Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Monday, October 29, 2007

checking in

There are some women who, upon realizing that the cute new minidress they tried on with leggings and flat knee-high boots in the store is borderline obscene when paired with black tights and heels, will change into something more appropriate for work.

I am not one of those women.

Oh, and hi. Didn't mean to be so long there. Diplomatic and imperial history have been so fascinating I simply cannot tear myself away.

Okay, fine, I've been watching Gossip Girl and drinking too much Barolo in New York and spending money I don't have on things I don't need. Are you happy now?

Friday, October 19, 2007

what's my motivation here?

I auditioned for a play last weekend. Because I have all this spare time and everything, like school and work and attempts to have somewhat of a life simply aren't fulfilling enough.

In all seriousness, I auditioned because I love, love, love the playwright's work and because the structure of the play would actually work fine with my insane schedule. And even though I'm ridiculously busy these days, it's within very structured contexts. The things I'm filling the days with don't leave a lot of room for freedom of conversation. It's either diplomatic history or advising students or practicing basic, flubbing, present-tense German. There are only so many times one can ask Gerhardt for a stadtplan before one craves verbal sparring, the freedom to move unrestricted to new ideas and topics. Ironically enough, the context of a play allows actors to do just that. Even though lines are written and mush be read, there's a tremendous freedom in trying on someone else's identity, however fleeting the moment is. It involves give and take with another person, a discussion of motivation, of quickly asking the kinds of questions people typically take lifetimes to address: why do I do the things I do? Why do I say the things I say? What do I want here? Why can't I see the obvious?

So I auditioned, and the director liked me, and said she had me in mind for one part. It wasn't at all the part I'd seen myself playing, but I was flattered by her attention and appreciated the challenge to try something new. Here's where it gets weird.

Because I'd only attended the callback and not the initial audition, the director wanted to see me read again. She said she like what she saw and that I had good chemistry with the lead actor, but she wanted to see how I responded to direction. Could I read for her again? And could I scrounge up a guy friend to read opposite?

This was strange. A good actor should be able to read lines opposite a monotone casting director and still make their character work. Recruiting a random guy, a non-actor, to read opposite struck me as really weird. Yes, it's a play about relationships, but if all she was testing was how well I responded to direction, why the need to read opposite a non-actor guy, especially since she already had the actor cast?

But I was flattered to be asked to read again and loved the material, so I told her I'd do it. My wonderful friend G agreed to be "the guy" after I bribed him with the offer of beer afterwards, and we met the director on Wednesday night to read some lines. Here's where it gets very weird.

The director had a very specific vision in mind for the character. So specific, in fact, that after G and I had read maybe ten lines, she stopped us and acted out the scene the way she wanted to see it done. Poor G, he had no idea that when I asked him to do me this favor he'd end up in a tiny basement piano room with a strange 40-year-old woman screaming "why didn't you love me enough?!" in his face.

You actors out there will support me when I say that this is strange. Acting isn't like dancing, where the choreographer will show a dancer exactly how a particular move should be executed and then the dancer imitates it. If actors are imitating the way a line is read or a gesture is made, it's just caricature. For a character to be believable to an audience, the actor has to organically make it her own. A director tells an actor where to take their interpretation, to make it more intense or quick or vulnerable, but acting is not supposed to be flat imitation. Of course I am going to have a different spin on this character than this director who is much older and blonder and shorter than me. Either of our interpretations could be valid, but she's the director and so hers is the one she's going with. Just don't try to shoehorn an actor into something that is not a good fit. Yes, it's the actor's job to fulfill the director's vision. But if the actor isn't going to fill that vision, flat imitation is not the way to go.

Maybe she liked me and didn't want to hurt my feelings, but shit, actors have to have thick skins. Back when I still thought I might someday do this for real (a looooong time ago) I had directors tell me I was too tall, too fat, too aggressive, not aggressive enough, that I should consider a nose job if I was serious about ever acting professionally, that I blinked too much, that I was never going to be an ingenue but wasn't "unique" enough to be a character actor. And those are just the ones I remember.

It sounds brutal, but was actually terrific. It taught me an incredibly valuable lesson: that rejection will happen, and it will usually happen for reasons beyond your immediate control. Because it's a rejection not of you, but of you for a specific part, you can't take it personally when someone says "you're not right for this." There are always other opportunities out there, especially when you just act as a hobby and happily pay the bills with something else.

After I'd caved and imitated her line-reading, she thanked me profusely while hedging her bets. She said she loved me, just loved what I did, that I was lovely on stage and had a lovely way about me, but she still wasn't sure and wanted another day to think about it. I knew right then that I wasn't going to get this part, and, more importantly, that I didn't want it anymore.

