Thursday, May 25, 2017

Whoever Said Sleep Is Overrated Was Not Me !

                  In truth, I kind of said it… or at least my character did in in the play, Farce This! But her human/real life counterpart feels the complete opposite. Sleep is a precious commodity, especially when you struggle with getting it on an almost daily basis. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t sleep at the most inopportune of moments. Anyone that knows me will tell you about my habit of nodding off... sometimes mid-sentence. I joke that you’re not truly my good friend until I’ve fallen asleep on you. The remarkable thing is that I’ll pop back up moments later as if nothing happened and I’ll recall everything that was said. In fact, it’s happened so often that my friends have affectionately named my behavior the “smile and fade”.  Yeah, keep smiling buddy. That sleep is going to be short lived!

                  So yes – I CAN fall asleep. I’m the gal reading on the subway who nods off only to be woken up when the book she’s reading falls to the floor with a loud thud. I’m that person who passes out during the climactic part of a film. I’ve fallen asleep more than once in the dentist's chair during a root canal. I’m the party guest who has asked countless hosts at countless parties to lay down somewhere. It doesn’t matter how much fun I’m having or the riveting conversations that are going on around me. My body just shuts down and I need to catch some zzz’s. And I have the photos from multiple friends over the years to prove it!

                  The problem occurs when it’s actually appropriate to sleep… you know, at bedtime. I fall asleep almost immediately. I just can’t STAY asleep. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and lie in bed, sometimes for hours, waiting for sleep to come again. And there are times when it doesn’t. I’m a mess the whole next day, mad at the world and myself for having this issue. Apparently there is a term for what I have. We humans love to label everything and everyone, after all.  It’s called “Sleep Maintenance Insomnia”. I feel no comfort in knowing its name. Putting it into black and white terms just makes me feel all the worse about it. It’s like a REAL thing. As I read more about it, I discover this condition occurs during times of stress. And since I regularly suffer from SMI, I guess they are trying to tell me I continually live my life under stress. Wonderful!

Look, I’m not saying I want to sleep for 10 hours a day. Even 6-7 hours of continuous sleep would be amazing. I’m at a point in my life where I recognize the value of sleep in order to accomplish my goals as well to enjoy the time when I am not. And I think the key is to find ways to eliminate stress—I know, a tall order for someone who lives in NYC, one of the most stressful places on earth, and who is pursuing a career in the arts. But if I can at least lower my stress during the moments directly preceding my dreaded bedtime, it might make a difference. So lately, instead of working up until the moment I go to sleep, I’ve been relaxing by looking at Facebook (something I hardly do), playing Sudoku or watching television (while not doing work at the same time). They're just ways to help me let go of the many “To Do's” that are continually dancing around my brain. I’m also considering whether or not to journal at night, right before I go to bed, as a way of dumping out all my thoughts onto the page and hoping they STAY THERE. It’s like an external hard drive for my brain. I can always reinstall those thoughts when I wake up—and in reality, they will probably reinstall on their own without me having to do anything!

I’m not sure how any of this will work, but I’m going to give it a whirl and I’ll let you know how it goes. I’m just tired—no pun intended—of telling myself that this is just the way I am and there’s nothing I can do about it. Whoever said “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” is an idiot. I want to sleep NOW! And clearly said idiot never had a problem sleeping like I do. And as the time is drawing near to go to bed, the only thing left to say is "Sweet dreams" (fingers crossed)!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Another Opening, Another Show

            It’s that time every actor dreads… TECH WEEK. Time to make sure all the pieces of the show fall together, meaning the props are made, the costumes fit, the set is finalized and all the lights and sound come on when they are supposed to. Up until this point, you’ve played “make believe” with a lot of the details. Don’t have REAL cupcakes? No problem. I’ll just pretend I’m eating one, or I’ll buy some munchkins at the Dunkin Donuts and eat those instead. It works (and they’re delicious too)! Don’t have that sign you’re supposed to hold up as part of a punch line? It’s okay. I’ll just grab a phone bill from my purse and use that instead. But now the moment of truth has arrived, when we find out if everything really DOES work. And maybe it’s just me, but it’s f**king scary!

            And it’s a bit more intense when you do a lot of what I like to call “guerilla theater”.  I should note that guerilla theater is a term traditionally reserved for shows which are performed on the streets and deal with political and social issues, but I fully believe the term applies here too. To me, it should apply to ANY show where you have to dig in the trenches with your fellow artists and do what needs to be done! Remember those movies where Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney would excitedly exclaim, “Let’s put on a show!” and then they’d proceed to throw up a show in their backyard? No surprise they were called “backyard musicals” and they were wonderful. (Check out “Babes in Arms” sometime and you’ll see what I mean.) When you do guerilla theater, it’s much the same. It’s the ultimate in DIY. And it’s not to say that it’s unprofessional. Some of the productions I am most proud of have been launched in such a fashion. An actor isn’t just an actor. A director isn’t just a director. We are all working as a team to make sure everything comes together by opening night.

