Old friends and New Beginnings

This Labor Day weekend I watched a videotaped performance of a show I did last November called “Almost, Maine” with Valley Repertory Company.  It was a group I had never worked with before, with all new friends and actors.

 

Here we are: the cast of "Almost, Maine"

Watching that video got me thinking.  Not about my acting or anything, I can watch myself all day (Once you’ve done enough camera work, you get over it.  Watching yourself becomes more objective rather than “EWW I look so gross!” or “How do I sound like that!”).  OK maybe not all day.  But I realized that my life was in a completely different place on that stage than it was in the moment I was watching the video.

This weekend I was sitting next to the love of my life, surrounded by theatre friends I consider family, hanging out, drinking, eating and sort of marveling at the changes we’ve been through.

If you told me a year ago that this year I would direct a play, be a Production Assistant on major motion pictures, become the Artistic Director of a theater company, act in pieces I’ve always wanted to, write and create my own webseries, plus be able to share it all with someone who loves me and supports me for everything I am and do? Holy crap.

Last year I was having trouble facing the fact that I needed to drop people and activities from my life that were no longer of any use to me.  I was hurting in more ways than one, but I wouldn’t fully let myself come to that realization.  In fact, the only fun I was able to scrounge up last holiday season was the show, “Almost, Maine.”

So a few days after Thanksgiving, I hung out with my best friend Stephen and we walked around Hartford looking at the Christmas lights and bracing ourselves for another season of festivity / insanity.  I walked around that night and grounded myself in the fact that things kinda sucked.  But Stephen reminded me to “breathe” and I reminded myself that however big the next hurdle was, it would be over eventually.

Things did get better!  Especially this year when I opened up to others about my dreams in a practical way and FINALLY heeded the advice given to me by fellow theater friends, Jim and Mary-Ellen: “Remember, ask for help.  People want you to succeed!”  And sure enough, I’ve had the extreme privilege and honor to create art all year that is reflective of the visions I’ve wanted to execute.  Voila!

And I will say, it doesn’t only extend as far as artistic / theatre / film folks.  It’s the friends and family who just love me for who I am and urge me to keep moving forward.

For the first time I’m finally saying, “THIS WILL HAPPEN” as opposed to “Eh, it’s okay if it doesn’t happen.”

So.  THANK YOU to each and every one of you out there who has supported me. It means more than I can express.   And remember, there are people out there who want to help YOU pursue your dreams, no matter how crazy or “out there” they may seem.  And I’m one of them!

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Kick ass by doing less.

You have to weed out the old to make room for the new.

Lately it seems as though the universe has been beating me over the head with this notion.  It keeps getting reaffirmed in my career, in my relationships, and in my everyday life.

I used to think “More is more.”  The idea of only working on one project at a time, staying home on the weekends every once in awhile, sleeping in, taking on LESS… I thought it all amounted to being an unproductive person. Boy was I wrong.

The only way to really get anything done, it seems, is to do only a couple of things at a time and to do them well.  I used to think I could do EVERYTHING and accomplish it with my own personal splash of excellence.  It’s taken me awhile, but I’ve finally realized that not only is that not entirely possible, but it wipes me out to be so busy and it’s not really conducive to keeping up with the crazy lifestyle I already have as it is.

So this summer, I came up with  a new resolution.  Except, it’s not really a resolution, but more of an extension of my NYR from January which was to “be more awesome.”  Ahem.  Let me cut to the chase.

I am doing less to accomplish bigger goals.

Phew. I said it.  For someone who is such an overachiever, this is one of the hardest things I’ve had to make myself do in a long time.   To move ahead, I really need to take big risks.  Risks are scary, but they are the only way to move ahead in this life.

So here’s my plan.  I’m only going to go for projects that mean something to me and are worthy of my time.  I’m going to enjoy life in between projects and take the time to “smell the flowers.” (And NOT beat myself up for chilling out once and awhile).  I’m going to ask for help when I need it. (So…hard!) 

