Just Keep Swimming

by Taylor Ratliff

              YOU GUUUUYYYYYSSSS!!!!!!!!! Hello!!! ‘Tis I, college audition addict Taylor Ratliff, here with my very own blog on Upstage Left! Thank God for TPAP, amiright?

             Is everyone in the college audition cycle breathing? Because I know I’m not. I feel like a corset of anxiety and nervousness is continually crushing my ribcage because of audition stress. But, as a reminder to us all, let me just say that I have found new meaning in the term: “Just keep swimming.” I’ve been rejected from a whole bunch of my top schools, and at this point, I don’t have any idea where I’m going. But, more recently, I had the AMAZING pleasure of working on Casa Mañana Theatre’s production of West Side Story, and I realized something equally frustrating and comforting: any sort of training from any sort of program will get you work in this business, and although a college degree may seem the most desirable, it isn’t the most necessary asset in show business. For example, take Cameron Adams (TPAP Faculty and fierce hot mama); she booked the movie remake of The Music Man with Matthew Broderick and Kristin Chenoweth when she was 17, never went to college, and now works consistently on Broadway. #TPAPrunstheworld

      What I’m trying to say is that if your dream school(s) doesn’t make you an offer, don’t freak out. If programs that you know and you love and ones you happen to have known the directors of for years and years upon years don’t have a place for you, don’t freak out. If you don’t get a SINGLE OFFER from a SINGLE COLLEGE, don’t freak out. If you’re reading this, you’re a TPAP queen / king / player / lover / artist / fighter / dreamer / composer of the EXTRAORIDNARY, and never doubt that you’re in the RIGHT PLACE at the RIGHT TIME.

    I will say, however, that the college audition process is a bitch. Hands-down, no questions asked, it sucks. It’s expensive, it’s inconvenient, it’s disappointing, it’s seemingly impossible, and at times it feels like a complete waste of your talent, your dedication, your staying up until midnight the night before Texas State marking new cuts in your pop song because you want Michael Maresca to think that you’re the next Sia or Troye Sivan.

        IT SUCKS. AND YOU WILL CRY, AND YOU WILL SCREAM, AND YOU WILL TAKE A LONG-ASS SHOWER AND SCRELT 11 O’CLOCK NUMBERS UNTIL THE HOT WATER RUNS OUT, AND THEN AGGRESSIVELY BRUSH YOUR TEETH BETWEEN THE CURSE WORDS THAT SLING THEMSELVES BETWEEN THE GAPS IN YOUR ENAMEL UNTIL YOU SPIT ONE LAST TIME AND GO CURL UP IN YOUR BED AND TURN OFF THE LIGHTS SO YOU CAN FINALLY GO LIVE IN DREAMS. But let me tell you something guys: what you want out of college isn’t going to simply appear, even at your dream school. It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of time, and it’s a lot of late nights. But at the end of the day, we go through all this hell to MAKE ART. We just have to remember that.

So, there you go.

XOXO, Tay

 

Leveling Up With a Smile

by Amani J.K. Alexander

        I’m an adult. THERE! Now that it’s written down for all whom so choose to see it must be real. I am in fact an adult. An adulty type adult with adult-like things to fill her adult-esque days. I make lists, and budgets, and I have to think about how everything I do fits into the grand scheme of my life. You know, how it will affect me in the near and distant future and such. But I’m going to be honest here…. I’m not very good at it. I KNOW RIGHT?!?!?! You mean the girl who just called herself an adulty-dult-dult is actually a doofus who just barely got her drivers license? Yes. It is true. And I’ve been very insecure about it for the past year and a half. But lucky for you (I hope) how I’ve come to accept and handle my “adultiness state” might be a helpful tale.

        In high school, I had a few jobs outside of school. Most of them were theatre and arts related (the ones that paid the worst) and some of them were not (the ones that pained the worst) but all of them were in fact real jobs in which I had to perform real tasks to get paid real money. Sometimes I even had to exhibit leadership skills. I didn’t have a car though. My family didn’t think we could swing insuring a teenager and I had so little time. Between practicing, being at a Fine Arts Academy, trying to complete any sort of chores or babysitting, and working said aforementioned jobs, it was basically impossible to go through the whole rigmarole of getting a license. But that somehow didn’t keep every other 16-18 year-old in the freaking city from getting one. I didn’t know how they were managing it with ya know LIFE going on. It made me feel very inadequate and like I wasn’t maturing fast enough.

        To be even more honest, I’ve always felt like I was trying harder than most of my peers just to keep my head above water. When I was a kid, I read faster than everyone in my class. I was pretty good at math, and I was freakishly good at communicating my thoughts at a young age. Just ask my mom; she said I came out three weeks late because I spent that time learning how to throw Dickinson quotes in your face. A few teachers and principals suggested I skip various grades all through out elementary school. Since I’m a little young for my year (especially in the south where I ended up) my mom thought it best if I stayed in the same grade and took some accelerated classes. I’m so incredibly grateful she made that decision for me because I have no freaking clue what would have happened otherwise. Even in elementary school when I was supposedly “accelerated” I felt very looked down upon. I was really short, and I didn’t like most people. I had a lot of opinions but no one seemed to take me seriously because they all thought I was just too “extra.” Which to be fair they were right. But it didn’t seem like anyone else was fighting just to be heard or make a friend. It just felt like I wasn’t getting some sort of memo.

