Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thankful.

I try to do this every year. Last year, life got in the way. I'm hoping this year that we have a simple, quiet Thanksgiving and I can write this list in peace.

100 Things I am Thankful For, In No Particular Order (Except for the First):

Fall at my house

  1. For Travis - for the last year I've had with him and the years to come and the fact that he lived. It was Thanksgiving last year when he had the heart attack. We've come full circle. For being my constant. For being the someone to sit in my chair. For putting up with the insanity that is me, year after year, when really, no one else would.
  2. For the rest of my family, even though I rarely see them, for not needing me to be someone different in order to gain their support, for loving me for who I am and being my family in spite of it. Even if it means we aren't always close.
  3. For Becky, who is the best friend I've ever had and who I *promise* will be dragged kicking and screaming to Hawaii without her kids one of these days.
  4. For Erica, who I canNOT believe I will very soon be able to say I've known for 40 years. I am always so happy and grateful to see you.
  5. For Stacy, who will likely not read this...but I always think of the year we lived together as one where I figured important things out about life, art, and margaritas.
  6. For Maura, also not likely to read this, who always reminds me that life should be simpler and quieter than it is.
  7. For Sarah and Szu-Feng, who remind me that I'm on the right path as an artist and I'm not walking it alone.
  8. For Bryan, Michelle, Mike, Buz, and Chelsea for being my partners on this crazy insane journey we are, for some reason, insisting on taking. And for being my friends beyond that as well.
  9. For the rest of my Tension/Lust friends.
    Last November - I don't have one from this year yet.
  10. For Terami - I am really grateful for our friendship and for how it's grown, and hope it continues that way, and I can't wait to hear more music from you some day.
  11. For Will, Liz, Rob, Beth, Colin, Rachel, Kim, Amanda, Caroline, Connor, Ellie, Lowell, Gris, Jamie, Pat, Ryan, Kat, Aaron, Joseph, Crystal, Judd, Kat, Kelli, Kim, Lisa, Rebecca, Roby, Sarah, Stephanie, and Zac - for being the best thing about Texas and always reminding me where home is (and yes, some of you aren't in Texas anymore, but I'm lumping you in there anyway).
  12. For Chris, Darcy, Bob, Irene, Antoine, Chrissie, Jeff, and the rest of the old friends from New Hampshire we are still in touch with, for always being there, consistently for over 20 years.
  13. For Bob Schmidt and Sandy Stone, for changing my life and continuing to be my friends.
  14. For Torry, for being an amazing friend, a passionate collaborator, and a fierce supporter.
  15. For Mark and Trish, for being our rocks here in Minnesota, and for everything you did for us while Travis was in the hospital.
  16. For Ian, Kate, Steph, Maggie, Justine, Aaron, Anahita, Monty, Victor, Myles, Sydney, Andrew, Laura, Leila, Aizzah, David, Yousiff, Cecilia, and Ellen - did I forget anyone this time? - for being the BEST family and the best part of 2017, I miss you all and Edinburgh so much.
  17. For whatever it was the above people had me drinking in Scotland - because it DIDN'T give me migraines.
  18. For Kaitlin and the rest of the PPAF/Mary Poppins crew - thank you for an exhausting and fun start to my summer!
  19. For Darren and Clint, and all other parties involved, for this amazing, crazy impossible emotional shitstorm of an adventure called The Lust Experience that you've brought into my life this year. 
  20. For all the people in the past week who have given me much needed advice and pep talks - especially Ann and Greg. Without the two of you I'd still be mentally spinning my way into crisis.
  21. For Sam - seriously, I'm really grateful to have connected with you here in the past couple of years. Thank you for listening and giving advice. And teaching me about ethics!
  22. For Dr. Yannopolous, for saving my husband's life, creating this insane experimental procedure and just being brilliant. And putting up with me in the emergency room.
  23. For Mike Croswell and our collaborations this year.
  24. For Kathryn and our conversation at USITT.
  25. For the chance to take my students to USITT last year.
  26. For the chance to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.
  27. For all the people who helped me finish my article.
  28. For Karen Maness, for giving me a few basic painting skills this past summer.
    Three days well spent
  29. For Taipei and the adventure there.
  30. For Andrew Schneider and his mindblowing life-changing work YOUARENOWHERE.
