to keep going. It’s tiring to keep telling yourself, “no no, it WILL happen.” Leading up to Fringe, (as I have with every single production) I REALLY tried not to get my hopes up. I really tried not to let myself even imagine the pipe dream stuff. I REALLY REALLY did (and in my family when you say “really really” you can not lie). I kept telling myself, “Jessica, pipe dreams don’t happen in real life. This ain’t an episode of Smash. If you want something to happen you need to put in the work. You need to keep pushing. You need to persevere and, in the end you need to MAKE it happen. Because no one is going to give it to you. No one is going to do it for you.” I can’t tell you how many times over the past five years I’ve told myself some variation of exactly that. Seriously, it’s like a daily affirmation. Because you need to keep that pipe dream shit in check. So I stomped down on any of the, “but maybe what will happen is Steven Spielberg will be in NY and decide he wants to take in a Fringe show and he’ll see In the Ebb, and he’ll think, “wow, this show is something! This director is SOMETHING! Let me see what else she’s got!”" I stomped down HARD. At least I thought I did.

What actually happened though – Deep down, way way down deep, there was this Little Dreamer who just kept holding on to that pipe dream. Eyes screwed shut, shaking her head, knuckles white with holding on so hard, she just kept whispering, “I know all of that stuff Ms. Strong Realistic Conscious Mind. But you’re wrong, because I’ve been doing this for awhile and sooner or later, pipe dream has to happen. Sooner or later something’s going to give and the end result will be pipe dream. I know it.” It turns out that Little Dreamer is kind of an asshole, because what happened in September, and then October, and then November, when I realized that no manifestation of pipe dream was actually going to happen, I shut down and crawled into a state of hibernation. I didn’t realize it at the time, when I kept telling my friends and family, “yeah, I’m a little bit blue, but really I’m fine” that I was lying. It turns out that I wasn’t just a little bit blue, I was a little bit broken.

And it turns out I needed the last five months (WOW, I can not beLIEVE I wasted five whole months) to let that stuff work itself out. So that’s where I’ve been…that’s where GTTP has been…working stuff out. Sometimes, working stuff out looked like watching crap TV shows on my computer while playing video games on the TV. And sometimes working stuff out looked like playing on Facebook. And sometimes working stuff out looked like reading the final book of a fantasy series 20 years in the making, but whatever form of escape it looked like, it really really was working stuff out, because just within the last few weeks? I feel better. I feel eager. I feel recharged. I have to do lists and tasks and half started projects (which I rotate through daily) all over my desktop. I’m not really sure what I did to fix it, or heal or whatever, but the one thing I did do, as I sat there thinking, “Geez, Jess, you have GOT to get working again. You have to update your blog. or Work on your next project. or Get a new fundraising drive going. or SOMETHING!” The one thing I did do was listen once again to that Little Dreamer who said, “wait. Not yet. Lick your wounds. Heal. Listen to the dream again. Find the strength to keep going.” Because, she may be an asshole, and she may be melodramatic, but also? She knows of what she speaks.

Keep going on this journey. It will be worth it. Keep going on this path. There are rewards to come. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going. So I will. You wanna come too?

 

Meditations on Strong Women…and Wanting to be One – a Review of ANN

Recently I had the opportunity to see a dress rehearsal of ANN which opened for previews a week ago at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater. An exploration of Ann Richards, the one-woman-show was created by Holland Taylor from a compilation of speeches, interviews and discussions with people who knew the former Texas Governor. As you can see from the image above, the show is subtitled “Tough as nails. Funny as hell.” and it seems to be a perfect encapsulation of the woman herself.

The play is bookended with a speech the governor is giving to a graduating class and the speech gives us an entry into and an exit out of Ms. Richards story — how her life began, how she became a mom and housewife, how she decided to get into politics, how she gave a keynote speech at the 1988 democratic convention that put her on a national stage and how she eventually became the governor of Texas. Partway through the play the set changes and we get a glimpse of Ann in her governor’s office, conducting the business of running the second largest state in the country.

