Sunday, June 28, 2009

on SITI summer-part nine OR reflections

i'm now back in austin, lying in the bed i've missed for four weeks, petting my dog and remembering the smells of my own house. i've yearned for this. i've missed this. i've needed this.

all is changed, though. my body is very different. i didn't notice it morphing while i was in training, but being around familiar objects now has shown me how i've become denser and faster. and the connection between my body and my mind has become so much clearer. my body tells my mind more things, and my body listens, too.

i am melancholy. i am worried i will forget.

the last few days happened at breakneck pace. i was directing while also training. we were sewing performative "buttons" on all the work we did. it felt like we were all thinking: pack in the last of the information and hope to god it will stick. and now on this side, i'm nervous.

will i lose it? what will happen if i do? how do we integrate our undeniably changed selves back into the life that we worked so hard to forge?

lovely partner had to remind me that rest requires it own rigor. i need to reflect seriously, give space to my transition, recognize that i'm more prepared than i thought for many, many things. and still be gentle with my fears, my insecurities, my obstacles.

today, though, my body is strange. it wants to train. and i am not quite sure how to assuage it. it's 107 degrees and our AC barely works. and then the every day things that i had forgotten about: dishes, sweeping, driving, the post office--they all return. i am a bit confused about who i am, what to do with myself. i still haven't sat down with a good half hour to write out my thoughts for myself. i'm too busy adjusting to actively notice my adjustments.

and i'm also a bit loath to finish this post right now. it's been sitting open on my computer screen for over a day. i'm sure it's no surprise why. because this is my last SITI post. and that gives me profound pains and fears. just as i had to remember to take pieces of my community here to SITI with me--just so i could make it through the solitude, i am remembering to take pieces of people and lessons i learned while training, back into my home, with the fervor and passion i finally learned was always within me.

it's confusing, yes. but i realize that it's more than just my own brow that becomes knit in this process. i am now the suture that connects one space to another, and though those spaces serve different purposes and functions in the larger sense of the world, they are interdependent and woven together. how completely messy. how completely complicated. how completely delightful.

and now, we begin.

on SITI summer-part eight OR our bodies, our selves

on wednesday, i had yet another breakthrough about my body. i realized that the reason i "don't dance" is not because i'm afraid to look the fool (i look the fool all the time!), but because i have fundamentally hated the body i was given at birth. it's beyond "body issues" of wanting to be thin or attractive or sexy. somehow, since a very very early age, i learned that to have a girl body meant weakness, meant danger, meant potential violation. when barney o'hanlon said to me during a movement class, "kt, you're so good at folding, try more extending," i knew the reason i had so much trouble was because of my body hatred. extending my limbs meant showing my female body; showing my female body has always made me very, very afraid.

so i wept. and wept. and wept. and freaked out. and wept. and rehearsed. and freaked out again.

it's no small problem to deal with. afterall, i have hated being a girl since i was about four years old. yes, part of this is just my own gender identity and expression. and it's murky water around the line between gender expression and body image. the fact is, i have had a chance--many, in fact--to change my body. to take hormones, to do surgery. but i haven't. i respect those who do. but i resolved to keep my body as i was born with--vulnerable, flawed, and unmistakeably female. now i know why.

i see on the horizon the hope that one day, i will recognize my body as my own and as a finely-honed tool of expression and creativity. as something wholly connected to my mind and soul. as with any gender expression, i will continue containing it, pushing it, pulling it. but i will also choose to expose it. and revel in that vulnerability. someday, i will be that butch who loves her body as part of herself, rather than as something that could go nice on someone else.

the days after i wept, many things happened to reinforce my resolve around my body. all these different people kept calling me "gorgeous." and ellen lauren told me i "know how to move." i just need to continue exploring my limits and my possibilities, and embrace that fear as best i can.

