December 2, 2013
“What do you suppose it means?” he asked. “‘DO WHAT YOU WISH.’ That must mean I can do anything I feel like. Don’t you think so?”
All at once Grograman’s face looked alarmingly grave, and his eyes glowed.
“No,” he said in his deep, rumbling voice. “It means that you must do what you really and truly want. And nothing is more difficult.”
“What I really and truly want? What do you mean by that?”
“It’s your own deepest secret and you yourself don’t know it.”
“How can I find out?”
“By going the way of your wishes, from one to another, from first to last. It will take you to what you really and truly want.”
“That doesn’t sound so hard,” said Bastian.
“It is the most dangerous of journeys.”
-Michael Ende, The Neverending Story
I’ve drawn this comparison before, but I was thinking about it again a few nights ago as I made myself a green bean casserole for dinner, for no better reason than that I wanted it and I could.
Life is like Cats. The Andrew Lloyd Weber musical.
One night when I was nine, my parents were going out to see the touring production of Cats that was in town, and we were getting left with a babysitter. I whined and begged to be allowed to go see the show—cats were one of my principal obsessions at the time.
“No honey, you don’t want to see this,” my parents told me. “It’s not really about cats. You’ll be bored.”
For many years, I tacitly accepted this—that the musical Cats was not really about cats. I never even questioned what Cats was really about. Something for adults, and therefore opaque and boring. Not cats.
Then in my senior year of high school, I took an acting class. And to give us an easy day one class period after a long week, we got to watch the PBS video recording of the musical Cats. “Oh great,” I thought, “I’ll finally see what Cats is really about.”
It was a somewhat mind-blowing moment when those actors, in cat suits and gorgeous cat makeup, started to creep onstage. Because let me tell you something, in case you’re not familiar with the show…
Cats, the musical, is really, literally, about cats.
It isn’t not about cats just because it’s also about life, death, faith, loyalty, and memory. Like Watership Down isn’t not about rabbits, just because it’s also about persecution, oppression, idealism, and hope.
Likewise, I was told a lot that “Adulthood is not about just doing whatever you want.” As if the freedom and autonomy to live and work in a way that was acceptable to me was some trivial, stupid thing that I was just going to have to get over.
I decided I would never be an adult, then. Because if that’s what it meant, that wasn’t something I was capable of.
And then I grew up.
As it turns out? Adulthood actually is about doing what you really want.
Adulthood really means making your own decisions about what kind of life you want to lead, what kind of person you want to be, what kind of mark you want to leave on the world. That doesn’t mean that it’s not work, that there are no consequences or costs to those decisions, or that you never have to do anything you don’t want to do, or face things you don’t want to face. It doesn’t mean that there are no obstacles or hardships.
But the decisions themselves, about what you’re doing on this earth and why—those belong to you.
So that’s how adulthood is like the musical Cats.
For some reason, people tell you that it’s not really about exactly what it is really about. It’s just that the truth is both harder and better than anyone wanted you to know.
May 31, 2013
So the chancellor of the University System of Georgia, Hank Huckaby, caused a slight kerkuffle among my alumni community this past week, when he said, in reference to the fact that apparently large numbers of jobs in Georgia are going unfilled, that “students are studying the wrong things,” and that “If you can’t get a job, and you majored in drama, there’s probably a reason.”
Where to even start. Oh, I’ll just start.
1. The point of a university education is not to fill a quota of jobs in particular industries that just happen to be available in the state. The point of a university education is to support and fulfill a student in the long term, not simply as a worker but as a learning, thinking, creating person. College education should enrich an entire society with a liberal range of thinking skills, not simply enable young adults to fill available jobs.
If industries with jobs to fill are failing to attract students and applicants by making a reasonable case that the work is worthy of their dedication for the salaries they’re offering, that is not the student body’s fault. Industries with jobs to fill are not entitled to students’ lives or attention. A graduate has no particular duty to take any given job, anywhere, or to train for any given job just because it’s available.
2. It is so easy to take the stereotype of the undisciplined, flighty, starving actor or artist and say if you studied drama and now you don’t have a job, maybe you studied the wrong thing. But who would look at an unemployed graduate who studied business, marketing, or biochemistry, and say “Maybe you studied the wrong thing. Maybe you should have studied photography or playwrighting?”
But maybe they should have. Maybe a kid who sacrificed their true interests to what they were told was more practical, responsible, stable, or lucrative, would have been better off pursuing what they were a natural at. Maybe they would have found that being educated where their strengths and intuition lie is actually more reliable and life-sustaining.
3. People do work in the arts! Maybe this is overly obvious, but I really think that some of these bigwigs who run their mouths off overlook it. People work in the arts. People really do make their livings in the arts. People who quite possibly couldn’t sustain employment in more conventional career fields do so in the arts. People with very specific and uncommon talents find a life in the arts. People study for and work in the arts who damn well know that that path is their best bet.