        Same thing in high school. Everyone was getting licenses and cars, and I wasn’t. Towards the end of my senior year of high school (right in the middle of college auditions by the way) I kept being reminded of that fact by just about everyone. Family members, teachers, friends, people I admired, people I was never sure why they existed, and people I spent approximately .27 seconds talking to in a convenient store. It was being blown in my face quite literally everywhere I went. I had made this choice because I thought it would be easier on me but it turns out it was causing me more grief than just biting the bullet and going for it. I was suddenly feeling really tired—which is weird because I’ve always been anal about getting enough sleep—and run down all of the time. Looking back I think I slept through most of my final semester of High School. Going to college I expected that I’d be able to let all of these insecurities go, but they didn’t disappear as easily as I thought they would.

        I looked around and felt like everyone had these base “adult requirements” that I just hadn’t filled. I had been two years ahead in math and a year ahead in English I high school, but I didn’t have a license. I took college level history classes at the University of Texas while I was still in high school, but I didn’t have a car. I had held jobs at four different arts organizations in the City of Austin and two services jobs between my Junior and Senior year and high school, but I barely knew how to drive. I felt like I hadn’t reached the “adult quota” so when I turned 18 I started feeling very underdeveloped and very dumb. Which is ridiculous because while I should spend time contemplating some of the more idiotic decisions I made in high school, this wasn’t one of them. This didn’t make me dumb and the fact that it took me three whole years to figure that out is hilariously sad.

        My first month with a license and access to my mom’s car I got two flat tires at once, received a parking ticket that was entirely my fault, backed my mom’s car into a tree, started putting diesel into the tank instead of regular fuel… the list goes on. I beat myself up over every little thing I did wrong and told myself that a “real adult” wouldn’t do any of that. Oh how fucking wrong I was. A real adult calls a tow-truck to pick them up and take them to a mechanic; so that’s what I did. They go online and navigate their cities fucked up website to pay their stupid parking ticket they got for being stupid while simultaneously vowing to never be so stupid again; so that’s what I did and am currently doing. And when they get scratches on a car, they go to a car wash to try and buff it off then take it back home to actually finish buffing it off. At least that’s what I thought they did, so I did that. Turns out (according to my mother) real adults don’t give a shit about some stupid little scrapes on their car for stupid vanity reasons. So I guess now I know that too!

        So… why am I writing any of this? Well first off I got my license and I’m in the process of getting a car! And while I want to celebrate that, I also want to point out what a big mistake I made. I had reached so many “adult levels” before I turned 18 and went to college and I didn’t even appreciate them. Apparently few High School kids can say they held a job while managing to practice Muczynski for hours on end. I’ve changed countless diapers and babysat multiple kids of varying ages. I read all of Jane Austen’s major works as well as seen every single episode of Arrested Development multiple times before I was 18. And most importantly, I learned how to be an artist. I wrote constantly, I sang, I played Flute for god knows how many hours, I danced my heart out for so many people and I didn’t let myself think any of that was important.

        The whole point of this article/essay/whatever you want to call it wasn’t to showcase how awesome I am or for you to see how I took myself for granted but now I think I’m some queen of the world because I have my own bank account. It’s basically just me pointing out that we all reach our “adult levels” in different orders. And lord knows I don’t think I’m “more of an adult” than my peers who didn’t go to college or take the time to read through all of Shakespeare’s sonnets. I’ve been hurt pretty deeply by a lot of my peers and people in general for a very long time because they made me think I wasn’t going to grow up any time soon; and that was apparently a bad thing. But I’m here to tell you the secret to adulthood: Being an adult means not letting other people’s successes and life changes make you feel sad or incompetent. I should have cut the people loose who told me I was “behind the curve” for not knowing how to drive. That’s what an adult would do. An adult wouldn’t sit back and ignore everything they accomplished and feel like they were less than everyone else. They also wouldn’t let themselves or everyone around them praise them for doing basic everyday shit that you should just do like laundry or boiling some pasta. A real adult looks at their life and allows it to be enough. They work really hard, non-stop, to provide and care for themselves, and if they’re lucky they get to do that for other people.

        I am so happy to be an adult. It’s hard, I’m not great at it yet, and I’m sure every year there’s going to be something new that I have to figure out how to deal with. Oh and by the way did I mention that I’m not a “complete” one yet? But it doesn’t matter though. I feel free. I’m finally understanding why I always thought being an adult was going to mean having more control and living a happier life. Allowing yourself to find the balance between not caring what other people think, wanting the best out of life, demanding respect, and cultivating relationships is the most rewarding accomplishment. And I don’t care who gets married first or who’s the first to pay off the student debts, ‘cause over the next couple of years I’m leveling up hard core. In my own time and however I see fit. And no one can tell me otherwise. 

