Well, this year I’d like to set that perfectionist attitude aside and listen to my gut more. It’s more important to try something and embrace “doing it wrong” as long as it means doing it at all. And as for the side of me that needs measurable results, I have 10 pounds I can stand to lose.Read More
Difficult situations happen. They just do. There is no way to avoid pain or hardship by gliding across the surface of life, avoiding the murky depths. My hope for myself – and for everyone – is to transmute grief, annoyance, jealousy, bitterness, and anger into fertilizer for my own growth. How can I become stronger, have more compassion, love more fiercely, be more bold – not in spite of my hardships, but because of them? Difficult situations happen. They just do. There is no way to avoid pain or hardship by gliding across the surface of life, avoiding the murky depths. My hope for myself – and for everyone – is to transmute grief, annoyance, jealousy, bitterness, and anger into fertilizer for my own growth. How can I become stronger, have more compassion, love more fiercely, be more bold – not in spite of my hardships, but because of them?Read More
At my last audition, several months ago, I found myself sitting in the waiting area, holding a highlighted, heavily-penciled script and drumming nervously with my feet.
This time, the waiting area was a hallway, reminiscent of my high school, with the muted sounds of construction floating up from the floor below and the wet rattle of ice in a fellow auditioner's Subway soda cup. Idle thoughts formed in my mind: "who's waiting in there? Are they bored? As bored as me? Who am I here for? Eye on the prize. Resume, resume, resume... Has anyone ever been thrilled by a resume?" I wanted to walk out, but duty compelled me to go through with the familiar exercise.
I felt curiously tranquil as I walked into the room, smiled, shook hands, and adequately fielded some polite exchanges. I felt my feet on the ground and my heart a thousand miles away as I recited the highlighted words in my hands. Then I smiled and left and the echoes of my footfalls chased me down the hallway.
Fortunately, I heard nothing from them.
But that nothing was a sweet relief and a breath of freedom for me.
Days later, I traveled forty minutes to my tiny rehearsal space in Greenpoint and walked down more hallways, savoring the time it took. My footfalls echoed back, bright as applause, and my heart began to race as I sat down to write. This was where I belonged: guitar on my lap, chewed pencil, stained notebook, time stretching out before me, resume languishing, forgotten on a hard drive.
I still wonder about priorities in art-making.
When I was auditioning and performing works written by other people, my efforts centered on bringing words on a page to life through voice and body, through song and emotion. It was joyful work, don't get me wrong, but there was something missing. I felt a persistent and perplexing lack, something important left unaddressed.
Encountering devised theatre woke up that sleeping part of my brain. For the first time, I truly faced the blank page. I was afraid. I was responsible for maintaining or destroying the rules I had become accustomed to, and no aspect of theatre was safe from questioning. The old framework for putting up a hit show in three weeks suddenly seemed completely inadequate. It was time for something new.
In western Massachusetts, there is a small town up in the mountains where the artists of Double Edge Theatre train, create, rehearse, and farm. They are out of cell phone range. Their living quarters are wooden farmhouses and their rehearsal room is a large, airy barn. They make remarkable and ambitious performances.
I was lucky enough to take part in a workshop led by Rena Mirecka, a Polish actor who worked closely with Jerzy Grotowski's ensemble for several decades.
Rena led us in a series of mysterious and beautiful and extreme exercises over the course of a few days. We performed ceremonies for marriage, for birth, for coming-of-age, for death, nothing planned or laid out in advance. There was no track to follow or words to memorize. We had to act as a group, create as a group and as the moments tumbled by, we found ourselves almost hypnotically linked. We danced for hours to exhaust our bodies and clear our minds.
And then something amazing began to happen: by following our individual intuitive impulses, we collectively formed astounding physical pictures as an ensemble. Seeds for these pictures would grow from the primordial soup of bodies, gather momentum, crystallize for a moment, and then dissolve again back into chaos. Sometimes it was only one person, sometimes three, sometimes everyone. We made the Christ narrative with these pictures. We chose one among us, crowned him as our Ruler, then we killed him and dug his grave. We witnessed a birth and then became the Infant. We became the ravages of war, then the fragile calm of peace. We were the slow creep of Death, we were the ocean, we were winter, we were falling birds.
