WTF is a #CuratedLife?

I have been trying to figure out social media. God, it is hard.

img_2852

I fell in love with Facebook eleven years ago, here’s my first post, in fact, from March 25, 2008: “Aaauuuggghh! I don’t know how to do this Facebook thing!” I have evolved from silly posts like that one, with some stops along the way for oversharing or airing professional grievances online, in an effort to live a truthful life. Now I am more judicious about where that truthful life really belongs. I have gotten better at using filters and hashtags and presenting my best public self. Mostly.

About five years ago, I found Pinterest, and I could, if I let myself, scroll through pinning pictures of beautiful living rooms and historical costuming all day long. I have boards called General Geekery (for Star Trek and Harry Potter), The Democratic Diva (mostly inspirational quotes about my core values), and Women I Adore (Streisand, Streep, and Alcott). I save photos from Gilmore Girls and Supernatural and I have a new board called “It’s a Grand Baby!” That’s where I save a ridiculous number of nursery décor pins and ideas for entertaining one’s grandkids. My first one’s here and I am wrapped around her tiny finger.

And now…Instagram. I just joined that one a few months ago. It’s so dreamy! Here is where meals are perfectly plated, fashions are always forward, and delightful dogs make me smile. This is also where my favorite authors send what I pretend are personal exhortations and juicy little details about their lives (Did you know Glennon Doyle loses her keys all the time, just like me? We are so sympatico!)

No, really. My BFFS are Liz Gilbert, Brene’ Brown, Martha Beck, Glennon Doyle, Cheryl Strayed, and Oprah. All of them. They talk to me every day on Instagram. And podcasts! How could I not mention podcasts? Magic Lessons, SuperSoul, Robcast, On Being, What Women Want; these podcasts fill me up! I have a whole other genre that I love, spooky podcasts like Lore and Pleasing Terrors.

Here’s the thing about all this social media, all this curation: while I am a little bewildered, my daughters get it. In spades. It’s just how they live.

For example, my younger daughter just posted a gorgeous selfie of herself with her cute boyfriend. They look lively and flawless, with great big smiles…and she throws an ironic mouse ear and nose filter on it from Snapchat. Now it garners winks: look how pretty and yet silly they are! When my older daughter hits a gorgeous yoga pose, she somehow manages to photograph it and post it on Insta with just the right hashtag. For my senior pictures, I wore a fluffy pale blue boa and sat in front of a swirly brown background with the photographer hired by my school. For my younger daughter’s senior pictures, she scheduled two photographers and an independent studio space, complete with multiple changes of clothes, a variety of backgrounds, and my yellow bicycle with silk flowers wired to its basket.

When I was in my twenties, if Instagram had existed, it would have been full of photos of me dripping milk all over the front of my shirt or char-marked skillets full of cheeseburger macaroni Hamburger Helper (I grew up on the stuff, I raised my kids on it, and I still love it, I don’t care what anyone says). My wedding would have needed about $10,000 more to spend so that I could have all the details that make for perfect pins. My kids’ birthday parties would had to have been bigger and louder so they would stand out on Facebook and they’d would get #invited to all the #coolkids parties.

I am so glad I didn’t live my twenties that way.

Though I sure as hell am doing my fifties that way! I have learned about hashtags pretty recently and I am working to figure out which ones grab attention; because now I am actively trying to create a new life- an author’s life- and I feel like I need to learn what resonates. It’s not that I am being disingenuous, nor am I trying to use people; but I am working to be a story teller, and in the year 2019, that just doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I have been known to post some sweaty, unflattering photos of myself, but I still keep trying to figure out the perfect angle to get a good selfie (what my mother in law charmingly called “facies” early on). When I walk outside, I am always looking for just the right bit of nature to photograph to add to my online presence, to cultivate the recognition and love of daily magic that I think is my calling. I use my bright yellow bike as a prop for my “brand,” even though I worked an acting gig eight years ago to save up for it, long before I had any knowledge of Instagram, WordPress, or Medium; or any idea that I would make a career change that would lead me to want to write and require “branding.”

I even created a Pinterest pin of my new yellow living room chairs, we’ll see if it gets re-pinned!

Here’s where I have landed on all this social media stuff: it is, for me, a gift. I can stay in touch with childhood and college friends and see baby photos of my cousins’ infants. I can post requests for advice on taking care of plants, and one of my green-thumbed buddies will help. I can see the creative work my friends are up to: wire-wrapped jewelry, nature photography, writing, or acting. I can be inspired by the aforementioned authors/encouragers. I can feel a moment of gratitude and share it unironically, with the hashtag #lovemylife.

When I feel super courageous, I can post that photo that shows the realest me: wrinkles and spots and squish and dark eye circles.

I love the online stuff, it’s like a scrolling scrapbook. I can click on any year in my Facebook timeline, and I am instantly transported. What was I doing? Where were my kids? Who did I go to eat sushi with? Why did I wear that?

