Penny for your thoughts

I’m always learning new ways to show myself love, and the journey I went on to create the role of Penny in Father Comes Home from the Wars has helped me appreciate how powerful my words are and deepened my relationship with myself.  After three months of putting my everything into creating her, I’ve come out the other side forever changed. I’m so grateful to Soulpepper Theatre for doing this absolutely beautiful show.  I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to be a part of something so wonderful with such a phenomenal cast and crew.  I will be forever thankful to Weyni Mengesha (our director) and everyone involved for their love, patience, talents —my God their talents! — and beautiful open hearts throughout this process.

What you are about to read are excerpts from my show journal.  I don’t usually have a journal specifically for each project, but because of how this play speaks so much to the significance of our words, I wanted to pay close attention to mine, to observe how I talked to myself.

As you know from previous blogs I love journaling, and the goal of this journal was to be able to look back at this experience with love. Love for each day, love for the work, the process, everything, even the icky bits.  I found it fascinating tracking where my mind went when it came time to purge at the end of the night. Looking for the lessons and finding ways to be nice to myself while creating a new role, was a foreign concept to me.  If the character is in pain, it’s only natural I feel that pain too, but I don’t need to tear myself down, devalue myself as a human being, or be outright mean to myself or others just because a director’s giving me a lot of notes and I feel inadequate.   In the past, I’d let a bad day in rehearsal turn into a bad week in rehearsal; from there it was a hop skip to a frustrating run of the show.  I didn’t know how to change what I was feeling (and the irony of an actor not being able to change how they’re feeling —when that’s what we do— is not lost on me).  This time around though, I was done feeling emotionally ruined at the end of a run.  I love acting but I don’t want it to cost me my sanity.
Dear journal,

Still feeling a bit rough but this morning when I was working out, I thought the only way to change what my heart is feeling is to change what my mind is thinking. 

Now the end of the evening is here, I’ve just finished doing my show, and I feel like I did a horrible job; that in spite of my best efforts I sucked and I should do the business a favour and just quit! Let this be the last time I embarrass myself.  So now I’m faced with a decision: Which rabbit hole do I go down? The one filled with self-deprecating thoughts that (while they feel true) only bring me more pain? Or do I take this opportunity to show myself some much-needed self-love? 

How others perceived me during that time is their experience but for me, having that journal of love to help me through each growing-pain was life-changing.  When I’m in those spaces where my head is filled with emotional landmines, even a compliment can be turned on its head.  Choosing to love myself is hard, so hard I actually feel like I don’t remember how to do it. Like I’ve never comforted myself before. Like if the world doesn’t give me the validation my ego’s so desperately craving, then I’m shit out of luck and there’s no love for me. As if the ocean of love could ever dry up!

OOooooo…  It’s taking all of God’s glue to keep me together.  All I want to do is break something.  But I get it. This is – and I’m sure will continue to be – one of the hardest things I’ll ever do in my life and also the most important.  I’m choosing to show myself love right now, I’m choosing to show myself love right now, I’m choosing to show myself love right now. Right now, when I’m hurting. Choosing to say, “so what, that show felt like crap. So. What?! I’m going to stop being mean to myself right now, it’s not necessary or helping.”

During rehearsals — in spite of my best efforts, I got really hard on myself, because I felt like I couldn’t do it.  After hoping I’d get this very opportunity, I started to feel like I wasn’t good enough.  Some days I felt so shitty, I’d use my breaks to cry in the bathroom.  Everyone else was wonderful (of course) and I sucked.  I had to wipe away the tears, stop the negative self-talk— that I had on loop— and move through it, so I could move forward.

The thing nobody tells you,  is we get to define what our feelings mean or if they’re good or bad.  Just because I feel icky on the inside after a show, doesn’t have to mean I had a bad show or that I’m a talentless hack of an actor.  In fact, so many actors admit that it doesn’t always feel “good” or “right”, only to get rave reviews from both critics and audiences.  So, what if my icky gross feelings mean I’m growing as an artist and that sometimes that feels like shit.  What if I’m always worthy of love?

Even though my heart feels as though it’s been shattered into a million pieces. Even though I feel like a failure, completely humiliated, that I not only let myself down but my cast, the crew who are all doing such beautiful work and giving it their everything, and also the audience.  I somehow single-handedly, through my own suckiness, let down everyone.  Okay, let down everyone?! I might be being a little dramatic.  I know that’s not true but I just feel like shit, I know I have to let it go, the night was what the night was and what it needed to be.  And it’s not about me, this story is so much bigger than me.  I can let myself off the hook.  I’m not the only one on that stage, and the audience did seem to enjoy themselves. Trying very hard to appreciate the process.  I’m incorporating this icky feeling into my process.  I know it’s not always going to feel good, but at least the next time I feel it, I won’t chalk it up to I’m a shitty actor who should do the business a favour and quit.  I might always get nervous before I go on, but I go on, because, in the end, I love what I do.

The show explores the idea of mental slavery, and how it’s every bit alive today as it was in the 1860’s. That freedom is something that comes from within.  Without ever trying to break free of my gut’s Pavlovian instinct to retreat when I get scared, I’ll forever feel held back and like I’m not enough.  I’m breaking that cycle! I’m finding healthier ways to be an artist and how I use my words is the first step.  I choose to forgive, to let go things I can’t control and to love.  That might always be a bit of a battle for me but the more I do it, the stronger I’ll get.

Now that the journey has come to an end, I feel good and proud of myself for being brave enough to take risks.  It wasn’t always easy but it has been worth it.

Thank you for this day, for all my experiences in it and the opportunity for growth within it all. I will lay my head down tonight with gratitude in my heart because I’m alive and regardless of how I feel about my performance I’m still a beautiful soul worthy of love and belonging. I’m going to choose to still believe in my talents, that have been so generously given to me; recognize and appreciate that I did my best, which will vary from day to day, but will always be enough.  Consciously choose to build a momentum of thoughts that make me feel better and better, not worse and worse.  Not easy — as I still feel the stinging in my eyes from crying for the last half hour — but I’m doing it, practicing self-love. 

I share these entries because I’m often asked: “how do I stay so positive?”.  Well, I don’t.  I don’t always believe in myself, in the process, or even my friends when they tell me I’m talented.  I have to choose to turn the ship around and breathe.   Making art is so subjective anyway, so you might as well make it because you love to do it and feel how you want to feel about you and your work because everyone is having their own, very personal experience.

Whatever your calling, don’t let anyone bully you out of pursuing it. Not even you.  Thank you so much for reading.

With all my love

Lisa xo

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