  31. For Theatre Conspiracy and their amazing show Foreign Radical.
  32. For Scotland, absolutely everything about my entire time there.
  33. For the team of the upcoming Ireland project.
  34. For my FYC, and all the adventures seeing theatre together.
  35. For my students in general - there are days when you are the reason I get out of bed.
  36. For The Cherry Orchard, and especially all the amazing seniors involved.
  37. For my kitties, for god only knows what. Being living alarm clocks and not being around when they're wanted and being pains in the ass and acting really weird and throwing up a lot.
  38. For knowing that even if things go south we are pretty ok for the near future.
  39. For a year that included design work abroad, and an upcoming year with more design work abroad.
  40. For knowing what I'm passionate about and not being afraid to pursue it.
  41. For teaching my first year students writing this semester, which in turn has had the effect of teaching ME more about writing than I knew before.
  42. For exciting new collaborations just peaking over the horizon.
  43. For generic Relpax! Finally!!
  44. For hot water with lemon and honey when you're sick with an awful cough.
  45. For hot baths with Aura Cacia bath salts and Beth Orton playing on Spotify.
  46. For the new down comforter that Shitty Third Cat hasn't destroyed yet, and knowing how AMAZING it's are going to feel to get into once it's 30 below.
  47. For the holiday season starting this weekend.
  48. For apple pie and pumpkin muffins.
  49. For having a car that isn't going to die this winter. Or next.
  50. For Mr. Robot. Seriously.
  51. For the beautiful piece of pottery I bought in Dihua Street in Taipei.
  52. For still being able to play the piano, even if it's only a little.
  53. For scallops bought from the seafood place on Snelling.
  54. For game night with the Vaillancourts.
  55. For the night in Edinburgh over pizza when I realized I was sitting with a bunch of theatre artists who were just as excited about immersive theatre and gamification as I was.
  56. For everyone who puts up with me when I'm drunk. And for Chelsea for taking my phone away last time.
  57. For the Kelpies.
    So glad we made this journey.
  58. For people who have known me so long I don't have to explain anything to them. 
  59. For Austin, and the rest of Texas.
  60. For the smell of honeysuckle.
  61. For having the ability and opportunities to travel for my work.
  62. For the Hadestown live recording.
  63. For paneer tikka masala and kheer from India House.
  64. For running.
  65. For Penumbra's production of Wedding Band.
  66. For Christmas Cookie scented candles from Yankee Candle.
  67. For books that Chelsea makes me buy.
  68. For grants that fund upcoming trips.
  69. For Hidden Room Theatre & the phone call I had with Beth the other night.
  70. For evenings when I actually do yoga before bed.
  71. For days spent unplugged.
  72. For finding good massage therapists when out of town.
  73. For the people in my life who don't doubt that I can handle myself.
  74. For the day when I introduced Steph to putting cream in her coffee.
  75. For jokes about whips that will never, ever die.
  76. For possibly going to the Under the Radar festival and the dress rehearsal of Andrew Schneider's new piece in January.
  77. For gratitude journals. Yeah I do it, shut up.
  78. For Jim Halvorson at Cajah Salon.
  79. For actually good Mexican food, when I get to have it.
    She couldn't finish it.
  80. For 4 years of keeping the 50+ pounds off!
  81. For everything that David Bowie has ever made.
  82. For a night with Maggie, Ellen, Laura, and Steph and a video we made.
  83. For Ontroerend Goed's LIES.
  84. For the visit with Jamie in Moorhead.
  85. For playing Settlers of Catan with the Transmission crew.
  86. For the pieces of design-driven performance I saw at World Stage Design 2017.
  87. For coffee.
  88. For flowers from students after the closing of a show.
  89. For getting to be a part of Swim Pony's The End this year.
  90. For Max the cat following me to class.
  91. For Catherine, who I clicked with the very first week I was here at Mac.
  92. For all the women lighting designers who make up that 20%.
  93. For the Spider Web ARG group.
  94. For the way the sun hits the trees in my neighborhood during sunset in the summer.
  95. For middle of the night focuses in Portsmouth by the ocean.
  96. For cats named Steve.
  97. For Yoga with Adriene.
  98. For the Fusebox Festival, even though I haven't been in awhile.
  99. For the graffiti on the bridge over Town Lake.
  100. For Jacob's Well and dreams of swimming there soon.
    Next summer?

