Very Superstitious – or – A Hard Habit To Break

We, in the theatre, have a LOT of superstitions. They have played a significant part in the history of theatre and those who are mindful of history try to be mindful of these taboos and avoid them lest there be repercussions with a high price to pay.

Like “don’t whistle in the theatre”.

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This was a practical rule at one time that over time became a superstition. Many years ago stage hands were corralled from the docks with unemployed sailors as the sailors used similar rigging on ships as are used in the theatre. They communicated scene changes by using a variety of coded whistles. If someone was randomly whistling as they crossed the stage it could unwittingly bring a set piece down on your head.

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Keeping a ghost-light lit overnight when everyone has left the theatre was used to ward off evil spirits namely Thespis, the first known actor back in ancient Greece. Apparently he would like nothing more than to wreak havoc on theaters around the world and somehow this single light spooks the spook.

It also may come in handy when the last one out or into the theatre is fumbling around in the dark to look for the light switch. Dunno…

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And then, of course, there is the ubiquitous superstition of NOT saying the title of Shakespeare’s famous “Scottish Play” that starts with an M…

NO – not Merry Wives of Windsor.

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The speaking of the title and any lines from the play are thought to carry a curse that may cause unspeakable harm and even death to someone in the company. It is thought that the witches curse “Double, Double Toil and Trouble” etc… are authentic witch’s curses and if spoken aloud will invoke these curses on those in the production.

If you slip up on this one the remedy is pretty simple…

but kind of involved…

but kind of fun.

The person who said the title or quoted from the play must exit the theatre, turn around three times, spit, say the foulest Shakespearean curse or another one that comes to mind (you’re an actor, I’m sure you’re well versed in these things) then wait for permission to reenter the theatre.

With all these superstitions who has time to actually learn their lines, blocking and get on with the damn show?

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As if these and many other superstitions aren’t enough for us to keep track of we create our own little superstitions; self imposed superstitions or “rituals” that we as actors incorporate into each production, which if not done regularly or more specifically, ritualistically, can induce the same fear of fate, but with less dramatic affects.

I’ve gotten myself into a few routines – for instance I go around to all of the company members dressing rooms, stage management office, crew rooms and the orchestra pit to wish everyone a good show.

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(Have a good show Judy!)

What happens if I don’t do this?!?

After the number “Me and My Baby” in Chicagoas company members come off stage, myself and one of the dressers wait for them and on the button of the number strike a different and ridiculous pose.

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What if I’m not there to participate?!?

Sometimes, again, superstitions begin out of a necessity. There are traffic patterns backstage that are sometimes more complex than what you see on stage. Tight passage ways, single doorways, crew members crossing for cues, dancers exiting in a single file line, eight people long, while you need to make your next entrance all screams for organization.

If you aren’t standing in the right spot you might miss your entrance.

So be in the right spot!

Cause if you’re not you might bring on some bad-ass luck like…

losing a laugh…

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dropping a line…

or having the walls of the theatre crumble around you.

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Dramatic? Of course, this is the theatre!

But will something actually happen?

For YEARS I thought that something… might, and that was enough for me to just keep on keepin’ on. Well, that can cause it’s own set of problems, like getting into a rut.

Repetition can be your friend unless you are in a long run show then, for your own sanity, you need to shake things up a bit, keep it fresh, don’t get stale.

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You can’t create art on an assembly line. You can create a finished product that looks nice and runs well but to have something special it needs to be unique and not bogged down by overly precise, meticulousness.

Spontaneity is my dearest friend of late. The more I can be in the moment, present for what’s happening right now the more true and authentic I can be, which creates SO MANY more interesting options than staying in a rut of ritual.

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This may sound like Acting 101 but so many “rules” change in long runs. The rules of acting still apply but how to keep it fresh and spontaneous is a trick that can only be answered by each individual.

So I’m trying my damnedest to break myself of these habits, these rituals and break free of repetition of superstition.

See… old dogs can learn new tricks.