Hours later, we emerged, heads spinning, completely spent. I will never forget the power of intuition.
For me, this experience marked a change in my ideas about theatre. Urgent and powerful shows don't necessarily have to be "constructed", like an architect designing a building. They can just as well "emerge" from the creative locus of the ensemble, like a horticulturalist tending a garden.
In Thicket & Thistle, we aspire to make garden-type musicals. We rely on our ensemble as both a creative force and performance team, drawing from our knowledge of the many well-made musicals we've performed in the past, so we can move forward. We have learned our craft, and now we wish to do something more.
I am completely fascinated by the way ensembles work. I am endlessly curious about how they make decisions, how they share resources, and how their internal harmony/dissonance shapes their creative work.
Original theatre, made and honed by an egalitarian group of artists who deeply care: this is the kind of theatre I prize above everything else.
That's why I don't go to auditions anymore.
This is just one example out of countless challenges that we have faced that we got through by diving deeper. I could go on and on about how we have persevered through broken equipment, communication errors, people backing out after promising their help, and even technical outages. The best way to face a challenge is by meeting it head on. Running away is futile; trying to stay above it is useless.Read More
It’s no secret that New York City is obsessed with speed. The faster, the better. There’s a lot of people who have a lot of stuff to do and barely enough time to do it all. After two years here, I’m still trying to find a consistent balance to the city’s pounding tempo. Especially with Thanksgiving around the corner, I wanted to remind myself how to slow down and breathe.Read More
Just make a choice and see what happens – if the result is undesirable, make a different choice, and see what happens then. I want to treat life a bit like a toy chemistry set – I don’t want to blow anything up or start any fires, but I do want to combine unknown elements and see what kind of reactions occur. Because, as it turns out, the unknown isn’t some scary monster palace – it’s where all the fun is. Let’s go.Read More
In my opinion, treating your passion like a hobby is like going on a diet and never getting a cheat meal. I can't eat salad for the rest of my life just to fill up and never be satisfied. Eating salad makes me feel like a dinosaur - and everyone knows what happened to them. Also, I diet enough. I'm bad at it. I know you can't always have your cake and eat it, too, but I don't believe in cheat meals. I mean, I'm not going to eat donuts everyday - but you get the ideaRead More
My initial response was- well obviously everyone LOVES candy corn! Candy corn is a sweet little treat, it is very festive, and it also brings back such great childhood memories memories- going to harvest festivals, school Halloween parties, and trick or treating! However I was stunned to discover that there is a great divide on this issue - the comments ranged from “I LOVE CANDY CORN!!” to “is candy corn even edible?”Read More
A clown only serves to vent feelings of frustration and does not actually affect change. A smart ruler will allow this to exist. He or she allows fun to be poked at them so they appear to have been brought down a notch, but that power actually remains unchecked. The status quo remains. Furthermore, one can argue that it actually reinforces the power, in a way, because rather than dealing with a problem, moving on, or removing a corrupt power, our attention has continued to focus on the current power.Read More
The city is a beast. Over and over I hear, “It’s not for everyone,” or, “I could never live there.” I’ll be honest, I’m coming up on the 6 year mark and I’m still not convinced it’s possible to have a happy, balanced life here. In fact, a T&T company trip to Connecticut a few weeks ago reminded me how nice it is to breathe somewhere with greenery, see deer and bunnies instead of skunks and rats, and play somewhere away from the 8 million other people here.
But I don’t feel like sharing another first person view on life in the city. I’d like to take a look at city life via a different animal. Dogs didn’t just evolve beside us for thousands of years; they have arguably influenced the way we evolved, as we have on them. They might just provide a better reflection of ourselves than we can objectively view otherwise.
From working for 3 years in a dog daycare, I came to one definite conclusion: city dogs, by and large, don’t know how to be dogs! This is probably a result of their humans’ behavior and most likely can be corrected. These problematic behaviors aren’t seen that often in country dogs. Is it possible for a city dog to be balanced and happy? What are we humans asking of them that is preventing that?
When dogs meet for the first time, etiquette dictates an “I’ll sniff your butt, you sniff mine” exchange. Now, there can be dominance games that’ll play into this (most commonly seen when one dog won’t allow the other dog to sniff), but generally it’s the equivalent of our handshake. I’ve actually seen dog parents discourage the behavior. By all means, discourage the dominance games (you want your pup to be friendly, after all) but don’t stop the behavior because it seems inappropriate as a human. Guess what? Dogs are not human.