So when she called this morning, I wasn't at all surprised when she said she wasn't going to offer it to me. I was surprised, however, when she outlined her plan. "I'm going to audition a few more people," she said, "and then if none of them work out, go back to my list of a few favorites, of which you're at the top. So could you maybe hold your schedule for the next few weeks?" It was basically the theater equivalent of telling someone after a few dates that you're not really into them, but could you put them on the back burner while you see if you can get anyone hotter?

I told her thanks, but no thanks, that I had holiday travel and a spring semester to plan and couldn't wait for her decision. I'm pretty glad it worked out this way, because I'm clearly not what she's looking for. This would have been an amazing part to play, and I loved all the ideas I had bouncing around my head for it. The dialogue is so meaty that the actors can practically chew on it, and I really did have great chemistry with the lead actor and am bummed that now I won't get to work with him. But it would have killed me to not be able to use my ideas for the character and instead try to imitate the director's vision, which was clearly such a bad fit for me.

And honestly, I'm a little ticked that she got my hopes up when all along she was completely unwilling to be open to something new. If she'd just told me I was too fat, I'd probably have warmer feelings towards her now.

And people wonder why actors are insane.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

the most emotionally bleak series of events possible, not involving mass genocide or barney


People, if you learn anything at all from me, learn this: never, ever, ever, watch the movie Hard Candy and less than a day later spend three hours at an audition reading Neil LaBute dialogue with a progression of strange men.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some curling up in a ball and whimpering to attend to.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

white liberal guilt

Sitting at the bar at Matchbox waiting for K to arrive, I idly flipped the pages of my latest foreign policy tome, half-reading and half-listening to the guy sitting next to me drone on to his bored date about the challenges of owning two vacations homes. I'd gotten to the point in reading where I was only semi-processing the words as I read them, the structure of the narrative voice drifting in one ear and out the other as occasional nuggets like "Jeffersonian liberty" or "Open Door Policy" latched on the walls of my brain.

As I sipped my water the bartender appeared to take my drink order. I asked for a Stella and looked back down at my book, but realized a moment later that she was still standing there, also looking down at it. I lifted my eyes to see her half-craning her head, as if to catch something written in it. This was the moment when I realized in horror that the chapter heading, splashed in big bold letters at the top of the page, was "The Hierarchy of Race."

Now would be a good moment to clarify that she was black and I'm white.

We looked up from the chapter heading at the same time and briefly met one anothers' eyes. In that brief moment of eye contact I tried to say "I am a student of history, not a pseudo-scientific Victorian eugenicist! Horrible misunderstanding! This stuff here? This is but the small-minded long-dead influence of a universally discredited theory of racial determinism and its effects on nineteenth-century policymaking! Me, I'm up with people! I led trust falls and small-group dynamic exercises as part of Students Educating Each Other About Discriminiation in high school! Down with whitey!"

Her eyes, on the other hand, seemed to convey a rather simple message of "I hate you."

Glowering, she turned away to get my beer and I bent back over my book, trying to shield the chapter heading with my cupped hand like it was an illict note passed during study hall. I flipped over to the next page just as she returned, sloshing the Stella over the side of the pint glass as she slammed it on the bar with more force than was entirely necessary. And of course, because God was watching and saw an opportunity, here's what was on the next page:

And of course, I couldn't say anything. Much like telling people you're funny or telling people you're powerful, the phrase "I'm not a racist" loses all meaning if you actually have to say it out loud to try to convince someone.

So I just hunkered down and continued reading, sipping my one Stella as slowly as possible so she wouldn't have to come over again and ask if I wanted another.

And then tipped her five bucks on a four dollar bill.

Monday, October 08, 2007

liminal space and turf restoration

I had my first encounter with my ex-friend on Friday. She was at the Hirshorn with several people who I was once very close with. I don't think I have to tell you that it was pretty awful.

Shortly after the encounter, I left the friends I came with and went upstairs to explore the Morris Louis exhibit. This particular painting caught my eye as I wandered through the gallery, blurry-eyed and trying to hold back drunk tears. I plopped on the bench facing it, staring at the negative space in the center.

My chief complaint with modern abstract art is that it often distances itself from the viewer, letting form take precedence over content. But this painting spoke to me on Friday. It reminded me of something that I rationally know, but have a hard time believing: that being in a liminal stage can mean you're on the rise to something greater. I felt myself in the empty air, felt the effort it takes to leap to a platform I didn't plan for, at least not yet.

I know that I'll get through this stage just fine. I've gotten through it before. More importantly, I'll get through it with dignity, which is not something I've always been able to manage. Traditionally, when life hands me lemons I make lemon drop shots, heavy on the vodka, which I then throw back in life's face while telling life to fuck off. It occurs to me now that this is not the most mature way to handle rejection and disappointment.

