Category: theater


What 30 looks (and sounds) like!

I failed to plan the 30th birthday party I had been hoping to throw for myself… lots of ideas, and not enough uumph to put them into action (it often happens like that with a baby around, it seems).  HOWEVER, the Universe stepped in and provided me with a kick-ass rite-of-passage into my Thirties.  I couldn't have planned a better one myself! 

Our second performance of Godspell was the evening of my birthday, and the show was going pretty well.  No one I knew was in the audience, and sometimes it's easier to relax and have fun when that's the case, because I'm not thinking about how/if they're enjoying the show.

The way that we performed the show, pretty much everyone had some solo singing.  I had one of the early songs in the first act, and I was always glad to get it over with because singing by myself historically terrifies me.  Throughout rehearsals for Godspell I had been proud of myself for singing fully, not hiding behind a soft, weak voice like I've been known to do.  I think I was more comfortable in this context because so many of us were/are amateurs… I didn't feel like I was out of my league or not up to par with other people in the cast.

On Saturday night, my song began as usual, but early in the song the CD we used as accompaniment started skipping.  And kept skipping as I tried to keep singing.

I had a moment of wondering if I should stop and let the sound guy re-start the CD, but instead I decided to just keep going.  The rest of the cast followed along as they joined in on harmony, and we sang the whole song a capella.

When we finished without a trainwreck, it felt wonderfully thrilling, the high that comes from doing what you're afraid to do.  As I drove home that night, I thought to myself, "Hell yeah — I'm 30, and I can keep singing when the music fails!" 

It's a ripe metaphor that I think is viscerally etched in the cells of my body, to hold as a reminder through this next stage of my life.

And if I ever forget, it's been preserved on video! 

More photos from the show can be seen here, as well.

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lots of fire!

Tomorrow is my 30th birthday — it feels pretty big, much more than any other birthday since 20, I think.  21 was no big deal because I already drank alcohol, and not much of it, so nothing really changed.   There’s something about my sense of self that changes with these decade birthdays… a shift in my perspective on who I am in the world.

30 feels like turning outward, after spending my 20s learning about myself and testing out my ideas and ideals.  My 20s was about experiencing and experimenting, opening up to new possibilities and pushing perceived limits… and then noticing how I felt, how other people reacted, and how I felt about other people’s reactions.  Data collection, my 20’s.

And now I have a sense of a mandate to act on the information I’ve gathered.  I know myself fairly well — I know my tendencies, my emotional and mental “gravitations”.   I know the well-worn paths and the traps that lie therein.  It’s my job now to take responsibility for all that, and navigate gracefully around the traps.

I know how to open when I’m shut down, and I know how I justify not opening up.  I know that I have a tendency to be controlling, and I know the power and the danger of that habit.  I know the things I need to do to take care of myself, and I know I enjoy life more when I do them:

  • EAT WELL– avoid wheat and sugar, and don’t skip meals
  • DRINK A LOT OF WATER — I need a beautiful water bottle that I carry everywhere, otherwise I forget to drink
  • GO TO BED EARLY — I can’t let Facebook suck me in night after night… I need to give myself a bedtime
  • WRITE IN MY JOURNAL DAILY —  I need a daily routine where I write at the same time every day (right now it’s when Aurora naps)
  • WORK WITH TAROT CARDS REGULARLY — I need to give myself over to magical experience to get out of the illusion that I’m in control here
  • GET OUT OF THE HOUSE WITH AURORA — I need to plan things the day before so in the morning we get up and GO!
  • WALK IN THE WOODS — I need to have time surrounded by the creations of raw nature, rather than the creations of people
  • WORK WITH PLANTS — I need a garden, and I need to be making medicine from herbs
  • DANCE — I need to have a regular date with myself for dancing, otherwise I let it slide
  • CHALLENGE MYSELF — I get bored if things are easy… I need to be challenging myself emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually if I’m going to feel satisfied with my life, because I want to be growing.