Check Y/N?

by Grayson Samuels

Eager young artists have a drive like no other. Its fueled by a passion that is deep-rooted, that allows them to stay up until the early hours of the morning working on a new project, or stay after school for hours on end for rehearsals. This passion gives artists a unique drive to consistently say, Yes.” The word yes has become so routine in the arts that its antithesis has turned into somewhat of a naughty word. If you say no to a new opportunity when you are already working on several projects, you are not driven and are deemed weak. If you say no to a director about something that makes you uncomfortable, you are not taken seriously and are easily replaced.  

The stigma that surrounds the words yes and no in the theater is completely overwhelming. For as long as I can remember, I have been a yes man. I was told that saying yes to any request or opportunity would open doors for you that you couldnt even imagine. I was told that saying yes, even if it didnt work out in the end, was a learning opportunity like no other to grow from your mistakes, even if the mistake was saying yes in the first place. So I said yes, and it opened doors that I couldnt even have imagined. I learned to grow from the mistakes that I made, and that was beautiful, but it came at a cost. With each new opportunity came new responsibilities, responsibilities that could not have been taken lightly. With each new load on my shoulders, I found it hard to live my life to the fullest and enjoy every moment thoroughly and truthfully. I was always thinking about what I needed to be doing differently in my life to have more opportunities come my way, because if I kept saying yes, the projects and connections would come. And they did, but at a cost. Im not saying that the word yes is the new naughty word, like its negative counterpart. My life has changed for the better because I accepted every opportunity that came my way. If I hadnt said yes to this one project, I wouldnt have met this person that offered me this job, or this and that. The word yes is incredibly magical,  but it comes at a price. Its important to know what that price is before agreeing to whatever you are signing on to.  

So, what would happen if we started saying no? Would there be mass destruction? Would rivers flood and trees burn to the ground, and would the world as we know it change forever? Or, would we start to really enjoy the projects that we take on a little more? Would we experience the creation happening around us a little deeper? Would we learn to appreciate our fellow artists around us a bit more? Saying no allows us as artists to say yes to the work that will enrich us, rather than barrel through different projects that are only half as meaningful.  

Saying no allows us to find time to play ourselves for a bit, rather than a character onstage. I found that when I was doing several projects at one time, my mind was a gutter filled with thoughts, feelings, and doubts about my work that intruded into my personal life every moment of the day. However, when I was taking my time with each project, pacing myself and giving myself time to breathe and explore myself as a person, I felt better, and the work felt better.  

I dont think that the stigma surrounding the words yes and no will ever disappear. You will always have people telling you to say yes to opportunity that comes your way. From there, you will be introduced to lessons and experiences that will form your career, and you will meet people that will change your life in ways you cant imagine. This is absolutely true, I have experienced it first hand, but it comes at a cost. Saying no allows you to choose the work that enriches you as an artist, and gives you the time to separate your life and your work. Without the ability to say no, the joy and and passion that actors have is insignificant.  

To those of you about to embark on the intimidating and seemingly dangerous world that is college, or anyone starting a new project or endeavor, I implore you: Know when to say no. Take care of yourself. Take care of your mind. Be smart. Say yes, but understand the costs. Breathe.  

Williamstown Theater Festival update! This past week, we opened the first two shows of the season, The Rose Tattoo, by Tennessee Williams, starring Oscar winner Marisa Tomei, and Cost of Living” by Martyna Majok. Ive been spending my time backstage during The Rose Tattoo, as I am one of two caretakers of a certain rambunctious goat that appears several times throughout the play. The experience has been trying, exhilarating, and wonderful. Ive had the opportunity to meet some of my biggest inspirations that appear in the production, and my mind has been blown how in an instant, the actors that you have idolized for so long can turn into human beings in the blink of an eye. Last night, I had a chance to see Cost of Living, which was a beautiful and touching look at humanity and the need for human connection. It was a brilliantly written new play, and Martyna Majok is a woman to keep on your radar.

Sophomore Slump

by Becky McGregor

Freshman year at Marymount Manhattan College was so incredibly exciting. Being in a new city, around new people, at a new school allowed for a constant flow of energy to keep me active and on my toes. Yet I never felt like I had full room or permission to grow as an artist. I never really felt good enough. Then over the summer I was fortunate enough to attend The Performing Arts Project. I spent many nights worrying that this would be another environment in which I felt less than. Instead, I was met with the most life changing three weeks of my life. I came out of TPAP feeling better about myself than I could remember; it was an environment where I not only felt valued as an artist, but as a human being.

