About Me

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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.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

My Favorite Urban Legend UPDATE

This happened a few months ago, and somehow slipped through the cracks, but I feel it's still significant enough to mention:

The dead-dog urban legend has once again been spotted!

That's right. A while back, I talked about a story involving a dead dog and the subway that I've heard repeatedly in my years in the city. And, while every time I hear it, the teller swears they know, or have a friend who knows, the person to whom it happened, the story keeps popping up in places and times and within circles of people who are wholly unconnected. Who is this girl who was mugged for her dead dog? I'd like to meet her? Where did this story start?

Well, no answers yet, but a short while after posting my obsession with the urban legend, a friend of mine texted me to tell me excitedly that someone had just told her the story. I immediately messaged her back: Who told her the story? Did he claim to know the girl it happened to? Who told it to him? But the trail went pretty immediately cold, "Um, he's British," she replied, "I don't think he completely gets what I'm asking."

All right. So, the mystery continues.

Oh hey, but in the meantime - here's another subway story. Not nearly as incredible, but nonetheless pretty hilarious. I'm pretty sure it's true, too, as it was told to me as a first-hand account by an old Starbucks co-worker.

Anyway, according to my friend, she was on the subway one morning when she saw a man on the platform frantically dashing toward the train, trying to make it on board before it pulled away. Well, the doors started closing and it was clear he wasn't going to make it, so, in desperation he hurled his briefcase towards train. So what happens? The briefcase lands inside the car, the doors close, and the train pulls away, leaving the man standing on the platform - not only late, but stranded and without his briefcase, which I'm guessing played an important role in wherever he was going in such a hurry.

In the words of my colleague, "What did he think was going to happen? His briefcase was gonna land in exactly the right spot to keep the doors from closing, buying him just enough time to make it to the train?" I guess if that HAD happened, THEN it would be the stuff of urban legend. But as it stands, that image - that stupendously bold desperate act, followed immediately by the realization, 'Wow. That was just... colossally stupid.' - is just really funny. "I mean," said my friend, "Who did he think he was, 007?"

Friday, July 29, 2011

Tales From an Ex-Waitress

With my waitressing days behind me, as I stumble into the next phase of my life, I'm beginning to suspect that the name of this transition time is: Babysitting. In fact, as I type, I have one eye on my computer screen and the other on a baby monitor in the home of a perfectly nice-seeming family in the financial district.

Babysitting. How odd. I ordered sushi from a nearby restaurant and am basking in the extravagance of their fancy cable TV while the baby sleeps in the next room. The whole thing has rocketed me violently back to age 13. Is this my summer break? Will my parents come pick me up at the end of the night?

Funny thing is, I never really minded being 13, or being on break and - as I'm currently making about treble what I charged as a teenager - the whole thing seems like not such a bad way to make a buck. True, I don't have any aspirations of becoming a full-time nanny, and also true that this whole venture was borne out of the frustration and desperation from the fact that I have apparently Zero Marketable Skills and literally no one wants to hire me. For anything. (Kids, don't graduate from college with a BS liberal arts degree, screw around waiting tables for five years and then try and get a "real job" in the middle of a recession.)

But one thing I will say: it's better than waiting tables.

A few weeks before the Directors Lab started, back when I was in the thick of Captain Moonbeam (Lord, that seems like a million years ago), I got fired from not my first, not my second, not even my third, but MY FOURTH waitressing job. And, mind-bogglingly enough, I got fired for the fourth time for the same vague and inexplicable reason: I'm just not... very good?

That's right. I've never spilled a drink, or dropped a dish, stolen product or money, or undercharged or over-charged or done anything else at any of these jobs that might warrant termination. Just: "You're not that great"; "You're kind of slow"; "You don't smile enough".

Yup, it's about time I owned it. I am not a good waitress. In fact, the next opportunity I have to use a pull quote, it's definitely going to be this one, courtesy of James Comtois: Word on the street is she's a shitty waitress, but I can attest she's a freakin dream to work with in the theatre world.

So, it's time to throw in the towel. No more waitressing for Leigh. Hence, the futile search for a "real" job, hence the desperately turning to babysitting.

