Tag Archive | Boston

HIT BY AN ‘A’ TRAIN

A Train

I don’t think I realized how much the play I’m working on would get under my skin. All of them do–even the scenes I explored in acting classes–but there have only been a few roles that yank me so far in that it’s hard to find my way out. Saint Joan was the big one. She followed me around everywhere, wouldn’t leave me alone. She was the most demanding of anyone I’d ever played–both emotionally and physically–and I was stick-a-fork-in-me done by the end of that run. She still crosses my path here and there. This time, it’s more the subject matter that’s getting to me…or maybe the head-space of a character who feels so guilty and responsible for a tragic outcome that she can barely live with herself.

I’d read Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train a couple of times over the years and always wanted to work on one of the scenes in class. I never found a partner to do it with and my understanding of the play was superficial at best, kind of like–I want to play a good lawyer scene. And then I actually got cast as Mary Jane and was excited but for a good stretch of my rehearsal process it all felt really distant from me, as if this was the first character I’d ever tackled who had nothing to do with me or my real life. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that every character who enters my sphere has something to do with what I’m currently and personally grappling with, so I couldn’t understand why Mary Jane didn’t. Until she did.

Digging into the text with my directors, we uncovered MJ’s history with an alcoholic father, her efforts at recovery through therapy and Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings, the inexplicable loyalty she still feels towards her father and his rogue sense of justice, the ego she’s developed over her plea-bargaining and trial skills, the poverty she lives in as an underpaid Public Defender and her working-class background that helps her identify even more closely with the clients she defends.

As I started to build from those facts, I realized how much I actually did identify with Mary Jane, even though the circumstances of our lives were different. I, too, come from a childhood that contained deep trauma, that was difficult to make sense of and that has had repercussions throughout my adulthood. I, too, have found myself believing that I could somehow reverse those experiences by falling in with people who reflected my upbringing in mysterious ways. And I, too, have felt that encouraging a person’s (many different persons) potential strongly enough would be sufficient to change a life.

Then, add to that mix, the research I did into the criminal justice system; combined with the on-going despair I’ve felt about our country’s vicious track record when it comes to prison time, racism and police brutality; combined with the stories a former corrections officer brought into one of our rehearsals; combined with the experience of living in Boston again after 11 years away; combined with an incredible scene partner in the role of Angel who brings beautifully complex work to the table and…it’s a lot.

Since our last couple of weeks of rehearsal and into our run, I’ve had a very hard time shaking this play when I leave the theater. I can’t find a way to decompress after shows and I drive the long way home to calm down. It’s to the point where I can only sleep for a couple of hours at a time, my dreams are entirely from Mary Jane’s world, and I wake myself up crying, thinking that I’ve fucked it all up for good and destroyed a man’s life. And, at the same time, I’m so sad that our run is nearly over and I won’t get to continue on with Mary Jane indefinitely. Yes, I am a glutton for punishment. But it’s such a rare and wonderful gift when this happens…for a character to blaze into my life with such intensity that I have to make room for her and learn what she has to teach me.

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JESUS HOPPED THE ‘A’ TRAIN

A Train Poster (2)

I’m very excited to be playing the role of Mary Jane in the Praxis Stage production of Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train by Stephen Adly Guirgis. This is a character I’ve wanted to explore for a long time and I’m working with a great group of artists. If you’re in the Boston area in May, please be sure to check it out. Tickets are now ON SALE.

THE DREAM IS NOT A PLACE

hollywoodland_moon

I feel like I’ve been writing this post in my head for a very long time. A week ago today, I left Los Angeles–my home for 11 years–and moved back to Boston. It was a decision I wrestled with for nearly two years…what to do, where to go, how to make sense of walking away from something I’ve wanted since I was old enough to think thoughts. To be clear, I wasn’t walking away from my dream, but I was walking away from the place where I thought it would come true. Few things in my life have been scarier, more stressful or fraught with confusion than this decision.

The hardest part of it all was–and is–feeling like a failure. I always promised myself that I would never be one of those actors who called it quits and left Hollywood before what could have been their big break. I felt smugly sorry for them…sorry that they couldn’t hang on and smug because it meant one less actor competing with me for roles. There was always something ahead of me to accomplish–better headshots, a new acting method to learn, membership in the union, casting directors to befriend, a theatre company to join, agents to lock down…I thought that I still had my 10,000 hours to put in, confidence to gain and techniques to hone.

But then I put in those 10,000 hours and honed those techniques. I studied with several amazing teachers. I had incredible artists see and affirm my work. I got the agent and the union membership. But nothing else happened. I rarely got to audition. I rarely got to work. I was one of thousands competing every day for a shot at two lines on a TV show and it was impossible for me to stand out. Even with determined allies who wanted me to work, who tried to get me work…it didn’t happen. For an actor, this is death. There is nowhere to put all of that training or desire or potential if you don’t have a role to play. Acting is one of the few artistic pursuits that simply doesn’t work alone in one’s living room; we need a vehicle and we need an audience.

