Songs for the Struggling Artist


Put Up Your Dukes
August 10, 2022, 12:21 am
Filed under: anger, Justice, masks | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

In case it’s not completely obvious, I’m a fairly conflict averse person. I hate when people argue. I get anxious when tensions rise. I do not enjoy a debate. I would almost always prefer to exchange smiles then to exchange “words” with anyone. Sometimes, on-line, people will think I like heated “discussions” because I have strong opinions and I express them through this particular medium. Just for the record, I do not. I will do a LOT to avoid a heated “discussion.”

As the time for jury deliberation got closer for those of us sitting through the trial, this one juror seemed positively excited about it. She’d put up her hands and pretend to duke it out with an imaginary person. I gave her the gesture back on occasion because I like to be playful – and I hate to leave an acting offer on the table. She wants to play fight? I’m here for her. But once the deliberations started, this woman had a lot to say and not a lot of it made sense and I was not there to indulge anyone’s whims. I did my best to get us on track and stay on the question at hand and the facts. And this woman who’d seemed so excited about the fighting she was looking forward to doing (“the fun part” she’d said) declared to me, “You’re so aggressive. I feel like I need to get out my boxing gloves.”

And this may be the most bizarre thing anyone has ever said to me. I found it positively baffling, especially in this context. But – just in case – I apologized and said I would try and turn it down – though what I was trying to turn down was completely unclear to me. There was something about what she said that made it sound like she was responding to my being passionate or some word to that effect so in addition to the apology, I let them know I was an actor and that seemed to satisfy everyone – like, “Oh, that explains it.” But what was it exactly?

I suspected that it had to do with a level of animation I have, an expressiveness that is perfectly normal for me but among these mostly quiet reserved people somehow felt out place? We’re all wearing or masks so everyone is harder to read than they might usually be. I probably turn myself up a little bit to get past the obstacle on my face. But I have noticed that a lot of people don’t do that. They just aren’t heard as well or aren’t understood. I guess that’s okay with them? It’s not ok with me so I become more expressive in a mask, not less. I will not disappear behind a piece of cloth.

But I suppose it’s possible that this makes me seem more aggressive to people who don’t do this? I don’t know. The whole interaction confused me so much. I wondered if this woman, with her mimed boxing gloves, was so interested in sparring that she just turned me into a sparring partner or if she truly did see me as aggressive.

I mean, I’ve changed a lot in these last few years, maybe I’ve turned over into aggression without even knowing it, though I very much doubt it. Do I write aggressively sometimes? Sure. Am I more assertive than I used to be? Yes. Thank goodness. But I’d be surprised if I’ve actually had an entire personality change.

I think the masks are a factor. They make it a lot easier for us to project things on to each other that have very little to do with us. I think that’s probably the main thing that was happening here. But maybe I’m just too aggressive.

This pic is like me, kissing my new dukes.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotifymy websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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The Face I Made Up
December 28, 2021, 11:21 pm
Filed under: Imagination, masks, pandemic | Tags: , , , ,

In the year or so of going to this café, I have only ever seen the owner in mask – until yesterday. Yesterday, he was outside working on his shed and he was without his mask. For the first time, I saw the lower half of his face and if he hadn’t greeted me warmly and started chatting, I would never have recognized him. I am fascinated by this trick of my brain.

Put a piece of fabric over this guy’s face, I could easily pick him out of a crowd. Without it, I think I’ve never seen him before. It’s clear that my brain made up a face for this guy, one that has nothing to do with his actual face. The face I made up doesn’t exist and I can’t really describe it but if I saw someone with it or something like it, I could have pointed to it and said, “That one.” It’s not just that I didn’t know what this guy looked like, it’s that I thought I knew and I was super super wrong.

The face he actually has is as good a face as the one I made up for him but it somehow tells a different story? I feel as though I’ve uncovered a strange secret of how my brain works in grappling with the discrepancy of what he actually looks like compared to who I imagined.

