A look back at April 2019…

Connect your thoughts to your voice.

This month has taught me, in a very heightened way, the value of communicating exactly what you mean. There is no point in beating around the bush sometimes. I found this when dealing with professional situations but also when I am speaking to the ones I care about. I think I am the type of person who likes to speak in metaphor sometimes, and while that is creatively interesting, it can get confusing for the people around me.

Finishing third year.

I wrote my last exam, danced my last tendu, and said goodbye to third year with a huge sigh of relief. This year was definitely a rollercoaster of emotions, but I feel so lucky to have my classmates, my teachers, and THE BEAT to get me through. I am ready to tackle my final year of my BFA with the same expectations that it’s gonna be rough, but it’s gonna be magical. Most interesting classes: Improvisation with Kate Hilliard, Modern with Arsenio Andrade, and Production with Michael Bergmann.

Full circle moment.

I was given the opportunity to judge two dance competitions this month with the competition DanceFest. Being on the other side of the theatre and watching young artists give their all, really made it surreal. I had worked so hard during my early training to perform and choreograph to my best, and being able to share my knowledge with the dancers now is a true gift. It felt like a dream, and I hope I get the opportunity again.

The clouds have cleared.

April may bring showers to our sky, but I felt like the sun had come out during this month. My depression was very much gone and I am not sure why. I won’t question it because I feel very relieved to be lifted of it, but it definitely feels like it may come back. No matter, I must be present and not worry about what my feelings will be in the future. I am grateful for the sun shining down on me and the deep breaths that have gotten me through this month.

A look back at March 2019…

Be focused, but joyous.

I counselled this to a student of mine and it was also a great reminder for my own practice. Dancers can often resort to a very serious attitude when it comes to our training, due to the rigorous demands and the countless number of body parts to engage. On the other hand, I think it will serve the mental body to remember to enjoy the physicality and share that joy with the audience. An outward expression of the inward.

Chasing rabbits.

At school, our class and the fourth years have the opportunity to choreograph and perform in a show called “Choreographic Works [insert year]” (such a great title….). In all seriousness though, this show was so exciting for me because I got to experiment with musical theatre movement and learn about lighting. My cast was so hilarious and generous that I would be tearing up every performance from the wings. I have so much appreciation for my teachers who allowed me to play around with the style I love so dearly. The entire production team was amazing part of this experience for me as well. Their dedication and positive attitudes helped me feel welcome in the theatre again, and I hope to work with them again!

Broadway, here I come.

Around the same time as Choreographic Works 2019, I was accepted into a musical theatre program called “The Performing Arts Project”. This 3.5 week long intensive incorporates all my loves: music, movement and storytelling. I will be spending this July in North Carolina learning from Broadway alumni and talented young artists, and working my ass off to improve my singing, dancing and acting skills. I want to really milk this intensive for all its benefits and I hope I will return feeling like I am ready for Broadway. That’s the dream.

Conversing my life away.

Similar to last month, I have been recording podcasts with my peers from school and I am so pleased with the results. I feel so expressive when I have conversations with talented, emerging artists, and share them with the world. It isn’t like many people listen to my channel but I don’t really mind having a smaller audience. It feels more home-y. So grateful for the artists who have come in thus far!

Realizations and relapses.

About halfway through the month, I came to a realization that I have a problem with my own success. This brought me to relapse into a bad depressive state for the last part of the month. I have not been looking at success in a healthy way due to my obsession with failure. Strange as it sounds, my brain feels more comfortable making mistakes and analyzing them. It is as if my brain rejects the idea of my own success, and it has to stop now. I am exhausted trying to one-up myself every GOD DAMN time. I used to think that was what would consistently make me a better artist/person, but there has to be balance. I must be able to acknowledge the things I have accomplished while also being able to examine my weaknesses.

Come as you are.

Life has the audacity to swing every which way when you are not looking. Take every day as a new journey and come to the table with exactly who you are. As long as you are not hurting anyone, you are enough to change the world.

Revisor (Contemporary Dance show)

Post-show reflection.

This cast was sublime together. Each dancer made their talent known and committed to each gesture, pose, slide, lift, etc. I am floored by their execution of this narrative. The timing of their lip syncing to the narrator’s lines was spot on each time. That gave me so much relief to see because I knew I could relax into the intensity of the story rather than trying to understand why the performers were moving their mouths. If I could go back and rewatch this, I would have screamed “Shantay, you stay” to each performer (Drag Race reference, if you were wondering).

