(Take Two) More A-words, Susan Messing, and I Deserve ‘em

The best advice I’ve ever gotten as a performer is that I should never ever play pretty or sexy.  I am not funny playing straight-up pretty characters.  I am not funny playing straight-up sexy characters. 

Don’t be pretty.

So I hemmed and hawed about this post.  I’m not pretty in it.

But it’s honest.  It’s not how I always am, but it’s how I was in the moment.  My demons are ugly.

The nice thing is, as future posts will show, I don’t always wallow in my own ugly.

Please permit me this wade into the ugly end of the pool.

I’ve already gotten two songs choreographed and I feel pretty good about them.  It should be fun for the performers (and me!!!)

If you’re not having fun, you’re the asshole — Susan Messing

(Originally written on and around 8/11)

There are weeks that get lost.  This is one of them.

Last week we entered tech.  Two nights of long rehearsals that got me home at 1 or 1:30, and then opening night, we rehearsed two hours before we went on at midnight.  We only met our music director on Tuesday night for an hour and then another hour before the show went on, so that created a bit of anxiety.  That being said, it was a great opening night.  We had about 50 people there (the theater seats about 80, and for a midnight show, I’ll take 50.)  The audience was with us from the first strains of the opening number.  My cast mates were spot on and at times quite brilliant.  One of my characters who has gotten big laughs in rehearsal met with tumbleweeds.  Another of my characters got huge laughs after getting tumbleweeds in rehearsals.  A third character got big laughs in both.  Very satisfying and exhausting.

One child showed signs of a mild cold on Friday.  Huzzy left for a weekend poker tournament Friday night.  The boys went to my parents on Saturday so I could focus on the show.  I spent most of Saturday doing really delayed Spring cleaning (and running Tops and Bottoms) before heading to rehearsal.  We were expecting company on Tuesday night (some of Huzzy’s extended family in from out-of-town) and I knew that Sunday and Monday I would be off-kilter due to my sleep schedule becoming fubar due to late night rehearsals.

On Sunday I picked up the boys and found out that the other show that I was going to work on was of course going to start rehearsing this week, my first week “off” from rehearsals in 6 months (I had overlaps of once a week shows and two-or-three-times-a week rehearsals for other shows.)

I had volunteered to do some choreography two months ago, with the caveat that I needed to know schedules and get scripts/music as early as possible because of needed to (a) set up child care and (b) I am a fairly good “comic choreographer” (which is what I’m doing.  This ain’t dance.  This is comedy dance.) but I am not a fast off-the-top-of-my-head choreographer and need anywhere from 4-5 hours per song to come up with something workable for most 3 minute numbers.

Over the last two months, I’ve sent three emails to the director asking for schedule or music or script so I could start working.  I was met with…silence.  No dates, no time, no information.  No preproduction meeting.

Nothing.  Made me nervous.  I *did* find out that I would be choreographing with someone else and that there would be “lots” of musical numbers.  That made me more nervous.  Not the collaboration thing so much as the time thing.  Collaborating is totally worth it, especially if there is a great deal of music, but it means setting aside time for meeting.

My time seems at a premium these days.  I’m tired.  More tired than I’ve ever been in my life (and my kids did not sleep through the night until they were 8 months old.) I wanted to avoid having to find large chunks of time in a short period of days/weeks and instead at least have a few meetings and/or songs blocked over the span of a few weeks or, gasp, months.

I was called into a rehearsal this week (a general email to the entire cast and crew).  We were sent partial scripts with songs.  I worked three days on trying to get some ideas for choreography so that I wasn’t walking in empty-handed to rehearsal.  I knew what I needed to look for during the read-through and knew what information about the songs I needed.  I was relieved and excited to have the information.

My kids are still sick.  Very sick.  Stuffy, cranky, mildly feverish, not themselves. Not sleeping well. 

Before rehearsal, I sent the director a text that I had to leave 5 minutes early for child care reasons.  I saw the director.  It was awkward because I hadn’t heard from her for all my emails.  I said my hellos and said I hoped my text hadn’t been annoying…I am well aware that texting someone you have to leave 5 minutes early from rehearsal is uncool; however, I assume it is cooler than informing the director as they are getting organized at the start of a rehearsal.  I also figured standing up and leaving unannounced is much uncooler.

I was told that my texts and emails were “annoying…but cute annoying.” 

I am embarrassed by that.  I communicate these things.  I need schedules not to be a pain in the ass.  I need schedules to do my job and make the show good.  I need schedules to make sure my kids are cared for and my family isn’t falling apart at the seams.  I’m trying to squeeze 30 hours into 24.  I’m trying to do a good job.

And I’m coming across as a pain in the ass.

I’ve only been called annoying one other time in my life.  It was in my improv class. Someone just blurted it out during break.  “I find you annoying.”  I was similarly horrified. One other woman in the class (and I love her) said, “What the hell are you talking about?  She’s not annoying at all.”  And my accuser said, “Oh, I know, I just like trying to make her cry.”  (Which explained why he had spent a good deal of our scenes telling my characters how fat their asses were. All of my characters had fat asses, apparently, to my horror and to the amusement of some classmates and growing discomfort of others.)

