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Acting Reflections: As If We Never Said Goodbye

Well, here we are. 16 months has passed since our lives were turned upside down because of a little thing called a pandemic. Okay, so maybe it wasn't a little thing. It was a BIG thing. Bigger than we've ever imagined it could be. For many of us watching the news at the end of 2019, our eyes witnessed the horror of a virus that claimed so many lives in China and how they locked down the city. There must've been many of you out there that thought, "There's no way it could come here, right?" Boy, we were wrong about that. Big time. COVID-19 came to the States. It started out as one case, and then multiplied like crazy. I'm sure all of you out there thought that when the number of those infected started to creep higher and higher, it would be taken care of in a matter of weeks, or even several months. Didn't happen. Not by a long shot. Do you know what's funny about living, surviving, and even thriving during a pandemic? There are certain people out there who somehow knew that this virus that is COVID-19 would not go away in a couple of weeks or several months. They somehow knew that it's going to be a while, and they knew that as the number of positive cases started appearing in nations around the world, it was already here. Take a wild guess as to who those people are. Give up? It's the parents, especially the seasoned professionals (my mother being one of them!). They somehow knew, and we just love it when they're right about things like this. Do we? NAH! We hate it when they're right. Especially if they're involved in the performing arts. As I make a habit to listen to podcast episodes in order of the airdate and work my way down to the earliest broadcasts, I often find myself amused and sometimes saddened by what was occurring at the time the podcast aired and we where are now. There were several instances where I was definitely amazed by how the seasoned professionals, including the parents, somehow knew that the closure of Broadway and theaters across the country was going to last longer than four weeks. When I listened to The Ensemblist, there were stories of how recent swings and understudies talked about how they were either oblivious to what was going on in the news with COVID-19 or were listening to it constantly right up to the point where the first cases arrived in the United States. These were people who were in the business for only several years - they're young, green, starry-eyed, and excited for what lies ahead for them as they get their big break on the Broadway or regional stages in a major production. Many of them were joking or brushing this off as if it was another swine flu. Excuse me, the N1H1 flu. "It's going to go away in a few weeks and everything will be fine." But there were those in the business who were wiser, more seasoned, more experienced, and even more cautious that somehow knew that wouldn't be the case. Many of them were parents to young children, and they were greatly concerned by all of this. "I don't think this is going to be just a few weeks. It might be longer, so be prepared." And the younger actors, dancers, stage managers, and more scoffed at this and thought that it would be okay. I think you and I both know what happened next. One episode of the Actors Aesthetic I was listening to had an actress who was about to make her debut in the Broadway music, SIX, and while she and everyone else was aware of what was going on with COVID-19, it was still business as usual for opening day on 12 March, There was even an Instagram Live with the cast and crew members of the show, sharing their backstage secrets and excitement for SIX opening up that day. You can bet the feelings of opening a new show on Broadway went through the roof in terms of joy and happiness. Until one comment appeared on the Instagram Live feed that caught everyone off guard. "All of the Broadway theaters are closed! You're not doing your show today." Dazed and confused, everyone started calling the stage managers and production team of SIX and asked them what the heck was going on. "We didn't know that all of the Broadway stages were closed." "What's going on?" "Is SIX still going on as planned?" "Why weren't we told about this?" This went on for at least 45 minutes to an hour until finally an official announcement came that yes, all of the Broadway theaters are closed effective 4 pm on 12 March. SIX never got to have its official Broadway opening as planned. Disappointment and tears came soon after that. And it wasn't just SIX. Many shows that were scheduled to open or were continuing their successful (or not-so successful) run closed with much shock, frustration, and confusion. A question that came across everyone's minds as the news came out: what now? Even the most experienced professionals couldn't have prepared for this, even if they're parents. We were without theatre for over a year. 16 months to be exact. Think about it: No long lines outside the theatre with excited patrons waiting to get inside and reach their seats. No warm up exercises. No overtures. No opening numbers. No stirring songs that make you cry from a versatile performer. No dance numbers. No