Tuesday, June 26, 2012

It's gonna be a bright, sunshiney day

My week dawned at Cirque du Soleil, whose headquarters are located here in Montreal. Having listened to French for the past 8 days, the meaning of their name suddenly springs into my mind: Circus of the Sun. I'm loving this. I'm also loving that as I'm taking a tour of their facilities, it is very clear that art is made here. It reminds me of the costume studio in my high school, but on a much larger (and more technically savvy) scale: The edges seem a little worn and there is lots of laughter.
I feel like I'm performing my very own Sun Circus in my venue during this heat wave. Without air-conditioning and under the lights, I start my show sweaty and end up soaking wet. The audience is pretty much the same. I start to worry about what I look like. After one show I looked in the mirror and a raccoon looked back at me--all my eye makeup was UNDERNEATH my eyes. Okay, no more makeup for the show. Also, the slip I wear under my costume has ripped up both the sides from sticking to my legs and staying there as I continue to move. This slip is dear to me--an heirloom from my mother when I performed in my first play. You know the saying, "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue" for what you're supposed to wear at your wedding? Well since my play takes place on my mother's wedding day, an old blue slip seemed appropriate. But, okay, nothing that a needle and thread can't fix.

But I'm so hot that I start to feel sick, and I start to be concerned that I can't bring to the stage the emotions I need to tell my story. Are people still liking the show, or are they coming to simply gawk at me melting into a puddle on the floor? If I'm not doing the story justice then what the heck am I even doing here? The high-noon heat spirals in my brain and cooks the doubts so they expand like a souffle. I go to the beer tent and find a table of friends. And I crack. I let it all come out in a wave of tears and sweat.

And then I get my first 5 star review. The Link says, "In the boiler room known as Scene VOIR Stage, a quiet was present during this show that said, 'Everyone is listening.'" Perhaps my light shines brighter than I give myself credit for.
Me and my Fringe brother, Shane. See you in Montreal next year!

As the sun sets on this Fringe, everyone gathers at Caberet du Mile End for the Frankie Awards. The venue is filled to capacity, 600 people. My show wasn't nominated for anything, but it did get a shout-out from one of the jury members as a favorite of hers. And then at the end of the awards ceremony, when all the staff are on stage, the festival director surprises me and calls me up and says that I have been named runner-up for the Spirit of the Fringe Award. The staff decided that I embody what Fringe is about. And they offer me a guaranteed spot in next year's festival. My heart expands like a supernova. Perhaps that's why I needed to crack earlier in the week--to make room for all the wonderful to beam in.

So I will see another Montreal Fringe. With a new show, which I am so excited to start working on. But tonight, we are young. So let's set the world on fire, we can burn brighter than the sun.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Everyone's first time is a tad...awkward

Montreal is a city that's pretty easy to navigate, thank goodness--lots of nearby Metro stops and relatively perpendicular streets. And my billet is downtown, so that makes it extra simple. The Ukrainian area, though, is not conveniently off a Metro stop. And I am determined to hang posters in all things Ukrainian in Montreal. So that means: Bixi.

Bixi is the rent-a-bike system with stations all around town. For $15 I can rent a bike for 3 days, making sure I check it back into one of these stations every 30 minutes. It's super smart. All the accessibility and cardiovascular exercise of cycling, none of the hassles of bike ownership. But wait--I don't have a helmet. How am I going to stay safe and keep the cars from getting too close?

I know: short skirts. Platform sandals. And my killer legs. Brilliant. So I postered the Ukrainian churches, nursing homes, scouting organizations, bank, and Federation. Yes, we have a Federation. Star Trek style.

Fast-forward to Saturday, opening night. I'm ready to show Montreal my box. And, like any first encounter in this vein, it's a little...awkward. For one it's stickingly hot, so much that I am extremely aware of the sheen of sweat that I'm leaving behind on the floor. But heck, if it's not sweaty then you're not doing it right. My audience was with me, I had them in the palm of my hand. You could hear a pin drop.

And then the lights stop changing three-quarters of the way through. A climactic spotlight continues (rather anti-climactically) as the only light for 10 minutes. Annoying, yes, but I could tell that I could still be seen on stage. Not the end of the world. And eventually the lights get back on track, with about 5 minutes left.

The final and most dramatic moments of my show come to the one and only sound cue in the whole piece--and instead of my sound cue, my pre-show music comes on. The technician quickly realizes the error and turns off "Fly Me to the Moon." But my sound cue still doesn't play.

There is a breathtaking moment when you realize that you are performing your heart and soul out, you've just begun the most important tour of your career, and the only option you have in this moment is to leave the stage. So I do, and the eternity that follows (in reality probably 10 seconds) comes to an end with my sound cue. And I reenter and finish the show with a slightly altered ending.

Afterwards I felt dazed, like I had just taken a blow to the head. I treated myself to an ice-cream cone and headed to the 13th Hour, which is the nightly party that starts at 1am. I wanted to go home and sleep opening night away but I was slotted to perform at the party. So I put on my fake-it-til-you-make-it face and prepared to play a game with the 13th Hour audience.

When my turn arrived, Kiki the host introduced me. She said that she was excited because she had had the good luck to see my show that evening. She said it was her first cry of the Fringe and that she was touched deeply by its simple storytelling. She recommended it highly.

I was floored, not only because I respect this woman's opinion (she is a Fringe favorite and a talented actress), but because--it turned out okay. Actually, even better than okay--I achieved my main goal in sharing this story. I touched an audience member's spirit.