Here's something I've been thinking about, though. Despite the fact that I'm making an solid amount of money right now, it's still nothing compared to what I made waiting tables. How crazy is that? I think even on my slowest days I made more, by a very wide margin, waiting tables than I have doing any other job in my entire life. In fact, if you broke it down to its simplest average-dollars-to-minutes-worked ratio, I probably made more money waiting tables than most of my friends have with their "real" jobs.

So... have I always been so poor?

My theory is this: for every hour of wages earned for waiting tables, you actually have to count it as two hours, because that's how long it takes you to recover. For example, say I work a six hour shift and make $120 on top of my $5 hourly wage. That breaks down to $25 an hour. Except it's REALLY $12.50 an hour, because for the next six hours, I will be utterly and completely useless, so drained from the experience.

Which wouldn't be bad if you're the type of person who does your job, comes home, fixes dinner, watches some TV and goes to bed. But the other thing about waiting tables is that you really can't be this type of person. For one, if you're making any money, you're working nights, and with that schedule the work-eat-sleep-watch-TV routine doesn't feel nearly as right. There's something profoundly less satisfying about not getting home till 1am (and not getting to sleep till 2:30), sleeping till 10:30, fixing breakfast and watching Netflix in your jammies till you have to go to work at 4.

For another thing, I've found that as a server, you've got to have something else to keep you busy while you're not waiting. Be it art, theater, music, school, whatever. You've got to have something - you simply have to, no exceptions. And if you don't choose that something else for yourself, it will get chosen for you, and it will probably be alcoholism.

So the 40-hour work week, which is actually an 80-hour work week in waiter hours, PLUS the something else that keeps you going minus regular interaction with non-waiter friends and family because of your wonky schedule equals not possible. So you either suck it up and die a little death of the soul, or you work part-time and you are poor.


And the fact that the math breaks down thusly for me might have something do with why I lost four waiting jobs in a row. And that, friends, is why I'm no longer a waitress.

Friday, July 22, 2011

"I'm Really Into Curation Lately."

I once heard this spoken by one of the members of the Women's Project labs (forgive me, I can't remember who). I was just out of college at that time, and happened to be lucky enough to briefly be in the same room with these people, these talented women on the rise within the profession, sharing some incredible ideas about theater. And when whoever it was that said, "I'm really into curation lately," I thought, Like a museum? What on earth does that have to do with theater? I don't get it. Hilariouly, five years later (I guess I have a slow learning curve), I am finding myself more and more compelled to say the exact same thing.

Not to belabor a play that I saw, at this point, almost a month ago, but I realized there's something else I wanted to say about The Shaggs. Something happened during the intermission which caught my attention: one of the women in the group seated in the row in front of me looked up The Shaggs on her iPhone, and managed to find a YouTube video which see then passed around to her friends. They all took turns listening to the band through her headphones saying, "Oh yes, they're pretty awful."

I actually tweeted about this when I saw it (YES, I tweeted at intermission, another phenomenon that's somewhat relevant within the context of this conversation); it struck me as interesting for a number of reasons.

The first is this: I was acutely aware of the lack of historical context provided by the theater about the band. No dramaturgical note, no time-line, nothing whatsoever printed about the family, the actual facts of their story, or any information about what happened before or after the events we saw on stage. There was such a dearth of contextual support, I HAD to assume it was a deliberate choice.

But was it a wise one? Or, more importantly, a feasible one? Look at me, for example: the only reason I was SEEING the show at all was because I had heard about the "true story" and my interest was piqued. And program note or no program note, nothing could stop me from returning home and Googling "The Shaggs" until my curiosity was sated. But, I'll grant you, there is a big difference between finding out the true story after you leave the theater and having the information while you watch. Happily for the creative team of The Shaggs (if this was indeed their desire), I don't own a smartphone. Unhappily for them, I'm in a dwindling minority. Now look at the group in front of me that night: you couldn't have stopped them from accessing that information, and what's more, these people were on the departing side of middle-age, not a particulary hip or cutting-edge demographic. Which is to say, you can't stop MOST of your audience from accessing information about your show, right in the middle of it. This is especially true for historical fiction and "based on a true-story"-style tales, but continues to be relevant for any kind of story. You audience can now be looking up information about the play, the playwright, the theater, previous productions, reviews, you name it, at any given moment. And if we can't stop our audience from accessing this information, shouldn't we embrace it? What if we tried to curate their experience and incorporate it into the larger experience of seeing the play?

