Friday, June 6, 2014

Our opening was last weekend, which the show lyricist and songwriter Amanda Green attended.  The responses we've gotten from our audience and reviewers has been overwhelming and phenomenal.  I'm so proud of what we're doing, the art we're creating, and the real human experiences we're relating to our viewers.  I just love everything about this show!!  That's all...just needed to put it out there.  :)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

How Do You Know When You've Gotten Home?

...that is my favorite phrase in the show; "If it looks the same everywhere you roam, how do you know when you've gotten home?"  It suggests a feeling of saudade (look it up, it's a beautiful word) that I think every human being experiences.  The song "Used to Be" is very nostalgic in general.  For some of the characters who sing it it represents a longing for the good feelings of past experiences, or a feeling of uncertainty about the future, or a feeling of being lost.  The aforementioned phrase stands out to me because "home" means so much more than the residence in which you grew up or currently reside, or even more than the people you live with; home is also a feeling, a sense of belonging, sometimes a thing you didn't know you were missing until you find it.  This phrase represents the evolution of almost every character in the show too...they are all craving something that is missing but they don't know what it is. They think winning the truck will fill in that void, but it's not anything material or external that's missing from their lives, it's their own sense of purpose.  They're all doing what so many people do in that they're looking to fill the void and create happiness with material things, rather than looking inside themselves...hell, that's the American way!  The contest, however, gives each contestant plenty of time to think about their lives and what it is they real want and need.  It is truly a "test of will" that elicits significant change from each person involved, though none of them are initially expecting it to be a spiritual journey (with the possible exception of Norma).  

When Chris enters the contest it is his last attempt at proving to himself and to his estranged wife and child that he is of value, that he is a strong man, though he believes himself to be a coward and a failure.  He has fought so hard to prove himself, and ended up completely losing himself, his faith in god, and his will to live along the way.  He has nothing left to lose (but everything to gain).

Preparing for and rehearsing this role has been a huge physical and mental challenge (though that's what us actors live for...roles that push us out of our comfort zone and force us to grow).  Chris has given up on himself, therefore I decided to "let myself go" for the duration of our process to better get outside myself and inside his head.  I haven't shaved since Rent ended (7 weeks ago), and the once smooth sultry Angel is now grizzly and un recognizable.  I have closed myself off from my friends and family (with the exception of my boyfriend) as much as I can without actually going insane.  I have put on 15lbs. from intense weight lifting.  I have spent a lot of time reflecting on a point in my life in which I was where Chris is now.

Despite the confident and positive person I am now, I spent many years in the dark, hating myself, hating others, hiding, pessimistic, very depressed.  Even though at that point I thought life was terrible, I wouldn't actually hit my rock bottom until many years later, which in turn spiraled me and skyrocketed me in to a period of intense self reflection, self improvement, and "lowest point", my breakdown, ended up being the biggest catalyst for evolution and positive change I've ever experienced.  I have found myself, and I love who I am and what I do, and I am now probably the most positive person I know.  I really identify with Chris because of his evolution throughout the show.  That being said, rehashing the dark moments of my life to better relate to Chris has been very challenging, especially when I am also looking less than my best.  It is a necessary evil to make this an authentic performance, but it sucks to put myself back in that state of mind, however temporary.

On the upside, I also get the opportunity in the show to remember when my life changed for the was when I took accountability for my own happiness and success and just starting DOING what I knew needed to be done all along.  Chris has that same opportunity, and I'm really excited that I get to explore that and share that with audience members who have likely been or are going through similar life experiences.  

The phrase "how do you know when you've gotten home" reminds me of once feeling lost and how amazing it has felt to finally be at home within myself and my community of artists and my family.  I am "at home" in so many different ways.  I have so much love and light and creativity around me everywhere I go.  This is only my second show with New Line, but creating art here has felt like another HUGE homecoming for me.  It's an environment in which I feel free to explore endless possibilities, and to be free and open with myself and those around me, to create without fear.  These freaks are not only my cast mates, but they are my friends and my chosen family.  It humbles me and fills me with so much joy to be surrounded by and filled with such positive and creative vibrations.   

