There’s More To You Than You Know

Feeling some lack of confidence lately? A little low on self esteem? Thinking maybe you don’t have what it takes? (To create a good show, attract an audience, do the hard work towards a big goal, withstand rejection, make even a partial living doing what you love, etc.)

I feel ya.

So I recommend the following, which may sound a little scary, but it’s worth it. (Well, it might not scare you, but I confess that I dreaded it and only went through with it because it was a homework assignment for a workshop I was taking.)

  • Ask three to five people in your network to identify the things they believe you are good at and to provide evidence for those things that they identified as your strengths.

“Network” just means People You Know, preferably as More Than Acquaintances.

If this assignment brings up the following fears:

  • Everyone will be too busy
  • No one will want to reply even if they’re not busy
  • Everyone will automatically think of your flaws and this will prevent people from being able to think of a single strength that you have

…consider the possibility that these fears are due to anxiety and not reality. They’re understandable because you’re making yourself vulnerable. But if you make the request of people you care about who you can reasonably suspect care about you, too…then it is not such a presumptuous request and there may be no reason to fear the response.

If you have no fears about making the request, I still think this is a worthy exercise for you.

Give the list makers a deadline of three days, tops. This helps them and you. Your message won’t sit in their In Box or voicemail forever, and you won’t wait and wonder for a long time if they’ll reply.

Also, while you’re waiting for their response, take 10 minutes to write down what you think your strengths are, and provide evidence. This can be helpful toward building or maintaining confidence and healthy self acknowledgment. Always good when you’re working on something new and risky.

When folks start responding, you may be unsurprised by some of the strengths they list—after all, you’ve met you. Nonetheless, be prepared for a strength or two (or more) that you didn’t predict. Or perhaps you didn’t expect a strength to be described in the way that it’s described. Or for the evidence to be something you had completely forgotten. Yet it’s nonetheless true.

Yes, you did do that. Yes, it was admirable and worthy of respect.

I think we need a lot of encouragement as we forge ahead on this loopy, unpredictable path of solo show creation and touring and other creative endeavors. Often there’s no way to know what will happen next, so we keep on submitting the show, or creating a new one, and working on other stuff that fills us, or taking breaks from it all, and we need incentive to believe we’re worthy of our dreams.

A Strengths List can help with this. It’s like the list of compliments from audience members that I mentioned a while back. In your most vulnerable moments, sometimes other people’s words can make all the difference. There’s no shame in that. We’re a social species and we need one another’s validation. We just do. It helps if it comes from people we trust.

Also, when compiling your Strengths List, you may learn that you are more powerful—not just strong but powerful—than you realized. Look at what you’ve accomplished! That took more than determination.

No harm in it, since you’ve been harnessing this power to connect with people and remind them that they, too, are not alone. That’s what storytellers and artists do. Even if a work of art is about unwanted solitude or loneliness (or sadness or rage or jealousy or some other unpleasant emotion), it still acts as an outstretched hand toward anyone who has felt the same. Acknowledgment and recognition are powerful things. The feeling that an artist “gets” us is incomparable.

Honor your power. You’ve probably got more than you know and I’m betting that you’re using it to do good. When you receive your Strengths Lists, remember to thank the people who remind you of your power, for they are gold.

BONUS: This hugely popular TED Talk reminds us that we do this because it’s what we do. (You don’t have to have read or liked her work to enjoy the benefit of this talk.)

Your elusive creative genius by author Elizabeth Gilbert

Announcement: I’ve got new workshops coming up next week. Take a look! Click on “click for more” under “Group Solo Show & Memoir Workshops.”

Thank you for reading my twenty-fifth post! I love your comments! Please feel free to leave one below.


You Never Know What Will Spark You (or: In Which I Humiliate Myself for the Greater Good)

Wondering if any of your creative efforts have been wasted?

Or if your creative impulses are too weird to take seriously?

Fie upon the thoughts, I say!

This is going to be a short entry, but it requires courage to post. I’m resigning myself to embracing the fact that one of my weird compulsions missions in life is to make myself vulnerable in order to help others.

I tend to take one for the team, so to speak.

