Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Stepping Into the New Year

"Our intuition comes from innocence." 
That was my Yogi tea bag tag message for the new year. My intuition, my gut, my instinct, comes from innocence, purity, no muck. It comes in the silence within myself, when I can close out the bickering devil and angel on each shoulder. It comes in the feeling, not the label. It comes in my secret smiles to myself when I'm driving alone in the car, listening to Michael Bublé. It comes in the happy rumble in my stomach when I satisfy my potato and ketchup craving. It comes in the lightness of my step as I run along the beach at midnight. 

This year, I aim to listen to my heart. It's where I'm happiest. It's where I feel the most connected to myself. It can be hard to get to sometimes, mucked up with clutter and indecision and doubt. I'm good at talking myself out of things. I tend to focus on what I don't know, rather than what I do.

I need to start with what I know. Start with what I can do. For example: 

I don't know what to eat. What do I know? I know I like vegetables. Good. I know I like rice. Good. I know I like chocolate. Good. Go from there.

I'm feeling crummy right now. What can I do to make myself feel better? 

I don't know what I want to do. What do I know that I don't want to do? I don't want to watch a movie. Okay. That's one thing off the list.

It's like working on a math problem. 

Step 1: Reword the problem into words that make sense. 
Step 2: Write down what I know
Step 3: Solve.
Step 4: Check my work. Did I come to a solution? If not, try again.  

It's like writing an essay. Ernest Hemingway said in his memoir A Moveable Feast, "All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know." Then, "go on from there." If I can write one true sentence, I can write another.

It's like putting one step in front of the other. Just take each day one step at a time, one moment at a time. If I can take one step, I can take another. Step through the muck. Be patient. Keep walking until I find my heart.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Solstice Run

11:45pm and we laced up our sneakers. The car idled in the driveway, the exhaust against the night air like the stream from the tea that awaited me when I got home. It was December 21st, the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, meaning that starting the next day (today), every day gets a little longer. And we–my mom, Michael, my dog Mocha and me–were ready to welcome the longer days.

This is the fourth or fifth year we've ran on the winter solstice. The first year we did it, the solstice fell on a full moon, and we ran by moonlight while the "cows" howled in the distance, or so my mom told my brother. The solstice hasn't fallen on a full moon since that first year, but the solstice runs have become a tradition. There's something about waiting up until midnight, seeing your breath fog up in the night air, feeling your way blindly on the trails, listening to the lull of the night. It's as if the world and we are in on a little secret. "Shh..." it tells us. "Don't let anyone know I'm awake."

This year was kinder than some years. There wasn't any snow on the ground and the air was cool but mild. Although it was cloudy, it wasn't too dark; our eyes adjusted quickly.

We did four laps this year–one for each runner–and then came home to tea and Trader Joe's gingerbread men. We each had four cookies for four laps for four runners. I went to sleep with my cheeks still rosy from the night air and my stomach warm with tea and cookies.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

21 Pages of Peter Pan

My Wendy costume.
Last night, my fellow castmates and I took flight one final time to Neverland in our high school's production of Peter Pan: The Official British Musical. I specify that it was The Official British Musical because it is so much richer than the Disney version. More true to the book, it primarily tells the remarkable coming of age story of Wendy Darling.

I didn't fully realize until last night at IHOP that we have been working on Peter Pan for the last six months. In June I was cast as Wendy, the twelve-year-old girl struggling to balance her desire to grow up with the temptation to stay a child alongside the whimsical Peter Pan––the perpetual little boy. Since then, I have invested myself in the story, like I do for every play.

This story was unique in that I had an entire book and several movie adaptations to construct my own interpretation of Peter Pan, and more specifically, Wendy Darling. I was also fortunate to have castmates who shared my love for analyzing the play––in particular, my friend Emily, who played my mother (Mrs. Darling), and my friend Joe, who played Peter Pan. I scrolled through all our Peter Pan e-mail exchanges and Facebook messages and copy and pasted them into a document. That document is 21 pages long. There's so much I want to talk about, so I think the best way to address them is to break this post up into sub-divisions.

Wendy, Peter and Mrs. Darling

Mrs. Darling and Peter are the embodiment of Wendy's coming of age struggle. In Mrs. Darling, Wendy sees her adult self. J.M. Barrie's book implies remarkable similarities between Wendy and Mrs. Darling. It is because of Mrs. Darling that Wendy realizes she needs to grow up someday. The book begins:

One day when she was two years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs. Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, "Oh, why can't you remain like this for ever!" This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end.

To say "she must grow up" has a tone of negativity, yet there is part of Wendy that is excited about growing up. She loves taking care of her brothers. She loves to play house. In picturing herself grown up, I imagine that Wendy thinks of Mrs. Darling. To Wendy, growing up is inevitable. She doesn't question it.

Until Peter. Peter flies into her window and enchants Wendy. He talks about flying and mermaids and fairies; about the Neverland, a world filled with fun and games and make-believe. Peter has somehow managed to beat the system and not grow up. In meeting Peter, growing up is no longer inevitable. Wendy has a choice, and her decision about whether or not to grow up is one of her many coming of age moments in the play.

The book says Wendy "grows up of her own accord," so eventually Wendy grows up because she wants to, not because it’s inevitable.
Wendy and Peter

Throughout the play, I was obsessed with figuring out Peter and Wendy's relationship––in particular, Peter's feelings for Wendy. How appropriate, considering in the script Wendy asks Peter, "What are your exact feelings for me?" It was a line that got laughs every performance, which made me defensive of Wendy. "She really wants to know!" I thought. "This is really hard for her!" But then again, it is a very adult line for a twelve-year-old girl.