Friday, June 19, 2009

on SITI summer-part seven OR depression, doubt and determination

they warned us last friday that this would be the week. the week when everyone would break down. when the entropy of fatigue would hit the wall of impossibility. when almost everyone would sit and say to themselves, "what the FUCK do i think i'm doing?"

actually, though, i was euphoric for the first half of the week. because i realized that the thing i semi-wrote about last post was actually acute depression trying to take away my life. and by realizing i was teetering on the edge of depression, i made the decision to fight it. i was the bouncer outside the door to the interior of my mind, stiff palm outstretched and telling depression that it couldn't come in. sadness, i let pass. loneliness, i let pass. confusion, i let pass. but i dug in deep to get depression out of my mind. i've had low-level depression since i was about 8 years old. it wasn't diagnosed until the year my mother died. up until february, i had been on anti-depressants for five years. it's been a struggle, especially off the meds.

on top of my decision to fight depression, rather than let it take over, i received several compliments in rapid succession. anne bogart said that i have a certain charisma that makes people trust me ("and i don't say that to many people..."), a fabulous new york director seems almost hell-bent on casting me in one of her productions, and i was receiving general affection from people i have begun to respect very deeply. i tried to give back. i listened and witnessed some of the most confident seeming people go through intense moments of self-doubt. i held people as they wept. i radiated warmth whenever i encountered anyone from the program. really, i did.

that was great. and lovely partner wisely told me to write down things people told me and sensations i experienced in these days of euphoria: "people here have begun to show a deep respect for me. people have said that they want to work with me. other actors and siti company members have said i have a 'great voice.' anne seems to enjoy me. people wish me well." i actually thought i was done with my "breakdown."

not quite.

the doubt began creeping in on wednesday. and thursday, after a very grueling viewpoints session, i actually heard myself saying, "what the fuck are you doing?!" today, it intensified. i kept shaking my head after every exercise i stood up to do. i felt ashamed that i couldn't do suzuki with full energy because my foot was in pain. and after i sat down from a short viewpoints exercise, a siti company member very gently reminded me release tension in my shoulders. i felt so discouraged that during the next exercise, i was completely terrified to be performing in front of my peers. the afternoon was a grueling suzuki session followed by a viewpoints session that i had been looking forward to: doing viewpoints in the big theater, with the sounds and light designers improvising with us. but all i could do was think "i'm such a shit actor. i'm such a self-indulgent sonovabitch." so i spent my whole time actually trying to dodge the light.

when i left the theater, i cried in silent wails slouched over a chair. embarrassed and hoping no one would find me.

it sucks. it really sucks. thing is. i know this doubt is temporary. and that's the difference. that is what tells me that i am keeping depression out of the interiors of my mind. after this week, i have a renewed determination toward the future. i decided to practice something anne talks about: speaking something into existence. the act of saying something makes it true, even if you have doubts.

and this is what i've been saying: i have a talent for directing and a strong presence on stage. i am not a dilettante. i am in this and good at it. i will find funding. this will be how i live.

i have begun sharing my work with the people here. my solo work as well as the work i've done with stamp lab. i feel like i'm speaking that into existence, too. by talking about "una corda," it will happen, and it will happen well. and by talking about my work with stamp lab, i will continue finding community around performance and theatre. even as i write this, the doubt creeps into the peripheries of my consciousness. and i think of advice i would give to someone saying the same things: that the doubt is a sign of change, and that we must have faith that the change goes in the right direction. i have to keep believing that.

i am determined.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

on SITI summer-part six OR tension and balance

sometimes flight takes strange forms.

we flee for survival when we are in imminent danger. we flee awkward interactions. we flee things that push deep and specific buttons in our psyche. we flee the exciting. we even flee from precisely what we desire.

on wednesday, at the weekly symposium, i asked anne bogart: as artists and human beings, how do we prioritize the ethereal/creative/phantasmic aspects of making theatre along side the concrete/materialist realities of everyday life?

her response was: exactly.

i've been thinking about the question a lot. and thought that the act of thinking about it was in itself enough. i have been catching myself from fleeing many things: the limitations of my body, my insecurities as a performer, the solitude of spending this length of time with strangers. i've been hyper-sensitive to reigning in my instinct of flight--for "the work"--trying to somehow see the ethereal and concrete alongside one another.

but then, i fucked up. i was too preoccupied about tending to "the work," that i was missing a key element in my flight response: my real life.

i'm still having trouble processing what happened to articulate it very well. i know that ideally, what happens in the work directly relates to "real life." the practice of that is difficult. even as i have been entering closer and closer into certain emotional vulnerabilities, i've also allowed for detachment and distance. detachment and distance can be healthy--sure. but these acts of detachment were hurtful. and i can't even account for them fully.