It turns out that I’m making up stories about people based on their faces. It’s not just that they might have a different face than I imagined, it’s also that I assume they must have a different story. Subconsciously, I’m going, “This person is like this. That person is like that.” based on nothing other than the shape of their chin or whatever. I can’t yet really unpack what my assumptions are or were – but they have to do with social class, geographic origin, personality, upbringing and who knows what else? Like – the guy I imagined was from Connecticut and the actual guy looks like he’s from New Jersey. What does this mean? I could not tell you. The only thing I know is that my brain cannot stop making up stories – both metaphorically, as in the story of the lower half of this guy’s face, and more literally – like what that face I made up means. I feel like this is where the root of prejudice must live – because surely I am not the only one making up stories, making up associations, making up characteristics, based on someone’s face. We do this, surely, for everything and do not know we’re doing it. It’s not just facial structure. It’s bodies. It’s skin. It’s hair. It’s a movement pattern. We think we’re being intuitive or sharp but really our brains are just imaginative chunking association machines.

I’m not sure what we can do about it except perhaps to recognize that it happens and to wonder at how wrong we can be. I’m certainly not one to try and silver lining this pandemic. It sucks and I hate most things about it. I hate all the dark things it has revealed about a lot of humans. However, as uncomfortable as it makes me, I suppose it is a kind of gift to start to see the assumptions my brain makes – to see them in process and to question myself because of it. I can question my own notions of what someone from New Jersey looks like. I can perhaps assume less at the get go and try not to make up so many stories based on faces.

For some reason, I don’t make up faces for masks like this. Like, I literally have no theories about what any of these people look like but give me half a face and my brain’ll go bananas.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotifymy websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Now Is the Winter of My Discontent
November 23, 2021, 7:36 pm
Filed under: American, masks, pandemic, theatre | Tags: , , , , , ,

The temperature has dropped. I pulled my winter coat out of the closet. Our third pandemic winter has begun. Last year, I sat writing under the heat lamps outside at the Toast and Roast, grateful not to have to be at my kitchen table to write but dreaming of the day we’d get the vaccine and I could safely sit inside a café again. And here I am. Back outside at the Toast and Roast (the only coffee place with heat lamps in my neighborhood) despite the fact that I have been vaccinated and have been so since I last sat here in the spring.

Could I go inside somewhere? Sure. Despite the fact that sitting indoors to eat or drink is one of the riskiest things we can do, I’m sure I will at some point. But despite the fact that proof of vaccination is required to sit inside cafes here in NYC, very few places here have been diligent about asking, which does not give me great confidence about the vaccination status of those indoors. Especially given the signs on some windows proclaiming they “don’t discriminate” against unvaccinated people. I mean, at least those signs make it clear where I definitely will not be going.

The me who sat at this Toast and Roast table a year ago would be shocked to learn that so many people have been resistant to getting the vaccine. Didn’t we all go through this nightmare together? Did they not hear the ambulances screaming through the night? Did they not walk past the morgue trucks? Did they not sit, feeling trapped, inside their apartments, afraid of any passing contact that could be dangerous with a loved one or stranger?

When I last sat here at Toast and Roast, under the heat lamp, I would have chewed off my own arm to get a vaccine. But the thing of it is, it doesn’t matter all that much that I, as an individual, have the vaccine, if the community around me is not fully vaccinated. Like, sure, when a mass shooter decides to start spraying bullets, it’s good to have a bullet proof vest on but it won’t save your neighbors and you could still catch a bullet. Better to not have a shooter, number one, but barring that – it’s better if shields can be up for the whole community. (And yes, this is a very American analogy, isn’t it? Ay.)

I cannot understand why someone who can get the vaccine, would not. I start to wonder if maybe the pandemic just hasn’t been so bad for some folks – like maybe they just love Zoom and they want to stay on it forever? Not only would I have chewed off my own arm to get a vaccine, I’d have welcomed almost any side effect. Like, oh, we’re going to get you vaccinated but….you’re going to grow a tentacle. Fine. I’d like to introduce you to my new tentacle. It’s very useful in slippery situations. And if we all grew tentacles when we were vaccinated? Great. At least I’d be able to tell who the hell was vaccinated so I ‘d know If I could sit inside with them or not. I’d hang out indoors at the tentacle café without a care in the world. I’d never have to go to Toast and Roast again. (Sorry, Toast and Roast guys, I love you but your bagel shop café has now become a symbol of my winter sadness so it’s hard for me to keep going.)