Each time has just gotten better and better (again, as it usually goes with these things.) And I've actually received great reviews, both in written and verbal form. So I guess I'm learning to navigate not only the streets of Montreal, but the avenues of my play. The story is stronger than I gave it credit for. Sometimes I'll be able to use the Metro, sometimes a Bixi bike. But I will get my audience there, regardless of potholes or detours.

And they might even catch a little leg along the way.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

If you come to my show, I'll show you my box

I'm now in Montreal, and of course I brought my box with me. I dragged it from Seattle to Philadelphia to New York to here. Sometimes I got asked if I needed assistance, but I told those helpful gentlemen that I only let very special people near my box. 
Horsing around on my box.
Photo by Charlie Ainslie.
At first my box was really stinky and I had to air it out on the back porch. It was also a bit tacky to the touch, but once I started working on it a couple of hours every day, it was just perfect--supported a ton of bouncing around while still looking fresh and clean.

I think my favorite thing about my box is how it blends into the background. At first you don't notice it. It doesn't make an impact until WHAM! All of a sudden you realize that my box has been there the entire time.

(Get your mind out of the gutter! I'm talking about my set.)

I have pet peeve about theater that is littered with set and props--I think it's a hindrance more than a help. Frustrated directors throw extraneous props at scenes that aren't working in a desperate attempt for something to be happening. Plus carrying a whole bunch of stuff on tour is illogical. So I designed my show to be performed in one costume with no props and a single black actor's block as the set. I let the audience use their imagination.

And audiences love to play. One of my favorite questions to ask people after they've seen the show is: What did the wedding dress look like? The protagonist of my show is dressed in a wedding gown for most of the show, but the costume I wear is a bright blue wrap dress. I've gotten such a wide variety of answers, from white strapless to cream silk to long-sleeved chiffon--and no one has ever said that they thought she was just wearing the blue dress. 

That blue dress is currently hanging my billet's living room magically having its wrinkles released by Montreal's humid, sweat-inducing climate. Good gravy, I haven't been this hot in years. I had heard that Montrealers spend their summers consistently sporting a sheen of sweat and I can report back that yes, that is a true statement. Thankfully there is beer. And today I learned that my venue, #4 Scene Voir, is next to the FRINGE beer tent. Like, literally next to it. WIN! How did I get so lucky? Seven shows, awesome venue, and best billet ever? No joke: there is a hamster at his place. A hamster named Vera. Yup, not only is Wonder Woman Ukrainian, but so is the hamster.

And no, I'm not letting that hamster anywhere near my box.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Oh, didn't you know? Wonder Woman is Ukrainian

Adventure is the word I use for what I'm taking on--an 8 week Canadian tour of my solo show The Ukrainian Dentist's Daughter. It's self-written, -produced, -directed, and -performed.
(Clearly I like hyphens. And wearing a lot of different hats.)

I toured a shorter version of this show to the Victoria Fringe last August. I drove up from Seattle, took a ferry, and landed in a city I had never been to before and where I knew no one. When I approached the beer tent for the 80s themed welcome night, I actually felt shy. (You who know me scoff but YES, I can actually be shy!)

So I took a breath (a shallow one since I physically could not sit in the purple taffeta 80s Prom dress I was wearing) and decided to make some friends. And what friends they were. Not only were the next 2 weeks filled with spontaneous adventures like scooting about town on red Vespas and examining jellyfish off the breakwater (here's looking at you, Al Lafrance) but also with inspiring performances and epic dance nights (Victoria Laberge--you better get your dancing shoes on, sister!).

I knew I had really made it, though, when Rose Jang, who I thought didn't like me at all, said, "Yana, you're just the right amount of woman. I thought you'd be just be a pretty girl but you like Star Trek and tell dick jokes."
Young Maya from "The Ukrainian Dentist's Daughter"
Photo by Charlie Ainslie.
Oh, right, I also performed my show! I started calling it a "chick play" because the ladies, especially my mom's generation, just ate it up. My mother is actually the inspiration for my show. I'm the Ukrainian dentist's granddaughter. I got to chat with audience members after performing and I can't count the number of people who told me that my play resonated with them.

When Fringe was over I rode a giant wave of adrenaline and laughter home to Seattle and then...life hit me really hard. Nope, rephrase that: death hit me pretty hard. I lost my best friend 2 weeks after I got back.

Getting up in front of strangers and telling them a story seemed like the stupidest thing in the world in those first couple months. But then again, me just still being here seemed kinda ridiculous, too.

So I expanded my show. I added 15 minutes and what was left of my heart. And I remembered that I'm a storyteller and it's my job to tell the tales of what makes life...life.

And the Universe didn't forget me. I won the Montreal Fringe Lottery (a festival already full of the aforementioned friends) and the Winnipeg Fringe Lottery (where the largest population of Ukrainians in North America lives). And the sun began to break through the clouds.

My friends at home didn't forget me either--I am traveling simply dripping in talismen. There's the miniature cocoa pod from LC, a reminder of all my cherished friends at the job I left. The handmade turtle charm bracelet from LaChrista for good luck. The silver necklace from Carolyn and her mom for strength. The rose quartz necklace from Melinda for positive energy. And from Keira McDonald, the silver bracelet she wore when she toured her play The Bridesmaid across the Canadian Fringe in 2007.

I have magic jewelry. I am Wonder Woman.

I come to Montreal absolutely thrilled to explore the city, reunite with my friends, and tell the story that only I can tell. People have asked me, "Aren't you nervous to be doing this all alone?" And I tell them, "I'm not alone. I have an invisible jet full of my friends cheering me on."