Sunday, July 12, 2015

My Life in Illinois: Update for January and February 2015

The spring semester started up on my birthday, but I started working even before that. Back on the weekend of January 10, UIUC hosted an Illinois High School Theatre Fest where high schools from all over the state came and put on shows all over campus. It was a long, exhausting weekend, but it was fun, too -- each school had about 5-6 hours to load in their set, set up all their tech (lights and sound), perform their show, and tear everything down. We had shows back-to-back Friday (three total), plus one on Saturday before our strike.

A couple days after that, we started onstage rehearsals for the February Dance concert, for which I was an Assistant Stage Manager. The dance shows here are nice because we don't have to go to all of their rehearsals; we join the process once they move onstage. Then we're responsible for sweeping and mopping the dance floor and basically just being present to make sure they don't need anything. As an assistant, I didn't have to be in the room the whole time (I traded off with the other ASM) and thus could work on paperwork in between. That show had its performances the weekend of February 7, and there were only three, so it was over pretty quick. There were five dance pieces total in the show, ranging from about 6 minutes to about 20, and I was mostly responsible for overseeing the crew during the transitions -- we moved in and out platforms and curtains and a fog machine and lights... in some ways I liked it better than theatre, because there was less sitting in between doing stuff, and the whole show was shorter than a play (it was about an hour and a half including intermission). I only got a few days off between the end of that and my first rehearsal for my next show, "Not About Nightingales," which started Thursday, Feb 12. We get Saturdays off, which is nice, and only have a short rehearsal on Sunday afternoons, but my schedule through the week will be a little crazier, especially on Thursdays and Fridays when I have class/meetings starting at 9am. Every day, though, I have a block of free time between 3-6pm, which is nice. 

I've also been searching for internships, and have been focusing on the ones that don't take up the whole summer (so that I can do some travelling too, and/or spend some time in Chicago with Regina). I've found a couple that are June and July only, but I've been horrible about applying. The biggest thing I would like is to be paid, and to get experience relevant to theater (housing -- which many of the theaters provide -- would be a nice bonus). In fact, it doesn't even necessarily have to be an internship; even a temporary summer job is fine. There are a lot of festivals and such that do theater over the summer; I've been looking especially at the ones in east-coast states -- Maryland, Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, North Carolina, etc.-- since I think that's where I'd ultimately like to go after I graduate.

Admittedly, though, I've also been debating the idea of quitting my program. I still love theater, and the more I learn about the job of stage management, the more I enjoy aspects of it, but my show assignments combined with all the class work doesn't leave me any real time for creativity, and I'm definitely feeling the void. There are a couple classes in particular which I have to take every semester that just feel like busywork and a waste of time.

But, we also got our show assignments for next year, and they're putting me on the show 1984 -- I really liked the book and it was the one show I wanted to do of the 2015-2016 season, once I heard about it... so I'm conflicted. I figure I'll see how I feel once this semester is over. Either way, I do want to get some theater experience this summer outside of school, to get a sense of how other places do it and how I would (or wouldn't) like it without school work to worry about too.

I had a good conversation with my assistantship adviser about it, and she suggested that I look into things like arts administration. I had a talk with my program director about it too and she reminded me that my coming here was an experiment, and that while she really thinks I have the qualities that would make a really good stage manager, we knew it might not work. She of course wants me to stay, and wants to help me work out a schedule that does leave me some free time, and she gave me some good advice about time management that has helped already. But I also know that she wouldn't be upset with me if I did decide to quit, which does take some of the pressure off. 

I have been starting to think about where Jake and I would go next if I decide not to continue at UIUC, and like I mentioned, I would really like to go back to the east coast. Not necessarily to Baltimore (or to New York City, because I don't think I could handle that pace of life every day), but somewhere not too far from the ocean, and not super cold. This winter in Illinois has been particularly miserable, partly because I've been spoiled a little by the mild winters of Baltimore, but also because Jake's car hasn't been working reliably, and I've had to walk to and wait for the bus in some particularly frigid temperatures. On top of that, our apartment has these really inefficient baseboard electric heaters, which means that warm for us is 60 degrees (we have a space heater that we use in the living room, which helps too, but we use our robes and blankets a lot). It doesn't help that we have all hardwood or tile floors (the basement isn't insulated) and several windows that are particularly old and drafty. Even if we did stay here in Illinois next year, we'd definitely be finding a new apartment (preferably one where heating is included). 

I have made some friends here, though. The whole Level 21 part of the theatre department (which consists of the design, production, and technology programs -- stage management, costume, set, and prop design, and technical direction) consists of about 40-45 MFA students (seven of whom are stage managers), and we all interact with each other pretty regularly on show assignments and in one of our classes, which makes it easier to get to know people. The three of us admitted as first years in stage management this year formed our own little group, which we started calling Tray 3 (as sort of a joke, after one of the paper trays in the printer, but of course it stuck). But one of the other group members ended up being dismissed from the program somewhat unexpectedly and thus Tray 3 is no more, at least in its original form.

I have made a few friends outside of the stage managers, too. Back in November I helped with a student residency at the Armory Theatre. One of the costume designers (who was the designer for "The Skin of Our Teeth") created short plays based on Chekhov's short stories and asked me to help with the adaptations, since she knew that I was a writer. I didn't end up contributing all that much, in the end, but I went to some of the rehearsals and got to know a couple of the other actors and costume and set designers, and the show turned out really well. 

There's a handful of MFA actors (nine this year, though after they graduate a new batch will be admitted in the fall) and dozens of undergrad actors at UIUC. I've met a lot of the undergrads in my Theatre History class, and there's a pretty wide range of talent. I think sometimes that it'd be fun to just audition for parts in local plays every now and then, and maybe someday I will, but the talent and dedication you need to become really great, and to stand out among all of these people who are pretty good, or even very good, is huge. Not to mention, you have to have a certain look/body type to get cast into certain roles (in my case, not a lot of roles call for really tall women). I have no idea how easy it is to make a living as an actor these days -- especially on stage, as opposed to film -- but it's also clear -- and inspiring -- how much some of the actors really love what they're doing and how much effort they put into it. 

The Russian ballet was at UIUC the week of my birthday, so on January 21, Jake and I got free tickets to see their performance of "Cinderella." I loved it, of course -- just looking at the costumes and the pointe shoes was enough for me, but the story and the dances were engaging too. I think that's one thing that I really do love about UIUC and the Krannert Center, is that they bring in these performers from all over the world, and we get to see them (if we're not in rehearsal) for cheap or sometimes free. Plus they perform in the same spaces we get to work in, and we see them and their costume racks in our hallways. It's pretty inspiring as well.

The weekend after my birthday, we had portfolio reviews on the UI campus in Chicago, and I stayed and spent the evening and part of the day Sunday with my friend Regina; we had lunch downtown together and she bought rush tickets to see Stomp with me for my birthday, which was a lot of fun. Jake and I had gone up to Chicago for New Year's Eve, but it had ended up being a pretty big group of people so it was nice to have some one-on-one time with her. Our friend Maureen came in from Baltimore for a few days in mid-February, and the three of us went out dancing together at this industrial club which was a blast (I hadn't been out dancing in months before that), We also went to the best bookstore in the city and I bought more books even though God knows I don't need them.

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