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MY TEACHER

We shall find peace. We shall hear angels, we shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds.

~ Anton Chekhov

I am heartbroken. My dear acting coach, Jeanie Hackett, passed away from cancer yesterday. She was one of the purest devotees of art I’ve ever known and was vibrantly creating until the very end. Art was her fuel and, in that, she was a kindred spirit. Meeting her seemed like kismet from the beginning. As a teenager, I read every acting book I could find at the library, and one of my go-to favorites was authored by her: a compilation of interviews with her mentor at Williamstown Theatre Festival on the subject of Chekhov. Fittingly, she was rehearsing a reading of The Cherry Orchard over Zoom during her final months.

After I moved to L.A., I learned and grew so much from various teachers and studios, but the last place I landed was with Jeanie. I wanted someone to take me deeper into my craft and a friend recommended I come study with her. At our first meeting, I saw a black-and-white photo hanging on the wall of her office, which was of a group of her castmates at Williamstown that included Christopher Reeve. It took a bit to realize that I already “knew” her. For a girl growing up isolated in the cornfields of Indiana, who tried to educate herself, it felt surreal to be studying with someone I had been drawn to so long ago.

My Tuesday nights and Saturday mornings in Jeanie’s Workroom were the happiest hours for me, a respite from a grind that was increasingly unraveling, as I wrestled with whether I should leave Los Angeles. Jeanie’s coaching was rigorous, thoughtful, unbelievably intelligent, and inspiring. I often sat in my seat shaking, trying not to throw up, before I stepped on stage for a scene or monologue. I felt safe to fail, which I did over and over, until those glorious moments when the work finally kicked in. She deeply and passionately valued process, which cannot be rushed, and she encouraged us to work on scenes in chunks, for long periods of time, before putting it all together. She was unrivaled in her approach to text analysis and to the physical embodiment of that text.

While Jeanie was kind and compassionate during the work, a compliment from her had to be earned. If she thought I did a good job, I could trust that I really had. That kind of integrity is invaluable to an actor. The last scripts I worked on with her were some of the most challenging pieces I’ve ever tackled. Most of the time, I didn’t think I could do it, but the fact that I found moments of success was truly a testament to her coaching and to the craft I had honed in her class. I can judge my work as an actor as Pre-and-Post-Jeanie. My family even asked what had happened at one point, when they saw the difference, and I told them, “It’s Jeanie.”

I spent my final night in L.A. attending a Preview of her production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night at the Geffen. She workshopped the play in class with us for a long time as she prepared to direct, and I was one of her readers during auditions. I loved the deep dive into that classic work and her insights will still be with me if I ever get to play Mary.

Jeanie was one of the people from my L.A. world who affirmed me even after my move back to Massachusetts. She thought I was doing exactly what I needed to for my art; not abandoning my dream but rather creating a new and beautiful version of it for myself. She told me that I often came up in her conversations. Her studio is one of the things I have missed the most and I hadn’t given up hope that I would work with her again.

In May, I received a last message from her: Just thinking of you and wishing you were around. Me too, Jeanie. I’m wrecked that we’ve lost you and so very grateful that I knew you. Thank you for being my teacher and for helping me to become the artist I always wanted to be.

REMEMBERING JOAN

“The light comes at the same time as the Voice…I would that every one could hear the Voice as I hear it.”

Every actor has at least one dream role they must play before they die. For me, that role was Saint Joan. I still consider her the most profound and invigorating acting challenge of my life and I am deeply grateful I got to play her before I was too old. I do, of course, wish that I could go back and take another crack at it, knowing what I do now, with all of the experience I’ve gleaned since then. Joan is notorious, though, for being a tough nut to crack and I know that I did the best I could for her at the time. I’m sure the timing was right, anyway, because spending countless hours in her skin gave me the courage I needed in other areas of my life back then.

Any time I write about Joan, I mention that she won’t leave me alone, and that she still crosses my path even 12 years later. I was looking through a box in my closet the other day and came across this photo that I hadn’t seen in forever, that I had completely forgotten about. Sure enough, it was coming up on an important date. Jeanne D’Arc died on this day, nearly 600 years ago. It’s obvious to me that her spirit lives on.

THE EYE OF THE STORM

Storm 2

All of my life I’ve had extremely vivid dreams that become, sporadically, lucid or prescient dreams, and the lucid dreaming has become more consistent over the past year. Whether vivid or lucid, these dreams contain mirrors and messages for my waking life, often alerting me to information I need to receive, decisions I need to make, patterns I need to shift, or taking me to a new level of awareness.

Early this morning I had a vivid dream that feels relevant to the collective, with layers of metaphor and messages, so please stick with me until the end…

I was working at an early-model home computer. Although security was installed, I had inadvertently allowed a virus to infiltrate the system and disturbing pop-ups had taken over my screen. I could hear my boss coming and panicked because I couldn’t exit out of the system. I quickly pressed “power” and shut the system down, hoping it would reboot. 

Next, I was in the backseat of a car driving through the night. My boss, his wife, and their daughters were in front and I assumed I had become their nanny. In back with me was a little boy playing on the floor. He was tired, cranky, and not wearing a seatbelt. I understood that he was neglected and isolated from the rest of the family. I arranged a pillow and blanket for him on the seat, which he immediately relaxed into. I said, “You can stretch out and go to sleep; I’ll be right over here.” 