Dogs are incredibly social, and often dogs on walks want to stop and say “Hi” to each other. When a leashed dog isn’t allowed to stop and greet a fellow dog, it can lead to frustration that can manifest in other unwanted behaviors. Most commonly, this includes whining and barking, pulling on the leash, and even “leash aggression,” where the dog will end up lashing out at the dog if she gets close enough. If you recognize any of these behaviors in a city dog, it might possibly be the result of an anti-social parent!
Lack of Training
The number of dogs that don’t even know their name astounds me. Especially in a city environment, where a leash may not be enough on its own to keep your pup safe, every dog should know their name and have a basic recall command. A simple rep of come, sit, down, stay, and off can make a world of difference in a dog’s life. It gives you common language to communicate your expectations to your dog about his behavior. Dogs evolved with a desire to please us, so given the opportunity, they will strive to do so! It’s a simple job that they can fulfill.
Here’s the thing: unless you have a basenji, your dog is going to bark. They evolved that way so that they could warn us about possible danger. Embrace that! Then teach your dog a command to signal, “OK, message received, I’ve got this, you can stop now.” It’ll result in less frustration on both sides of the relationship.
Anyone who told you that if you don’t feed your dog human food, they won’t learn to beg is a big fat liar. Dogs are born knowing how to beg. Embrace it! A food-driven dog is that much easier to train!
The first time I dog-sat, we hadn’t had a dog in the house for a few years and my mom commented, “I forgot how much dogs lick!” Dogs lick for many reasons. Taste is tied to smell even more for dogs, and scent is already their most important sense. Also, for the odd humans that don’t like puppy “kisses,” keep in mind that one way dogs show deference to their alpha is by cleaning their face (although contrary to common belief, they lick under your jaw to encourage you to regurgitate food for them, not for affection!).
What happens when dogs are asked to deny their natural instincts? Well, a dog denied the opportunity to be social will become anti-social. They won’t learn acceptable play, and if they did know at one point, they will forget from lack of use. Unbalanced dogs also tend to be neurotic or timid. Both extremes prevent a dog from entertaining their natural curiosity and they lose the tendency they have to explore. Many unbalanced dogs also find it difficult or impossible to be alone. The behaviors that manifest are highly varied, some are obnoxious, and many are destructive and even dangerous.
So a dog trapped in an urban setting, without a proper job to expend their energy on, will stop playing, stop exploring, and have trouble being alone… Anything sound familiar? Canine behavioral therapy involves a lot of finding what the dog most enjoys, redirecting that mental energy into a job, and expending pent up energy. We have one big advantage over our canine brethren: we can recognize our tendencies and consciously alter our behavior.
I have many canine tendencies and I certainly recognize those behaviors I listed in myself. I can easily tie this to not having a true “job” to expend my energy on. I fall into the trap of the city, working endless day jobs just to live. I forget to nurture what I actually enjoy and what I came down here to do. The first time I realized this was when I worked on the staged reading of The Butterfingers Angel with [by the mummers]. I was working 2 jobs, but rehearsal was the first time I hadn’t felt tired in years. I think it’s important to give yourself a job that you love. Expend energy on that and the city becomes less oppressive.
It’s possible for a dog to have a happy and balanced city life. It should be possible for us to do the same. And also, give yourself a break in the country from time to time. After all, even a city dog enjoys a run in a field and a good deer to chase!
If Sarah were a spell in Harry Potter, she would be Alohomora, aka the Unlocking Charm. Sarah has unlocked doors for Thicket & Thistle that we would have been fiddling with for ages without her help. She points her magic wand at problems ("magic wand" being a euphemism, in this case, for hours upon hours of dedicated work) and - presto - new doors are suddenly open.Read More
What was your first impression of Lindsay?
Joshua: Lindsay had me at the words "John Williams" and "Home Alone Theme” during her audition for the Fairy. She was the last to read but easily my first choice.
What's your favorite thing about Lindsay?
