Welcome to Hell

Tech week seems to have one of two effects on me:

The desire to run aimlessly around the house waving my arms over my head in sheer terror because everything is wrong and nothing will ever be right again and good god why do I do this to myself?

Or the desire to drop everything and do nothing but be at the theatre all day because things are going so well and the show is going to be so awesome and I can’t wait for it to go up so I can show people how awesome it is.

Sometimes these things interchange and I bounce from one extreme to the other.

Either way, tech week is not good for my work habits, it’s not good for my diet, it’s not good for my gym habits, and on the whole it’s not really healthy for me as a human being.

Luckily, the process of making theatre is healthy for human beings.  And specifically the

Unrelated: found this at the library today.  Proof that even I can make it in academia.

Unrelated: found this at the library today. Proof that even I can make it in academia.

process of making Shakespeare really helps to feed what I do when I’m not physically in the theatre.  As I’ve mentioned, this process has been bumpy; but we’re making something new.  Forging a new model is always more complicated than falling into the ruts of an old one.  The growing pains of what we’re doing can be forgiven because I really do think that the end product is going to be worth it.

Twelfth Night is different from anything else I’ve worked on.  I’ve talked about the community-oriented formation of this project, but it’s also not an ends to itself.  It’s a process.  In building the only true repertory company in New England, we’re hoping to keep our shows in rep for many years to come.  This performance isn’t a once and done kind of thing; it’s a springboard.  It’s the start of something that we’re making together and, as such, it’s much less stressful than a typical show in some ways.  I don’t feel the pressure to get it right once and for all because I know I’m going to be living with the show for a while.  On the flip side, I don’t feel like the problems that this show has are things that we can just gloss over.  If there’s an issue, we really need to solve it because it’s just going to hang Damocles-style over our heads ad infinitum.

We don’t have much to “tech” in the show because we have no scenery, no lighting cues, and no sound cues.  The things we do need to run are the insane number of quick-changes (I pretty much spend the entire play getting into or out of some outfit or another), the shuttling of props/costumes from an exit to an entrance on time, the manipulation of bodies in the space backstage, and general timing/human things.  Again, in one sense it’s a lot easier.  It’s all us.  If there’s a problem, it’s on us to solve and not a light board or a switch.  In another sense, it’s harder to solve these kinds of issues.  There’s only so fast anyone can move; quick-changes have an upper limit of time compression.

I suppose the ultimate conclusion is that nothing is perfect, the grass is always always greener, and hell week is hell (despite being fun when things are going well).

…it should be noted that the bizarre array of props that I need to pile and bring to rehearsal for this show is interesting enough to list: 1 ukulele, 2 fencing foils, 2 long red ribbons, double stick tape, 1 pair yellow stockings, 1 hair clip (easily put on/taken off), pouches and pouches of fake money, 1 black beret (I play one character that kind of looks like Che Guevara), 1 pair mary-jane chunky heels, nylons, a ring, several jewels given as gifts, maracas, a tambourine, spoons, 1 black Spanish fan, sewing kit, breathe mints (just general good courtesy when you’re up in each others’ faces), letters, sealing wax… there are a lot of hand props in this show.  Lots of gifts.  May be the subject for a paper at some point when it’s not hell week.

Welcome to hell.  Come see my show on Friday.

A Special Kind of Hell

I seem to have hit that special place in finals.

Here’s a convoluted mixed metaphor for you:

Kid's got it right....

Writing a paper is like birthing a baby.  At first you start with your research.  That little niggling idea at the back of your head that’s based on something which you think you know but really have only the slightest idea about.  Maybe you’ve babysat it in the past.  Maybe you’ve flirted with it while walking by on the street.  In any case, you know it exists, you know that other people have done something like it, but you’re ready to try it for yourself now.

So you research and you research and you go along at a fair clip and one day, you realize, this has taken over your life.  This is all you do.  The only thing you want to talk about is your paper.  The only thing you can think about is this thing.  And it’s stressful and time-consuming and you can’t imagine that it’ll ever be done, but there’s so much to do, and at the same time that deadline is looming Damocles-like over your head (no matter how far off it may seem).

And then, one day, you sit down at your desk for hours and you create.  You stack up your research, you write, you attempt to gain some semblance of hold over what it is that you’ve found over the past few months/years.  And at the end, exhausted and brain mushy, you collapse in your chair knowing that this is only the beginning.

Now it’s time to hone, refine, attempt to comprehend what you’ve created.  It’s still in its infancy so it takes some time and sensitivity to really understand the personality of what it is that you’ve made.  You need to listen, but at the same time be a bit harsh with it, but not too harsh because then you’ll just convince yourself that you suck at everything.  You need to know when it’s time to write and know when it’s time to quite for the day and understand that some days will be better than others.

You sit at the forge and hone.  You grind off the spiky edges.  You adjust the awkward bits.  You crouch over your work in the most uncomfortable positions at the most uncomfortable of times because it needs to be perfected and challenged.  It needs to have the right amount of pressure put on it, the right amount of heat put under it, and the right amount of nurturing added to it.

And one day you think you’ll never get through it and god why did you even start this

Ah yes, mister Greenblatt. Someday I will have your career. Somehow.

project it’s so inane how could you ever think this was interesting you suck you suck you suck.  And the next day you realize that this isn’t half bad, in fact, it’s quite good.  It could really turn into something.  And the next day you realize maybe it has become something.  Maybe it’s worth something.  Maybe this is the elusive bit of “work” that you’ve been striving after for your whole career.  Maybe this is what makes you the next Stephen Greenblatt.

And, at some point, you need to let go.  You need to say “I’ve done everything I can” and, even though you know your little fledgling paper isn’t perfect, it needs to go out into the world and prosper.  Well… at least you hope it’ll prosper because an entire semester’s or year’s or years’ worth of work is on the line here and if it doesn’t prosper then it’s just a giant waste of time and your time really means something and can’t the professor/the professional world see how important this is to you and to the academy at large?

I’m thick in the drafting process of two papers, the third is still broiling on the back-burner and will need to be drafted in the next week.  As such, I feel like I’m riding a roller coaster of textual uncertainty.  The highs, the lows, the long nights with the firm knowledge that my martini glass is the only thing in the world that understands me.  It really makes me feel alive.  And by “alive” I mean exhausted on every possible level; physically, mentally, and emotionally.  Just a heads up, if the world has something important or potentially spirit-crushing or even slightly unpleasant to tell me, it should wait a few weeks.  Telling me now will only warrant a sure-fire over-reaction resulting in shouting, tears, physical violence, or potentially all of the above.

At the same time, that ever-creeping light at the end of the ever-narrowing tunnel keeps getting closer.  I can almost feel it on my face.  Oh the glorious resplendence of a break!  The conference preparation, the fellowship applications, the book reviews I’ve been putting off writing, the search for CFPs, the revision of publishable material, the preliminary tackling of the comps list, the… oh hell who am I kidding.  Breaks don’t exist.  I’m a grown-up now.  I’m lucky if I get a few moments to glance mournfully at my knitting basket.

I guess my comfort lies in the fact that, despite all of this, I’m still happy with my life choices.  I guess I am doing something right.