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I'm an NYC-based director, and this is an outlet for my various musings about theater and about the city of New York. Sometimes the subjects run together, sometimes they are entirely separate, but between the two they comprise the most fitful, most intense, most trying love affair of my few years. They fill my head, my heart, my mouth every hour of every day; they could fill a book.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

New Year's Reflections

As the first week of 2011 draws to a close, I figured I may as well hop on the blog-train passing through and post my reflections on the passing year.

I've seen quite a few people use this space recount their favorites of the numerous shows they saw this year. That's not going to be me. I saw more shows this year than any other year I've spent in the city and it still doesn't seem nearly enough. I managed to actually see two Broadway shows (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and In the Heights) before they surprised me with their closing, a feat I had never achieved before. I made a point to check out In the Footprint because, you know, I love the Civilians. And I was saved from lamenting the Little Foxes by an unexpectedly and unnecessarily generous gift (one of the best gifts and best theater experiences I have ever received, not because it was good (though it was) but because it made me inspired).

I've reconciled myself to the fact that I just don't have the time or money to see everything I want to. But that still doesn't ease the pangs of having missed Gatz, Brief Encounter, Scottsboro Boys and Our Town. Among others.

Others have looked back to tally their professional achievments. That's also not going to be me. It's not that I have too few to speak of, although that certainly could be argued. No, it's because a seismic shift in priorities took place this year, and in the wake of it it's difficult, if not impossible, to measure my life or my year in terms of What I Accomplished.

For a long time I've been gripped by the feeling that I need to do something, a sensation that has not diminished with time. If anything, in fact, the vice has only tightened around me with every year. Not knowing, though, exactly what that thing is (but suspecting it's theater-related), in reality that impulse has translated to figuring out what I want to do. And then doing it. Along those lines, most of my resolutions for the past five years have resembled something along the lines of, "find direction, motivation, and inspirataion."

[And let's just get the irony of a director in perpetual search for direction out of the way now: ha! There.]

I've been resolving to get at these things for so long that it sometimes comes as a surprise to remember that my New Years' resolutions didn't always look like this; the switch happened sometime in college.

Growing up, I was always highly academic. Shy and booksmart, obsessed with ideas, and far better at expressing myself through pen than through spoken word. Although as early as 7th grade I considered myself a devoted bride of the theater, a career in academia would have probably been a more natural fit. Until, about halfway, through college, something went out of me. Some motivation or fire was gone. I didn't want to write anymore, I didn't want to think. I wanted to do. I was tired of big ideas, I wanted big actions. I was restless. I wanted to get to work, somehow, on all the things I'd been thinking about for so long.

In hindsight this restlessness, and the ensuing need to make effective use of my life, has been a result of many long years of waiting. As I mentioned before, I committed myself by the tender age of 12 to a life in the theater and never looked back. Why? Well, I loved theater, for one. I mean, I truly loved it, more than anything else I had ever done. But for another, I was acutely aware of the fact that I was going to spend the first 18 years of my life spending the majority of my days doing something that had been decided for me and over which I had no control - that is, school. Now I was a good student, and I didn't mind going to school but I studied well and worked hard, so that I could spend the subsequent years doing something I really wanted to do - something good, in every sense of the word.

Unfortunately, when you sign on to a life in the theater, well, maybe someday you'll live that dream, but first you're signing up for a lot more stuff that you don't particularly want to do - not to mention a lifetime of self-doubt, of wondering whether you really should be doing it in the first place. The intricacies of this choice, of course, eluded my 12 year old self, and by the time I figured it out, I was in too deep.

So there I was, out of school, done with thinking, ready to get into the nitty-gritty of whatever it was I was supposed to do with my life. The only trouble was, I still had no idea how to accomplish it, or, really, what exactly "it" was to begin with.

I was so distraught that I even directed a play about it in 2008. Called What Work Is, and inspired by a book of poems by the same name by Phillip Levine, the play was an attempt to understand the relationship between work and identity, especially when so many us spend the majority of the hours of our lives doing jobs that, I'm sure, if asked, we would say does not define us. How does that (pardon the pun) work?

What Work Is was not my most successful endeavor, if you measure success as well-constructed, engaging, well, good play. It was my first attempt at "ensemble creation" and it had it's ups and downs. But it was the most personally cathartic creative experience I've ever had. I learned truths about the nature of work that I could have never expected.

Some of the most moving revelations for me (and, incidentally, some of the strongest material in the play) came from the poem The Right Cross. From it, I learned that there's work, yes, but then there's work, and there's also work. There's the kind of work that you do because you have to - the kind I do a lot - and there's the kind of work that is so exciting, it feels like play. That's the kind I suppose I aspire to.

But then there's also a kind of work that you truly devote yourself to - both the pleasure and the pain. Work that extends beyond the polarizing concepts of work and play. This is the work that fills your entire being, a union between body, mind, and soul. It is work that overcomes you with a sense of purpose and perfection when you surrender yourself fully to it.

With that kind of work, I think, it doesn't matter what the work is - what really matters is the surrender to it. Understanding this answered a lot of questions at the time about the way work defines a person and itself, and about what it means to live a full and present life.

Ah, if only I had applied the lessons I learned in 2008 a little bit further, because now, in 2011, I am discovering anew that it really is about simply. doing. the work.

All of these years, I've troubled myself with the questions of what am I going to do? and how am I going to do it? I've thought mightily about these questions and never come up with a satisfying answer. So this year, I'm forgetting about the questions all together. Instead of resolutions for abstract concepts like motivation, and inspiration, I'm striving for a more proactive position. My list this year includes things like volunteer more often, and spend more time with friends and loved ones. Real, concrete ways to connect more with my world and with myself. To love deeper, to consider more carefully, to care more. I'm surrendering to the work. The rest, I have faith, will take care of itself.

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