Sunday, October 16, 2016

Safety vs. hurt feelings

Listen up, guys.

I sat at a restaurant in town today, by myself. I do this a lot--go out to eat alone. I do a lot of writing and reading at restaurants by myself. But today's experience was marred by an overly attentive waiter. Normally, I wouldn't write about that, but the specific kind of attention I received from this waiter was not okay in my book. The problem is that it wasn't okay, but it also wasn't the kind of thing I can complain to the manager about.

It's the kind of thing I can blog about, though. Because I think it represents a larger problem in our society, the problem of respecting the personal boundaries of women, especially when they are alone.

(Disclaimer: I know nothing about this waiter. He could be on the Autism Spectrum and have a hard time picking up social cues. He could be an introvert who hates his job and compensates by being overly friendly. I don't know. But I wish society as a whole would have taught him how to respect my boundaries as a woman ALONE in a restaurant. He may not have been intentionally threatening. But the entire reason I'm writing this is to help the men around me understand when their actions ARE threatening and how to avoid that.)

So I sit down in a booth. Waiter comes by, probably in his early twenties, and takes my order. Comments on what I order, telling me I made a good choice, normal friendly waiter stuff. He walks away. I pull out my book and start reading. A few minutes later, the waiter comes by again.

"What are you reading?" he asks.

Okay. This is how you can tell a reader from a non-reader. Non-readers think they're making friendly conversation with this question. Readers understand that you're READING and would prefer not to be interrupted. So I'm already annoyed at being interrupted.

"The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up," I reply.

"So it's a book to help people develop OCD?" he jokes. Cool, a joke about mental illness to someone you don't know. I give a courtesy laugh and attempt to return to my book. "Women," he says. I look up to see him shaking his head and smiling. "All women have OCD. They always want to tidy everything. Women, women, women." I feel vaguely annoyed that he's used my gender as the butt of a joke that isn't really funny, or true. But hell, I don't know this kid, and I don't want to be mean, so I give another non-smiling courtesy laugh and wait for him to go away.

A different waitress brings me my food and I can eat and read in peace for a few minutes before the waiter comes by again. "Everything all right, ma'am?" "Yes, thank you," I say. I don't look up. I'm still reading. I'm polite in my voice, but I'm trying to signal that I'd just like to be left alone with my book please. He keeps talking. "Well, I'll want a read aloud when I come back, okay?" Like, you want me to read to you? In what context? Here in this booth? In your car? What does that even mean? He winks. I conceal a shudder, because I don't KNOW you, dude.

I finish my meal, order a dessert. Again, another waitress brings it out. I'm two bites in when I hear the waiter's voice again. "Hey, where's MY spoon?" he asks, eyeing my dessert. I keep my eyes on my book. "Yeah, sorry, this is all for me," I reply.

He sits in the booth next to me.

Did you read that? He sits in the booth next to me. I am literally physically trapped in a corner. I am alone in this restaurant, in a corner booth, with a strange man blocking me in. For the men reading this, here's what you need to understand about this moment: This waiter is "Schrodinger's Rapist." This is a man who may or may not try to sexually assault me. I have no way of knowing what his intentions are. If you suggest I should give him the benefit of the doubt, then you are valuing his potentially hurt feelings over my personal physical and emotional safety. His potentially hurt feelings = a rough day. Me being sexually assaulted = a trauma that is also illegal. As Margaret Atwood once said, "Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them."

So I'm trapped in this booth, refusing to look up at this waiter who has invaded my personal space, and I don't have any way of knowing if he will next make a joke, or try to put his hand on my upper thigh. He doesn't do either; he places the check on the table and says he'll be back to pick it up again in a minute. He continues to sit next to me for a few more seconds. "So do you want this on a single check, or split...?" he asks. I don't think I even answer. "Yeah, I'm just kidding. Single check." Then he stands up and leaves, and I feel my shoulders relax a little bit.

I pay the bill and leave.

Here's the problem with all of this. All of these interactions are walking a fine line between friendly waiter banter and flirtation. In my professional opinion, you shouldn't flirt with your patrons at all if you're a waiter, but whatever. What you definitely SHOULDN'T do, however, is sit next to a strange woman who is sitting alone in a restaurant without an invitation. Especially if you're a waiter. Because you're in a position of slightly more power--I don't feel like I can call another waiter over and say, "Excuse me, this man is bothering me." I'd be saying, "Hey, your friend is a creep" and then everyone would be embarrassed.

But it's a moment that really sucked. Because in that moment, I did not feel flattered. I did not feel like I was getting positive romantic attention. I felt trapped. Because I WAS trapped. If he had attempted to touch me or assault me or harass me in any way, it would have been very very difficult for me to escape. So I'm left to assume one of two things: either he was aware of this, and decided that what he wanted was more important; OR he wasn't aware of this.