This past weekend among the festivity and quality time spent with those close to me, I realized how lucky I am to be surrounded by people who love me and support what I do.  Sure, maybe a lot of my close friends live far away, and not all my family is close by. 

But it all came full circle for me recently when I found myself stuck in the middle of a painful interaction with someone and all I could keep thinking was, “This is negative!  I can’t relate to this person!  I don’t like this.”  And THAT my fellow blog-readers, is OKAY. 

I can’t waste my time on people, projects, and routines that are only going to keep me stuck in the mud. 

It’s time to clean out the closets, weed out the ol’ garden, put on a sparkling smile, and kick ass… one…step…at a time.

PS I would like to challenge you to do the same.

family

Some of my favorite memories growing up include me standing in my grandmother’s kitchen with the rest of my extended family crowded around the kitchen table as I did improvised sketches, sang songs, and used different voices with a stuffed animal lovingly named “Mooey” as my captive audience laughed so hard tears were rolling down their faces.

Looking back as an actor, this scene makes perfect sense to me, and one might say “Oh, well you were just destined to be an actor.” At the time I would have scoffed at the idea.  As a child and all through my teenage years, I just always enjoyed making the people I loved laugh and well…I enjoyed being showered with attention.

At the time I didn’t realize I was “improvising” or “engaging an audience.” I just knew that I was doing something that I loved.

Here I am holding a frog. For attention.

I remember in high school my sophomore or junior year I was after school in drama club and instead of rehearsing we were going to try something new.  Apparently, we were going to do improv. “EW. What the HELL is improv?” I thought…sullenly, to myself. “I’m gonna sit here and avoid going up.”

Well, I watched a few fellow students go up there and basically with a set of circumstances, run a scene off the cuff, by the seat of their pants.  Our drama teacher turned, looked at me, and said, “Okay, Casey, get up there.”  I felt so stereotypically nervous and unwilling, but I begrudgingly stood up and slowly made my way to the front of the room.

I did a scene. I reacted, I said things and people were laughing.  They were laughing a lot.  I was confused.  I was just doing what I thought was natural and would make sense to keep the scene going as well as interesting.  My drama club advisor pulled me aside and looked me deeply (melodramatically would be a better word) and said, “Yes. Bring more of THAT to the stage.” WHAT? Bring more of WHAT to the stage?

It wasn’t until later on in my college years, training as a professional actor, that I realized that I was good at improvisation.  I was good at being funny?  It took me awhile to grasp the idea.  Comedy always seemed to be something one had to work at really hard. “Comedy is SO much harder than drama,” I was always told.  Oh.

Actually, I would say it’s taken me awhile to grasp still.  In January, I went to a showcase audition for 10 different agencies and 7 of the 10 feedback forms said things like “funny!” “Cute!” “great comedic timing.” I still can’t believe that within a 5 minute window of performing commercial copy, singing a parodied song, speaking in french, and using a character voice, they were able to size me up into the word FUNNY. Okay, I guess that is kind of an interesting, dare I say funny? combination of elements to bring into an audition room, but I guess it’s taken me awhile to know something about myself that has always been apparent to others who I have known me for a long time. Or…five minutes.

But where would I have been without my family?  I was only able to do improv and sing and be goofy and imaginative because I had people around me who have always supported me and laughed and made me feel like I was doing something right.  I just didn’t have a name for it.

Eric Hill, who used to be the director of our theatre program at UCONN always used to say , “You’re either an actor or you’re not.”  That might be true, and maybe I would have discovered this artistic talent in other ways, but I believe that the building blocks all began with my family.

Even my sister used to make music videos, shorts, and fake commercials with me growing up when we were bored.  Obviously, she had some sort of faith in me, or at the very least thought I was somewhat amusing growing up.  Right?  Not just because I’m the older sister, right? RIGHT?

I even made a video with her on top of the Empire State Building on Monday.  Hopefully that’s not illegal. Guess we’ll find out.

Anyway, Thanks Family.  At least YOU guys think I’m funny. Or pretend that I am.