Embarrassment

Fear of embarrassment is a like the coin Two-Face flips to determine his victim’s fate. On the side, a proper sense of self-restraint can help you maintain the kind of life you want: good friendships and being a respectable member of a community. (That sounds like something Emma Woodhouse would say….) On the other side, being afraid can lead to a kind of death: one where you are so worried about making a fool of yourself or having people think badly of you that you “kill” the uniqueness of you and blend into the background, so you aren’t labeled as odd or stupid.

Overcoming embarrassment is something I have struggled with for most of my life. Though I have definitely had my share of moments where I could have used a proper dose of being afraid of embarrassment (I’ve said and done plenty of  very stupid things), most of the time I’ve been terrified of being considered silly, childish, weak, you name it.

My time in theatre has definitely helped with that. Spending a month doing raw Meisner exercises with a group of people I was still getting to know last year helped a lot with it. But I found the other week that I can still be inhibited by embarrassment.

After my exciting (and rather embarrassing to be truthful) adventure in boxing back in February, I found a new studio to train at which was a better fit for me and involved no hospitalizations. A few weeks ago, I started working with a personal trainer. The first session wasn’t too bad, but the second session, my instructor had me shadow box. (Imagine swinging your arms and legs at the air, trying to look cool.)

I stalled a little, being terrified that my swinging of arms and legs would be far from cool. I did try it–sort of. But I held back. While I was hitting air, the ways I encourage my theatre kids to handle themselves on stage ran through me head: don’t worry about looking silly, let go of self-consciousness and focus on your task, you actually look sillier when you are stuck in your head, etc.

In order to be able to keep pushing my kids to give up embarrassment on stage, I knew I had to work to give up embarrassment in the ring. So I pushed through. Kind of. I kept finding excuses to stop and ask questions or trip myself up, or whatever. Eventually, my trainer had pity on me and we moved on to something else.

We had a drama camp happening that week. The day after that class, I confessed to the students about how I can still get stuck in my head and get paralyzed by fear. I get how hard it is to let go of the fear of looking silly.

But I forgot to mention another realization I had while I was wildly swinging at air, thinking way too much about whether I was doing any of it right: fear of embarrassment makes it so much harder to accomplish your task, be it theatrical or some other kind.

My fear of looking silly made me uptight. I couldn’t relax. I couldn’t focus on breathing or on performing the technique of the punches or kicks correctly. All I thought about was whether I was being ridiculous or not.

If I could have let go of that and thrown myself into what the instructor had asked, I probably would have done it completely wrong (I am a beginner after all), but I would have been able to actual mistakes that could be corrected instead of him having to spend the time reminding me not to worry about looking silly.

As unappealing as mess up feels to my ego, (for some reason I need to be perfect at everything, even things I am clearly a beginner at…) it really is better than not making mistakes because of being cautious and reserved. All an instructor can do then is try to push you to loosen up instead of helping you grow in your technique.

I haven’t figured out the secret to giving up all fear of embarrassment, but I am hoping that my awareness of how it held me back in that lesson will help me in future lessons and also in other areas of my life. I like to tell my kids that mistakes are opportunities. Now I might start adding that being willing to make bold mistakes is more beneficial than up-tightly trying to get everything right to avoid the need for correction.

 

 

 

“Doubt” by John Patrick Shanley

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It’s been such a long time since I’ve posted. Life has been full but without providing me with clear things that I wanted to write about. Over the past several weeks, I had been thinking about missing blogging–I find the processing helpful–and wanting to get back into it, but I needed the right inspiration.

This past weekend, I got it with Players of the Stage’s production of “Doubt”.

Now, I could give you a review of how the show went, but that would be rather biased since my amazing sister was the director and had to step in as one of the nuns, and I was involved in many of the aspects of the show. If you want to review you can go here: Lehigh Valley Stage.

