It’s been 10 days since arriving in Baton Rouge and every day is full of discovery. The number of people who’ve asked “Why did you come here?” as in why would anyone choose to move here is really amusing. We’ve gotten that question from both locals and transplants. Maybe we haven’t been here long enough to see all the things wrong with it, or we haven’t been here long enough to love it enough to knock it like they do.
I thought I would miss the familiar plant life of New England, but instead I’ve been excided discovering the different plants and specially animals in our neighborhood. A gecko or similar lizard returns nightly to our front window so he can simultaneously hunt bugs and taunt our cats. The birds that frequent our yard have voices I’ve never heard before. And my favorite encounter so far is a small toad that is silent until just after a heavy rain. When the ground is wet and mildly flooded the toads call for mates. The best I can describe is they sound like miniscule sheep and they are loud. I got close enough to one that it screamed “MAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!” in my face.
Not all the encounters with the natural world have been the fun ones. A day after giving our cats a flea treatment we discover they have fleas. We don’t know how long they’ve had the parasites or if the fleas have infested the house so we go out and buy flea powder for the rugs and furniture. The previous tenants left behind a small vacuum and we want to get treat the possible infestation immediately. We give the cats some extra treatment, spread the powder wait a while, and go to vacuum. The machine dies shortly after it fires up.
We try to troubleshoot the problem but rather than spend a long time on it we go buy a new vacuum, one of the stick style ones that can transform in to smaller hand vac for the stairs. The stick vac is not designed for the job at hand and it over fills, shoots powder in to the atmosphere overheats and shuts itself off a couple of times. Eventually we have to concede that cleaning the place will be a 2 part and 2 day job. I get really frustrated and am rather unkind to myself as a result. This morning I made a point to thank L. for being the level headed one last night.
I visualized last night going very different yesterday. I imagined a calm evening writing a blog post about my reading goals and the first visit to campus. That wasn’t how things went. In a way it reflects my expectations in coming to grad school and reminds me where my work lies. I’ve been expecting that leaving the hustle of my home market to study and having a set schedule instead of the inconsistent schedule of the working artist, would create a sense of calm for me. I thought that I could rely on external changes to make me chill. The Battle of the Fleas is a reminder that’s not the case. Life won’t stop because I want to write a blog post, or need to read a thousand pages by dawn. The fleas are coming. It’s on me to create that sense of centeredness internally so I can respond to them and any other challenge from that place. Did not expect to learn so much from a few fleas.
I’m resurrecting my blog so as to keep a journal of my experience in the LSU graduate Theatre program. Everyone has a story and I hope you find some value in mine. My name is Alan R. White.
The year is 2013 and I have the world in my hand. I’m a working actor in Theatre Espresso, The Freedom Trail Foundation, and City Stage Company. My reputation in the theatre community, is that I’m professional, and reliable. Between the three ongoing companies and occasional work on the main stages in Boston, I can sometimes go for 2 years without a survival job and I own the studio apartment of my dreams. Everything is perfect.
But, then I went to see Twelve Years A Slave and I saw everything differently. There was a moment, in that film that changed my perspective of my entire artistic life. It wasn’t the emotionally wrenching scene where Chiwetel Eijofor’s character Solomon Northup, is forced to torture Patsey (played by Lupita Nyong’o). Its a different moment, or rather two moments that are worlds apart and very alike. When we first meet Solomon Northup in the beginning of the film, he’s walking in a park on a bright sunny day.
People are engaged in leisure activities around him. He is confident, and relaxed with his head high and his step sure. He’s secure in his world and in himself. And then, toward the end of the film, there is another similar scene. Solomon is walking on the plantation where he has been enslaved for twelve years. Its another bright sunny day. People are engaged in back breaking labor all around him. The composition of the scene is similar to the earlier one, but Solomon is transformed. His walk is stooped, and small as if every step is an attempt to be invisible. His gaze shifts from side to side like one who is in a constant state of fight or flight. He was still the same person but so changed from the one we met 2 hours earlier.
When I see this scene, this moment, this walk, I’m longer lost in the story. For the first time I’m able to see both the story and an actor’s craft as it plays out before me. Watching Chiwetel Eijofor in the moment, walking. Every one of my performances over the past thirteen years rushes back to my mind and I start to cry. Compared to what I see in just that walk, every all of my performances, are mediocre.
Something must change.
Last night I had the pleasure of seeing “American Moor” at the BCA Plaza. It’s elegant, powerful passionate theatre that seamlessly moves from precise control to raw emotion. Keith Hamilton Cobb drops truth with humor, grace and a total command of the stage that commands the audience’s engagement. The play is about Cobb’s experience as an actor of Color in America. I experienced both my similarities and differences to his story and left the the theater unable to contain my own vast emotions. I strongly recommend this show! American Moore runs until August 12.
You may find these letters a bit annoying to read. But I am at present reading “Letters to a Young Poet” by R. M. Rilke and for the fun of writing have decided to the write the next few posts in a meandering wordy style. I implore your forgiveness in this age of efficient targeted messages. I must confess that as I working actor I can not tell you if you are any good. Nor can I tell you how to be a success. All I can do is share with you my experience in the hopes that perhaps something I have learned will be in some way of some benefit to your future goals. As every actor is a unique individual with a very personal practice and path to success what is factually true for myself will be categorically false for others. So if you find that something I have writing strikes you as complete and utter bull shit trust your instincts just as you should trust your instincts if you feel something rings true for you. In the end you must be the final judge. Enclosed are the statements I would give to my younger self knowing the roads I have traveled and the path that has brought me to the position of ambition and contentment I now occupy.
As Rilke advised the young poet. Ask yourself if you must act. Find some quiet time where you can be alone. Quiet your mind and stop all the thoughts of the day-to-day hustle and buzzing. Look deep in to yourself and ask if you must act. Ask if it is need deep within you that must be fulfilled. Ask if it is a part of your very being as necessary for survival as your, heart, lungs and breath. If you’re answer is a resounding “Yes” then go forward in your endeavors with enthusiasm. You need not know this answer for life in the moment. The first 7 years of my acting on the same date every June, I asked myself if I wanted to do this for one more year. Every June my answer was “yes”. In time I stopped asking as I now know this is not just my career but my way of life. So dear actor answer for yourself, and no one else do you need this way of life? Look within, Look deep and find your true answer.
My first visit to Provincetown began at Long Wharf waiting for the Ferry. It was a little chilly. I had a Ticket for the boat, a big suitcase and my backpack.
My cast mates arrived just moments before we disembarked and sailed down the coast of Massachusetts.
For 90 minutes the ferry sailed on the ocean. We weren’t far out to sea but in a way it still felt a little isolated.
Until we reached Provincetown. Then it felt like stepping through the wardrobe into Narnia. The place was unfamiliar but we were met by familiar faces. And it seemed like The last cheer of summer had hung back in this part of the world.
Everywhere you turned there seemed to be someone friendly who knew why you were there and was able to help. It was one of the warmest welcomes I have ever experienced. It felt like the entire community of Provincetown is part of the festival.
It is a gift to be a part of it. The artists technicians and scholars come from all over the world. They are at the tops of their craft. They walk and work among the most notable persons in theater and film.
I kept wondering Who thinks that I deserve to be with these people? And I was very grateful someone did.