Posts Tagged ‘plays’

Stretching Myself Between Three Sisters And A Truck Stop Prostitute

Saturday, July 9th, 2011

I stand tall, take in a deep breath, spread my legs, and stretch my arms in opposite directions reaching for infinity.   Lines flow effortlessly through my mind.  Lines from a play I performed in, lines from a movie I starred in, and lines from my ex-girlfriend in the throws of love.  I tilt my body towards my right leg to complete the triangle. The movement into Triangle pose softens the lines on my face as I attempt to balance my fictitious characters, my romantic life, and reality.

Yoga helps me to find balance, stretch my brain, and my body at the same time.   In this world of multitasking, I have gotten in the habit of going over my acting lines for auditions or performances while I breathe and bend. I hear Olga from the play Three Sisters saying, “In a little while we will know what we are living for.  Why we are suffering.  If we only knew. .. If we only knew…”  Heather from the movie Lot Lizard, in an emotional moment, reaches out to her lover and says “What I really want is to cut myself to pieces, but I thought maybe just maybe, if you touched me, I might not feel it for a minute. “ A romantic line from my ex-girlfriend on the other side of the world creeps in,  “You send me shooting stars and I send you sunshine.”

I recently finished performing the role of Olga in a world premier translation of Anton Chekhov’s classic play, Three Sisters, set in Russia during Perestroika in the 1980’s, adapted and directed by Pavel Cerney. Cerney re-imagined the role of Olga, typically played as the spinster sister, as a lesbian, trapped in small town Siberia longing to escape to the freedom of liberal Moscow.  Olga is the strength and matriarch of the family, comforting her two sisters through their romantic ups and downs, sacrificing her own chance at love for their happiness.  My challenge was suggesting “lesbian” without stereotyping and staying true to those beautiful feminine emotional sections as Chekhov originally wrote them.

Just before rehearsals began for Three Sisters Or Perestroika, I played the role of Heather, a down on her luck, truck stop prostitute, in the independent feature film, Lot Lizard.  Truckers use the term, “lot lizard” to describe the ladies of the night that skulk around the rest stop parking lots offering sex for money.  Heather, a former beauty queen, trapped in a dysfunctional desert town gets involved in a drug deal gone bad and becomes a speed queen and a lot lizard indebted to her abusive drug dealer with a god complex.   Like a lizard with a hard shell and a soft center, Heather falls for Charlie, a female, drifter junkie who gives her the strength to find hope and love in a world of darkness.

I lift my leg and reach out for a Half Moon pose.  After two weeks of shooting, Lot Lizard got put on hold for refunding, restructuring, and possible recasting.  I may or may not get the opportunity to finish the film.  My foot starts to twitch and my body starts to teeter.  Right after the filming stopped, my fairytale long distance romance came to an end. The bright white sunlight of reality throws me off balance and it is too late to stop from falling.  I hit the mat hard.  I stretched my love life as far as I could to Australia and back and in the end neither of us was flexible enough to reach Nirvana. Olga wanted to escape from cold Siberia, Heather needed to escape her dessert truck stop, and I just wanted to escape from myself.  “Breathe, just breathe,” I say to myself as I lift my posterior and stretch into a Down Dog.

As I do a Shoulder Stand, I think, “What is the next step?”  I hold my Tree Pose and wonder, “How long can I last?”  I attempt another Half Moon and I think, “How will I ever achieve balance?” and ”How do I link the center of my mind with the center of my body?”  I retreat into Child’s pose and surrender into Corpse pose.  “When do I give up if it isn’t working?”  When I first started doing Yoga a few years ago I could barely touch my toes.  Now I can literally kiss my knees.  It may not sound like much but to me it is huge.  I am more flexible now than I was in High School.  My strength and flexibility have increased dramatically.

Yoga poses alternate between strength and softness.  Yin and Yang.  masculine and feminine.  I return to these themes over and over.  I workout with weights not only to maintain my health but because I love to feel the power in my muscles and I love the look of a toned body. I have also come to appreciate the beauty of softness and the flexibility that yoga gives me.  Oddly they complement each other because my stretching has allowed me to strengthen muscles that were not previously accessible and my strength has allowed me to stretch into poses I couldn’t previously hold.  It is the same journey with my sexuality and relationships.  “Am I too butch or too femme?” And how does that dynamic influence the relationship to the other person I’m with?  My butch side gives me the strength to open up my feminine side and the emotion of my feminine side makes me so much stronger.  It is a stretching of myself, a molding of my body and mind, strength and vulnerability that give me the power to know who I am and the power to be one with someone else.