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“You be good and I’ll try.” – Martin Harrison (my great-grandfather)

 

Jason

 

 

 

 

 

When You Jog Through A Storm Keep Your Head Up High – or – (Fuck You God!)

Life’s vast contradictions are not lost on me, particularly at this time in my life. Over the last eight months I have had three friends die of cancer, my sister’s sweet and loving dog had to be put down, another friend’s dog was killed in a NYC park by another dog in front of her and my wife has fought for her life against ovarian cancer. Oh, did I mention that the anniversary of my father’s death is coming up in May?

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Oh this is going to be a fun read Jason! (Insert most ironic reading of that line you can muster.)

I was raised to always look on the bright side of life…

… to appreciate what I have and not complain…

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… that this is the best of all possible worlds!

Okay maybe that last part is stretching it a bit but I was taught that there is a “reason for everything”, that there is a “master plan”, that “we are only given what we can handle” and all of this under the aegis of “God’s will”.

I was raised in a family where my father was a preacher in a protestant church. So this was our constant motto “It’s God’s Will”. There was no such thing as luck it was “God’s Will” there were no accidents it was “… you get the point”.

I never questioned it I just lived my life knowing it was all in God’s hands and that whatever happens happens.

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Then a year, no eight months, like the last eight months happens and you start to get beat down a bit.

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I wrote in a previous blog about the “caregiver” needing to give care to themselves with regard to my being a caregiver in my wife’s journey through cancer. I was complimented on acknowledging that fact – that issue. I don’t profess to have any answers or solid advice on how to do that. I still struggle greatly with dealing with all of the aforementioned deaths.

I am happy and joyous to no end that my wife is alive and that my 10 year old miniature schnauzer, Oscar, is curled up by my feet as I write this.

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But I also have pangs of empathy, sympathy and something that closely resembles guilt, although I don’t think it can be precisely defined as such, for my friends passing and the loved ones they leave behind, that just completely smack my ass down.

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I’ve tried and continue to try any and all avenues to escape, intellectually deal with, confront, run away from, mask… the hurt and anger I feel.

Talk therapy is at the top of the list of things I seek out. If I can intellectually understand where I am emotionally, why I am feeling like I do, the cause of my hurting and also know that I have no control whatsoever over anything – that’s a great start.

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I try to simply “witness” what is going on in any particular moment, not “judge” the situation, sure, but mostly to not judge myself, to be kind to myself by allowing myself to have my feelings (anger, frustration, sadness, hopelessness etc…)

But even as much as I ponder my particular predicament overwhelming emotions take hold. So what’s the quick fix?

Psychopharmacology?…

various-antidepressants

A great mixologist?…

Mixologist Michael Anderson of St. Charles Exchange – Louisville, KY

A good friend?…

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… all of the above at times, I suppose, even though some of these can be at cross purposes.

One very important outlet I do have is running, running, running.

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This blog was written in my head yesterday as I was going for an 11.5 mile run. I started off to clear my head and to hopefully blow out the sadness that was consuming me from our friend’s dog being killed the day before.

(How is it that sometimes a pet passing is more difficult to deal with than another human being? Not always but sometimes.)

I wanted to run past the park I had seen my friend and her dog play in near her home uptown. The day was gorgeous. The sun had begun to shine like it hadn’t in quite a while. The temperature was starting to move up and it was a perfect day to stretch the legs.

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The closer I got to my friends neighborhood the darker the skies became. Then the clouds opened up and poured out their own salty tears. It made complete sense that this would happen as there was so much sadness in this part of town.

Not only was it raining but the wind started whipping up like an unexpected Nor’easter.

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I felt like I was consumed by my own emotional metaphor. I couldn’t catch a break. Even when I tried to do something good for myself I was being knocked this way and that – bashed this way and that.

“I GET IT! Life is tough… We have our challenges… Keep moving forward… Keep your head high… Don’t give up… Be resilient, resourceful and rebound!!!”

I thought, enough already, I don’t need any more “lessons”! How many more things can happen to those around me? What can happen to me?! Is that what I’m being prepared for?