Joe and I talked about this a lot, each proposing our own theories. Below are two of our many theories.

My Theory: I definitely get the sense that Wendy loves Peter, and she wants Peter to love her too, but love is too grown up of an emotion for Peter. What I can't understand (and maybe you have some insight/ideas?) is where Peter stands. When Wendy asks how Peter feels about her, he says that he feels like a "devoted son." Do you think that's all he feels? I know he enjoys Wendy's company, but the book doesn't seem to show any adolescent romantic interest (that's the weirdest way to word that) on Peter's side. There's no kiss on the cheek at the end, or sweet song. Peter forgets to get Wendy for spring cleaning the second year, and forgets a lot of their adventures. But, although he doesn't come back for almost 30 years, he does come back eventually, so I guess he still remembers Wendy, which, I don't know, is maybe significant because Peter forgets so much (including Tinkerbell and Hook)?
Wendy desperately wants Peter to love her and to grow old with her. I think Peter does love Wendy to some degree, but he doesn't know it's love because it's too adult of an emotion for him. I think Peter is sad Wendy isn't staying with him, which is another new emotion. But ultimately, he sacrifices Wendy because he loves being a child more. So why does he kiss her? I don't know.
Joe's Theory: Well...maybe he can't admit he does love her so instead of admitting it he just kisses her instead. Oh I've got it. Peter does love her. And he does want to grow up but his ego is too big and he won't admit it... I could probably keep coming up with weird things to answer your question but I really don't think I know either.

The kiss at the end of the play was hard for us to figure out, because it shows a remarkable amount of character development for Peter. It was important to us that this kiss contrasted the kiss at the beginning of the play. For the first kiss, our director instructed Joe to make a surprised look after I kissed him–like "What is this?"–immediately followed by a, "I like this" look. At that moment, the kiss is just, “This is cool.” The kiss doesn't have the same emotional attachment for Peter as the kiss at the end does, when he kisses Wendy. But where does that emotional attachment come from? And how much emotional attachment is there?  

Here I am talking about Peter even though I played Wendy, but I can't help trying to analyze him, because Wendy spends the whole play trying to analyze him and her relationship to him.

Wendy and Me

I still don't think Joe or I have the entire relationship figured out, because I don't think we're supposed to. A few weeks ago, Joe and I watched an acting video of the renowned German American actress and acting teacher, Uta Hagen, with a group of friends. In it, she warns her students to not think about what they're feeling onstage––the words “think” and “feel” themselves are contradictory.  

“I do that to you all the time,” I said to Joe. “I’m always asking you, ‘What are you feeling?’ ‘What are you thinking?’ ‘I’m going to do this here because of this.’”

In this way, I realize I am more like Wendy than I thought I was: the desire to always put a label on my emotions, rather than just feeling them; wanting to have it all figured out; wanting to know rather than feel, or rather, know how I feel, because knowing is so much more concrete. But the more time I spend trying to know how I feel, the less I feel. I understand this when I’m onstage. My best performances are the ones when I’m in the moment, not thinking about, “What is my character feeling at this moment?” but just being that character in that moment.

This show comes at a very apropos time for me. It’s my senior year, and as I prepare to wrap up this chapter in my life, I’m torn between the desire to grow up and the longing to stay a child. Like Wendy, who grew up of her own accord, I am leaving home of my own accord next year. No one’s telling me I have to go to college or that I need to go far away. I’m optimistic and nostalgic; excited and scared. I’m taking ownership of my life, which scares me because if I’m wrong, there’s no one to blame but myself.

Last night was my friend Connor’s last performance ever on our high school stage. Three Novembers ago, we were performing together onstage in Romeo and Juliet, our first high school play. As I watched him bow, I couldn’t stop crying, thinking about the time when I will need to say goodbye to him and my other senior friends. We’ve been through so much together. I have so many emotions about it all and I’m not always sure what I’m feeling or how I’m feeling, and somehow I want to find a name for it. But there I go again, thinking instead of just feeling.

My favorite part of Peter Pan was the final number, when Joe and I slow danced while he sang “Don’t Say Goodbye.” I believe that is Wendy’s freest moment of the play, because she is not thinking, just feeling. And in my performance, I too was not thinking, just feeling. Nothing made me feel freer than when Joe would spin me in my blue nightgown, and I could feel the fabric swishing around me and the wooden stage beneath my slippers.  

"Don't think of when we meet again, if it will be the same. Don't cry too hard, just smile, be happy now, be strong,” sang Joe as Peter, urging me not to worry about the future. "Don't wonder how we came to now, don't wonder why,” he sang, telling me not to think about the past. Just think about the present. Because if you read the book, you know that Peter forgets to come back for Wendy most years. He’s too preoccupied with his own adventures. But in the moment, Wendy believes with all her heart that Peter will come back for her, and that’s all that matters.

Monday, October 6, 2014

In the Presence of Greatness

I have frequented the streets of Washington Heights a lot in my blog posts in my writings about Nina Rosario, the "failed" neighborhood superstar of the barrio. I wax and wane myself off from the musical In the Heights, telling myself, "I need to move on" one day. But no more than a week goes by when I'm back waving my Dominican Republic flag. Tonight, I had the honor of seeing and talking with the man who brought Washington Heights into my life: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Tony-winning composer-lyricist of my all-time favorite musical, In the Heights.

Lin-Manuel Miranda's advisor at Wesleyan University (where he received his undergraduate degree in Theatre) is the father of the Headmaster at Lawrence Academy in Groton, MA. This is the fourth year of Lawrence Academy's J. William Mees Visiting Scholar's program. Miranda was this year's featured scholar. The night featured a video overviewing In the Heights, a few gracious performances from several of Miranda's works, and a question and answer session with the audience.

