Friday, May 31, 2013

You've never heard of the Trinity Matrix? She's the ship that made the Kesala run in less than 12 parsecs

[Originally published on Bloody Underrated]

One of the words most often used to describe me is "driven." I've always thought it was strange. Like, who's doing the driving here? It's right up there with "gifted." From whom am I receiving gifts? The implication is that it's somewhere inside of me: This drive, these gifts. Apparently I have the compulsion to go fast, passing others by, getting to places most people never reach, all in a vehicle presented to me by Fortune.

I imagine it with a huge red bow on top, like car commercials around the holidays.

In reality I do drive myself mostly, in my 2004 Toyota Matrix. Her name is Trinity. (She's a Matrix. She's very pretty. And I'm a SciFi nerd.) She's been my car for over 10 years and has taken me across the USA twice, up and down the West coast twice, and even to Forks and back once. (Because in addition to being a SciFi nerd, I also went through a Twihard stage. TEAM JACOB!!)

Trinity has been my runabout for lot of missions. I've driven her to Boise, where I toured a winter with the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, playing Rat in The Wind in the Willows. After 115 shows in 85 days, lots of Super 8 Motels, and some extremely precarious driving in the snow, Trinity and I survived the cold. I bought her new tires as a reward.

I've also driven her to San Francisco, where I performed Medea Knows Best, a mash-up of the Greek tragedy and Leave It to Beaver­-esque television shows. I stayed above a porn shop on Castro and 18th, the heart of the gay neighborhood, where you could tell time by the multiple bars' nightly 2am ear-splitting dump of glass beer bottles into the recycling containers. My billets hosted a weekly Pesto Party for the polyamorous community at large to meet new people. I was once mistaken for a newbie and learned quickly to stay away from home until very late on Thursday nights, sometimes taking Trinity for a drive down San Francisco streets and hoping there'd be a parking space when I returned. I bought her a bejeweled pink crown sticker for her window to remind us that we were queens among queens.

My first Canadian Fringe with one of my solo shows (The Ukrainian Dentist's Daughter) was the Victoria Fringe in 2011. I live in Seattle, so I just drove Trinity up the state of Washington and took a ferry to Victoria. I drove to my billet, introduced myself, and then threw on hot pink lipstick, gold eye shadow, and the awesomest retro prom dress ever.

What I didn't take into account was that my dress for the 80s prom themed party was tight. Very tight. Which looked killer standing up, but made driving... difficult. When a new friend walked me to Trinity at the end of the evening, he very pleasantly chatted with me outside my vehicle, fully expecting me to give him the cue that I was leaving by getting inside the car. About 20 minutes later I told him, "I actually can't get inside until you leave because I physically cannot sit down without hiking my skirt up around my waist." To commemorate that trip, I bought her an antenna topper of the Canadian flag.

Trinity is my Millennium Falcon. She's badass, dependable, and you wish you had one.

This tour I am Trinity-free. I first performed in Chicago, then Orlando. Now I'm off Montreal and Winnipeg: all very far away from Seattle. I left Trinity in the care of my boyfriend Mark, a great driver who loves that I have a Starfleet Academy sticker on my car window professing my dream alma mater to the world. Last week Mark called me in the middle of the day saying he had bad news. He'd been in a car accident.

All I cared about was that he was okay. It's a bit overwhelming how that was all I cared about, how I was so ready to drop it all and fly back to Seattle if need be. And he was totally okay, thank our lucky stars. The other driver was totally okay. Trinity, though, was not.

I know that Trinity is a car. It's a hunk of metal and burning fossil fuel and a few nerdy stickers. I completely understand that I am personifying it throughout this entire blog and that liking your car is not "cool" or "green." That said, my car's potential demise sent a lump into my throat. It has been a constant in my life for over 10 years. I care for it, I invest in it, I trust it to get me and my passengers where we are going safely.

Trinity did her duty. She protected her pilot. She sacrificed her hood, her headlights, her bumper, and her radiator. Trinity has kept me safe on my journeys for 10 years. Now she kept Mark safe in an accident. I couldn't ask for anything more from my trusty runabout. Thank you, Trinity.

You know, it was never complete when it was just her and me. With the addition of my co-pilot Mark, we are three—we are Trinity. She's in car hospital now, getting a little work done. She'll be in there for a few weeks, but she'll come out good as new and ready for our next mission. This baby's got a few surprises left in her, sweetheart.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Listening to the Nag Inside my Soul

(Originally published on The Charlebois Post)

Photo by Charlie Ainslie
I Think My Heart Needs Glasses is my second solo play—my sophomore effort at writing, directing, producing, and performing. If you've heard anything about sophomore efforts, you know that oftentimes they... well... slump. Especially when the freshman effort rocked. Which mine did.

