Morning and Mourning

First, I want to say that I stand with the peaceful protesters.

Second, I condemn rioting, looting and vandalism.

Third, I value our police, first responders and law enforcement.

Finally, there is no place for racism in law enforcement. Equal justice under the law mandates equitable enforcement of the law.

I awoke at 5:57 AM today, a little less than 30 minutes after last night’s curfew in Los Angeles lifted. I had grown used to helicopters circling at the nearby park like clockwork at 11:30 PM each night. I admit that hearing the helicopters made me nervous. The noise pollution was my nightly reminder that COVID-19 was still out there, lurking, being transmitted by those not practicing social distancing. Last night, it was the helicopters hovering at 10 PM that got to me. Those were not patrolling the park. They were patrolling against the rioting and looting taking place. I have a friend who’s a citizen of another country and doing business in California. She’s currently living in Beverly Hills. I made it a point to check on her.

Photo by Edgar Colomba on Pexels.com

Before bed last night, I promised my mother I’d be in touch as soon as I woke up. It’s a quiet morning as I sip my coffee. However, the news is disquieting. Hundreds were arrested yesterday. Businesses in neighborhoods I love were destroyed, already crippled by the pandemic. Those yearning for justice who were peacefully and lawfully protesting, were overshadowed by opportunistic anarchists.

“The medium is the message” is a phrase coined by the Canadian communication thinker Marshall McLuhan. Last night, all many people heard and saw was the rioting and the looting, not the well-justified despair behind the protests. Protest is a legally protected form of communication. Looting and rioting are not. So many will write this off as “an urban problem”, a “race issue”–and put the news into convenient thought-oubliettes of their own making. They’ll write this off as one “incident” among many, not questioning or thinking about the systems and systemic injustices that cause and foment this type of behavior.

It’s hard in the face of such devastation to maintain nuanced thinking patterns. Right now, many Americans are tuned in or tuned out. Many are stuck in the familiar us-versus-them mentalities or “not my problem”. This morning, I read another unsettling article. Rural America has not reached the apex of it’s COVID-19 fight. Being a “small town girl” living in a city devastated by riots and looting, my heart hurts today.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

We love to think in terms of conflict. We are taught that narrative is conflict–man versus man, man versus society, man versus self, man versus nature. One of the biggest issues we have is that we don’t agree what the “conflicts” are. It’s more than right-and-wrong and black-and-white. The type of problems we face are not solved by caped, masked heroes and feel-good soundbites.

We are habituated to think in terms of conflict. What if we started from a place of consensus? Instead of focusing on what we don’t agree on, can we clarify what we do?

Let’s start here:

Can we agree that everyone has the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” regardless of skin color?

Can we agree that public health threats affect all of us, directly or indirectly, rural or urban, young or old, well or not?

What can we agree on? In times of disagreement, we tear down. In times of agreement, we can build. We’re at the point where we need to re-build. A society divided against itself cannot stand. We need to stand up for each other now. If you haven’t done anything lately to heal race relations, take some time and do so today. I donated to the NAACP.

A little extra effort goes a long way. Yes, we’re social distancing. Yes, we’re wearing masks. Thank you. Please take a moment and do something for our health heroes and public health today. I choose to report my symptoms and social distancing to How We Feel app. Find something that’s do-able for you.

Please do something, even if it’s just listening, without judgement or prejudice, to someone’s pain, whether that person has been affected by racism or COVID-19 or both. We must take the time and make the effort to heal each other. The cures are better than the social and medical ills that affect us.

The Mask: Acting when in Mourning

“To weep is to make less the depth of grief.” HENRY VI, PART III

It’s true that actors suffer for their art.  We go to countless auditions, get told no more often than yes, among many other grievances.   Actors are bettors.  They gamble on themselves constantly, each day, in the name of their art and their talent.

As someone who’s experienced this twice, there may come a time in your acting life where you may be on stage or on set and someone you love dies.  The thespian’s motto is “The show must go on.”  Yes, it does, but sometimes it may not be in your long-term best interest for it to go on with you. Sometimes, though, the time on stage or on set may be healing.

The first time this happened to me, I was 17 years old and performing in a community production of Othello  Though it wasn’t a professional production, I treated acting as my profession.  My grandfather died a week before opening night.  My mother spoke to director on my behalf and his response to her was, “Is she still going to be in the show? She’s really talented.”  It was about the show for that director, not necessarily what could be done to keep me in a safer space.  When I came back to rehearsal, it was weird.  Fellow cast members didn’t know what to say to me or how to act.  I didn’t hold that against them.  It’s hard to know what to say when someone close to you has someone die.  I was very close to my grandfather and though legally almost an adult, I had a hard time coping with all the feelings.

The second time this happened to me was six months ago.  My godfather, whom I held in high regard, died unexpectedly.  We had been talking on the phone a lot in the six months prior.  He was going through stuff.  He was in mourning himself and then took a sudden turn for the worse.  I was in the middle of filming a short film when I heard the news of his death.  I let my director know what was going on via email and he was very kind and compassionate.  He let the cast and crew know that I had a death.  Everyone was very kind.  He worked around my schedule so that I could leave the state to go to the funeral.  He was a true professional.

Both times, at least to me, there was no discernible impact to my performance.  I got on stage and set and executed the director’s vision to the best of my ability.  However, I can tell you that the earlier experience with the death of my grandfather has followed me in some not-so-healthy ways.  When I saw another production of Othello five years after my grandfather’s death, I was in tears most of the play.  I had this deep association of Othello with my grandfather’s death.  I saw Othello two years later and I was just angry the whole time.  I had to go because of the drama academy I was enrolled in required me to go.  I am hoping time will help me shed my baggage with Othello.

Here’s some advice to you if you are acting and lose a loved one:

  1.  Don’t feel pressured to do or be more than you can handle.  Ask for an understudy if you need one.
  2. Evaluate where you are in the processes.  Are you in first rehearsal?  Final dress rehearsal?  Are you filming for one day?  Thirty?
  3. How much responsibility do you have to your family?  If you are in charge of making funeral preparations for the loved one, take a long look at what you can handle or sustain.  Funerals are very messy to plan, even under the best of circumstances.  You may be able to take a week or two off your production or have the producers change a shooting schedule, but there’s not really a do-over on a funeral.  If you have responsibility to your family, focus on your family first.  Above all, the funeral is to help you find closure and if you have any doubts, choose to focus on the funeral.
  4. Reach out to your director and/or producer.  If it’s to hard to talk about it, send an email about what has happened and what you may need.  If you have a manager, ask them to help you work out the issues with production.  Focus on your healing.
  5. Do not push for emotion.  You are likely maxed out.  You are an instrument.  Don’t break your instrument.  If you’re not feeling it, don’t force it.
  6. It may not be a good idea to bring a recent death into your scene work.  I’ve seen this really mess folks up.  It’s going to be time before you go through those stages of grief and bringing something in that’s too fresh and too raw may harm your psyche more than it helps your scene.  It’s not brave to dredge up something that you are unprepared to handle.  It is brave to assert your healthy boundaries.
  7. Care for your body and care for your spirit.  Acting is already hard, with a great deal of little disappointments.  Having a death cloud you doing what you love is a real downer.  Take extra care of yourself.  Enlist a friend to check in with you from time to time.  An actor friend who you trust is a great choice.

As actors, we constantly search for emotion.  We study emotion.  There will be times when our life on stage and screen  may be impacted by a death or other tragedy.  Above all else, “…to thine own self be true,” and care for yourself in your time of loss.  As an actor, you are your instrument, you are your truth and you owe it to yourself to care for yourself as best you can in your time of loss.