Even if you don’t care for politics, this show is something you should see. I am not a particularly political person – don’t get me wrong, I have a political point of view and (honestly) very strong opinions about the political scene in this country but, beyond the occasional Facebook post, I don’t usually have much to say about the political world. The whole thing gives me a headache and makes me tired at the same time, so I usually don’t wade into that morass. And, when considering seeing ANN, my immediate reaction was that I didn’t really care about politics so why would I want to see a show all about politics. What’s more, going in to the play, I knew very little about Ann Richards beyond that she was a former governor of Texas. And, although I have always liked Holland Taylor, my experience of her as an actress has always been enjoyable but limited to the strong but supporting roles in movies and television that she has gravitated to. Basically, I had no idea if the subject matter would be particularly interesting or enlightening or entertaining and I had no idea if the actress/playwright would be able to carry the execution of an entire solo show…It turns out, an all counts, I shouldn’t have worried, I was in expert hands.

ANN is hilarious and touching, moving and fascinating. I was impressed with many things about the show — Ms. Taylor’s impeccable timing, her grace and her intelligence which shone clearly in her performance, but what really impressed me was the sense I got of Ann Richards as a woman — a funny, intelligent, balls-to-the-wall woman. Watching her have conversations with her secretary (an off stage presence you never see but instead hear through the phone’s intercom), various people on the phone (ranging from dignitaries like Bill Clinton, to her staff, to her children) and even herself, we see a woman who barrels through and gets the job done. She is a woman who is confident, sharp and witty, fiercely intelligent and in control, even when she’s not. And she’s one of those women who, as a woman watching, you want to be like. I can see why Ms. Taylor was drawn to her subject matter. Ann Richards was someone who was extremely capable, full of love for her children, her job, and her country. She devoted her life to public service and we were all the better for having had her in the world.

As a woman with a theater company dedicated to giving more opportunities to women, I am drawn to strong women, as characters and as people. So it is no surprise that watching ANN, I to was drawn to Ann. I found myself wanting to be like her a bit more in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a pretty confident, sharp and witty, intelligent and in control woman myself; but, watching the play you can’t help but want to be that confident and that capable all the time. To the point that you don’t care what people think of you as long as you gets the job done and done right. Ann Richards clearly had a strong personality but she also clearly had a strong moral center and a clear idea of what needed doing and how to get it done. And though I’m sure there were times when that confidence and competence pushed the scale towards difficult and maybe even unlikable to the people around her, it’s clear from the play that she never wavered in who she was. I wished I had known her while she lived and I’m honored that I got to know her through this show. Holland Taylor gives an extraordinary performance that brings the audience in and lets us all get to know Ann Richards a little better.

ANN is in previews now at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater. It opens for its limited Broadway run starting March 7th. For tickets and more details go to http://www.theAnnRichardsPlay.com/index.php

Don’t miss your chance to meet and spend some time with these extraordinary women.

Arts and Sports and the things they share…

Ok, so I have another few posts waiting in the wings and I’ll get them up on the site in the next few weeks. I’ll talk about post-show depression and new GTTP members – new projects and the life of a small independent theater company and everything will return to normal but before I do that I wanted to just say something about this whole natural disaster thing.

First off, I want to say that thankfully GTTP is fine. We’ve weathered the weather with limited damage to property and no damage to the people in the Tahiti circle. I also got word from Richard Mazda, the owner of The Secret Theatre, and, despite it being near the Hurricane Sandy flood zone, our unofficial home is also fine. No damage to any of the three theater spaces there so we are very thankful to the storm gods for that. Our community is safe. However, as I’m sure you’re all well aware, the Eastern Seaboard, particularly New Jersey and New York, were not so lucky. Our hearts and thoughts go out to all of those affected by the storm who recently got slammed again by this little nor’easter that blew through last night.

“We hear you Jess, but we saw the title of this post, what on earth does this have to do with sports?” you ask. Good question. I’m getting there. Some of you already know this but for those who don’t, I am a sometimes runner. In 2006 I ran (actually after mile 14 it was mainly walking) the Chicago Marathon and I was scheduled to run (I was hoping to make at least mile 20 before walking this time) the NY Marathon last Sunday…And as many of you also know, in the wake of the storm, the NY Marathon was cancelled. Let me just say here, this post is not about the controversy surrounding either the original decision to have the marathon or the eventual decision to cancel it. (For those of you who want to know my opinion, just for the record, I agree that canceling it was the right decision, though a part of me was still disappointed not to be able to run and hope to run it next year. But, as I said, that’s not what this post is about.)