THIS feeling is how you know when you've gotten home!!  I am home! 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Stronger - Inside the Mind of a Mentally Fucked Up Ex-Marine

Hands on a Hardbody; despite its namesake, it is not a stage porn or anything like.  (I begged Miller to let me play it naked, but apparently that doesn't "fit in" with the artistic direction of the show...whatever!)  The documentary that Hands on a Hardbody is based on follows an annual Texas contest in which the participant who keeps their HANDS on it the longest wins a brand new Nissan Truck.  These contestants are not fucking around either.  Everyone has their own methods of preparation, and strategy for maintaining the stamina and willpower necessary to win.  By the end of the documentary I found myself rooting for certain people too, which was kind of funny considering I know who wins!  Seeing the actual people that the characters in the musical are based off of was fascinating too.  Some of the script is taken verbatim from the documentary, which adds a really cool and more authentic feeling to the show.  Many of the characters in the show have the same names as the actual contestants in the documentary.  Chris Alvaro is more loosely based on the marine in the documentary, who actually doesn't say much throughout (which is fine by me, because I have more room to create a backstory that feels authentic, as opposed to feeling an obligation to mimic a certain personality, though that can be fun too!)  Anyway, I digress...It's not like I'm outlining this thing first, so it may be a little scatterbrained, but Chris is a mental wreck anyway, so it's good!!

Chris Alvaro is pretty fucked up.  What we know about him from the beautiful lyrics and book to this show is:  he is a Private in the U.S. Marine Corps; he has an estranged wife who he married young after finding out she was pregnant, and a young son who was born while he was deployed; he has just gotten back from a tour in Iraq where he witnessed the deaths of many innocent people including a young girl, which he describes in the song 'Stronger'; his reasoning for joining the Marines was to grow up, be a stronger man, a better provider, husband, father, etc.  However, he has returned from war filled with the guilt of feeling responsible for the deaths of so many innocent people, guilt for having left his pregnant wife behind in order to find his own sense of worth, and instead comes back a broken and haunted man who has lost his soul and his will to live.  He enters this contest because he's got nothing left to lose.  He is driven to win because he needs a reason to believe that some good can happen for him, that maybe he can rebuild his relationships with both his wife and son who he barely knows,  to prove that he does have worth and can be the provider that his family needs; he needs a reason to live...something to hold onto to keep from giving up on life like he wants to.  So even though he's at his rock bottom, he still is hopeful that he can turn things around, and this truck is his opportunity to do just that, or it's a start at least.

The first time I listened to 'Stronger' I fucking lost my shit.  It's a beautifully written song musically and lyrically in that it is universally relatable to anyone who has truly hit "rock bottom" in life; and it is a fucking emotional roller-coaster to sing through, let me tell you!  He describes the simultaneous fear and excitement of being a newly-wed and expecting parent, the adolescent need to find his confidence and his purpose in life and prove his worth, the recurring nightmares and endless guilt that come along with surviving a gruesome war in which he'd lost friends and himself altogether, and over which he has mostly lost his relationship with his wife and child.  At the start of the show Chris is very consumed by all that has gone wrong in his life, and has yet to truly recognize his self worth and sense of purpose.  His Marine training does end up being useful later on in the show, in a rather unexpected way, but I will not spoil the ending for you!

Though I have never been in the service and generally consider myself a pacifist, I have many family members who are and have been in different branches of the military, some currently deployed in various parts of the world, others who have survived several wars in years past.  I have been reaching out to other war veterans who are willing to talk about their experiences for information on what life was like for them before, during, and after deployment.  It is really daunting to listen to a vet describe watching an innocent person die knowing there was nothing they could do to help (this seems to be somewhat common), and how the battle in their minds didn't stop even after returning home.  I cannot  even fathom being in that situation, so anyone who is willing to talk about it is extremely helpful to me.  Not only for the more selfish pursuit of making Chris a more believable character, but I feel an obligation to tell his story as authentically as possible, as he is a compilation of many veterans who have been through similar and far worse situations.  It would be a disservice to those who have lived through it to falsify any of it.

Anyhow, that's some of where I am with Chris currently.  I have a LOT of backstory brewing up and solidifying itself in my mind currently, but will reveal that when the time is right, as some of Chris' emotional struggles remind me of periods of time in my own life.

Semper Fidelis,
Chris Alvaro