applause after each number or the end of the first act. No laughter. No standing ovations. No curtain calls. No trips to the stage doors or foyers to see the talented individuals who performed so brilliantly. None of that. We couldn't do the things that us performing arts people love to do so much because it just wasn't safe to do so. And it hurt like crazy to not be on a stage in person doing what we love. I mean, we were able to be creative and do virtual theatre productions and readings with Zoom, but in all honesty, it's just not the same as being immersed in the costumes, sets, sound cues, fellow cast members, and just walking across the stage. If I could ask the seasoned professionals a question, even if it's other than "how did you know it was going to last longer than several weeks?", it would be this one. Did you miss performing live in the past year? I think that answer would be a resounding HELL YES. I missed it so much, and I've only been in the business for five years. But like so many things, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Theatre is coming back. I repeat: THEATRE IS COMING BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Will it be nice to be back in person again? Of course! Will it feel funny to be back in a place you called home for so long but went on an extended vacation for in the past 16+ months? Absolutely! Will it be amazing, even emotional, doing what we love again before an audience and hearing laughter, gasps, and applause. You bet. This is probably a simple post to read for this week, but it's very important to me and all of my fellow performing arts practitioners out there. I can't wait to share with you what I'm looking forward to when the theaters open back up again, and how we can hopefully never take them for granted ever again. I may even share some things that need to change long before the rehearsals and performances begin again. You ready? Let's go.

The little things and big things make quite a difference in the life of an individual in the performing arts. Whether it's a superstitious belief, a gesture, a joke, an anecdote, or even a tradition, it matters to us. As silly as it sounds, we're all excited to get back to what we do best in person, but there's a little bit of trepidation involved as it has been over a year since we've done anything live. But if you know us very well, we're the creative types. We're also the supportive, hilarious, blatantly honest, imaginative, and sensitive types. And that's what we do best. We will definitely plunge into our first auditions and rehearsals in person head first because let's face it, we need to release some of our pent up energy onto the stage and before an audience. And it will feel so good to do so after so long. It will feel strange to do it all again, or even make adjustments as we maintain safety for everyone. But it will feel so good to be doing what we love again. What are some things I'm looking forward to when I start in person rehearsals and performances in a theatre or performing arts space? Well, I have some a ideas. Maybe you can relate to them. I'm looking forward to... in person auditions again. I'm looking forward to... seeing friends and acquaintances from previous shows I worked on with them or from past auditions and saying a simple "hello!" I'm looking forward to... in person callbacks (if the opportunity should come my way). I'm looking forward to... the table read of the script with the people I get to call my family for the next few weeks or months. I'm looking forward to... the very first rehearsal on the scene we're assigned to do. I'm looking forward to... the warmups before rehearsals. I'm looking forward to... getting to know everyone and who they're playing in the show, as well as their past credits and passion for theatre. I'm looking forward to... working on the blocking of a scene as it's envisioned in the director's mind on either the actual stage or rehearsal space. I'm looking forward to... highlighting my lines and writing in the notes in pencil. I'm looking forward to... making discoveries as my character when we work on the blocking. I'm looking forward to... before rehearsal dinners or after rehearsal hangouts at the coffee shop or bar. I'm looking forward to... watching the choreography of a dance number, and then repeating it over and over and over again until I get it as close to perfection as I can (even if I am a mover!). I'm looking forward to... working with props at rehearsals. I'm looking forward to... searching and finding the right costume pieces for my character, whether on my own or with the help of the costume design team. I'm looking forward to... telling my non-theatre friends about my rehearsals, and possibly confusing them with terms like "blocking," or "choreography," or any of the words that is now ingrained in my mind. I'm looking forward to... standing in for someone at rehearsal just so the blocking is visible to the director and to help them get their appropriate notes the next time they attend rehearsal. I'm looking forward to... memorizing my lines at night (because that's the best way to memorize my lines), even as I go to sleep. I'm looking forward to... calling out "line!" when I have a brain