I am More

Jan 24, 1:15pm

I just weighed myself and weigh **0.7. Two days ago I was **1.7

I looked at my weight loss tracking app.

I saw that my weight loss has been .29% per week since December 3 2019. 3 pound weight loss in almost 3 months.

I stepped back from the scale and said aloud to myself as I was picking up quarters ($3.50 to be exact) to go to do laundry in my near-empty apartment where my girlfriends sleeps soundly in the next room.  

I said aloud:

“ I am more than that. I am intelligent. I know words. I am compassionate, I am beautiful because I have freckles on my beautiful brown skin.”  

 I started to tear up when unconsciously I said words in which I don’t believe “ I am more than that number on that scale. I am worthy of love. Of receiving it. Of Giving it.” A voice that spoke words as if they didn’t come from me lovingly cascaded out of my mouth because I don’t believe them. But this was a gentle reminder or rather affirmation from deep within. A truth I push away because instead the lie that I am “fat” beats me over the head daily and rips me apart, tearing my self-esteem and any possibility of self-love away and out of my grip.

So. I am more.

I am more than the names that I was called thought elementary school and the nickname they gave me about my body. The name that the popular girls at the sleepovers branded me with at the parties I used to get invited to. I am more than the hurt that still haunts me from the boy that told me he’s “seen uglier” when I was 11 at a party in a hot tub when it was time to play “who would you date” I am more than the trauma that began when the boy who told me to “sit down Rilen, nobody wants to see your fat” when my pre-pubescent, lanky, tall 5’5, size 6 body rose from my desk and I outstretched my arms above my head to simply stretch and my favorite magenta shirt rolled up, betraying me by exposing my then, non-existent “muffin top. I am more than the permanent message that from that moment forward that my hips were bad, gross, disgusting and the eventual stretch marks that showed up in adulthood were wrong and something to humiliated about. I am more than that debilitating fear that forces me to wear leotards when I perform out of sheer terror that my shirt might fly up and my “fat stomach” and “hips” will fall out mid-performance, leading me to be self-conscious and unable to stay in the moment during a scene because that voice will scream at me how disgusting I am and how embarrassed I should be. 

I am more than the deleterious nickname my mom gave my breasts in high school that mocked the color of my skin and the shape of my body. Goddamnit, I am MORE than any mean word and slur that anyone believed they had the agency or permission to pass judgment about my childhood body and my body now in my adult years.

I deserve nothing but respect and admiration for my body. For its shape, its color, the ripples on my thighs, the scars on my skin that I self- inflicted because I needed to feel something in moments of distress. The freckles that litter my face that seem to multiply every year, my 3 tattoos on my body inked in by a stinging needle with each holding deep meaning and representing a piece of my identity. 

My mind deserves to be respected for its intellect and capabilities. My gifts to express myself through word, song, and acting deserve acknowledgment, not my untoned arms and stomach. My mind needs to accept that I am everything I need to be at this moment. Would I like to lose weight to feel more confident in my body? Yes. Does that mean that because of weight loss I need to do in order to be healthier that was unfairly added to my body as a side effect of psychiatric meds to help with other aspects of my mental health that debilitate me equal me being gross, a failure and lazy because it hasn’t happened yet?  Does that fear that freezes me from making changes cross my mind that even if I lose weight I will still hate myself as much as I do now? Undoubtedly. But when all is said and done, I am enough. I am all that I need to be. A number on a piece of glass with batteries and a number on a size of pants or shirt has absolutely no merit or any standing in who I am as a human. I am more. So, so much more.

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Humanity in an elevator; You Were Seen

November 25, 2019 2;15pm

I just had such an odd but refreshingly beautiful *truly* human experience.

I was leaving a particularly difficult therapy session where I cried most of the way through. As I was leaving my therapists office I booked it to the elevator because my puffy red eyes and the potential that I was going to burst into tears and shatter into pieces was happening and I wanted to get out of there as soon as I could so if I broke down it wouldn’t be in the lobby and I could just get outside.