And it’s not like the only thing to do with a drama degree is act or direct. There are jobs in management, administration, development, and design, just to name a few areas. There is such a profound ignorance of what it really takes to run the theater world, that, just for instance, I had not even heard of what would become my own job until I was in college.
Do too many people study drama expecting to be able to find jobs, or sustain themselves by performing, who then can’t? Sure, probably. But so what if everyone made more practical choices and studied dentistry or engineering instead? Would the economy then have the jobs available to support all of those people? A society can’t absorb an overabundance of nurses or computer scientists any more than it can a glut of theater artists. There aren’t a limitless number of jobs for electrical engineers, either. If everyone who hears Chancellor Huckaby’s speech takes his advice and chooses their field of study based on where job openings in Georgia currently are, who says those jobs will still be so plentiful, or even exist, five or ten years from now, and what happens to those students then? And in the meantime, what happens to a society that decides it doesn’t value the education of its artists and creators?
4. Make no mistake: I am employed because I studied drama.
Beyond the fact that I still actually work in the specific career which I chose in college, my education in theater gave me opportunities to develop communication, interpersonal, collaborative and analytical skills that I just would not have had access to otherwise. I found a world in which the kind of person I was at heart wasn’t considered a fundamental problem. I found a niche that demanded my natural skill set. I got told for the first time that the way I learn is a strength and not a weakness. I deeply understood how my own mind worked for the first time when I was taught to use a two-scene preset light board. Somebody taught me how to yell.
I really and truly don’t like to think about where I’d be right now if I hadn’t studied drama. And there’s almost nothing for which I’m more grateful to my younger self than the fact that she had the foresight to not listen to people like Chancellor Huckaby.
April 8, 2013
I was reorganizing a props closet recently when I found this fellow.
I got all of his strings untangled to try to see how he works; he’s a marionette, but seems to be missing the wooden handhold that would allow a puppeteer to operate his legs independently from his arms and head.
He’s beautiful, and also clearly not a toy or a prop. He looks like a traditional puppet of some kind. (In most cultures other than ours, puppet theater is a serious traditional storytelling form for adults as well as children.) And here’s my real embarrassment: I wrote my final paper for graduation with honors in college on the religious frameworks underpinning various East Asian puppet theater traditions…and I had no idea what this guy is.
He looks Indian or Hindu, perhaps, and preliminary image Googling reveals a resemblance to the string puppets of a tradition called Bommalattam, but those marionettes are described as being about 3 feet tall, and this one is only just over a foot, and also more detailed and ornate. I dug out a copy of my paper to skim through, but he doesn’t fit the description of anything that I studied.
It’s past my bedtime, but I’m a little obsessed now with figuring out more about him. I’ll have to resume research in the morning, though if anyone else is geek enough to have any idea, I would be thankful to know.
September 17, 2012
I both enjoy and pride myself on my good memory. It’s very good, very vivid, and very detailed. To the extent that it often freaks other people out.
So, as my roommate and I were doing a little fall cleaning on this lovely afternoon before class for her and work for me, I am a little confused to find a harmonica of which I have no memory.
It was in my nightstand. It has been for several years. I have never and cannot play it, though I did try to teach myself briefly. I almost tossed it right into the thrift store donation bag without a thought, before I noticed that it’s labeled “[My Full Name]–ASM,” in my handwriting, in pencil on the bottom of the box.
It is a Bluesband Hohner International, in the key of C.
So this was a harmonica involved with a show, and one that I assistant stage managed. Which should narrow things down considerably; I can count on one hand the productions I’ve ASM’d. Either it was given to me for the opening or closing of a show, or, I’m starting to vaguely suspect, it was mine to begin with (but why?) and I loaned it as a rehearsal prop to a production.
But still no solid recollection of which of my shows even involved harmonicas…to the extent that I would’ve been given one, or loaned one to the show. Possibly one was in a show briefly but was cut early in rehearsal, explaining my negligible memory of it.
I’m going through old props lists now….
January 17, 2012
So I’m very bad at asking people for things. Most especially money. And I know that in all likelihood, pretty much everyone you know is involved in one or more campaigns for very important and wonderful things.
However…I am very much in love with my current production, Maya Macdonald’s Leave the Balcony Open.
It’s a brilliant new play, about love and loss, the insufficiency of language to emotional experience, and deciding how to live in a shattered world. I’m very, very devoted to this show. It’s the kind of play that makes me love theater for what it can mean to people’s lives.
And we still need help to make it happen.
Our IndieGoGo campaign is here! Thank you prizes include program credits, voice-over cameos in the show, tickets, and dinner with the playwright. Watch our trailer video above, check out the IndieGoGo page, and if you’d like to have a hand in making this beautiful show all it can be, consider making a donation.
And if you’re in the New York area in February, I’d love it if you came out to see us. Previews begin February 5!
Love and thanks,