Sarah: There are many things that I love about Lindsay. I love how super sassy she is, while somehow at the same time she's the sweetest human ever. I love how willing she is to help a group of people that she hardly knows to put on a good show and how dedicated she is to her craft. I also love her dog, Tucker. Not as much as her, but he's a close second. ;)
If reincarnation is real, who is Lindsay a reincarnation of and why?
What's your favorite memory of working with Lindsay?
Jonathan: My favorite memory of working with lindsey was actually my first memory of lindsey. When she auditioned for us she blew us away with her beautiful voice and then when we had her jam with us she jumped right in with her cheerful spirit and even danced along while playing. She won us over immediately and since then she has been an amazing addition to Thicket & Thistle!
If Lindsay were a Harry Potter character or spell who/what would she be and why?
Corley: If Lindsay were a character in Harry Potter, she would be Nymphadora Tonks with a dash of Hermione Granger. She's a fun-loving with a sassy attitude like Tonks, but studious and always brings her A-game, like Hermione.
If she were a spell, I think she would be Stupefy because her talent is stupefying. She picks things up so quickly and has the voice of an angel
What kind of animal would Lindsay be and why?
Kyle: If Lindsay were an animal, I think she'd be a bird of the forest. Specifically, a Wood Thrush. Its song goes skipping along the scale, cheerfully buzzing, fantastically precise and suffused with an obvious joy. When Lindsay sings and plays, I imagine all the creatures of the forest cautiously emerging, gathering to hear her.
Hello there, Nyssa here! I’m happy to say I’m back in NYC and already in the thick of it with the Thistles. We have some excitingnew ideas in the pot and are making some really great song covers, so keep a look out for those!
Being gone for so long, I’d forgotten how much subway commuting takes up your day, and consequently being in earbud land! I’ve finally jumped on the bandwagon and have started exploring podcasts. My favorite pick at the moment is a great show from 2009 entitled “Music and the Brain.” Their episodes range from exploring the scientifically proven results of music therapy to what neurons fire in the brain while someone is playing an instrument. I’m no scientist, but I really enjoy the show and the overlying message of the importance of music. I thought I’d use this blog post to share especially poignant topics in the podcast and how music is a central key in my own life.
I was especially moved by an episode with Concetta Tomaino, a classically trained pianist that went on to study music therapy. Now working with cancer patients, her treatments include creating playlists specific to each patient that would decrease pain and sensitivity and give patients opportunities to express their fear and anxiety with instruments and help them develop their own song. Ms. Tomaino knew firsthand what her patients were going through because she had gone through the same process battling breast cancer. On the podcast, she shared her frustrations that similar programs aren’t readily available. Although there have been numerous studies proving the beneficial impact of music therapy, the numbers just aren’t high enough to sway the medical community at large. Hearing Ms. Tomaino talk about her own experiences and those she’s witnessed working with others fighting for health left no doubt in my mind as to the power music brings out in all of us.
After listening to this episode, I began to fully appreciate how therapeutic music is within my own life. It’s disappointing how often music is undervalued when I’ve felt its healing properties myself. In crowded cities, where tempers run high and the feeling of obligatory decorum can be stifling, the right song can calm my body down before my brain’s realized it’s even happened. And what’s amazing is that song or style that brings instant relief is different for everyone. If you haven’t been moved by a piece of music, I strongly encourage you to keep looking. Explore new artists and, once you’ve found something you like, really sit with it. Without forcing anything or focusing too hard, observe how it affects your body. When, moments before, my brain could only register anger or anxiety, the right song puts a smile on my face in spite of myself.
And then, of course, there’s the act of playing music. Having an instrument is like having a pet – a stress reliever and a confidant. I hope everyone finds their outlet that lets them experience this escape. For me, it’s playing and listening to music. Being with my violin or guitar puts my mind in a meditative state, purely present, letting the body and the ear take control. I can’t imagine my life without music, so it’s the least I can do to defend its honor and try to give others the opportunity to change their lives, as well. Join me as a Defender of Music, and make sure it always has a place in the development of medicine and education for the next generation and all who follow.