The Ukrainian Dentist's Daughter is an awesome solo show. It's charming and sweet, so sweet that you might even get a toothache and need a dentist (Get it? Get it?) That show, which I call TUDD in my head and amongst good friends, is based on my mother's life. I was inspired to write about her after making the decision that I was going to create a solo show for myself to star in and tour around the world. It seemed logical: one person to feed, house, pay—scheduling rehearsal was a breeze and golly, wasn't I just the ideal actress for the role! I had bounced around a lot of ideas in a little notebook about what I wanted my play to be about (An American gal's adventures in Australia? An actress' life on the road?) but settled on the stories that I always ended up telling people once they asked about my ethnic name, my peasant physique, and my uncanny ability to speak with a Slavic accent. Plus it didn't hurt that my parents' love story is so awesome that it almost seems made up.

And that decision was good. It was (and is!) a great show (you can see it at the Orlando Fringe this year if you're in that neck of the woods.) It surprised me how similar my mother's story and my story are—a woman trying to make her place in a world in which she doesn't easily fit. That story also seemed to resonate with many audience members. Not only did I receive heartfelt, loving messages from individuals, but I also won an award in each Festival in which I performed last year: Spirit of the Fringe in Montreal, Outstanding Female Performance in Winnipeg, and Audience Pick of Fringe in Seattle. Clearly I was doing something right.

The prize for the Spirit of the Fringe award in Montreal is a guaranteed spot in the next year's festival. So in June 2012 I knew that I would again be performing in June 2013. I had no intention of returning with TUDD, nor did I have any repertoire to pull from—so—it was back to the notebook of ideas for plays.

But deep down, I didn't need the notebook. I knew what I had to write about.

Photo by Charlie Ainslie
Nine months before my tour last year, the ground disappeared. The Earth continued to rotate normally while I was thrust into a stomach-turning spiral of sorrow where my good friend died and I questioned everything about how the world works—and whether it actually did work or just haphazardly went along, indiscriminately screwing good people along the way. Those events prompted me to edit and expand TUDD and tour it last year. Those events were the only thing in my mind about which I could write next.

My family and friends were supportive, but not thrilled. They were concerned it was too soon: did I really want to visit this pain again so quickly? One friend pointed out that writing about that time was asking everyone who was there to relive it: was that something I wanted to do to all of them? I asked myself: was I being completely selfish in even considering that this was appropriate material for a show? Would jumping back into the memories rip open the (slowly) healing wound? I didn't have answers to these questions. All I knew was that I needed a new show on its feet and ready to perform in the next 10 months, that my previous show had taken 2 years, and there was something nagging inside my soul that said that this was the next story to tell whether I liked it or not.

So I started writing. I thought about how I could keep myself safely distant from the material while still doing it justice. I wrote some more. In November 2012, eight months before the next Montreal Fringe, I had a rough draft. It told the story. I wrote it in the past tense so that I wouldn't be too close, so that I would be out of harm's way when I performed. I figured that was a logical compromise to all the concerns raised. 

Photo by Charlie Ainslie
But the script refused to go into my mouth and my brain. I had the worst time trying to memorize it, which was new since TUDD seemed to come out of me as if I'd, well, written it. Why was I having such a hard time learning this new piece since I'd written it as well?

Because I hadn't written it. My fear had.

Late March 2013, I showed the piece to a respected colleague of mine. It went badly. Really badly. I knew right away, like all performers know, when the audience isn't into it. It was just me up there. Performing my words. Sharing my story. And it was not being well received. I had the feeling that if I performed the script as it existed that day, I would not do justice to my subject matter, to my friend.

That was unacceptable to me.

So I rewrote it. Two and a half weeks before the world premiere in Seattle, I took my detached, past-tense, story-telling piece and removed the distance. I stuck myself back into the thick of it. I made it present tense. I took the vignettes and I went back to Acting 101: Show, don't tell. The trepidation that my friends, family, and I had about me going back to my pain—I looked it straight in the eye and said, "I am telling this story. Not you."

I surprised myself. The woman who confronted her fear (and 15 pages of rewrites) that day in March was not the woman of the summer before, too terrified to turn around and face the past. The summer before it was all I could do to tell my mother's story: close to me, but never really mine. Today I am strong enough (because of a path I elaborate upon in my show) to command my personal story—and to share it with an audience with nothing but the sincerest desire to connect with them over their own encounters with love, grief, and the search for peace.

Photo by Charlie Ainslie
So now, dear readers, I present my sophomore effort: I Think My Heart Needs Glasses. I look forward to sharing this tale with you.

 I Think My Heart Needs Glasses has its Canadian premiere at the Montreal Fringe June 13-23, 2013. It also plays at the Winnipeg Fringe June 18-28, 2013.

The Ukrainian Dentist's Daughter performs at the Orlando Fringe May 17-26, 2013. 

Yana's solo performance company, Radiant Moxie, distills theater into essentials and inspires hope with courageous, spirited storytelling that embraces the radiance of each individual's journey.