I get back up into Mountain pose and flow into Warrior 1 as I regain my energy and determination.  Last year I was cast as a lot of stereotypical hard, tough, lesbian characters.   I played the role of  “butch lesbian” twice on television and “butch leather biker lesbian” in a film, a secret service agent in a web series, and a butch gym teacher, Mrs. Greasby, in the movie, Piehead (coming soon, hopefully, to a theater near you).

I also performed the role of a woman disguised as a man in the play, Slaughter City and got my teeth knocked out in a stage fight (see last blog).   More recently however, my characters have become more of a combination of that strength and softness I strive for in my yoga practice and in life.  I played an A.D. on the T.V. show, Law and Order, Olga in Three Sisters Or Perestroika, and Heather, the truckstop prostitute, in Lot LizardHeather is by far the girliest role I’ve played in a long time and the sexiest in a traditional heterosexual sense.  As you can well imagine, none of the wardrobe was mine.  The other difference from last year is that none of these characters had to be lesbians but they all could be.   Is this a sign of the times or a change in society?  Perhaps diversity is becoming more diverse? Or am I just becoming more diverse and flexible in my craft? Either way it is exciting.

 

I open my body into the Lotus position to fill myself with the beauty of breath.  How do I cast myself in my own life?  My ex-girlfriend said I changed after I started filming Lot Lizard.  Maybe I did?  Or maybe that character allowed me to connect with that feminine part of myself which has always been there.  Every character I play becomes a new exploration into the unknown.  Every day I must take another step forward whether it is in improving the flexibility and strength of my body or my acting and writing career. The progress is slow and the dynamics are constantly changing and growing along with my characters, auditions, and relationships.  The harder the pose the more I am challenged and my body learns to adapt.

The darker the character the more I stretch and grow.  The harder the audition the more I improve. The more heart breaking the relationship, the more I learn.  The journey can be frightening, disconcerting, and devastating.  Yet also fascinating, ecstatic, and enlightening.  As I succeed and fail simultaneously from one audition to the next and one relationship to the next I persevere and continue to connect the puzzle pieces to cultivate the softness and the strength to progress on to the next step of the path.  By opening my heart and building the muscles to support myself I can power through the bad times and glide effortlessly forward into the sunlight of happiness.

A final Sun Salutation and I am ready to face the world.  Every role I play in fantasy or reality, every audition, every thing I write, and every relationship brings me closer to that balance between career, love and myself.  Those are my three sisters.  I navigate the three-sided triangle balancing on the tip.  Between action and inaction there is only breath.  Just breathe.

 

 

 

 

Sinking My Teeth Into Gender Play and The Synchronicity of Art and Love

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

From the play, Slaughter City, March, 2010

His carefully controlled fist slices through the air just missing my face as his solid elbow connects with a deafening thud under my chin, snapping my jaw up and sideways, as my teeth and tongue collide and become one.  I fall slowly as if in a dream until I smack the cold, hard stage of reality.  Fake blood oozes from my mouth between the sharp edges and fragments of broken teeth floating in my mouth.  The theater audience has no idea that this fight has become all too real.

On March 8th, 2010, in the middle of a choreographed stage fight during a performance of the play, Slaughter City by Naomi Wallace, at the Son of Semele Ensemble Theater in Los Angeles, I chipped my four top front teeth.  Stabbing reality and the colorful haze of the imaginary world blended as I stumbled through the long scene and into the next before I could make my exit stage right.  The show must go on.  And life goes on.  The almost spiritual connection I have with this play had suddenly taken a deeper turn and literally altered my body forever.

Does life imitate art?  Or does art imitate life?  From the moment I read Slaughter City, I knew I had to play the lead role of “Cod”, an immortal woman traveling back and forth through time, disguised as a man, to act as “a spark for all eternity” fueling the fire of protest of the laborer against the capitalist machine repeated throughout history.  I have always been pro-union but that aspect is not what hooked me.  The author, Naomi Wallace, adds a cross gender love story, marrying her socialist agenda to a politics of love and sexuality as a way of freeing ourselves from oppression.  Take control of your body and take control of your life.  “Coming is the body’s way of saying fuck you to the rules and regulations,” Cod says gathering union support.  “I am radiant and I am fearless and I will not be disposed of; I am not a piece of meat.” 

