Monday, February 16, 2015



Let's take a trip down the memory lane. Rewind to four years ago, during my first semester at Stella Adler, when I was assigned my first scene. I remember feeling both that it was a brilliant casting choice for me, and that I was ill-equipped to take it on. (In hindsight, this is probably why I was in school in the first place.) I don't know what I expected from my first scene, but certainly not what I got. It was emotional, and it included a monologue that back then felt endless. At any rate, I had no idea how to approach it. Further, considering this was just one of many assignments I had at the time, and that I was also adjusting to New York, I was a little overwhelmed.

Maybe because I am an optimist at heart, as I tackled my monumental task, I had a moment of revelation: someone thought I could do it. I mean, they wouldn't have assigned me the scene in the first place if I couldn't do it to some extent, right? I was aware that what was being asked of me required a stretch, but I implicitly trusted that I wasn't being set up for failure.

I don't remember the outcome of this particular scene. My guess is that I achieved some things and failed at others. I was aware of my shortcomings, but fired up to bring my best game and keep on learning. And as I continued to juggle increasingly complex assignments, I also became more grateful for the faculty, because I knew the alternative: feeling that nothing was expected of me, or getting infinitesimal tasks that wouldn't allow me to grow.

There have been many times in my life when I felt the weight of the expectations of others. I haven't always gotten along well with that feeling. I now know that I owe many of my achievements to those who dared to imagine better things for me. Self-fulfilling prophecies can work for better, too.

We are all very good at self-preservation. We shy away from risks, lest we should disappoint others or, even worse, ourselves. Often we are encouraged to settle, and we do so because it is safe. So here is a challenge of sorts: what would happen if we chose to expect more instead? If we raised the bar for others and for ourselves? I am sure we would know how to deal with imperfect results. What we couldn't do anything about, though, are the risks we never took.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Elephant in Our Pockets

WRITTEN BY THEATRE EAST COMPANY MEMBER JULIA RAE MALDONADO Be it Puritans or the Plague, the theatre always seems to be under threat. I’ve been thinking a lot about one of Today’s dangers - a highly insidious foe which attacks the artist’s very ability to Dream.

(You may even have one in your hand right now.)

Certainly, it’s important to keep abreast of current events, sure. It’s probably important to answer that e-mail. Immediately. That cat is doing what? I better just click on that.

Whenever I have ten minutes, I start gobbling up little niblets of information. Stories reduced to bullet points, “25 Things That…”, 140 Characters! Don’t get me started on all that candy that needs crushing. I tell you, when I have time to kill, I kill it. I really kill it. My forty minute commute? Every minute of it is dead.

This little machine means not a second has to go by without my mind being occupied! This is great. I hardly know myself anymore. I mean, what am I supposed to do? Just sit there and do nothing?

I remember about a year ago, I went through a horrible experience. It was this sort of artistic “cleanse” I read about in an actual book. It’s called “Reading Deprivation”. Pretty scary stuff. I hear Julia Cameron has now expanded the exercise and rechristened it Media Deprivation.

The idea is you don’t read anything, watch anything, or click anything. For an entire week!

Because apparently, to dip into the unconscious, that spring of unbridled creativity, an artist needs downtime. Like, real downtime.

And drama is a medium fueled by conflict and connection. Well! At least we’ve got plenty of conflict. As a society, we seem to feel isolated and crave attention. If you don’t believe me, glance at your Facebook feed.

But before you get too depressed, consider that this barren cultural landscape may be the perfect environment for the theatre to flourish. The success of immersive shows like Here Lies Love, Then She Fell, and Sleep No More prove that theatre-going audiences are starved for direct connection like never before.

As long as we can keep that device in our pockets, sit still, and Dream.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Let’s Go With this “Season of Giving” Thing...


Outside of acting, I've been bartending for about a year now. Sure, I've  learned to make a killer margarita, but I don’t think that’s why all of my regulars continue to visit during my shifts. I genuinely like hanging out with them, listening to their stories and dreams and concerns, and throwing in my two cents over a pint. Our goodbyes have grown from smiles and waves to high fives and hugs. It’s just like my own personal “Cheers.” I love it.

Connecting with people, especially during this time of year, is so important. New York City looks glamorous and so damn sparkly, but all of those Gap ads with warm families in giant houses, greeting one another in perfectly “normal” sweaters can make our lives seem a bit lonely. That’s why we need so strongly to find our own versions of extended family. More than any other city, I think that New York is a place where your friends quickly become your family, and this was so apparent at last week’s reading of A Christmas Carol at O’Lunney’s with Theatre East. I looked around the room and saw glowing faces, both new and familiar, young and young-at-heart, all dressed up and participating in telling a beautiful story together. Some lending their talents, others lending their ears. All giving.