In January 2012, I had a terrible first full-length draft of my first solo show. I was about to take a six-month-long master class on solo-show creation, during which I would completely dismember and destroy revise that draft into something a paying audience might actually want to watch. I was freaking out a bit since I would be workshopping scenes for classmates who might…you know…hate everything I presented.

Meanwhile, I needed a creative outlet that I kept private and thus safe in order to follow my weirdest impulses, to keep the juices flowing with no connection to the solo show.

Except that they did ultimately connect to the show.

Here’s the first thing I created. I titled it “monster.” Note its abysmal amateur quality.


Feeling better about yourself now? You’re welcome.

Here’s the next thing I created, and I can only hope that this will not come back to haunt me somehow, because its dorkiness is…well, I’ll let you determine that for yourself.

I made two more videos that I shall spare you, and then the workshop and other projects took over my life, and I no longer had time for these ridonkulous spontaneous creative-impulse pursuits.

When I made them I had no idea that they would help my show, but they did. On a lark, I sent the drawing to a couple of friends, and they were amused and kind. That helped me to breathe a bit easier about putting original work out there. I sent the video to a few more friends and one said she laughed until she cried. She may have been the only one who liked it, but one person not hating it or ignoring it or pitying me for it was all I needed.

Plus, the composition/framing ended up being what I used for my show’s poster.


My director hates the poster, but what can I say, it was my vision at the time. She’s very classy, so I kinda see her point now…but I still love the head peeking in…and I just have an abiding fondness for the whole thing.

You know how it is with certain things. You see the flaws but you feel affection for them nonetheless.

Anyhoo. As random and weird and amateur and dorky and embarrassing as those two works of “art” may be, they were meant just for me and a few friends, and they boosted my courage, which did the trick: I created the show, which is now a movie (almost ready for audiences!). The show’s success also led to my ongoing workshops.

So I feel like a deer in headlights mostly okay about sharing these pieces here because…well, what the heck. I sincerely hope that they assist you with your creative pursuits somehow.

Follow your kooky creative impulses. Keep them all private if you like, but have faith that they’re helping you in ways you may not be able to articulate until five years from now. They’re worth it.

BONUS: Here’s an encouraging article about how walking/strolling can spark creativity:

Want to Be More Creative? Take a Walk by Gretchen Reynolds

Thank you for reading my twenty-fourth post! I love your comments! Please feel free to leave one below.

It Takes a Lot of Rejection and Working on Something Else…and Surrendering

I figured it out: for every Yes there are 100 Nos.

If you’re trying to tour your solo show, that is.

I estimated 50 Nos per 1 Yes in an earlier post, but now I know the truth, thanks to an elaborate spreadsheet. Whenever a campus, conference, organization, festival, or theatre has booked my show (usually as a paid gig-—I can rarely afford to work for free), it has already been rejected by 100 potential bookers. (Silver lining: I count each individual as a potential booker. So if I email 15 people on a particular college campus, each one of them is part of the 100 count, even though they’re at the same “venue.”)

Usually, the rejection comes in the form of…nothing. There’s simply no response to my submission.

Once in a while, I get a cordial “We’re sorry but we have no budget for guest artists” or “There were umpteen applicants and only a handful of spaces for our season/conference/festival/etc.”

Every so often—which is to say, not often—I get a response asking for more information about the show. Out of every 15 venues that express interest, one might actually book the show. “Might” is the key word here.

So I think it’s understandable that I take breaks from pitching. Weeks will go by as I concentrate on other tasks that fill me with hope—and we all need hope as creative folk, especially in discordant times.

For the last year these have been my hope-fueled projects:

The movie has been a slog and a joy and is soooooo close to ready, I can taste it. I’m especially proud of the Tool Kit (digital study guide) that will accompany the version I’ll sell to institutions. It has clips of the show, thought-provoking questions for the viewer, definitions of certain terms, cool quotations, recommended reading and viewing lists, and more.

I’m sharing this because I never planned to make a movie of it while I was writing the show. You never know where your creative endeavor will lead or how it will evolve.

Now, it’s good to have big dreams—sometimes they’re the great motivator—but you must also surrender, with love, to the possibility that the project will not go to exciting uncharted territory. It may remain a solo show that you performed a few times at a Fringe, or in your living room for friends, and that is worthy if you did it with your whole heart.