fart and can't remember the next line. I'm looking forward to... running scenes of the show from beginning to end, and then putting the entire show together as it gets closer to tech week. I'm looking forward to... walking into the performance space for the very first time, especially after the floor has been painted and the sets are ready to be used. I'm looking forward to... the tape being put on the floor so as to show where specific set pieces are located since it's impossible to remember where it goes without them! I'm looking forward to... the speeches about how to use microphones, whether the physical kind or the ones from your diaphragm. I'm looking forward to... the cue to cue. I'm looking forward to... the dress rehearsals. I'm looking forward to... electric and higher-than-normal energy in the dressing room. I'm looking forward to... getting beautiful for the show, whether with a makeup artist, a fellow cast member, or by myself. I'm looking forward to... last speeches and affirmations before the shows. I'm looking forward to... holding hands in a circle and passing the energy along to everyone. I'm looking forward to... hearing "Break a leg!" from everyone I meet. I'm looking forward to... dressing room mirror pics in costume. I'm looking forward to... blasting music in the dressing room to get everyone pumped up for the performance. I'm looking forward to... being by myself in a separate place to mentally and emotionally prepare for the show. I'm looking forward to... hearing "we're at half hour," then "15 minutes to places," then "five minutes to places," and finally "places for the top of the show." I'm looking forward to... the automated speech telling audiences to turn off cell phones and no recording allowed and to enjoy the show. I'm looking forward to... hearing the overture. I'm looking forward to... seeing the lights come up for the first scene. I'm looking forward to... improvised lines and cues when things get out of hand. I'm looking forward to... hearing the laughter, gasps, and applause from the audience. I'm looking forward to... sparring or making out with my scene partner. I'm looking forward to... the curtains closing or the lights going off on stage at intermission. I'm looking forward to... hearing and sharing positive feedback from my fellow cast members about the first act. I'm looking forward to... laughing with everyone after a scene or cue that went absolutely perfect or terribly wrong. I'm looking forward to... setting up for the second act. I'm looking forward to... hearing more laughter, gasps, and applause from the audience. I'm looking forward to... more sparring with my scene partner. I'm looking forward to... the last line or chords of the show. I'm looking forward to... the roaring applause at the end of the performance. I'm looking forward to... curtain calls. I'm looking forward to... holding hands with everyone for one last bow. I'm looking forward to... hugs, high fives, and relief after a show went well. I'm looking forward to... seeing audience members, friends, family, or total strangers telling me how good or absolutely hilarious I was. I'm looking forward to... seeing how much my performance meant to an audience member. I'm looking forward to... late night after show dinners at a restaurant that is still open. I"m looking forward to... hearing stories about past shows from others. I'm looking forward to... getting to know my cast and production team as people apart from the arts. I'm looking forward to... people making sure I get home safely, whether that's giving me a ride home or dropping me off at the nearest metro station. I'm looking forward to... unexpected surprises during the run of the show. I'm looking forward to... being a friend or an ear to listen to when someone's had a bad day. I'm looking forward to... rehearsals where we make sure our lines are still in our minds. I'm looking forward to... notes from the director, stage manager, and production team. I'm looking forward to... closing night gifts. I'm looking forward to... seeing how much an individual meant to me during the entire journey we took together. I'm looking forward to... our last curtain call together as a cast in that particular production. I'm looking forward to... cleaning up the dressing rooms after the show is over. I'm looking forward to... dismantling the set pieces so certain parts can be used for future shows. I'm looking forward to... the cast party. I'm looking forward to... keeping in touch with everyone on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter after the show is over. I'm looking forward to... repeating all of these and more over and over again at every show I do. These moments and actions are going to be cherished more frequently than ever before, and it's not even the entire list of things I'm looking forward to. As we venture out of quarantine and back into civilization again, there are many things that we should never be taken for granted ever again, even if it's a simple thing like a hug or a handshake. But like so many things, there just some that shouldn't be brought back into the performing arts culture ever again. As you may or may not have noticed, there was much transparency from artists, playwrights, costume