Well would you look at that! Two posts in only a matter of weeks? Maybe I'll keep this writing thing.
I've just gotten back from my shrink and have made some interesting realizations that I feel like need to come out into the ether less they dissipate and I forget they ever existed. Also, keeping log of these images as possible reference for future work, and what better place than a public forum! *side eye* But I digress, I hope some of my word help others who struggle with the battle inside their brains, and give comfort that you're definitely not alone in that struggle.
If you read back in my posts, you notice I've made a couple of mentions to my struggle with my mental health, specifically with depression and anxiety. My outward symptoms (for me) include moodiness, isolation, pessimistic attitude, agoraphobia (fear of open spaces and crowds), lack of motivation and love for things that make me happy, paranoia, hyperventilation and exhaustion. Generally whenever I've had an episode, I hate everyone, I hate everything and leaving the house takes some serious coaching. My impulse is to hide in my bed and sleep hours at a time in the middle of the day. Routine tasks like taking public transit all of a sudden feel like a life or death experience that are so incredibly overwhelming that I can feel my heart beat faster in my throat if I even think about it; nevermind being out in large social settings. My senses tend to become hyper sensitive and too much movement or sound makes me irritable and tense, and if I don't get some place calm asap, that's usually when a public display of panic comes out. In my darkest moment, I feel hopeless. Everything is futile and nothing I've done and nothing I am matters. Those times are the worst, and some pretty morbid thoughts appear in my head.
What you don't see is how my mind reacts, and some of the images that have come to me during dark times or full blown episodes. Coming to a calmer period of my mental health in my life (through rigorous work with my shrink and some serious self care and reflecction), I will attempt to share some of the feelings and images I've felt with the depression and anxiety through about 20 years I have suffered at the hands of my own brain. Keep in mind I'm leaving out some of the experiences that have acted as triggers for my depression and anxiety and am strictly talking about how it felt. (I feel like the numerous hard experiences I've had are an entirely other post I'm not ready to write about yet). I hope it brings clarity to just how someone feels when having an episode.
Aged 10: The Empty Room
My first real recollection of these fun feelings was when I was about 10 years old. I was not a popular kid. In fact, I would argue that I was flat out disliked. I didn't have any friends, and the "friends" I did have would regularly make fun of me, bully me, belittle me, and a couple of times it got to physically pushing me around. The first time I remember the empty room I think was my 10th, maybe 11th birthday. It was the first birthday I didn't throw a party, because some girl made a comment that even if I did, no one would show up. To avoid what I thought was inevitable, I told my mom I didn't want a party. Instead I made invitations, loot bags and games for me and my dolls and stuffed animals. I ran away in my head to this imaginary party I was throwing for myself in my room, with my toys. That was how the empty room began; this wide, vacant feeling in my head, with white walls, and echoed if you talked. There were no windows, no doors. It felt safe, especially if I'd had a bad day with the bullying at school. And then I'd stay in the room just a bit too long, and that feeling of safe would turn unsettling. Safe would become quiet, would become lonely, and eventually it would make me feel forgotten. It felt like I could scream bloody murder and no one would hear me. This wide, tall, vast white room would fill with the sounds of my own voice running through various emotions; fear, despair, desperation, sorrow. If I kept my voice low, it was manageable. But the second I wanted to yell or scream to get out, the sound would bounce off the walls, echoing my cries mockingly back from the walls to remind me that on one was ever going to come for me, and that was unwanted and forgettable. As I got older, it felt as if that room was shrinking. It still echoed as a cavernous space, but the walls became closer, as if trying to keep me still. The empty room, with it's echoing wailing walls would shrink until it bonded and bound to my skin.
Aged 14: Black Tar
Convinced that high school would allow me to start with a clean slate, I was excited to leave my small town elementary school and go to a high school a 35 minute drive away that had an arts program, where I auditioned and was accepted to their dance department. I made friends alright, was social, was liked, learned to socialize. But nothing ever felt right. Some days I would feel physically heavy, like I couldn't pick my feet up. I'd have moment where friends wanted to be around me, but I found excuses to avoid them . I started feeling off and out of place in every situation. I'd be needlessly awkward and quiet. My mind would go into hyperactivity at the slightest off comment and create fantastical situations where I'd imagine being told off and disowned by my friends. I would spiral in my own thoughts into this black tar pit that would gradually sink my body down, immobilizing me. I'd wish for the tar to just take me under, swallow me whole and just get it over with. I confided in a boy who had severe OCD who knew how to talk me down from those moments where I'd isolate myself. He'd tell me I was pretty , that the world needed me, and give me little doodles and trinkets to show me I was important. He would describe the tar to me, as if he could see it too. It was nice to have someone who didn't think I was being dramatic or crazy. Our friendship ended during a manipulative and controlling relationship I was in with another boy at 17. The tar came back afterwords and I sat in it , but this time with pride and vindication, as if this is what I deserve and that how things were meant to be.