And then I was about to turn 40 and started having meltdowns in public, like in the crowded lobby of my dentist’s office, where I suddenly started crying and couldn’t stop. I started thinking about how many sleeping pills would be enough to knock me out permanently and how, exactly, to phrase the note so that it wouldn’t destroy my mom. I took an emergency trip to Boston after another of my boss’s toxic tirades and one night cried uncontrollably on the sofa while my parents sat on either side and held me because there was nothing else to say or do. I wandered my apartment at all hours because sleep was elusive. I lost several close friends in succession for reasons that remain hazy but probably amount to each of us being lost in fighting our own battles.

Then, on one of those trips home, my beloved seven year-old nephew took longer than usual to warm to me. I left him alone but, finally, we were outside about to go on a bike ride. He was behind me and I heard him blurt out, “I love you, Auntie Dawn!” I turned around and he had clamped his hands over his mouth. Then he said, “I haven’t said that in a long time. I love you. Do you love me?” And I realized, in that moment, that I was not okay with missing yet another year of his childhood.

There is nothing like leaving your 30’s to make you take stock of where you are in life. I had given everything I had–made tremendous personal, emotional and financial sacrifices–to pursue my dream in Hollywoodland. And, for a long time, it was a land I loved. I loved the sunshine, the palm trees, the beach, the mountains, the sweet-smelling & blossoming trees, the flowers that bloomed all year round, the random run-ins with famous actors I admired, the famous actors who randomly saw my work, the dear friends I made, the cinematic history, the fact that everyone was doing the same thing and the thrilling experiences that just happened out of nowhere because I was in Hollywood and they couldn’t have happened anywhere else.

But the grind caught up with me. I got priced out of the part of town I adored and wound up commuting three to four hours a day just so I could stay at a job that let me audition and afford to live in a part of town I despised. The few auditions there were dried up completely once I hit 35. My marriage ended in L.A., as well as another serious relationship. Meaningful friendships dissipated and there was a heartbreak that left a scar that will probably never fade. La La Land started to resemble a ghost town. There is, literally, no corner of that city that doesn’t hold a memory for me of the people I lost.

I don’t know how that happens, especially when relationships mean so much to me, but I do know that it’s a town of competition and envy; a town of unequal fortunes; a town where people don’t return your messages or flake out of plans at the last minute; a town where everyone drives everywhere and no one wants to drive anywhere; a town where you’re up and down so many times that you’ve lost count and no one can be bothered to care anymore because they’re just trying to survive the same as you.

I realized that the last meaningful piece of work I’d done was to produce and act in my own short film…and that nearly every piece of meaningful work had originated with me and had not come from auditioning for someone else. I looked back over my life and saw that I was always creating opportunities for myself…because I had to…because there was no other way to live. One night I was re-watching La Vie En Rose for the millionth time and I thought, “I’m running out of time. What if I die without ever getting to play the kinds of roles I dream of?” In that moment I took full responsibility for my art because I knew it was never going to come to me the way I hoped it would for all those years.

I started down the road of developing a feature film for myself and that has turned into a beautiful partnership with a screenwriter. She wrote a script for me that, in my wildest dreams, would never have come into my life had I not actively willed it to happen. And then my old love for truly independent filmmaking began to surface. And then I found out my nephew was getting a baby sister. And then I began to think, maybe it’s time for a change of scene. Maybe I need to find a place where I can rest and not spend hours of my life in traffic and maybe I can actually get an audition and maybe I can live near my entire family for the first time since high school and watch my nephew and niece grow up and maybe I can make this film on my own terms and see if this dream can be fulfilled in ways I never saw coming.

So, that’s what I’m doing and so far it’s been great and surreal and I don’t know what’s going to happen. I still wake up in the middle of the night and wonder if I’ve made the right decision. I still get pangs of envy and disappointment when I hear about acting opportunities that friends have gotten instead of me. But I also get huge, uncontrollable smiles on my face when I encounter parts of this “real” city, like trains and tunnels and thick accents and winter weather. I feel like I’m meeting a part of myself I’d forgotten existed but it’s a part that feels like the real me. The constant anxiety and stress is gone; I revel in the moments I have to be with my family and can’t believe I was ever away from them for so long. I’ve left my home and friends and the industry behind but, as one of my acting teachers once said to me, I carry my dream with me. I have to believe that all of the people and places and work I love still surround me in some way and that, in time, we will find a way to meet again.

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