Instead, I want to say thank you to all the wonderful people involved in the production. It was such a privilege to get watch the staff and actors grow through working on this piece. There were a lot of stresses and disappointments along the way, but I marveled at how everyone pressed on and fought to do their best.

In my opinion, the hard work more than paid off.

It was also a growing time for our theatre. This was not our normal POTS (Players of the Stage) show. It was our first true *PANS show.

(*If you have a good acronym for this, please let me know. I’ve been trying to come up for one for years. I have yet to think of one, but I just love the idea of having a POTS and a PANS branch of our theatre company)

We got to work in a new place, with some new faces, with a different type of material than we had before. We tried some new ways of doing things; some worked, some we didn’t get to figure out in time.

It was exciting to get to watch audience members, who were used to our family productions, get to taste how powerful theatre can be when it asks, and leaves unanswered, difficult questions, and stand around after the show discussing it, or hearing from them later that they were still thinking about it.

It might be some time before Players of the Stage can put on another PANS production (our next show is a POTS run), but it was a good first stab at it, and it was nice to get to see a little hint of what it can be.

And in addition to the practical life lessons learned, I just loved working with the thematic material of the show and seeing how the different characters grew, or perhaps took a step backwards, in the text.

But my favorite part of the rehearsal process was getting to work on the opening monologue of the play. I just love Father Flynn’s homily on doubt and how it tends to make you feel isolated but in reality you are not alone, even as you struggle. As a follower of Jesus who often struggles with doubt, I loved getting that powerful reminder.

Thank you to the staff, crew, cast, advertisers, Relevant church, and audience members who made “Doubt” possible. I hope it was a growing time for all of us!

 

 

 

 

The Impact of Art

Last Monday I got to speak at a homeschool conference about why art, in particular theatre, was important. Since one of the main things theatre has done for me was help me find myself, I wanted to share some of those thoughts here as well.

The impact that theatre has on my life goes way back, twenty years ago, when I was a withdrawn eight-year-old girl.

My older sister, Anna, was very theatrical. She was always acting. One year for a Christmas present, my parents signed both of us up for drama classes. I don’t remember much from that first class, but I do remember the recital.

Our drama instructor had put me in a scene (debating whether cats or dogs were better) and given me an Aesop fable to perform. The scene went fine, but the fable….

It was a lot of words for a shy, dyslexic girl to memorize and speak in front of a crowd of people. So many words in fact, that I wasn’t able to do it. So I performed it with script in hand, not at all disguised by the pretty paper we put on the back of it to look like a book.

Ashamed of my inability to memorize, I ran off stage crying before I had finished reading the fable. No moral for that tale.

After that day, I was certain I would never do theatre again. Obviously, I have since I now help run a theatre company. For one reason or another, I kept returning to it. Through the years of performing, I came out of my shell and found a confidence that I did not have.

Self-confidence is probably one of the most obvious ways that theatre can impact children’s lives.

But there are others. As an adult, when I think about why art is important to me it is not because of the confidence it brings, but because it is a mirror.

In Act 3 of Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark says of acting “the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as ’twere a mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature, scorn her own image and the very age and body of the time his form and presence.”

We use mirrors to see ourselves. We can’t get an accurate picture of our face without outside help. Art can be used to reflect a picture of our core being, our soul, our humanity. As I have been exposed to art in its many forms, I have found that can it challenge me, comfort me, affirm me, and give me hope.

I’ll start with a challenging example. I’ve talked about how I am working to change the subtle ways that I struggle with begin racist before. One thing that I did not immediately recognize when I first realized that I needed to repent of that sin was how dismissive I was of the extent of racism that minorities face today. It was easy to buy the line that the “mainstream media” was “exaggerating” things.

I gained a different perspective when I watched the movie “Dear White People”.

(As an aside, I have been upset by the controversy swirling around Netflix’s remake of it. Nothing about that movie was “anti-white”. Personally, I found it to be very fair and balanced. I fear those who feel like the movie was an attack, went in with the goal of being offended.)