I clicked the button to go from the 5th floor to the lobby while I stood alone in the elevator. Then the elevator stopped one floor below me- a different floor of the therapy center I was at.

A young 20 something female presenting human came into the elevator and stood slightly in front of me. I heard sniffling and realized she was silently, bravely trying to contain her crying. Their faux fur coat hood obstructed my view of their face but I could hear the restraint. As we stood there descending in the elevator I just thought to myself very mindfully “here are two people who are hurting in the same space, each going through something different but feeling pain and yet we stay silent.”

For a moment I had the urge to reach out and hug her. I felt the same way as I walked half a block down the road behind her, with her cries still being stifled the whole time but audibly getting a bit louder.

I chose not to touch her because some people have trauma and would be startled if you touch them so I didn’t. But that’s the only reason I didn’t do anything. To respect that she might be startled by my intentioned loving and empathetic touch.

But to have two humans together in a box descend 3 floors and not acknowledge each other was powerful. I don’t know if she noticed me, if she knew it was okay to cry in front of me because internally I was still crying.

The silence of two peoples hurt was ear shattering. Painful. Sad. But the most visceral human experience I’ve ever had.

My eyes are open, I saw another persons humanity and we were linked in one way or another. We stood in silent solidarity. Resilient, we stood in tandem in our hurt.

I hope they are okay. I hope they have someone that can hug them in the way that they need. In the way I need right now. But instead I sit here on my hour ride home on the train now filled with a curiosity, heaviness, sadness and yet peace. I hope they know they were seen and not feel invisible.

The Seagull Series, No. 1: Play Time In School; Discovering the Play

Monday, October 28, 2019 5:29pm

So, I’ve decided that I wanted to start a ‘series’ essentially to document and reflect on my time when I played Konstantin in Anton Chekhovs 1854 play, ‘The Seagull: A Comedy in 4 Acts’ 2 years ago back in November 2017.

I want to start this series because playing Konstantin has been one of (if not the) greatest joys I’ve ever had in my life. I think for the rest of my life when October and November roll around I will forever become nostalgic for when I played this role. I know last year for 1 year anniversary I tirelessly and deeply documented the journey, giving behind the scenes peeks and sharing stories of my time in the play. Well, I want to do that again but in a more formal-concrete, permanent way. This way I can always look back at the pictures of my time during rehearsals and have a timeline of my journey through the show- all of the pitfalls and successes as a young actor just starting out in my professional career.

This series will serve as a reflection of how I’ve grown since taking my final bow and all the things I’ve learned because of that show. I hope you enjoy this wild ride with me. Prepare for stories of completely forgotten lines during a pivotal scene, the time I ripped my shin open when I kicked a chair open and was bleeding and how I still have a scar from it, and overall growing as a human while I navigated my way through my first leading role. So! Lets jump in friend!

____

I think it’s appropriate to start with how much Konstantin meant to me before even being cast in the show. I studied acting at The Atlantic Theatre Company Acting School full-time conservatory located in Manhattan, New York. I spent 2 years there growing as an artist and a human being as a whole. My second year we had to take a class respectfully named “Chekhov” When I was tasked with having to read 4 of Chekhov’s plays before the first semester began over summer break I wasn’t looking forward to it. Who gives a shit about plays written over 100 years ago by some Russian dude? Well, it turns out I did. I cared. Due to my extensive posting of pictures and documenting my life and the app Timehop I was able to trace the exact day I first read The Seagull- August 20, 2016.

Here’s the status I made:

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I simply replied to my classmate “I had no idea, I’m really enjoying the seagull.” That’s right Ri, you had no idea.

These are the legit FIRST lines of the play in an exchange between Masha and Medvenko. And I remember putting my phone down to type out a status update of it because I thought it was so brilliant and funny. As I continued to read the play, (it’s full title being “The Seagull: A Comedy in 4 Acts”) I fell in love.

I fell in love with the character Konstantin to be more specific. Konstantin was this struggling writer who was consumed by depression. He longed for love from his mother who was cold and dismissive of him, he was rejected by the love of his life in unrequited life-long love and struggled with suicidal ideation. He ends up making an attempt at the end of act 3 by shooting himself in the head and survives but then, sadly the final moment on stage we hear a gunshot go off and the final line of the play is “Konstantin shot himself.”

