I wish I could do castings at the airport.

No, really. It would solve multiple problems, and I don't just mean the problem I have, right now of being bored at the Zurich airport (which is my least favorite airport EVER; I hate it even more than I hate LAX).

If castings were held in airports people would show up on time. They would be dressed like their everyday selves, they'd be there to get the job done, and, presumably they'd leave their weapons at home. Yeah, I once had a guy show up to an audience with a gun under his jacket; he was a lawyer by day, so in New York it's conceivable he had a concealed carry permit, but dude. I'm chill with guns, but there's a time and a place -- for me, this wasn't so much it.

Look, auditions are hard. And weird. And decided on a range of often random criteria. I get that. After all, I do have more experience on that side of the table than the casting side, and wow, have I learned valuable lessons from flipping back and forth on those roles.

At bottom though, the audition process isn't just a job interview; it's also speed-dating, and a dinner party. If I'm sitting behind the table auditioning you, I feel obligated to be a good host. I want you to be comfortable, I want to focus on you, and I want to make sure you have a glass of water if you need it. I want you to know that I want you to be there. After all, I asked you to be there.

A lot of what I'm looking at isn't just if you have the skills, or if you're going to have chemistry with the other people I'm interested in casting. It's not just if you can be on time and be moderately professional. It's also about whether I'm going to enjoy being stuck in a small room with you, a stranger, dealing with emotional intimacies for the next however many weeks. If I enjoy your audition, I need to be able to figure out fast how I think you'll slot into the group and what type of authority and support you will and won't need from me.

As an auditioner, this means I try to respect the people behind the table, be genuine and keep them from being bored. I want them to know that I appreciate their efforts, know that their side of the table is awkward too, and thank them for seeing me. And a lot of this, I have to show, don't tell. It's hard. Especially when you've also got to show up with the skills (also, seriously, it's weird do be affable and connected and then be Lady Anne, because she's a lot of things, but affable not so much).

If you're auditioning for something, and especially if you're new to auditioning, often, if you're like me, you'll consider your odds of getting cast, and your computations will be quite grim. Well let me tell you something, stop that right now.

Because if you can come into the room, say hello to me, make chit-chat for 30 seconds and do your monologue actually facing the table -- you are so ahead of the game. If you haven't sat behind the table, you think I'm joking, but I'm not. I've had people do monologues with their back to me because, they explained, they were nervous. I've had people build a jury box out of chairs (while my mouth hung open) and then proceed to do a spot-on imitation of Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. There was the guy with the gun. The people who brought their boyfriends (fine as a safety precaution if I'm auditioning you in a non-standard space; a complete distraction if I'm auditioning you at a rehearsal studio and they want in the room with you).

As a student of persona, I say to you, you have to come in that room performing the best you, you can. But don't come off like Jack Harkness trying to con someone. Because one of the most frustrating things is when people come in who seem interesting, but it's hard to get to who they are because they're spending ridiculous amounts of energy being someone about ten feet to the left. It's maddening. Look, I pretty much often wish I was someone else too -- I often think I'm someone else, but I'm not 5'9", I don't have a perfect smile, my eyes will always look sad, I don't have a deep, sonorous speaking voice, or a calm grace in day-to-day interactions, and I hate my hair. I can fake a lot of that shit, and I can fake it well, BUT WHY?

What does all of this have to do with Dogboy & Justine other than soon it will be magic casting time? The women of Mistress Maybe's House of Sin are always auditioning: for the job, for respect from the other girls, for the men that would hire them. And the struggle for confidence you don't feel, the uncertainty about who is the host of an interaction, the debatable wisdom of being someone other than who you are despite the fact it's -- like in acting -- a basic rule of the game, are all central to their experiences and the story we're telling.

Do I think acting is like prostitution? The short answer is no, but if you've done both, they sure can feel remarkably like the same job -- the current disunion of acting and sex work is actually a lot like the modern disunion of classical dance and social dance; once they weren't cousins, siblings or frenemies, but simply one. Really, it's the sort of complicated issue I should tackle so I can ramble about a lot of media I love and share random historical trivias about stuff I do.