We arrived at a hotel in the middle of nowhere. It was just me and my boss unloading countless suitcases from the back. I was loaded down with three bags but couldn’t find my main suitcase. Suddenly, I realized I had left it in a previous hotel and, devastated, dissolved into tears. I didn’t understand why I was reacting so strongly but it seemed as though everything important to me, everything I needed, was in that suitcase. I told my boss that I had forgotten the suitcase due to my exhaustion and rushing to leave. He turned ice-cold, stared at me with dead eyes, and said, “I hate people like you.” I was weeping, ashamed, feeling completely worthless. Then I spotted my suitcase standing up behind three other cases in the car and exclaimed with joy, “I found it! It’s here!” It was a vintage green suitcase that belonged to my mom in our real life when I was a child. 

But my boss didn’t care; he hated me now. I sorrowfully dragged my suitcases behind him into the hotel. The rest of the family was there and we spiraled around in a circle, past dozens and dozens of rooms, until we stopped at one. I finally put down my bags and my boss looked at me with that hatred and said, “You’re 108.” I realized I was alone and we had passed my room a long time ago but that he wanted to make me suffer. 

I couldn’t stand being there and called a cab to take me to find some food. A woman arrived in a black SUV. It was night and we passed a gas station with several cars in the lot. From the license plates, I tried to determine if we were in Oklahoma or Nevada. I decided on OK because of the driver’s accent. 

We drove along a dark highway and all of a sudden a huge portal of white lightening lit up the sky, illuminating a terrible formation of funnel clouds from within and without. It was unlike anything I had ever seen. The driver gasped, slowed down, and said, “Will you look at that!” As she slowed, I could see a row of people standing on the median, also looking up at the sky. I urged the cabbie to drive as fast as she could to outrun the storm. She did, but as I watched the sky, I saw another terrible formation to the side of us. I screamed at her to drive even faster, to get away from the storm. 

The driver turned onto the road leading to my hotel and we were faced with a third formation, the most massive and apocalyptic tornado, directly above and in front of us. We had no choice but to drive straight into the storm. I was filled with fear, clutching the door handle in the back set, and closing my eyes. I could hear the driver exclaim as she tried to keep the SUV on the road, could hear the debris hitting the car, and could sense the darkness that we couldn’t see through. I knew that my life was out of my control–that at any time the car could flip off the road or be sucked up into the air. At that moment, beautiful music filled my awareness and I felt cocooned into the most tranquil and peaceful state of mind. I thought to myself how strange it was to feel that way when I knew the storm had us in its grip.

Then we were turning into the parking lot of the hotel. I urged the driver to come inside with me to take shelter. She said, “No, I think I’ll keep driving,” and rang up my tab on a little paper. I said, “I’ll pay you but please come with me! Don’t go back out there!” And then I had to run for shelter without waiting to see if she’d follow.

The hotel had became a rustic hostel or inn. Directly inside, the innkeeper held a basement door open while people ran down into the shelter. I was once again laden with bags and looking for a place to land. There were many people my age socializing in little groups. I knew I would be welcome anywhere but felt too insecure to impose myself. Then I became distraught again, believing I had lost my purse with the money to pay the driver. The driver, who had followed me down after all, caught my attention and said, “No, you still have your purse with you.” I was trying to get out my wallet and looking at her tab which said $200 and didn’t make sense. Then I thought, “Just settle and get safe. You’ll pay her in a minute.” 

I found an old chair and put down my bags, thinking, “I’ll just be alone.” I felt sad about it. Then a guy came up behind me and said, “Would you like to play cards?” I wrestled with what to say because I didn’t know how to play cards but I wanted him to stay. I turned around and he looked taken aback and said, “I’m sorry. Nevermind.” I said, “You want to play cards? Sure. I don’t really know how…” He smiled, holding out his hand and introducing himself. I shook his hand and told him my name. He said to me, We’ll stick together.” Over his shoulder, I saw yet another terrible tornado headed straight for our inn. I said, “Let’s go down now,” because there was another small room below us. 

We called for everyone to follow us, to shelter even further, and it sounded like they were. But we found ourselves alone in the dirty basement room filled with cobwebs. We sat on the floor against the wall but I didn’t feel safe so I crawled under the stairs and looked at the guy. We were both silent and then I told him, I’m scared.” I could hear the tornado bearing down and people screaming in fear above us. One man shouted, “Stay behind the pillar!” I could hear debris hitting the inn. I didn’t know how it all would end. Then, that beautiful music returned, and I felt myself sink into a cocoon of peace, warmth, and tranquility. I became aware that I was asleep and could wake up if I wanted to. I slowly floated into consciousness and woke up in my bed.

While much of this dream carries personal meaning for me, I feel that there are also affirmations and messages for the collective:

  1. We are caught in a great storm that we cannot ignore, outrun, or hide from. There is nothing to do now but face it directly, without knowing how or when it will end.
  2. We are human and will absolutely experience fear, uncertainty, grief, and the wildness of stepping into the Unknown. 
  3. Many of us will walk through an Ego Death, where everything that formed our identities is stripped away. The things that made us valuable to ourselves and to the outside world may not sustain any longer: money, jobs, security, relationships, image, projects, addictions, party lines, networks, health, or even our own lives or the lives of people we love. Who are we when we are all that remains? Can we love what’s left of us?
  4. We need each other.
  5. We each hold the capacity to become the eye of the storm. When all around us rages and dissolves, we can choose to surrender into the peace that is beyond all understanding.
  6. We are more than our former identities, our old ways of functioning, and our present circumstances. What do we want to wake up to? Who do we want to become?
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