I understand that the 9-to-5 lifestyle isn’t for everyone. However, I definitely recommend looking into it if you are tired of waiting tables. And to those of you who are thinking that a 9-to-5 will end your career as an actor, I will say this: Since taking on this new 9-to-5 way of life, I have been in two Shakespeare plays this summer and had ample time to meet with Thicket & Thistle weekly, and to direct our musical What’s Your Wish? for The New York International Fringe Festival.Read More
Jonathan is the guy who stays positive and fully engaged throughout the development process: from kicking around ideas over drinks to polishing the blocking a week out from the show. He has a talent for folding the group's disparate ideas into a coherent and consistent shape.Read More
When I think about what I’ve accomplished since moving here, I sometimes feel a sense of dismal lack – that I have little, on paper, to show for these four years. But, material accomplishments aside, what could be more important than the work I do to improve myself spiritually? What is a more worthy pursuit than striving to better myself on a daily basis?Read More
Listen closely: in live performance, anything can happen.
I recently had a conversation with a friend, a young professional writer and orchestrator of musical theater, about a dilemma he was facing. He spoke at length about how difficult it is as a writer to both pre-plan a sequence of events for a functional plot and to create dialogue that feels spontaneous for actors performing moment-to-moment. I listened closely, and then asked him, "Do you believe that it's possible to fool an audience into thinking your show is made up on the spot?"
I imagine many playwrights and composers weigh similar opposing values when making their work. Straitjacketed scripted work can suffocate itself, and unscripted work can generate less tension than a quilting bee. Should a musical be rehearsed and impeccable and "tight," or should a musical be free and playful and "loose"?
With Thicket & Thistle, the answer is yes. In our shows, we attempt a balance between these two extremes, which we believe results in a thrilling live experience for our audiences. We tell the same story overall from show to show, but we leave room for our performers to play - to create and adapt their own lines based on what's happening in the moment.
But why? Wouldn't it be more practical to have a reproducible show? It's not easy to hire a performer and tell him or her, "Oh, these lines? They're up to you." It starts to sound like a recipe for chaos, which is usually considered a bad thing in a traditional musical.
But we all know that performances get messy! Spectacles fail, actors drop props, actors drop lines, an audience member attempts to charge his phone onstage, and so on. To some audience members, the "live" element of theater is mostly about waiting for things to go wrong, not entirely unlike a NASCAR event.
Speaking of the audience, let's quickly look at Film vs Musical Theater:
Film -> Pre-recorded, out-of-time, independent of location
Musical Theater -> Continuous, in-time, dependent on location
What an amazing capability! Broadway shows have become digitally unchained from their various physical houses in Manhattan, and now I can watch "almost 200" of them at my perfect leisure.
This is a condition the contemporary theater artist must respond to. Why is it important for anyone to see a piece of live theater? What does live theater do that film, television, and recorded theater cannot?
There are many, many, MANY opinion pieces on why live theater still matters. But next to the rhetoric about loss of empathy, digital distraction, and hand-wringing about the future of Art, I think there is a legitimate discussion we need to have as craftspeople.
(To be clear, there are lots of reasons why theater remains important. Feel free to draw your own connections between these studies about social cohesion and emotional resonance in a crowd, but for now I'd like to focus on improv.)
Allow me to be abstract for a moment. Performances are messy, therefore no two performances are exactly alike. We know this by way of failure, but also by way of success. Chance, surprise, and the ability for the performers to react in real time are factors that recorded media can only partially reproduce. This non-repeatability is a beautiful and very human aspect of live theater and ought to be explored as an essential aspect of performance.
So I'm following this thread, and I'm thinking "Theater is non-repeatable, theater is living, so theater will involve some bits of improvisation one way or another." And lo! the heavens opened, a radiant light blinded my eyes, and Thespus himself, alighting on a glorious sandal-wrapped foot, declared: "Alright, all I need to get started is a suggestion from the audience."
And, in my opinion, this is a great thing! Improv energizes theater, makes it immediate, reactive, connected to the imagination of the actors and the crowd. It removes theater from its museum-like tuxedo-clad chrysalis of elitism and makes each and every show a robustly unique event. Why not acknowledge and include improv more and more in the world of musical theater?
Improv is possibility, extending to meet the present moment. Saying yes to the beats as they arrive, planned or completely unscripted; saying no to assumptions about the rules of theater. Improv is owning the inconsistencies that actually mimic real life.
We love to keep things fresh and lively onstage here at T&T, and I hope one of our more experienced Thistles (maybe Sam DeRoest or Joshua Stenseth) will write about their improv experience in a future entry.