Of course, there is danger in the temptation to live and love only that way, so I take care. Take care to set the phone down. Take care to look into my husband’s real eyes, not just the ones saved in countless photos in my online accounts; all while he hugs me tight. Photos of gorgeous dinners aren’t nourishing, only in the eating and sharing do we savor the flavors and reap the nutrients. Snapchat pics of our loved ones, no matter how silly the filters, don’t replace the need for touch, for listening to each other sigh or laugh or cry. Hashtag activism isn’t enough, action is required. And Pinterest images, those perfectly lit tableaux of exquisite home furnishings, can never outshine the comfort of our own homes, even if they’re cluttered or not perfectly staged. That’s life. Life is lived by being present.

PS: Here are some of the various accounts referenced here. Both my girls are building careers on SM. Give them a look!

https://www.instagram.com/hilaryallysonbryant/

 

https://www.instagram.com/libbyy.june/

 

dandelion 2

 

A Magic Kingdom

I recently returned from five days in Orlando, exploring Disney World for the first time in my 52 years. I cried a lot. I cried on the first afternoon, when I watched the show in front of Cinderella’s castle as Minnie, Daisy, Elsa, Anna, Tiana, Rapunzel, and a chorus of dancers sang about imagination and courage.

Disneyworld 6

I cried that evening as the fireworks exploded and projections lit up the castle while Tom Hulce’s Hunchback sang “Out There.”

I cried when I rode the Pooh ride and when I saw stuffed Dumbos. I cried when the Peter Pan float passed during the 3:00 parade. I cried when Lebo M’s voice chanted:

“Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba Sithi uhm ingonyama”

while I stood in line to enter Animal Kingdom.

I cried one last time, sitting on a grassy knoll at the Polynesian Resort, watching the fireworks show from a distance, making a memory with my niece and nephew.

Heck, I am crying right now, just typing this.

Why? Why do I cry so much?

Well, there’s the obvious answer: Disney is my children’s childhood. I didn’t grow up with much Disney. Some of that is simply because of when I grew up. During the 1970s, Disney animation was in a slump, resulting in limited access to the stories. We didn’t have a Disney channel, we just had Sunday night’s Wonderful World of Disney, which featured Disney shorts, sometimes Disney features, all hosted by Walt himself. My mom didn’t want to watch it. My parents did take us to an anniversary release of Bambi in 1975, I was just eight years old; and the only other Disney film I saw in theaters until I took my three-year-old daughter to see Beauty and the Beast was Herbie Rides Again. 

Mary Poppins is the one exception to the paucity of Disney in my life. It blessedly ran on television frequently enough that I came to know it by heart. Julie Andrews as Mary was my hero. She, with her magical carpet bag, lilting soprano, and penchant for order, was the epitome of womanhood. I loved that she showed up unexpectedly, floating through the sky with an umbrella, feet turned out, impeccably dressed.

Spit Spot!

img_2495

What I loved about Mary was that she could come into a house with miserable, neglected children and heal it. She could sing to the toys and they would put themselves away, birds were fed, and the parents eventually learned to see their lonely kids by the magic of flying kites. When I met Mary Poppins and Bert beside the swan topiary near the Sleeping Beauty castle in Anaheim, or in the English pavilion in Orlando, I was overwhelmed with joy. I understood completely that I was meeting gorgeous actresses. Truly, I did. But here’s the thing that happens, if one can set aside cynicism and just embrace the whole scenario: I met Mary Poppins, who spoke to me with flawless diction and loved my Jolly Holiday skirt and ears. I would say I was a child again, and maybe that’s a little true. But I was 51 years old, too. Fifty-one, and just really starting to recognize in a visceral way how short life really is and how essential it is to look for love and drop little seeds of it wherever one finds oneself.

I did not encounter the Mary Poppins of the books until adulthood. The literary, non-singing Mary is a little more acerbic. In the movie, there’s an underlayer of sweetness just under Mary’s efficiency, less evident in the books. In Travers’ hands though, whimsy is abundant and imagination is the cure for boredom, sadness, and grouchiness. In the very first book of the series, the grumpy author writes this simple yet profound sentence, when Jane and Michael ask Mary where she’s been all day and her answer doesn’t match their own expectations: “Mary Poppins gave a superior sniff. ‘Don’t you know,’ she said pityingly, ‘that everybody’s got a Fairyland of their own?'”

My mom wasn’t much for fairylands, nor for stories, nor for books. I do not remember a single instance of being read to, and the only book I owned was a copy of Bible stories that my grandparents gave me. I didn’t have books with Disney stories, or records like my husband remembers having, ones with “Bare Necessities” and “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” to listen to in my room.