What this post is about is Arts and Sports and the things they share. I know that from an 80′s high school movie standpoint arts and sports have nothing in common. There are jocks and there are drama kids and never the twain shall meet. But, as a lover of sports movies, I’ve never understood that totally black and white view of either high school or, honestly, the world. Sometimes the drama kids are athletic. Sometimes the athletes can sing…You get my drift, but that’s not what I wanted to talk about either.

What I wanted to talk about here is the thing that I think sport and art most have in common and that is their power to create a community who might not share anything else in common but they all like “this” whatever this happens to be. In this instance, when I say art I mean theater (because, of course, that’s what I do) but it applies to all of the arts: music, or painting, sculpture, or photography – you name it – they can all connect you with others. And, when I say sport, because I’m about to talk about running, in this instance that’s the sport I’m referring to but anyone who has cheered on his or her team during the world series, or the world cup – anyone who has cried over his horse’s defeat at the Kentucky Derby or her team’s defeat in a high school championship knows that any sport can bring people together.  Because sports and the arts, they are more than just sport and art, they are ideas. Ideas we believe in. Ideas we share with others. And both sport and art create these little tribes, these little families that believe in the same thing. It might be the only thing they agree on but on that idea they are united.

Close to 1300 marathoners-turned-relief-workers wait in the Staten Island Ferry terminal for the boat to take us to the island.

I’ve spent the last week, both when I thought the marathon was happening and then after it was cancelled, looking at my feelings about the race. I was conflicted about running had it gone ahead. Don’t get me wrong, if the city decided to do the race, I would have run it – I had trained too hard for too long not to run, but I was conflicted and I realized one of the reasons for my conflict was that to me the NY Marathon – hell, any marathon but particularly New York – is an idea. And a grand one at that. It’s about pushing yourself to the limit. It’s not just a 26.2 mile run. For every runner who does a marathon (or who trains for a marathon) it’s about setting yourself a goal and then either accomplishing it or not but learning about yourself during the struggle. It’s about looking at this crazy distance and saying, “no way. I can’t do it.” And then doing it anyway. For the NY Marathon, it’s about a whole city lining the streets and cheering for you even though they don’t know you – coming together to help you because in the end it’s about looking into the abyss and knowing the abyss is looking back at you, steely eyed, and pissed off, and then choosing to jump into it anyway, and to be honest, you need all the help you can get. It’s dramatic and it’s moving and no matter how alone you might be when you train, when you line up with thousands of other people to run, and when you run through streets lined with thousands of other people cheering you on – well, you ain’t alone anymore. Because that’s what the marathon is about – setting goals and challenging yourself and getting through hard stuff with the help of your community. And though you show up with strangers, you soon make friends as you struggle and suffer together. And though you’re cheered on by strangers, you find your friends along the route. And for one day – for one moment in time, this enormous, isolating city, filled with millions of people, becomes this community of people all in it together.

But this year, as the true extent of Hurricane Sandy’s damage started to register and the thought that resources might be diverted from relief efforts for the race…it stopped being about everyone coming together. The city was broken, and the marathon couldn’t be the band-aid that fixed it. So it was cancelled. And it was the right call, but it didn’t change the fact that there were a bunch of people who wanted to run. (Do you see how I’m setting the scene here?)

So a bunch of people wanted to run…and a bunch of people on Staten Island (the starting point for the marathon) needed help. And in stepped New York Runners In Support of Staten Island. Organized by a group of runners who were planning to do the marathon, (and they put this together in about 24 hours, folks), the group urged hundreds of would be marathoners to spend the Saturday before the marathon buying relief supplies and readying backpacks instead of resting up and carb loading for the following day’s 26.2. And, on Sunday morning, as planned, we loaded onto the Staten Island Ferry and took a ride. The idea was that we’d all put on something orange (the race’s color), we’d put the supplies in backpacks and we’d run the supplies out to people on the island who needed them most. Along the way we’d pitch in and help, however we could, but most importantly, we’d go door to door – we’d hand out supplies, we’d help clear debris, we’d listen to stories the folks needed to tell, we’d cry with them or hug them or be with them – whatever they needed. We were told to be flexible and ready for anything. And instead of running away from Staten Island, we’d run right to the heart of it.