Now I’m back in NYC at Marymount wondering…now what? I knew the adjustment back to regular life after TPAP would be difficult, but I never imagined it’d be this hard. I went from a year filled with new experiences that motivated me to reach for my most creative potential. I also actually had the time to pursue this creativity. Some days I feel as if I’ve lost all of the creativity inside me. TPAP nurtured me and encouraged me to be imperfect and to live in the failure, for it would make me stronger. But now, I'm back at a place that feels like the antithesis of that.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Marymount so much and couldn’t see myself at any other school, but finding the strength and inspiration I got from TPAP has been a challenge. My theatre department is very focused on product and places a competitive edge on everything. Of course these things are a part of this business whether we like it or not, but how do we remain true to ourselves as artists and humans in a world that has the odds constantly stacked against us? I’m on the journey of figuring this out every day. On the days when I feel most defeated, I look back to my journal from TPAP. I know that I am worthy, I felt enough for three whole weeks. Just because I’m back at a place that makes me feel less than, doesn’t mean that I am. I am enough, I will always be enough, no matter who says what.

Quite A Positive Beginning

by Amani J.K. Alexander

Salutations my fellow Americans! Well, really anyone or anything actually. I don’t want to isolate myself right from the get-go. This isn’t orientation day or the first day of VBS so I actually want to set myself up for success here..... Okay, I’m gonna start being “serious” now.

Off the bat, first thing, let’s get something VERY clear: I have always been an artist. Don’t laugh. It’s true. Now I am not conceding to the notion that I have been an active and contributing member of the artistic community for my entire life. Hell most weeks I’m outwardly more of a “wallower” than an artist…. but more about that on a later date. I actually mean that I have always been an artist in a very archetypal sense. Brace yourself, annoying college actor kid is about to take over. I have always had the essence of and artist i.e. one who has a passion to express something physically that is just beyond the five senses. The Platonic philosophical idea of archetypes identifies pure forms of humans which embody specific fundamental characteristics. An “Archetype” can also refer to patterns of thought, images, etc., that are all universally present in certain individual psyches which repeat themselves.

Okay, at this point I can feel that you’ve already started to become disconnected from this seemingly narcissistic persona I’m describing. But you came here to witness people explain their abstract thoughts in very concrete ways, so what did you expect? Just hear me out. I promise hilarious anecdotes are on the way.

Back to the tirade. Even though I was always an “artist” I didn’t always know it. But I always felt it. Turns out that is a common and re-occurring motif in my life, and the idea that you know something without feeling it (or vice versa) is actually kinda normal. For example, I always knew that being a woman was going to affect my future I just didn’t always feel it. Apparently, sometimes something that you know to be fact can be suppressed emotionally to the point that you cannot possibly begin to truly internalize what it means. Thanks acting class 101 for digging up that lovely tidbit which I had semi-successfully suppressed for nearly 18 years.

Here’s how I know this notion to be true. I have various…. let’s call ‘em “circumstances” that make up my appearance and position in society. And while I’ve always been aware of them I’ve only realized relatively recently the painful truth that how my “circumstances” affect me wasn’t in my body. Also known as something I “knew” but didn’t “feel.” My entire life I ignored every bit of my perceived hardship because I knew subconsciously it was too much for me to handle and would hold me back. The result is honestly amazing. I have the self-love and self-confidence of a cis-gendered white man in the 50’s and every time I think about that it blows my fucking mind.

Yet again I can feel you pulling back—well to be fair not all of you—but let me put whatever uneasiness you might be feeling to rest. This is not an essay where I complain about being bi-racial/bi-sexual/a child of a “broken family” etc. and this blog will never be that. As I’ve already stated I think I’m amazing and I’ve allowed none of those labels or realities to hold me back. Having said that I also need to recognize every part of who I am to accurately express what kind of artist I’ve become. Feels a little bit contradictory-esque-ish right? Welcome to my entire life buddy. Like it or not—and I am speaking to myself as well at this point—it all goes together.

Here’s how I know that to be true. I am currently pursuing a BFA in Musical Theatre aka a four-year-crash-course on how to become a literal perfect human being who can do, literally, anything. And yes we are speaking literally here not metaphorically or in theory. I also like to say that I’m getting a degree in jazz squares, but only on days when I feel like I’m a complete failure. If you don’t know what any of that means then GOOD FOR YOU! If you do, you know that being an “MT” (Musical Theatre Kid for those of you that are blessed enough not to know) means that you have to be able to dance and sing and act really well. Like so well. Even I don’t yet understand how amazing one has to be at all of those things to be successful. You also have to pick up and master as many other amazing special skills as you can along the way. Like at least 3 million. Not even a joke.

At least, I used to think all that was true but turns out I don’t. That might be contrary to the popular belief of every casting agent ever but nonetheless it’s definitely what I believe. I have lots of work to do and LOTS of problems to fix but it’s all rooted in one idea: I do not feel everything in my heart and soul that I know in my brain to be true.

This is where I hear you rejoice. I figured it out! I know the problem. Now I can quit school and quit adding to my crippling debt and go live my dreams!!!!! Now stop with the weird essay and make me laugh kid. Also while you’re at it please commit to a POV and general theme and ya know, GRAMMAR! Naaaa na na na naaaa son. None of that. This only means I have more work to do.