My family was too poor to pay the light bill, never mind a trip to Disneyland; so when my first child was born in the same year that Ariel made her debut, I hopped right on board the Disney steam locomotive train (figuratively speaking, anyway. I wouldn’t get to ride the real thing until I reached middle age). We watched Little Mermaid over and over, I have the most precious photo of my dad on the floor playing with Hilary and her Ariel doll. When my son was just three, he went through a Dumbo phase: every morning, between 3:30 and 4:00, he sleepily stumbled into our bedroom, shook us awake, and asked for Dumbo. He was having bad dreams nightly, and the sweet blue-eyed baby elephant chased away the scary things happening in his brain. We began to leave the VHS cued up and ready before retiring to sleep each night, so that we could get him tucked in with as little fuss as possible. My youngest daughter chose Finding Nemo for her sixteenth birthday theme- unlike the other high school girls who were making duck lips and wearing too much make up, my girl dressed as a Pixar character. We read the stories, we sang the songs, we raised our kids with Disney magic all around us.

I cry when I think of it because Disney resonates: Disney is fueled by love.

I know that millenial ennui dictates we poo-poo that. But bear with me.

Disney, as a brand, is driven by story*; and the stories all center around one common theme: love.

Walt’s love for his granddaughters inspired him to create Disneyland so that they would have a place to play and imagine.

Disney is:

Love of story itself, whether revealed in orchestral pieces as in Fantasia, or in written words, as in the Milne Winnie the Pooh stories.

Love of planet. What is Moana but a great big hug for Mother Earth? The 1950s were a decade of documentary shorts like Nature’s Half Acre, all opportunities for Walt to share the wonders of eco-science with the country.

Love of parent/child. The Mama Bear character in Brave stands in for protective moms everywhere, and when Dumbo’s mom sings him a lullaby while rocking him in her trunk, I weep with melancholy. Gepetto’s wish for a son, made real by the Blue Fairy? Perfection.

Love of friendship. Are there two more sympatico friends than Woody and Buzz? Who doesn’t hope for a group of friends to stand and protect in times of vulnerability, like the dwarves did as Snow White slept?

Love of romance. I have my own Prince Charming, and so I love the romantic stories when shoes are left behind on staircases and hairy beasts are redeemed by the tears of a true love.

Love is magic.

9f405938-9a1c-4bf5-9732-fea2557a7bf2

 

We know it, deep down, but we forget. Walt knew that sharing these stories and building these worlds would give us glimpses and doses. It was his mission. They still take that mission very seriously in every facet of the company, as I learned when I attended the Disney Institute last year. Their people love what they do.

 

And so, when I immerse myself in the environment, it is a hug for my soul.

When I watch a movie, it’s an infusion of affection and strength.

When I don a Daisy tee or drink steaming hot tea out of a  Tinkerbell mug, it’s an inoculation against despair and bitterness.

When I hit “play” on my Disney playlist, I feel joy. For the woman whose childhood was so devoid of play, of imagination and joy and connection, Disney gives me a place to act like a kid again.

I know I am not alone in this. The parks, cruise ships, and resorts are overflowing with other humans who love the stories. I daresay even the dad I saw in the Magic Kingdom, wearing a shirt that proclaimed in Disney font: “Most financially irresponsible day ever” encountered magic that day with his small children. Disney parks are brimming with all ethnicities, all physical types, all ages. Big, burly urbanites pose with Goofy, silver haired grannies get kisses from Minnie, and tiny boys hug Woody’s legs. We love it.

It’s that simple. Once upon a time, I was a lonely, bedraggled, neglected child. I found my prince, I made a family, and I created a life that is full of love, my very own magical kingdom; and the wonderful world of Disney helps me celebrate it.

 

*Yes, I know Disney is also profit driven- it’s a business. A big one. I don’t hold that against them. They craft story and they create a place where even grown ups can pretend their lives are perfect, even if it’s just a respite. I work in the world of theme park myself, and Disney does it better than anyone.

 

Doors, the Third in a Series

“You can’t escape the past in Paris, and yet what’s so wonderful about it is that the past and present intermingle so intangibly that it doesn’t seem to burden.”- Allen Ginsberg, American poet, writer, philosopher, and activist

I snapped this in the Montmartre District, I loved the juxtaposition of the weathered old green door, with its geometric windows and centered knob, against the modern graffiti. It’s the LuLu White bar in Paris, it’s website is below. Next time, I think I’ll visit.

 

Pretty and Witty and Bright!

 

Women are killing it in 2018. Killing it. Though we still haven’t completely leveled the playing field, it’s getting closer. Oprah at the Oscars, “Wonder Woman,” and the #MeToo movement which resulted in the Silence Breakers being named as Time Magazine’s most recent Person of the Year have been highlights. On a personal level, I am finishing two book drafts- those are major accomplishments for me.

And on the fun front,  I got to see “I Feel Pretty” just this week, and I loved it. Before the movie started, women and only women (most at least 30 years old- the humor is probably only funny for those of us who have lived a little. The marketers knew their audience, the first glimpse I got of the movie was on Pinterest) got comfy and ordered lunch while watching a preshow of Amy Schumer highlights: clips from “Trainwreck” and “Snatched” were interspersed with her comedy shorts. The movie trailers were for “The Spy Who Dumped Me,” “Ocean’s 8,” and the “Mamma Mia” musical sequel. All films about women who make us laugh. “I Feel Pretty” made me laugh. A lot. It also made me cry.