At this point, I would welcome a tentacle if it meant I could safely sit in a café or a theatre or concert hall and know, for sure, that everyone is vaccinated and that break out infections would be rare. It would make buying clothes really tricky but you know, I can sew and I’ve learned a few new tricks while sitting in my apartment for nearly two years, so….Give me a tentacle! As this third pandemic winter bears down upon me, I’m not sure I can take winter’s punishments (but I could handle a tentacle).

All around me, things are returning to “normal.” People are pretending everything’s okay when over a thousand people (on average) are still dying every day in this country. And even the normal is not normal. I saw a video of a final dress rehearsal of a college production and all the actors were in masks. But not cool theatrical masks. They’re doing a naturalistic contemporary play in the masks we wear to the grocery store. Is this production going to be safer than most because of those masks? Sure. But it is hella not normal. It is apocalyptic.

The answer is not to adapt to putting shows on in masks, it’s to not need the masks anymore.

Or to put on a show where everyone has tentacles! I mean – what would you rather watch? Also – side note for any vaccine literalists who happen to be reading – this tentacle business is entirely a flight of my own fancy. You will not grow a tentacle if you get the vaccine. You might get a sore arm and feel kind of tired for a day or two. (I lost my appetite for a little while. People pay money for that kind of side effect.) But I’ll crochet you a tentacle if it’ll convince you to get the vaccine. It might help keep you warm in this wretched winter of discontent while we wait for everyone to get it together.

Ladies and Gentlemen, my favorite vaccine side effect!

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotifymy websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to help me get through this winter?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



More Tips on Masks from a Mask Theatre Person

Initially, I was just going to add a little note to my first Tips on Masks from a Mask Theatre Person, a little update, as it were. I thought it was going to be a sentence or two. But I got started and before I knew it, I’d written over a thousand words. So, I guess I had a few things to say on the subject, after all these months of mask wearing.

I wrote my initial Tips for Masks a few months ago when mask wearing was JUST kicking in for us in New York. According to my stats, people are still reading it and so it needs a little update. Wearing a mask every single day for six months is a very different experience than throwing one on for the first time. A lot has changed since I wrote that first post and I’ve got to make some amendments and adjustments, as well.

The first thing that is really very present, and was absolutely not when I wrote the initial piece, is the intensity of the anti-mask movement. When I wrote it, maskholes were the people taking up too much space and bumping into the rest of us. Now the real maskholes are the ones who refuse to put their masks on. I don’t have a lot to say to those folks – just, wear a mask, don’t be a maskhole.

It would seem that most people seem to be adapting pretty well to wearing these things. They don’t seem to be overly entitled and unconstrained by social bounds the way the early adopters were. I will note, though, that I notice there is still a visibility issue with masks. Depending on the mask, you might have discovered that your peripheral vision is impacted. I don’t have the science on this but I do know that we normally see our noses but are not at all conscious of them. Now you’re seeing this mask instead and it is distracting for the space-making parts of our brains. You’re more likely to bump in to stuff or just have a different sense of the space around you.

This happens in theatre mask work as well and if you can imagine it as a benefit, as we can in working in masks in the theatre, maybe it will start to feel a little less limiting.

For example, some of my favorite masks to work with are naïve masks AKA larval AKA Basal. Their eye-holes tend to be very small and the mask covers the entire face, so in order to work in it, you have to adapt to a very limited range of visibility. This, in fact, is where the comedy comes in. My mask teacher, John Wright, will usually introduce these masks by having everyone put their hands in circles over their eyes, like they’re putting on hand binoculars. (Try it! It’s fun!) Then he puts everyone in increasingly challenging situations while only being able to see through those small tunnels of their hands. Trying to get everyone into a line when no one can really see is almost always funny. Just because of the limitations, everyone begins to use more and more of the body. If you want to see down the line, you have to lean all the way out and turn, you cannot just peek out of your periphery. You have no peripheral vision. It is comedy gold.

Our pandemic masks do not make comedy gold but they do create a limitation. I’m still trying to work out the performative benefits of that limitation (aside from protecting ourselves and the people around us from droplets, of course). But I’m sure there is one. And since there are such a lot of us in these things, if we all search for it, maybe we’ll find something interesting. Perhaps we will all become highly expressive in the eyes. Maybe we will increase our acuity in sensing things with the body, rather than the peripheral vision.