My “journey” as an artist only truly began on November 9th 2016 and NOT for the reasons you’re thinking. You do NOT know where I’m going with this, don’t try to guess my move before I write it! It began on that day because I realized that I have always been an artist on the inside. In my head. But I haven’t always been one in my heart. In the physical reality in which I actually live. Sounds sucky and sad right? NO! It’s great! Because that only means everything I’ve been cultivating in my head for the past 19 years is going to start actually meaning something. And that’s the dream man.

So… where’s the hilarious anecdote? Where’s the concrete, real life, physical representation of all this quasi-intellectual shit I’ve been talking about? Well, I don’t know yet. But stay tuned; I’m sure it’ll manifest itself in a positive continuation of this story known as my life.

The All-Important "And"

by Grayson Samuels

Some of the greatest works in the American musical theatre were the brain child of some of the most legendary collaborations: Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, Harnick and Bock. That all-important and” has created the most impactful moments in theatre history, and none of it would have occurred without the meeting of two like-minded individuals.  

One of the most valuable lessons that I learned my first year of school was to surround yourself with the right people. This can mean a lot of things to different people. If you ask a mother with two boys in middle school, it could mean for her kids not to hang out with the wrong crowd. In the arts, surrounding yourself with the right people means surrounding yourself with people that stimulate you artistically and allow you to grow in the best way possible.  

I am so lucky to have found a group of individuals that do just that. The BFA Musical Theatre Class of 2019 at Texas State University is a beautiful group of artists. All fourteen of us share a rich appreciation for theatre and have a common drive that pushes not only ourselves, but each other. Whats really remarkable about us is that our interests grow far past the realms of theatre. From photography, to special effects makeup, from songwriting, to mathematics, I almost never find myself talking about musical theatre outside of the classroom, which oddly enough, is somewhat of a blessing.  

For the past eight years, my life has been filled with musical theatre. Its what I grew up doing, its what I studied in high school, and now it is what I study in college. While I could talk about the recent Tony wins for hours on end, and shamelessly sing Defying Gravity” on every road trip, I know how important it is to expand my horizons and have interests outside of the theatre. The individuals I met this past year have introduced me to a countless number of new experiences and interests. One of these people is my friend, Grace.  

Grace is a beautiful photographer. She takes stunning portraits of people that encapsulate their essence in a single shot. Before going to school, I had some interest in photography, but nothing past a solid iPhone-quality Instagram post. Towards the end of our first semester, Grace told me that I had a really beautiful eye for photography and that if this is a hobby I wanted to continue in, I might want to invest in a higher-quality camera. That December, I came home with my precious baby, my Nikon D3300 (sorry to all you die-hard Canon fans out there.) Without that little push from my friend Grace, one of my best talents wouldnt have flourished and my love for photography probably wouldnt have grown into what it is today. 

Surrounding yourself with the right people in the arts could also open many doors for you. Its pretty crazy to think of yourself as the future of theatre. Its almost insanity to consider the fact that the next Lin-Manuel Miranda may be sitting next to you in history class, or helping you with your music theory homework. But this idea isnt out of the ordinary. Its matter of fact. Your friends and colleagues you meet in college are the people you will be working with and for in years to come. Ask any working actor and they will tell you that the theatre bubble becomes increasingly smaller, and the person sitting behind the table at your next audition could easily be a familiar face.  

 While a big part of surrounding yourself with the right people in the arts is surrounding yourself with people that help you grow artistically, a lot of it is surrounding yourself with people that fulfill you as a person. The people in my life would go to the ends of the Earth to make me happy, and I would do the same for them. Friendship is a two way street. Thats love. Love is your friend letting you print an assignment out in their room twenty minutes before its due. Love is picking your friends up from the airport twice in one day. Love is helping you pick out which new body wash to try out from Target. Love is waiting in line for an hour to trade in your used textbooks and only getting one dollar for them. Love is late-night Whataburger. Love is Canes at all hours of the day. 

To all of you starting your college experience, I beg of you, cling to the ones that will help you grow. Seek out the risk takers, find the ones that care, and show them some love. Theyll show you love right back. Find your and.” From there, its the little things that turn you into the person you will become.  

Before I wrap this up, I want to update you all on my summer experiences at the Williamstown Theatre Festival! My feelings of stress and anxiety have blossomed into feelings of joy and excitement. Every day, it becomes clearer and clearer that Im a part of something really special. The nights are late and the work is rigorous, but whats beautiful about it is that without the love of the craft, nothing would be getting done. The actors wouldnt be in rehearsal all day, the lighting crew wouldnt be up until three in the morning, and the costumers wouldnt be toiling away over their sewing machines for hours on end. Ten shows in ten weeks calls for a lot of man power, and Im elated to be a piece of that puzzle. Once again, Ive surrounded myself with the right people, and I am filled with joy. More next week. Until next time. 

Finding comfort in discomfort

by Grayson Samuels

      When I was young, the one thing my mom said to me that bugged me the most was, We all do things we don't want to do.” As a seven year old, this was more about me sharing a lemonade with my brother rather than going to an early morning audition. As Ive gotten older and as Ive matured, Ive gotten okay with doing things I dont want to do. I still dont want to do them, but its easier for me to come to terms with the benefits of said thing. Ive gotten pretty comfortable with being uncomfortable.  