It’s maybe morbid (or to some downright depressing) to think about how much I related to such a dark character but I did. I said from the beginning, he was my spirit animal. In a picture of the cover of the play on September 23, 2016 I wrote a facebook status: “It’s ya boi Konstantin. Aka my spirit animal. He is my life in words.” Even though he was written 136 years before I was born, he was me and I was him. I needed to play him. I was lucky to have been in training and had the opportunity to do a very famous scene from the show, commonly referred to as “The bandage scene” In this scene his mother, Arkadina (are-ka-din-ah– Russian names are a bitch) wraps his fresh wound from his botched suicide attempt and they end up getting into a monstrous fight where she insults his work as a playwright, calling him talentless, belittling him to the point that he begins to cry and she ends up yelling “Stop crying! Cry baby! Stop crying!” and he, in turn, insults her acting career as she used to be a successful actress which adds to her narcissist characteristics throughout the play. It’s a scene full of energy, life, vulnerability, hurt and volatile anger between two people who don’t understand each other that just (sadly) happen to be mother and son.

Well finally on October 6, 2016 I got to do the infamous bandage scene in class. I learned so much about myself in rehearsals and the eventual “performance” for the class in that scene. I learned that I was scared of being vulnerable and being seen and letting myself “go there” and allow my work to be messy. At school, you would do a first found of the scene, then get notes, and then do what was called a “bring back” which was the final polished scene. You would think with how much I connected with Konnie I would just be a puddle of tears and ferocious but I could never cry, and I still held back. When we did the bring back about 2 weeks later after our initial showing of the scene I had a breakthrough in my life as an actor: I let my walls down and cried. Hysterically. To the point that I could barely get my lines out- which is what was needed for the scene, but also what I needed for me as an actor. I proved to myself I could let my walls down, and what it felt to be out of control and free from any judgment of myself or being in my head. I remember calling my dad that night amped up and saying that I had always dreamed of doing/being capable of what I just did in that room hours before. It was a cloud parting the sky of realizing my power as an actor when I got out of my head and what could lie on the horizon for me as a performer.

Heres a picture of me the day we did the scene for the first time on October 6, 2016

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Then oddly enough the day I did my bring back was a day that I was practicing the actual bandage scene for the professional production:

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Sadly, this is the point in my life where severe mental health struggles were beginning to pop up and lead me down the dangerous spiral of self-harm and complete loss of self that lasted 4 months.  A mere few weeks later, during Christmas break, I decided to leave the program for good.

So this was my introduction to the brilliance that is The Seagull. Despite having to leave training to take care of my mental health, little did I know not too far ahead, in November 2017 would I play Konstantin as my first NYC role and also marking my first leading role. which I would go on to play professionally a year later.

 

 

 

Take The Best, Leave The Rest

So I read this article from Backstage probably 4 days ago and just haven’t had time to share about it despite being so moved and inspired when I first read it, and here I am now on Saturday morning finally getting to talk about it because it’s STILL stuck out to me.

The featured actor on September 26th edition of backstage is Ginancarlo Esposito You might know him from his terrifying role in Breaking Bad, which is where I personally recognized him from.

He was quoted in the article when asked about his approach to acting saying:

“ I say take the best and leave the rest, if you commit yourself to one technique for me it would disallow me to pull from other modalities that I feel work.”

When I read this is was like YAS! I’m glad I’m on the same page and not the only one who does this. But specifically the wording “take the best, leave the rest” really stuck with me.

Over my time as an actor and the professional training I’ve done I’ve dabbled in meisner, Stanislavsky and my most intensive modality of technique being Practial Asthetics and I am an alumnus of @atlanticactingschool where that is the only school@that teaches PA because it was developed there. I spent 2 years of my life learning PA which for those of you that are unfamiliar with that method- it was created by William H Macy and David Mamet and has strong roots in scene analysis, intention and purely listening to your scene partner and being a human on stage.