Enough!

Enough!

Enough!

Rain…

Wind…

Rain…

(stupid emotional metaphor)

“Fuck you God!”

I broke.

I got downright angry.

I had never said “Fuck you God” before. My, oh my, never would that sentence have passed my lips. My dad’s ashes are swirling around in his urn. My mom is gritting her teeth as she reads this blog post. I’m slightly embarrassed and ashamed BUT also relieved to just let my honest feelings out.

I don’t have a “take away” to sum up this blog. I think just honestly sharing where I am at this particular time is what I somehow need in order to process where I am and to “move forward”.

I don’t even know that this lesson will stay with me, ground me for further bashings from my stupid emotional metaphors. But this is where I am now. I’m witnessing what I’m feeling and not judging myself – even the “Fuck you God”.

 

Be good to yourself and I’ll try.

 

Jason

 

 

 

Caregiver, Caregiver, give care to yourself!

It’s been a little while since I’ve written a blog and it’s about damn time to write again.

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Honestly, it’s been difficult to write. The Danieley Digest blog began as a way for me to talk about, analyze, dissect, muse upon etc… my chosen vocation and art form, music theatre. But as this last year was hijacked by my wife Marin’s ovarian cancer and the journey that we have been on together, that has been put on the back burner, and rightfully so. When your world is turned upside down you adjust your mindset and daily activities to the situation and cope.

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Marin received the great good news on January 8th that her cancer is in remission! It also was my dad’s birthday and we took that as a fantastic sign. Hallelujah!

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“So, the cancer is gone so let’s get back to our normal life.” Right? No. Not in the least, right. There is this “new normal” that we are constantly adjusting for.  For one thing there are the check ups, tests and scans every three months to make sure that all the cancer is still gone. There is this little cloud that hovers over our head and heart in three month increments that we just can’t ignore.

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Is that going to be a problem? Not if you work diligently together to remind each other that you are okay right now, that there are no signs of illness and no reason to think that the cancer has returned. You must remind yourself or have your partner remind you of the lessons you learned during the last 8 months and that is to Breathe, Live in the moment and Don’t worry over things you can’t control.

Easier said than done. BUT that’s why we have each other AND a lovely therapist who is only a phone call away to help remind us of where we are and how we’re doing.

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Okay so we know how to navigate our expectations for three months at a time so our short-term goals are being achieved. Now, wouldn’t it be nice if we can get back to a normal work situation.

Now, for those of you who are not in the show business, this does not happen easily or effortlessly normally. As actors and singers we are probably unemployed as much or more than we are employed. But we’re used to that and so over the years we’ve learned to supplement our music theatre work life with occasional television work and a concert work life.

As I wrote in a previous blog Marin was back up on that horse tout-suite. A duet concert for the two of us at Bay Area Cabaret in San Fran in December, New Years Eve at 54Below for Marin solo and we toured with the Czech Philharmonic doing the first ever series of Broadway music concerts with this incredibly fun and jovial, internationally renowned orchestra.

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Prague: Czech Republic O2 Arena

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Don’t Cry for Her…

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Oh What a Circus (this last year has been)

As we were getting ourselves ready for our trip to the Czech Republic Marin was asked if she would like to take on the role of Mrs. Anna in the current, Tony Award winning, Lincoln Center revival of The King and I. 

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Not one to turn down a fantastic role or to shrink from a challenge she accepted the offer and will begin performances on May 3rd. The woman doesn’t do anything in a small way. She’s not just going back to work but she is taking on a role that requires her to “carry” this lengthy show while being corseted up and waltzing in a large, I mean large, hoop skirt.

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I talk about Marin in these blogs so much because I have learned so much from her. Her strength, courage, determination, positive mindset “etc…, etc…, etc…” (to quote a famous King of Siam) has been inspirational to so many and definitely to me.

I enjoy writing and I enjoy sharing our journey because, on the whole, it has turned out so well. We are so very fortunate and don’t take any moment or any blessing for granted.

