Monday, November 3, 2008

Shit Sandwich

Bless me friends for I have been under my self-made pile of work for too long and it's been two months since my last blog entry. Upon graduating from Summer Stock (which I feel I did and would have given myself an A) I was happy to return to my boyfriend, full-time job, and support network that has been so dear to me here in Chi-Town. But as the Costume Gigs lined up I just couldn't say no. These included A World Premier for a modern dance company, A remount for a darling children's theater, and Betrayal, a four person play about that very subject. The Ballet also heated up as New Artistic Director and Up-And-Coming Fashion Designer created a whole set of new costumes like three days before the show opened; which translated into the costume world means they pointed and nodded and changed their minds everyday while we sewed, seam-ripped, and sewed some more and then dyed, color-removed and dyed again. Actually, I can't believe it's only been two months. I feel I've completed a year's worth of work.

In September, I was tired. I'm also getting to the point where I've exhausted the friends who used to sew for me for very little money. They keep waiting for me to get the big gigs. Then again, so do I:) I forgot my only niece's birthday. Instead, I sewed hundreds of silk bias squares onto the six dresses in the Modern Dance world premier just to get a full and wafting skirt through which the dancer's legs could appear and and then disappear. The piece was an abstract narrative about the recurring themes throughout the history of the sephardic community. At Opening during one movement, which we referred to as the rape, the male dancer attacks the female (in a dancing way of course) and a square of her dress came off. It was poetry. The red square on the stage was a material symbol of something lost during rape, something so many women have lost throughout history. As the attack continued another square tore off. As the male dancer finally let her be, she morned her loss and took the red silk up into her arms blending the mishap with the choreography. I was moved; and I had already seen the piece more than 10 times. Normally when something like this happens, I am mortified, convinced that my career is over, and temped to run home and hide under my covers for a few days. But instead, I greeted the Choreographer after the show, "I did that on purpose," I said. "Really?" he asked with an expression I had never seen before. "No," I laughed. I know better than to suprise directors especially in a large venue such as Milleneum Park. "We need to tighten that up," he turned and tended to other opening night matters. Needless to say I spent the following day feeling more like shit than I had in a long time.

When my friend asked me over the summer to costume Betrayal, I said yes right away. I was feeling confident about the piece I was designing in September and the one in December, but feeling like there would be a gap for November when I had nothing on stage. "Do you know anyone who could do the set?" she asked me a couple weeks later. "Well, I've always wanted to try set design," I answered. It was true, I have in the recent past enjoyed building workshop shelves for myself as well as technical rendering, but even for a blackbox theater, I was not equipped with the skills or time to figure out how to make a set. The set called for indication of receding backwards in time. And every time I met with the director, it was apparent that I had some clever ideas, but few that would do with no time, crew, or budget. Eventually we had something that happened. And I was proud of my first set. When I told my co-worker in the early fall that I was costuming Betrayal "Quick-change nightmere," was the only thing he said. Because I came so consumed by the set, I left about three days for costumes, which actually did very well. There was no budget, so I mostly just pulled from stock, changed a bunch of closures to velcro, and called it done.

The problem with all these interesting, yet taxing, projects is the question of weather I'm wasting energy that I could be using on the well-paid gigs or to be spent with family. And the way I sometimes rationalize is that lawyers do pro-bono work all the time. But isn't there some law that states they must give equal counsil to any represented party. Do they pick and choose for themselves, or does the firm do that? Just the fact that people are interested in what I do has always been enough for me, but when I start losing too much sleep, how do I myself choose? For me it clearly hasn't been the paycheck. What role do I play to the director? Am I simply a means to an end, or are my artistic choices respected and valued? What do I mean to the community and the theater, and do I like the people I am working with? Do I feel the end product is important to be put out into the world for an audience to see? These are the questions I must keep asking myself.

This past week, my car broke down on the way to a dress rehearsal and it took $300 to get it back on the road. My computer fell of the coffee table and lost the entirety of it's harddrive, which included images of my costume work from the past four years along with some art photography. Tonight after a difficult day at work, I missed my stop and took the train 60 blocks too far into the far south side of Chicago. People call me with tasks for costumes for their cover bands and I have to say "No." I have to practice it in my head. "No." I have to go on vacation. I have to shower my forgotten family with gifts. I have to design a giant musical in the upcoming weeks.

Last month I was tired, this month I'm exhausted. It's hard not to get glum after a difficult week, but I keep reminding myself that the wind has been at my back for quite some time.