So, let’s get to some sharing. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve had a series of eventful adventures.
I’m a guy who didn’t go to college when he graduated from high school. I’m in the midst of my second year off, but I’m done taking time off. So, in January I sent out most of my college applications, and then in the middle of February I had one more to send, and I still had to apply for the FAFSA in time to get state aid in my home state. Friday, the 9th, night, I knocked out both the college app and the FAFSA app. I got a couple of hours of sleep, woke up early on the 10th, showered, and jumped into the car for my first day of work since December.
I was at my job from 7am until a little after 9pm, and all day I was able to stay off my feet for all of about an hour. I slithered back into the car, got home, dropped trou and went to bed.
Then came the 11th, Sunday. I got up early, oatmeal, water, and getting packed to be out of town for five days, immediately followed by several hours of D&D with some good friends. Then, before the books and dice were even put away, I was in the car with my mom, with all of our crap, driving over to Shelburne Falls, to Becky Ashenden’s Vavstuga weaving school. After getting turned around in Greenfield, we got to the school with an hour-and-a-half to spare, and the first solid thing I ate the whole day was a sandwich at The Blue Rock tavern. Grilled portobello cap smothered in cheddar cheese, with sliced avocado and chipotle mayo, on a bulky roll, with fries. It tasted amazing!
Up by 7am on the 12th of February, Monday. Self-served continental breakfast with beautiful handwoven table linens, followed by an introduction to weaving Becky’s way. I’ve been weaving fabric since October of 2010, but I’ve never thrown myself into doing it steadily on a daily/weekly, or even monthly, basis. The upshot of that is that I didn’t have a lot of bad habits going into Becky’s class and was able to fully cleave to her methods. She has the physical strength and natural wisdom of a middle-aged adult (which is what she is), but she still presents herself with the same whimsy that I’m sure she had as a ten-year-old. While all of us, her students (there were seven of us. The next youngest was a kind 40-year-old pianist named Joe), were relatively slow and ostensibly careful while weaving, as soon as Becky sat down at a loom it sounded like there was a gilded age factory inside the studio, and she’d just knock out feet of fabric in minutes. On that first day, there was no weaving. We just worked on some of the planning know-how, then jumped into winding warps (the long vertical threads; the short horizontal ones are called the weft) and threading some of the already made warps into the looms. We broke for a half-hour salad and cold cuts lunch at noon, then had a half-hour of free time, and at 1pm we got back to work. Dinner was different each night, always prepared by Becky herself (I don’t know where she gets her energy!), and it came at 6pm. We ate until 7, then hit the looms again until 9pm.
The first two days of that week were the most physically demanding. They were the days that we spent, in the parlance of the craft, dressing the looms. Doing that involves a lot of bending down, lifting pieces of wood, tying knots, meticulously looping threads here and there, and craning and folding and bending and, at the end of the day, collapsing. Yeah, my back was killing me by 2pm Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday we started weaving, so it was a bit easier. When you’re actually weaving, all you need to do is sit down and pass the shuttle; periodically, you get up to wind some more thread into your shuttle, or to advance the warp, get a drink of water, etc., etc.
Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday all followed the same schedule as Monday. On Friday (the 16th), everything started the same way, but we didn’t have dinner there, and if we were leaving that day, we had to get out of there around 5pm. By the end of the week, I’d woven a linen table-cloth, a wool blanket, a hand towel, a peptobismol pink bathmat, and a square tablemat. Just in those five days I more than doubled my weaving portfolio. It was exciting, exhausting, edifying, and every meal was delicious.
That whole week, on top of being up there doing all of that, I tried to spend my spare moments on preparing for my first serious Audition, which was on Saturday, the 17th, sign-in at 9am. The audition? The competitive Bachelor of Fine Arts Drama program at UConn. Friday night, my mom and I grabbed the first McDonald’s I’d had in what feels like more than ten years, to expedite our escape from weaving school. I got to the house after 7pm, barely knowing either of my speeches but with a good handle on my song. Yes, even though it’s not a music program, I had to sing.