Specifically, I’m so glad I got to see Cindy Salgado, Jermaine Spivey, Ella Rothschild and Doug Letheren. I have been fortunate enough to take classes with each of these amazing humans, and getting to watch them work through this show was such a treat. Doug was the first person who introduced me to the training of Gaga and the first teacher to help me understand how to stand on one foot. His performance as Director of the Complex was comically excellent.

Let’s talk about lighting. One of the most memorable moments for me was when the lighting was so quick that it made the dancers look like they were creating stop motion with their bodies. It threw me completely off guard because of the delicacy that the dancers used to time out the lighting shifts. Such genius. As well, the backdrop played with digital drawings that resembled a  computer screensaver. The brushes of light would fade in and out as the dancers moved, almost in coordination it seemed. 

All in all, if you are looking for a little bit of everything, go see this show. It is so well-rounded. With the addition of playwright Jonathon Young, who developed the story so effortlessly to fit the ideology of Crystal Pite’s movement, my theatre juices were bubbling the entire time. He has worked with her as a performer before so seeing what he can do with his words was awesome! I really admire when creators involve storyline into their work. It was so mesmerizing. I had to remind myself to stop moving my head so much because I kept being entranced by the dancers. My inner thighs remained engaged for the whole 90 mins. 

Thank you Kidd Pivot! You are constantly a Canadian masterpiece in my mind!

A look back at February 2019…

Be greedy for what you deserve, not what you desire.

This month, I tried to find a productive amount of greediness. When I become too focused on my wants, I tend to develop selfish qualities in my daily life that hinder my sense of community and teamwork. I can’t always put energy into myself because then I lose the respect of my peers and friends. Making time to listen, respond and acknowledge the people around me was the goal.

My little sister is my light.

My family visited Toronto for Family Day weekend, and as soon as I saw my little sister, she ran up to me and I ran up to her with so much passion and excitement. Even though I don’t get to see her much, we have a great bond that always grows stronger each time we reunite. We share a love for music (I’ve helped her expand her music tastes over the years), a love for sports, and a joke or two about our parents. She also shares a birthday week with me (hers is four days after mine), so we got to celebrate with our whole family and it brought me so much happiness. I love her to bits!

Live and in stereo.

I was lucky enough to sit down with some friends of mine to discuss a show we worked on this month. I love listening to podcasts, so getting to host my own show has been a real treasure for me. I am trying to upload a podcast each Monday from now on, and if I can achieve this I believe it will help me build a portfolio and learn from others! Link here.

Winter is coming, has come, will come again.

I am in the process of rewatching the entire series of Game of Thrones to welcome in the new season that starts in April. Revisiting the character arcs of these beloved lords and ladies has really been enjoyable after a long day of dancing. Each storyline is so intensely complicated that I have to pay attention to the details. I can’t wait to see where the writers are going with each character in the new season… My bets are on Tyrion to win the throne, even though I can totally see the White Walkers winning. Also, I totally forgot that Sam killed a White Walker in season 3! The things you see when you actually engage with the art you are viewing!

Too much to do.

Recently, my brain feels like there’s not enough time to do the things I want to do. I love saying yes to opportunities because I know that it will benefit me in the long run, but in the short term, it can be exhausting to accomplish everything on my list. I’m even late to post this monthly reflection! In mid-February, I fell off the map and spent 3 consecutive days in bed, watching tv and eating whatever I wanted to. It was so needed, although it probably wasn’t very healthy. I rarely had time for myself this month, and so I decided for my own happiness to stay inside under my comfy covers. It was a greedy moment, that’s for sure. I tried to balance it out by seeing other people and getting out of my apartment, and that just made me tired again… where is the balance?! My depression was back this month, mostly because of exhaustion and feeling sad that I can’t make time for all of my endeavours. As well, my anxiety lingers still, but I’ve been able to channel it into my physical activity at school. I’m getting better at that. 🙂

A Piece of Salt for the Soul

Selina Thompson’s performance in salt. was breathtaking to say the least. She delivered each line of text with such grace that it was easy to forget how incredibly sad her story was. The piece touched upon harsh themes, but Thompson allowed for moments of comedic light to keep the audience from pulling back. She described her unforgettable journey that took her across the world in the bottom of a cargo ship, handling many instances with sexist and racist men. A major portion of the performance included the use of a sledgehammer to smash a huge chunk of pink salt. She kept breaking it down that eventually, the salt turned into miniscule pieces of dust as she listed all of the governmental issues in our society. Each time she swung the sledgehammer, the intensity increased making this a helpful concept to accurately display Thompson’s anger. As well, it is clear that she has a background in spoken word because her rhythmic projection of voice was still audible even when she smashed the hammer on the ground. It was brilliantly executed.