Aged 20: The Rhino
It's odd to say that I liked the black tar. Yeah it was heavy sometimes, and sometimes it kept me from moving and doing what maybe I should have been doing in my late teens and entering my twenties, but I honestly didn't mind it. It was warm, it was safe, it felt stable. I often mistook it for being solid and grounded. That is, until my tar changed form. In the second year of university, I was being berated by my ballet teacher in class in university (which was a common occurrence in my program to anyone and everyone), and a huge force entered my head. I tore around my brain, through thoughts and memories, through logic and emotion until I didn't know which was which. I felt my chest clench , my eyes well up, I was holding my breath, I was trying not to cry. I blamed being too sensitive, or being over worked, or being over tired for this hard rush. I ran to the bathroom and cried as hard as I could for about a minute, cleaned up my face, and went back to finish class. I thought that was just a one time thing. Boy, was I wrong. Sometimes it made sense, I'd be overtired, over worked, under stress and the rhino would barrel through the door, tear though the filing cabinets in my head where I had intricately placed my thoughts and ideas and make a clunky stomping scene. Then when it was satisfied with the damage, it would simply walk out again, without any acknowledgement of me or what it had done. I'd be left to pick up the papers and files and resort my thoughts, ideas and feelings. But sometimes, the rhino would appear without warning. It would overturn furniture, tear through the walls like paper, leave carnage in its wake. It would hit me sometimes in the process, knocking me down or leaving me bruised. Sometimes it would leave right away, but sometimes it would decide to plunk down and sleep right in front of me. These times felt the scariest. The slightest rustle as I cleaned up the disaster the rhino made would wake it, and it would go tearing through my headspace again, leaving holes, tearing papers. Sometimes it felt like the rhino was hunting me, staring me down daring me to run. I would be paralyzed, starting into the eyes of an angry beast ready to charge. I've never felt so helpless. At about 24 the rhino made an ultimate blow and I had very public emotional break down, prompting me to finally seek help.
Age 24-25: The Smoke Demon
I started seeing my shrink. I remember describing to her that my head felt like being in a dust storm and not being able to see an object that was right in front of me. As I worked though how my thoughts and emotions worked, my rhino became a smoke demon. You see, the fun thing about mental illness is that it grows and evolves with you. The more I worked, the older I got, the more my mental illness evolved and got smarter with me. This smoke demon resembled the smoke demon in Fern Gully (you know, the one voiced by Tim Curry). Except mine didn't speak, it hissed. Sometimes soft and gentle, sometimes hard and aggressive . It had long boney fingers that would appear from any part of its cloud and beckon. It would wrap those fingers around me, sometimes it would caress me softly as it sighed in my ear. A couple of times it beckoned me into heavy traffic. More than once I was impulsed to follow. Other times it felt like it scratched and tore through my flesh and laughed as it watched my struggle. Sometimes the smoke was so thick around me all I could do was sleep. Sleep would keep the smoke quite and still at my feet. If the smoke was awake, it would rise and swirl around me, blurring my vision, making me see things that were there and that weren't really happening. It would gaslight me. The smoke made people believe I was crazy. Eventually I started to believe I was crazy too. Gradually, through hard work and regular visits to my shrink, the smoke began to change shape. Days where the smoke felt so thick that my eyes burned became less and less frequent. I was beginning to have days where the smoke wasn't even there at all! Eventually, the smoke dissipated, and took a new form.
Now: The Hollywood Manager
He looks like a cross between Bruce Campbell and the 1990s cartoon Joker. He wears a royal blue power suit with a purple dress shirt and a red tie. He's muscularly built, clean shaven with a strong jawline. His eyes flicker between false concern and mischief. His hair is jet black, and oiled back. He's got a smug, winning smile. For the first time that I can recall, he can speak. He whispers in my ear. He doesn't tell me what to do but he plants seeds in my head, in hopes that I'll "come to my own conclusions" and "make the right decisions". I know he's not looking out for me. He only looks out for himself. I can often ignore his inane accusations and passive aggressive jabs, but every now and again I question myself and wonder if he's making some sense. I've learned that certain people and situations fuel his intentions, and he uses those people and situations as leverage against me, because he can. He knows my past, all my fears and insecurities. What's weird now is that I can actively talk to him. And I know his game. He doesn't win nearly as many rounds as he used to, but I still have trouble tuning him out. Ever now and again he pokes the right nerve and I need to stay in bed and recover. But he's manageable. I'm often winning arguments and making my own choices in spite of this con artist. I have more control, for now. Until he evolves and takes a new form.
I'm looking at some of these past posts and averaging about one blog post a year. Maybe I should write more...
Anywho, yesterday was the last day I was accepting casting submissions for expanding my company roster with High Society Cabaret. I should make a note that although it's not my first time being on the other side of an audition table, it WAS my first time being on the admin side of a casting call to artists and being able to see how people submit themselves for a call. The process proved to be... interesting. I learned a lot! I was amazed at applications making some mistakes on processes that I thought were common sense! But since common sense doesn't seem to be common to the new stock of emerging dancers, let me outline some dos and don'ts when submitting yourself and your content to a casting call.
1. Read the casting submission directions and follow them
You'd think this goes without saying, but I got quite a few submissions missing vital information I needed in order to assess whether or not the dancer was suitable to bring in for an interview.