Miranda opened the night with songs from the Wesleyan draft of In the Heights, including one of Nina's original numbers on the subway, and a song from her brother Lincoln (who was cut in an earlier draft of the show). He wrote the first draft of In the Heights his sophomore year of college as a 90 minute, one act show at a time when he had a lot of "time and angst on his hands."

"Time and angst are all you need to write a musical. 'I have all these emotions and I just need to sing.' That was really the birth of 'In the Heights,'" he said.

He explained that he drew inspiration from home life, his summers in Puerto Rico, and his own "What if?" questions about the characters in his life. Attending Hunter College High School in New York City, he said he didn't have Latino friends his age until sophomore year in college. This allowed him to re-explore his Spanish roots, and write about them. He references the rock musical Rent as his epiphany that musicals could be written about everyday life––about "stuff."

When question and answer time came, the audience was silent. I myself, who had drafted three questions before I came, felt my hand twitch in my lap, but could not muster the courage to raise it. My stepdad, who is never afraid to be the first to volunteer, raised his hand.

"How do you go from In the Heights to Hamilton? How do you go from Washington Heights to Washington D.C.?" he asked, referencing Miranda's new musical, Hamilton, written about the life of the founding father, Alexander Hamilton. The musical premieres at the Public Theatre in New York City on January 20, 2015.

"I'm so glad you asked that question," Miranda said, and I cursed myself, because that was the big question I wanted to ask, and I wanted to sound smart in front of Lin-Manuel Miranda, the composer-lyricist of (have I mentioned?) my all-time favorite musical. Regardless, I took a deep breath, and raised my pen, ready to absorb every word he said.

Ultimately, Miranda said to write about what you know. His mother, he said, was a psychologist. She told him everything he experienced in life was, "Grist for the mill." It's how she got him to take out the trash, and also how she convinced him to work at McDonald's painting little kid's faces when they had the deal on Happy Meals on Friday nights. Coincidentally, Miranda said his experience at McDonald's became the "grist" for a later song of his.

Miranda said he first picked up Alexander Hamilton's biography on a vacation from In the Heights in Mexico.

"You can ask my wife," he said. "I was two chapters into the book and I said, 'This is going to be my next musical.'"

Miranda said he relates to the "ticking clock" Hamilton is so aware of, that idea that you never have enough time. Hamilton brilliantly interweaves current day inspiration into the characters of the 18th century. For example, Thomas Jefferson raps like Drake. Although it's a period piece, he explained that the debates of the 18th century aren't too different from the debates of today, like the issues of taxation and foreign policy.

"What does it take to bring a production like In the Heights to Broadway?" an aspiring playwright in the audience asked.

"I'm going to start with the bad news," Miranda said. "No matter how hard you work, no matter how good your show is, there is an element of luck." He then proceeded to explain the "elements of luck" that played a part in the success of In the Heights.

Most of them were with regard to the connections he made. He highlighted the importance of inviting anyone who is remotely involved in theatre to workshops of your play. He frequently talked about inviting "a guy who knew a guy who dated her," or someone of the sort. He also said it's important to have something physical (like a physical recording of your musical and/or a draft of a script) to give to someone so when that "element of luck" comes your way, you're ready to seize it.

At the end of the evening, I finally had my chance to personally meet Miranda himself. It was surreal to be able to shake his hand and thank him for this show that makes me feel at home; for writing songs that on my worst day, can make me laugh and fall in love; for giving birth to this character (Nina) who helped me find my voice. It was intimidating, inspiring, and incredible to meet the man who is where I want to be someday.

We talked about directing. He emphasized the importance of collaboration with actors, producers, and others involved in the show. It's important to be open-minded, he said, and not get married to a particular vision of the show. It takes a great amount of trust.

I asked him whether it was hard to let his vision go. The only part of the original Wesleyan draft of In the Heights that remains in the final version is, "In Washington Heights." More than sixty songs were cut between the first and final draft. Several characters were, as Miranda terms it, "killed."

"No," he said. He's just always excited about what's next.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

A Crazy Dreamer Caught in a Greenhouse

In honor of the background of my blog, I felt compelled to share this photo from my senior photos collection my dear friend Madison Busick put together for me. As I'm preparing to send off my college applications, Carrie Underwood's song "Crazy Dreams" has been very present with me. I started this blog freshman year as a "wild magnolia, just waiting to bloom."

High school has given me lots of room to grow, but I feel like I'm caught in a greenhouse. I have been protected from the harsh winds and cold winters, from the too powerful sun and the leaf-biting pests. High school has given me a safe space to establish my roots, but I'm still gazing out through the glass roof, waiting to bloom. I want to be watered by rain, not a hose. I want to smell the fresh air, pollutants and all. I want to stretch my limbs without hitting a wall.

Last week at a college interview, the admissions representative asked me about my college application process. I said, "I feel like I've been waiting to apply to college forever. I'm just so excited to look on these college websites and know these are my deadlines."

I don't know where I'm going to be next year at this time, but for once, the uncertainty of what is next is exhilarating.  

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Patchwork Quilt

These last two months, most of my writing has been stitched together from patches of work I've done over the last four years. As I've been constructing my college and scholarship essays, I've flipped through every journal since freshman year, skimmed through every blog post, and browsed my folders on Google Docs. All of this material makes up the meat of every essay I've written so far. It's the raw material that captures the essence of the moment. Without these journal entries, blog posts, and class assignments, I would be forced to toy with my memory, which at the surface does not produce much more than cliché muck. Mind you, there is still lots of muck I have to trudge through, namely the food anxieties and the unrequited love. I should tally the number of journal entries in which I promise I have "cried for the last time" about a boy; I will no longer "use his name;" I am "over him," only to find his name three pages later. For my own self-dignity, though, it is probably a good thing my journal is physical and therefore doesn't have a "Find and replace" word feature. 