i just keep running away.

some might say it's the human condition to continuously repeat folly, despite full knowledge of it. but i don't believe that. i won't allow it. so how come i keep encountering this vicious repetition? how come i keep running away when all i want to do is go closer? even as i keep searching, the answer eludes me.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

on SITI summer-part five OR why the fuck am i so weepy?

saw the paul taylor dance company this evening. i honestly had no idea what to expect. but the siti company folks highly recommended it, so i got a ticket and went.

i realized midway through that i really have very little context for dance. i haven't seen ballet in decades, and the dance that i do see is usually politically or ethnically or site specific. so i watched the first two pieces with detached interest, trying to appreciate the composition or the lines or the very articulate bodies of the dancers.

but then it happened. i was suddenly moved. the music was poulenc's gloria. i, of course, knew all the words since i'm setting that mass text myself. the movement--it's so difficult to put into words--was formalistically pretty standard. but it told a story. a story of death and joy and fight and resignation. and as i watched, i again felt a heat well up from deep inside me run up my body and out my eyes. i was shocked. but i couldn't stop crying. i actually became frustrated with myself, "why am i crying?!" i struggled until i realized that this is what art does. it invokes feelings that cannot be articulated otherwise.

perhaps it is because i am exhausted all the time. or perhaps it is because i had a touching conversation just before the show. or perhaps it is because i've been thinking so much about the community i miss in austin right now. but the cause doesn't matter. what matters is that i was overcome with emotions that reside in my core that i might not have excavated otherwise.

i looked at the program afterwards. it was accompanied by excerpts from walt whitman's leaves of grass--the poem cycle that has the line, "i sing the body electric." the excerpts read as a joyous eulogy. and so did the dance.

anne bogart talks about how innovation and originality in the arts is overrated. that trying to do something totally new often misses the point. it's not whether it's new, it's how we approach it. and i think this show hit that home for me. even though paul taylor was part of that generation of choreographers who radically changed dance as we know it, his style seems almost classical in this historical moment. i think many of my compatriots were disillusioned because of that. and yet, even though the form itself was not new--even to me who knows little about dance--something about it deeply touched me.

i've been thinking about that this week, how to let go of "originality." i've been pairing that idea with the burden of representation. because i think about both a lot, and often in tandem. in my place of community accountability, i can't help but bare that burden of representation. but how does that intertwine with "originality?" if i'm trying to rewrite images of "my people," of whom there are so many stereotypes, how can i not strive for newness? and where does "authenticity," both culturally and creatively, lie in all this? i think they key is, in fact, in the approach, but i need to work out the details. i think that's why i'm here.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

on SITI summer-part four OR the young man talking polemics in the cafeteria

let's face it: theatre tends to breed hyperbole.

there is a young man in the program who is, well, young. he's very sweet, and seems to have a lot of knowledge. but one thing he does is go around talking in polemics. most of the time, he get's a laugh or someone talks around it or over it. today, i witnessed someone call him out on it.

it was fascinating to watch. at first. but then i found myself engaging in the discussion despite the fact that i didn't really care about the subject (it was about musical theatre, which i really don't care about at all). what ended up happening was basically four of us were giving him a bit of a tongue lashing. i felt bad for a second, but it made me think a bit.

i still talk in polemics sometimes. as a breed, us shorbs tend toward debate. and going to oberlin just pushed that gene a little further into outright huge general arguments. but i've learned about them. a shit load of people have called me out on the polemics, and i've grown to be a bit careful.

because polemics are potentially destructive. at the core, they can divide communities, cause hurt, or break down safe-havens. and because of this potential destruction, they are highly powerful. and that power requires responsibility.

i realize in hindsight that i engaged in this discussion not because i cared about musical theatre, or even whether or not this young man did anything about it. but more because i wanted to say: you can't do polemics casually. you need to account for it and commit to whatever outcome ensues. it needs to be specific. a polemic that doesn't lead to eventual construction or reconstruction is no more than another way to be witty.