A while back, a young man began coming to the bar during my shifts. I learned he is a director, a rather up-and-coming one at that, and we began talking shop every time he came to grab a beer. He has taught me so much over these lager-filled hours, lessons I couldn't learn in acting school, and I’m not sure he knows what an impact he’s had on me, but his simple gifts of time and attention have benefited me so tremendously, I feel I should leave him a tip instead of the other way around. One issue we've discussed ad nauseum is our fear that theatre is becoming a “rich kid’s sport,” something that is so expensive, many young artists cannot afford theatre tickets, not to mention sustain a career in which it is tough to keep one’s head above water. This is why giving is so essential, and so very doable.

I don’t have much money to give, but I do have TIME. All of my mentors, those whom I respect and turn to for advice, have given me only their time, which is a most precious gift. I recently produced a play (None of the Above with Pegasus 51) for the first time, an experience which was incredible and overwhelming, and was made far more rewarding by the generosity of the playwright, Jenny Lyn Bader. She found me on Twitter and invited me to ask any questions I had about the play. On top of that, she came to see the show not once, but three times, bringing different guests all along. Because of her openness, we began a dialogue that fostered a lovely new relationship. I have so much respect for people like Jenny Lyn and my director friend, established artists who reach down to the next generation and offer their resources.

This, I believe, is the spirit of the holiday season, and of Theatre East. We are a company of artists at different points in our careers, and I’m proud to be part of a group so willing to give of their wellsprings of knowledge and experience. 

I suppose this is something we can all learn and apply in our respective communities. I dare you (and myself) to take a look at your position in your community and find someone seeking advice or a bit of inspiration or even just a high five. Be generous however you are able, whether that means sponsoring someone so that they may see a piece of theatre they wouldn't have been able to afford or simply sitting across a table from them and and listening. I can tell you as someone who is young and hopeful and unsure, a pair of ears is the greatest gift in the world.

I will dip into heavier business for just a moment and say that now is an essential point in history to give of your time, not only to individuals, but to greater causes. Be brave, be bold, gather your friends and march for justice. Let your voice be heard and support those whose voices have been silenced.

And perhaps it is my youth and hopeful outlook that make me believe this, but I think that if we step up, we can create a remarkable chain of giving and a glorious future for every beautiful, valuable person in this world.

Happy Holidays!
Channukah Sameach
Merry Christmas
Kwanzaa yenu iwe na heri!
One love.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Best Pieces of Advice I’ve Been Given


I want to be clear from the beginning that I did not take the majority of these pearls to heart the first time they were uttered to me. Usually I had to bash into them (to an almost concussive level) before admitting that these wise words were the best course of action.

Starting with something my Dad began saying to me in the 6th grade: “Lean into what you’re good at, and find someone else to deal with the rest.” This felt idiotic in primary school; no one else could answer questions I didn’t know on tests. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve accepted that if it takes me 4 hours to edit a piece of writing and 15 minutes for my friend to do it I should ask them, and spend 15 minutes taking over one of their 4 hour headaches.

From Alithea Philips, who oozes kindness : “Respect your fellow artist’s process (they may be a genius).” Not everyone works in the same order. Nothing good comes from judging the people you’re working with, whereas fully committing to whatever choices my comrades make has led me in directions I had never thought of. Often that direction may not stick, but going there as a team helps everyone figure out more quickly that something else should be done, without shutting anyone down in the process.

Other people’s success is not your failure.” Full disclosure, this one was not directly delivered to me; it was an answer of Christian Borle’s in a Tony interview. Though this seems like the easiest piece of advice to follow, I have found it to be illogically difficult in practice. I know a lot of people who are more competitive than I am, and seeing others succeed stokes their fire, but I tend to shut down. Developing the habit of being happy for your friends feels so much better.

This one is the newest addition to my arsenal: “Fuck It, someone’s ‘gonna want this!”, from casting director Kimberly Graham, a much more active way of doing that “letting go” thing everyone’s always telling you to do. Accepting you can only do the best you can do. The war cry version of “you are enough”.