But, amidst all this muck, I have found some gems––single lines or paragraphs or ideas that shimmer. I love seeing the themes that repeat––justification on the stage, experimentation in the kitchen, dreams of travel. It has been gratifying to finally string these together, and try to formalize, for example, why I love theatre. Writing these application essays, I have been able to relive the highlights of the last four years, and I am so grateful I have these words to jog my memory.

As senior year continues, I will keep my needle and string in hand, sewing together the best patches of my last seventeen years. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Beyond the Barricade

"Fire!" Enjolras shouts from the top of the barricade. Our final shot for freedom. After 55 nights, maybe we'll actually win this time. My foot digs into Susan's waist. Willow takes a blow to the stomach and collapses center stage. Zane leaps to catch the flag. He screams and for the last time, I stumble, flop, and drop, dead on the barricade. I channel each breath, as my director told me, and wait for Javert to hit his suicide note so I can breathe normally again.


This past summer, I had the honor of performing in the revival run of Les Mis at the Academy Playhouse of Performing Arts in Orleans, MA. Sixty times I have formally died on the barricade (four times in my high school production of Les Mis and 56 times at the Academy), but I have spent more than 366 hours in the theatre performing the show. This doesn't include the time I spent outside of rehearsal memorizing lines and music, and developing my character. It doesn't seem possible that it is over.

I think everyone in our cast was expecting our director to make some changes from last year. We certainly didn't expect to run Act I right off the bat in our first rehearsal after ten months being away from the barricade. It was a test of muscle memory at its finest. Apart from a handful of new cast members, the performance was more or less the same as last year as far as our director's artistic vision went. But the show was tighter. After 28 shows last summer, we no longer needed to worry about remembering our lines and blocking, so we could dive into the hearts of our characters.

This summer, I journaled before every performance––about the show, any pre-show anxieties I needed to flush out, dressing room observations. I also became obsessed with Yogi Throat Care. The inspirational messages on the tags were like fortune cookies. Finding out, "What will Yogi say today?" soon became a favorite part of my day. Sometimes the messages were apropos to Les Mis. Other times they were good pre-show soothers––reminders to live in the moment, be kind to myself, and breathe. I started saving the tags and taping them in my journal.

Below, I posted some highlights from the 28 shows. I picked them for their variety. As I was flipping through my notebook, I travelled back to every day of the summer: how work was that day, what I had for dinner, what backstage drama was going on. Some nights I was in a better place than others. There were times I had difficulty motivating myself to go the theatre––I was tired; I ate too much; I wasn't invited to go the beach. I hated those nights, because it made me question whether I am going into the right field of study. But then I would have the great nights, and I would remember there is nothing else that fulfills me more. I tried not to edit the journals too much to keep the heart of the moment, which is why they sometimes jump around a lot. Sometimes they're meditative rambles to myself, sometimes they're a list of observations, and other times they're more reflective. I also switch between using character names and real names, but the essence of the journals doesn't depend on knowing who these people are. Taking the time to journal helped me take stock of where I was before every show, address any obstacles that would taint my performance, and settle into my theatre zone.

Opening Night: 7/23

Opening night #2 of Les Mis at the Academy, my third opening night of Les Mis ever. Katie (the stage manager) just called ten minutes until places, which means I still have thirty minutes before I go onstage. The factory girls lace up their corsets. Marius kids around with Eponine. In about two hours she’ll die for him on the barricade. As the minutes tick by, I slowly travel to France. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your places call for the start of Act I. Break a leg,” Katie says. It’s time to push this snowball down the hill and let it roll.

Night #2: 7/24

I don’t know how Enjolras waits so long to go onstage. I’m costumed. I drank my tea. I had my cinnamon Altoid. I peed. I just want to go to France. It reminds me of the feeling before a race, except I don’t want to go onstage to get it over with. I want to go onstage because I want to be in it.  

Night #5: 7/27

“It’s strange,” I told Mom. "Normally I would be getting ready to settle in for the night, but the most energizing part of my day hasn't even begun.” While Mom curled up on the couch in her yoga pants and glasses, my face was caked with makeup. I drank tea not to settle in for the night, but to coat my throat before I performed. This is my life six nights a week for the next month. I’m so lucky.  

“Do you ever get tired of performing the same thing?” Mom asked. I would be lying if I said there are never nights I would love to stay home. There are days–many days–when I’m tired from work, my shoulders sore from yesterday’s swim, my eyes still stinging from the makeup I wiped off half-heartedly at 11:30 the night before. But it’s like exercise. Of course there are days I don’t want to do it. But I have to get out there. I have to keep myself conditioned. 

“It’s like a sport,” my high school director says. “If you don’t do it for a season, you set yourself back.” Theatre is part of my rhythm. If I go too long without it, I get antsy. So even on the nights I may not be thrilled to go to the theatre, I go––because I have to, but also because I know I’m going to feel great after it’s over. I’ll feel that natural high.  

It’s different performing a show 28 times. It’s not the same adrenaline I get from my high school performances. It feels more rhythmic. It feels more natural. Because it’s a natural part of my rhythm. I can’t live without it.  

Night #7: 7/29

"I am beautiful, I am bountiful, I am blissful." 