And the purpose of all of this is shifting to be more outward now — not just the development of self-awareness from my 20s, but now shifting outward to being of service, making my life a contribution to the communities I’m a part of.  This family, my circles of friends, this city, this world… humanity.   I feel like I’ve been scrambling since Aurora was born (15 months ago!) to reconfigure my modes of service.  It’s hard to be an “activist’ as I wash diapers and dishes at home.  As it’s all played out, though, I find myself focusing on theater and ritual as my contributions.  Jeffrey has supported me in performing in 2 shows in the last 6 months, staying with Aurora during rehearsals and performances.  The stage has always called me… from my first role as Goldilocks in kindergarten, right up to tonight’s opening night for Godspell.   Yes, this is a clear path for me.  Sometimes it seems like it’s so obvious that I forget I’m an actress, when I’m in angst about not having a focus, not having a “profession”.  I do, it just doesn’t pay.

Then the other path, more recently acknowledged, is that of holding space for ritual.  Being by my Grandma’s side during the last days of her life inspired me to pursue work as a chaplain, after I was already in training to become a doula.  Holding sacred space for birth and death (and marriage, and divorce, and other life transitions) is another clear path that stays lit when I’m confused about everything else.

I think writing all this out here helps me claim it, helps me say “YES — this is who I am right now, on the eve of my 30th birthday”.  Of course I have no idea what comes next, what I’ll learn in this next decade.  But, controlling as I am, I know I thrive when I have a clear and tangible plan for where I’m headed… even if it turns out to completely change.  I’ve learned that much about myself… so I move forward with that information, doing the best I can.

I’ve been feeling the rewards of persistence lately — it’s a trait I think I embody well.  When I’m not coming from a clear place it manifests as stubbornness and control-freak tendencies, but lately I’ve been doing well at just sticking with what I believe in, holding on in rough waters, and just breathing when I don’t know what else to do.

And now I’m experiencing the beauty on the other side… the relief of experiencing what I believed was possible: the depth of connection with my husband, the utter joy of being a mama, the nourishment of social connections in town.

Tonight, I got to feel the reward of persistence in the context of my current theatrical pursuit: a community theater production of Godspell.  The process has been frustratingly slow and lonely.  Our rehearsals have been spaced so far apart that we forget what we’ve already blocked, and the cast is a group of people who all know everyone else but me… the outsider in all number of ways, it seems (socially, politically, spiritually, financially…)

We’ve been rehearsing twice a week since June, with multiple cast members absent each time for various vacations and other conflicts.  it’s felt scattered and incoherent — Godspell is such a nonsensical show anyways!  I think we’ve all been confused about the purpose of what we’re doing up till now… I’ve left rehearsals feeling lonely and unsure of how we’re going to pull it all together.  But with a show like this, there’s no choice but to keep going.  I made a commitment to the cast and the director when I joined the show, and I wouldn’t break it except in dire circumstances (I’ve only regretted not quitting a show once… a horrible production with a director who had no vision and tried to cover up that lack with sex humor).

Tonight at rehearsal, something clicked into place.  It was our first time ever having two rehearsals in a row, and our first week seeing each other more than twice.   We’re starting to know the songs and the dances well enough that we can really perform them, rather than be thinking about what comes next.  It lets us be in our bodies, fully in the physical experience of the moment — and being in the moment together is what deepens connections.  It was tangible, in our eye contact, in our joking with each other, in our comfort with physical contact (encouraging pats on the back, engaging more fully in partnered choreography…).  Maybe the change is just in me, and everyone else has been feeling this with other people all along, but I don’t think so.  It really feels like we’ve reached another level of group cohesiveness — what Edie Turner (a favorite professor in UVA’s Anthro Dept) would call communitas.  It’s that expansion of awareness beyond the self, to include awareness of the group as a whole.  It’s one of the key things I love about theater, this experience of collective intent and collective action, giving myself over to that.  I was worried we’d never get there with this show, and tonight I feel grateful for the familiar feeling filling my body and my heart.  This is what I live for…  and I’m reminded yet again that maybe the period of isolation and chaos and not knowing what comes next, maybe that is actually a necessary step in opening to a more fulfilling experience.  It seems a paraodx… and embracing paradox seems to be a major piece of being human.