designers, and more about the mistreatment they've received because of their race, sexuality, gender, or even how many years they've been in the business this past year. These stories are heartbreaking to read and listen to, and it only shows that as an industry there's a need for a transformation of epic proportions to make the arts more accessible, inclusive, and diverse for everyone. Will it be an immediate change? Not really. Nothing really ever moves at a fast pace, even if we forced it to. Everything takes time, but these stories are an indication that there needs to be some adjustments made for everyone to be welcomed, comfortable, and happy to be in the performing arts without any fear of losing their jobs they've worked so hard to earn. But even if it's not a major issue that needs to be taken care of or eradicated once and for all, there are certain behaviors and people that should not be welcomed back into the performing arts, even if they are the most talented individuals or are the only ones available. Here are some things and people that shouldn't darken our doorsteps again when theatre comes back. *Divas and prima donnas *Difficult directors and actors *Fat shaming *Gossiping about other actors, directors, producers, or anyone in the arts *Racism, blatant or inadvertent, in auditions, rehearsals, and the performances *Using the same performer over and over again for the roles because "they're the only one available," no matter what their character or attitude is like *Putting in one show with a predominantly black, indigenous, or person of color cast just to say that the company/organization is diverse *Not casting BIPOC individuals in shows that are classics (i.e. Shakespeare) or adaptations of classic novels out of staying truthful to the original material in order to please the purists *Not calling transgender and non binary individuals by their proper pronouns *Disregarding an individual's needs to be safe, comfortable, and happy in the rehearsals and performances *Classism and mistreatment based on experience and equity status *Not sending emails to actors who auditioned regardless of whether or not they've got cast in the production *Coming into rehearsals and performances sick, no matter how contagious or healthy you think you are *Being frustrated over another actor's need for clarifying information and details, even if it needs to be repeated *Not believing in an unknown actor's potential to take on a substantial role in a major production *Theatre companies and organizations not believing in the allegations of sexual assault, abuse, and more harmful behaviors from those impacted, especially if it's been happening over the course of several years or more *Disrespecting the tech crew and production team during rehearsals, especially as it gets closer to opening night *Not allowing everyone, whether they are the lead or ensemble, a chance to help move sets and props to keep the show running smoothly *Posting about a bad audition experience on social media including mentioning the people who were at the audition by name *Competition between actors, playwrights, directors, and more who are auditioning for the desired roles *Not using different body shapes in productions, even for dancers and the lead roles *Whitewashing productions that feature black, indigenous, and people of color in the roles *Not keeping headshots and resumes on file for future productions and opportunities *Not offering constructive feedback on an audition or self-tape *Not listening to the needs of members in the unions, organizations, and companies when they were mistreated *Thinking of non-union tours or shows as beneath you or lower class than the union tour productions *Not taking responsibility for your actions, whether you're on stage or backstage *Only talking about yourself, but not asking questions on how to be a better performer, director, playwright, and producer *Being needy or desperate to the industry professionals in order to get the next big part *Not taking a chance on producing new works, even if it won't make it to or not meant for Broadway *Not listening at all *Not using the notes given at rehearsals and the previous performances to help you get better and perform at your best *Not taking time to do self-care before and after a show *Being unwilling to learn something new, or even keep an open mind *Not being welcoming to BIPOC & LGBTQ+ individuals *Not offering the opportunity for the performances to be live-streamed or filmed for those unable to attend the theatre in person *Not making theatre affordable and accessible for everyone *Not having BIPOC individuals on the boards of the theatre organization and company *Lack of courtesy, understanding, and patience when receiving a rejection email or call *Complaining about the lack of work after going on so many auditions or submitting to countless organizations *Not letting go of a bad audition or performance experience *Selecting people for next round of auditions based solely based on headshots *Not offering a role to a BIPOC performer after having an audition or open call for BIPOC performers *Forcing people with accents or certain dialects to speak a certain way in order for the show to be