At every Thicket & Thistle show, listen closely: something surprising will happen!
So why do we fear the future? Or specifically, in my case at least, why fear the unknown? The unknown could bring treasures, adventures, surprises that delight and amaze! But being unknown, who’s to say there isn’t pain, loss, and disappointment lurking around the corner? Does it come down to being an optimist or pessimist? Those who have faith in the unknown and those who distrust it?Read More
What was your first impression of Sam?
Lindsay: Getting to read with Sam in my audition meant I had the benefit of seeing that he makes a great scene partner right away. He's very easy to engage with and he's such a puppy dog that it's easy to find adoration for him. So basically he's a joy to work with.
If reincarnation is real, who is Sam a reincarnation of and why?
Jonathan: If reincarnation is real, Sam is a reincarnation of Bob Ross and William Shakespeare.
What's your favorite thing about Sam?
Kyle: My favorite thing about Sam is his magpie-like ability to gather and recount conspiracy theories. The list is long (and getting longer, to my perennial delight), covering vast swaths of territory including: aliens, sea monsters, Sasquatch, the NSA, the pyramids, rewilders, time travel and more.
What's your favorite memory of working with Sam?
Joshua: My favorite memory of Sam is also one of my first…woogedy woogedy woo to: years ago, Portland, OR. Sam and I were put on the same improv team at the comedy theater we were both working at. Flash forward to our first show together and our very first scene together - and this is before we had even had any sort of real conversation as human beings together - the suggestion must have been gym/dudes/etc. and as soon as we heard the suggestion, I initiated something stupid-simple like miming lifting weights and and I look over at Sam to see how he’ll respond -and this is the part that is super vivid for me - without hesitation, he was instantly strutting around with his head tipped back and barking in this really clipped voice with these HUGE crazy eyes. He wasn't just supporting my idea by like, “Oh hey, lifting weights? Cool.” He was like full-on stream-of-consciousness channeling this ranting, fucked-up muscle dude. And in that magical one and a half seconds at the top of an improv scene where you get to decide how to support the idea, I’m simultaneously thinking “Whoa, Sam, is like zero to sixty insane” and “Yes! THIS GUY is finally here.” So, what do I do? I do his crazy-ass character right back at him. And before either of us know what is happening we are full-on, mouth-frothing, screaming complete nonsense in each other's faces, bumping chests and just chewing up the scenery.
And I think that was the whole scene; probably funny, but that isn’t the point. The point is, my first memory with Sam is one that defines what kind of performer he is: instantly supportive, fully engaged, and ready to take on any idea— good/bad or medium. I am thankful for every time since I met him that Sam and I have been able to scream at each other in front of people and call it a show.
If Sam were a Harry Potter character or spell who/what would he be and why?
Corley: If Sam were a character in Harry Potter, he would be an amalgamation of Sirius Black and Hagrid. He has the loyalty, mischief, and charisma of Sirius, with Hagrid's emotional openness and heart of gold. Notably, both characters also love dogs.
If Sam were a spell in Harry Potter, he would be Expecto Patronum. It's impossible to have a bad time when you're around Sam - he's always at the ready with a heartfelt smile or some bit of silliness, and is a very warm and welcoming person. Should I ever be surrounded by Dementors, I would want Sam around to drive them away.
What impresses you most about Sam?
Sarah: When I first met Sam I was very impressed at his ability to turn "Mama I'm a Big Girl Now" and other songs from the hit musical Hairspray into Christmas songs. Sam is one of the funniest dudes I know. I'm also very impressed by how quickly he grows facial hair.
What do you miss most about Sam?
Nyssa: What I miss most about working with Sam is how funny he makes everything! He's the most endearing goof ball I've ever met and can make anyone laugh even after the most frustrating day. No matter what obstacle is thrown his way Sam never loses his optimism and kindness towards others.
For someone like me, who tends to be impulsive and without a filter, functioning in society means shutting down. It’s an acquired survival skill. But it’s not conducive to theatre. At all. So the trick is remembering how to turn back on. There was a time I knew how to be heart open. Working with this group is allowing me to relearn how to do that. Yeah, being the new kid can be pretty scary, but I’m also very lucky. Here’s this awesome group of people that’s invited me to come play. I’m so happy to do that.Read More