I’m in town, sitting at a coffeshop that has a free computer for customers.  I’m sipping on a healthy juice drink, getting ready for rehearsal, listening to Paul Simon’s “Graceland” being piped into the room.  It’s ideal.  It’s been a beautiful day, and the downtown Mall (the large pedestrian throughway in the middle of the city, lined with stores and restraunts and theaters) is full of people eating on reastaurants’ outdoor patios.  I feel part of a larger community now, the community of Charlottesville, and it feels stronger than I imagined an “unintentional community” could feel.  I feel open to connecting with any of the people here, and it often happens spontaneously just with a smile.

off to another community, that of the theater and my cast.  We’re bonding strongly as rehearsals continue, sharing a common goal and a common struggle.

a different world…

I have a job. And a boss. And I’m not allowed to wear sandals.

I’m struggling with the differences between my life on the commune and the life I’m building for myself here. I wanted to carry it all with me: the ideals, the sense of possibilities, my comfort with my body and its functions. I just recently started peeing outside again, after feeling worried that the neighbors would drive by. I still haven’t felt all right about taking off my shirt on hot days while I’m working around the yard.

This whole “job” thing is also a challenge for me. I’m re-training myself to remember to bring everything I need for the day, including clothes for various weather conditions. At Twin Oaks, I ran back to my room several times a day to get warmer clothes or nap or grab whatever I needed for my next activity. I only work 7 miles away from home, but that’s still too far to pop in for a sweatshirt or a snack. Also, I’m working with people I don’t know and who don’t know me, and that’s uncomfortable. I guess anyone who’s starting a new job will have that experience, but after working for nearly 4 years with people I knew on all kinds of intimate levels, it’s quite a shift. They told me on Friday that I’m not allowed to wear sandals on the job (it’s a freaking summer camp!), and I was taken aback by how smoothly and confidently they told me what I have to do. No conversation, no explanation of why… just, “this is the way it is.” You aren’t on the commune anymore, Dorothy. I’m only working two days a week now, and I’m a little anxious about what it’ll be like to be under someone else’s command for 50 hrs a week once I start full time in May.

I’m struggling with how much I’m driving, the kinds of food I’m eating, the ways I’m spending money, and how I’m passing the time. I’ve been watching more movies than ever, because Free’s kids love them (I’ve now seen Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter at least 5 times each). I’m eating more sugar than I have in a long time, sleeping less than I need to (when the kids can’t sleep, we can’t sleep), and not spending much time by myself. Welcome to Instant Motherhood! Fall in love, get three kids as part of the package.

and at the same time, I’m in a play again, and loving it. I love going to rehearsals and exploring emotions and motivations in conjunction with other talented actors. The play is All My Sons, but Arthur Miller, and it’s a brilliant look at human responsibility and interdependence, and the ways that mainstream culture undermines personal repsonsibility. At least, that’s the way that I read it, and I’m honored to be presenting a show that delivers that kind of message. This is my way of serving the world: developing awareness. And theater is one of the primary ways for doing that.

One thing I’m noticing about being away from Twin Oaks is that I’m excercising my “proactive” muscles again. For the most part (when I’m not at work), I get to decide what I do in every moment, instead of following my labor sheet. Of course, my schedule is going to quickly fill up and soon I’ll be working a full time job and rehearsals in the evening and then I’ll have school… but for now, my days are my own and I find myself responding to my own initiatives, making things happen around here without going through extensive process or thinking it’s someone else’s responsibility. I’m doing a lot of home repair jobs, fixing up the double wide which was built to fall apart, finding ways to make it more stable and effective as a home.

At the same time, I miss the structure of Twin Oaks, where everything I did had meaning in the larger world because it was supporting the community, an alternative model for healthy living. Everything I did was a part of that larger organism which was contributing to the world in a way that I loved and was proud of. Here, me fixing the closet shelves doesn’t have any larger meaning, except my happiness and comfort, which tangentially affects the people I interact with, which tangentially affects the larger world… it’s all much less tangible, and so my responsibility is less tangible. I notice myself sliding on my ideals and integrity because my choices don’t seem to make as much of a difference. I’m getting lazy and a bit apathetic, and that frightens me. I’ve only been away from the commune for 3 months and I’m already feeling passive? Yikes!