            Just last weekend, I was making rice crispy treats at 10:00 o’clock at night for a rehearsal I had the following morning for the show I'm currently doing, Farce This! These treats are used as one of my props, and I wanted to start practicing with them. As it turns out, my PRACTICE props will probably be the ACTUAL ones I use in the show.  They’ll be a week old by opening night, but hey, who hasn’t eaten a stale dessert in real life? I just hope I don’t crack a tooth in the process. Just kidding. Sort of.

            I had my first official run through last night of the show, and I felt those magical moments on stage that remind me why I love acting so much. I feel blessed to be working with such talented people, who are also a part of my acting studio, Matthew Corozine Studios. There is a camaraderie and trust already built in because of the common experiences we share. But with live theater, there are also moments of panic where you think “What the HELL is my next line?” (even though you’ve drilled them FIVE TIMES IN A ROW right before the run through and you not only know YOUR lines but your partner’s too). The slightest reaction from the audience can make you pause and wonder if you are in the right place in the show! That said, it’s only a slight hesitation and luckily the “Theater Gods” (or whatever you want to call them) as well as my amazingly talented castmate, Cali Daby, are always there to push me forward. Having a partner you believe in, who believes in you, makes all the difference in the world. (And it helps keep my “fear gremlins” at bay!)

            So tomorrow night, as I stand backstage waiting to enter and be my best Midwestern Mama, I will remind myself why I do this. Because I LOVE it. And there is nothing in this world that makes me happier. And for those of you around this weekend, please come by and check us out: Maybe I’ll even make a fresh batch of rice crispy treats to say thank you for attending. Merdé!  

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Someone May Be In The Kitchen With Dinah, But It Ain’t Dina!

            Remember that old song “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”? We all sang it at summer camp as kids, and somewhere in the song the lyrics talk about Dinah being in the kitchen. She was probably cooking up something delicious… a delectable meal certain to make our mouths water. Then there’s me. I try to avoid the kitchen as often as possible, unless I’m making coffee or heating up soup. People talk about how cooking makes them feel relaxed and how therapeutic it is. Ummm…. what? If I could afford eating in restaurants and ordering 555-takeout every night, I would seriously consider it. My feelings have only intensified while witnessing a friend (who has been staying with me) cook for me.

            First off is the shopping. I can’t STAND shopping—whether it’s for food, clothes, toiletries… you name it. Shopping makes me feel like a mouse trapped in one of those mazes, who is desperately trying to get to the other end so he can eat his little piece of cheese as a reward. I am absolutely miserable as I push my shopping cart up and down the aisles trying to find what I need, comparing prices and ingredients, the latter of which I have trouble understanding because they sound too sciencey. Is acesulfame-K going to kill me? How should I know? I can't even pronounce it! And what about the long lines for the cashier? As I stand there waiting to pay, I seriously consider starting a food fight, and throwing everything in my cart at the other customers. There's also the problem of how fast the food runs out. My friend will inform me: "We've run out of everything." My response: "How is that POSSIBLE? We were just at the store the other day! How can it all be gone? You mean we have to go back to that horrible, HORRIBLE place AGAIN?" At least with take-out you know what you're getting. It's a self-contained meal that is enough to satisfy you for that day and perhaps the next day too if there are leftovers.

            Once I buy everything I need, it's time to PREPARE it. Prepare WHAT? I don't know how this stuff all goes together! My cooking skills extend to making scrambled eggs with some black pepper and cheese mixed in. When it comes to major meals, I am completely lost. As I watch my friend remove the groceries from the bags, I get anxious wondering what he's going to DO with all of it. How is he going to put it all together to make an edible meal? Truth is, I really don't want to know. I just want to eat the end product and enjoy it. Most cooks tell me they use their "gut" to figure out how to combine ingredients that go well together and it's all about experimenting with the food. What is this, a science project? (There goes that dreadful word science again). I'm an excellent baker BECAUSE I follow detailed instructions telling me exactly WHAT TO DO and precisely HOW MUCH to use of each ingredient. You ever ask a cook how they made something? Their answer: "Oh, a little bit of this, a little bit of that." What the HELL does that mean?? Cooking sounds more like witchcraft, where you just stand around a cauldron and throw random things from the refrigerator into it, cast a spell and hope it all turns out okay.

           The cleanup is perhaps the only thing I can tolerate in this whole process. I actually like to clean and I enjoy doing dishes. HOWEVER, it does not mean I want to spend forty-five minutes cleaning up afterwards. That is more time than it took me to consume my meal!And how is it that EVERY pot and pan has been used to create a meal that takes up only a tiny amount of space on my plate? The stove top looks like a bomb went off and the sink is so full that I can barely reach under the faucet to wash my hands. How does this all seem worth it?