As an out, lesbian actress, this role was an enticing opportunity to indulge my butch side along with the acting challenge of passing as a man through most of the play, as well as, an opportunity to further explore my personal sexual androgynous freedom.  Cod dresses as a man not only to work in the slaughterhouse but because that is how she feels most comfortable.  “Working like a man I feel more like a gal, know what I mean?” she says to her female lover after her secret is revealed.  In a special coaching session with Lisa Wolpe, the artistic director of the LA Women’s Shakespeare Company, I learned to literally walk like a man, presenting “the package”, taking up as much space as possible, and crushing tiny Lilliputian people beneath my feet like Gulliver from the book, Gulliver’s Travels.  Lisa also stressed the importants of finding areas in the play where my vulnerability and femininity could still shine through.  In my real life I appear as a soft butch on the outside but am all girl inside and I have no desire to change that because it is who I am.

During the course of the play, Cod, falls in love with, Maggot, a female worker, who believes Cod is a man.  Cod is like an indentured servant forced to repeat her role as the spark of the worker capitalist conflict because of a promise made between Cod’s mother, a textile worker who died in a factory fire, and his nemesis, Sausage Man, who diabolically grinds up bodies with his sausage grinder throughout history.  As conflict increases so does Cod’s temperature and she can literally burn something with the touch of her hand, including the love of her life:  “If I touch what I desire, I’ll destroy it.  Just one touch and toast.” 

 

Coincidentally, just after being cast in Slaughter City, I became involved in a passionate long distance relationship with the love of my life who found me through an article on the website, AfterEllen.com written about Hellbent For Hollywood, the crash and burn acting reality television show I taped a few months ago.  My girlfriend likes to describe our relationship as, “an international love buzz,” and although we have not officially met we have stayed together for five months over the course of phone calls, Facebook messages, email, texting, video Skype, and the old fashioned romance of letter writing.  I know it sounds crazy and I do have a history of being a bit of a commitment-phobe, only having two relationships in my life that have lasted more than a year, but I do believe I have finally met “the one.”  As Cod has been wandering through history, lost, not knowing who or where she is, I too have been looking all my life for that one soul mate that could stop time and change my course of history.  She completes the puzzle and compliments me in ways I have only dreamed of but I can’t touch her.  The frustration is almost unbearable.  As Cod says, “I am alone, I have never been anything but alone.  Let her touch me and I’ll know where I am.” Through the fire of love, Cod finally gets the confidence and drive to challenge her destiny: “Sometimes history’s just not ready for you and so you have to give it a shove.”   She is accepted and touched by her lover and no one gets burned as the workers save themselves from their hell on earth by putting out the fire in the slaughterhouse fueled by the Sausage Man during a lock-in protest.

Now, throughout this play I have been ridiculously accident-prone.  I have various cuts, bumps, and bruises from the fight, chains, and knives, and almost caught the stage and myself on fire, and of course, the final blow that knocked my teeth out.   For the love of theatre, what’s next? And this is an Equity (stage actors union) waiver play that I am not getting paid for.  The good news however is that the union requires insurance for just this kind of thing.  Go union! So what is the universe trying to tell me?  There are way too many coincidences coming together with this play to ignore.  As much as I have bounced in and out of relationships, I have bounced in and out of my acting career, never being fully committed to either, out of fear of failure. I have recently identified feelings of inadequacy in both areas and it is coming to a head now with my new relationship and this play and it is time to change before I lose far more than my teeth. Dreams about losing one’s teeth are traditionally associated with such things as insecurity, helplessness, issues with self-image, and transitions in life. Perhaps I needed to get my teeth knocked out to drill it into my skull that I need to focus and be committed to my acting career and my love life and that they can co-exist together. As a lesbian I need to believe that my loving sexual relationship with a woman is just as strong as a heterosexual one.  My girlfriend is one of the few people in my life who gets my creativity, my career choice, and me. I need to be willing to lose a small part of myself to let her in completely.  I need to believe I am a talented actress and I deserve to be paid and be successful. Sometimes it is the negative experiences that lead us to the positive ones.  Positive and negative, yin and yang, are intrinsically linked as are conflict and change.  If I am going to change, I need to have faith in myself, be comfortable with who I am, and be focused and committed to the belief that I can and deserve to be successful in my art and in love. Due to time and financial constraints, my girlfriend and I won’t be able to see each other for another few months but when she does finally make it over here, I will greet her with a huge smile with my new set of teeth and we will embraces change together. Our love will give us the strength to push through doubt and fear and change history forever.  To quote Shakespeare, “All the world’s a stage.  And all the men and women merely players.”

 

The play, Slaughter City, at the Son of Semele Ensemble Theater, closes March 21, 2010.  Tickets are still available through http://www.sonofsemele.org/shows/slaughtercity.htm