The best moment in my opinion was when Thompson paused half-way through an emotional part of her story to lie down on her side. At first, this choice seemed too casual for such a profound moment, but I found myself to be blown away by this change in orientation. Putting herself at the same level as the stage created a strong relation with her and the audience, and The Theatre Centre’s Franco Boni Theatre is constructed to provide a deep closeness for the audience and the performer. She then continued speaking about the horrible men that constantly bothered her during her trip, remaining on her side. These men gave her enough stress to cause her to miss her menstruation cycle throughout the trip, and Thompson used her charm to reveal this private piece of information. Her bravery to be candid with the audience heightened the performance, and I will never forget how powerful it was to watch. She brought a unique sensation to the piece, inspiring me to choose the adventurous life over the boring and mundane version. No matter how isolating it can be to travel away from home, Thompson reminded me that the best stories come out of the most anxiety-ridden experiences. Also, the piece of salt that each audience member received was a memorable way to finish off Selina Thompson’s esoteric story.

A look back at January 2019…

I know I am capable of more than I think I am.

This mantra came to me during an improv class I took in New York at the beginning of this month. It stayed with me as I came back to Toronto and started my 2nd semester of third year. Saying this to myself, especially in times of desperation and sadness, helps me to crawl out of the dark place that I tend to go to often. The difference between knowing something and thinking something is so tricky, but if there’s one thing I know to be 100% sure it’s that I have more abilities than my brain can think up. That rumour that says we only use 10% of our brain scares me to bits. So, why not try to do more? To be more? To think more?

New York City, thank you.

My trip to NYC set up my 2019 in such an exciting way. The 7 days I spent there changed my negatives to positives and the city taught me to dream bigger. I woke up each morning ready to surpass my expectations of myself. By the end of the day, I was so tired that I fell right to sleep. This doesn’t happen in Toronto. Yes, it’s a big city too, but in Toronto, I can’t find the constant energy that I feel when I’m in New York. Could be the fact that some of most hard-working people live there and I would feel completely defeated if I hadn’t risen up to their level. Could also just be that I want to live there some day. I picture my life as a 25-40 year old in this city, working hard and playing harder. If only I could get my visa, everything would fall into place. I danced a lot while I was there. Not just in the classes I was taking at the Mark Morris Dance Centre but in the apartment I was staying at, and in the way I walked to the subway each day. I had a glide to my step that I’ve never felt before. I truly feel connected to the way New York functions. I love the art of the buildings; I love the lights that flash all night long; I love the sounds of tourists not knowing how great this city is. It brings me home every time I go there. I don’t feel like I’m just on a trip to another place. I feel like I’ve arrived to a joyful location that I’ve been away from for too long.

My new-found love for class.

With the classes I took in NY and the classes I have each day for school at Ryerson, I have found a new love for what it means to really use a class for its full benefits. My body and mind are shaky, but my heart is happy from the exertion of cardio and physicality. I’ve been striving to stay mindful during the ENTIRE class (which is so difficult somedays) and make sure to warm-up properly. I think what was holding me back from this for so long was that I was scared to mess up in front of people. Even my peers. I was anxious to fail for some reason. I want to be focused on my personal growth and on working smart and swiftly. This will help me achieve the body structure and artistic choices that I desire.

Helping children achieve!

Another happiness in my life has been and always will be teaching children. This month has brought new classes and rehearsals where I got to watch children enjoy the magic of dance. Teaching at Elite Danceworx lets me move away from my selfish tendencies and give my time to kids who just wanna dance! I can’t wait for more.

Bullet journaling, but not really.

I started watching bullet journalling videos on YouTube before bed to help me relax. The minimalist approach to the video (one shot with a book from bird’s eye view) has brought me into a state of calm and it has weirdly helped me stay productive. I’m not actually doing the bullet journalling, but watching other people organize their lives in creative and simple ways has been so inspiring. Maybe one day I’ll try to finish a journal, but I decided it would be too much to handle for the schedule I have currently.

No more clouds, but lightning remains.