“I am beautiful.”

“Am I beautiful?”

“I’m not beautiful.”

That’s the progression for so many women. When we are little girls, we don’t doubt it. We play dress up in our mom’s heels, smearing lipstick on our faces and striking poses for photos. We throw on a pair of shorts or a swimsuit for play without a second thought about our bodies. But it changes somewhere along the way, doesn’t it? At least, for a lot of us. Some charmed angels manage to stay whatever society says beautiful is all the way through childhood and adolescence- shiny hair, clear skin, thin. But most of us go through some awkwardness, and that’s where our hearts and psyches stay.

Image result for I Feel Pretty

And so we meet Renee Bennett, Amy Schumer’s beleaguered Millenial in the new release “I Feel Pretty.” She’s watching a YouTube tutorial, trying to recreate a “faux-hawk” hairdo. It’s not going great. And she gives herself a long, long look in the mirror. It made me tear up, and here’s why: without speaking one word, I saw in her eyes exactly what she was saying. Because I say it to myself on a daily basis:

Not pretty enough. Not thin enough. Not enough, not enough, not enough.

To see her undress and take in her reflection after being fat-shamed into leaving a clothing boutique was, to be honest, gut wrenching. I teared up again here. Every time she looks in a mirror her shame radiates. Until the magic moment when it doesn’t. In a moment that is an acknowledged meta nod to the Tom Hanks gem “Big,” Renee bonks her head in a fall off the bike in her Soul Cycle class and wakes up completely convinced that she is fantastically gorgeous. And she is- but the trick is that nothing actually changed. She is the exact same person, but instead of an inner monologue of self shaming, she caresses her size ten legs and declares them perfect. It is her perception that has changed, not her actual appearance, though she doesn’t know it.

We watch what happens when this seemingly average, thicker girl owns her own beauty. She rules. And she falls in love. She makes courageous choices.

Image result for i feel pretty west side story

I feel charming
Oh, so charming
It’s alarming how charming I feel!
And so pretty
That I hardly can believe I’m real!- Maria, “West Side Story”

Make no mistake- this film is not “The French Lieutenant’s Woman.” It’s not going to be nominated for any Oscars. Schumer is not a Streep-level actress. But she’s funny. Really, really funny and fearless. The bikini contest scene was uproarious- the theater was rocking at that point. Watching Michelle Williams, who is an Oscar nominated actress, play against type was utter joy. I fell a little in love with Rory Scovel, who played a slightly bewildered and really sweet love interest. Aidy Bryant and Busy Phillips are the trusted sidekicks. I was so relieved that Aidy’s size was never mentioned. Not once. Not even as they created a triple-threat online dating profile. The audience that I watched with was completely female, and the laughs were loud and frequent, grounded in the reality that so many of us have lived: the magazines may not see us as goddesses, but that’s okay. We are goddesses even without their permission.

The Dove company did a really great campaign not too long ago, its message was just that- it’s how we see and define our own selves that matters. They did a hidden camera video of women who had to choose between two doors to enter a building: one labeled “Average” and one labeled “Beautiful.” I cried when I saw it. I cry to even think of it. Because almost no women chose the beautiful door. Their faces fell, in fact, as they made the choice. Heads hung as they walked in. Why do we do that to ourselves?

“I Feel Pretty” matters. It really does. It reinforces, it shouts, the truth that we are all beautiful. We all struggle with romantic relationships, friendships, and careers. Yet we are all pretty- fat, thin, tall, short, chic, basic, brown, white. Oscar trophies? No. Big laughs and happier ladies? Hell yes.

Five Things Tinker Bell Taught Me

tink 7

Tinker Bell is sort of the Paris Hilton of fairies. She’s blonde, pretty much everyone has heard of her, and she can act a bit bratty sometimes.

According to her creator, J.M. Barrie, Tinker Bell is “exquisitely gowned in a skeleton leaf, cut low and square, through which her figure could be seen to the best advantage. She was slightly inclined to EMBONPOINT [a plump hourglass figure].”

Though her voice is the tinkling of bells, she speaks with salty language, calling Peter a “silly ass” when he suggests she be Wendy’s fairy, since he is a boy and can’t have a fairy, and tries to have Wendy assassinated upon entrance to Neverland, telling the Lost Boys to shoot the “Wendy Bird” on Pan’s instructions. When it counts, though, she drinks poison to save Peter from death. She is complex and common, a mender of pots and pans in Neverland.

tink 6

I adore her. I adore her in her spoiled diva-ness, her single-minded purpose to be the center of Peter’s world, no matter the tactics required to get there. I adore her little puffy Disney shoes and her leaf green short dress.