Friday, November 10, 2017

My Lust Experience So Far (Vaguely Described)

"Passivity is the death of theater. I believe plays should be experiences, and those experiences should wake us up, turn us on, and jolt us to a new way of thinking or being in the world." - Joanna Garner

I don't know Joanna. I have heard her name often enough that I swear I know her or have met her, obviously we know the same people and we are both Longhorns which, if you aren't a Longhorn, you won't understand. I think I was asked to design a play of hers once. But I've actually never met her, I don't think. The way my brain works when it comes to people can be so frustrating though, Joanna, if you're reading this and we've met - my apologies. Travis read your artist's statement to me last night and I had to use the above quote for this post.

Last year while involved in The Tension Experience I wrote about both my experiences in it as a participant and also my observations, since I was participating from Minnesota and most of the action was taking place in Los Angeles. In all honesty I never expected last year to become as immersed in it as I did, and even so my interactions with it took place mostly over the course of one weekend when I flew to LA. While the conceit of Tension is such that it can take over a participant's life anytime, anywhere, the chaos for me was controlled: I had to get on a plane first. As long as I was home, in Saint Paul, I was safe.



At the end of it all last year, actually while Travis was in the hospital, I wrote an article in which I (stupidly?) said "Dear Tension. Next year, crush my soul. Love Megan." I received a letter in the mail in response promising exactly that. Nothing ominous at all about that. I kind of regret the title of that article now. First of all, I didn't choose that title. I wrote the article before the heart attack, and then when the heart attack came I asked NoPro to title it for me because fuck everything. The title came from a discussion about something Jane McGonigal said about "Westworld" and The Man in Black, with whom I strongly identified. I probably still do but that whole association has long since lost all real meaning to me. Also what followed in the wake of this has/had/will have/is likely to have consequences. Not just "in-game" (referring to affecting the choices we make within the narrative) but also in my real life. I got what I wanted. The Asking For It Experience.

Or, you know, The Lust Experience, which has been going on since February but which really started for me in July. I'm not going to go into details. There are some details to this story that, to me, are not really public as to why this happened at all, why I didn't just have a few creepy phone calls and that was it. Honestly I came very, very close to quitting but was talked into staying in July. There are other details that are personal and particular to me that I can't share because they're private, not for the public. And there are things that happened that I can't talk about publicly because they might draw attention to myself or to the creators in ways that I don't want to have to deal with. I want nothing more than to fully write about this as performance and as an experience of theatre from my perspective but I can't. Not right now.

And...is it over? I mean obviously Lust isn't, I mean my part in it. This story. It feels like it is but...


Some things I will say: 

It's been two months of being fucked with hard. Some of it was seen by the other participants, some of it was not. No, I did not share everything and I'm not going to. If you want to know everything, you can buy me a drink and I'll tell you in person, and I promise you, that is the only way you'll know short of me getting a "never silent." 

What I said to the creators last year was that I couldn't fake my emotions. I had to feel real fear. If I wasn't afraid, genuinely afraid, I wasn't going to perform it. Actually the other audience members at The Willows saw this when I went to that in July. I was kind of stone-faced the entire time. I keep a really tight reign on how and what I feel because letting go of that has proven dangerous in the past. But I do want to be moved. I just don't always know what's going to do it, and most things don't. So I told them, it had to be real. That referred to more than one thing - it meant my feelings had to be real but it also meant that I needed proof and not just words. Don't tell me you're stalking me, actually stalk me. 

In the real feelings department, though, they delivered. More than delivered. When the actual narrative that was "mine" started I could see what was going on and could make conscious choices. I wasn't feeling yet. I was still over thinking and over analyzing with my rational, literal, daughter-of-an-engineer brain. I knew what they were doing and I chose to go along with it to see what would happen. But four or six weeks later that wasn't the case anymore. I didn't see the manipulations as they were coming, I would see them days or even a week after they'd happened. I was fully present because I wasn't thinking, really, but completely feeling, and acting based on that. There were a few times I had to pull people aside and say "if I do this, you need to stop this" because I no longer trusted myself. They ran me through a gauntlet of emotions, fear and desire and paranoia and embarrassment and anger and panic because I couldn't control any of it and elation because I couldn't control any of it and how the hell are they doing this so fast and well and specifically to me what have I told them over the past two years. None of those emotions was anything short of 100% real and lived and felt in the moment. There was no cynicism, no irony, just presence, just being. 

Not all of it was good. There were times when it was maddening and I would be shouting at friends I can't do this I can't do this I can't do this. And as Travis will point out, I was a performer, and I hate performing. I was performing without a script, in a play that had no discernible ending, that was literally crafted for me. By people who know me far better than they should. And as far as Saint Paul being "safe" went, it wasn't. Someone showed up at my house, and that illusion was broken. I started spending my energy convincing myself they wouldn't do it twice. 

I did, in all honesty, have to say to a friend who works for the government (and I won't say what she does and probably shouldn't even write this) that next time I ask her for anything - ANYTHING - she was to remind me of the time I begged her to do a real background check on a fake person based only on a website from a Canadian Rubik's cube tournament from two years ago and literally nothing else. And she was to unequivocally say "no." To ANYTHING. "Could you take care of the cats?" Just NO.

And the audience for my performance was not always kind. No one is today when anyone is being genuine. People don't want to give in fully, and that's exactly what I wanted to do. I had a hard time convincing people what was happening to me in the beginning. And later I'm sure that it was considered an overreaction by most. It wasn't, it was...the only reaction. It was real. That in no way means I can't tell the difference between fiction and reality, or I'm somehow confused as to what was going on. It only means that from my vantage point, my feelings and my experience were completely authentic and real. Nothing was performed. That was my reality. From others' views it was performance, it was entertainment, I was amusing or pathetic or I don't even know what. If it is over now I'm sad that it ended when it did because I had finally come to a point where I knew I had to stop caring about all that. 