The movie was a very eye-opening and disturbing look at how disrespected and diminished minorities are. In watching that movie, I had to wrestle with how easily I dismiss others pain “because I didn’t mean to offend them.” and realized that if I truly value a person, I am going to take their hurt seriously and do my undermost to understand that pain and seek to learn how to interact with them in ways that communicate respect and dignity.

 

Art can also provide great comfort. I’ve mentioned before how I lost a very good friend to suicide. In the first several months especially, I struggled with so many emotions that I didn’t know what to do with them, and I often pushed them aside and ignored them.

A few months in, I got to watch a one-act based off of a Greek play, “The Trojan Women”. In it, a mother is grieving the loss of her family and home. As I watched the actors go from tears to cold horror to screams of pain, I thought about my loss.

The tragedy of the play took on my tragedy. I found such comfort in seeing the tears that at the time I could not weep reflected back to me.

I found such comfort in seeing the tears that at the time I could not weep reflected back to me.

Art can also be a great affirmation of the beauty and hope that is in the world. The other weekend, I went to see the “Last Days of Judas Iscariot” performed by Northampton Community College. In the final scene, Jesus travels to hell to visit Judas whose appeal for release has been denied. Jesus goes to reassure Judas of His love for him, to offer him a way out if he would only take Jesus’ hands.

But Judas refuses. He instead accuses Jesus of abandoning him to his fate and literally spits on His face, screaming and swearing at Him to leave.

There’s a lot going on there to think about, but as I watched this struggle between the characters, I thought of my own relationship to Jesus and how I often scorn His love and help because I feel that He has abandoned me to my fate. When the character of Jesus was affirming His love for Judas, it reminded me of HIs love for me

When the character of Jesus was affirming His love for Judas, it reminded me of HIs love for me and His continual offer to free me from my doubt and bitterness that I struggle with if I would but accept His love and take His hands.

It was amazing to watch because though it looks different, I betray Jesus all the time. Yet He still loves me. He died for me. And He comes to me in my darkness to rescue me.

The reflective nature of art is why I think it is so important. It is why I wanted to keep my theatre going after my older sister stepped down. I want to invite others to have their own experience of seeing themselves more accurately because of a show, or a drawing. I want to encourage others to wrestle with the beauty and pain of life that we can often push aside.

Art often gets dismissed as unnecessary, an extra activity that can be removed if there is a lack of money or time. I strongly disagree. I know everyone is different, but in my life, art has been one of the most powerful tools to help me bloom into the person God made me, either in giving me confidence or giving me understanding.

Have you had similar experiences with art? What about it is important to you?

 

 

The Boy Who Never Bloomed

He is commonly known as the boy who never grew up, but I think it’s fair to say he never bloomed either.

This realization came to me as I watched my actors (or as I affectionately refer to them, my children) put on the first batch of performances of Peter Pan. Working on this show has been an experience, a good one. From the adaptation process, which started in April of this year, to the prep work, directing, and helping the shows to run, I have seen growth in myself, in my actors, and in the theatre company as a whole.

Ironic considering the play.

Below is my director’s note for the play, which explores a little of the framework we used in evaluating the characters and stories and the cost of never blooming.

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Wendy trying to wake Peter from his nightmare

“I want always to be a boy and have fun.” – Peter

“You say that, but I think that is your biggest pretend.” – Wendy

The above are not lines from the play, but rather from the 2003 Universal Pictures film, Peter Pan. That movie made me fall in love with the story of Neverland, because of it’s poignant portrayed of what Peter lost by refusing to grow up.

When I knew we were going to do Peter Pan, I read multiple versions of the play, including the original by J.M. Barrie himself. None of them lived up to the standard that had been given to me by the movie. I made a desperate plea to the owners of the screenplay to see if they would allow me to adapt it for the stage, but I was, not surprisingly, turned down.

The rejection meant that I had to adapt the script on my own, inspired by the themes which the movie had teased out in its version, without copying it.