Thank you. Thank you Throat Care. I should wear this tea bag on a chain around my neck. Breathe the mantra during my sun salutations. Stroke it in the water. Pedal it up the the hill. Pound it on the pavement.  

Tonight I had grilled tuna, $25/lb. In about fifteen minutes I’m going to go begging on the streets. It’s not exactly method-acting, but if I were to have a last meal, grilled tuna would be a fantastic one to end with.

Night #8: 7/30
"Love is where compassion prevails and kindness rules." 

Very apropos for Les Mis. "To love another person is to see the face of God." 

Night #17: 8/10

"Let your manners speak for you."
Maybe “Let your mannerisms speak for you.” I know I sometimes give off the "stay away from me" energy. I don’t mean to, usually. And then people go away and I want them to come back, but they’ve already formed their cliques. I’m starting to miss my home friends.
Night #19: 8/12
"May this day bring you peace, tranquility and harmony."
Lots of rain tonight. Sweatpants and a baggy rain jacket. I wish I had the tighter-fitting TriFury jacket.That’s okay. I’ll just accept the bum.
Night #21: 8/14

"There is nothing more precious than self-trust."

As the revolutionary, I need to trust the cause I am fighting for. Trust it regardless of what my mom thinks, regardless of what others say. I will not throw my life away.
I dined like the bourgeois tonight––mussels and pasta with homemade tomato sauce, and garlic bread to wipe the plate. 
My hairspray exploded in my backpack. The floor reeks of hairspray. 
Crystal tries to fit her corset around Enjolras.

Night #22: 8/16

50th performance tonight––if the performance happens. Five minutes until we’re supposed to start and Jean Valjean is still in Wellfleet. There was a big accident and traffic has been backed up for hours. They’re working to get a police escort for him. I really hope the show goes on tonight because 59 shows sounds a lot lamer than 60.

Night #23: 8/17
Night #51, and I don’t want to be here. I’m tired, my throat is clogged from lunch. Our director gave a really nice speech tonight about how proud he is of us, how he knows most of us would’ve killed to be back. But I don’t feel that way tonight and I feel guilty that I feel that way. 
Channel the tension. In “At the End of the Day,” channel the tired eyes. In “Lovely Ladies,” channel the self-hatred. In “Innkeeper,” let yourself be free and don't care about what others think. In the “Beggars,” channel the anger. On the barricade, channel the tears.

Night #27: 8/22

"Life is a gift. Experience is the beauty." 
Two more shows. Enjoy them. It hasn’t sunk in that I might never perform Les Mis again. I’ve begun to take it for granted. Enjoy every moment onstage. Speak every word with honesty. Make every interaction real. Live in the moment. Be in the moment onstage. Breath. Breathe.  
Jean Valjean's wife stencils in “24601” with liquid eye liner on his chest. Fantine curls her hair; she parted her hair differently tonight. “Does it look more period?” she asks. Marius drinks his Odwalla. He has the "Original" flavor tonight. They were out of chocolate. He likes the chocolate one better because it has B6 and more protein––and it’s chocolate, so that’s nice.  
I’m actually organizing a cast breakfast at Hearth n’ Kettle. I’m organizing something social!  
Jean Valjean paces around the room, unable to sit still. I understand the feeling.   
I have a chocolate chip cookie sandwich waiting for me when I get home! I just can't think about it on the barricade. 

Closing Night: 8/23

This is it. My 60th performance. Tonight I will live the moment I wrote about in my college essay. It doesn’t seem possible that this could be my last Les Mis performance ever. It got to a point where it seemed like I would always be performing Les Mis. But tonight, for the last time, I will ascend the stairs for “At the End of the Day” and watch Cole and David do interpretive dance as Valjean sings, "What Have I Done?" 
I want to remember everything. The pain that rushes through my leg when I stomp in “At the End of the Day.” How I tuck my skirt in for "Lovely Ladies"––I need to make money on the docks somehow, and my breasts certainly don't do much for me. The creak of the stairs under my bare feet. The ratted hair that sticks in my mouth in “The Beggars,” and the indifferent faces of the audience members as I beg them for a fraction of their privileged lives. Cole’s mockery of Marius in “ABC Café.” The harmonies in “One Day More.” The cinnamon Altoid during intermission. The backstage toilet that pees out the side every time it’s flushed. The backstage "hurrahs" when the boys stampede the stage at the top of Act II. Dressing Melanie’s battle wound. Tucking up Susan after she dies. Crying after Gavroche is shot––I love the moments I can cry onstage. “Bring Him Home.” “Javert’s Suicide.” Watching Jen’s mouth in “The Wedding” to make sure we get the timing right. The blinding lights in “The Epilogue.” Holding Thea’s hand during the bows. Katie's air kiss from the sound booth as the lights fade and we head backstage to hang up our costumes––tonight for the last time. 
Last warm-ups. Last double-checking my props. Jean Valjean gave everyone a yellow rose––very apropos for his character. Melanie and Katie ordered Les Mis shortbread cookies for everyone from Thea. It’s going to feel really great eating that after the show tonight.

It did.

I already picked where I want to sign the wall. I decided to tape tonight's Yogi message on the wall next to last year's signature.

"To be calm is the highest achievement of the self." 

Enjoy tonight. “One last ride,” Thénardier says. “If I got one piece of advice from my theatre teacher in college, it was this: ‘Leave it all on the stage. No matter what’s going on in your life, leave it on the stage and hold your head up high.’”