But if you find yourself a little clumsier in mask maybe just recognize that that is likely a property of the mask and not that you are losing your grace.

Another thing I will note is that when I wrote that first post, it was pretty much the height of the epidemic in New York. For us, then, there was never a moment outside the apartment where it made sense to remove a mask. In less dense areas, I have discovered, there is a lot more on and off that tends to happen. You go for a walk in a small town and you can go without your mask for blocks and then need to whip it on as a pedestrian approaches. My “put your mask on and keep it on” advice is useless for you in those circumstances. So, in this on-again-off-again world, you’ll want to only touch the elastic. Take it on and off at the ears, not the front. That’s for safety and keeping your mask as free from the bad stuff as possible. But it is also true for aesthetics in mask that you don’t want to be seen touching the face of the mask.

I don’t have a solution for the fogging glasses problem, really. In the theatre, for performers, I usually encourage glasses wearers to switch to contact lens for their performances or go without. That is a lot harder in the real world where we really need to see. I can mostly only parrot what I have seen others say about the glasses problem – a lot of which seems to involve purchasing either fashion tape, bendable mask wires or defogging goop. I keep trying to just place the glasses over the mask but the glasses often slip or the mask does. The fog seems to entirely depend on the mask, the glasses and the weather. I have been experimenting, though, and I’ve discovered that if I put my front teeth over my lower lip like a cartoon rabbit and say things that begin with F, it does a pretty good job of clearing my glasses. I made up a phrase (“finicky feral finches fend for feed” ) that I found works pretty well. But somewhat more satisfying is telling corrupt and immoral politicians to go F themselves. I was originally enjoying telling Fitch FcFonnell to go F*** himself but then I realized how much more effective it was to begin with a classic, old timey Shakespeare curse of “Fie!” (The i has better glasses-clearing qualities than the u.) So while I walk down the streets watching businesses get boarded up due to the Senate’s abysmal Covid relief response, I can just curse away. “Fie, Fitch FcFonnell! Fie, Findsey Faham!” Lately, I’ve added, “Fie, Famey Foamy Ferrett!” Listen, no one needs to know what kind of witchy business you get up to behind your mask. I’ve Fubbled Fubbled Foiled and Fubbled back there quite a bit. My fillet of a fenny snake has in the fauldron foiled and faked.

Anyway, vocal exercises aside, the main tool an actor uses in mask work is actually available to anyone and that is imagination. The main skill involved in performing in mask is imagining that the mask on your face is your face. That the mouth of the mask is your mouth, that the eyes are your eyes.

One way to deal with the alienating effect of having to wear something on your face all the time is to imagine that the thing is not a foreign object – but an expressive part of your own self. You can imagine scenarios for this, if it will help. You could be an alien species with half a fabric face. You could be a warrior that has grown a protective layer of cloth to prevent you from telling secrets. You could be a cloth doll in the midst of a transformation. You can be someone new every day. I’m not going to say this won’t be challenging. It is actually a lot easier to imagine that a silly forehead with a comedy nose is your face than it is to invent a useful fiction for your new cloth mouth – but it will keep you occupied as you negotiate mask world. And it looks like we’re going to be living in mask world quite a bit longer, so, having a project that’ll last a whole year might not be a terrible idea.

I will update this post as new developments occur. I sure as hell hope we can stop wearing these things every day soon. I hate them as much as anyone. But we’ll suck it up and do it because it helps slow the virus down more than just about any other thing we can do. Wear a mask! Save a life! And imagine you’re a weird cloth monster or something.

You cannot imagine how long it took these masks to get into this line and find one another’s hands. It was very funny to watch them get here. They can barely see.
(This is from my company’s Very Serious Theatre. In the naive masks are: Julia Cavagna, Mia Hutchinson-Shaw, Brooke Turner and Ilyssa Baine)

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Want to help me keep exploring masks and theatre?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



Tips on Masks from a Mask Theatre Person
April 13, 2020, 1:25 am
Filed under: advice, clown, masks, theatre | Tags: , , , , , ,

The masks we’re all wearing these days are not the sort that would play onstage. You’d have to use them if you were playing a naturalistic surgical scene – but otherwise, these protective masks are awfully hard to express one’s self in. They may be very important for not spreading the virus but they are lousy theatre masks. Even so, I’ve been trying to figure out how to apply what I’ve learned from years of mask work to these terrible untheatrical (but incredibly important) medical ones.