What stands out to me about the story is not Peter’s fear of growing up, but his selfish refusal to do so. I’m convinced it is not from lack of bravery or courage that Peter Pan remains on Neverland—he has endless adventures to prove his daring. No, Neverland is Peter’s prison because he is too selfish to allow anyone to have a claim on his life.

And he suffers for it.

J.M. Barrie’s novelization of the play gives us a deeper picture of the cost for Peter’s eternal youth. My goal in my adaptation and direction was to capture both the pain of the characters and the ways they tried to cope. We typically associate Peter Pan with his bravado and confidence, the very things he uses to distract himself from his own heartache.

The question that Peter Pan poses for us is not whether or not we’ll grow up. We know we will. For us, there is no Neverland to stop it. The question is, will we allow fear and selfishness to convince us that self-protection is freedom? Or will we dare to choose the riskier, but infinitely better, option of participating in deep and meaningful community?

 

The Boys Next Door

Players of the Stage

THE BOYS NEXT DOOR

January 28, 2016

 

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Donald and Bubba. Oil pastels on wood. 2015.

I recently read The Boys Next Door by Tom Griffin. A scene was performed from it at Northampton Community College’s Act Two showcase and grabbed my interest for the play as a whole. A sweet tale about the lives of four men who have struggle with various degrees of mental handicap, The Boys Next Door is a call for the dignity of the disabled community.

Lucian, Norman, Arnold, and Barry live in a group home together; Shelia is Norman’s girlfriend from one of the women’s group homes nearby; Jack is their social worker; and we even get an introduction, a horrific and tragic one, to Barry’s father, Mr. Klemper. Mr. Griffin does an amazing job of portraying these precious characters with the strengths and weakness that come with their disability. Growing up with two mentally-handicapped men, I appreciated how respectful of the characters Mr. Griffin was and the dignity that he gave them, while not being afraid of allowing the antics that they perform to bring  humor in the play and acknowledging that taking care of them is a very hard job. Through Jack’s character we get a glimpse of how demanding and how rewarding social work can be for those who see their clients as people and build relationships with them.

One of my favorite scenes of the play is one we will be doing at summer camp this year. It’s the scene when Shelia comes to the house for the first time to visit Norman. It is a precious, sweet scene, watching these two people navigate love and affection. Another part of the play which I loved and would be interested in seeing if we could do it as scene at summer camp is when Lucian testifies at the State Senate at a hearing to determine whether he is handicapped enough to receive state funding.

It is one of the most profound scenes in the play. Mr. Griffin starts us out with the normal court proceedings, the probing questions and the stuttered responses. But all the sudden, we switch from Lucian’s jumbled recitation of the alphabet and his proud declaration of his spiderman tie to inside Lucian, that part of him that understands his humanity better than his brain does. For an instant Lucian is free, and he explains who and what is he, and why so often we struggle to embrace and love and value people like him. The moment is brief and he returns quickly to his tie and his letters, but the impact of the monologue is vast.

It’s a great play. It’s on my list of shows I would consider directing at some point and would love to see performed life. Check your local library to see if they have a copy of the script. Maybe read sections of it with your family. If does contain some language and discussion about some mature content, so it may not be appropriate for everyone, but I think could be used as a valuable tool to start a conversation with people about how to love the mentally handicapped community and to plant seeds of recognition that their disabilities do not take away from their dignity.

Breaking Chains

I think this is my first post about theatre on this blog. With my attempts at blogging about how theatre impacts every day life once a week on All the World’s a Stage, I haven’t been sure exactly what to say about my dramatic life here that wouldn’t be a simple reposting of the same thoughts.

This week I am here to post about the deep meaning and impact I found and experienced in watching my actors (also known as my kids) perform A Christmas Carol the past two weekends.  There is, of course, the pride and excitement at watching my actors overcome self-conciousness and pushing themselves to abandon themselves to the dedication of their art in order to raise money for the Allentown Rescue Mission, a homeless shelter and so much more, but that emotion is only part of it.