      For all you college musical theatre hopefuls out there, or those just about to enter a BFA program, the one feeling youre going to feel a lot your first year is discomfort. From the moment you set foot in your closet-sized dorm room, to the first time you shower in a communal shower (Shower shoes, people! Its common curtesy!), youre going to be feeling a lot of discomfort.  

      Moving out of my dorm last month was really bittersweet. I had developed a great relationship with my roommate (Hi, Chris!) and somehow we made that little dungeon a home. As much as I hated living there, it was an experience, and one I think all students should have. It gives you a real respect for other people and their space and it makes the thought of having your own apartment so, so delicious.  

      One thing that our college professors are really good at is making us uncomfortable, but not in the same way that you got uncomfortable when a sex scene comes on in a movie that youre watching with your parents. Thats pretty uncomfortable. This sense of discomfort seems to have higher stakes, it feels more important. Its almost as if theres a lot more on the line.  

      This past year, Ive been asked to do things that I simply didnt know how to do. This past February, we started rehearsals on our spring musical production, in which I understudied two of the lead roles. I had never had any understudy experience in my life, and I had a very vague idea of what I was supposed to do. From the very first rehearsal, my fellow understudies and I were thrown into the process with little to no instruction from our creative team. We just went with it. It was terrifying, unsettling, and very, very uncomfortable. This lack of instruction from which most of our feelings came from wasnt out of spite or neglect. We knew that it was for our own good, because from flubbing up a few lines in a rehearsal, to missing our marks in understudies runs, we could weed out our imperfections and teach ourselves what works based on what didnt work earlier on in the process.  

      Soon enough, those feelings of discomfort and uncertainty grew into feelings of confidence and pride, as we soon realized that we knew three really difficult tracks in a really difficult show, and finally after two months of non-stop, kickass work, we could take a breather and revel in our success.  

      Now, Ive never been light on my feet. My stride is more of an elephant stomp compared to a pony trot. I have awful balance and very little flexibility, but despite all this, I take dance class almost everyday.  

      I have a pretty rough history with dance. I took class as a child but quit because I was made fun of by my kindergarten peers. Apparently, boys dont dance. Who knew! I often think about what my life would be like if I hadnt quit dance. Would I be more confident in dance class? Would I have a better figure? These thoughts have haunted me for years, and continue to affect the way I think and work in dance class, making for a very uncomfortable experience.  

      What I love about my BFA program is that everyone is incredibly gifted in what they do. My friends are fantastic artists, most of them very beautiful dancers. The problem with this is that they (literally) dance circles around me, making it very difficult for me to grow not only physically in dance class, but mentally. Concentration on your technique becomes difficult when all you can focus on is the voices in your head asking, Do you really think you belong here?”  

Everyone in this room is better than you.”  

They feel so sorry for you. At least youre trying!” Its so hard to cheer on your friends when all you can think about is how youll never be able to do what they do. This sounds almost selfish, but Im taking strides to build a better mental space for myself in dance class.  

      My teachers have been incredibly helpful with this situation, offering guidance and letting me know that this sort of thing takes real work. My dance instructor really put this into perspective for me when she told me that I couldnt simply move my dance training up several notches to where my acting and singing training currently is. Its not going to be that simple. Instead, its going to take a lot of extra time and concentration and the acceptance from myself that its okay to not be that great right now. Its fine if I only land a single pirouette. Its totally cool to not be the best in the room. Its not going to be easy, and its going to be very uncomfortable, but that discomfort will blossom into acceptance, acceptance that will put me into a better headspace where my technique takes priority, and not the gremlins in my head.  

      Im really looking forward to testing out this new mentality, not only in dance class, but in every endeavor I set forth on in the upcoming year. First up: the Williamstown Theatre Festival. My flight is at 9 AM tomorrow morning and I couldnt be more thrilled, nervous, and terrified. Eek. Until next time. 

I'm Here

by Caitlin WItty

Hi Hey hello peace out! People of the world!  I’m Caitlin!  I want to fly.  I love elephants and water skiing. Hugs are my favorite- and food.  I love food.  I want to use my voice and body to physically touch people in ways that will shake and push their comfort level and beliefs.  That’s what I know I’m here to do- in addition to love laugh and learn of course.    I am an avid tree climber, I love bodies of water- specifically lakes and rivers.  I find people fascinating. In my life, I want to open a few hearts and soften some guards, including my own. I’m not a fan of florescent lighting; I think the moon and stars are mind boggling.  It’s a rare day when my socks match, but I can guarantee they are always the same height.    My full name is Caitlin Alexandra Mckinnon Witty- I am allergic to gluten, you can never have too much reduced fat creamy Jif peanut butter,  and,  if you can’t tell, I love life.  A lot. I’m not going to lie: being an emerging adolescent and artist at the same time is um….exhausting? Confusing? Invigorating.  Fire-ey?   Daunting?  Many ocean-deep feelings of desire and passion...LUST FOR THOSE WARM, BRIGHT LIGHTS AM I RIGHT?  Lonely.  Love filled.  Frustrating. Intense. Interesting.   

