There’s No WebMD Entry for Dealing with Symptoms of Viral Blog Posts

After my last post went unexpectedly viral, I was thrust into a wholly strange, new experience.  As I checked my blog statistics over the first 48 hours after posting it, my eyes grew wider and wider as the numbers climbed higher and higher.  By the end of the second day, more people had read my post than live in my hometown back in Missouri.

And I felt like I might throw up.

So I did what any twentysomething woman would do: check my symptoms on WebMD then call my mother to confirm that something was massively wrong with me and I should be admitted to New York Presbyterian Hospital immediately.

Why does the female drawing look like Tilda Swinton?  Why can't I find anything on viral blog posts?

Why does the female drawing look like Tilda Swinton? Why can’t I find anything on viral blog posts?

(I chose NY Presbyterian solely because of those charming/sad black and white ads they run before Masterpiece on PBS…because I feel like that’s all I watch on TV anymore: British people in period clothes getting into drama or Benedict Cumberbatch solving mysteries and further stealing my heart.)

Of course nothing was really wrong with me at all.  I explained to her that my blog post had been shared all over the internet, and I was getting tons of feedback, most of it good, but I felt all jittery and nervous.

“Why?  Don’t you write for the PURPOSE of having people read it?” she asked.

“Well, yeah, I guess, but now I’m worried that people are going to think it comes off differently than I intended and that I’m going to shoot myself in the foot, and blah blah blah…” I listed off a whole host of worries.

She calmly replied (as mothers often do), “It came off crystal clear.  Stop worrying about stuff that hasn’t even happened or might never happen.  You wrote it with good and loving intentions, so I believe the final outcome will be one of goodness and love.  You should be excited.”

“You HAVE to say that because you’re my mother.  But more people have read it than live in Fulton.  That’s INSANE.  I mean, it’s really cool so many people have connected to it, and I’m grateful, but…”

“You’re only reacting this way because you’ve never had this experience before.  Nothing is wrong with you…you’re just a name on everyone’s lips right now.  Go with it.”

She confirmed what I really suspected: I was having 15 minutes of niche internet fame and completely overwhelmed by it.  I’d never had that many people watch me onstage or hear me sing let alone read words I’d written.  In many ways, I feel more exposed as a writer than I do a performer.  When I’m performing, I get to be someone else, or at least, explore parts of myself through the words of somebody else.  But because writing has always been so personal to me, so sanctimonious, I have never had many people outside of my own circle read my words.  I do a lot of hand-written journaling, and the thought of anyone other than myself reading it makes me ill.

This, it turns out, was no different.  I wrote from the heart, and suddenly the eyes of the interwebz were upon me.  But as my mother and my acting teacher both reminded me, every time we open ourselves up to others with honesty, we run the risk of being embraced or dismissed.  This is out of our control.  You create something and let it go and be received (or not) by others.  I wrote “Let It Go…” and now I need to let it go.  And I need to let what others think about it go too, the good and bad.

When we create something and share it, it’s easy to go into panic mode (like I did).  In fact, I think it’s only natural, because at the end of the day, we’re all searching for acceptance of some kind in this world.  But as my conversation with my mother shifted from my neurotic ramblings to updates about my family and our friends, I realized that the people whose opinions matter most to me are the ones who really know me, the ones who love me.  They’re the people who keep me firmly grounded when I feel myself floating away.

I think the best thing that’s happened from all of this is getting text messages from friends around the country saying, “I’m doing a show in [state name here] and some of my cast members were discussing your blog without even knowing I know you and saying it really resonated with them and they are vowing to be more careful of what they say and how they say it.”  And it gave me pause, because you always hear that words are powerful, but here was proof.  My words are actually affecting others, and that’s unbelievably humbling.  I sent words of thanks back to those friends and wished them the best in their shows.

As expected, the fervor over my post has died down a bit, my 15 minutes waning.  But I am ever aware that we all wield more power in this world than we think, and our words are the proof.

So here I am, alive and mostly unscathed from my first brush with going viral, thankful for all who read my words and hoping many will continue to do so.  And REALLY thankful that during that phone conversation with my mother, she ordered me three boxes of Girl Scout cookies, which I am now sitting here consuming as I write this.

These things have to be laced with addictive substances.

These things have to be laced with addictive substances.

 Thank god no one is around to make GIFs of me eating them to put on Buzzfeed.  Going viral once in a great while is enough for me.  Haha.

And by the way, there’s no WebMD entry for dealing with Symptoms of Viral Blog Posts.  Just FYI.  I checked.

An Addendum to My Last Post

First off, thank you to all of you who have responded so enthusiastically to the essay I wrote today.  It’s been a little overwhelming, but touching nonetheless, to see it shared so many times.  That being said, I want to clarify a few things:

1) I really DO love musical theatre.  I will always love musical theatre. I still want to do musical theatre when it’s right for me.  So I am certainly not condemning the genre or the people who work within it, but I think all of us can use a refresher course in constructive criticism in this internet age where everyone and anyone can be a critic.  I believe criticism is a necessary tool to help an artist grow when it is offered in a way that is constructive and provides positive feedback and tips on how to improve on “problem areas.”  Positive energy is far, FAR more powerful than negative energy.  Always.