Tink may arguably be the most popular of all Disney females. I know she hasn’t infiltrated the airwaves with a song like Elsa’s “Let It Go,” but she is now the central character of the entire Disney Fairies franchise, she flies over Aurora’s and Cinderella’s castles every night during the Disney fireworks, she even has a 5 1/2 inch replica at Madame Tussaud’s. She flies over the opening credits in Disney films, sprinkling magic over the logo, and her star was the celebratory star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame 50th anniversary. Tink is legit. I mean, Reese Witherspoon is going to be playing her in a live action film- an Oscar winning actress as Tinker Bell! You can’t get more legit than that!

10562719_10153034049237711_5087829646281846399_o

My daughters and I recently met Tink at her home in Pixie Hollow in Disneyland. There were several cute fairies to be found in Pixie Hollow, along with some very cute scenery. But when we got to Tink, we were like little girls! She was petite and perfect, right down to the puffs on her slippers. Our favorite Tink, however, is angry Tink. We like her saucy and belligerent. This Tinker Bell was so sweet, dainty, and smiling. We asked her if she would mind doing a photo (of course she wouldn’t, that’s what she’s there for), but we asked if she would please do the angry Tink face. She told us she really wasn’t supposed to, that she was to be kind and polite at all times or she’d get in trouble with Peter. But after a quick glance to make sure there were no little ones waiting behind us, she crossed her arms and made a perfect pout.

Tinker Bell, common or not, is a fairy who knows what she wants: Peter’s affection and to be the baddest fairy on the block (or Hollow or island).

As I have stated before in my blog, I didn’t come into my love for all things fairy until I was an adult. I didn’t see Disney’s film of Peter Pan until I was in my late twenties, so my love for Tinker Bell comes from a grown up place. Here are a few things I have learned from Tinker Bell:

Tink 1

1. Have a marketable skill, but look wonderful while doing it! In the Victorian England of Tinks’ creation, a girl might need a job, a way to pay the rent on one’s tiny treehouse. Tinker Bell is a tinker- she mends pots and pans! But she looks beautiful while doing it, she is, after all, wearing a “skeleton leaf.” I have not quite mastered the art of looking fabulous while I work, I am usually in some dowdy pair of capris and flats, with my hair dangling without style. If I could wear wings to work, that would change instantly.

2. Puffs on shoes are always appropros. When I was in junior high and roller skating rinks were all the rage, I saved my pennies for a set of yellow puffs to tie on my skates, they pretty much looked just like Tinker Bell’s shoes in the painting at right. Though they didn’t glow, they made me feel quite invincible on the wood floor, enough that I would teach myself to skate backwards. But not, however, enough that I would work up the courage to ask Rob P. for a couples skate.

3. Being clapped for always makes you feel better. After she has drunk Peter’s poisoned medicine to prevent him from swallowing it and dying, Peter calls on all the children who believe, if they can hear him from Neverland, to clap to resurrect her. The applause enlivens Tinker Bell so that she can be resurrected and go with Peter to fight Captain Hook. I like applause, too. I love coming our for a curtain call and being lauded. And clapping doesn’t have to be literal- a friend or coworker can notice something you did well, a spouse can remind you why he chose you, a child can wrap her arms around your knees, telling you “you’re the best mommy in the world.” Applause comes in many forms, and it makes us feel better.

tink 5

4. Sometimes inappropriate language gets the point across best. When I was a little girl, my mother would not allow the use of the words “fart,” “butt,” or “crap.” Or, for that matter, “darn.” Hard to imagine, right? I clearly remember the first time I said “butt.” I was on the playground in fifth grade, we were seated on the blacktop, lined up in classes to walk back into Sally B. Elliott Elementary School. I looked around to make sure no one was paying attention to me (I don’t know why I bothered, I was ever the Invisible Girl), then whispered behind my cupped hand: “Butt!” When lightning didn’t strike, I said it twice more. As I moved through junior high and high school, I occasionally dusted my sentences with a choice naughty word. After my husband left ministry, I decided that one of my new-found freedoms would be the occasional cussword, in appropriate social settings. Now, I know some will disagree with me, but I think strong language can be empowering. I am tired of women being expected to talk pretty and sweet all the time, damn it.

Tink 2

5. Fight and sacrifice for the one you love. I don’t condone the pulling of hair, like Tinker Bell did to Wendy, nor the attempted assassination. But props to Tink for doing what she felt she had to to protect Pan. The heart knows what it wants. Tink loved Peter, and no other girl was interfering with that. When Hook poisoned Peter’s medicine, Tink drank it herself to keep Pan from dying. There are people in my life whom I love completely without reservation or hesitation. Not only my husband and children, but other family members or dear, dear friends. I think that to love and be loved so completely is magical, no fairy dust required.

It takes faith to fly. Faith in one’s own self, in one’s dreams and aspirations, in the universe that holds us. J.M. Barrie, Tinker Bell’s creator, had this to say about belief: “For to have faith is to have wings.” It has taken me long years, but I hope that my wings are finally sprouting.