There are jars of tears at my feet and clouds of laughter above my head. My heart is full one minute- bursting.  Then hollow the next and, you know what, I often couldn’t tell you why.  But that’s life.  I think I spend WAY too much time trying to figure out why and that keeps me from embracing now...which is frustrating.   

I used to be the kid who walked into a room wearing the same brown “Grumpy” sweatshirt five days in a row, with dark blue basketball shorts and brown skater shoes and my hair unwashed, BUT a big ass smile on my face, intense energy to play and boundless love to share and feel.   

NOW that I shower daily, have a beautiful body, opinions and people who truly know and love me: I restrict my words and sounds, and question my ability to give and take love because my brain realized how vulnerable that is.  Isn’t that silly?  But hey that’s sort of where I’m at right now.   

Lately, I understand what “the box” is and what it feels to be inside of it.  Sometimes I feel like I’ve burned the box and am flying around and above it... but other times I feel like I’m pushing on cardboard from the inside.  I can feel the freedom of being out, but I can’t quite seem to get myself there.  

I think people are responding to Cynthia Erivo’s “I’m Here” so ferociously because we want to see each other feel beautiful and confident.  Loud and proud.  That is something precious we don’t necessarily see often.  The most attractive quality in a person, in my opinion, is when he/she loves her/himself.  Truthfully.  There is a huge difference between ego and confidence.  It is so important to remember that people want to hear what you have to say- they want to know about you and how you feel and what you do.  We are all doing this crazy thing called life together.  

I’m really good talking in an interview/audition situation because the challenge is to be and share myself fully; but in normal life, I have a really hard time communicating with people.  I tend to assume I am holding people up.  I do forget that people actually want to listen.  I’m often surprised when I’m having a conversation and the person doesn’t end it when there’s an opening....I find I search for the closings of things.  For example: I went to ride my razor scooter tonight and I was thinking about how when I was younger, I’d leave my house at noon, go into the woods, and come home at 8 without realizing how much time has passed...talk about being present am I right?  Tonight I was super aware of how long I was on my razor scooter, where I went, etc.  It’s like there’s constantly a narration of life in my brain- BUT there were a few gorgeous nostalgic moments where I was brought back to being 8 and feeling completely free.  I want to find and be able to access that freedom from my brain...the level of presence and just pure joy is so precious and valuable...something I want to re-find and never lose.   

I just completed my first year at Webster University’s Conservatory studying musical theater. It was a very interesting and scary, at times, switch; theater went from being 110% my release to the work and source of much stress.  Classes started at 8:30 and there were days I didn’t get back to my dorm until 2 am.  I had to find things outside of theater...which was awesome!  I totally am slowly reconnecting with the part of myself that LOVES the outdoors and challenges.  It’s super exciting.  And, I mean, of course it’s incredible to spend all day acting, singing, dancing and moving.  So all in all it was an incredible first year.

My favorite nugget I learned from this year is communion.  Did you know that if you look into another person’s eyes for 4 minutes straight you will be closer automatically???? IT”S AMAZING!!!  I’ve spent literally hours looking into the eyes of my classmates there. Literally.  My AB scene partner Bek and I spend 9 hours doing Meisner script repeats one weekend.  This is not a drill.  

It sounds crazy but I couldn’t possibly put into words the beauty found in the unspoken conversation that occurs within the energy circulation that forms when having communion.  After a whole year of doing that and jump roping for 45 minutes and all other crazy things that we take extraordinarily seriously, we are a family over there.  Theater people...we really do know how to get close to each other.   

It’s been weird being home because I feel like we developed a different way of speaking about the world together.  Even in just the way we look at each other- my best friend Vivienne and I will look at each other, quickly establish communion and have a strong idea of how the other is doing.  There was one time we were having communion and both started crying out of nowhere- it was purely a release and the communion made us feel safe to be vulnerable.  It is a beautiful thing. 

Now to be home surrounded by mostly non-artists brained people is kinda hard.  There aren’t many people to relate to about my breath being high or jaw feeling extra tense etc.   

The first week I was home, I went to a friend’s house with my group of friends from high school.  Everyone was on these high, wooden chairs but I was sitting on the pool table because...well it’s more fun than chairs :o) and my friend’s foot was beside me; he apologized for having his feet so close to me.  I laughed and continued to stick my finger between his big and second toe to show him how completely comfortable I was with his feet...impulse.  This action was such a huge deal to them!  Not necessarily in a negative judgmental way...more like they couldn’t believe I just did that.  I miss my family at Webster where we literally lay on top of and hold and listen to each other.  This, I think, ties into my feelings of being in the box a bit at home...I’m not surrounded by “out of the box” people any more.  I mean, the box I’m in is by no means a normal box...but I do feel my brain and a bit of self-consciousness limiting my instincts more than they did at school.  I feel I am constantly in a place of conscious incompetence...I think it’s time I focused on more conscious competence.  