But I wouldn’t be completely honest if I said this has been easy and I wouldn’t be true to myself if I didn’t say it was down right, fucking hard for me.

So many friends along the way, during this cancer journey, have gone out of their way to ask if I’m taken care of and if my needs are being met. And I always gave a quick nod, a wave of the hand or a shrug of the shoulders to insinuate that “all is fine with me. It’s her we need to focus on”.

 

A considerable amount of my life has consisted of being a caregiver or at least a strong support for those in my family who have needed me to be strong. I pride myself on being able to be clear minded, efficient and able to act under pressure. It’s a great trait to have when it’s needed. Being from a family of stalwart souls it comes naturally. Being from a “good mid-western family” (a.k.a. good at suppressing feelings or emotions in order to “be there” for others) is what can really drain your well dry real quick – like.

I thought that I was being taken care of. I was eating and sleeping and doing what needed to be done in order to get my wife back on her feet again. But the emotional drain that goes on under the skin, in the deep recesses of your brain and your heart and soul is really what drains you and you have no clear way of quantifying that until…

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… you can’t get out of bed.

It’s an accumulative thing and one that I had a hard time figuring out. Once I figured out that I was living in a heightened and constant state of averting disaster, trying to do all within my control to keep my love (literally) alive as well as communicating with friends and family all that has transpired, since last we spoke, and to keep it real and clear but with a definite positive spin on it all… all I wanted to do, once that proverbial roller coaster ride had ended and the smoke had cleared, was to sleep and sleep and sleep.

There is an element of depression and adjustment and god knows what all else that I had to go through. And believe me it’s not all over yet but at least I have an intellectual understanding of what is going on; a clear plan of how to manage it – by not squelching what I’m feeling or trying to rush through and get “back on my feet” again – actually living in these moments as well; and communicating what I’m feeling with my wife so she knows where I am and she is, in turn, able to be there for me.

See how this partnership stuff works? It’s not all one sided – ever.  Communicating and sharing is paramount in survival.

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Let me just get down from here…

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I don’t mean to elicit sympathy from you but I think since this story of ours has been spreading around and people who have gone, and continue to go, through a similar journey are reading about us it is only fair and right to talk about the whole experience.

I have two close friends who have been the caregiver recently. One lost his husband to brain cancer and another has moved into the palliative stage of dealing with losing hers.

Cancer is indiscriminate, life isn’t fair, strange things happen in life and bad things happen to good people. There is no way to know what tomorrow brings. If you can buoy yourself with Marin’s good turn of fate or have a slight leg up on knowing why you are suddenly depressed or feeling helpless because of my being honest – then good.

If you are a caregiver please take the time, and that can be a moment of silent meditation a walk in the park or an afternoon nap, for yourself. Be as good to yourself as you are to your partner, husband, wife – love.

 

“You be good and I’ll try.” – Martin Harrison

 

Jason

PS. I’m updating this because I feel I may have come just shy of saying everything I should.

I know about being a caregiver, as you know, from Marin’s journey with cancer this year. I now know it from the inside. I have known it secondhand since 1991 when my dad became a caregiver to my mom. She had a brain tumor, about the size of a golfball wrapped around her left optic nerve – just behind her eye. She had surgery to remove it and it was successful. She, unfortunately, had many issues from that surgery: short-term memory loss, problem solving skill issues, limited peripheral site etc… enough to force her to have to retire very early, her mid 40s.

So dad was her caregiver. She was more than capable to do most everything normally but she did depend on him a lot.

Then I saw the roles reversed as dad had two quintuple heart bypasses within five years of one another. His recover was pretty quick but left him compromised and a life ahead of him of other heart related issues.

Then mom was diagnosed with breast cancer – and the roles reversed again.

…and the world goes round.

They were strong for one another but it does take an incredible toll on a person.

Medication is an option but in my opinion an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety drug should be accompanied by talk therapy so you can really understand the issues that are going on in your mind and heart and can address them or at least learn how to cope with them. Medication is a great tool but shouldn’t be used alone.

I add this with love, hope, encouragement and experience.