I should note that because I think auditions are a time and money suck and I generally don't like them, I approached my casting this time around more like a job interview (also because I feel like artistic business endeavours such as casting and company policy should be handled with a more business/corporate veneer and I'm attempting to put that into practice). So when I say you need to include your headshot, resume, cover letter (tell me what you've heard about my company or me, why you want to join my company, and why I should hire you) and video footage, you better give me all four of those items. Most of my applications were missing cover letters, which is annoying but I can survive. However I had a couple of applications missing footage, one was even missing a headshot! If I'm not auditioning, I need to see you dance and I need to see your face. Your look is part of how I evaluate whether or not you're right for the job.
2. Make sure your headshot looks like you.
Glamour shots are fun! (remember how I'm pretty and naked for a portion of my living?) and they're great for promotional material for classes, shows, etc., but they are usually TERRIBLE for headshots! You're gussied up, sexified, airbrushed, and basically only being one facet of yourself, and it may not be the facet I want. Your head shot should be relatively neutral in terms of casting and should look like you!
3. Make sure YOU are the one featured in your demo reel/dance footage
*sigh* Where do I begin?
There are two major pieces of footage you should try to avoid when making a submission: large group choreography and class footage. Here's why:
I DON'T KNOW WHICH DANCER YOU ARE!!!
How can I assess your fabulousness when I don't know which one is you? My eye is going to be drawn to the most dazzling, eye popping mover in the video, and that mover may or my not be you. I don't know. If you feel you MUST submit footage of you in group choreography, please, for the love of god, make a note in the video which one is you. There are a bunch of ways to do it: title written on the frame, isolating you in the group and opening up to the wide shot of the ensemble, fucking draw an arrow, I don't care. But I'm not psychic, I barely know your face so how am I going to know your movement. Help me out a little here!
My personal pet peeve is also class choreography in lieu of a demo. If that's what you're submitting, you better be fucking slaying that routine Yanis Marshall style. I naturally better not be taking my eyes off you. It's super depressing and makes me feel a little guilty when you send me footage of your dancing in class and I find I'm not watching you, I'm watching the girl to your left that is giving me way more face, style, heart and is fiercely outshining you. Sorry.
Also, when I've asked for professional working experience and all you have available is class footage, I just naturally assume you haven't really worked professionally. I need to know you have stepped foot on a stage or set before, know how to work in the environment and with other people. Also keep in mind, working professionally means you GET PAID IN MONEY for what you do. Not experience, not exposure, not during some half-assed, not real, post secondary "training program" (almost every single one of them is a scam, btw), you get paid in coins and notes. If that is not something that happens on the regular for you, you need to re-evaluate how you approach your career, how you train, and who you work with, otherwise you're not a professional.
4. Please please PLEASE on the hips of Martha Graham research the company you are applying to!
The number of young urban dancers that applied to my company because of the word "burlesque" was ASTOUNDING! Before I continue down this tangent, let me clarify exactly what burlesque is for a moment:
I would like to make this clear: just because you dance in heels and make a face as if you're taking a really sexy poop, does not make you a burlesque dancer. Modern burlesque involves any combination of satire, humour, caricature, visual opulence , sensuality/sexuality and/or tease (stripping). Dancing is an asset for sure! But your visuals, performance quality and overall charisma are equally important.
Moreover, a lot of the work I do works strictly in vintage aesthetics before about 1975. I work in a cabaret dance style, where our stages aren't always big so you have to be smart and adaptable in your dancing. Our work also takes from vaudeville, is interactive, and I stress that the dancers be strong performers who are comfortable with audience interaction and can freestyle and improvise on stage and in the audience (and that doesn't mean high kicks, tricks and 32 foutteés. It means, can you pay attention and react in character to your environment and all it holds.) All this I feel is present in the company's media if not blatantly stated on our website and Facebook page. When you drop a sentence like "I've been doing burlesque" and I see nothing that fits the above descriptions and definitions, I wonder a) do you even know what you're talking about and b) do you even KNOW what company you've sent your content to? All it does is it makes you look sloppy and uneducated, and I don't want to hire someone I have to do some intensive training with.
5. You can't control what the panel wants, all you can do I bring the best version of yourself forward.
You could be the most technically talented dancer that applies, but if you don't fit what I'm looking for, I won't hire you. It's not personal, I promise. I just have some specific traits I want out of my performers and you may not have those specific traits. And this is the life when you work as a dancer, or any artist! If your goal and method is the audition circuit, you have to constantly hone your craft while playing a numbers game. And the more you submit to, the more likely someone, somewhere will give you a job. It can get really defeating, trust me. I did it for nearly 10 years before I pretty recently decided it wasn't the game I wanted to play anymore and that's not how I wanted to play it. And that's the other thing: there is no "right" way to have a career. That being said, how your career unfolds has a lot to do with you. So discover what you want, how you want to work and the work you want to do any take the steps you need to make it happen. No one will do it for you. There is no job as a dancer that is going to "make " you. They are all cumulative experiences that will shape you as an artist , and it's up to you to use them to cultivate the career you want to have.