But one thing I think acting and sex-work do absolutely have in common in our modern world is the anxiety that surrounds the desperation on both sides of the equation when all you really want is for someone to play a game with you.

[ Will you play a game with us? Dogboy & Justine is about learning how to ask for what you want and discovering what you've got to give, please consider supporting our projection by commenting here, boosting the signal or contributing to our Kickstarter fundraising drive. 72 fabulous donors have thus far pledged $3,450 towards our workshop production, but we need to raise another $2,550 in the next 34 days to actually secure our funding to make this happen. ]
For a long time, it wasn't that I just wasn't in directing; it was that I actually scoffed at it. I found actors who wanted to direct tedious and directors who had been actors necessarily suspect. Then I got over myself.

Part one of getting over myself was experiencing a lot of direction that didn't work for me as a performer. Now sure, it's arguably (and we'll get back to this later) not about direction working for the actor, it's about direction working for the show, for the story. And while "you're over-thinking it" is a valid piece of direction, especially for someone who processes the world kind of intensely (that'd be me), the number of times I've had directors explain to me, quite snidely, that intellect is a liability in an actor is more than I can count on my two hands.

Part two of getting over myself was going to NIDA, where we were asked to cast a directorial eye on everything, mostly just for the purpose of being better at thinking about ourselves as actors. But the bug bit hard and fast. There wasn't a moment in class where I didn't have a "but if you just...." -- Sometimes it would make the scene better. Sometimes it would just make it mine. I felt like an asshole about it a lot.

And I think in the middle of that I even sent Megan (my then roommate and Eames in Inception: The Musical) a whiny email from the youth hostel's computer that had a whole bunch of keys missing (making writing even more of an art as opposed to a science than usual) bemoaning that I was one of those assholes now. She laughed at me. A lot. But it's not like she was surprised.

When I came back to New York, I started finding things to direct. Other people's short plays. My short plays. It was a bucket of fun, and one hell of a learning experience. Because at NIDA, I may have acquired an eye for the task, and discovered that for someone that can't draw I will storyboard ANYTHING just to figure it out (we had to storyboard scenes we were doing for our film and TV unit -- and I came back with a 20 shot thing after noodling on it for 30 minutes at lunch, and everyone else had a page and a half maybe (so 4 or 5 shots) and looked at me like I had three heads). But a director has to be good, really good, at a hell of a lot more than just making the story work.

The way I figure it, in addition to knowing how to tell the story and getting all the moving parts of a production working together to tell a story, a director has to really get other people and get what they need to give what the director needs fast. That means, among other things, having a political mind and a careful tongue. Add to this the need to be a good listener while being decisive enough to inspire confidence, and those are some serious people skills you need, not just as a side note to the artistic skills, but very possibly as the centerpiece to those artistic skills.

I could say that directing a show is like herding cats, but it's not really, even if yes, sometimes it can feel that way, especially when you've just been asked about ten questions more than you feel you have the capacity for about three days later than you had planned for those issues to come up. But if I said that directing a show is like herding cats, then we might all get the impression that being a taskmaster with a brain larger than a walnut is about the only requirement for the job, which it's really, really not.

And we'd also miss out on talking about stuff like Pygmalion and uncomfortable BDSM allegories. It's the sort of topic I could, or should, feel guilty about. Except for the thing where on the list of places I'm speaking from, ignorance isn't really one of them. I've been the awkward girl with the poor speech who doesn't know her table service; I've been the sub who didn't understand the purpose of her tasks (often because they didn't have one, which is a problem, at least in my conception of the world, YMMV as we all do this stuff for different reasons); and I've been the actor who knew shit wasn't quite clicking and it was my job to fix it, if only someone would help show me the way to how. And I have, in each of those scenarios, been the recipient of everything from profound grace that has made me a finer thing to a certain cruel indifference.

