Art

And Don’t Forget the Importance of Body Language

I’m in a fight!

I don’t want to talk about it.

Okay, FINE, if you insist. (You’re the worst. So nosey. God!)

I’m in a fight with a boy. Actually, a lot of boys. Every boy. I’m in a fight with every boy.

You know how on The Mindy Project every week there’s a guy that she’s pining over or that she’s making a terrible mistake with and you think to yourself, That special guest star is quite attractive; I really hope that this time it sticks and then you think Is she just going to live happily ever after with him? He has a sitcom in the works at NBC. They can’t make him a series regular. And then you think, Maybe he’ll break his contract. This is love we’re talking about, people! And then you think Well, it’s like Meatloaf says, “I would do anything for love but I won’t break a multi-platform development deal.” But maybe… And then you think And then what? No more romantic hijinks. Just brunch on the weekends and summers in Vermont? and then you think Why Vermont? and you respond Scandal-Olivia-Fitz-840x550Because if Fitz and Olivia can’t end up there, by golly, somebody ought to and why not me? I mean Mindy. Mindy Lahiri. On The Mindy Project. Not me. But also me. God, I miss Scandal. And by that time the episode is winding down and, of course, the romance has fizzled out and Mindy is alone again with her life and her co-workers and her pratfalls. My life is just like that of late. Except whereas Mindy does it while traipsing around “New York” (a soundstage in Burbank), wearing fabulous clothes (the costume department is doing the damn thing, child), I do it all from from my bed over text messages while watching The Good Wife on Hulu.

A sensible pact from the Mindy ProjectI hate it. I hate dating! I hate it! I keep having these interactions where I go on a couple of dates with someone and then after a minute they come back at me angry because they say they’ve been throwing themselves at me and I haven’t responded.

ACTUAL FOOTAGE OF MY REACTION

Exsqueeze?

Exsqueeze?

I gotta say, this trend has me totally flabbergoggled. You’re coming on to me and I’m not getting it? Objection, your honor. We’re not even Facebook friends. If you’re not even going to make the effort to stalk me, I don’t know what to tell you.

I mean, have you met me? I come on strong and I come on crazy. Always. I wrote a blog about a boy I had a crush on and then I sent it to him! MORE THAN ONCE. I proposed marriage to dreamboat Michael Liang at 20 til midnight in NYE. (Still no answer, but cross your fingers folks.) There’s no way you’re sending me messages that I’m not understanding, homes. You don’t need to throw yourself at me. All you need to do to express interest is pull a Sheryl Sandberg: lean in. I’m someone who takes even the slightest shift in posture as a declaration of eternal love. Clear your throat and adjust your tie and I’ll yelp “Yes I’ll marry you!”. Every time.

Look, I get it. Dating is hard. Being vulnerable is hard. Reading body language is hard. (THAT ‘S WHAT SHE SAID.) We’re both strangers sitting across from each other trying not to be strangers. But you know what? I’m one of those strangers too. It’s not the passiveness that gets me, it’s that these interactions make me feel inscrutable. I don’t think I can be with someone who doesn’t get me. And I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Anyway, to distract myself I’ve been throwing myself into work and into new projects and into supposedly fun things that I would never normally do.

And that’s how I ended up barefoot in a Northern Liberties warehouse with my hands clenched around a high schooler’s neck.bill cosby

Hm. I should back up.

I’ve been thinking about joining the gay rugby team. Well, I’m not really sure if they’re gay. I mean, I know some of them are gay. But I don’t know if they’re officially gay or if it’s just like one of those casual gaynesses. You know, like Aaron Schock has. (POLITICS!) I’ve been interested in joining the rugby team for a while for two reasons:

1) I once watched about 10 minutes of rugby on television and I was really into it. I was totally following the rules and invested in the actual game (as opposed to literally anything else going on in the stadium up to and including the movement of the hot dog vendors up and down the stairs in the stands. Sometimes when I go to Phillies games I try to track one guy throughout the whole stadium. It’s like Where’s Waldo, but with weiners. Also, of course, how I describe most of my third dates.) Anyway, I was really taken by rugby. Until I remembered that I had no interest in sports and abruptly left the room.