There was a guest at Vavstuga on that Friday, for lunch. He was a local priest, singer, and motorcycling enthusiast. The man was covered in tattoos, wore a colossal white beard, and had a genial, Homeric way of bearing himself that kept everyone in stitches all through lunch. When I told him what I was going to be doing on Saturday morning, the first thing he said (after sharing a couple of solid anecdotes on embarrassing auditions) was, “Don’t quit your day job.” When I told him that I had to sing for it, he pointedly asked, “Do they hate you?”
While I wanted to spend Friday evening on properly absorbing my monologues, I instead was doing laundry, doing last minute tidying up on my resume, and cropping and printing my head-shot. Between worrying, trying to prepare, and doing the bullshit, I got to bed a little after midnight.
When I woke up on the 17th, my arms were shaking like those of a dry lush. My throat was a desert, and I felt terrified. I jumped into a shower, drank some hot, incredibly gingery drink, and was generally numbly stupefied in anticipation as my body manically prepared me. The drive over, I barely spoke to my oldest brother while my eyes continually ran over the words to my two monologues. When we got to the school, my brother and I exchanged a few words to coordinate for how we would rendezvous after the audition, then I went into the drama building, followed a few signs, walked into a room packed with ambitious high school seniors and their parents, nervously shook hands with a beautiful drama major volunteer named Molly, and sat down to fill out a sign-in sheet. The whole time I felt like one of those cartoon scientists who are exaggeratedly absent-minded, wearing ill-fitting clothes (I was wearing a stained white t-shirt and baggy trousers for our group warmup) and carrying too many things (a shopping tote with speakers in it, a suit bag with my audition clothes, a paperback play anthology, a speech, my headshot, and resume), looking obviously bemused and slightly anxious. However, after sitting down and listening to my fellow applicants ask questions and be answered and getting the pitch from the drama teachers, I started to feel just a bit more centered. During the rest of the free time prior to the warm-up, I was embarrassed to be reading through my monologues, but I wasn’t about to let pride keep me from actually knowing my lines for the first serious audition of my life.
Then, in short order, the tour of the drama department commenced and soon was quickly terminated by a warm-up with the drama instructors and all the other bright kids who came to try out. We took off our shoes, hopped onto a hard-wood dance studio floor, and we started with movement; walking, and circling, and turning, and generally improvising our spatial relations, never stopping, as we followed the prompts of the movement and stage-combat teacher. The most exciting part of the moving warm-up was when he assigned specific actions for us to manifest in response to him saying numbers. Meaning: “When I say, ‘1.’ quickly press your right hand to the ground and keep on walking. Let’s try it. 1! When I say, ‘2.’ quickly press your left hand to the ground and keep on walking. 2! When I say, ‘3.’ Both hands. 3! ‘4.’ do a full 180 degree turn. 4! ‘5.’ hop up into the air and say, ‘Wooo!’ 5! ‘6.’ pretend that there’s a dog with its jaws clamped down on your leg, then kick the air in front of you and shout, ‘Woof!’ 6!” Then, he ran through each of them in order, and he kept on saying the prompts, mixing up the order as he pleased. It was a great exercise.
The other part of the movement warm-up had us spontaneously partnering up with someone near us, then making a point of contact and together going somewhere, improvising verbalisations as each drove and guided the other. We were prompted to change where we were making contact periodically, but never to be completely out of contact with our partner until the end of the exercise. it was good.
Then we did some sensible, run-of-the-mill vocal warm ups with a piano. I had never gotten to do those sorts of things with a good leader, in a group, since I had developed my singing voice, so that was absolutely wonderful. All the times that I had been around for vocal warm ups in high school, I was a terrible singer and generally felt out of place during them.