I've also, thankfully, had the privilege of watching people who are really good at their craft direct. The time I spent at rehearsals of The Three Furies didn't just make me a better artist, it made me a better person. That show, which included heightened reality and queer and kink themes while also being about people who have actually existed, was a brutal thing on its cast and presented a rawness and truth about identity, sexuality and being the muse on stage that was blindingly uncomfortable and probably exactly what I needed on my little Australian adventure. If I hadn't already started cluing into the responsibility a director has for and to his actors, let me tell you, it would have slapped me across the face right then and there. It was a privilege to be in the room. No one had to let me witness that process or speak to it. Many a reasonable person wouldn't have.

My point is, that while blocking and lights and costumes and what you're trying to illustrate out of a text are all vitally important, is that actors aren't chess pieces and they don't all function the same, and they are often going to need very different things from each other and from their director. And if you're the director? You better figure out what those things are as fast as you fucking can, and then wait thirty seconds before opening your damn mouth. Decisiveness is important. So is double-checking your work.

None of this necessarily came particularly naturally to me. I'm a fantastic read of people, and giving people what they need, and steering people to what they can be are huge turn-ons for me emotionally and intellectually. But I am impatient. I do get tired out by people, not because I don't love them and aren't fascinated by them, but because I'm just wired that way.

And I've had to learn, completely inorganically, how to have authority and how to be decisive. Horseback riding helped with that a lot. So has flying a plane. And fencing. Although each one has also made me see how much more work I have to do, not because I'm also an actor and not because of how I sometimes like to fuck, but because as an awkward girl-child in a very peculiar and old-fashioned environment I wasn't raised into these skills. It's not that I'm working without a net -- it's that unless I scrapbook one together, I am working without a map.

I talk, often, about wanting to be a finer thing. It comes from dance. From hands that lifted my chin, turned my wrist, and corrected my spine. I had a childhood of being mastered and molded in front of a mirror. Every day I saw what others saw when I was deemed worthy of correction. I was entranced, not with the way my teachers looked at me, but the way I saw them look at me in the mirror. It was a story I never got less hungry for, and it's a way of holding myself I've never lost. The tilt of my chin and the movements of my wrists will always tell you how I feel. They will also always tell you how I've been taught.

Which is why as an adult, I've had so little patience for the people who would marvel at my supposed delicacy and take my wrists in their hands and move me around, to see if I worked like a doll. Not inanimate, not a doll, not a chess piece. Being an actor doesn't change that. The angle of the neck must not just indicate grief or pride or murder, but feel it.

I won't tell you what my specific goals are for working with actors in general, because the what often varies as much as the how. But I will tell you that with all the balls I have in the air when I'm directing (and also often having to be an engine of Making Things Happen on a more production-type front), that matters of command and control are never far from front of mind. But they're not, despite how my experiences both leading and being led have shaped me, first and foremost, about other people. They're about governing myself, and being my own master, who can afford to listen, decide, and take time to find the response that the show and the people making it most need.

The rest follows.

[ Dogboy & Justine is a story about power and responsibility and the sex work theme is just one of the ways we get to that aspect of the characters' journeys.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider contributing to Dogboy & Justine's fundraising drive on Kickstart.com. We need to receive at least $6,000 in pledges by December 21st in order to receive funding. As of this writing, we're 52% of the way there. You can help by contributing money, boosting the signal, or just hanging out here and joining the conversation. Thanks for reading! ]
I didn't grow up in the theater, but I did grow up in New York in a way that left me with a very particular theater education that either had thematic aspects remarkably relevant to the work I do now, or was just varied and odd and has stuck in my memory in a manner simply inevitable and obvious.

The first show I remember seeing is Camelot on Broadway. I remember Mordred sprawled on Arthur's throne; I remember, even then, Guinevere as the girl I would never be. I remember the great parting of Arthur and Lancelot, friends once, on the battle field. And I remember the call to the young page before the reprise, Run, boy. I was four, and men still wore tuxedos to the theater sometimes; I remember that too, all that covered flesh.

After, I remember seeing a number of classic musicals performed on stage by the union of my school and our brother school. My parents took me to these at five and six and seven: they were Brigadoon (and never will a version strike me as more sinister and compelling than that one; the movie always disappoints me for having less power in its darkness), Damn Yankees! and Annie Get Your Gun.