2) Every picture I see of the rugby team looks like cuddling.paul-rudd-hugging copy

So I decided to join. I waited until I had insurance again before I gave the thought serious consideration because I know that there is a slight to definite possibility that I will break one or all of my limbs playing rugby. But I don’t like to dwell on that. I choose to focus, instead, on how much fun it’ll be to wear those little shorts and tussle with other chaps in the scrum (that’s what they call the cuddle huddle). It’s going to be fabulous.

Tryouts are in February. I’m thinking of singing a number from Once on This Island and doing a Tilda Swinton monologue  from Michael Clayton. I’m a shoo-in.

In the interim, I was asked to participate in a workshop for Team Sunshine Performance Corporation’s production of Henry IV. It was pitched of four days of stage combat, sword fighting and grappling with strangers. I thought, Oh, that sounds awful. I’m in.No Thank You Please

I’m trying to find more interesting ways to get physically active. I can’t seem to get myself to go to the gym regularly. This is not my fault. I mean, I keep suggesting that the place would be full if they provided a continental breakfast and played romcoms on the TVs instead of all that basketball and news. I’ll get out of bed at 6 am for a bagel, schmear and a hilarious tale of mistaken identity and romance in a modern metropolis. But plodding along on an elliptical while striking the woman next to me with my expressive hand choreography to Beyonce’s new album? Not today, bitch.esq-oitnb-chicken

I didn’t have a clue what to expect from this workshop. I have no stage combat experience whatsoever. I did, however, play  Prince Hal in 11th grade (Yes, that’s where you remember me from. Please, no autographs.)

On my way over, I tried to imagine what lie in wait in this fake combat workshop.  I figured I should get into character. Like most people, when I think of a character that fights I think of Oprah from The Color Purple. So, when I arrived, I stood in the center of the room, squared my shoulders and recited her speech to Miss Celie in the middle of the field.

all my life i had to fight “You told Harpo to beat me!” I bellowed to the crowd. “All my life I had to fight. Had to fight my daddy and my brothers, too. I loves Harpo, God knows I do. But I’ll kill him dead before I let beat me!” I stood back, triumphant, knowing that I’d successfully set the correct tone for this band of warriors. Everyone looked at me perplexed. White people.

So, I proceeded to explain the plot of The Color Purple to them. “Before Whoopi Goldberg was a singing nun, she was an unhappy woman married to the guy from Lethal Weapon. Not Mel Gibson. And Oprah was there. This is also before she turned psychic and met Patrick Swayze. This was in the dark ages. I’m talking the mid-80s.” I took the room through the whole movie and then decided that it’d be a nice exercise for the group to reenact the dinner scene where Ms. Sofia comes out of her catatonic state after being falsely imprisoned. Let me tell you, it took about 6 hours to prepare a full Sunday meal and fully commit to Oprah at her Orange is the New Blackest, but I think it was worth it. For art!

Oh! Brilliance alert! I think the plot of Sister Act 3 should involve Sister Mary Clarence’s long lost friend, Shug, who is on the run from her ne’er-do-well musician husband and just wants to settle down in a nice speakeasy on the San Francisco Bay. I volunteer to play Squeek. Guys! This is a legitimately ingenious idea. Can someone call Hollywood, please? I seem to have lost the number.photo.PNG

Anyway, once I ceded the floor to the leaders from Team Sunshine, the actual work began. It was, legit, beyond my wildest dreams. They worked us through a simple weight shifting exercise with a partner, showing us how to simulate grappling without actually hurting anyone. I was amazed at how quickly I broke a sweat simply pushing gently on a stranger. This sounds dirty. I’m uncomfortable. Next paragraph.

We did all manner of things in the interest of finding ways to compellingly and artistically represent the centerpiece battle in the play. We were organized into a modified rugby scrum (cuddle huddle) that moved in a slow spiral as we all tussled with each other (tickle fight). We we split into two sides and taught 16 poses to hold at various points during Hal and Hotspur’s epic showdown. It was like yoga with violence!

ACTUAL FOOTAGE OF ME DOING BATTLEgandalf

We learned how to simulate being knocked out of the way by a mace-weilding giant! We learned how to run in slow motion! Each day I left glowing with sweat, totally physically engaged and kind of amazed at what my body could do. Each morning after I woke up with that good muscular soreness that means you’re doing something right.