Yes, naysayers... I know that cooking is a way to ensure exactly what I am eating and for health reasons, I should start to be more aware of what I am putting into my body. But when my next-door neighbor started telling me about her healthy stew made in a crockpot with hormone-free chicken, I felt that anxiety creep back in. Is hormone-free the same as organic, and is that the same as free-range? Why don't I know these things??? It seems so overwhelming and I start pondering if there’s a 555-HEALTHY-TAKEOUT option out there somewhere. However, as I continue to use Weight Watchers as a means to lose weight, some cooking is definitely in order. Am I ever going to be someone who opens my refrigerator with excitement, thrilled by the challenge of what items to use to create a delightful meal? (Ask yourself “Do donkeys fly” if you’re not sure of the answer.) I don’t think there are any gourmet meals prepared by yours truly in my future, but I DO think I can manage grilled salmon with asparagus or turkey burgers with a sweet potato!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Making of a Midwestern Mama

            Growing up on the East Coast in small-town New Jersey, the closest I got to the Midwest was watching “Footloose” repeatedly. (Yes, the film is apparently set in a fictional town in the Midwest).  It wasn’t until I was an adult in the “big city” that I was exposed to a vast assortment of people from all over the globe. I began to encounter Midwesterners more and more, and truth be told, I kind of developed a “thing” for them. And now that I have been cast in a new play, “Farce This!”, where I get to play a Soccer mom from the Midwest, well, the time has come to highlight some of the things I’m trying to channel in creating my character.

            I should start off by saying that much of my experiences have been shaped from the time I spent in Minnesota as well as the Minnesotan man I dated for over three years. But I have also worked side by side with several people from Wisconsin as well as having a close friend who grew up on a cattle farm in Nebraska. And I continue to meet more Midwesterners, including my castmate as well as the playwright (both of whom are from Iowa), so my opinions are not based solely on one person, or one place.

            First let’s talk about the mannerisms. People from the Midwest tend to be polite, and they smile… a lot. Secretly, they may want to curse you out and punch you in the face, but you’d never know it. On the outside, it’s all about proper manners and kind words. Midwesterners are also much less frantic and fast-paced than we New Yorkers. You walk down the streets of even a city like Minneapolis, and no one seems to be in a rush. People would never shove you out of the way because they have somewhere they had to be five minutes ago. People actually WANT to help you and they SMILE (there goes that smile word again) as they do it. And there’s something about the way they talk in general… I feel such a gentleness in their voices that reminds me of an episode of “The Donna Reed Show”.  Note to self: I need to sound less like a fast-paced diner waitress and start channeling Donna ASAP.

And of course I must discuss their activities. Can anyone say football? You think it’s big on the East Coast? It’s a way of life in the Midwest. These people go to games in the middle of a snowstorm! They are hard-core! And there’s also the state fairs. When I was a kid, the only state fair I knew of was the movie musical that starred Pat Boone. Well, it is a BIG deal in the Midwest. I happened to be in Minnesota during their annual state fair and it was all the rage on every radio and television station. Their slogan is “The Great Minnesota Get-Together”, so state fairs are big time. There are performers, livestock competitions, rides, food contests (I’d enter the pie contest… I make a mean strawberry apple pie with a lattice top!), not to mention all kinds of treats you can eat on a stick. I don’t even know if New Jersey has a state fair… or if anyone bothers going if they do. My play is set at a fair, sort of.  In actuality, the setting is a bake sale to raise funds for my children’s school. Bake sale? I can’t remember the last time any of my East Coast friends told me about a bake sale they were involved in for their kids. And I know my mom never participated in one either. She barely knows how to turn on the oven!

            Speaking of the oven… oh how I love the food of the Midwest! Have you ever had cheese curds? Astorians will relate when I say they remind me of Saganaki, a greek dish which is essentially fried cheese. I love cheese. I love fried food. The result? Yumminess on a plate. Then there’s “hot dish”. I don’t know what the hell is in there; I think it’s more a case of what’s NOT in there. I think they just throw leftovers from their fridge into a rectangular pan and bake it. It somehow always tastes delicious. And I can’t forget about my beloved beer cheese soup. When my Minnesotan boyfriend told me about this, I was astounded. They take beer AND cheese and combine it into something I can dip a loaf of bread into??? Is that too good to be true? Fortunately, it isn’t. Trust me when I say, it ain’t just wine that goes well with cheese! Maybe there’s room for some cheese curds on my bake sale table in the show? Or at the very least maybe I can get some in the dressing room backstage?
            I must also mention the effort people put into seeing one another. One night, my Minnesotan man and I drove ONE AND A HALF HOURS each way, just to have dinner with his friends. This apparently is NOTHING to Midwesterners. Everyone is so spread out; you don’t have much of a choice if you want to have a social life. I’m up in arms if I have to go anywhere that doesn’t involve me walking down the block to the nearest bar. Here’s me: “Are you kidding? I have to take the train all the way into Manhattan and then transfer to TWO more trains until I get to Brooklyn? Forget it, I’m staying home!” In my defense, that whole trip takes the SAME one and a half hours as the drive I did in Minnesota. It just feels like a bigger ordeal in NYC than it does in the Midwest. I somehow need to adapt this willingness to travel anywhere in order to fully embody a Midwesterner. I AM traveling into the West Village today for rehearsal all the way from Queens… does that count?

            Suffice it to say, I love these people. They are who I’d like to be at moments when my feisty nature gets the better of me. I’m ready to dive into this character and see exactly how much life can imitate my art. I don’t know if I’ll ever be as cool as Donna, but I will certainly try! Perhaps I’ll see you at the show:, and you can tell me what YOU think.