Lately I have been forgetting that I DO have 110% control over how I look at life.  I’ve been walking around with a bit of a dark cloud over my head and I’m so much more than ready to get rid of that.  It’s been exhausting to always look at life through the lens of “how can I be/do better” and being disappointed in myself.  My drive to be extremely productive makes me over complicate and stress...but it’s much more productive to just enjoy the moment, act according to impulses and instincts, and just laugh.  Easier said than done but in the words of Nike, Shia LaBeouf, and my dear friend Spencer, we gotta JUST DO IT. but actually.  Life is happening now so what the heck am I waiting for.   

So yeah, that’s me pretty much right now.  Bits and pieces.   

Peace and love. 

Testing, Testing... Is This Thing On?

by Grayson Samuels
 

           Hello! My name is Grayson, and I am 19 years old. A year ago, I swapped out the sunny shores of St. Petersburg, Florida for the dry terrain of San Marcos, Texas, where I study Musical Theatre at Texas State University. The past year of my life has been an absolute whirlwind. For one, I never thought I would be living in Texas (Texas??), nonetheless studying musical theatre in a state that is notorious for old white men telling women what to do with their bodies. Those two things don’t exactly match up, but as you will discover throughout your time with me, I was oh so pleasantly surprised.

            My first memory of performing was at a very young age in a church choir on a Sunday,  a pretty typical jumping off point for most Broadway hopefuls. While I wasn’t the one with the mic in hand in front of the choir, I took the idea of being a soloist to a whole new level. On that day, singing was out of the question. Yelling was the name of the game, and for twenty minutes I praised Him at the top of my sweet little lungs. After the service, I was bombarded by good Christian women that heard me all the way from the back of the chapel. Looking back on this day, I know I sounded terrible. But come on, I was damn cute. This feeling was totally new to me, and I loved it.

            Thirteen years later and here I am. Obviously, a lot of growth occurred from that first performance to now, my summer after my first year in a BFA program. That growth started with school performances, the first being Oscar the Lizard in that classic Christmas tale, The Christmas Lizard. (The book that it was based off of is now out of print. Ever heard of it?) From there, I moved on to summer camps at a local community theatre, starring in children’s productions of Annie, Get Your Gun! and Bye, Bye, Birdie. As I became too old to be in the shows, I assisted with the productions, helping build sets and handle costumes, and more importantly I began to stick close to the director, following her every move and learning what it takes to put a show together in two weeks’ time. Only a few years after being enrolled as a camper, I moved on to directing some of the shows, my favorites including Aladdin and The Music Man.

            In high school, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to attend a magnet program for the arts, where I majored in musical theatre. The Pinellas County Center for the Arts was my safe haven and stomping ground for four very special years, where I took classes in acting and dance, as well as set construction and costume design. This helped my appreciation for the theatre grow even more, as I began to realize just how mechanical a show really is. Each department depended on each other. Without the actors, the set designers had no one to put their work on. Without the lighting designers, the actors wouldn’t be seen. It painted a much bigger picture for me, and really put me in my place as a member of this community.

            During my sophomore year of high school, I met a man named Dave Clemmons, a casting director and Broadway vet that was friends with a teacher of mine. He came in to give us a small master class, and while he was talking to us, he mentioned a summer program he was a part of called The Performing Arts Project, a musical theatre intensive “like no other.” I was intrigued, so I auditioned, and I was accepted into their Company Two (named aptly due to their second year of existence), and my life was changed. Literally.

            I always thought people who called things life changing were kind of silly.

            “Ugh, that spinach frittata was life changing Janet.”

            “Oh GOD, that SoulCycle class was life changing! I’m a new woman.”

            Company Two was life changing for many reasons, mainly because it introduced me to the musical theatre program at Texas State that I am a part of, but more than that, my summer with the brilliant minds of TPAP pushed me, stretched me, and moved me in ways I had no idea I could be pushed, stretched, and moved. For the first time in my life, I could fall flat on my ass, and be applauded for it. I was encouraged to crack on the high note in that one song I didn’t think I could sing. I learned to never use an eraser while I wrote, because all creation is good creation. From these mistakes, I grew. I failed forward.

            This mantra, “fail forward”, moved me in so many different ways, so much so that I got it tattooed on my right forearm. This small reminder is for the person that I was before Company Two, afraid of taking risks, afraid to displease those in authority, and afraid to make bad art. It reminds me that from taking risks, we can soar to incredible new heights. It reminds me that from bad art comes good art, and from good art comes peace.

            In a little less than two weeks, I will be traveling to Williamstown, MA to spend my summer as an acting apprentice at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, a Tony Award-winning theatre that “is designed to present unique opportunities for artists and audiences alike, revisiting classic plays with innovative productions, developing and nurturing bold new plays and musicals, and offering a rich array of accompanying cultural events…” (I pulled that from their website. Sounds super official, right?) Obviously, I’m terrified. But I will keep you all updated every week with my thoughts, feelings, experiences, and everything in between.

            Thank you all so much for reading. This is Grayson, signing off. Until next time.