And so it was, on the third day, that I ended up in a grappling exercise, with my hands around the neck of a frail looking high schooler, thinking how glad I was to be out in the real world making human connections and sword fighting invisible people rather than doing battle with boys over text message.Pillow Fight

Unbeknownst to me, my experience playing a small part in the creation of Team Sunshine’s new show would be the perfect preparation for my own new work. I’m putting together a new solo show. I don’t really want to talk too much about it yet, though.

FINE! I’ll tell you. (SO NOSEY!)

It’s called Vocab. It’s an instruction manual for the son I don’t yet have. It’s a series of questions about the nature of black masculinity posed by one who, by virtue of his status as a queer person, stands outside of it but is inextricably linked to it through his physicality. It’s about the many ways one can be seen as a black man and how those complicated perceptions relate to actual personhood.

Because I wanted to investigate something I feel outside of, I decided to use a vocabulary that is also outside of my home base, which is storytelling. Whereas previous solo shows have been based in a narrative, this one is based in physical action, in dance. There is still a narrative, but its arc is smaller and secondary to what will be done with the body. So I asked my friend George to choreograph for me. Specifically, to choreograph hip hop. GUYS I DON’T KNOW WHAT THE FUCK I’M DOING.

ACTUAL FOOTAGE OF ME TRYING TO GET BACK INTO MY COMFORT ZONEbaby The Help

We met for our first rehearsal yesterday. It was… an experience. George is such a fantastic dancer. And he seems to believe that I can actually learn these hard moves (Hard as in difficult and also as in Ghostface Killah.) We stood in front of a mirror in a dance studio while he just tossed off dance moves, demonstrated them and then commanded “Now you!”

ACTUAL FOOTAGE OF GEORGE KRUMPINGbeyoncesweetdreams

ACTUAL FOOTAGE OF MY REACTIONwhitney child please

ACTUAL FOOTAGE OF ME KRUMPINGcommunity-krumping1

Standing next to George, looking at his body effortlessly jump into the moves and watching my body react like I had asked it to suddenly grow feathers I got discouraged. I look like a big lumbering idiot. I reminded myself that this was just day one. Surely Catherine Zeta-Jones felt the same way the first time she got in the studio to practice the Hot Honey Rag, I thought. Yes, that’s right, when I’m feeling down I compare myself to Catherine Zeta-Jones. Don’t you?

I’m not a natural dancer. Part of this show is also an exploration of that disconnect–do I have soul? Where is it? Why won’t it teach me to dougie?

ACTUAL FOOTAGE OF HOW I THINK I DANCEcliff and clair dancing

ACTUAL FOOTAGE OF ME DANCINGRebel Wilson

It was tough. But I left rehearsal and I was glowing and sweating again. And while I was a bit less impressed by what my body could do than I was after the Team Sunshine rehearsal, I still felt more in touch with the physical, more capable, better versed in body language. I was on such a high that I actually went right to the gym afterwards and climbed on the treadmill. Full disclosure: part of this was self-preservation. The show also involves me sprinting in place while delivering a monologue and this bitch ain’t trying to die on stage.

So that was Day 1.

And it seems to me, day 1 is more than just the hardest day, it’s also the day that begins the journey. I like to believe that journey’s destination is freedom from perceptions of inadequacy and a full embrace of the process–whether that process is dating or performing or just living. And I’m in it to win it.

Fight on!Ursula The Little Mermaid Body Language

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Art

You Can Like the Life You’re Livin’, You Can Live the Life You Like

I WENT TO A FANCY AWARDS SHOW!

THEY GAVE OUT AWARDS! AND CASH PRIZES! IT WAS THE MOST AMAZING NIGHT OF MY LIFE! THERE WAS A PODIUM! AND PRESENTERS! AND MONTAGES! I FUCKING LOVE MONTAGES! (I’m so serious here, I love montages. They are my 7th favorite thing in the whole world. I LOVE MONTAGES!)

ACTUAL FOOTAGE OF ME WATCHING A MONTAGE

slow-clap

Okay, I promise this whole post won’t be in caps lock.

JUST KIDDING, I LIED. AN AWARDS SHOW! I WAS THERE!