My depression has been non-existent this month. The rainclouds have lifted from over my head, even though Toronto weather has been snowy to the max. Although I don’t feel down as much, my anxiety has been on full blast this month. I think that’s normal for a student of my level, and so I hope that next month I can find a balance of stress. Lightning strikes so quickly and powerfully and it causes my brain to run a million miles a minute. I’ll have a deadline to complete and my mind and body can’t seem to complete it without taking care of my heart. Luckily, February is my birth month and so I hope some extra love from my family and friends will guide me to find the balance I so greatly desire. My goal for February is accept all forms of love so that I can also give love in return. After all, Valentine’s Day is during this time of year!

Does purpose hold our creative process back?

During my Creative Performance Studies class on Thursday, January 17, my professor asked us to answer these questions in regards to our individual artistic endeavours. I wrote a lot and also gathered some answers from my classmates. Please enjoy.

1.Why is your work important to you?

Performing is precious to me because it helps me understand my life better. If I am playing a character or simply feeling an emotion, I use that to exercise my own thought process from different lenses. My own experiences are the only real feelings I’ll ever have but if I can understand the alternate universe of a performance, my experiences transform. I use the performance as therapy. Also, to help others have a sort of therapy.

2. Why is your work important at all?

Without sounding too pretentious, I think art and performance is crucial to human survival. Even art that may be considered “bad” has a place is our society. We must release our emotions and thoughts at some point. I would prefer to do that a lot, but some people just choose to do it every so often.

3. What makes you want to start something?

Honestly, I’ve been trying to push my limits more and performing helps me do that. Recently, I’ve been saying to myself “I know I am capable of more than I think I am.” This remind me not to feel comfortable. Using performance as a way to challenge my expectations and try new things. It feels more like a way of life, not just an in-the-studio thing.

4. Does purpose hold us back or no?

-gives us more confidence in what we are trying to express
-sometimes doesn’t really bring about new ideas
-makes us ask why
-offers a new learning experience
-can make us think too much about what the audience will think
-creation vs analysis: give a separate moment for each because trying to force the magic out of an idea is not truthful
-might end up thinking that everything we create is stupid because we haven’t fully created it
-everyday is different*

5. What are some factors that change our process?

Tiredness, happiness, an audience, desire, musical influence, sensation, goal setting, etc

6. What are the roles of the artist?

-make people feel something/tell a story
-help viewers understand themselves
-offer an escape from the viewers’ tough lives
-to shock or to trigger
-speak the universal language
-to educate
-say out loud what you can’t necessary say in public
-simple concepts
-to create magic

7. What are the responsibilities of the artist?

-to take instructions without losing authenticity
-the overall work has to be purposeful
-make the audience feel welcome in the space
-can’t try to please all the time
-try not to vomit too much to the audience
-educate ourselves and research the topic

Mike Birbigulia’s The New One (Broadway show)

Post-show reflection.

His charm had me hooked right away. When Mike walked on, someone in the 7th row centre clapped and pointed so loudly that it rang above everyone’s else’s clapping. Mike immediately told this guy that he was “too drunk for theatre” and I knew then and there that this was going be a special show for me. 

Mike ran through stories of medical issues, sex experiences, his wife’s poems and more. It wasn’t what he talked about, it was the colloquial and softness to his delivery that made me laugh so loud. To be honest, I was worried others would get offended by my outbursts. I tend to watch comedy shows in the comfort of my bedroom with my headphones on and Netflix is the only view I have. So experiencing a live one man comedy show was new for me and I’m so happy I got to fit it in my life. My Saturday night was perfected with this show. I was satisfied, although I didn’t leave with an amazement that I usually do with the theatre. But that’s okay.

There was a moment in the performance where (spoiler alert) a truckload of baby toys falls from the ceiling and onto the once-empty stage. This almost brought tears to my eyes because I felt like I was on a rollercoaster. I was simultaneously nervous for Mike because I was scared he was gonna collapse underneath this heap of paraphernalia, and shocked because the first half of his show consisted of nothing but him and the stage. It was a smart move to add in something extra to wake up the audience, and it was also hilarious to watch him navigate through the maze of stuffed toys and baby products. 

I feel very attached to comedy after this show and it reminds me to take life a little bit more unserious. Nothing has to be stressful if we want to enjoy it. Right? I think this is something my parents never taught me and I hope I find more of this in my journey to being dead.

The Waverly Gallery (Broadway play)

Post-show reflection.