On Thursday night we had a “coffeehouse” in the Hammock Shop.  Twin Oaks “coffeehouses” are basically open-mic nights, where anyone can get up in front of the audience and perform anything.  This one was specifically scheduled to correspond with a hammocks “push,” in which we were trying to get 282 hammocks made by the end of the week (which at Twin Oaks, ends on Thursday in a weird-yet-effective attempt to avoid the horror of Mondays, by making the first day of the week Friday, which is an inherently satisfying day, it seems).

And so, on Thursday night about 40 people gathered in the hammock shop to make lots of hammocks and share appreciation for each others talents and non-talents.  There was a belly dance, a puppet show, several songs, some readings from books (a section from Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Bean Trees” about an all-too familiar scene in a cooperative house), and a fashion show of a homemade dress.  I ran up to my room and grabbed my GRE practice test, and performed a dramatic reading of some of the questions.  “Two cars leave from the same place, going in different directions…” and so on.  Lots of folks groaned, and a few grabbed pencils and tried to work out the equations.  Afterwards I had at least 5 people come up and ask to have a study-date with me to practice analogies and the quadratic equation, their minds hungry for academic stimulation.  Three people here used to be tutors for all the various grad school entrance tests, and they love this kind of thing.

Moving forward with the whole grad school thing… I went into Charlottesville yesterday to meet with the head of  graduate admissions in the Sociology Department at UVA.  We had a long chat about the nature of the department and grad school in general.  I got terrificly excited to get the chance to talk passionately about sociology and why I want to teach, and that was reaffirming for me.  I enjoyed most of the people I talked with, including a few graduate students currently working on their dissertations.  Could that be me in a few years?  Perhaps… I’m still uncertain about what I want to be doing… so I’ll continue to move forward on this track and make the decision when it’s actually right in front of me.

At the end of the spring, some three years ago
An actress decided she’d done her last show
Disgusted with TV and fake store-bought bread
She yearned for a garden and new thoughts in her head
She read lots of books and used the computer
Looking for alternate paths that might suit her
She learned about communes, her heart nodded “yes”
And the actress departed the Babylon mess

Three years on the commune have been a delight
Milking the cows, feeling safe in the night
Learning to process, picking zucchini
Swimming in water without a bikini
Deepening friendships, working with soy
Opening up to more levels of joy
The actress has grown here, beyond all her dreams
And growing has led to a new path, it seems

The actress is feeling the call of new things
Grad school, Hawaii, whatever life brings
The plan, as she knows it, will keep her nearby
To UVA grad school she plans to apply
The actress is wanting to be a professor
Sociology classes have always impressed her
So sometime this winter, young 2006
The actress will leave this home in the sticks
She’ll travel awhile, beyond good and evil
And when the fall comes, she’ll settle in C’ville.

UVA is the University of Virginia, located in Charlottesville.  I registered for the GRE last week, and my application to UVA is due in January.  I’m really leaving…

more later, I promise.

Forgive me readers, for I have sinned.  It’s been 17 days since my last confession.

A lot has happened in the last 2.5 weeks, of course.  We had our 38th Anniversary celebration, along with the final performance of the All Request Dance Band.  I got to play Madonna, singing lead on “Vogue” just like at theater parties in college, only this time with a real microphone and a full band to back me up. It was our last performance because the drummer is getting married and moving to Charlottesville, and a guitarist and a backup singer are running away to California together  — sounds like we should get our own episode of VH1’s “Behind the Music”!

My mom came to visit for a few days, and her sister and brother came out for over a week.  We even got my brother down here from Baltimore for a day for a full-fledged family reunion on the commune.  It was exciting to see my family, and exhausting to have so many guests here for so long. I have a fairly high degree of autonomy here, and when I have guests I feel responsible for helping them navigate the tiny nuances of the culture and systems of Twin Oaks.  I’m constantly paying attention to them and wondering about their experience and wanting to explain everything they might not understand.  I wore myself out, and probably unnecessarily.  My aunt took to this place right away, making friends and trying new things and relaxing into the freedom of the culture here.  I loved watching her express herself so fully here, knowing how much she holds herself back in her small Pennsylvania town.  Within her first few hours here, she was already sliding around in the mudpit with a group of wild hippies!

more to come — I’m off to a tofu shift

We scattered my grandmother’s ashes around her farm last week.  Not all of them, because the family wants her to be buried in the cemetery next to her husband.  Most of the ashes are still in the plastic bag, closed inside the black and green plastic box that “Cremains” come in (“cremated remains”, trendily shortened and combined, like “Craisins”).

