Monday, April 16, 2012

The Perfect Place to Have a Mid-life Crisis by Lori Stein

“When the class was over, she walked through the city, feeling a single emotion in her whole body and mind. At first she couldn’t identify what it was: then she realized it was fear. Oh, she thought, I must be afraid that I can’t do it - that I won’t be able to do a forward roll, that I’ll be thrown too hard and break a bone, that I’ll fail. But that didn’t feel like the truth, and she began to realize that what she was afraid of was that she would be able to do it, that it would become a passion, and it would change her in ways she couldn’t predict or understand.”
- Dave and Bush, Compassion in Action

I came across this passage about two years before I found the lump in my breast. That morning in the shower, when I made the discovery, I realized that I had to face the truth. I was afraid of the lump, but my fear was not of the lump alone — I could go the rest of my life without being faithful to my desires. The truth was, I wanted to be an actor. In fact, I had wanted this since high school, but put the desire aside. This brush with mortality woke me up. I wasn’t afraid of dying; I was afraid of living and not being true to myself.

After a series of tests, I found out the lump was benign. Now I had no excuse to hold back, but once again, fear and self-doubt crept in. I wanted to take a class in acting, but I had a picture in my mind of what the actors would look like: Young, hip, beautiful— they probably would wear berets and chain smoke. I was 41, lived in the suburbs, drove a mini-van, and had never even considered owning a beret. I was happily married, with two kids, two dogs, and a cat. I was a freaking cliché. But I was armed with my sense of a new lease on life. “Fuck it,” I thought.

I found Freehold through a Google search and was encouraged by their mission statement: “We at Freehold believe that theatre should inspire people to embrace the full range of human experience and connect us all more deeply to ourselves and to each other. In order for theatre to accomplish this, it must be truthful, illuminate the unseen, and articulate the unspoken. To realize this potential, there must be a place dedicated to research and experimentation in training and performance for working artists, inspired novices, and willing audiences.”

I was relieved to read that their training was for inspired novices as well as working artists. Embracing the full range of human experience, cool. Freehold’s mission statement was an invitation, an extended hand. So, I saved them in my favorites.

A week later I was sitting on a bleacher watching my son’s Little League game in Redmond, and my husband and I struck up a conversation with another couple. We decided to have dinner together, and in the car I told them that I was thinking of taking an acting class. Cris, told me he was also considering a class. It turned out that he used to do quite a bit of acting and had been researching schools. He said that he had heard really great things about Freehold and told me about their upcoming Open House. I couldn’t imagine that just a few years later, we would be performing together. That we’d be working in the same theater company, more than once playing the unhappily married couple.

I decided to attend the Open House.

So, yes, I got in my mini-van and began my adventure. Well, I was late. The presentations were over and people were standing around talking. I told the nice woman working the reception table about my interest in taking a class and asked her who I could talk with. She pointed me in the direction of a young man surrounded by many other young men and women. I swear he was wearing a beret, but over the years this has been disputed, as he said he never owned one. I was so shy I just stood on the outside of the circle as more cool young men and women surrounded him. Slowly making my way further from the center, I decided to leave. It was true: Acting was just for these people—cool, young, dressed in berets and scarves. I was almost to the door when the nice woman asked me if I got to talk to someone. I said, "It’s okay, I think he’s really busy." I began to walk, but she stopped me again and said, I have someone who can talk to you. She led me back into the building and pointed to the farthest corner of the room. There was a grey-haired man, alone by the radiator. She said that this man was George Lewis and he taught one of the beginning acting classes. I said to him, Is this a good place to have my mid-life crisis? He looked at me, straight in the eyes, with so much intensity and honesty -- "This is the perfect place to have a mid-life crisis." So, I took that first class, Intro to Acting on a Sunday evening, and the course of my life changed forever.

In one of my first classes we had to prepare an activity, a task which should be difficult, with high stakes, while living truthfully in the imaginary circumstance. I prepared to make a pineapple boat. I worked for hours on this plan. George watched me as I crashed and burned. I was disconnected and working hard, my face was flushed and my pineapple boat sucked. The painful few minutes ended. I waited for applause, but only heard- Next?

The next time, I prepared a new circumstance: my brilliant stolen diamond ring caper; my activity: cutting lemons. I was convinced that this was going to be better than the pineapple boat. George said, you are using a sledgehammer when you only need to apply a tap. Relax.

Later in my Rehearsal and Performance I started crying during one of the warm-up games, like word ball or something. I couldn’t remember the words and got really frustrated and left the Circle. My teacher with the disputed beret found me in the hall. I can tell you really want this, Lori: trust yourself and relax.

I was trying so hard to be perfect. I was reminded to let go, trust myself, stay in the moment, listen.

I continued into The Meisner Progression where there were many opportunities to practice all of the above. I continued on and graduated from the 2005-06 Ensemble Training Intensive program. I felt a sense of community and purpose. The experiences I gained fed into my home life. My daughter’s life was influenced; she’s a writer, studying in New York; after seeing me in a show adapted from Raymond Carver’s writings, she was inspired to delve more deeply into the philosophy of the short story. My friends who rarely saw live theatre began to come to my performances. My husband, whose day job is in computer technology, now also does stage photography for theatre companies. My own life was so enriched, but I never expected the incredible richness it would add to others.

As for me, I am continually working on letting go, trusting myself, staying in the moment, and listening. I believe I am more real and grounded than ever. I care less and less about my perceived mid-life crisis, and more about other people. Acting has become my passion, and it has changed my life in ways I could never have imagined.

Photo above: Lori performing in "It's a Wonderful Life" - A live radio play.

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