Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Glamorous Life, Shenzhen Style

Oh boy, where do I start? There have been so many adventures, and off the stage. I'm still thriving.

First from our time in Guangzhou, which was now 2 weeks ago.

Nap time is big here in China. As it should be. The only surprise?  Public napping. Extraordinary public napping.

See these folks? I thought they were an art installation.

Hey, in my defense, they're sitting in a space in the gorgeous modern Guangzhou Opera House. See for yourself:

The opera house is behind me

One part of the opera house

Look, I stood there for at least 3 minutes, trying to determine if they were real people and decided they weren't. I was even impressed that the guy in the front had a Bluetooth gizmo in his ear. So I snapped the photo. And then the guy in the back turned the page in his book!

Only later when I saw more people in the same position in a food court did I realize what a phenomenon extreme napping is in China.

These Buildings. I tell you, the architecture is amazing. Look! These are from last week in Shenzhen

Can you see how the sculpture starts on one side of the building and ends on the other?

Shenzhen Poly Theatre
There was no way I could get enough photos to give you a true sense of the many modern buildings in Shenzhen. However, the modern buildings didn't mean good Internet. This was the first week that we encountered how the Internet works in China. Our hotel had weak Internet (much like I've experienced in the US), but when combined with needing a VPN, it was a failure. Hence, I had trouble uploading photos and posting.

We're starting to see ourselves in the publicity.
Yes, that's me - back row on the left.

My Anxious Imagination

Here I am in China, the mysterious empire on the other side of the planet. Three weeks in (I'll be here for 10 weeks), I am finding it fascinating, much easier to get around than I expected and nowhere near as intimidating as I had imagined.

Imagined. That is the key word here. Boy, what I had imagined.
I didn't imagine this.

I imagined this.

Leo Babauta of Zen Habits calls it the stories we tell ourselves. Let me tell you about the stories I had told myself.

Let's talk about my travel to China. The story I told myself was that this trip (which consisted of a short flight between Philadelphia and JFK, and a direct flight from JFK to Guangzhou) would be horrific, destined to be one of the worst I have ever taken in my life.

I was wrong.

How did I get there? It's a question worth exploring because inside the answer is a key to so many triggers for my personal anxiety, which I'm going to guess is similar to your anxiety.

Online Reviews - I dislike online reviews. Even though I know the best approach to online reviews (throw out the top and bottom rated ones, read the middle), the negative ones seem to form my story. And once that negative review is in my head, I can't get rid of that information.  So when I read the numerous negative reviews for the airline I was flying to China, I was convinced this trip was going to be a disaster.

Bad Customer Service - The airline industry struggles with providing high-quality customer service (I hope that sentence made you laugh out loud.).  This same airline with the negative reviews has a seat reservation system that is inconvenient to say the least. It was impossible to reserve my seat online. Which meant I had to call one phone number to find out I had to call another phone number, then talk to a service rep who was clearly having trouble communicating. So he hung up. So I called back. He didn't hang up this time, but there was plenty of silence, as I heard sounds in the background (is he making coffee? is he in an office or his house? where is he on the planet?), received short answers, and finally was asked for my credit card information. You anxious for me?

This airline's website also states a carry- on weight limit of 5 kgs, which is about 11 pounds. 11 pounds for carry-on??!? Look, I'm good at keeping my weight limits down when traveling, but even I think 11 pounds for a long-haul flight is ridiculous. Do I pack 11 pounds or go with everything (which was about 16 pounds) and hope they let me on the plane? And yes, I was once stopped from taking an overweight carry-on onto a long-haul flight, and yes, I have not forgotten that experience.

Her Experience Will Not Be Your Experience - I love this phrase, given to me by Tara Tagliaferro. Unfortunately, I forgot it. Since some of my colleagues had had a negative experience with the demon airline, I convinced myself I would also have a negative experience.

Mental Tape Loops - once they're going, they're going. I have a heck of a time getting them to stop.

This all combined to make me a pretty difficult person to be around. At one point I yelled at Beloved, "Look. I know I am not handling this well. I am trying and I am failing.". He just looked at me and went back to his crossword puzzle. Smart move on his part.

So what did work?

Live in This Moment - which is really challenging for me when I'm feeling this anxious. But it works. I remind myself to live in this moment, not the one that just went by, not the one that's around the corner.

Trusting My Gut - which felt completely confused. I would literally stop myself, breathe, ask myself what was the best thing to do in this moment, wait for an answer and go on. I wasn't entirely successful (see yelling at Beloved above), but I tried.

