This post was originally going to be titled “The Anton Chekhov Years” because I was going to talk about both Anton Chekhov and the musical “The Last Five Years” and their connection to my current life, but I ended up having way more to say about Chekhov than I thought I would. So, here we go with a little bit of theatre talk, because I figure you guys are getting pretty tired of me complaining about my pummeled relationship, but I have just a little more to do.
Since this blog as a whole is indeed about the fact that I dropped out of college to be an actor, (It’s official now! The last section of grades just came in. 4.0, bitches.) I decided that I would wrap what’s happening to me now in some explanation about why I left the University.
So, as I may or may not have touched upon in previous blogs, I was/ may attempt again/ ugh! going to school to get my BFA in Musical Theatre. Because that’s definitely what you get a degree in if you want to make money, but I was deliriously happy for a while, so I let this choice slide. Now, getting a degree in acting means that I took a lot of classes where people taught me how to, well, act. I was taught breathing, and the proper way to say words to get over my weird A impediment (which is really just a Boston accent, which is strange because I’ve never even been to Boston… Huh.) I was taught how to stand, how to sit, how to enter a room, you name it. Learning how to act also required me to learn how to behave in certain styles of theatre: Shakespeare, Comedy of Manners, Farce, and, of course, Chekhov.
Anton Chekhov was not a guy I really dealt with a lot before going to the University. I mean, I was a musical theatre major for goodness sakes. All I really needed to know how to do was sing and smile. Few people really cared about my actual acting skills, but it really came first in my nature so I read up on the guy. I think the best way I ever heard him described was by my vocal teacher (the one who taunted my impediment.) She told us, “If you’re weeping hysterically and laughing hysterically at the same time you’re doing it right.”
I thought this was interesting. Laughing and crying was something I had done before, but I just couldn’t place it in these shows. I mean, it was just so… Average. And that was the point, I know. That was the magic of Chekhov I learned. It was just so everyday, and so casual, and so hidden that it was absolutely a time bomb waiting to explode and that’s what made it so interesting to watch. (No seriously, our acting exercises were sitting and playing cards, or chess, or alphabetizing cue cards. I literally sat in front of the class for twenty minutes one time alphabetizing cue cards and getting angrier by the second about my life and my choices and what I was doing. He said it was some of the best acting he’d seen.)
So really, to study Chekhov was to study true human behavior and it was really fascinating. The thing that wasn’t fascinating was the fact that the department was really falling apart when I entered it. I had heard it from other people, but before I went there I was really a shining example of seeing the good in everyone so I just ignored this and assumed people were overreacting. They weren’t. (When I returned to my mentor job after leaving the university people literally cheered. They cheered in the hallways about the fact I’d seen the light. It was pretty bad.)
Part of this interesting dynamic came in the form of my acting teacher, who was actually the reason I came to this university. I loved him. I still do, but in a much different way now. He’s probably one of the more brilliant actors I’ve ever seen in my life, but my acting class just drove me crazy.
Our Shakespeare unit included him being gone the whole time because he had an acting gig. Which was awesome! But we were teaching ourselves how to act Shakespeare out of a book and it wasn’t working. And he commented on that when he returned to watch our final scenes. (More on that later…)
Our other units were a combination of yelling, that disappointed face that parents give their kids, and balancing books on our heads. The Chekhov unit, however, took the cake.
Shit happened. I know that. I don’t know what, but stuff went down and it wasn’t good. That happens. It’s life. I was at the point where I was deciding whether I was going to drop out of school, people were collapsing at the gym from being told by instructors that they were too fat to act, it was finally coming out that instructors slept with students. It’s life. Life is really, really shitty sometimes.
So please keep that in mind, just for a moment, while I try to recreate a picture of my Chekhov unit for you:
The lights are at half in the studio theatre we used. My instructor enters, his usual boyish gait is gone. He approaches the podium and delicately puts his papers on it. He pauses for a moment, staring off into space at something only he could see, covering his mouth, tears welling up in his eyes. We all watch, silent. In this class we could never be sure what was an acting moment or not. After a while he lazily grabs a chair and pulls it to the center of the acting space into a pool of light and slumps into it, his head in his hands. And he begins to weep. And I realize that this is not an acting moment. I want so desperately to break the silence and remind everyone that I’m going into monstrous debt to take this class, but I figure that might be inappropriate. And then finally I realize why the universe held my tongue as he whispers hoarsely:
“My life is just… so Chekhovian.”
I called my mother as soon as I got out of class that day to see if someone who didn’t directly witness this phenomenon would believe me when I told the story. That also became our new catch phrase, because it was awesome how ironic it was because to be Chekhovian meant to be distressingly average, and thus not really worth weeping over. I laughed. Maybe it was because I was exhausted and completely absorbed in myself and my life at the time (what’s changed?) so I was delirious with Chekhov.
When it came time to do our final, I had decided to drop out of school, announced it to the department, suffered the repercussions and I was starting to gain weight. Before this, I had been scoffed at during scenes, had him shake his head and sigh, checking his watch, during the last public performance there (that I won an award for, from his previous mentor. SUCK. IT.) and I had him tell me, in front of the class (I shouldn’t care, but I do) that my Shakespearean acting was worse than watching a bad after school special, and that I wasn’t smart enough for Comedy of Manners. Seriously.
The acting world is hard, but this school was just regoddamndiculous.