2) I have other personal reasons beyond the one mentioned for pursuing other artistic goals outside of musical theatre.  We’re all more than one thing, and I am more than just someone who does musical theatre, so I’m taking time to pursue those things because I feel it’s time to do that right now.  I didn’t leave only because of what’s in my essay and some awful things people I don’t even know said or wrote on the internet.  As an artist, we frequently go where the wind takes us.  My wind is taking me elsewhere for right now.

3) Lots of wonderful, terrifically nice and supportive people DO work in musical theatre from the top down, and having met mostly those kinds of people, I can say they are the ones who keep my love for musical theatre alive.  It is overall a fabulous industry in which to work, and I still see it that way despite some of the behavior that has been displayed.  I am so proud of all of those I know who are treading the boards of the Great White Way and beyond and doing it with humility, grace, and a great respect for the art.

Again, thank you for all the discussion, enthusiasm, and appropriately enough, constructive criticism of what I wrote.  Keep spreading the love and joy to those around you, because we need more of that in the world!  🙂

Let It Go or Why I’ve Quit Musical Theatre (For Now, Anyway)

I love musical theatre.  When I was a kid, I used to relish dressing up and singing at the top of my lungs to Gypsy or Sound of Music around my house.  I was obsessed with the ’96 revival of Chicago with Bebe Neuwirth and Ann Reinking, listening to it over and over again.  Fosse was like a god to me; Sondheim even more so.  While I originally wanted to be a ballerina, by the age of twelve, it became pretty apparent I was destined for a career as an actor, specifically one in musical theatre as I not only would get to sing and act but also dance too.  I used to check out tons of old movie musicals from my library and video store like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (that barn dance still gets me every time) or Streisand’s version of Hello Dolly!  The first show I saw on Broadway was the revival of 42nd Street, and when the curtain lifted at the beginning of the show only revealing a line of tap dancing feet, I started to cry.  Meeting Angela Lansbury once outside a theatre is still one of the great highlights of my life.

I worked hard in college as a musical theatre major at a school with a very good reputation in the industry.  It was competitive to be sure, but that competition fueled my own efforts to grow, learn, and further my own individual talents.  I studied voice with a wonderful teacher, performed in several musicals including the lead my senior year in The Light in the Piazza, and while I didn’t make our school’s agent showcase, I graduated feeling pretty confident about my own skills as a performer and ready to at last move to the Big Apple to begin my career as an actor.

I did not move expecting to land a Broadway show right off the bat or my Actors Equity Card.  I have always assumed I would have to work hard and pay my dues.  I have never done summer stock though I have auditioned many times.  I have barely performed much at all since moving here nearly two and a half years ago.  While it can be hard and you feel as though you’re behind everyone else (especially when one of your classmates is doing her third Broadway show, your best friend has been on a national tour for the last two years, and far more are leaving to do regional work all the time), it’s important to remember that, as cliché as it sounds, everyone has their own artistic journey to make and perhaps mine is going to be far, far different from my peers.  I don’t worry too much anymore about how often I am or am not getting cast because I know it’s not reflective of who I am or the value of my artistic talents.  I’ve always kind of done my own thing anyway.

For a while after I first moved, I was going to lots of musical auditions: cattle calls, EPAs, ECCs, tours, etc.  Any young woman currently in the industry will tell you we have always had it much rougher than the men, but with economic setbacks, it’s even worse these days.  400 women will show up to audition for about 8-10 roles whereas 180 men will show up for about 10-15 roles.  You do the math; it’s bleak.  I could get into a whole discussion about the lack of equal representation for women in the entertainment industry, but that is a much lengthier topic that deserves its own time.  ANYWAY, the thing about auditioning with 399 other women on a regular basis is having to squeeze into a holding room for hours on end while we’re all waiting to audition and listen to them all try to one up each other about their resume credits, the famous people they’ve worked with/know, etc.  I’m sure this happens at the male audition calls too.  I’m not one for audition chitchat, personally.  I like to come in, do my thing, and get out and on with my day, so I got used to bringing my iPod or a book to drown everyone else out, but it’s hard.  And it’s not everyone doing it, but you can feel the negative animosity buzzing around you, and it was starting to make me dread going to musical auditions.  In fact, the more musical auditions I went to, the more miserable I felt.