So I won't say the unforgivable but true things I could say, I won't defend my actions or try to show why I'm right and other people are wrong. I won't make the accusations that a big part of me wants to scream out loud. Because none of it would change anything, and in the end, it's not like I'd feel better about any of it. I'm still trying to not be angry about all the wasted time and that one will take me longer. When I think of all those years, I feel raw and exposed.

But it's already better than it was. And the simple passage of time has a way of healing even the most brutal ravages.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

multiple choice

Peter Bjorn and John are the Hipster 2007 Version of...
a) the Spin Doctors
b) Deep Blue Something
c) Semisonic
d) all of the above

Michigan's mediocre playing this is season is because...
a) Chad Henne is a thoroughly mediocre QB
b) Lloyd Carr is... done
c) Shakey Jake died and sucked all the goodness out of Ann Arbor

Me going as Justin Bobby for Halloween would be...
a) utterly stupid
b) fabulous,but no one will get it
c) fabulous, and a very good barometer for who I should be friends with because people who think they are too good for The Hills are no fun at all.
d) fabulous, because all i need is a hoodie flannel with the sleeves cut off and an oversize beret. plus i'll actually be comfortable while every other girl is DC is squeezed into a too-small corset going as a slutty devil or slutty pirate or slutty WASA meter reader.

Colors of booties I should buy include...
a) black leather spats
b) gray slouchy suede
c) booties? are you kidding me? when did you become such a trend whore? stop being such a poser.
d) bright blue Victorian with jeweled buttons. hell, you're doing something that will be out in three months. do it up right.

The role of the Amateur Athletic Union in 1930s isolationist foreign policy was...
a) surprisingly large, particularly given the retrospective significance of Jesse Owens' role in the historical narrative of American triumphalism and disproving Nazi eugenics in the 1936 Olympics.
b) overstated, as minor official personnel strove to override top-down projections of isolationist policy and use the body as an entree for formal policy-related interactions.
c) brain is full. cannot do any more history. am going to watch Gossip Girls.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

the anti-breakup hair

When I broke up with my high school boyfriend (the first of three breakups with him, that is), I sliced my hair into a chin-length bob just in time for yearbook photos. I had some notion of looking like Neve Campbell circa Scream 2. Unfortunately, as my features are somewhat less delicate than hers, I more closely resembled a pre-nose job Long Island local news anchor.

After the first breakup with the college boyfriend, I went crawling back to my hometown stylist over spring break. "I'm so glad you're letting me do your college breakup hair!" he exclaimed. "It's so cyclical!" The resulting strawberry blonde highlights were an undeniable mistake on both of our parts, but the styling was all my fault. In my defense, a lot of girls bought three-pronged barrel curling irons in 2002.

I hadn't planned on doing breakup hair after losing my friend recently. Mostly this is because of the experiences described above, but mostly, any changes I've felt like making feel more like they're being brought on by other events. I've been spend more time attending events and going places where I can actually have fun with fashion, and after losing a little bit of weight from just flat not having time to eat any more, I want to mix it up a little bit. After all, this fall I finally bought (and wore!) skinny jeans. This is an achievement of fashion-- nay, history-- on par with Roo Moo-hyun crossing the DMZ line. Yes, they're technically out right now, but I already have some excellent high-waisted Navy vintage wide-legged jeans and damnit, skinny jeans were my fashion Everest.

Also, never underestimate the change in seasons to inspire change in our daily lives. No matter what says, it's autumn out there and and I simply cannot wear floaty linen circle skirts any longer. I'm ready for black tights and boots and my new sweater minidress and smudgy dark eyeliner. Usually when fall arrives I get all preppy and collegiate with baseball tees and football and little corduroy blazers and stripe-y scarves, but this year I've been taking my coffee black and listening to a lot of Charlotte Gainsbourg while walking around in my trench coat, even though it's really still too damn warm for trench coats. Basically, I want to be spending this autumn strolling down the Boulevard Saint-Michel in Narciso Rodriguez and Nanette Lepore, preferably carrying a tote with a baguette and some calla lilies engagingly peeking out the top. Hardly original, but there's a reason every girl has had this fantasy at one point or another.

I can't escape to Paris, even for a weekend, because I'm spending all my time and energy working and studying, and sadly my budget is keeping me more on the Zara end of the fashion spectrum. But tonight, unable to read another word of post-colonial deconstructionalism theory, I decided to put aside Jacques Derrida for a while in favor of Sophie Marceau:

Amazing what boredom, a change of seasons and a little pair of nail scissors can do. And for the record, it's not breakup hair. It's growing up bangs.