So, I’m new here.
To the city and to the Actor Therapy fam. I picked up and moved from Suburb-Land, Maryland to Manhattan almost exactly a year ago (which is wild). In that time, I’ve met some people, done some things, and had a lot lot lot of absolutely soul crushing anxiety. Really rough, f43.23 (my clinical diagnosis) is a wacky and woe-inducing little bitch. It is my high recommendation to avoid her at all costs.
However; in the midst of the adjustment disorder suck-fest there were some really good moments. Some bright lights. One of the brightest and shiniest lights in the bleak pit of despair I found myself in was having the courage to put myself in situations where I might grow.
(feeling compelled to note that I sought out the help of mental health professionals and am doing MUCH better)
ENTER THE ACTOR THERAPY FAM!
I’ve been taking lessons with (her royal highness) Lindsay Mendez for a little over a year and a half, and something she suggested to me around Thanksgiving last year was that I think about coming over to the beautiful kingdom of Actor Therapy that she rules over with (his royal highness) Ryan Scott Oliver. The suggestion couldn’t have come at a better time because I was just coming out of a residency program and, unbeknownst to me, was about to enter one of the most emotionally grueling times of my fresh young life.
So, I took advantage of AT’s FAB Black Friday Sale (not sure if they do that annually but if so, hop on that because it is a STEAL) and spent five lovely weeks with Alexander Gemignani, Stephen Sposito and a group of fabulous artists all trying to get by with a little help from their friends.
This was in February. In March, I found out my mother had been diagnosed with uterine cancer. Long long story for another day, the point being she’s ok now but my family needed some help over the summer during her treatment. So, I packed up (the little I have to my name) and moved BACK to Suburb-Land, Maryland to spend the summer earning money at a day camp while also trying to do anything I could to help my mother.
FAST FORWARD TO MID AUGUST 2019
So, chemo’s done. Camp has ended, and I’m gearing up for another year in The Big Bad City (because we all know the year really starts in September). I am desperate to drown myself in classes upon my return so that I might absorb the water allowing my brain and talent to expand like a Chia Pet. While also, hopefully, keeping my mind too busy to revert back to the place it was in before I left for the summer.
The question before the court of Grace is; what freaking classes should I take? I enjoy pursuing many different artistic means of expression. Obviously, I have an insatiable appetite for all things Sondheim, as do we all. Sondheim appreciation class? Nah. I love comedy and I love cheesy horror and the works of Suzan Lori Parks. Ok getting warmer. I’m a classically trained opera singer. But there isn’t a chance in this world I would take an opera performance related class at this point in my journey. I’m a lyricist. Writing, right, we like writing. I spend a lot of time trying to perfect my risotto recipe. Cooking class? Eh, that’s why I watch Top Chef. I write plays. Oh yeah! In fact, there’s a play I’ve been working on since I was a sophomore in college. I’ve been way too busy with the whole f43.23 related downward spiral to do much work on it this past year. But maybe now’s the time? Is now the time? Oh hey, Actor Therapy is doing a new thing! Omg it’s about working on projects you’re having difficulties with WOW!
(this is almost the part where I tell you about Independent Study. Stay with me, folks!)
K NOW LET’S BACKTRACK TO 2015
There I am, little college Grace, with only a dollar and a dream. Absolutely no concept of a clue, or a plan, just a series of decisions being made in the hopes of answering the age-old question: What will make me happy? I liked doing lots of things (as afore mentioned). But I was always so afraid of the possibility that I could bad at them. So, I would never declare myself anything, specifically. I wasn’t an actor, I was studying acting. I wasn’t an opera singer, I was studying classical voice, and so on. It’s a trap I set for myself somewhere in the sixth or seventh grade that I still haven’t entirely navigated escape from. It’s fascinating, mental health, isn’t it? That’s a whole other dissertation blog post, but in short; there were days, still are, where Everest seems like a tiny incredibly scalable hill, and other days where it seems like, well, Everest. On the days it seems climbable, I am happy, calm, because there is a sense of certainty there. And I’m never sure how it got there, or why it decides to fly away sometimes. Historically it comes back. And I always try to remember that.
Oh right, my play!
So, little college Grace decided she wanted to see if she could find an idea interesting enough to carry an entire play. She thought about it for weeks and yet every time she felt herself getting close to something, she’d say, “Yeah but you’re not a writer, you have no idea what you’re doing,” or, if she was feeling sarcastically self-deprecating she’d go with, “Woah, cool it Hemingway, let’s walk before we run.” And around and around until one day she had a concept. “Hm. What if a bunch of people from different points in the 20th century were stuck together?” Ooo. She liked this. But how would they find themselves trapped together? Ok, location. A solid location. OH! Hotel that is actually purgatory. YES! We have a location! From there, she added parameters of who the purgatory was for. Once she did that, suddenly a tragic little world began to unfold. A really harsh world that deals with a lot of the creepy crawly ugliness that our own world has to offer. I won’t delve into the plot too much, but I will say that about six months after this initial concept, The Hotel Persephone, had its very first complete draft.
