And with a snap, a month has passed. What can I ascribe my silence over this past month? Lassitude? Hardly. I don’t think we all appreciate how productive this pandemic has allowed us to be. I’ve said more than once to my colleagues and students that when we get back on the ground, we won’t get nearly as much done.
Since I last wrote, we’ve opened and closed two more productions. Here’s a brief peek into what that process looked like. Take an “average” Saturday in our Spring production season. That morning, while listening and watching the pre-filmed scenes for our upcoming production of Karel Capek’s The White Plague, directed by the indomitable Ken Sawyer, I multi-tasked a meeting with Ryan from Home Depot, on my kitchen remodel. While we fantasized about double pull out garbage can drawers, and waxed rhapsodic on the wild mushroom color of the cabinet refacing and cabinets. Meanwhile there was a simultaneous rehearsal and recording process for Sacrifice Zone: Los Angeles, another of our shows which has teched, performed and closed. I came back over to peer at the screen; as I watched the actors in one room prepare their scenes, configure their sound with help from the sound design student, Naveen, and in the other, tilt their computers so that their scenic squalor didn’t reveal their tidy homes in the background. Also in the rooms was one of the theatre managers, Chris Paci, who was simultaneously recording the scenes for White Plague, while assisting Fran deLeon’s rehearsal and recordings.
So much to describe and talk about. The creative process, while demanding and lengthy, has been completely inspirational. And yet, here I’ve sat, squarely in the midst of a writerly blockage. The above was written three weeks ago, and the weeks flitted away with the passage of tech, opening and now mid-week where we don’t have a show in tech, perhaps I may finally finish this post.
Last Friday was the anniversary of the closure of all things theatrical, or at least that was how it felt at the time. The end of theatre? The end of a career? The closure of campus, the cessation of in-person experiences? Do you remember how it felt raw and dangerous and hopeless? I happened to be on campus last week on the anniversary of that date. I’d come directly from my morning walk with my brother at the Hollywood reservoir. As I slipped down my mask to eat my yogurt parfait outside of Seeds, granola cascading down on the table and ground, I thought about the panorama of the year behind us while capturing the eerie panorama of the Tudor Student Center.
We all have ways we are individually filtering the past year’s events and sorting them into mental baskets. Mine looks something like this:
- Worry over loved ones and fear of contracting the virus
- Worry over livelihood and thinking about economic survival (mine and my staff’s)
- Increasing awareness to the inequities of our society and committing to self-education and action towards anti-racism
- loneliness – physical, emotional, intellectual, cultural
- Discovery of how to overcome those factors of loneliness
- Exploration of the gifts that each of those worries and awarenesses have provided
Perhaps my writerly silence has been out of fear of centering my white-privileged narrative, but I don’t think that’s it. Some of it perhaps. I think it’s been more about less time for thinking, more time devoted to task performance. So I’d like to take a moment (with your indulgence) to think about how those tasks can have meaning and purpose. How through a sage perspective we can make every interaction positive and powerful.
Let’s start with the least useful feeling task: email. The proliferation of email over the past several years has been one of the biggest stressors for me. Being unable to stay on top of the email is a source of shame (if I let it be), guilt (when I find one that elicits concern or distress), and ultimately, a possible path to the sage power of navigate.
I’ve invited students from the team-taught class about Introduction to Technical Theatre to utilize the office hours I’ve put aside for them. Not to necessarily come to discuss poor performance in the class, but as a means to get to know them better – it’s a big class, and in the zoom classroom, anything over 24 is a big class because the less engaged students migrate to page 2 or page 3 or in the case of this class, page 5 of my screen. This week, I had five office half-hours one on one with students. Some were with students I’d specifically reached out to about poor performance on the midterm; others were students who had responded to my invite in class the week before. Regardless (and students take note of this), we connected on a level not possible in a large class. This is what you are paying for, students! You should be utilizing every darn office hour that exists. Go back to the syllabus because it’s not the weight/value of the quizzes that matters. It’s booking the time to spend sharing who you are with your professors and what you are looking to get out of your educational investment. Basic ROI – return on investment. I can’t stress that enough.
So, back to the email. See what I did there? It’s sort of the way I deal with email in general. Start to look at it and then get distracted by the task the email invokes. Because there’s always a task invoked by an email. No one chooses to send an email without wanting something from you. That’s what’s so annoying about it. There we all are, shuffling through the endless work on our desks and ping – hear come the emails asking for:
- the value of the test we took that I did poorly on?
- the link to the latest protocols for coming back to campus?
- stop what you are doing and let me know if I heard this comment correctly and what are the ramifications of the comment I heard to national security concerns?
The University has given us a new tool (SLACK) and actually if we utilized it as they proposed to replace all email, it would be a great thing, but email has become a way to COA. Cover our asses. With regard to the third bullet point above, this email always comes with everyone cced that you report to, just so as to make sure you reply and that your reply is appropriate. My sage response to emails like this is to:
- take a deep breath
- remember that 2020 has given us permission to speak in draft and know that we are all learning and unlearning mindsets that are limiting and problematic
- answer the email with authenticity and to the extent that my current knowledge allows – with the knowledge that my current knowledge is inherently flawed already because someone above me knows more about this than I do and my response will undoubtedly come back later to bite me on the bum.
- send and move on
What is really important is to keep in mind through all these mindless (?) tasks that what really matters the most is the third bullet point above. Answer mindfully and with authenticity and as much transparency as you can muster. Activate.
Navigate – at the end of your career, what will be remembered? The speed with which you kept up with emails? Or the half hour you took with student(s) to try to get to know them, to find out what they need from you on their educational journey? I would dare to say that half hour is the golden time. For them and for you.
As the world begins to open up, (witness the tent in the picture above as a space where local students can return to rehearse safely with social distancing) we won’t go back to the old way of doing things. We will carry the knowledge and some of the practice forward with us as we return to being together again. Cheers to smashing this writer’s block. Onward to activate. If you want to know more about these terms and how to rewire your brain to move away from listening to your saboteurs to listening to your sages, take a look at the work of Shirzad Chamine and Positive Intelligence.
And continue to attend performances. You can see ours at this page. All are free and you can sign up at the individual pages to see some exciting performances and design collaborations.