It was expected to be about two hundred people. Thirteen hundred showed up instead. It started with 5 different groups separated by distances: 6-8 miles, 8-10 miles, 10-12 miles, 12-14 miles, 14+ miles. It turned out there were at least 2 groups for each distance. For me, I knew I could do a full 26.2 but with 20 pounds of relief supplies on my back? With my old thick-soled sneakers instead of my barefoot shoes (there was a lot of debris still on the streets)? Without bathrooms or water breaks or aid stations? I decided I’d opt for the 8-10 mile route.

So Sunday morning, we arrive on Staten Island and a bunch of groups, clad in orange hats or tops or pants or all three take off to points south and west of the terminal. My

The Orange-Clad Army on ferry number 2.

group, scheduled to go 8-10 miles, gathers around our leader to confirm our route and get ready to head out. Then the leader makes an announcement. It turns out that they’ve talked to FEMA and discovered that the people who really need our help are a bit further out. So instead of 8-10 miles it looks like where the help is really needed on our route is a round trip distance closer to 14 miles (4-6 miles farther than expected). So our leader makes the announcement – it’ll be 14 miles not 8, but that’s where the help is most needed. “So,” she says, “we can either stick with the original plan or we can scrap it and go where they most need us. Why don’t we take a vote? Let me get a show of hands for everyone who wants to do the original 8 mile route.” And then she looks out at the crowd. And do you know what she saw? Not a collection of individuals but a community with a single idea – Not one hand was raised…not one.

And it wasn’t peer pressure. It wasn’t like everyone looked around and noticed that no one else was raising a hand and so thought, “oh, I can’t be the only one to raise a hand.” Because, the thing is – nobody even turned their heads. No one shuffled, no one looked at their neighbors, no one hesitated or even considered raising a hand. It was as if 35 people collectively and silently decided – “we go. We go where we’re needed.”

And did I mention these people were mostly strangers. I mean there were little pockets – 2 people together here, 3 there – but as a group, we hadn’t met before we showed up to run. We didn’t know each other, we just came together because we shared this thing – this idea. This wish to challenge ourselves, but also to help. This wish to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. To be a part of this group. And in this case, our little community could help a bigger one. So that’s what we did.

Taking a break at the FEMA station before heading back home.

We ran out to the FEMA station and along the way we stopped to hand out supplies – “who needs garbage bags?” “Do you need food and water?” “How about soap and shampoo, I’ve got soap and shampoo here?” We helped carry debris. We listened. One woman, standing in front of a pile of debris that a week earlier had been the contents of her brother’s home, hugged me and cried and said she just needed to know they weren’t alone. She didn’t need anything in my backpack but in that moment she seemed to need me. Just to know that they weren’t alone. That they weren’t forgotten. That was what she seemed to need most of all.

In the end it was a long, hard, wonderful, awful day. The devastation is unbelievable – and my group didn’t even get to the worst of it. Houses that are piles of debris. Cars that have been washed onto embankments. Sinkholes where once there were sidewalks or fields. One of the other runners kept saying to me, “how do you come back from this? How do you ever get back to normal after this?” And all I kept thinking was, “you don’t do it alone, that’s how.” So, in the end, I think sport and art have the power to move, to make a difference. And hopefully, in some small way, the power to heal. But their greatest power, is the power to bring us together.

In the weeks and months to come, as the temperature drops and more storms roll through areas with weakened (or in some cases obliterated) infrastructure, my heart goes out to everyone who is trying to come back from this. And, I want to say – you’re not alone. Because, it turns out, a run is a lot like a play — it is a statement — an idea — of strength and community, of coming together, of not being alone.

The folks in Staten Island and other parts of New York and New Jersey still need your help. Please join our community. Please help.

Red Cross –  http://www.redcross.org/

Interoccupy - http://interoccupy.net/occupysandy/

Time Out – http://www.timeout.com/newyork/own-this-city-blog/how-to-help-in-new-york-city-after-hurricane-sandy

Like the facebook page and get involved – you don’t even have to run:

New York Runners In Support Of Staten Island - https://www.facebook.com/NewYorkRunnersInSupportOfStatenIsland?fref=ts

 

And, if you’d like to donate money - http://www.crowdrise.com/runnersForRelief