Stage right, I hear Javert ascend the stairs to his death. As he hits his final suicide note, escaping a world he no longer knows, I get up to clear the barricade one last time, ready to "discover what our God in heaven has in store" beyond these crates, barrels and broken sofas. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

"Fahrenheit 451" Sends Sparks Flying

When I woke up Saturday at 7:30am and saw Hurricane Arthur was still pouring down on us, I was excited. A rainy day meant I could stay inside and read, without the self-imposed guilt of not running or swimming. I made myself eggs and coffee and peanut butter toast, and enjoyed breakfast in bed while finishing listening to Jim Dale narrate J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan. You can imagine my disappointment when, around 9 o'clock, I saw a corner of blue sky in the distance, and when by 11, the storm had passed and it was a beautiful day outside.

After some self-debating, I decided that, rainy day or not, I would stick with my original plan of a day spent reading. I grabbed my summer reading book, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, went upstairs on the deck, and didn't come down until I finished it five hours later. Neither the book nor myself are entirely the same.

I lapped up the words on these pages like the flames in the book that burned books like these. As an aspiring English and Theatre double major, I am often met with, "Good luck finding a job." As an English-Theatre double major wanting to go to a private liberal arts college, I am also faced with, "Good luck paying off your loans." Over the past year, I have had to defend my passions and dreams and why they're worth it more than ever. I am grateful to those who have challenged me to come up with a quantifiable reason to defend my love for literature and theatre, rather than the subjective and cliché (although accurate), "Because I love it and I want to do what I love to do." Bradbury's dystopian novel sums up the importance of literature in a brilliant 165 pages. For anyone who has ever questioned the importance of literature, approach Fahrenheit 451 with a red ink pen and be prepared to battle.

The novel is set in a future America where books are illegal. Firemen no longer extinguish fires, but create them, going around and burning books. Captain Beatty, the captain of the firehouse where the protagonist Guy Montag works, explains to Montag the importance of the firemen, calling them, "custodians of our peace of mind."
"With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word 'intellectual,' of course, became the swear word it deserved to be. You always dread the unfamiliar. Sure you remember the boy in your own school class who was exceptionally 'bright,' did most of the reciting and answering while the others sat like so many leaden idols, hating him. And wasn't it this bright boy you selected for beatings and tortures after hours? Of course it was. We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against." (Bradbury 58)
Montag, a fireman for ten years, has doubts. Unlike the robots the government has created through immersive technological stimulation (of which include wall TVs and radio earplugs, not unlike some of the technology we have today), Montag recognizes the emptiness of the lives people are living: conversing to a computer, talking a lot but meaning little, driving 130 miles down the highway and only seeing the world in blurred colors. After Montag's meeting with Beatty, he vents to his distracted wife about his frustration.
"Jesus God," said Montag. "Every hour so many damn things in the sky! How in hell did those bombers get up there every single second of our lives! Why doesn't someone want to talk about it! We've started and won two atomic wars since 1990! Is it because we're having so much fun at home we've forgotten the world? Is it because we're so rich and the rest of the world's so poor and we just don't care if they are? I've heard rumors; the world is starving, but we're well fed. Is it true, the world works hard and we play? Is that why we're hated so much? I've heard the rumors about hate, too, once in a long while, over the years. Do you know why? I don't, that's sure! Maybe the books can get us half out of the cave. They just might stop us from making the same damn mistakes! I don't hear those idiot bastards in your parlor talking about it. God, Millie, don't you see? An hour a day, two hours, with these books, and maybe..." (Bradbury 73-74)
At a loss for someone who will listen, Montag seeks out a retired English professor named Faber. Montag rants about the importance of books, but Faber tells him the magic of books is not in the books at all.
"It's not books you need, it's some of the things that once were in books. The same things could be in the 'parlor families' today. The same infinite detail and awareness could be projected through the radios and televisors, but are not. No, no, it's not books at all you're looking for! Take it where you can find it, in old phonograph records, old motion pictures, and in old friends; look for it in nature and look for it in yourself. Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us. " (Bradbury 82-83)
Books are just one way we make sense of the world. The other day I wrote about how I want to explore the world through theatre, but really, I want to explore it through all art: visual art, music, literature, and theatre. All artists take a stab at universal, age-old themes like peace, war, love, and death. Sometimes they miss the mark, but other times they strike it right in the heart, whether it be for a generation of people or just one person, whether that be for the artist's self or the reader or observer. Either way, the conversations and questions continue.

"My wife says books aren't 'real,'" Montag tells Faber shortly after his outburst with his wife.

"Thank God for that," Faber says. "You can shut them, say, 'Hold on a moment'" (Bradbury 84).

Faber explains that a good book has three things. Number one: "quality of information. Number two: leisure to digest it. And number three: the right to carry out actions based on what we learn from the interaction of the first two" (Bradbury 85). We are told so many things in one day. We are told what to eat, what to wear, what to think, who to look like, what to buy, where to live, when to sleep...from dozens of sources, many of which shove it down our throats. Books allow us to digest the information and form our own opinions.

"Oh, there are many actors alone who haven't acted Pirandello or Shaw or Shakespeare for years because their plays are too aware of the world," Faber tells Montag (Bradbury 87). "Books aren't real," Montag's wife says? Books are too real, apparently. Books show us reality. They aren't always pretty, but life isn't pretty. Are we supposed to live in ignorance? Let ourselves be tossed by the waves, float merrily downstream, and never try to fight against the current?

