Thursday, January 19, 2012

New Year, New Beginnings, and No Nikki

Hello dear readers! This blog post is much overdue and I am very sorry that it has been well over a month (and nearing two months!) since my last post. Consequently, this post will not be a humourous/rant-like story, but a quick round-up of all that has happened since Creatures of the El.

Let's begin with the end, the end of my time at Skokie Theatre. My last week at Skokie Theatre was full of enough back and forth contradictions by Nikki that I am quite certain I have shortened my life by about two years. I scrambled to finish my lobby display for BLACK PEARL SINGS!, which had been left until the last minute because Nikki thought it best to let the rough drafts sit for about a month. Assured and annoyed that I was not going to stick around for an extra two months (even though we had established a Dec 21st end-date, Nikki had asked me to stay until the end of February, but I had already excepted a Winter/Spring internship elsewhere) Nikki apparently made it her mission to make my last week a living hell. Her comments and corrections on my lobby display boards focused heavily on language. Nikki no longer liked the way I wrote. One such sentence she quarreled with was one she had already had me trim and shorten, saying audience members did not need things "spelled out for them." (Meaning, I did not have to mention The Great Depression and President Roosevelt. Simply talking about Roosevelt led people to assume I was also talking about The Great Depression.)

This was my sentence: "Roosevelt did not forget the plight of the arts in his attempt to put the nation back on its feet."

Nikki asked, "What plight? How were the arts having a plight?"

"They struggled?" I said, not quite sure whether her confusion was over the word "plight" or the use of it in the sentence. "The struggle that they have always had? And because it's the arts...and The Great Depression..."

"Yeah, but what plight? It doesn't make sense."

Being the child of two artists, I typically would have chalked up Nikki's confusion to naïveté about the art world. Perhaps some people only notice pieces in fine art galleries or only know artists like Annie Leibovitz. Perhaps there are some people who believe artists do not struggle, but actually have the perfect job and get to lay around home, playing with crayons and clay all day.

Nikki, however, was a theatre artist. I knew for a fact that she had dabbled in acting once and since she was a Resident Dramaturg before even reaching the prime age of thirty, I am certain that she struggled in that field. Therefore, her confusion and fixation on the word "plight" thoroughly threw me. I couldn't think of an adequate response except to repeat myself.

"They struggled," I said,"because it was The Great Depression. And artists always struggle...because it's art..."

In the end, Nikki had me change the sentence to, "In his attempt to put the nation back on its feet, Roosevelt did not forget how much artists had struggled during The Great Depression."

After "plight" was successfully vanquished, Nikki found new words and phrases to conquer: "instrumental prowess" was changed to "talents" (I liked "instrumental prowess", dammit!), music could not be an "area" of The Great Depression, and I had to choose whether to consistently say "the U.S." or "the United States". (In regards to the last one, I went with "U.S." because I had shortened it in some areas purely for spacing issues. After changing all twelve boards where the U.S. was mentioned Nikki said she preferred "United States"...of course she did.)

Finally, after all the stress and turmoil was through and the boards were at a place that Nikki deemed adequate, my internship was over. To celebrate, Nikki took me to "our place", Chipotle, for a post-mortem. It was over this meal that Nikki gave me her evaluation of my time as her intern. Allow me to summarize:

1. "Your writing is juvenile."

Okay, I will give Nikki this -- my writing is not perfect. I am well aware that it is far from professional, which is why I attempt to keep up this blog and a handwritten journal. Practice makes perfect after all and it is my greatest hope to be paid for my writing one day. However, "juvenile" isn't exactly the word that comes to mind when I think about my writing (although if you agree with her, please send me a private message either on facebook or gmail; if two people say that my writing is juvenile then perhaps they are on to something). When I think "juvenile" I think high school and someone who has not yet found their voice in writing. I have found my voice, Nikki! Of that I am certain.

2. "You do not volunteer enough and only do the minimum of what is expected of you."

I am not sure if I mentioned this in a previous blog or not, but when I first began at Skokie Theatre I asked for more to do. When I heard about an event happening over the weekend I offered to help out or at least observe. On numerous occasions I told Nikki, "I'm happy to help out with whatever. I'm here for this internship after all and I'm not usually doing anything when I am not here so I'd be happy to come to as many things as possible." There were a few instances where Nikki even invited me to a theatre function and then either uninvited the day before the event (least we forget the Stephen Schwartz saga!) or promised to tell me when/where the thing was happening, but would then forget until the affair had already passed. Forgive me, Nikki, but after a month and a half of that I gave up.

3. "You do not handle criticism well."

I am sad to admit that this is one of my weakest areas. I do not handle criticism well, although I have gotten better with age. And I honestly do believe that when I receive constructive criticism I do handle it well. During my four years at Kalamazoo College I was in a plethora of critique groups and with each note on my writing I thought, "Okay, I can see why that isn't needed," or "I really love this sentence, but if this many people don't then it's got to go." However, Nikki's criticisms towards the end just became plain bitchy (and I am sure my annoyance began to show on my face). After demolishing "plight" Nikki waited until we were through two more revisions before announcing she no longer cared for the new sentence. She stated that she didn't like the word "struggle" and suggested we change the sentence to something about "the plight of the arts." My eye twitch most likely gave away the fact that her critiques were beginning to wear on me.