Later, there was 42nd Street -- I always talk about this: knowing David Merrick's daughter, Gower Champion dying, my parents giving me an autograph book -- but wow, Jerry Orbach effectively playing the metaphorical devil on naughty, bawdy, gaudy, sporty, Forty-Second Street! They show the footage sometimes on Great Performances. It may be on YouTube; if so, run, do not walk to check it out: Suddenly I was eight and wanted to be an understudy and always wondered why we never see the girl explicitly sell her soul. Or sell something. I knew things as a child, and when I didn't I made them up.

There was Cats and Les Miserables; my mother had a passing fannish friendship with Terrance Mann for a while because he pulled her up on stage when he was the Rum Tum Tugger, and it was him we saw on stage as Javert. At the stage door, he remembered us.

Sadly my parents refused to let me see Evita or Chess. Not for children, they said, when I felt like I had never known how to be one. Which is weird, because I was a really innocent kid in a lot of ways. Believed in Santa too long and all that.

But I also remember knowing Arthur and Lancelot's parting for what it was when I was four; and understanding that my music and dance and theater courses at school were meant to train appreciation, not performance. That the desire to show my talents on a stage was -- in the world of the class I was not but was educated for (Marry up, darlings, marry up!) -- was deeply uncouth. It's one reason why I went to the Martha Graham School as soon as I was old enough to be eligible; I needed to dance my wrath.

Dance was the first language I learnt to tell stories in. In dance I was not shy, nor in possession of an ungainly mouth. Where my tongue tripped, my feet did not, and I wrote the world.

Later, when my life was something such that dance was not the only thing I had, it was still recourse: dancing all night in clubs alone; spinning on the streets in the dark; casting an arm out behind me in a certain manner, when I could not find words for desire, longing, exile and loss. I studied ASL in college both because it was very useful living in DC, but also because it struck me as the body made text. If I am particularly distraught, I will sometimes switch to it, panicked and unable to vocalize, as if it is somehow a more polite version of my urge to dance.

I told my first stories with my body. Now I also happen to tell stories about the flesh. This is not merely a neat circle, but debt and trade. Martha Graham said it takes thirty years to make a dancer: ten to train, ten to perform, ten to teach. I apply this symmetry of gratitude to everything for which I can possibly find a way. She taught me circles. She taught me power. She taught me death.

And it may seem, on the surface, a long way from musical theater to Martha Graham and back again, but to me it is so simple, so true, it aches. For this is a map of apprenticeship and of desire. Of honoring the body through use, through worship, and through lament. And that I've grown up to love stories about actresses and write stories about whores is a simple mirroring of the symmetries and judgments of my childhood amongst Time Square's lowest buildings, the theaters of New York.

There is, in and adjacent to this tale, another set of circles about dance and story and also film. After all, my first credited role in a major motion picture was as a dancer. But that's another story for another time. And like this one, I'm still writing it.


[ Dogboy & Justine is a New York story, not just because of its setting, but because of the creative lives that myself and Treble Entendre co-founder [livejournal.com profile] mithrigil carved out of our childhoods adjacent to New York City.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider contributing to Dogboy & Justine's fundraising drive on Kickstart.com. We need to receive at least $6,000 in pledges by December 21st in order to receive funding. As of this writing, we're 38% of the way there. Without you, the audience -- whether that's here or in our future theater -- there is no show. You can help by contributing money, boosting the signal, or just hanging out here and joining the conversation. Thanks for reading! ]
There's a certain delicious humor for me in the fact that one of the reasons Dogboy & Justine is happening right here, right now, in just this way is that I finally got the message about not waiting for permission through my thick skull. I mean, it's a show about dominatrices -- and that's a world that's all about waiting for permission.

But aside from the permission-induced giggle, there sure are a lot of other reasons why putting on a show and asking people for money are totally relevant to the world of the show. And I find it particularly satisfying that the backstage stories and on stage stories that are part of this echo each other.