Pudding. Can’t have any.

vanilla-pudding

In her book Yes,Please Amy Poehler writes a chapter about nominations. Not presidential nominations, award nominations. Specifically, Emmy nominations. In the chapter titled “Gimme That Pudding,” She uses “pudding” as a code word for those awards- SAGS, Emmys, Oscars, Tonys, Grammys, etc.

In Yes, Please, Amy (I call her Amy because I think she is my long-lost best friend) talks about a year when she was nominated for an Emmy but didn’t win:

“The following year I was breast-feeding a six-week-old Abel. I was too tired to think of bits but my hormones were telling me to just jump onstage and grab the award before they announced the winner. Luckily I had enough oxytocin floating around in my body that I didn’t care or notice who won. (Edie Falco.) Jimmy Fallon hosted and crushed. I sat in the front row and heckled the after-party with what Tina referred to as my impressive ‘temporary rack.’ I broke my toe on the banquette I was dancing on. That’s right. ON. I acted like the blue-collar party machine I had been raised to be.”

emmy-trophy

I love her description of the appetite for pudding- you didn’t have a craving, you don’t even know you want pudding. Until suddenly it’s there in front of you, and everyone else seems to be having some. But you’re not allowed. Then suddenly all you want is a big ass bowl of the creamy, yummy, sweet pudding.

In my world, there are a couple of bowls of pudding, and this week one of them released this year’s nominations. I didn’t get one. All of my regular social circle did (If they were eligible).

This particular bowl of pudding is the community theatre flavor. It’s kind of weird, like tapioca pudding. Made up of lots of regular folks who work regular jobs and do theatre as a hobby, it’s meant to be a great refuge for the world-weary artist. Quite a number of us have theatre degrees or experience in the professional regional theatres, but also there are lots of folks who don’t have credentials but bring lots of  talent and/or passion to the proverbial boards.

tapioca pudding 400 0872

I consider myself an artist, a creative type who is, essentially, not competitive. After years in my educational theatre world, in a large Texan metropolitan area, I became disenchanted with the concept of student actors and technicians competing against others for accolades. In the educational theatre arena, kids come from all different walks of life. Some start way ahead of the game because their families have abundant education and resources and can put little Sally or Sam in dance, voice, and actor training when they are small. In my particular school, however, parents were often struggling just to afford a roof and shoes for the kids. Dance lessons and participation in a student musical that cost $300-$500 was not in their universe. Not even close. We participated for several years in my other big bowl of pudding, a competition in which high school musicals were pitted against each other for trophies and bragging rights. Invariably, the acting, production, and overall gold shinies went to the big schools, the mammoth ones with thousands of kids in the student bodies, hundreds of kids in the fine arts departments, huge parent booster organizations, and show budgets of upwards of $20,000. Those schools also had very well connected directors. Insiders, ya know? We did get technical nominations four out of five years, and I was over the moon when I received my one nomination for directing.

But after it was all over, I felt so disappointed for my students. And yes, for myself. I knew how hard we had worked: the many hours of teaching a dance chorus in which no member had ever had a day in a dance class, the late nights sewing costumes myself because there was no one else to do it, the remarkable voice teacher who worked without pay, the kids who could only rehearse on certain days because of the limitations of their family’s gas budget. Nominations and medals don’t account for that stuff.

I withdrew from any further involvement in the competition. I wanted to just focus on growth, on art, on teaching, on joy, without worrying about trophies.

community theatre

I believe community theatre should be the same way. We aren’t in it for the money, heaven knows. We are in it for love of the work. For love of our cast and crew mates. For love of our towns. The directors who are going to do their best work are going to do it, whether they get a trophy or not. Same for the actors, or the ones wielding needle and thread or hammer and nail.

In educational or community ensembles, when we creative theatre types pit ourselves against each other, relationships are damaged. The beauty of the work becomes tarnished. Confidence and the courage to take risks is eroded. Yes, ticket sales matter. Absolutely, the director has to do what’s best for the play. No, everyone doesn’t always make the cast list. But after weeks, even months, of work calls and late rehearsals, postshow photos with proud family members in the lobby, banged up knees and tired throats, the gleam of pride in a show well produced shouldn’t have to be validated by a trophy. The people who weren’t invited to the planning table shouldn’t be left outside the nomination circle (the people who are invited to the planning table shouldn’t be eligible for awards, either). Amy says: “You have to care about your work but not about the result. You have to care about how good you are and how good you feel, but not about how good people think you are or how good people think you look.”

