Inspirations

Intrigued by the Time’s Arts Section’s solicitation of what inspired readers to devote their lives or careers to an area of the arts. So far they’ve done television  and classical music. 

Anyway, it made me want to share some of mine with you. What first inspired me, what continues to inspire me, and what has sustained me through the difficult times. And I’d love to hear yours, so do comment (below!) if you feel so inclined.

When I was very young my mother grew exhausted of my demands that she constantly “play pretend.” (the betrayal I felt when she sat on my imaginary kittens!) She also struggled with an intense fear of public speaking that she hoped I would not experience, so she thought, why not kill two birds with one stone and put the girl in children’s theater. And I loved it. I loved it because it was fun and because it felt free, and it became a place to play long after “playing” was cool (newsflash: I was never cool). I remember having a terrible headache one day before acting class, going into class and feeling my headache to disappear. That blew my 11 year old mind.

I did high school theater, with our wonderful warm drama teacher Mr. Blaydes, and I found myself inspired and justified in wanting a life in the arts by the incredible Mr. Long (our resident History of Art and Music teacher) as well as by my piano teacher, Tamy Christ. Before, theater had been fun, playtime, something I was good at. But I loved history too and thought I might want to teach that. Mr. Long and Tamy, however, helped me to understand why the arts mattered. Even though they were teaching me about different disciplines, they helped me understand the value of the human need to create. Why the arts had endured throughout centuries and across cultures, why our greatest artists deserved our reverence, why this thing I had so much fun doing also happened to be worthwhile and meaningful thing to do.

I went to college a double major in theater studies and history. At the same time, my grandmother, who was among the dearest people in the world to me, got gravely and I thought, unjustly ill. I watched her suffering with anger, disbelief, and sadness. After she passed away, I went to Russia to study at the Moscow Art Theater. It was the best escape I could have engineered. There, I discovered Chekhov, found myself so moved by his awareness of mortality, by the beauty and kindness with which he captured the human comedy. His wry compassion, his contemplation of what the world was to become, his refusal to draw conclusions. Nina’s act four monologue, in which she desperately clings to her sanity and finds strength in her art took on a heightened resonance for me. It was through Chekhov that I found a way to grieve and to come to terms with my loss.

As if that wasn’t enough, in Moscow I also saw the most vibrant theatrical community I had ever experienced. The vitality of the theater there, the audience that showed up, every night in droves, needing to hear the stories, the actors onstage needing to tell them. I decided to become an actor.

I applied to graduate school with Nina’s monologue. I got into my dream program, at NYU. The program was incredible, the teachers and students were truly inspiring but it was also grueling, physically and psychologically difficult. Why am I doing this, I kept finding myself thinking. But the words of Zelda Fichandler, her speeches at the beginning of the year, her eloquent odes to why we make theater, why we are actors kept me going. Read this article of hers if you haven’t. It’s gorgeous.

I graduated and entered the big bad world of the acting profession. A glorious, exhilarating, frustrating-as-hell world —full of laughter, disappointment, projects I’m proud of, projects I’ve hated, and projects I’ve wished I could have been a part of. I auditioned, I waited tables, I wrote plays, I tutored, I saw shows. Some of those shows stood out. Long Days Journey Into Night with Vanessa Redgrave, Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl, Circle Mirror Transformation by Annie Baker. Sitting in the audience during these plays, you could feel the collective heart of the audience open. When the lights came up, it was as though we were all looking at each other with different eyes.

Now I am entering into the world of academics, of theater scholarship. I don’t intend to give up acting or writing, or being part of the community of theater makers. But I love those people, the camaraderie, their determination to keep going, to keep trying, to keep making…its like being part of a pack of warriors, warriors of the heart. And I suppose I now feel a need to fight for those warriors. I want to tell people why they matter, why we as a society should value and cherish them, how we are shaped by them, how we can utilize them better. I want to help people understand what they give to us and what it all means. And I want to keep seeing shows, and keep being inspired and, in my small way, foster a world where others can do the same.

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