Later in the story, Montag meets an ex-writer named Granger, who elaborates on the importance of books.
"There was a silly damn bird called a phoenix back before Christ, every few hundred years he built a pyre and burnt himself up. He must have been first cousin to Man. But every time he burnt himself up he sprang out of the ashes, he got himself born all over again. And it looks like we're doing the same thing, over and over, but we've got one damn thing the phoenix never had. We know the damn silly things we've done for a thousand years and as long as we know that and always have it around where we can see it, someday we'll stop making the goddamn funeral pyres and jumping in the middle of them. We pick up a few more people that remember every generation." (Bradbury 163)
Whether the stories are fictional or true accounts, they're history. Even if Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 over 60 years ago, we see that even back then–when technology wasn't as progressive as today–people feared a world in which people didn't think for themselves, a world in which people were brainwashed into mindlessness and frivolity. In one way, it's comforting to think people decades and centuries ago had similar fears as we do today, and in another, it's dismaying. Wouldn't we have figured out the solutions by now? It would be nice to think so, but in many cases, we haven't, which is why we must keep writing about these problems in the hopes that, like Granger explained, a few more people remember the problems ever generation, and can make progress toward finding a solution. Without the written accounts, we will forget that, as reported in Carrie Halperin's and Sean Patrick Farrell's New York Times video, "California's Extreme Drought, Explained," in the summer of 2014, California was in a drought for the third year in a row, with the risk of a million acres catching fire with potentially over a billion dollars worth of damage. We will forget that Governor Jerry Brown called upon California residents to reduce their water usage by 20%, and yet it only reduced by 5%. Twenty years from now, will we find ourselves in an even worse situation, wondering, "How did we not see it coming?"

Thank God we don't live in a society where firemen burn books, but I'm fearful when people question the importance of literature. I'm frustrated when people ask me why I don't just keep writing and theatre as a "hobby." Yes, literature is not always tangible and yes, literature is subjective, and that it why it is important. It teaches us that sometimes we have to be satisfied with the discontent of not having an absolute answer. It smashes our framed black and white pictures and spills water over them so the colors blur and we're not exactly sure what is what, so we have to listen to our gut. It brings us forward and backward in time, allows us to see the world through different lenses, and learn from our mistakes.

A book is knowledge, is light, is fire, is consuming. Is it a coincidence that a book has to be incinerated to be destroyed? But when you clash knowledge with knowledge, like the unfortunate Victor Frankenstein should have foreseen when the lightning bolt (knowledge) struck the tree (knowledge), you just get burned. Whether you're a literature advocate looking to fuel your case, or a literature skeptic, Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 is sure to spark some heated conversation.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Another Reason To Love Chobani

Maybe it's because it's the fourth of July...maybe it's because when I woke up this morning I found a bag of blueberry bagels on the counter...maybe it's because when I opened the fridge to find cream cheese all I found was blueberry Chobani yogurt. Whatever it was, this happened, and it was so much better than anything I could've planned last night when I thought about what I was going to have for breakfast this morning (yes...I often think about my meals 12 hours in advance).

As someone who loves to experiment in the kitchen, I am always looking for ways to jazz up whatever I'm eating. I'm not the type of person to just grab a granola bar or a bowl of ice cream from the freezer when I'm hungry. If I'm taking the time to have a snack, I take my time. If I want a yogurt, I don't just eat it out of the container. I scoop it into a bowl, and top it with fruit, granola, shredded coconut, chia seeds, almonds, whatever I'm in the mood for. Taking the time to make or prepare myself food, no matter what it is, is my way of telling myself, "I care about you." 

Anyway, awhile ago I started flavoring my own cream cheese. If I was having a cinnamon raisin bagel, I scooped out cream cheese in a bowl, slightly warmed it in the microwave to make it soft, and stirred in pure maple syrup to make a maple cream cheese. If I was having a blueberry bagel, I warmed frozen berries with the cream cheese and stirred it to make a berry cream cheese. 

Alas, this morning I didn't have cream cheese or frozen berries. So I took the next best better thing: blueberry Chobani yogurt. I toasted my bagel and just used a spoon to spread the yogurt on the bagel. Because greek yogurt is naturally thick, it makes for a perfect spread on bagels. It's thinner than cream cheese, but still provides the creamy satisfaction that cream cheese supplies. Plus, greek yogurt is packed with protein, making it a great healthy alternative to a favorite breakfast condiment! Double-plus, there are so many different flavors of it. Off the top of my head, I can imagine strawberry, black raspberry, raspberry, and apricot tasting really good on whole wheat, plain, pumpernickel, multigrain, or even poppy seed. Maybe even key lime on pumpernickel? 

Happy Fourth, everyone!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Exploring the World Through Theatre

My mom once said she wants to explore the world through poetry. My stepdad explores the world through art. I explore the world through theatre.

One of my favorite parts of acting is the character development. I love diving into their time period, coming up with backstories, figuring out their relationship with other characters. It's like a scavenger hunt. I scrutinize the text, read reviews and relevant books (when available), and watch YouTube clips. It becomes an obsession. For the four to five months I'm working on a show, I become absorbed in my character's life. I become a part of their world, whether it be modern day Washington Heights, 19th century France, or 20th century London. 

Theatre stretches my horizons. It compels me to research historic events that I wouldn't normally, like the June Rebellion for Les Misérables or American immigration for In the Heights. The other day my friend Kevin, who will be playing Marius in the Cape Cod Academy Playhouse revival performance of Les Misérables, explained how he read Homer's The Iliad in high school, and it had no significance to him. It was long, dense, and filled with references he had no desire or reason to figure out. Several years later, he found himself performing the one-man play, An Iliad, and all of a sudden Homer's The Iliad became the most important text in his life for the months he was working on the play. All of a sudden, the references made sense. They had purpose. 