While I was at Atlantic the steps to analyze a scene were extensive and very methodical, but when you did the work the results that were yielded were impeccable and I did my best work while learning at that school.

But after I left Atlantic I was faced with my first role, let me correct that- my first lead role in Anton Chekhov’s ‘The Seagull’ playing the protagonist, Konstantin. This is such a juicy, complex role and a huge undertaking and I didn’t have much time to prepare for it since rehearsals were a little under a month to take on such a behemoth of a play that spans 4 acts in which my character is on stage in almost every scene.

When I began researching the role and beginning the ground work and inevitably creating the character as a whole and bringing that into rehearsals I was met with an expected road block: What method do I use? My default was to use Practical Asthetics because that’s how I was trained the last 2 years ( I got this role not too long out of school and it was my first since leaving school. But I found due to the IMMENSE personal nature of the material and how I view Konstantin as an extension of myself, PA wasn’t really going to help me. Instead over time I found myself leaning more into Stanislavsky and the method. I bought “An Actor Prepares” and sunk my teeth into it. ⠀

What ended up resulting was using a lot of emotional memory (which is commonly associated with the method) and deep character work like writing diary entries in Konstantin’s first person POV. ⠀

Essentially I created my own method. I did end up using PA for the parts of scenes I sincerely COULD NOT find motivation for some of Konstantin’s choices confused me and I couldn’t rely on my own personal experience to being truth to the character. For example, I would never shoot a bird and hand it to the love of my life and then threaten to kill myself all in the same sentence. Those were moments when the method wasn’t able to help me. ⠀

It was truly astounding going through that process of playing Konstantin because I created my own method using tips and tricks from past modalities and crafting my own unique process. I wrote, created a playlist, made sure to wear his clothes each rehearsal- all things that weren’t focused on in my extensive training at the Atlantic. It was thrilling, confusing, frustrating at times because I felt lost and like I should be “sticking to” the training of what my life centered around for the past 2 years. ⠀

In the end, and even now as roles as come and gone I still do the same. I pick and choose which modalities to use to create a character and I feel forunate that I’ve found my own formula, but more importantly, told myself it’s okay to use more than one and not be married to PA. ⠀

I’ve taken the best of my trainings and what has worked for me, and then experimented by meshing them all together and as a result, cultivated my own approach, hence- leaving the rest.

Speak Aloud and Your Truth Comes True, says Billy Porter

“We speak into existence what we are. If you keep saying ‘I can’t,” then you won’t. If you say ‘I can,” then there’s a transition that happens all around you,” he says. “Me speaking life into myself ultimately has changed my life”

– Billy Porter, Backstage Magazine 8.1.19

*****

Ok hie beautiful truth bombs!! This hit me haaad (imagine a Boston accent.) So I’ll start with this quote and move forward. One of my old managers use to tell me, or rather (immediately) lovingly scold me whenever I would complain about being “poor” and “having no money” she would tell me to put positive energy out universe and soon those things would come true- roles would come to me and my acting career could take off and eventually—I wouldn’t be poor. It ultimately, (in her eyes, and I believe the immediate connection I made to this quote) comes down to not believing enough in myself that good things could come my way and voicing them aloud. Instead I was stuck in this pit that things would be the way the are because I spoke aloud about my misery and misfortune, somehow making it cosmically true.

That was her take on money and inevitable success coming to me. Now to expand it more broadly in relation to what Billy said, I agree- in this business, there isn’t room for “no” in your head. I remember this young girl I studied with while I was at the Atlantic, one of youngest in our class and extremely talented one day said aloud “I’m finishing this program, and then I’m getting into Juilliard and if I say it aloud enough times it’s going to happen” and this is coming from a girl who is already studying at a prestigious acting school at the time but had her eye set on a dream years ahead.

Now when it comes to me, things are a bit more murky- I have a heart of stone and  commitment to my career as an actor I will not take no for an answer, however, being trans- I know for a fact I am not suited for every (or like, most any of them) cis male role and that’s when the audible “I can’t”s slip out.