So I'm writing this blog entry for all those who aren't aware of this. Because you need to be aware of this. The article on "Schrodinger's Rapist" linked above is an excellent, more in depth version of this same lesson, and I highly recommend you read it, but here's the Reader's Digest version:

WHEN INTERACTING WITH STRANGE WOMEN, ASK YOURSELF, "IF I WERE DANGEROUS, WOULD THIS WOMAN BE SAFE IN THIS SITUATION WITH ME? Would she physically be able to escape? Does she have friends who can help her?" If the answer is NO, then change what you need to in order to create safety for this woman. Even if it means leaving her alone to read her book at a table in a restaurant. Because even though YOU know you're not dangerous, SHE doesn't know that. You can blame all the other skeazy men who have ruined things for the rest of you. But this is the world we live in. Many women spend time every single day calculating their risks. You men need to understand this, and do what you can to make it better for us. And you can do that not by approaching strange women and attempting to convince them that you're the good guy. You can do that by making sure that the women around you feel (and are) safe.

Women tend to respect the men who make them feel safe even more than they respect the men who make them feel admired.

"But Liz, come on! He was just trying to be nice! Give him the benefit of the doubt!" Have you not been reading? I'd really like to, but unfortunately, that's not a risk I can afford to take.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The "no's" that hurt

Acting = lots of rejection. We all know this. It’s part of life in the arts, blah blah blah. I’ve gotten to be pretty good at dealing with it, but sometimes there are “no’s” that hurt more than others. In an effort to embrace some sense of catharsis and to be honest about my journey as an actress, I thought I’d share a few “no’s” that hurt.

(Wait. I need to make a disclaimer. I 100% respect the casting choices made by the producers in all of these cases. I don’t share these stories to say “I should have been cast!” or to complain or to talk down these producers or theatres. It’s no director or theatre’s “fault” that I didn’t get the part. I’m just trying to be honest about my experiences as an actress and what I learned from them.)

#1. “Les Miserables” at Hale Center Theatre Orem, 2014
I auditioned for this show shortly after playing Sister in “Damn Yankees” at this same theatre, with this same director. Madame Thenardier is one of my DREAM roles, and I was like, 95% certain I’d make it. So when I didn’t even get a call-back, I was pretty crushed. But here’s the reality—I was still in “BYU-I mode,” where if I didn’t get cast in one show, I was almost CERTAIN to be cast in the next. I’d gotten cast in the FIRST thing I auditioned for in Utah, and so there was nothing in my experience to teach me that my being cast wasn’t guaranteed. So I did a mediocre audition, counting on the director knowing me to get me through. But I didn’t do anything in my audition that showed I could play Madame Thenardier. I didn’t do anything in my audition that showed that I was willing to work hard. I didn’t do anything in my audition to show I cared enough about this to give a stellar audition.

This one hurt because it was a dream role. But it also hurt because it was the first time I had to face the reality of rejection in the arts…like, REALLY face it. It was the first time I realized I couldn’t count on the director knowing me, and that I had to truly bring it to every audition, every time. It hurt to learn those things. (But I’m damn glad I did.)

#2. “Peter and the Starcatcher” at Hale West Valley, 2016
This one hurt only because it came right after “Beau Jest,” and I was so in love with “Beau Jest” that I just didn’t want to stop coming to the theatre. I know that there is no role for me in that show—I don’t think I would have made a good Molly. But a few of my “Beau Jest” family members were cast in the show, and it was a little heart-breaking to watch them get to keep doing this thing I love, while I sat at home at night. I had a similar experience with “Christmas Carol,” right after “Oklahoma”…I just loved doing shows at the theatre so much that I didn’t want to stop.

#3. Netflix Original Movie, 2016
Oh man, this one was tough. I won’t go into the details of which film this was, but I’ll say this. My initial audition was one of the best auditions I have ever done in my life. It feels so boastful to say that I nailed the audition, but…I nailed that audition. I was called back on the spot. For a NETFLIX ORIGINAL MOVIE. It wasn’t a huge role, but it was a decent one. Like, I would have been on set for probably 3-5 days. And I nailed the call-back, too. The call-back was with both the casting director and the film’s director, and after I read, the director just looked at me and said, “That was perfect. I have NO notes. So…tell me more about your experience?” We chatted, and I left feeling really really really good about it. I was one of the last people seen that day, and when I signed out, I discovered that I was the ONLY person called back for that role. I knew nothing was guaranteed, but everything about the experience gave me this sense that I had a really good chance.

Here’s the thing about film/television. Often, they’ll cast everyone ahead of time, maybe have a table read, then start shooting. But sometimes, for smaller roles, you won’t hear until later. That happened to me with “Mosaic.” I auditioned in August, they started shooting, and then I got a call saying, “You’ve been offered the role. Can you be there on Thursday?” So when I heard that the Netflix original I had auditioned for started shooting, I was like, “Okay. So I probably didn’t get it. But maybe!”