ACTUAL FOOTAGE OF ME BEING THERE

patti-labelle-antics-o

My company, 1812 Productions, was nominated for a big award at this year’s Theatre Philadelphia Celebration. It’s like the Tonys. Which is the Oscars for Broadway. But you knew that already. And if you didn’t already know what the Tonys are, I’m not sure we can continue this relationship.

ACTUAL FOOTAGE OF YOU AND ME JUST NOW

disappointed

Anyway, we were nominated for a phenomenal show we did last spring called It’s My Party: The Women and Comedy Project. This was a pretty big deal for two reasons 1) there was a $25,000 cash prize associated with the award and 2) Philadelphia theatre is no joke. We often get overlooked because of our proximity to New York, but there are artists working here at the top of their games with impeccable training and far more freedom than a lot of Broadway productions.

There are over 100 professional productions that go up each year in Philadelphia and surely as many semi-professional productions. There is a level of craft here that rivals every other city in the country. I’ve seen some of the most incredible sets and lighting and costume design and performance I’ve ever encountered in this city. This is a legitimate theatre town and there are people who work year-round at the highest level. And they’re famous for it.

AND THEY WERE ALL GOING TO DRESS UP AND GO TO THIS AWARDS SHOW.

Caps lock. Yo. I’m sorry. I’m just, you know…

ACTUAL FOOTAGE OF MY INTERNAL MONOLOGUE

Not_even_sorry

My first order of business on the day of the awards was to buy a sports coat. Because my 6th favorite thing in the world is running around Center City’s upscale stores at the very last minute and my 5th favorite thing is spending money even though I have a perfectly good clothes at home.

I spent hours looking for a sports jacket that would convey effortless Diane Keaton-meets-Diahann Carroll glamour and would simultaneously cover my ridiculously long monkey arms (is it racist if I call myself a monkey? Whatever. SORRY INTERNET.) Along the way, I bought a shimmering copper tie. Even though I have a hundred ties. This tie is the color of a Tony, I thought. This tie is my vision board!  

we have a tie

I also bought a shimmery blue tie and a blue and red checkered tie because I just have to accept that I’m a fancy pants crazy person and I like dressing up. At that moment I realized, this is my life calling: dressing up and going to awards shows. This is what I was put on Earth to do. I want to do it all year round, just put on a suit and show up at places where they are giving out awards. Does this make me Jack Nicholson? Actually, to be fair, everyone at any awards show knows who Jack Nicholson is whereas though I knew who most people at the Theatre Philadelphia Celebration were, precious few knew me. So, I guess that makes me Ryan Seacrest.  I’ll take it!

jennifer-lawrence-oscars-golden-globes-critics-choice-best-funniest-gifs-hilarious-13

I had originally planned to wear a bow tie and suspenders. BECAUSE THAT IS THE DEFINITION OF FANCY. But one of the things I’m working on in therapy is accepting the fact that I just don’t look that good in bow ties. And I had to wear a belt instead of suspenders because I bought my pants at the beginning of the summer right before I lost 17 pounds in a tragic not eating for two months accident. And yes, that is totally a thing. Thank you for your condolences. I’ve gained some of it back since then, but it seems to have only gone to my face, so no pictures please. I said no pictures!

I eventually found the one sports coat in the whole city that would fit me without tailoring, fixed my face, did a twirl, hopped into a cab and off I went. If I weren’t so modest, I’d tell you I looked amazing.

ACTUAL FOOTAGE OF ME YELLING OUT THE CAB WINDOW

hey-everyone-come-see-how-good-i-look-gif

When the ceremony finally began I found myself legit emotional. I was just so happy to be there and so proud of the show we were nominated for and so grateful. It’s My Party was the last show of my first season at 1812. It was an exhilarating year but also one that, like the most productive experiences, was totally disorienting. With our final show I began to get my legs. But the show itself was hard. It was a new work, it was a massive 3-hour, 3-act piece and it was a labor of love for our brilliant, fearless director, Jen Childs. I can’t really explain what made it so difficult without talking about experiences that aren’t mine to talk about. But suffice to say, we were all so heavily invested in it that it became personal. I guess if you love and believe in something so much and work on it for so long, when you release it into the world even the most rapturous embrace can feel brusque.