I believe that because of the way I look and sound and where we are in the industry we aren’t in the place that I can play some of my dream roles and types of characters because the world wouldn’t believe me as maybe the deranged killer on an episode of CSI: DALLAS (is that a show yet? If so- hit me up casting directors?) I believe I won’t be taken seriously and CAN’T play all the cis male roles in mainstream media because the world just isn’t ready for a freckled face, brown skin, high voiced person like me to be believed as “a man” And try as I may to talk aloud and seemly “manifest” good vibes for myself, I have to keep in perspective where the industry is when it comes to trans people playing cis roles.

With THAT being said, I find it very exciting Billy is finally getting his due on such an important show like Pose where trans poc are in the spotlight (literally). Hell, I’ll admit I even had an audition for the show. I had the opportunity to see Billy in Kinky Boots years ago and it’s inspiring to see that a 30 year career in the theatre and after winning a Tony and Grammy he is finally on TV and nominated for an Emmy and mainstream media knows his name because of a show about queer and trans poc. It’s about damn time for HIM and the rest of us for some visibility.

 

 

 

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No Plan B.

“Those of you with nothing to fall back on,you will find are home.”

-David Mamet

This is a lesson and quote I take WHOLEHEARTEDLY. This quote from him book True Or False reminds me that I have to remember to stay hungry and never give at all costs. I’ve found that if you really want a career in acting you have to be willing to have 𝘯𝘰 plan B. I know that sounds unreasonable and maybe stupid but I believe if a person wants to be a professional actor you have to be so driven and believe enough in yourself that things will work out you will stop at nothing until you have reached the goals you have set for yourself.

I believe if there is something else you would rather be doing, or even have a faint interest in as a career path and can 𝐢𝐦𝐚𝐠𝐢𝐧𝐞 doing, one should pursue that instead. ⁣

This business is draining and frankly can be soul- sucking. The amount of rejection and never hearing the “𝘸𝘩𝘺” of why you didn’t the hundreds of roles you auditioned for can be maddening and make you feel insecure, confused, at times hopeless and maybe even worthless and THATS when the thoughts of “I want to give up, this is too hard” come in or when you can’t pay your rent and you’re at HRA applying for food stamps just to get by. ⁣

But I believe you have to have 𝐚𝐫𝐝𝐨𝐫 for your work, accept the fact that maybe you simply didn’t get the damn role for a “stupid” reason completely out of your control like you were simply “too tall/short” “your speaking voice was too high” “you’re too flamboyant” “you were TOO attractive” Or maybe at the time of the audition you were 𝘵𝘰𝘰 heavy or 𝘵𝘰𝘰 thin. These continual moments of that 𝘣𝘪𝘵𝘪𝘯𝘨, 𝘴𝘵𝘪𝘯𝘨𝘪𝘯𝘨, unknown rejection 𝘵𝘦𝘴𝘵 you to keep pushing and then eventually, EVENTUALLY something will happen. You will “make it” in whatever way that looks like to you. ⁣

So I say if you’re on that grind, get out there and 𝐠𝐞𝐭 𝐨𝐧 𝐢𝐭. Use every resource possible. Study films, watch your favorite actor’s movies and study their performances but also branch out and watch films you 𝘩𝘢𝘷𝘦𝘯’𝘵 seen. Learn about filmmaking and theater, read plays. Go to school and study, and if you can’t afford that, take acting classes.. Get on Backstage.com (@backstagecast on instagram) and setup a profile, apply for roles, audition and get your face out there and 𝘣𝘦 𝘴𝘦𝘦𝘯, also, read the 𝟷𝟶𝟶𝟶’𝘴 of articles on that behemoth as another resource— put in the work. ⁣

One of my favorite quotes that I’ll leave you with is this:⁣

𝗪𝐨𝐫𝐤 𝐇𝐚𝐫𝐝 𝐈𝐧 𝐒𝐢𝐥𝐞𝐧𝐜𝐞, 𝐋𝐞𝐭 𝐒𝐮𝐜𝐜𝐞𝐬𝐬 𝐁𝐞 𝐘𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐍𝐨𝐢𝐬𝐞.