4. You seem more interested in Chicago itself rather than the Chicago theatre scene.

Nikki made this point because she had remembered me mentioning going to the Lincoln Park Zoo and Adler After Dark (a night when the planetarium was open until 11pm). However, she did not remember the numerous times when I told her what play I had seen the night before, hoping we could talk about it (call me crazy, but it's the student in me -- I want to talk about plays with my "mentor"!). In fact, after seeing THE AMISH PROJECT (an extremely powerful one-woman show about a massacre at an Amish school house) at the American Theatre Company, I attempted to talk about the performance with Nikki four times. Each time Nikki responded with her usual, "That's great, Georgia! Let me just finish a few things [in my cubicle] and then we can talk about it." That talking never happened. Like my lack of volunteering, I gave up talking about non-Skokie Theatre theatre with Nikki after two months.

5. You seem more suited for commercial theatre and specifically theaters in the South, since that's where you're from.

...There are no comments to this that do not include a long string of profanity. (Also, this was the first time Nikki mentioned me being from the South. Until this moment, she had always referred to me as being from Michigan. Why? Because I learned during my last month at Skokie Theatre that Nikki had never actually read my cover letter, which begins with how I ended up in the South and all the crazy characters I have encountered there. Since I was living on Mackinac Island when Nikki interviewed me I was therefore from Mackinac.)

And thus concluded my time at Skokie Theatre. Will I miss it? The theatre itself is very nice, the plays are wonderful, and I will always geek-out for Dramaturgy work, but will I miss the internship itself? Not one damn bit. You can transcribe your own dissertation, Nikki! (Ah yes, did I mention she had me transcribe a poorly recorded tape-deck interview she had conducted in a crowded cafe with two old women? And did I mention that she told me not to mention it to anyone at the theatre because it was actually for her dissertation and not for Skokie Theatre? Yeah...good times.)

My parents and I spent our Christmas holiday on the warm beaches of the Yucatan Peninsula. Not a huge one for traditions, my mother has begun planning trips for Christmas so that way we skip the hubbub and stress of a traditional Christmas. Since 2009 we have flown out to the Grand Canyon, swum with manatees in the Florida rivers, dolphins in Orlando pools, and now turtles in the Caribbean Sea.

Not counting Cuba and Canada, Mexico is the first non-European country I have ever been to. (I do not count Cuba because I was living on an American base and Canada because...well it's Canada - Kari, I hope you don't read these!) The language barrier itself was fascinating because it was honestly something I had not even considered. In Europe, public announcements in train and plane terminals are typically made in English first and the country's native language second. While waiting at the departure gate in the Miami International Airport, I was surprised to hear primarily Spanish spoken over the intercom. The flight attendants would say one or two numbers in English, but that was about it. Even the Customs slip was only in Spanish! My parents (who do know Spanish) were sitting a few rows ahead of me so I had to ask the woman next to me to translate the questions that weren't just, "Name, address, birth date, etc etc."

My mother had booked us a wonderful beach condo in Akumal, a small town known for eco-tourism. Unlike Cancun, which was an hour north of us, Akumal is much less Disneyland-ish and still rich with Mayan and Mexican culture. This sleepy town has become popular among ex-patriots because of its efforts to protect sea turtles. During our first day in Akumal, some fellow tourists told us about a bay where we could swim and were likely to see turtles grazing in the kelp grass. I am happy to say that these people (well, they were children actually) were not just full of it! The next afternoon we went snorkeling at this beach, the main beach of Akumal, and while stalking a cuttlefish I was suddenly side-swiped by a fellow swimmer. I looked over to give the obtrusive swimmer a nasty look and lo-and-behold -- there was a green turtle! Swimming parallel to me he measured the length from my head to the middle of my thigh. He looked at me sideways, took a gulp of air and dove under the waters. Thinking I had happened upon some rarity, I followed the turtle for what felt like an hour. Little did I know that I would swim with nearly fifteen turtles over the next few days.

Besides stalking sea creatures, my parents and I explored a few Mayan ruins (Coba and the beach ruins at Tulum), swam in the renowned cenotes, and ventured into the Sian Ka'an Ecological Reserve. (A word to the wise: when the policeman tells you it's not smart to drive into the reserve in a small sedan, listen to him. The road is so riddled with bumps, ditches, and miniature sink holes that it makes Disney's Thunder Mountain rollercoaster seem like the Dumbo ride -- literally.) We ate amazing Mexican food and I have discovered a new love: Chilaquiles.

The three of us were certainly sad to say goodbye to Mexico after our week-long stay. Although we live less than five miles from the Atlantic Ocean, it was nice to swim in non-chlorinated water where you could still see your feet even when you were only in up to your ankles. I also felt a personal amount of triumph when, the night before we left, a woman asked me, "Como esta?" and I answered, "Bien!" instead of my typical, "Ja?"

After Mexico, I was fortunate enough to spend ten days at home. This time was marred by a sudden tragedy that I will not go into, but my time back in Glynn County was exactly the relaxation and friend/family immersion that I needed. I headed back to Chicago on January 11th, just in time to catch the horrendous snowstorm that was making its way from Tennessee to Illinois. On the first day of the drive my car slipped on ice four too many times on I-75 and I had to find a hotel before even making it out of Kentucky. Later that night I learned that northbound I-75 in Tennessee had been shutdown for the night due to ice. The next day's drive in daylight was absolutely no improvement and the normal five hour drive from Louisville, KY to Chicago took nearly seven hours (and a lot of white-knuckle driving and interstate cursing).

Miraculously, I survived and am now back in Chicago/Evanston. I am at a new theatre (Heartbeat Theatre) and a new apartment. I still feel like I am very much lacking in the "social" department, but I'm doing what I can and staying oddly busy. I have also been riding the CTA daily and will probably devote another post to the eccentric riders of the El.

I guess that's enough for tonight! I will try much harder to post more frequently. Happy New Year to everyone and thank you for continuing to read my writing! If I am ever published, I'll give you all a free copy of whatever it is I have written.