For a while I wanted to be an actress. I changed my mind when it turned out I liked making up the words better than saying someone else’s.
That’s a lie. I changed my mind when I was studying acting at Strasberg conservatory in high school and one of the instructor guys said I shouldn’t be an actress. What can I say, I was impressionable.
When I got to college, I made a whole fuss with the department about how I didn’t want to take acting, and in fact I got out of it, even though it was a requirement for a theater major like me. I have a habit of getting out of requirements. The department made me promise not to try out for anything, and I said okay.
I still acted in things though. In playwrighting workshop we’d all read each other’s work aloud, and it was in this capacity that I was cast in a play by Mari Andrus. I played a mental patient; it was beautifully written, and saying the words felt wild. That was the last time I performed in a play until I started writing for myself, in Sticky. These are short pieces, 10 minutes at most, and I’ve basically been playing a clown version of myself. It’s fun, I like making up outlandish things for myself to say. I like playing a big, over the top me, a me with no filters, who otherwise exists only in my subconscious.
Now suddenly I find myself with two plays, neither of which I’ve written, in which I’ll be performing for Sticky, tomorrow night. Not only is this the first time in a thousand years since I’ll be performing characters I didn’t write, but they are plays by writers whom I respect and admire. Not just respect and admire, but with whom I studied for several years. I’m in a play by Kelly Stuart, who I studied under at Columbia. She taught me an awful lot about inspiration, character, structure, and how to make time to write in the midst if the rest of a crazy life. When I taught an English elective on character development in a high school a few years ago, I taught one of her plays. I was thrilled when she gave her play Spyware to Sticky for production, and then my heart did flips when she asked if Dave and I would be in it. The play is about a dysfunctional married couple, so, y’know, it’s a real stretch. We’ve been rehearsing at my apartment, and Kelly stayed for dinner one night. It was surprising to me, and even a little disconcerting, that we could be on equal footing.
(Now that I think about it, it’s not the first time Dave and I have played a dysfunctional married couple for the Sticky crowd. In a Dennis Moritz play, back at Bowery in maybe 2007, we played a couple on the brink of a non-communicative miasma. We didn’t draw on personal experience at all.)
After the last Sticky, in December, Eduardo Machado came up to me and told me he would write a play for the next Sticky. He probably knows that I’ve been wanting him to write for the show ever since he starting attending, somewhere around 2007. I was so excited that I could have jumped up and down, but instead I played it cool. I was like “oh great, we’d love that.” What I meant was “could you hold on while I jump up and down like a lunatic for a second?” Then he said he wanted me to be in it. Then he said he wanted to be in it, too. He wanted to perform with me. Cue the world titling off it’s axis.
The play is called I See Rainbows, and I play a bitter ex-assistant. I actually don’t know what that’s like, because I’ve never assisted anyone, but I have been a grad student, Eduardo’s grad student, so I can draw on that as well as my general sense of regret. Eduardo has been more to me than a writing instructor. We met when he was teaching a workshop at The Flea, in which there were some amazing other writers whose careers I still follow with interest.
As the session neared to a close, Eduardo asked me what I was going to do now. I said “I don’t know,” and he said “come study with me at Columbia.” I said “yes I would like to do that.” That was the summer of 2003, and by fall of 2004, I was at Columbia, with a fair sum of grant money, ready to break open my imagination and rebuild it. I consider him a mentor, and am starting to think of him also as a friend. I never thought that would happen.
When you’re in school, it doesn’t seem like you and your professors are on the same level at all. They are teaching you, you are learning; those are your functions. Even more, they have jobs, they have careers, and publications, and you have student loans and a basketful of dreams. Ever since that workshop in 2003 I’ve been looking for Eduardo’s approval.
I’m always looking for approval basically. From my parents, my brothers and sisters, my friends and colleagues; not just approval, but validation. I want someone to tell me that what I do is worthwhile, that the work I make is brilliant, maybe I even want to be told that I’m pretty. I hate this feeling that I’m looking for approval, it’s disgusting and petty, it’s desperate and ugly. I feel like I’ve spent my whole life wanting someone to pat me on the head and tell me that I matter, that I mean something, that the world is quite literally a better place with me in it, and I want them to mean it. Sometimes it happens, and when it does, I immediately question that person’s integrity. I said to Dave recently that sometimes I think his opinions are suspect because he made the choice to marry me. Like Woody and Groucho say, “I would never want to be part of any club that would have someone like me for a member.”
We’ve been rehearsing at Eduardo’s house, and I’ve been nervous as hell. What if I suck? What if I can’t do it? What if my whole deal is a sham, a fraud? What if I’m just a panhandler for attention? We had rehearsal at 10:30 pm at Beauty Bar on Monday night. We had a few drinks, and I felt like I nailed it. I felt like we nailed it. I felt like yeah, this is it, this is what making art is about, that feeling in your bones, that skating on thin ice feeling, walking tight-ropes, trapeezing without a net, or perhaps with a net you’ve constructed painstakingly from your own skin and bones.
It’s a crazy thing behaving like colleagues with people who you always thought had an elevated position from your own. Student, teacher, colleague. So often it feels like there are barriers between me and other people, barriers made up of achievements, or successes, and I have this feeling of being on my way but never quite arriving. Things are at the same time so much bigger, and way smaller, than they seem.
It’s been a childcare juggle for this whole Sticky process. C’s come with me to a few rehearsals, and was meant to come along this morning. I bundled us up, and got us out the door, with no shortage of tears and tantrums from both of us. Once we got to the end of the first block, I realized it had taken us 15 minutes. That C’s fingers were red from the cold, from his refusal to put on his mittens, from my snapping “fine, just freeze then,” at him. I got in touch with Eduardo, and the director Michael, to say we wouldn’t be able to make it. We’re trying to reschedule. It’s a teeter-totter, this artist mom life, and this morning, it tottered. C is watching Netflix while I take a breather, and a tea, and type this up. We have Spyware rehearsal tonight, and I’m thinking I’ll find C a long movie to watch, so I can make sure I’ve nailed my lines.