When I directed A Christmas Carol five years ago we focused on Scrooge’s obsession with amassing and controlling wealth. This time I wanted to explore how Scrooge’s greed controlled him, picking up on the theme of chains that Charles Dickens crafted for us in the depiction of Marley.

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Chains were present from the beginning. Starting out as the chain from a pocket watch, gaining weight with the chain trim that graced Scrooge’s robe, growing with each new Spirit’s visit. At first Scrooge is oblivious to his chains, but as the Spirits expose his heart to him, he sees how entrapped he is.

Desperate to be rid of the chains, he clutches at them but cannot take them off. In the end, the chains are ripped from him as he begs for mercy and proclaims his repentance.

It was one of my favorite scenes: the music, the lights, the group of ghosts closing in on Scrooge, his cries, the chains falling to the floor, were powerful. But it’s deep meaning wasn’t just in the artistic experience but in the personal remembrance of God’s work in breaking chains in my heart this year.

2015 was not easy for me. I started out the year recovering from a brutual hand injury. I had just begun to surface out of the depression that had crept in when my mentor killed herself. The tragedy pushed to the surface years of anger and bitterness towards God that I had repressed.

The short version of my journey over this year is, God dealt with me. He didn’t send me three spirits to expose my anger, but in the end the result was the same: He removed my chains. When I watched the chains getting torn from Scrooge, when I heard his cries of repentance, I thought about my own experience with shackles, my battle to repent, my fear at the pain of being freed from the anger that weighed me down. As I watched Scrooge prance around his bedroom after being returned and restored, I thought about the newness of joy that I have now.

This is not to say that I don’t still struggle. I do. Just yesterday I told my Pastor that I have never believed God was good. That declaration came out of the exhaustion of finishing a production and the fresh pain of not understanding why God has allowed the suffering that He has.

Even though it’s an exaggeration to say I have never believed God is good, I do struggle with trusting that God is consistent in His goodness.  I see His grace, but do not yet have the faith to believe that He is good in the face of things that seem so bad and evil. But after seeing God work to break my chains of anger, I know that God can free me from my doubt.

These are the things that I thought to myself as I watched my actors #FightforBeauty on stage, and this is why I love theater. It impacts us. It mirrors our own journey. And sometimes it gives us hope that we will one day be free.

 

 

 

 

 

Nano reflections

I am done with Nanowrimo! In my mind I won even though I only reached 30,000 words. That was my goal. I knew it would be nigh impossible for me write 50,000 words in the month of November when I was acting in a show and had major rehearsals for the show I am directing. (which is opening this week. Check out Players of the Stage’s website for information. If you live in the Lehigh Valley you should come!)

Mrs. Boyle
Here I am as Mrs. Boyle writing a letter. If only I could count the words I wrote on stage as part of Nanowrimo… After I was done with my part, I’d lounge in backstage area with my computer and work on my novel. 

Now that I am finished with Nano (Geek alert…every time I see this nickname for the Nanowrimo I think about Borg technology) I have some lessons learned to share.

Trying to be Superwoman Will Burnout Your Brain.

I have blogged about my superwoman complex before, the burning craze to prove that I am successful. Some of it is because I have big goals (ie: get a building for my theatre, write a play that wins a tony, publish four novels that impact culture, and the list goes on) but most of it is because I stake my life and worth in being able to impress people.

This is one of my greatest inhibitors to my ability to act and direct. Before I would go onstage for The Mouse Trap I’d have to rehash in my brain that I didn’t need to impress my director, my fellow cast mates, or the audience. I would have to remind myself that I am perfect in Christ and that gives me the freedom to perform my hardest and with self-abandon, not fearing people’s reactions. Sometimes playing the tapes backstage worked to help me relax before I went on stage. Other nights I had to replay those thoughts while I was performing.

