Monday, April 7, 2008

Save the Drama for ….the Popular Kids?

I was in every play in high school from my sophomore year on. I remember how excited I was to get cast as the lead in my first play over Starr Easterday, a really outspoken senior who, frankly, I was a little bit scared of, and had been acting a lot longer than me. As it turns out, despite my oh so convincing audition, I had a long, long, long way to go before I got even kind of watchable. That first audition was my ticket into the high school drama world though. No matter how big or small my part, I loved every crazy four hour rehearsal and even the constant angst-filled asides from the really intense kid. I made friends plus I got to flirt shamelessly with all of the cute clever boys, most of whom inevitably turned out to be gay.

I went on to play a sickly sweet flapper girl with a serious crush on a guy named George and the maid in You Can’t Take It With You. In the script the character was supposed to be black, but I gave her an Irish accent. Sometimes. I was the stage manager in Gammer Gurton’s Needle with a monologue that ended with “God Save the Queen! Huzzah!” You can never say that too many times. I was the understudy for one of the princesses in Love’s Labour’s Lost, my favorite Shakespeare comedy ever, and would have gotten to go on when one of the princesses ran away from home with her boyfriend had her costume not been a size 2. In my very last performance as the celebrated fashion designer Bibi Cavendish in a British murder mystery I actually felt confident in my improvement. Even my Mom, who came to every performance and kindly encouraged me through my mediocrity couldn't hide the hint of surprise in her voice when she said “Jessi, that was actually really good!”

What can I say? It takes a while.

So it hit me the other day, with the High School Musical movies capturing the rapt attention of all of the teens and ‘tweens of the nation. Are all of these kids now trying out for their high school musicals?

Instead of drama being the place for marginal kids who are drawn to acting because its not so mainstream, I wonder if stages are now being overrun by the would be cheerleaders and football players. And think of the competition… I might have edged out Starr Easterday, but I don’t know if I ever would have gotten the chance to get on stage with 20 mini Vanessa Hudgins running around. It would be pretty sad for all of those kids who are hopeful and whole-heartedly ready to make complete fools of themselves in the quest to get better like I was to miss out on their chance.

Any high school drama teachers out there who have seen a massive influx of auditioners of late?

Friday, April 4, 2008

Wandering Mind? Try Accessorizing.

It seems that the times I want to focus the most (especially on writing) are the exact times that my mind goes all Lord of the Flies on me and decides to run wild …

Its like some mischievous six-year-old kid in pigtails has taken over my thoughts. One who has forgotten her daily dose of ADD meds and traded her healthy tuna sandwich and carrot stick lunch for 10 Oreos, some pixie sticks and a pack of Ding-Dongs. Did I ever tell you I had a cat named Ding-dong? Yep, when I was a kid. And she has a sister cat named Esprit, but they both got sick and died a few weeks after we got them. Wait. Wait, where was I? Oh, yes focus and concentration. That’s right.

So imagine my delight when, in the midst of my brain toggling at will between the best way to explain gerunds and infinitives, wanting to go to Hong Kong, contemplating the benefits of the pigeon pose in yoga, researching about Harajuku girls in Japan, preparing for my first major conference presentation and thinking about throwing out the chicken that has been sitting in my fridge for 2 weeks, I come across the concept of the hachimaki, a Japanese symbol of absolute concentration and dedication to the task at hand.

My first thought was, I’ve got to get me one of these!

The hachimaki, a thin cloth headband sometimes bearing an encouraging slogan, is tied around one’s head when the wearer wants to signify a shift into a state of focused thought and energy. Picture Mr. Miagi and the Karate Kid. A student might wear one when studying for a grueling exam. Pilots wore them when heading into battle.
Martial artists and Sumo wrestlers sport them in competitions. I can just picture myself walking into Borders, preparing to dedicate myself to whatever writing task I’m working on and pulling out my hachimaki and chopping through a brick with my hands on the coffee bar before sitting down to concentrate.

I first came across the concept in a book I’m reading called Japanland: A Year In Seach of Wa by Karin Muller. Karin describes the hachimaki as "a symbol of intent - like pinning your New Year's diet to your sleeve and wearing it to brunch the next day."

While certainly not a magic cure for the wandering mind, the idea of a tangible, visible reminder of my intentions is appealing to me. I think most of us have rituals that serve as the psychological doorway into a state of concentration and dedication, whether we’re aware of them or not. Closing the office door. Going for a run. Going to a special room or place outdoors. Listening to guided meditations or praying or practicing yoga. Driving around with the windows down singing “I Will Survive” off key until your voice goes hoarse. Tying on a hachimaki. Do you have any type of custom that moves you into hard work or creative mode?

I usually get out of the house and head to a place where I’m surrounded by books and/or coffee when I want to focus. Even though I already have some kind of ritual in place, I think I might find my own pink silk version of the hachimaki to add to my repertoire. When the little girl in my brain is tugging me away from my endeavour, with her "Didn't you want to watch all of the old episodes of Lost today?" and "Maybe you want to check your email for the 14th time? Oooh! Ooh! What about Spider Solitaire?!" maybe it'll help remind me to put her on mute and keep focused on my intentions.
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