I really am trying to live my life, at a minimum, not making people’s lives worse.  I don’t want to be a swarm of gnats…harmless but something that gets in the way.  I don’t want to feel like I was pestering this director, who I really enjoy and respect.

At the same time, was I asking for so much?  Information?  I tried to be professional, friendly, polite in my requests. 

It was painful to hear and I really need to continue to consider that maybe I just need to go with the flow in this business and let things unfold and know that my pace needs to be picked up.  Or, maybe, I should avoid doing choreography, which takes me so long to do, and know that my anxiety about time is coming across unwell.

About 20 of us were at the rehearsal last night.  As everyone filed in the room, I saw a nice mix of young folks (this is their first “big” show) and more seasoned performers, many of whom throw off a jaded been-there-done-that-will-comment-on-it vibe.  I know a few of them.  Well, know isn’t the right word.  I’ve done shows with a few of them.

In the hubbub of everyone getting organized, I put my purse on the chair next to me and tried to balance two notebooks and a pile of just-handed-out information on my lap so I could try to get a handle on the show.  We hadn’t started yet.

I heard, “Hey, Jackie.  Is your purse comfortable?” boomed from across the room.  Everyone looked at me.  I looked up to see one of the folks I’d worked with (and a good friend of someone I went on one date with once-upon-a-lifetime ago) before standing across the room.  We’d run out of chairs.  He wanted to sit where my purse was.  I smiled, “Yes,” which got a few laughs while I moved my purse.  My face was burning.  Why this embarrassed me I have no idea. 

He sat down and said to me, “Jeeesus,” indicating that he thought (jokingly or otherwise) that I was not being a team-player by not recognizing he needed a seat.  Then he said sort of quietly enough for only me and a few others to hear, “Not having a chair makes me an asshole.  What’s your excuse, Jackie?”

He spent the rest of the rehearsal staring at me weirdly…like he was trying to be a good friend to the guy I’d gone on one date with…

I was upset.  I didn’t want to be upset.  I didn’t want to engage.  He’s a professional, waaaay funnier than I am.  I was not going to “outfunny” him. If I showed I was embarrassed or uncomfortable, that would have encouraged the behavior.  I tried to just focus on the script and not the stare down I was getting. 

It is critical that I note that it is entirely possible, likely even, that he was just playing around.  When I’m tired and anxious, I’m easy prey.  I was keeping this in mind and focusing more on not upsetting him (?!!!!) and making him think I was being mean, so occasionally I looked up at him, caught his stare, and smiled.  Inside I was kicking myself for not having the wherewithall to look up and move my purse before this was pointed out to me.  I was then kicking myself for focusing on this.  Then I kicked myself for kicking myself. 

You’d think I’d be a better choreographer, considering all the kicking.

Then, after rehearsal, as we were leaving, he said, nice as can be, “So, Jackie.  How have you been?”

“Fine, thank you.  How have you been?”  I smiled.

He stared at me for a good 25 seconds.  “Good.”

It was weird.  Like he was waiting for…something? 

Again, he may have just been trying to back pedal from being, uh, aggressively funny towards me for 90 minutes.  Or he was trying to freak me out.  Or he was trying to figure out what the hell was making me act like some sort of comedy zombie.  Honestly, I can’t spend more time worrying about it.

I went to the car and cried all the way home.  I got to sleep at 2.  Most of the self-pity had escaped via tear ducts.

I spent a lot of time today emailing the other choreographer (who is as anxious as I about the same things, and was unable to attend last night.  In this flurry of emails I may have made a new and awesome friend.  He’s got a fantastic sense of humor.) and trying to figure out our schedule so that we can get to work and make this great show greater.  I am tired.  I am nervous about doing a good job choreographing this show.  I am concerned that rehearsals are not set and that they will require me to call on family to help me out more than they already are. 

On the plus side, the ideas started to flow during rehearsal and I have a few concepts I can start working with.  THAT is outstanding.

So tonight, as I worried and fretted and wiped never-ending snot from two still-runny noses and listened to two boys whine because they don’t feel good, as I processed being embarrassed in the name of humor, as I dealt with my own hypersensitivity, as I dealt with someone I dearly love and respect professionally calling me annoying, as well as some other goings-on that do not belong in a blog, I yelled.  Not at the boys.  Just while they were in the room.  I startled one of them.  He started crying.

I broke my own heart with that.  But I apologized to him for scaring him and for yelling and explained a few times, as best I could, that sometimes we are hurt or sad or mad and we get loud.  He still cuddled up next to me for an hour before bedtime as I read stories.

But that’s not the Mom I want to be.  I don’t want to be sacrificing my joy as a parent because I’m an annoying asshole who is annoying because she’s trying to be a good mother and an asshole because in being a mother for 16 hours I didn’t move my purse.  I may be an asshole because this week brings back my Chatter Monkeys, this time squealing about how I’m not cut out for this project, t(S)P, any artistic project, or creativity in general. I’m pretty darned sure that I am an asshole because (privately) I wish he’d just come over and said, “Hey, can I sit here?”

I’m positive that Susan Messing would definitely call me an asshole because I wasn’t having fun this week.


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