And so I just did it. I got up to do my scene and I don’t really remember much except looking into the audience and just hating him. Just hating everything about him, and every awful thing he had ever said to me, and every eye roll, and every sigh, and every tear. And I started to laugh. I was laughing at the fact that I was able to leave, and I never had to see him again if I didn’t want to, and I was going to go and break this awful habit of being a Chorus Line song (“Nothing.” Look it up. I’ll blog about it later.) and find someone who actually wanted to teach me and I would be an actor because that’s what I was supposed to be. Already giddy and high on my final scenework, I was trucking through this piece talking about love and reading and other joys in life, and I finally looked at my partner.
This is a very bad actor thing to do, not looking at your partner, I mean. I fully own up to the fact that I was being a super shitty actor at this point in my career, just ticking off assignments until I would walk out those doors for the last time. But I looked at her, and I just stared right into her eyes for a minute and suddenly it hit me. I was walking away from a very bad place that was doing awful things for me, but I was also walking away from so much more. My room, my bed, my friends, the best friends I had made in my lifetime, and I knew that things would change because people never stay in touch when they say they will. I was walking away from good food, and dinner parties and PBR while playing poker. I was walking away from freezing couches and rarely waking up in my own bed. I was leaving funny stories and temperature so cold that my eyes froze together when I blinked. I was leaving a horrible place, but it was all going to be gone when I left. All of it.
And I started to cry.
I started weeping so hard I could barely get my lines out, but somehow they weren’t lost in the strange sea of subtext in my head. I was going on auto-pilot now. Because this was real life. This was Chekhov.
And I started to laugh again.
Because I felt so silly and there was just something that tickled me so much about the fact that I finally understood everything that I had been taught that semester. I knew exactly what my vocal teacher had been talking about and I really understood Chekhov. And I liked it. This little musical theatre major really liked it a lot more than jazz squares.
As I transitioned into my monologue about being alone forever and losing my man to a strange turn of events I couldn’t pull myself together. Finally after a semester of running laps around door frames trying to get to that exhausted vulnerable point I was there. And it felt amazing.
I got done, and I did that little head nod that means “Thank You” that they hated there, but I was literally out of words. I was full to the brim with emotion, but I couldn’t articulate any of it, so I just sat down, drying my eyes on my hideous, tie-dye rehearsal skirt.
So, what does this have to do with my real life now?
Uh, hello? Chekhov is life. Where have you been for the last two pages??
Kidding. I’m kidding.
But really, what is all this nonsense I’m spouting when I’ve been spending most of my writing time talking about being brokenhearted?
It’s actually only kind of what you think.
First of all, I’m going to make a very, very long story short because I’ve already written about ten pseudo- blogs that I’ll never post, speaking in capitals and saying all those things I wish I’d been brave enough or clear-headed enough to say in real life, and you people don’t need any of that. SO instead, I’ll paraphrase by saying:
Learn from my fail. I think they may have designed that website especially for me. So, in today’s lesson, I’ll tell you to never, never contact your ex. Even if you think it’ll be okay. Even if you want to be civil. Even if people tell you to. Especially if people tell you not to. And if you do decide to not learn from my fail, try to place a sign on your forehead or flying across the sky talking about how you don’t hate them, of course you don’t, but you really never want to see or speak to them again Ever. Ever again. Because it’ll be too painful and things will be said that are awful and horrible and complete game changers and you will be left right at square one, every wound reopened, completely sickened and dry heaving with emotion, blubbering in your bed again. That line, “I never meant to hurt you” has become a movie classic because the actual subtext is, “except I want to do everything in my power to make you feel pain, because I’m just like that.” That’s acting right there.
Learn from my fail.
So as I was curled up in my bed, weeping hysterically, again, because all of my years of being crazy judgmental of girls like me taught me nothing apparently, I began to think about all the things that had been happening lately, things that are far more devastating and tragic than any break up, far more hurtful than anything he could ever say to me, and far too personal to ever write some trivial blog about and I stepped outside myself for a moment and I thought, (no really, wait for it…) “My life is so…” And then I started to laugh, “…Chekhovian.” And I realized how stupid I was being. All that time I’d spent judging my acting teacher, when really he had it right all along.
Am I still upset? You bet your ass I am, and my informal poll of co-workers who wanted to know why I had Fight Club face again told me that I shouldn’t feel bad about that. Emotions are important, no mater how much I hate that, and I was/ am justified in mine.
So really, the weird theatrical limbo I’m in right now isn’t all for naught. Apparently I’m still practicing my acting all the time without even knowing it. Am I going to stop crying anytime soon? Lord, I hope so. My eyes are starting to get irritated, but I’m not really holding my breath. There are a lot of things that need to get cried out still.
Next, I’ll get to my strange talk about “The Last Five Years” which is a brilliant Jason Robert Brown musical that I definitely dream of being in one day. If you want to do a little homework before I post again you can listen to the song “Nobody Needs to Know” that has made me cry every time since the first day I heard it, because it‘s one of my favorites. I’ll numb the spoiler alert a little by breaking it to you that Kathy, who he sings about, is the person he “loves” and is committed to, and the woman he’s in bed with and singing “take me inside you” to is most definitely not Kathy.
Maybe the song writes the blog for me.
Oh man, I need to start listening to music that isn’t Katy Perry’s “Part of Me” again.
There’s some good stuff out there. Amongst all the tragedy.