In our Kickstarter video, I talk a little bit about how we see Dogboy & Justine as a backstage story, in that long tradition of musicals that are backstage stories (42nd Street and Kiss Me Kate to name just two of my personal favorites). After all, the women of Mistress Maybe's House of Sin wear funny costumes, lie about their names, and pretend to be in love with people they're not, all while working to make sure no one knows when they're having a bad day at the office. Just like theater, you've gotta put on the paint and put on a show like you haven't done it a hundred times before.

Of course though, these women are just doing an overt version of what we all do every day -- performing ourselves both in public and in private. In Dogboy & Justine we have actresses playing women playing dominatrices. But it's not like that extra layer of persona isn't present for the male characters as well -- it's just less consistent as our actors play men with private desires playing men who are trying to present a certain image to those whose services they're seeking.

Everyone, in short, both on-stage in this play and off-stage in actual life, is a whole lot of different people, and I really do hope it's that backstage story element that draws people into Dogboy & Justine's story. Not just because here is a tradition the audience understands (and so offers a balm about the potentially shocking environment of the show -- which isn't here to be an edgy gimmick, btw, it really is a world I'm interested in writing about).

Rather, I have this suspicion that backstage stories aren't just appealing, aren't just sexy, to audiences because most of us have had fantasies about being on stage or being a star or being connected to celebrity or artistry in some way. Rather, I think, we instinctually respond to the backstage story because we all have a backstage life, even if we're not performers -- or sex workers.

Everyone is someone when they get home. Someone who smiles differently than they do at the office. Someone who listens to music other than what is expected. Someone who has a different cadence of speech or whose housekeeping habits differ from how they keep their workplace desk. Everyone has a secret life, that even if it is seemingly mundane, is tantalizing to someone, because hey, secrets!

And that's the goal of Dogboy & Justine, to be tantalizing -- not because "oh hey, dominatrices" although yes, this is a show about navigating and negotiating sexualities, but because it's about persona, and stepping back through a series of public and private identities to look at who people are when they're at home and then subsequently consider which of our many individual lives we ultimately really want to live in.

I am, myself, a lot of different people. Y'all know that. I've had a lot of careers, chronologically and concurrently. I'm a girl, I'm a boy, I'm timid, and I am telling you right here and right now that anything is possible. I used to be paid, like the women of Dogboy & Justine to give people permission. And it took me going to a master class taught by an artist I admire to feel like I had permission to take the next step with this project, even if the message there was actually that the very idea of permission is a lie.

So here I am, several times a day, both saying "Fuck you all, we're putting on a show" and also down on my knees letting you know that, "Hey, without your $5, we don't actually have the logistical permission to make this show -- at least not in the way we've got it all planned out."

So it's weird. It's complicated. It's possibly even ironic. It's certainly funny. It's a whole set of perfect circles. It's a story I totally know the ending of. It's an adventure on which I have no idea what's going to happen. It's a journey that I'm going to have to coax people along on when I'm wearing the directing hat, but also when I'm wearing the fund raising hat and the promotions hat and probably some other hats I haven't thought of yet. And it's a story -- that is, the putting on a show part of it -- that I'm going to have to keep reminding myself is rightfully mine to be a part of telling.

Because no matter how much it's gorgeous when people do give you permission -- whether you're an artist with a plan or a man emptying his wallet to be on his knees -- a big part of growing up, not just as a person, but as a creator, is accepting that in a lot of arenas permission is really just a decorative accent. And you've got a whole lot to do in the meantime, preparing for a moment, that not only may never come, but also doesn't need to.

Getting away from that permission thing is hard. It's hard for me. So I'll offer you a slightly different piece of advice, although it comes from the same place and the same journey: serve yourself. You're at least as worthy as any other master or mistress you would choose. Trust me on this one. I know what I'm talking about. Up-close and personal. Onstage and off.

[ If you've enjoyed this post, please consider pledging funds to make Dogboy & Justine a reality. We need to meet our $6,000 pledge goal by December 21st or we'll receive no funds at all from the Kickstarter process. But, if you just want to hang out around here and talk theater or link other people to this post, we really, really like that too! ]

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