Stepping into Magic: an actor's journey…

"Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them" ~William Shakespeare

Wildfires, Dressing Room Altars & The Eagle and The Snake

This past weekend I opened my second show at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival!  It was such a rush to hear the audience respond to the hard work we had done, to hear the vocal responses to moments and hear their applause at the end.  Now that the rehearsal process is over we can focus on fine tuning our pace, our relationships and our responsibility to tell this story.

Each time I walk off stage after curtain call I am overwhelmed with emotion from the ride that just happened. The music, the audience, looking at my cast mates, all of this brings a sense of accomplishment, joy and the anticipation of doing it all over again!

BODY

I’d rather fight 100 structure fires than a wildfire. With a structure fire you know where your flames are, but in the woods it can move anywhere; it can come right up behind you.
Tom Watson 

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That is the sun, not the moon, behind smoke at around 5pm. Just below is a mountain ridge that is usually crystal clear.

This week I have been learning all about the Air Quality in Southern Oregon. There are several wildfires that have been burning around the Medford and Grant’s Pass area, and the smoke descended on Ashland Monday afternoon. The cast and crew of the Tenth Muse took a road trip Monday morning to Lake of the Woods for a celebratory and relaxing day by the water on our day off. We left around 11 am and I noticed the smell of fire and a slight haze in the air. When we returned around 5 pm we came down from the eastern mountains and could see the entire valley filled with smoke.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival had to cancel 3 performances on the Elizabethan Stage due to poor Air Quality and created a procedure to inform patrons about show cancelations. For three days I walked around with a bandana and scarf across my face because the air smelled like a campfire.  We were sent an email that asked us to limit our time outside and drink lots of water to keep our voices and ourselves healthy. The smoke in the air gave everything an apocalyptic feel, the sun was a red ball as was the moon. Mountain views I always saw on my walk to work were hidden behind layers of smoke. Friday morning was the first day we could all see and feel the sunlight! We could see the sky!

Having a glass of champagne with a cast-mate Thursday after our matinee performance she shared something that blew my mind! (We have been tracking the numbers to see how bad the air was, the number 300 equaled air that was considered “Hazardous.” Below that is “Very Unhealthy,” “Unhealthy,” and “Unhealthy for Special Groups.” We were teetering around 230-277 each day.)  She told me that China is rarely below 300 in certain parts of the country, and it is not because of wildfires!

I can’t even imagine learning to live somewhere where “Hazardous” air is the norm, but it is becoming a reality in more and more places…

* What are your experiences with Wildfires?

* Have you lived in an area with “Hazardous” air quality?

* What is the air quality in your area?

(You Can check HERE at AirNow for your local air quality)

 MIND

“The earth laughs in flowers.” 
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

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My dressing room area decorated with opening night cards, flowers and personal tokens.

I am really big on altars. In every home I have lived in I created an altar. When I started doing theatre I realized the dressing room was just one more space to create a sacred place for reflection, inspiration and  beauty. My family home has an altar where my parents keep a candle lit at all times.  Each time I am in a new place the first thing I do is find the space for the altar.

A really great book on home altars is Living Shrines: Home Altars of New Mexico, on Amazon.com you can look inside the book online!

At USC while getting my MFA I put a make-up kit together with a built in altar. I got a tool box at Kmart and then decorated under the top of the box with a photo of my parents and I, pictures of my USC class-mates, La Virgen de Guadalupe (of course) inspirational quotes and images. You can see a little bit of it in the photo above. Just looking at the photos, pictures and images, reading the quotes, helps me center myself in times of pre-show jitters.

Opening night can be very special. You walk into your dressing room and certain cast-mates leave little treats for you. Cards, trinkets, jokes, all wishing you “Break a Leg”  and “Happy Opening.” There is also my very favorite gift, flowers. My parents, no matter where I am, manage to get me flowers for my opening night, and most of the time they are Calla Lilies, you can see them on the left in the photo. Below the Calla Lilies are a beautiful purple hydrangea and magenta flowers from my fiance and to the right a bouquet of pink, purple and red roses from a dear friend in Los Angeles. One of the dressers who helps with my wardrobe in one of my shows commented that it looked like I had robbed a florist shop!

If you have never put together an altar here is a site with some ideas for making a personal altar!

* Have you ever made an altar?

* Is there a certain space in your living area that you consider sacred?

* Do you like having fresh flowers in your living space?

SOUL

“Sometimes I imagine I am a great big eagle. I swoop down and take animals, take snakes in my beak.”

Tomasita in The Tenth Muse by Tanya Saracho

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My China Poblana skirt and Lizard Skin tipped boots from the
Antiquarium Books & Antiques in Ashland.

When I was a teenager I had a huge Mexican flag hanging on the wall of my room. I was enamored with the Chicano culture, low-riders, Oldies and eyeliner. It wasn’t until I graduated college and traveled to Oaxaca that I understood what my Mexican heritage meant. After getting over a stomach bug and venturing out to the plaza to find a meal of tamales and Bohemia beer I looked around and realized there were people everywhere who looked like me. The dark skin, the full lips and nose. Granted I was  much taller than most, I felt a familiarity with the smiles and handshakes of the locals that I met. I was relearning spanish and traveling to all the little towns that surrounded Oaxaca, I fell in love with Mexico by being in Mexico, not just admiring it from afar.

I remember before venturing to Mexico the great Sandra Cisneros had written a story in my journal about Maria Sabina, after she had learned my name was Sabina Maria. I asked everyone I encountered in Oaxaca about Maria Sabina and was joyfully told story after story about this famed Curandera. I came home with a thin newsprint poster of her that hangs on the wall of every home I have lived in. That trip started one of many to the homeland of my ancestors. However, I haven’t been back since 2010…

This season at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival I was invited to perform in the role of Tomasita, a young Nahua girl who was brought to a Mexican convent in 1715. In the second act of the play she shares a dream with the young Mestiza girl Jesusa, who was also brought to the convent. In this dream Tomasita sees herself as an eagle, taking a snake in her beak. This is the very image that appears on the Mexican Flag. Our fierce playwright, Tanya Saracho, was bringing in the vision of a country that in 1715 was beginning a new race with the mixing of Indigenous and European Blood.  The Mexican flag has gone through many variations  before becoming the flag we recognize today.

While walking to and from rehearsals and shows I would pass and Antique store on Main Street. Around the month of June there was a China Poblana skirt on display. There was a sequined Eagle and Snake emblem, the Mexican Coat of Arms, the envisioned dream of the character I was playing and I knew I had to have it for opening night.  I passed by it for many weeks and finally walked in and asked to try it on. Not only did it fit, but while in the dresssing room I found a pair of red lizard skin tipped boots that fit like a glove as well. I didn’t know it was a China Poblana at the time, neither did the man who sold it to me, but when I put it on for opening night our amazing costume designer and a cast-mate both told me what it was. As I write this post I can see it draped with the sequins shining light and I wonder who wore it before me, how did it get to Ashland, what made the owner put it on display, etc. All I know is that it came to me like a dream…

* Have you ever visited Mexico?

* What was the last thing that you purchased that you knew you were meant to have?

* Is there a dream you remember having that came true?

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