To clarify, I could give two shits about what’s on your resume (because if I wanted to know, I’d just read it) or who you know/worked with, because on the day of the audition it only matters what you can do NOW, but the negativity being thrown around is unsettling.  Everyone around town uses a website called Audition Update to check the progress of various auditions throughout the day, whether callbacks are being given out, etc.  It’s a great resource.  But I’m dismayed by one particular aspect of the website called the Bitching Post where you can literally bitch via web comments about how auditions are run, various theatres, even people you may have worked with.  After reading through diatribe after diatribe each more hateful and venomous than the last, I realized this was the same crap I was hearing at auditions, and not only was it hurtful to those on the receiving end of these comments, but totally unprofessional conduct from people I consider colleagues.

And it doesn’t stop there.  Too often over the course of my 2+ years in this city, I have been at gatherings with musical theatre industry people and when the topic is turned to a fellow artist’s singing performance on a national or international stage, that artist is completely ripped to shreds with no redeeming qualities mentioned whatsoever (a lot of it online, which is the breeding ground for a lot of bad juju).  Apparently, according to some, this is acceptable simply because we all have fancy advanced degrees in singing so we have more knowledge and it’s “constructive criticism.”  I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to believe saying someone sounds like they’re dying and should stop singing forever or just “raped my ears” is “constructive.”  It’s actually just vitriolic, petty, and mean.  I find myself wincing at the words coming from some of my colleagues’ mouths or computer keyboards every time someone sings on national television or a YouTube clip or even just a cast recording.  I understand we’re all educated, trained artists with differing opinions, but when you’re watching the Oscars or the Sound of Music Live Broadcast JUST HOPING to see Idina or Carrie crash and burn vocally instead of in support of fellow artists doing something exciting and challenging, it says a lot more about what kind of artist and person YOU are than what kind of artist and person these women are.  Remember when your mother said “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all?”  Well, I do, and this whole mentality that it’s okay to rip a person (and one you don’t even know personally) apart simply because you’re “educated,” actually doesn’t make you look educated at all.  It doesn’t take an education to spew icky words.  There is a big difference between being passionate and being poisonous and too many, I fear, are confusing one for the other and veering more into the latter category where this industry is concerned.  It’s becoming an epidemic, unfortunately, and not just in musical theatre.  It’s everywhere: just look at Twitter. Look at comment boards.

I have left musical theatre (for the time being though I occasionally go to an audition or two for something I’m really interested in) in part because I do not wish to have this kind of negativity in my life.  I don’t enjoy it.  I don’t want to be part of a group of people who so eagerly (and at times, gleefully) turn their back on one of their own just for cracking on a note or having an off night instead of tightening ranks around that person, giving them the encouragement to shake it off and hit the stage or audition room the next day or offering REAL constructive feedback to help them improve.  It’s a hard thing to choose to be an artist in an increasingly money-obsessed world, but I can’t help thinking that it’s that much harder when you don’t even have your own artistic community really supporting you the way they should.  I’m a tough girl, always have been, and a little criticism never bothered me, but when it’s so inhumane and malicious, I have to take action.  I have always been one to look for the best in others and especially in art, and I am so disheartened by what I have experienced firsthand and read online.  What I loved about musical theatre is that it always felt like a little happy community, but it doesn’t feel very much that way to me lately, and so I made a decision a little over a year ago to walk away for awhile; to focus my time and talents on other artistic ventures.  And guess what?  I’m a lot happier.  I’ve found people who are genuinely supportive and encouraging, and with more positivity in my life, I feel my own talents have started blossoming in ways they never would have.  I have turned my eyes to writing, to acting, to producing, and discovered that I am equally as passionate about these things and the film and television industry.  It’s amazing what positive energy can do.

I ask that we all look at ourselves as artists and human beings and really evaluate why we are saying these things.  Is it because we are envious of those who have found success in our field?  Is it because we are not secure enough in our own gifts we must attack those of another?  Our first job as artists is to be good human beings and show the world what humanity can be, and it is an ongoing, challenging process; believe me.  The work is never done.  And we all have lots of work to do because no one is perfect, but what a beautiful thing that is.

One of my very favorite recordings of my hero Judy Garland is a number from her Carnegie Hall Concert.  During “You Go to My Head” she completely flubs a lyric.  At Carnegie Hall.  During the biggest concert of her career.  And she’s literally singing nonsense lyrics on the album but she laughs, keeps going, and gets back on track.  That a performer so polished, so revered as Judy, made a mistake we’ve all made a million times is a reminder that she was human just like all of us.  Flaws are reminders of humanity.  I’m glad to know Judy isn’t perfect, because it gives me hope I can someday be as inspirational to someone as she has been to me even with my own flaws.

And since I really DO look for the best in others, I want everyone to prove me wrong.  I hope that if I decide to fully return sometime in the future to musical theatre, I will find a loving, supportive community like the one I first fell in love with.  The one full of awkward kids belting show tunes in their mother’s old clothing because they just love the lights and the music and the magic of theatre.  My mother also used to say, “Play nice,” and I ask that we all try to do that from now on.  Please?

*For an addendum to this essay, please see this.