Lots to think about with this show. As an avid musical theatre lover, I have to say this play was a slower pace than I’m used to. That being said, I was engaged the entire show. The dialogue was human. The acting was executed in a humanistic fashion. Kenneth Lonergan’s play was a human in itself. Troubled and lonely, just as each human watching the show has been their whole life. I paid for my ticket and I got my money’s worth.

Michael Cera and Lucas Hedges took the younger perspective to a great depth. I connected with their characters’ feelings more, obviously, because they were just as lost as I would be if an old person was going crazy in front of me. The only similar situation I’ve been through is with an aunt I knew at the ripe age of 8. She died, but I didn’t realize how sad her life had been. I was too ignorant. Having to be the light in someone’s life without even knowing it is so weird. 

Élaine May grabbed the stars with this performance. With every “what” or “huh” that she mustered, her character, Gladys, fell deeper into a state of insanity. From what I saw, Élaine handled this difficult human experience by caring for her character. She let Gladys go to that horrid place but made sure there was a pillow to land on. If she doesn’t get a Tony, I don’t know what will. (EDIT- She did win the Tony! Hurray!)

Joan Allen and David Cromer as the middle-aged babysitters for Gladys were both sad and hilarious at the same time. I really enjoyed watching them work through the dialogue that was made up of a lot of repeating themselves. It must be exhausting to make sure the second time they said the line, it had more umph to it.

I did notice that the audience laughed a lot. Maybe it was because Alzheimer’s is such a horrendous thing to discuss and so, the natural reaction would be to make a joke of it. I didn’t feel like the play was trying to be funny, in most cases, so being in a crowd of awkwardly giggling people was very strange for me. I tried to just feel my own emotions towards the play but some times I just went along with the group’s decision to laugh.

I can honestly say I feel like I went to a masterclass when watching this show. The professionalism and dedication to the craft had me so inspired to be a performer. I’ll always be a dancer, but this show helped me appreciate the wonderful world of acting.

Waitress (Broadway musical)

Post-show reflection.

It’s more than just a musical. It’s a story of domestic abuse turned into a woman’s new-found strength. I found myself in tears from the first few songs as we learned of the main character’s situation. She is stuck. And her husband is too dopey to notice that he’s ruining her life. When she discovers that her doctor actually cares about her, Jenna’s first reaction is to hate him. She says “I think you’re strange” because she’s never felt compassion from another human. Only selfish love from her horrible husband, Earl.

Oh Sara. Your melodies are timeless. I feel so connected to the story of these characters because the music has such a vibrant colour to it. I noticed that the cast really had to push their breath out with each note due to the rhythmical complexity of Sara’s score. The cast also had to really focus their performing on singing rather than acting and moving to execute the high-low pitch ratio. I listened to Sara’s other albums on the way home because I couldn’t get enough.

Christopher Fitzgerald is a MASTER of comedy. He knew exactly how to get the audience on his side. Watching him work was a real treat that I won’t forget. I’ve followed him since his run as Boq in Wicked and I was fan-girling so hard. The people behind me were probably so confused as to why this broadway-lover was jumping up and down in her seat. His timing and physical abilities were just the cherry on top of the pie that this character needed. Every single audience member was laughing, even when he cartwheeled off-stage. True performer.

Also, June Squibb! I mean, could there be anyone better to play Joe?! Better than the original cast member!

I will say that the performance I saw had four understudies and it was very noticeable. Dr. Pomatter was flat and tried too hard to sing like a musical theatre actor. He was more gifted in his comedic lines but that’s probably because the character is so lovable in the book. As well, the woman who played Dawn missed the mark in terms of capturing the anxiety-ridden waitress. Undoubtedly, she got lost next to Chris Fitz. Sorry girl! *backwards snap lean-back*

Stephanie Torns as Jenna made everything better. She definitely carried the show and didn’t fuddle with the intensity of multiple solos. I could tell her voice was a bit coarse from the weather of January but her version of “She Used to be Mine” had just the right emotional range. I especially enjoyed her stoic gaze as Earl prodded her and grabbed her during their scenes. Very well done. She also looked oddly similar to Jessie Mueller (who originated the role) so that helped!

All in all, I cried a lot and laughed a lot and appreciated the story more than anything else. If only I could have seen Gavin Creel and Sara Bareilles in the main roles, but their schedule doesn’t start until I leave New York. Still glad I saw it.