Get Away - take a vacation from my anxiety. When I was as packed and prepared as possible, I dropped it all and went for a walk in Valley Forge National Park with Beloved. I looked at trees, I watched tourists, I felt the fresh air on my skin. This was the best thing I could do with my time and energy. At the end of the walk, I felt more settled and had a much better perspective on my life.

The trip? Ended up being one of the easiest long-haul flights I have ever taken. My flight from Philadelphia to JFK actually landed early. I was the first person to check in for the flight to Guangzhou. No one batted an eye at my carry-on. The customer service rep goodheartedly agreed with me that the seat reservation system was inadequate. The flight left on time and was comfortable. The food was airline food. Hey, we're not looking for miracles, just less anxiety!

And here I am.
Writing this for you, three weeks later, it is hard to recall how anxious I actually was. I mean my stomach is tightening, my hands are getting cold and my brain is looking for something to be anxious about, but I am realizing that all of this is still an anxious ol' story I tell myself. Living through this anxiety made me realize how I can work with my anxiety and not let it win every time.

What about you?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Persisting Brings Joy

Yes, that's the theatre.
The Poly Theatre Shenzhen.

Creataviters, it happened. One of my Guiding Star Touchstones, Persisting Brings Joy, worked.

After 100 performances covering the role of Mother Superior and appearing nightly in the Ensemble of Sister Act, I finally went on as Mother Superior.

Ni hao Shenzhen.

I've been wanting to tell this woman's story ever since I met her. I'll admit, when I was offered my current contract (covering the role, not performing it regularly), I was disappointed. I even shed a few tears. This woman lives in my soul. I know her like the back of my hand. We have much in common. But I sucked it up, realized my good fortune and opportunity, and moved through the disappointment so I could come to Asia with a bunch of really good folk.

Going on is always full of emotion. Somebody else is sick or injured. And in this case I really, really, really like (okay, let's call it love) this person - Rebecca Mason-Wygal. If you look up the word professional in the dictionary, there's a picture of Rebecca. But guess what. She gave me advance notice, she sent me hints telling me to make sure to find the handkerchief and crucifix, she even gave me a present! That's right, no petty jealousy here.

Then there's the other cover, my best friend on this tour, Megan Opalinski. Like me, she's also covered this role before and not gone on. Only by the luck of the draw (we'll be switching the roles we're covering very soon) did I go on this week.  Guess who came up to me during the show with many thumbs up and "you're doing greats"? Guess who was the first one to hug me after the curtain dropped?  And I don't mean a fake, sure you were okay, I'll take one for the team hug. I mean an authentic, boy, am I proud of you, congratulations hug. Yup, Megan. Her picture is right next to Rebecca's in that dictionary.

What did I realize from this experience?

Discipline Works. You know, I don't think of myself as disciplined, but I am. I have a very specific routine as a cover (which is coming in another post). I'll tell you right now, it involves daily review of my lines and staging, as well as daily vocal work. It also means I am keeping myself rested and as healthy as possible. That means making choices about when to socialize and when to go to bed. Not always fun, but I'm here to perform a show first and enjoy myself second.

Together We Are Strong. I used to fail at this concept. Epically. I felt so insecure, I thought I had to hang onto all of the marbles for myself. I would close off from colleagues who were just trying to be my friend. Thank God I've figured out what a waste of energy that was. Rebecca and Megan were not the only colleagues who stood next to me, gave me encouragement or offered to help. And what a difference that made.

That's a wig.
Be Prepared. Which is really an offspring of Discipline Works. Will I go on again? One never knows when one is a cover. My job is to be prepared and that's what I do. I wake up every day and know that my priority is to be prepared. The rest is up to someone else, so I don't even think about it. I have enough to do making sure I'm prepared.

That's Megan behind with the big authentic smile on her face.
I have so much more to tell you, but it is time for me to rest. Now you get out there and persist. Because joy is around the corner waiting for you.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

A Day In The Life, Part 1

In May, I asked you what you were curious about. What did you want to know from Creatavita? One of you (thank you for the comment, Unknown) requested a post about my daily life. As I said in my comment, I didn't think that would be of interest. I was glad to find out it would be...at least to Unknown. I started composing a draft about my daily life and was quickly stymied. Writing this was more challenging than I anticipated. How DO I spend my time? How do I write about it without sounding inane (10:45 - bathroom break)?