Theater is just one way in which I try to be Superwoman. Writing is another. I put so much pressure on myself to direct, act, get Players of the Stage’s founding documents together, write 50,000 words, and start and finish two drawings in the month of November, while also nannying twice a week, keeping a perfect house, exercising every day and reading four chapters of the Bible, two in the morning, two at night. Throw into the mix fatigue problems from chronic lyme….

Just writing that paragraph hurts my brain. What was I thinking? Clearly I’ve been struggling more with trying to find worth in others and my accomplishments than I was aware…. Every time I slip into fighting to be Superwoman I lose the enjoyment of my craft, and I burn out. Every time.

You’d think I’d learn this by now. If only I could be perfect and be amazing enough to never try and be superwoman again…. Yes, that is the twisted logic of my brain.

Rehearsing All the Dialogue in Your Mind Can Make it Difficult to Write it on the Page

I tend to create my stories by acting out the scenes and conversations that I want to take my characters through. This method of exploring characters and dialogue has been very helpful for me in writing the first draft of my plays, and even helped somewhat in writing Chrysalis, but I spent so much of my driving time rehashing every conversation that I often had trouble transferring the concepts from play-acting to novel-prose.

I would sit down to write a section I knew well. I knew what Marian said and how Robin rebutted. I knew what insinuations Sir Guy would make and the tactful way that Marian would avoid his advances. I thought it would be an easy transfer, but it was not. All I knew was the dialogue, I knew none of the narration that would make the transitions to get me from one concept to the next.

Part of my wanted to just throw down every line spoken by the character and forget about the rest of the book, but that didn’t work either. I’m still not a hundred percent why; it should be a seamless transition from mind to page, but my guess is that having worked out every word and detail of dialogue out before hand hampered my freedom to explore, and thus to write.

My new plan will be to continue to utilize my love of play-acting as a way of helping me create a story line and explore my character’s voice, but to stop rehearsing it once I have a sequence and outline planned out. That way I can play around but not be paralyzed.

The Internet is a Great Tool and a Great Distraction

(or a more honest way of putting it…I’m a social media addict)

This is obvious, right? I knew it before, but the truth of it really came home to me when I was trying to focus on writing my new novel Mercy and Justice. It was too easy to be distracted by Twitter and Facebook. Sometimes I would set a timer on my phone for twenty minutes to see how many words I could get written in that time, which would help me focus…until the timer beeped, then back to twitter I went! As if I really needed to check it every twenty minutes of my life….

I eventually realized that I was addicted to notifications and mentions, tweets and retweets, likes and shares. This ties back into my drive to make sure every one realizes I am superwoman. If I tweet something, or post something, I check compulsively to see if people have liked it, as if the number of twitter hearts and Facebook thumbs up defines my value.

Realizing this and seeing the amount of time that was taken away from writing my novel prompted me to install some apps on my phone and my computer to block Twitter, Facebook and e-mail at certain times in the day when I should be doing other things. I’m still tweaking these blocks, but I can already see how it has helped me reduce my social media time.

Dedication and Discipline go a Long Way

The great advantage to something like Nanowrimo is that it gives you a goal of writing so many words every day. I plan to take that challenge with me into the new year as I will be participating in the 365K word club, with the goal of writing 1,000 words every day, whether that be on a novel, blog post, or play.

Looking Forward

Before Nanowrimo started, I sat down and wrote a five year plan for writing or revising and publishing the four novels, two adaptations, and three original plays that I currently have planned out. This means that in 2016 I will not participate in Nanowrimo, as I expect to be polishing up Mercy and Justice so it can be submitted for publication and working on revising play adaptations I’ve previously done.

I enjoyed the Nanowrimo experience and learned a lot about myself and my craft. I’m looking forward to continuing to work on my writing while pursing freedom from using my writing, or my acting, or my drawing, or my appearance, or my house as a way of validating myself. In Jesus, I am enough. Honestly, that right there is the biggest lesson I need to learn.