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 19: Actor Jon Hamm and actress Amy Poehler attends the 15th Annual Costume Designers Guild Awards with presenting sponsor Lacoste at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 19, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for CDG) BEVERLY HILLS, CA – FEBRUARY 19: Actor Jon Hamm and actress Amy Poehler attends the 15th Annual Costume Designers Guild Awards with presenting sponsor Lacoste at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 19, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for CDG)

Amy and Jon Hamm have hosted a “Losers Party,” at which the attendees who have won Emmys have to donate to charity to get in, but the losers get in free. My husband suggests that we do a big “Losers Toast” after our event this year, and the winners have to buy the losers drinks. And I say the nominees who lose can buy those of us who are just there for the ride drinks. Hey! I think I am onto something. I know which gal is getting the most plastered that night.

Cheers!

Note- I highly recommend Amy’s book. It’s a treasure. Rolling Stone thinks so, too, and here’s a link to the book on amazon:

http://www.rollingstone.com/tv/features/9-things-we-learned-from-amy-poehlers-yes-please-20141030?page=2

http://www.amazon.com/Yes-Please-Amy-Poehler/dp/0062268341

On Golden Pond

pond 1

This week, I began my journey to Golden Pond. I had seen the audition dates months ago, and in a rare case of wanting to do a show badly enough to make sure I remembered the dates, I put the audition dates on my calendar. Circumstances out of my control took me out of town on the weekend of the audition dates, so I told myself that I clearly was not meant to do the show, that I had never worked with this director, so he probably wouldn’t cast me anyway, that my high school reunion conflicted with one of the show dates so I would just go to my reunion instead, that the 45 minute drive to the theatre was too much trouble.

Then I found out auditions had been postponed for a week.

pond 2

I spent several days reciting all the reasons above and skipped the first night of auditions. On Monday, I posted on Facebook about my struggle and asked for advice: audition or high school reunion? The overwhelming response was “Audition!” So I did. Most of my friends are theatre folks, they totally get how doing a show can trump just about anything, and my high school and college friends know that I have always been a performer first, so they probably weren’t too surprised!

Auditions are hard for me. I don’t get stage fright on opening night, but at auditions I can barely breathe and I keep having to dash to the ladies’ room. Auditions are scary because you’re being judged, you may not have seen the script, you’re sometimes partnered with folks who are not helping you be your best, and if it’s an open audition, everybody there is watching.

But I did pretty well, I thought. I remembered my Shurtleff guideposts, thought through the relationship/objective/obstacle/tactic mantra, and tried to use the breath like my teacher said to. If I ever felt disconnected from the character, Chelsea, I just visualized my mom. That did the trick.

On Tuesday, I tried not to strain to hear the ring of my phone. It didn’t ring the entire day at work, nor on the drive home. When it finally did ring, I missed the call! I called the stage manager back, and she asked if I could come for a call back.

Last night’s call back was nerve wracking: me and one other lovely lady, both reading with the actress who had been cast as Ethel, the mother. My competition was pretty, tall and willowy with a sharp pixie cut and a cute dress. I recited my mantra while she did her reading, then went on stage.

Magic happens on stage. True magic. If you’re an actor, you know that sensation. Suddenly, the story takes over. If it’s a good script, the playwright’s words dig deep and a well of emotion springs forth. Sometimes laughter, sometimes tears. If you’re lucky enough to be on stage with actors who know how to connect with their scene partners, it’s exhilarating. I was lucky.

Last night, after I got the call that I had been cast, I got a Facebook message from my stage father saying he was looking forward to the show. He and I used to work together teaching theatre, and it was a rough relationship. I am both excited and nervous about that- this play may be instrumental in closing that chapter.And I just got off the phone with my stage mommy, a local actress I have wanted to share the stage with for quite some time. She wanted to let me know how excited she is that we are going to be working together. It’s always nice to work with folks who are giving.

family 2

I am looking forward to working on this script. My relationship with my own father was not fraught with the antagonism and misunderstandings that Norman and Chelsea face. But my mother’s relationship with her own father was. She was ever the little girl, trying to be pretty and thin enough to please him, still chasing softballs to earn his praise until she just couldn’t physically play any more. I think this play will help me get into my poor, damaged, addicted, deceased mom’s head and heart just a little.

I bet I’ll cry more than once. And I think I will learn something about myself. I think Ethel’s words to embittered Chelsea will resonate deeply for me:

“Don’t you think that everyone looks back on their childhood with a certain amount of bitterness and regret about something?  It doesn’t have to ruin your life.”

pond 4

Plays can heal. Relationships can be mended. Hearts can be opened. Family can be made. Right, fellow Thayers and Thespians? I love what actress Juliet Binoche says about the power of theatre to create connections:”Choosing to be in the theatre was a way to put my roots down somewhere with other people. It was a way to choose a new family.”

What’s coming? I don’t know. Late rehearsals, exhaustion, sweat, tears, bright lights, these I know will happen. But there’s a whole world of exploration, revelation, and love to come.