Find your people.”, from my mom. Once you find your people all the other stuff gets easier.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Your Flickering Flame


Let’s discuss fire, shall we? A furious blaze begins with a simple spark. The spark ignites the fuel, and a small flame bursts into life. As the fledgling flame consumes more fuel, the fire grows, and the heat intensifies to an endless limit. Your passion parallels this dimly lit notion. At one point in your experiential existence, a spark clicked awake in your heart. With more desire, more experience, and more understanding; you fueled that spark and fostered it, allowing it to consume and flourish until it reached its bonfire-worthy beauty. Your flame of passion grew until one day, someone doubted your talent and subdued your fire a bit. You fought back, though, and vehemently pursued your purpose by playing that challenging role, creating that work of art, or speaking those indelible words before a crowd of breathless faces.  You recovered. You regained what you once had. The inferno was full ablaze now, but others came with reservations and icy cold breath. The cool air stung as your fire slowly crackled asunder and whittled away to an ember. It hurt. What you sought now was a match—something that could revitalize that flame and bring it back to its greatest grandeur. You were looking for something that made you feel inspired and alive. You were looking for something that could refresh and renew. You were looking, and you found it.

There will be many people, situations, and unexpected circumstances that will try to extinguish your flame of passion. Remember or, if you have none, find the matches in life that fuel your flame. Keep them always close to you and never let them stray too far away. They will become your protective cage that fits perfectly around your heart. Protect your heart from naysayers, and you will, in turn, protect your passion. See a show. Have a drink. Have two. Watch a child play. Take a new street home. Pick a flower. Smell that flower. Try a new recipe. Look up. Breathe. Smile. Take a walk. Look down. Get that kiss. Believe. Write a poem. Draw a picture. Call a friend. Call an enemy. Forgive. Forget. Remember. Become. Be.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

How I Learned to Deal with Worrying and Avoid the Bomb


I heard something fantastic the other day - “Treat worry like a heckler, not a mugger.” It’s an interesting distinction that frames all the things that stop us in our tracks, into a trajectory that allows us to move forward. It being the end of summer, and the spirit of Back-To-School is all around us (in forms of office supply sales), and being based in a city like New York; this mindset feels particularly pertinent.

It’s absolutely useless to pretend that your worries don’t exist. Ignoring your problems usually create far worse ones down the line, we know this, but it’s worth reminding ourselves every once in a while. Making ourselves the victims of our own brain and allowing fear to rob us of everything is obviously not very useful either. Better to acknowledge it, assess it for any merit, own up to what is true which allows room for dismissing whatever it is that we made up ourselves. No point worrying about a mere remote possibility if it stops you from doing something that is important.

Dealing with personal failure is a basic job requirement of, well, people in general, but people in the creative arts, especially. We can try to draw inspiration from famous stories of how failures made incredible things possible, from Edison to Steve Jobs and everyone in between. However it’s one thing to know, intellectually, that failing is a process and not an ending, it’s a hard to accept platitudes when we’re in the middle of it. Stopping to evaluate the voices in my head has always been the best I’ve come up with to coax myself out of the fetal position and get on with it. When that doesn’t work, there’s always ice cream, and Netflix, and another morning to try again.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Stage Combat Enhances Your Acting


I’ve spent the last five years learning and teaching Stage Combat alongside one of the top combat instructors in the country. I was very fortunate to get involved straight out of acting school and although I have never been crazy about teaching, only recently I realized how much this experience has enhanced my acting as well as my whole creative being. Where some people would take this skill for granted I have grown to believe that it is an essential part of the training for every actor especially for the one who intends to have a career on the stage.

One of the things that really stood out for me as I was observing actors during combat class was how much this skill informs one’s acting. Although some people took it more seriously than others, there was a clear point being made over and over again that the actor who was able to do the combat at ease was also a good actor overall. In general the attributes that gave people advantage were previous movement skills such as dance or martial arts but that was not always the case since I saw students with no such training do just as well as those who had if not better. Therefore the main factors which I think connect the combat with one’s acting are listening skills, being grounded in your character and self control over every action you play.

The reason I point those factors out is because I found that teaching actors, who knew how to listen, were also grounded and had full control over their physical actions made it very easy to create an effective dramatic or comical scene. This is also why I believe that combat and acting are very connected and one informs the other. When actors are really listening, their fight choreography looks flawless and effortless and so does their acting and there is no fear of safety because they are living the scene moment by moment while being in full control of their bodies as they remain grounded in the characters that they are playing.

So I really hope that this gives a better idea of what stage combat is about and how it relates to acting in more ways than one. What a great way to keep the actor’s instrument in shape and at the same time have so much fun while being creative and inspired by every new move you perform. It keeps me curious, on my toes and asking for more. It is the reason why I believe that acting at its best should be described as Fearless!!!