commitment to construction, redefining, and creating new structures and communities has made me think of why i'm here. about my place in this community here and my place in my community back in austin and diasporically. i spoke with lovely partner last night about how i come from a very specific subject position, and my path is paved with the love and support of many individuals and a cohesive *community* of active supporters. training here does me much personal good, yes. and, of course, it will enrich my abstract future audience, yes. but ultimately my training here is not mine to keep. i have a long list of people for whom i am learning. people who might not have access to this information otherwise, or at least that access would be heavily impeded. so when i move through a certain solitude of training with strangers who have very different politics, aesthetics, individual purpose and life experiences from me, i think of the faces of specific people who gave me ten, twenty bucks. or who said, "hey, i can't spare any money right now, but i think it's really important you are going." not only do they believe in me as an artist, but they need me to bring back what i learn. i am a vessel. and after i've begun sharing with those folks what i've learned, we will regroup and reforge into the future.

this specificity gives me purpose and keeps me quite far from the casual. the first couple days, i was strangely needy and over-sharey with other participants here. in some ways, i wanted to "recast" the people in my life with the ones here. but that's not gonna happen. it can't happen. i don't want it to happen. because i remain accountable to what and who awaits my return. that accountability drives my work, and that accountability lead me here. i am careful. i have purpose. i was chosen to be here just as much by siti as by the people i've worked with over the years. and as much as i have chose them.

i am thankful for this reminder. and perhaps that's why i am trying to speak in hyperbole a little bit less.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

on SITI summer-intro redux

for our first viewpoints class, we just did introductions. we were asked to answer the following questions:
1. what is your first and last name?
2. what is your cultural background?
3. what do you do?
4. why are you here?

my answers:
1. my name is kt shorb. 2. i come from a ruling-class japanese mother, a middle-class white father, and an adoptive family of queer people of color [note: this last one confused many folks--especially international students--who seemed to believe i was legally adopted by two black lesbians.] 3. i make the invisible visible. 4. i am here to learn how to begin work in the body.

on SITI summer-part three OR collaborative revelations

in the past year, i have worked almost exclusively with female-bodied people. all the stamp lab productions i've been in were female save for one gay man. and working at alma de mujer meant very little interactions with men regularly except for talking with contractors. so when i found myself standing with four men when we decided groups during compositions class, i was both apprehensive and excited. "this will be good for you," said a couple folks, including myself.

it's been fascinating. not only are they all men, they are all white men. two american college boys, one canadian and one from portugal. save for the one time when i firmly confronted one of them when he ran out of rehearsal to talk with someone in the hallway ("you drive me crazy! i feel really disrespected when you do that!"-- "oh, i am so sorry!"), most of my fighting has been within myself.

because working with men has brought many of my personal insecurities to the fore. partly because i've been battling those insecurities all along (i keep thinking, why did they accept ME?), but also because men (at least these men) don't really work to make sure everyone is okay, because they think that everyone SHOULD be okay. and i know that if i were to show specifically that i'm not okay, as i did for one discussion, they would meet it head on. i also have been working against an insecurity that what i have to say is fundamentally insignificant, but everything i've said has been met with openness and attention.

there are many reasons why i tend to work with female-bodied people. sometimes it's that our politics are aligned. or that, as a dyke, i tend to favor the company of other dykes and work out of that. but a lot of it is about degrees of comfort. and there is a certain shorthand that i can rely upon when working with female-bodied folks, especially female-bodied people of color.

but as productive as that comfort can be, it can lead to assumptions and misunderstandings and all-out conflict, just like anywhere else. sometimes the initial closeness makes the eventual conflict that much more painful.

what i'm learning on a very fundamental level is that really i can collaborate with anyone. and that anyone can collaborate with anyone. but what insures the collaboration actually happening is when the group decides to commit to the work and commit to each other. i've loved stamp lab because of that dual commitment. when we decide a narrative arch, casting, or aesthetic details, everyone thinks about "the work." when someone has an idea or a problem, we commit to believing that she does it for "the work" and to seeing her approach, even if we don't agree.

and even though the looks and shapes of the work i'm doing here is radically different, at the core, i still feel that commitment to the work and commitment to each other, and so i'm warmed and inspired--as slow-going and frustrating as it can be.

since i decided i wanted to be in performance for the remainder of my life, i have endeavored to pursue the frightening, the awkward, the uncomfortable. and this intensive is just pushing me to even more extreme levels of fear, awkwardness and discomfort than i had imagined. it is impossible to remain unchanged.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

on SITI summer-part two OR revelations on my body being of this world

today, i cried during morning warm-ups.