Then, we put our shoes back on, chatted a bit and made some jokes, and all walked back to where we had started, where I had signed in, and it was 10am. I had one hour to finish learning my monologues before I had to be in front of the four teachers, giving it my best. I won’t bore you with the specifics of memorizing my lines. People who have done it know what it’s like and people who haven’t can imagine. I still don’t know how I got the words straightened out in my mind in that short amount of time, though. I guess I just know how to fake it. We had one of the theaters to ourselves, set aside for whomever was on point to audition next, so that they could prepare themselves as best they wanted to. After spending most of the hour in the hall, softly declaiming the speeches, at my turn I just went in there and belted them out with all the fury and emotion I could predictably manifest. Then I set to tapping my foot and crooned my song in a clean tenor, saving the growls and falsetto for a few minutes later, when there would be an audience.
I walked back into the classroom, where Molly and her fellow volunteer Laura were still conversing with the few remaining parents and applicants. Laura was expecting the prior applicant to be just about done, so she and I stepped into the next room, a stairwell which led up to the audition room. She and I chatted about my nerves, then about our journeys and plans. She was a fifth year senior, having changed from an academic major to her passion after her first year. It was nice to talk, taking the edge off a bit. The other applicant, I can’t recall his name now, was running long and keeping the professors laughing during his interview. I felt intimidated, though I knew that he was younger than me. While Laura and the boy’s mom (who was on the stairs watching her husband eavesdrop outside the door to the audition room) talked, I softly ran through my speeches a final time.
Finally, he triumphantly came down the stairs, ribbing his father for eavesdropping, and Laura and I walked up, and I waited while she checked to see if they were ready for me. Then, feeling warm from Laura’s genial grin, I marched into the room, smiled at all of the teachers as I introduced myself, and plugged in the speakers that would play the backing track to my song. Then, without a lot of fluff, I dove into Laertes and manfully admonished a phantom Ophelia on the fleeting nature of Hamlet’s love for her. My confidence, vigor, and cadence all hit the nail, and I felt good. As I slipped into This Is Our Youth’s Dennis for a self-aggrandizing existential crisis in the wake of Stewart my fellow drug-dealer’s fatal overdose, my performance was not quite as refined, or as stirring. I could tell as I spoke the words that I wasn’t on the mark. The teachers nodded as I finished it, one or two having chuckled when I declaimed the curses in the speech, and then I put on my backing track and with practiced energy and charisma channeled the late great Temptations for an entertaining performance of their #1, “I Can’t Get Next To You.” The professors were laughing and visibly enjoying it as I sang, and my confidence was sound. Then, giving some thoughtful prompts and directions, they had me run Dennis’ speech again, and a third time, and further, until I was sweating, with laceless Chuck Taylors on my feet and hair that looked like the hair of a young man who had just sprinted the streets of the upper east side in 1982.
Then I sat down in front of their desk, and they interviewed me. It was difficult to answer them eloquently. I was still anxious and out of breath, and my mind was not at all in myself, or in an analytic place, so the words did not come easily at first. Yet, by the end of the audition, I bore myself with the resilience and fiery confidence that I only evoke during times most dire, and my words were strong enough for one of the teachers to remark, as I gathered my belongings, “A young Orson Welles in the making.”
I smiled at my auditors, thanked them a final time, promised not to fall and hurt myself by tripping over the loose laces in my shoes, and departed. Waiting at the landing of the stairwell to meet me was the next person to audition, a gorgeous blond woman named Melanie. She gamely requested as I came down the steps, “Can I get a high five?!” I gave her one, smiled at her; we introduced ourselves properly and I shook her hand. It was soft. I cheered her on for her audition, and I said, “I hope I see you again this fall.” She reciprocated the sentiment and went up to face the same peril from which I had just grandly emerged.
Then, I sat down in a plastic chair, put the laces back in my sneakers, and as the words of the professors and of my characters and of Laura and Molly still swam around my brain, a great central peace overcame me, and my shoulders felt supple and light, no longer bearing the weight of anticipation. I proudly made some jokes and talked to Molly and Laura a bit more, before leaving to find my brother.
A week later I received a letter inviting me to the University of Connecticut’s Acting program for the Fall semester. A little after that I received a paycheck for $116 bucks from my job for that 14 hour day. I still haven’t even started hemming the fabric that I wove at Vavstuga.