So, another series of posts is born, because the daily life of a touring performer differs greatly, depending on what part of the process the project is in.

Today, I'll start with a day in the life when I am in rehearsals. I'm intending to write at least 3 more posts in this series. Why? My schedule is a bouncing ball and I believe knowing about said schedule would provide insight for many of you.

I'll start with a day in the life, New York City rehearsal style, in April 2017.

6:30 am - The alarm goes off. I always start everyday with my gratitude practice (I focus on my Guiding Star slogan and think of three things for which I am grateful). Once that's done, my feet willingly hit the floor.

I can't believe my good fortune. I'm staying at the East Side apartment of a very generous friend. The apartment, like most Manhattan apartments, isn't large, but it is comfortable. When my friend is in town for work, I sleep on the pullout sofa (it's really comfortable). When she's isn't here, I get the bed. She's high up in the corporate world, so her hours are even longer than mine. Consequently, when I'm here, I'm usually alone.

I prefer to start the day quietly and slowly, Hence, the next two hours are filled with:
Coffee and reading the paper (yes, I still read the paper, and you should too)
Prepare lunch
Shower, dress and pack for the day (I've usually prepped the night before)
Vocalize and review material for today’s rehearsal.

8:45 am - Most days I walk to work. I allow 45 minutes so I'm sure to be early. If I choose to stop for coffee, or walk a different route, I know I'll have time. I also use this time to talk to Beloved. Occasionally, I take the subway, but since I enjoy the morning walk and find it an excellent easy stretch, that's my first choice.

9:30 am - I arrive at the rehearsal studio. Rehearsal doesn't start until 10:00 am, but I HATE BEING LATE. I find it beneficial to have this time to take care of questions or just socialize with my new colleagues. Then there's going to the bathroom. While this might seem severe, leaving rehearsal to go to the bathroom is frowned upon. Texting or taking a phone call is also a huge no-no; it's best to take care of all personal business before rehearsals start.

10:00 am - Alright, let's head into the first rehearsal session of the day. Usually, there is a 10-minute break every 50 minutes, but since this is a non-union production, that is not required. As we get further into the process, we're more likely to work through break times.

Rehearsal for a show like Sister Act (specifically, for the Nuns) is intense. We have intricate vocal harmonies, which switches from 2 parts to 3 parts to 4 parts and back again, all in one song. We have "ography"; while the movement for this show isn't classified as dance, it is complex and there is a LOT of it. Then there's the scenes where we aren't dancing, but we are singing or just being. We start the rehearsal period working each element separately, combining them by the 5th day of rehearsal.

Because this show requires so much movement, there's no dressing up for work. My uniform consists of workout clothes and sneakers. Comfort is a must. At first, this is great. Even though I splurged and bought most of my rehearsal clothes at Athleta, by the end of week 2, I'm tired of them. I'm dying to wear real clothes.

This is us in April.

This is us in May.

One of the travails of this rehearsal period is the climate control in the rehearsal studio. First cold, then hot. Those of us moving are hot, while those sitting are cold. The door has to stay closed because of the sound and that heats up the room. Just right doesn't exist.

2:00 pm - Lunch. We get 60 minutes for lunch, which can get easily swallowed up. I usually like to get some fresh air on a lunch break, but the area around this studio is congested with no green spaces close by. Most days I bring my lunch and stay in the building. This gives me more time to eat (standing in NYC food lines can suck up a lot of time) and leaves more money in my pocket. This is also the only opportunity of the day to return phone calls, emails, texts, etc. Brush my teeth, use the restroom, chat with my colleagues and we're back. The 60 minutes zooms by.

3:00 pm - Back to work. It's a repeat of the morning.

6:00 pm - Rehearsal day is done. I take the subway home or walk, possibly run an errand (hello CVS) and eat dinner. Most nights after dinner, I study. That's right, I study. Because I do my best work up on my feet,
I rearrange the furniture so I can get up and practice blocking and choreography, being careful not to break anything! I take breaks to work out, write for Creatavita, and interact in my digital world.

I'm in New York, so you'd think I'd see some theatre or get out. I do. I get to two shows and I see friends for dinner three times. Yes, that's all. Disappointing, right? Folks, I'm just too tired at the end of the day! Besides, I know I need to use the energy I have left to work on the material for the next day. I'm here to do a job and it is my intention to do the best job possible every day. Being prepared is key to making that happen.

10:30 pm - I'm done. I crawl into bed with a book, content with a good day's work, ready to rest my body and brain.