It is now 2019 (duh, Grace) and this script has been worked. I think I’m on draft seven. But it’s very possible this is number eight. I’ve had readings sponsored by me, friends of mine, my university, I even had it workshopped before I moved. But there was always a ‘down’ period between bursts of inspiration and temporary dedication to bettering this script. Keeping with the Everest metaphor, on the days when I was ready to grab my green boots and huff it up to the tippy top, I was in love with the script. I couldn’t get enough of it. I was so focused on improving it because I truly believed that it was worth improving. But then, the days of doubt would come. I would remember that wearing green boots to climb Mt. Everest does not an ideal plan make. I would shrink down into the smallest and meekest version of myself and not even be able to look at my script without simultaneously hating it, and myself. Super not fun. Again, would recommend avoiding if at all possible. After the workshop, I was convinced that the script was just one more draft away from being finished. And in the years since I started it, I’d grown to be able to call myself a writer. Without fear of being disproven. As I sit here, writing, I am a writer. And whether or not I’m Hemingway or a long-lost Bronte sister, or just Grace from Maryland with a keyboard, I allow myself to identify as something I’ve worked so hard at for a really long time. I’ve written ten minute plays, one act plays, I’m conceptualizing a pilot, and have three full length plays I’m developing but I can’t ever bring myself to really dig into these other projects, because I feel I owe it to Hotel Persephone, the piece that made me a writer, to finish it.
ENTER ACTOR THERAPY’S INDEPENDENT STUDY PROGRAM!
Ok, at last, here we are.
Suffice it to say, I signed up for Independent Study! Yay! I decided to say, “f43.23, I see you, I recognize that you exist, but I am going to put you on a mental shelf and live my life a little.” And so far, f43.23 has been pretty good with that. King RSO sent us independent studiers a LENGTHY but incredibly well written form that led to me pouring my heart out and putting to words, much of what I’ve said here. Why it’s so important to me that I finish this script, but also what’s been making it so difficult.
We’ve only had two in person sessions so far. And it sounds silly, but just two sessions was enough to kick my ass a little. Being face to face with other people with goals and ambition just like me but for whatever reason are struggling to get past the challenges of whatever their project is just like me reminded me that the struggle bus is not low occupancy. Nor is it inescapable. Nor does it mean that you, and what you have to offer isn’t worth it. With that in mind I was able to let go of a lot of the thoughts that were keeping me tied up and focus on enriching and bettering this world that I’ve been crafting for four years now. And I’m able to get insights on my work from people that I respect. And I’m able to offer my own insights on some really remarkable projects.
The fear, and the anxiety are still there, but giving myself the room to try and accomplish something. Reminds me that I can accomplish something. And for me, that is a pretty needed win. In the past three weeks, I’ve done more work on this script than I have in the past year. And it’s me. I’m doing it, I’m doing the work. King RSO is not doing it for me. But him, and the other incredibly inspiring artists involved in this class are allowing me a safe space to try. A safe place to potentially fall on my face. Or more likely, a safe space to succeed and be reminded of why it is that I’m not a florist. Or an investment banker. Or a hitman. I am an artist because I love it. And I wouldn’t want to be anything else. And I’d honestly almost forgotten that. But giving myself a place to show up and be accountable, it’s given a piece of my inner artist back. That’s what Independent Study has brought me so far.
NOW FOR THE MEANINGFUL CONCLUSION!
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my short time in this wacky town, it’s that everyone is trying. Everybody wants to be doing their best all the time, and everyone is trying to figure out what that means. But sometimes just that, just the act of trying seems impossible. I can’t climb Everest! What am I even thinking? What am I doing here? There are so many little universes of wrong and fear and doubt and failure and other deep dark scary stuff that we all have to stare down every now and then. And it’s hard. It’s even harder if you carry it all by yourself all the time. And I know, Actor Therapy, it’s not real therapy. Licensed mental health professionals are irreplaceable and vastly important humans that I CANNOT assert the value of enough. But Actor Therapy is therapeutic. Just showing up. Having a place to show up to. Having a safe place to try, helps with the little stuff. And the little stuff 9/10 times I’ve found, turns out to be the big stuff. Because Everest, like all things, gets tackled one step at a time. Super cheesy I totally get that and I am honestly living for it, but it’s true. Eating three meals a day. Boom, step. Leaving your apartment. Boom, step. Leaving a survival job you hate, for one that’s a little less miserable. Step Up. Deciding you want to feel like an artist again. Step Up 2: The Streets. Putting yourself, however scary it may be, in situations where you might grow. Big damn step. And suddenly, you’re way closer to the top of the stupid mountain, and you’re really freakin’ proud of yourself.
So, I’d say if you’re struggling to feel like an artist again, if you’re stuck trying to get an idea off the ground or suss out where you want to take a script or what you want to do with your website or your cabaret show or your novel or your feng shui design for your Grandma Pearl’s basement try Independent Study with Ryan Scott Oliver. It could take you one step closer to the top of your mountain. And you know what they say, one step at a time.
Grace Kane is a classically trained opera singer turned beltress-in-training, actor, playwright, and lovable spaz. Born and bred in a little town right between Baltimore and D.C, she now resides in none other than Magical Mystical Manhattan. When not thinking about her pursuits of various artistic mediums, Graces’ attention often turns to anything and everything related to the horror genre, kittens, crunchy leaves, and the search for the perfect avocado roll. @MissGraceKane