First is – once it’s on, don’t mess with it.

On stage, it ruins the illusion if you touch your mask. Actors will go through all kinds of machinations to avoid being seen adjusting a mask in front of the public. Many will just ride out an uncomfortable mask and deal with the elastic injuries later.

Out in coronavirus world, if you adjust your mask, you bring whatever you had on your fingers up to your face, putting you at more risk. Touching your mask once it’s on moves possible infection around. This is why it’s best to try and work out the fit with clean hands before you got out in the world.

Second – no one can see what you’re doing with your face under your mask. If you’re smiling, we don’t know. If you’re gritting your teeth with murderous rage, we don’t know. That’s why, onstage, mask performers learn how to express stuff with the body. Sad? We’ll see it in the tilt of the head. Mad? we’ll see it in your balled up fists. If you’re finding yourself alienated in your inexpressive face covering, try communicating more with your body. Give a thumbs up. Do a happy shoulder shimmy. If you go too big with all this stuff, people might think you’re a strange clown but at least you’ll have an actual human to human exchange with that person six feet away from you, who definitely can’t see the crinkle in your eyes to indicate your smile. Trust me on that point. No one knows you’re smiling at them.

Third – Don’t be a maskhole.
There’s an effect that can happen with some people where putting on a mask makes them feel invulnerable and anonymous and it turns them into maskholes. When I worked Front of House on Punchdrunk’s Masque of the Red Death, wherein everyone in the audience wore a mask, we saw extraordinarily bad behavior from many masked audience members. There were people who seemed perfectly nice and reasonable before and after the show but as soon as the mask went on, they became holy terrors. They’d steal things from the rooms. They’d get belligerent with actors and staff. They got in the way a lot.

You might have noticed this effect at Halloween.

Similarly, in those early days of Coronavirus – there were a handful of people in masks and lots of people not in them. Almost inevitably, the people who one had to be the most careful of were those IN masks. They’d get very close – pass right next to you – barrel forward in the grocery store. And so the term maskhole was coined.

Now we’re all meant to wear masks outside our homes and I’m worried about the increase in potential maskholes.

One article I read said that part of the reasoning to insist on masks was to help encourage people to be more careful but I cannot imagine, given how many people in masks behave, that it will do that. It’s likely that it will encourage the opposite. A mask provides such a strong illusion of safety – I fear we’re bound to see people in them getting closer to each other than they’ve been before. Why not? They have masks! They feel safe now!

So – you know – try not to be a maskhole.

Fourth – It takes time to get to know what you can do in a mask. It will be alienating for a while. At the moment, everyone looks sort of automaton-y and apocalyptic. But I think there’s hope for a more expressive way of wearing our protective gear. Maybe we can develop a smile substitute that we can do from six feet away? I was going to suggest using the ASL sign for smile but it appears to involve touching one’s face – so we’re going to need a hands away from the face gesture that suggests that you’re smiling at someone behind the mask. Maybe, like, one jazz hand? I don’t know. We need something, for sure. I really miss being able to exchange smiles with the few people I get to see out in the world.

Fifth – no one can hear you through a mask. Onstage, you’d probably just have a character in masks like these be silent. Out in the real world, you will have to speak, probably. You’ll have to speak more loudly than you’re used to, to get through those layers of fabric and it’s going to feel weird, because it is. Nobody sounds good or clear from behind a mask. That’s why gestures work so much better than actual talking. Maybe it’s time we really all learned sign language.

I’m hoping some of my fellow mask theatre folk will be finding theatrical ways to deal with these unwieldy, unaesthetic masks. I’ve seen some who’ve designed dog snout masks, another who’s made a changeable smiling mask. I think, if this goes on for a while and it does seem likely to go on for a while, we will eventually see some exciting developments for this type of mask. Meanwhile, stay safe everyone! And don’t be a maskhole!

UPDATE! I have written some more tips all these months later. Here are: More Tips on Masks from a Mask Theatre Person

This person is doing an amazing job of smiling with her mask on. BUT, really, you shouldn’t be close enough to see those smiling eyes.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Want to help an NYC theatre artist weather this thing?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis




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