This week it might have ended - that chapter anyway. We don't yet know what that "ending" means and most seem to think it's a "wipe the slate clean" moment. I thought that was a month away, when there's a big event, honestly, but if that is now, then now is a good time for me to take 17 steps back and breathe for a second. I mean I'll happily be pulled back in if it's not over yet, but the past two months have been a lot to handle, both for me and for Travis. I'm feeling a lot of other mixed emotions right now and they don't all require an audience. November is and has always been a shit month, it's a month of hibernation for me, a month wherein I always think about who I am and why I am that way, and would I trade all of that for one person's presence in my life. This year it's also the anniversary of Travis dying and coming back to life. And I will shortly be receiving the letter of consensus from my CRC regarding my pre-tenure review. So, you know, stress. Right now I'm on a plane, headed to Los Angeles to celebrate my birthday (early) with friends, old ones from college and then newer ones from Tension/Lust

Dear Lust. I am so insanely grateful for the past two months and I don't know how I can ever repay you for this. I'm not a huge fan of a lot of what I'm feeling right now but that's beside the point. I am truly honored that you have trusted me this much with this experience and I hope I didn't embarrass myself too badly. Love, Megan

P.S. - No photos, no $100.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Five Things: Notes from "The Cherry Orchard" Tech

1.  Oh The Cherry Orchard. The stars of the show are the dog, Lynn Farrington's costumes, and the seniors who are just doing incredible work in the lead roles. I've been busting my ass and hopefully the lights and projections are keeping up with them. My friend Patrick Lord and I commiserated earlier this week about the insanity of lumping in projection design with any other element and if at any point in this process I'd been ONLY the lighting designer I think I would have slept 50% more. It really makes me question why I purposefully want to be designing more than one element at once. But I do.


2. As soon as I get a moment I need to write and submit a grant application for travel in April to Dublin. I'm incredibly excited about this project, the collaborators I'll be working with and the space we've booked, and as soon as I feel better about publicly sharing details I'll be writing a TON about it and the process of developing it. April will be our workshop, the performance will be in June. This will be the first time I've been to Ireland (I don't count stopping in an airport). It's a country I've wanted to visit my entire life. I'll be spending most of June there making immersive theatre.

3.  I am part of a group of artists/academics/game developers who have submitted a "paper" to a special issue of Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology. Note the quotes - yes it's an actual paper but it's fiction and really it's a rabbit hole for a short ARG, and while it's unlikely that anyone will ever actually find it since its obscure, that is me in the ending video. My first and hopefully last ever performance. I can't act. Now we wait and see what happens next with this project.

4. Last Thursday Travis and I went to see Zhauna Franks' The Dream Channel - Episode 3 (in 3D) at Open Eye Figure Theatre. I was thrilled to see this piece in Minneapolis - I have not had much luck finding experimental, surreal, or immersive work here. This piece was truly beautiful and if it had had a longer run I would have gone back to see another "path" - there were four completely separate shows, not four of the same shows but in different orders. The scenes that Travis saw were not what I saw. There were parts that didn't quite land for me and I think our group walked into the final scene after it had already begun, which felt kind of strange, but I hope Franks does more work like this with her company, Strange Loop Projects, I hope that at some point we can work together on something, and I hope that this spreads to the rest of Minneapolis.


5. I have gone back and forth repeatedly about The Lust Experience and writing about my personal journey with it this year - last year my involvement in Tension was somewhat limited, and even though I expected the same this year that's not the case. This is...not last year. I am more involved, and am not sure how to write about it, or if I should at the moment, or even where to do so. And in the past four years I've discovered that I really love writing, and feel compelled to write about this and other pieces of art that affect me on this level (well, very few do, so let's just say other pieces of art that are good).

(Dear god. I just used "affect" when I meant "effect.")

Everything I write here now is written with one eye looking through the lens of my job. Why is there a need to publicly process things that we go through? That wasn't the case pre-2000. But I am sitting here lately feeling unable to do just that, when the truth is I can write about it, I just can't do so and post it. Is it just because this piece of art is affecting me (did it correctly that time) that much and that's what this blog is for - but the subjects it touches on are too personal and intimate to discuss openly?

One thing I can say for certainty is that - just like last year - this is highlighting how "other" I am. How much I don't interface with the world in the same way that others do. That's a lot to think about this week; the events and circumstances that made me who I am probably also made that part of me.

What would you change if you could?

Image: Dave Senesac, 2007

This damn week always coincides with the end of daylight savings, the first cold weather, and a tech for a big show. It's like the universe is conspiring against me...

Rambling IV: Write Something Useful.

I have this index card I tape to the wall next to the window each month. "January Goals," except of course the month is different ...