I couldn't agree more. One of the coolest parts of theatre for me is it compels me to connect with a time period, character, and place I never would need to otherwise. In history class, I love when we're assigned a personal memoir to read. Having someone's personal account of a historical event gives me a person to connect with, rather than a string of facts. Theatre goes one step further and allows me to be that person. Facts in a text book go over my head, except when I'm researching for a character. When I'm researching for a play, I absorb the information like a sponge. Like Kevin explained, the pieces start to align; the references make sense; the facts have a purpose.

When getting into character, I need to know why my character is feeling the way she is. As I'm preparing for my role, I have conversations out loud with my characters. "Why are you feeling this way? What happened before? What's your motivation?" Through these questions, I get the backstory. Eventually, getting immersed in the time period and place is not a conscious effort for me; it just naturally happens. After all, I'm spending between 10-40 hours a week there. 

We are only given one life, but through theatre, I can sample the lives of others. I can time travel. I can be in 1950s America today at the drive-in movie's with a black cow in my hand, and 1970s Argentina tomorrow, addressing the people of Argentina as President Juan Perón's wife. Because of theatre, I have seen the world through the eyes of a lovestruck and naive girl who has never seen any other man but her father (Isabel from Pirates of Penzance); a power-hungry but lonely wizard (Ms. Wiz from The Wiz) ; a bitter street beggar (Les Mis); a prostitute (Les Mis); a wide-eyed revolutionary (Les Mis); an insecure teenager who believes the only way to get through life is with an "I don't give a shit" attitude (Rizzo from Grease); a "failed" neighborhood superstar (Nina from In the Heights); and soon, a young girl balancing adolescent love with the desire to grow up (Wendy from Peter Pan). 

Theatre forces me not only to travel, but to see the world through different lenses. So until I am at a point in my life when I can travel the world, I will keep exploring it through theatre. 

How do you like to explore the world? 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Salad for Breakfast?

With our lettuce and kale in full bloom, I don't want to eat anything but salad. 

I find an excuse to make a salad whenever I can, making tuna fish or grilling a veggie burger and slicing it on top. 

After a long morning of biking, swimming and running yesterday, I found myself past one o'clock and starving. But, I never like to start my day with anything but breakfast food, no matter what time I actually end up eating breakfast. But as I walked past the garden to put my bike away, I really wanted a salad.

So I compromised. 

Veggie Scramble Salad (a.k.a. "Eggs on a Bed")

Basically, toss in whatever you like with your scrambled eggs and put it all on a bed of greens. If you're curious, here's how I made mine:
  1. Lightly grease a pan with olive oil and sauté baby bella mushrooms and onions.
  2. While the mushrooms and onions are cooking, chop up about a quarter of a medium-sized tomato. Then, crack two eggs in a bowl, add a little water, and whisk. (My grandmother told me that a chef told her that using water instead of milk is the key to fluffy eggs.) 
  3. Once the onions and mushrooms are tender, pour in the eggs. Add the chopped tomato, grated cheese (I used Trader Joe's Creamy Toscano Cheese), and kale (I recommend breaking up the leaves).
  4. Add a little pepper and salt. 
  5. Keep a careful eye on the eggs, using a spatula to stir often.
  6. Place greens in a shallow dish and top with the veggie scramble.
  7. Enjoy!

It was exactly what I was craving, and when I woke up this morning, I craved it again. It's a refreshing and protein-filled way to start the day! 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


When I woke up at 4:30 this morning to make Mom a smoothie to-go for her class at Lesley University, I hadn't planned on staying up. I went to bed at midnight, after all. But I wasn't really that tired getting up (maybe it'll hit me later) and most mornings this sumer I'll want to sleep in because I'l be out late performing Les Mis, so when Mom commented about what a nice time of day it was, I decided it might be a good idea to take advantage of the morning.

I boiled water for tea and took my laptop out at first, figuring I would continue working on my college checklist from last night. Then I realized how wasteful it would be to spend an early morning in front of a screen, especially because I would be tempted to check my Gmail and Facebook to see who had thought about me between midnight (the last time I checked them) and 4:30 in the morning. It's frustratingly satisfying to see that someone liked my picture or status on Facebook (the only e-mail I get on a regular basis is the Word of the Day, so my e-mail is rarely exciting), or that someone messaged me.  It's frustrating because I'm relying on others for self-security, and because the satisfaction wears off seconds after I click the message or little Earth icon.

Instead, I grabbed my notebook–I've been trying to get back into the habit of writing–a beach towel, my tea, and my car keys. Which brings me to the beach this morning. The sun peaked over the clouds. The waves crashed. I sipped my tea from my Krispy Kreme thermos and burned my tongue. There I sat. Sitting. Sitting. Sun. Waves. Tea. Burnt tongue. Seagulls. Sand. Yup.

I'm terrible at being still. I'm bad at even walking. It's too slow. I would rather run. It gets my heart rate up and gets me in shape. It feels purposeful. I have the annoying desire to always be productive. I always need to be doing something, for something. I'm terrible at being still because I don't feel like I'm accomplishing anything. I'm not content doing things just because I feel like doing them. I need a reason. If I sleep in, it's because I should be catching up on sleep for the week. One of the reasons I'm so conscious about what I eat is because I feel like whatever I eat should benefit my body in some way.

Trust me when I say this neurosis can be extremely mentally draining. Often times I lose the spontaneity of the moment because I spend too much time planning the what and why of my day, instead of just living it.

I know it's important for me to slow down sometimes. Allow my mind to wander without justification. I need to find more moments in my life to meditate; to be at peace with myself, rather than always trying to think of how I can better myself.

Which is why it was important for me to just sit this morning. Dig my toes in the sand and let my thoughts about those s'mores and frozen yogurt and cookie from yesterday go out with the tide. Sip my tea and feel the newly risen sun on my face. Just sit.