When It’s My Party opened, there were rapturous embraces. But there were also some bruising comments that incited angry tears. It had a healthy run, it was a show to be proud of, but at the end of it we were all exhausted. It had been an exhausting year.

And, sitting in the audience at the awards, I thought back on that exhausting year and was overwhelmed by how proud I am to have been a part of it. This is the first year that I really worked full time in my field and I looked around the room and realized that I felt at home. For the first time. And I started to cry. IN PUBLIC.

ACTUAL FOOTAGE (TIE NOT PICTURED)

beyoncecry

The ceremony was, of course, everything. Montages! Presenters! Musical numbers! A confetti cannon! Even though I was expecting to see all of my friends and idols and co-workers from the theatre community, I still felt a giddy rush each time someone I knew waved or sidled on stage in a fancy dress or sat next to me telling me to stop crying so loudly please.

ACTUAL FOOTAGE OF ME WHEN THE MANAGING DIRECTOR OF OUR COMPANY WALKED ON STAGE

whitney and natalie

After the awards came an after-party that defied all of my expectations. It was two floors of activity–a cabaret with rotating live performances, a speakeasy (which was basically just a dark room to get pregnant in), a dance floor (with laser lights!), a photo booth, and the most amazing buffet I’ve ever seen. This is what I love about theatre people: we don’t just have one idea, we have all of them. The same goes for feelings. If someone tries to encourage moderation, we just burst into the chorus of “Don’t Rain on My Parade” until they relent. I thought, This is like the best bar mitzvah I’ve ever been to. And then it hit me, this wasn’t like a bar mitzvah, this was my wedding reception! Talented crazy people running around in fancy clothes, food that never runs out, live musical performances in every corner, a make out room, me in a suit! (Are you taking notes, Dr. Boyfriend?) All I needed was an elaborate proposal that goes viral and all my dreams would be complete. Still, even without a dude standing outside my job blasting “My Love Is Your Love” on a juke box while my entire family looks on uncomfortably, the party was a dream. It was everything. EVERYTHING. I couldn’t decide what to do first.

ACTUAL FOOTAGE OF ME WALKING INTO THE AFTER PARTY

this is too much

My friend, Amelia, and I were torn between our desire to find a cute actor to make out with and our desire to make out with the entire make your own macaroni and cheese bar. We chose the mac; the actors would just have to come to us. People I knew were walking around, talking, rubbing elbows and I found myself completely unable to make any small talk because I was totally overwhelmed by the process of eating until I exploded.

ACTUAL FOOTAGE OF EVERY CONVERSATION I HAD

mac and cheese

When I looked up from my plate and saw a table piled high with brisket sliders and bamboo boxes filled with potstickers I literally let out a yelp and broke into a full on sprint, like I was Celie in The Color Purple seeing Nettie for the first time in decades. Finger foods are my long lost sister and nothing but death will keep me from them.

ACTUAL FOOTAGE OF ME AND BRISKET FOREVER

celie nettie

I stayed for hours, running the halls, sharing beautiful moments with dozens of people–people I’d worked with, people I’d admired, people I’d always wanted to talk to, people I really want to make out with (I’m looking at you, cast of Theatre Exile’s Cock). I ended the evening dancing up a sweat in my fancy clothes and then escaping into the cold night, shimmering and vibrating with life.

So often, my feeling that I’m getting closer and closer to being the person that I want to be is dampened by the self-doubt that tells me I’m not doing it well enough, I’m not educated enough, I don’t have a strong enough vision, I’m not as successful as the Tony-nominated actor I went to college with or the friend from school who wrote the most produced play in America two years running or the composer friend who has an opera playing at the Met. Ironically, all that doubt disappeared at an awards show, an event designed to say (in part) some of you are doing it better than the rest of you. I felt, for the first time, I’m doing it. Without qualification, good or bad; I’m just doing it. The work, the hard work, is showing up every day for your own life. I’m going to keep doing it. I belong here–Philly, the theatre community, in this seat, in this inexplicably perfectly-fitting jacket, gripping this potsticker like it owes me money.

I wasn’t nominated for anything. I never set foot on stage. But, I’ll be damned if I didn’t win.

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