That notion becomes Interesting Idea Number Two, and that's what really excites me. How fun would it be to sift through your program as you restlessly wait for the play to begin and instead of useless reviews of nearby restaurants, there were QR Codes or links to articles, pictures, videos or even music that relates to the show you're about to see?

And what if we could use this new technology to link the production to other related art? Paintings, songs, poems, short films, photographs, all somehow inspired by or related to the show itself, transforming it into a multidisciplinary experience.

I had a similar idea a few years back, although without the technological bent. I wanted to do a production of The Little Foxes and - well, I never quite worked out why and for whom I wanted to do the show, which is why it was never fully realized so I'll withhold the details, as they don't quite make sense. But, sufficed to say, I wanted to do The Little Foxes in a site-specific location, by and for members of a specific community. I wanted to involve the community in the show itself as actors, designers and collaborators, but I also wanted to extend beyond the play itself, encouraging the community to respond to the play through writing, pictures and other various multimedia which would be available for the audience to experience on-site both during the show, and on its own later.

And even though I couldn't figure out how to make it work for The Little Foxes, I'm still keen on this sort of curated community experience. Now I'm thinking of it in relationship to another, well, let's not call it an idea, but an inkling of an idea I'm excited to explore with another director I met in the LCT Lab this month. I'm very drawn to the possibility of using that kind of curated experience to bring a community together, and, through various disciplines, bring texture and dimension to an issue or idea that affects that community in a measurable way.

So that's what I'm thinking about right now. Is all of that cryptic enough for you? Unfortunately, I can't really elaborate, as beyond that the details are hazy even for myself. Anyway, after seeing The Shaggs, it makes me wonder if this idea that I've already been tossing around in my head could move to a whole new level with the inclusion of smartphone technology.

Or the technology it could totally detract from it, I don't know. What do you think?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Lab is Over, Alas for Mankind.

The Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab has come and gone, and after doing nothing but wrangling with Strindberg's A Dream Play for three weeks straight, now that it's over, it already feels, ironically enough, like some kind of strange dream. People keep asking me, "did you learn a lot?" and I honestly don't know the answer. I certainly took in a lot of information - now time will tell whether or not I'll synthesize it into anything useful. Anne Catteneo, the Lab's relentlessly hard-working director, says that it could perhaps take four years to really process everything that you learn in these three weeks. It was director boot-camp, there's really no other way to put it. Exhausting, challenging, frustrating, eye-opening, and leaving it behind is bittersweet. As we came toward the end, I was running on fumes. The countdown became my mantra: "Three more days. Two more days. One more day." I don't think I moved on Sunday after it ended. But now, I keep thinking of my little yellow ID pass, how I wish it didn't say, "Expires July 17th" so that I could walk through the Lincoln Center stage door again, head to the rehearsal rooms in the basement, and go again.

But Strindberg himself, I think, said it best:

In the moment of goodbye,
When one must be parted from a friend, a place,
How suddenly great the loss of what one loved,
Regret for what one shattered.
Oh, now I feel the agony of existence!
So this is to be mortal...

One wants to go, one wants to stay.
The twin halves of the heart are wrenched asunder.

And I've found that, whatever my difficulties with A Dream Play - and I have many - Strindberg often says it best.

I'm sifting through all my notes, re-typing and summarizing the experience, in an attempt to get a handle on it all before it slips away. I'm hoping to have some more detailed blog posts about it in the near future too - but more on that later. But while I'm processing all that, if I learned anything from the experience it would be:

1. Trust your actors.
2. Trust your collaborators.
3. Always say yes before you say no.

More later. For now, back to attempting to pick up my life where I left it a month ago.