i woke at 7, ate breakfast and then did morning pages. i was sore and had very little sleep. i'm coming down with a cold. i was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. so when i arrived to the studio, i was in a place of feeling beaten down. like it took every fiber of my being to get out of bed and do some type of ritual. i was super vigilant and disciplined because if i hadn't been, i would not have made it to class. but i was fine.

or so i thought. i had just started stretching when barney (a SITI company member, and the teacher for that class) started playing bach's well-tempered clavier. i smiled and mumbled, "ah, bach." but then i felt this welling come from the pit of my stomach up my throat and out my eyes. before i knew it, tears were streaming down my face and one of the lovely australian women in the program was coming up to me and asking me if i was okay.

it was a cognitive glitch. i always listen to bach when i'm feeling on the verge of depression or frightened. arriving at class, i was hard and closed, trying to maintain my discipline and ignore my pain. but the bach sparked an emotional trigger of comfort and self-care that was too visceral and overwhelming to ignore. in short, i was confused. my mind was telling me that everything was fine (and it was, in a way), but my body and spirit and emotions were telling me that things were far from right (and they were). so i cried. and the only thing that i kept hearing in my head was: this is so hard.

and weeping helped me see that fact. by letting the pain and the doubt flow through me, i moved past it. whole and intact albeit exhausted and spent.

a lot about our training is about fear, pain, and even mortality. there is a moment when we stomp during suzuki class--every time i do it, in fact--when i literally feel like i am going to die. i actually believe that i will somehow cease living. the muscle pain and intensity is so strong that all i can do is concentrate on not letting myself die. and then--quite miraculously--that exercise ends, and i am alive and whole. often, i'm euphoric from somehow escaping the jaws of death.

this is what SITI summer seems to be about. moments in suzuki where the legs are trembling from physical limitations, viewpoints sessions where keeping up feels impossible, doing a compositions assignment that has so many stipulations, it would take at least a month--in a week. these have all made me feel like i'm going to die. like i'm going to crash and burn. like i will fail miserably. but then i don't. there are many failures along the way, but the resistence to death--both physically and metaphorically--pushes us out the other side with a new sense of purpose and spirituality. it's an acknowledgment that every moment we continue to live, we are actually cheating death.

anne bogart talks about how the creative process is violently destructive. how for every decision an artist makes, she is killing a myriad of possibilities. this tends to lead to stasis and creative block: we don't want to "kill our babies." and so it makes sense that our work here seems to bring us in very close proximity to destruction, but ultimately leads to amazing creative discoveries.

some of my fellow trainees still seem to be unscathed by what i see as this proximity to death. maybe they are tougher. maybe they are in denial. maybe they are not actually of this world. i, however, emphatically am.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

on SITI summer-part one

greetings from saratoga springs!

thanks to everyone's donations and a bit of support from the city of austin, i managed to raise enough funds for siti. i've been here since sunday. it's been an exciting experience. 61 "theatre-makers" of different kinds, coming from literally around the globe (28 are from abroad) to train rigorously for about 8 hours a day and make some pieces together.

it's only day two and already my body is revolting.

yesterday was relatively physically easy. viewpoints consisted of introductions. and composition class was all about exercises for "making" and directing, not so much physical activity. so it was only the hour and a half of suzuki. which did scare me for a second, when i thought my legs would literally fall out from under me from pure exhaustion.

but today was very different. viewpoints was mostly running. for an hour and a half. running and doing things in unison. but i could do viewpoints for hours. and then suzuki, which had me sweating and panting. the afternoon was speaking and breathing. easy, right? no. for "speaking," we had to learn dance moves and hold prop sword and swing them very fast. and for "breathing," we did suzuki stomps yet again.

my quads, groin, and glutes are very, very sore. arnica is my friend. and i have a blister waiting to pop on my big toe. lovely.

and then i met with my compositions group (all men, incidentally--how exotic!) for two hours after dinner.

this may all sound like complaints. but i assure you, this is what i'm here for, and i'm happy to report that it is exactly what i want to be doing. the pain is, well, pain. but it's an instructive and constructive pain. i'm learning my limits and being lovingly yet forcefully pushed to extend them. and there is a certain euphoria after crouching and stomping and "connecting with the ground" for hours. yes.