successful *Using BIPOC artists as only the ensemble and background characters and not be in the lead or substantial roles *Using BIPOC artists in stereotypical roles *Not listening to feedback from audience members and donors on how to improve the theatre organization or company *Not giving yourself time to grieve an opportunity that wasn't meant to be *Not allowing yourself to pick yourself up after an opportunity that wasn't meant to be *Not giving advance notice to the production team if you're running late or have an unexpected emergency *Selfishness *Greed *Lack of vision *Inflexibility *Staying rooted in one spot *Fear And so much more... This is 2021. There should be no excuse for all of these people and ideas still existing in today's world, and yet it's still there. The biggest culprit? Well, in my eyes, it could be a cycle of these actions being repeated over and over again without any consequences directed at the person doing them, or even the person having this type of character rule their lives without anyone standing up to them and saying it's wrong. But when someone does say that it's not right for a person, be they in charge or have more power than everyone else, to act this way or have these ideas, the results can have lasting detrimental results. It shouldn't have to be this way. Money shouldn't be the only answer to keep the performing arts alive. Fame shouldn't be the only answer to keep the performing arts alive. Power shouldn't be the only answer to keep the performing arts alive. Lack of character shouldn't be the only answer to keep the performing arts alive. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism shouldn't be the only answers to keep the performing arts alive. Status quo shouldn't be the only answer to keep the performing arts alive. There's a reason why so many artists spoke out about the mistreatment they've experienced this past year. They don't want this cycle to continue, for themselves or for anyone else. They want this to STOP. Just as hate can be taught at an early age, so can love. We can teach one another what it means to be kind, empathetic, understanding, patient, teachable, humble, compassionate, encouraging, and especially loving. The arts doesn't need anymore critics or negativity. It's time to change things once and for all. When theatre comes back again, it's going to be different. Not in a bad way. But hopefully in a way that represents ALL of us. Hopefully in a way that lets those in power know that the old ways aren't working anymore. Hopefully in a way where we can all be supportive, respectful, and kind to one another without favoritism and classism. Hopefully in a way where the arts can be accessible to everyone, not just a chosen few. The arts are meant to transform minds and hearts. And a transformation is long overdue. (As a writer, I get a thrill penning for you my thoughts and observations on many things, especially reflections on the industry and my career as an actress. But I realize that some of what I have to say may not sit well with you, and that's okay. We can agree to disagree on many things and still try to be civilized human beings, and that's done through simply listening to one another without interruption. But I won't tolerate anyone saying anything that is derogatory, offensive, or cruel. If you cannot find it in your hearts to respect what I have to say and have to say something demeaning to me, please don't. I will block you.)

After over a year, theatre is coming back again. And this time, it's live AND in person. I cannot tell you how much I missed doing so many things that I know won't be taken for granted ever again. It will feel funny being in a space with individuals again after being apart for so long, but it will also feel satisfying. But there's also a feeling of much needed change in the arts as a whole. After so much transparency and honesty from artists, it's only fitting that the old ways of doing things be taken down to make space for new ideas, new dreams, and new possibilities for everyone. There are certain people and ideas that no longer serve us, and it's time to bid them farewell as the theaters open back up again. We cannot go back to what were doing before because it never worked in the first place. We can't stay in one spot thinking that things are fine when there are others around us who are hurting due to the status quo being in place. The performing arts, especially theatre, is long overdue for a transformation. But like so many things, these things take time, and much of what happens can't occur overnight. But I encourage all of you who are fighting for a more equitable, inclusive, and diverse performing arts to not give up. You took that first step speaking out about the mistreatment you've or others have experienced, and it's only the beginning. Please keep fighting. Theatre is coming back stronger, more vibrant, and more transformed than ever before. You know what I'm looking forward to when I get back to auditioning, rehearsing, and performing in person again. And what I'm looking forward to saying goodbye to once and for all. What about you? Are you ready for live theatre to come back to life again?

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