My grandmother died almost three weeks ago.  She got in her car to drive to church, and was found the next day by the person who came out to fix the tractor.  She was still in the car, key in the ignition, battery dead.  I went home for a week and a half and stayed at my dad’s place, running errands and mowing grass and generally being helpful.  I can get up to three weeks of labor credits from Twin Oaks to come home for a family “emergency” like this.  It’s nice to not have to worry about making up labor when I get back to the community.  I like being able to be at Home for all of this intensity, and I realized a while I was there that it’s as much for my own mental health as it is to be helpful to my family.

I’d been curious about my lack of emotion after responding to the initial shock of hearing she had died.  I expected more grieving, more crying, more sadness.  I found myself experiencing it more on an intellectual level, thinking about what death might be like and philosophizing on the nature of dying, and the nature of Life (much like last year, when my aunt died).  People would hug me and tell me how sorry they were for me, and I didn’t feel any sorrow, or any need for theirs.  I would say that I was glad to be home with my family, which was true.

Grief finally came at the memorial service.  My family sat in the front row of the church, and two enlarged photos of my grandmother were resting on easels just a few feet in front of us.  Every time I looked at one of the pictures, it became real for me in a way it hadn’t been up to that point.  I had busied myself with being the helpful daughter, dutifully taking care of details and supporting my dad, encouraging him to be emotional and running errands with my rented car.  It didn’t feel like a defense against hard emotion — in fact, I wanted to be feeling something deeper.  I went out to her farm with my journal and wrote, I walked through the woods that had been such a key part of my childhood.  I looked thorough old photos and I read through letters on her desk.  Nothing really made it into my emotional center, until the service last Tuesday night.  The power of ceremony, making it real.  Even though the Methodist jargon didn’t quite resonate, I was able to translate most of it to be meaningful and significant in its own way.

I found my deepest emotion with the ashes at the farm the next morning.  My brother and my dad and I went out early, before my brother headed off to the airport.  We put some of her ashes around the peace pole we erected a few years ago in tribute to Grandmother and her late husband.  We took some up to the “picnic spot” and scattered them in the fire pit where we roasted hot dogs and marshmallows as kids.  We threw some into the wind, towards the wild pastures and forest.  We scattered some in the flowerbed in front of her house, and watered them into the soil.  I realized we had honored the four elements, and at the flowerbed, after watering, I sang a song I learned here at Twin Oaks: “The river is flowing, flowing and growing, the river is flowing down to the sea.  Mother carry me, your child I will always be.  Mother carry me down to the sea.”  We finished by putting some ashes in the old garden (“to new growth!”, I shouted), and then emptying the rest of our small portion into the stump of a recently-cut tree, dead and decaying from the inside (“for companionship in decomposition,” I whispered).

I’m back at Twin Oaks now, getting back into the swing of life here.  It’s muggy and hot, especially in the tofu hut with all of the steaming bean curds and boiling water.  Whew! The garden is in full swing (strawberries at every meal, and snap peas and snow peas and broccoli and zucchini…) and the fruit trees are abundant.  I eat mulberries right off the branch for breakfast after I go for a morning swim in the pond.  I love my life here, and I love my family and home in Cincinnati.  While I was in Ohio, I imagined what it would be like to move back there and live out at the farm, build a community there.  Being back here, it becomes a much more complicated question.  Am I willing to walk away from here yet?  What of this could I bring with me?  Am I willing to start from scratch, and build it?  Who?  How?  Money?  When?  Really?

Finally, for your viewing pleasure, a couple of pictures from Cabaret.  The actual performance was over a month ago, and I’ve been going through the digital video we took of the show to find some adequate photos.  Ahh, technology!   There are a number of photos also displayed on the Twin Oaks website, in the Photo Gallery.

cabaret cast

cabaret dancers

cabaret sally bowles

This is just a taste… more photos coming soon to the commune website.  I just wanted to show off here, really, because I can.  So there I am, there we are…