I had a friend who was a PA on the show, so he kept posting pictures on Instagram of the shoot, and I kept waiting to see if I got the call. Then another friend posted about how she was called in to be a featured extra on the movie. Then another friend posted about landing this amazing speaking role in the movie. And I just kept waiting, and waiting, and waiting, just on the off-chance that I was still cast somehow. I’ve learned that star power carries a little more weight than talent/being right for the role, so I knew that if they got someone with more credits, with a more well-known face and name, they would get the role. But I didn’t want to be the needy girl texting my friends on the project, saying, “Hey, do you know who they got to play ____?”

And then, finally, my PA friend posted about “wrap day,” the last day of filming. And I hadn’t gotten the call. I didn’t get the part. I looked up who DID get the part on IMDB, and she definitely has way more credits than I do. Which is fair enough. And I’m sure she was awesome. She had a great look for the role, and I’m sure I can learn a few things from watching her (and my other friends) in the movie when it came out.

There will be other chances for me, I know. I just want everything NOW.

#4. “Sister Act” at Hale West Valley, 2016
It’s kind of taken me a while to really realize how this one hurts. Present tense, because it’s opening in a few days.

This partly hurt because this “no” came towards the end of this weird sort of surge of “no’s” that I experienced in June and July this year…it just felt like one after another. So not getting called back for “Sister Act” felt like I was being kicked while I was down.

I really, 100% really do understand why I wasn’t cast. My audition was…not great. My song choice was okay, but in retrospect, maybe not the best. And I didn’t sing it well. (In fact, I bombed the ending—played it off as comedy, but I still bombed it.) I didn’t act it well. And even if I had, there is nothing I could bring to the show that someone else couldn’t bring just as well. And “Cabaret” conflicted with like, the first three weeks of “Sister Act” rehearsal (almost half of the rehearsal process). So even if I did have a really great audition, if there are other people who could bring what I could to the show who could be THERE for the entire rehearsal process, then of COURSE, they should be the ones with their names on the list.

But it still hurt. (Hurts.)

My sister and I grew up with the movie “Sister Act.” It’s a huge part of my childhood. There are some significant differences between the film and the musical, but I still feel the same sense of nostalgia. And the messages of “Sister Act” are so beautiful and important to me…messages about being yourself, about worshipping in your own way, about allowing others to express their faith (or lack thereof) in ways that are meaningful to them. About worrying less about appearances and rules and more about genuine spiritual experiences. And those are messages that are especially needed in the Utah community where I live, and it would have been a beautiful privilege to be a part of sharing it.

And some of my dearest, dearest friends are in the show…people whom I love and admire for their work onstage and their friendship offstage. I’ve been so blessed to make some amazing friends since moving to Utah…it’s one of the greatest blessings of my life, in fact. So I feel a little sad that they all get to tell this story that I love together, and that I can’t be a part of it. And from all the posts I’ve seen on social media, it seems like this show is a really special experience for everyone involved. It seems like it stands out for the cast as a really unified production, and a really fulfilling experience, and one that means a lot to them. I’ve been in shows like that…where everyone just sort of feels that this cast is special, and this show is different from the others they’ve done. And I wish with my whole heart I could be a part of this one.

I don’t begrudge my friends the experience. (Friends in “Sister Act,” if you’re reading this, PLEASE don’t feel weird or bad or anything! Don’t stop posting, don’t stop loving your experience, please continue to embrace it for all that it is. Embrace it MORE for what it is.) My feelings aren’t jealousy—I don’t want to take away something you have and have it for myself. I just wish I could share it with you. I’m excited to come watch your work, regardless, though.

The positive thing is that each of these “no’s” also led to other “yes’s.” Whether that means being involved in other projects, or having the chance to take a class, or to focus on writing or school or my family. And each of these “no’s” did teach me something about being an actress, whether it’s to bring your A game to every single moment of every single audition, or that sometimes, you’re just not right for a part, A game or not. To the people who didn’t cast me in the past, or won’t cast me in the future, either way, I have an opportunity to learn and grow, and I respect your choices. I’ll keep learning. I’ll keep working. I’ll keep auditioning. And I’ll probably keep hurting every now and then. But it’s totally worth it. You’ve got to get through the “no’s” to get to the “yes’s.” And I’ll keep doing that. I don’t know how to not keep doing that.

Post-script: It felt really good to write all of this out. I've been catharsisized, and I feel better about life in general already. 

photos via this guy and this guy

Monday, October 3, 2016

"Keep this in your wallet if you are a pansy fan-boy."

Recent discovery: Mark Hamill autographs. They are the best. He is the best. I love these so much.

Additional discovery: There is an entire Twitter account dedicated to Mark Hamill autographs. Because Mark Hamill autographs are the best.