Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Stitch in Time Saves Nine

When I performed "The Ukrainian Dentist's Daughter" in Chicago last Spring, the room at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art was filled with people from my past: friends of my parents who hadn't seen me since I was missing all my front teeth and in my Easter dress at Church, high school friends who hadn't seen me perform for a decade, and my fourth-grade grammar school teacher who also happens to be Ukrainian.

Everyone wanted to be in Mrs. Kosyk's class because she taught how to cross-stitch a pillow. We got to pick the colors of the thread we used and when we were done with the pattern, she took them all home and turned them into pillows. One might wonder why she taught this craft to a bunch of 10 year olds; at the time, I just thought it was fun. In retrospect, now being a teacher myself, it was an amazing way to get frenetic kids to sit still, focus, and have tangible evidence of their work at the end. Eighteen years later, I still have the pillow--and the ability to sit down, focus, and get the job done.

So it was a big deal to show Mrs. Kosyk what I had done with my play, my life's-work-so-far cross-stitch pillow, so to say. She's a soft-spoken woman and she expressed how much she enjoyed the show. She also said to me, "I'm just very surprised that you turned out to be an actress. You were always so quiet in class."

Expectations are some of the most powerful forces I've ever encountered. Those put upon me by my family have always been high and, frankly, I never had any desire to find out what would happen if I didn't fulfill them, so I made a habit of exceeding them and calling it a day. As I've gotten older, the intentions behind my parents' goals for me have become more and more clear; security and stability with a heaping spoonful of happiness is nothing to be scoffed at. What's also become clear as I've gotten older is that there are a lot of ways to skin a cat--and me becoming a doctor, lawyer, engineer, or marrying one of the three are not the only ways to reach the expectations had of me and those I have of myself.

It's a challenge though. Not being able to carve myself into this mold has been frustrating. It's like meeting someone who is just fabulous on paper (educated, driven, employed, good-looking) but then meeting them and the, well, je ne sais quoi just isn't there. I would love to wake up one morning and be thrilled at the idea of going to law school and becoming a well-paid lawyer in America who defends corporations and their rights in the marketplace. But I don't want to do that. I want to teach kids how to write plays and I want to get up on stage and tell people a story and I want to spend 3 hours pressing repeat on a YouTube tutorial on how to play the introductory riff to a country song that I love on the guitar.

I don't know when this happened--me turning into a West-Coast-dwelling, meditation-retreat-attending, organic-chocolate-hawking guitar-playing artist. But it did, and I am. So...okay. I guess that's the way it is.

I might have started as a studious, quiet, cross-stitching daughter of Ukrainian immigrants, expected to...well, I don't really know anymore.

But now...I'm the internationally-acclaimed-Montreal-spirited-CBC-best-Seattle-audience-pick-Star-Trek-obsessed-bee-tattooed-loudest-laugh-in-the-room.

And if it's cool with Mrs. Kosyk...it's cool with me.
Exceeded my own expectations by winning Best of Seattle Fringe. This little ostrich was my prize. I named him Mervyn...because any being with eyebrows like that is, of course, named Mervyn.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Hello Class, I'm Yana, it's like Donna with a Y

Today I did something terrifying. I've never done it before, though I've thought about it a lot. And imagined in my head how it would go. My friends have done it, some of them a bunch of times. I wanted to try. I thought--this might be fun. Or it might be the end of me.

Today I began a 10 week, twice-a-week session of teaching 7th graders how to write plays.

Excuse me? Am I actually in a place where I can TEACH this stuff? And--gasp--get PAID to teach this stuff? Apparently so. And teach it well, even--I got an email from the classroom teacher that I had done a fabulous job. So despite my initial fear...I succeeded.

I've been doing a lot of things lately that scare me a little. Well...scare me a lot. I switched departments in my day job, reducing my hours to next to nothing but staying with a company I respect (translation: living on savings for a bit) and leaving me lots of time for writing. Which I'm going to need since I'm currently writing my next play, "I Think My Heart Needs Glasses." It took me 2 years total to create "The Ukrainian Dentist's Daughter" that toured this summer. I have 7.5 months left for this next one to be audience worthy for Montreal (holy kites!).
I think my heart needs glasses...green glittered glasses.

"I Think My Heart Needs Glasses" is the product of a lot of different ideas that came together when I did a 10 day silent Vipassana meditation retreat at the end of August. I'll tell you this much: keeping quiet is the easiest part. It's like after a show, when an audience member comes up to you in awe and says, "Gosh, how do you remember all of those lines?" and you just smile kindly and say, "A lot of practice." The biggest challenge of the retreat isn't silence: it is living in your head with absolutely no distractions--no talking, no books, no music, no journal, no internet. It's a trip. If you want to know more, check out my play next year.

I also: decided to apply to graduate school, started taking guitar lessons, got set up on 2 blind dates, and cut bangs into my hair. I've been busy since I last wrote a blog.

In addition to all that, "The Ukrainian Dentist's Daughter" opens in the Seattle Fringe on Wednesday. Which shouldn't phase me at all--I've performed my show countless times (okay, 16 times) this summer. I'm fairly certain that I've got it down--but I also feel like every time I put this show down for a bit it feels completely different when I pick it back up again. And maybe those differences are only visible to me (or to my friends here in Seattle who have seen my show 2-3 times already--bless your souls!). But they are unnerving, every time.

However, perhaps that nervous feeling about my show is a testament to my connection to the piece. I'm not on autopilot for it. Yes, I feel I could recite it in my sleep, but acting it--that's a different story. Every time I start it up again I get the same feeling I did today in front of my 7th graders: that there is a very strong possibility I am going to fall on my face.

I hope that feeling never goes away. The day it does is the day I stop performing.