Somewhere between Laurie and Aunt Eller

women 9

Anyone out there seen the classic and hilarious film, “Waiting for Guffman?” It is the perfect spoof of the unique world of community theatre. Travel agents, a Dairy Queen cashier, and a dentist all come together to create a piece of performance art for the delight of local citizens. In community theatre, a bunch of oddballs can become minor celebrities, recognized at the Piggly Wiggly like local versions of Patti Lupone or Hugh Jackman.: “Didn’t I see you in…?” “Why, yes! yes, I did play Rosie in Bye, Bye, Birdie! It was so much fun, thank you for coming to support us!”

women 10
Rosie Alvarez, Bye Bye Birdie, Ace Theatre, 2006

I love community theatre. It’s chock-a-block full of regular folks who love theatre, but for whatever reason, don’t make it a profession. For some (like me), marriage and stability were a better option than the gamble of New York, Chicago, or L.A. For others, they discover their creative side later in life and volunteering at their local community theatre is the most accessible route to artistic expression. For others, the community theatre becomes a surrogate family, a place to let your quirky imagination out to play without the judgement of straitlaced cubicle mates.

I have spent most of my adult life in rehearsal at the community theatre house for one musical or another. In my 30’s, I had the chance to play dream roles like Marian the Librarian, Sarah Brown, Julie Jordan, Nellie Forbush, and Annie Oakley. I have sung the great ballads, from “Moonshine Lullaby” (Annie Get Your Gun) to “How Could I Know” (Secret Garden). I’ve performed Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Berlin, and Sondheim.

Moving into my 40’s, the roles began to be harder to come by, though I have had the utter joy of playing The Chaperone (Drowsy Chaperone) and Joanne (Company). Community theatres like to play it safe. They have aging audiences, and they are afraid of alienating them. Chestnuts by Rodgers/Hammerstein or Lerner/Loewe are proven ticket sellers. I get that, I really do. But younger audiences (and by younger, I mean 55 on down- not exactly spring chickens) like to see shows written sometime after 1980. I know- it’s radical to imagine doing a show that’s got thirty years on it, instead of sixty!

women 11
The Drowsy Chaperone, Stage Right Theatre, 2013

Interesting roles for women in their 40’s and 50’s are being written. Roles full of interesting character, gripping dilemmas, heartache and humor, and problems that don’t always find resolution in a wedding march. Dammit, there are great roles in musical theatre for women who are somewhere between Laurie and Aunt Eller: no longer the ingenue, but not ready for the granny wig.

Of course, all musical theatre aficionados recognize Mama Rose, Miss Mona, Adelaide, and Miss Hannigan. Gypsy, Best Little Whorehouse, Guys and Dolls, and Annie are community theatre staples. Wonderful shows. Tried and true. Worn and exhausted, some might say. Cliche, even.

Hollywood has long had a problem with this, constantly forcing women in their 40’s to play the discarded wives, or heaven help us, the mothers to their forty-something male counterparts. But the stage has always been willing to take risks on women in their middle age, when their talent is ripe, their life experience rich, and their voice in its prime.

So as a forty-something actress/singer who longs to play great roles, maybe even alongside actresses in her own age bracket, I present the following list of musicals for the local community theatres to take a look at. They are great shows, they will sell tickets, they will capture new audiences, and they will excite your theatre ensembles. As an added bonus, they feature major roles for women in the middle:

Women 1

Light in the Piazza: Margaret Johnson is a mother visiting Italy with her developmentally delayed daughter. Her marriage is dying as her daughter falls in love with a young Italian dreamer. The vocal score is exquisite, the emotional journey heart wrenching.

Women 2

Kiss Me, Kate: Lilli Vanessi is an aging star. She gets to sing “I Hate Men” as Kate, and “So In Love” as Lilli. It’s Cole Porter and Shakespeare combined. The 1999 revival ran for two years and received numerous Tony nominations and several awards. It’s a crowd pleaser!

Women 3

Mamma Mia has three (!!!) fantastic roles for women in their 40’s. They don’t have to be movie star gorgeous with size 2 figures! They still get to be fun and sexy! With a score built upon the songbook of Abba, it’s got a guaranteed fanbase.

Women 5

Ragtime is just the most beautiful musical. And it’s got fantastic roles for all sorts: age, color, body type, vocal range; it’s all there. Including a plum role, Mother, a woman who discovers that her sheltered life is not fulfilling and takes the plunge into uncharted territory.

women 7

Nine to Five is not necessarily a masterpiece of the Broadway cannon, but with the popularity of the movie and name recognition among those over forty, its catchy numbers and physical comedy are sure to be popular.

women 6

Next to Normal’s Diana Goodman is bipolar. Not exactly the feel-good premise that community theatres often go for. But this story is contemporary, relevant, and resonant. The music, a rock score, reverberates long after the notes have faded. For a theatre that takes risks, this one is a powerful choice.

I did a little reading on roles for women over 40, here are a couple of articles/blogs I found that had good stuff to say:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/24/theater/24cohe.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

http://thefilmexperience.net/blog/2013/10/21/hollywood-is-mean-to-older-women-lets-help-them-with-a-chart.html

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