I sincerely believe that when I surrendered to the possibility that my first show might not have a theatrical premiere and I would have to perform it at home for friends, I released a lot of stress, anxiety, and tension…and that’s what allowed greater possibilities to manifest. The ol’ catch-22: it may come if you let go.

Still, there’s no guarantee, and you have to make your peace with that.

Back to the movie: “Who is going to buy a movie of a solo show by a non-celebrity?” you may wisely ask. My hope is that it will be popular with intercultural people who are unaccustomed to seeing their stories told; counselors; folks who want to create their own shows and would like a template to follow or dissect at their leisure; institutions of higher learning with offices of diversity and inclusion, gender studies, and more; and the 8,000 English-medium international schools that exist on our globe. The “live” show has helped many people come to terms with aspects of their upbringing and identity, and I very much hope that this will be true of the movie as well.

No matter what, I’m so glad I made this movie. It was a finalist for a festival, which means it wasn’t screened, but I took its finalist status with humble gratitude! I don’t know what, if anything, will happen once I make the video available to viewers.

It’s been a great project to work on, regardless of the unpredictable outcome.

My new show is on hold for the moment, but just knowing that it’s sitting in my laptop, waiting for me to tackle it again, causes little sparks to warm my insides. It’s going to be fun workshopping it again and finally producing it, no matter what. I can feel it.

My solo show and memoir workshops take my attention off of me (phew!) and allow me to learn other people’s stories and help them to find the beating heart of the narrative. It’s flabbergasting to witness a short writing exercise evolve into a scene or chapter. It’s uplifting to watch a storyteller reach for their courage. And it’s invigorating to see them make unpredictable connections between scenes and find humor in some of the most wrenching parts.

My participants inspire me to go for broke with my own work.

Thanks to the hope-fueled projects above, each time I start pitching my first show again, I don’t feel depleted and dejected.

Granted, I have something else buoying me when I pitch the show: its trajectory from a tiny black-box theatre in Hollywood to venues all over the US and in Panama, Iceland, Spain, South Africa, and Singapore. However, I did not make any of that happen on my own, and certainly not by simply sending emails. My director gave the show its shape and theatricality and resonance. Several of my family members and friends plugged the heck out of it for me. And a few bookings only happened because hundreds of people donated to my crowdfunding campaigns, which allowed my husband and me to fly to distant lands in order to put on the show. My abject gratitude is due to every person who funded those ventures, and to every person who helped to pique a paying booker’s interest in the show. If the beginning of this paragraph seemed like a brag, I hope I’ve clarified that the show’s trajectory is due to countless people and not my pitching efforts alone—not by a long shot.

And none of it—the show, the movie, the new show, and the workshops—would have happened if my hope for astonishing results had taken precedence over my need to tell the original story. When I honored the latter, with no demands on the future, I think that that made space for a brighter future. I mentioned this concept in an earlier post but I think it’s worth repeating.

If you’ve been pitching your show to everyone and their mother-in-law to no avail, remember that it’s a numbers game. Have you pitched it to 100 individuals yet? If so, have you gotten any nibbles (even if they haven’t been bookings)? If so, take heart. If not, take another look at your proposal and marketing material to see what might need tweaking in order to grab someone’s interest on a gut level.

In either case: make time to work on something else that charges you. If it’s not challenging, exciting, frightening, and hope-inspiring, start working on something that is.

I’ll never stop saying it: we’re here to create and connect. No matter how far your show goes, the time you’ve spent on it was time superbly spent.

BONUS: Go ahead and feel those feelings. A helpful reminder that our emotions can be channeled into great storytelling:

Why Emotional Excess Is Essential to Writing and Creativity per Anaïs Nin, by Maria Popova in

[Edited 6/16/17, LL]

Thank you for reading my twenty-third post! I love your comments! Please feel free to leave one below.

You Can Fix It

Did your show get a lackluster response at your first reading for trusted theatre friends?

Or have you not given the reading yet because every time you look at the script all you see are insurmountable problems?

You can fix it.

I’ve watched all four seasons of “Black Sails” over the last year. Season 1 had so many flaws that I literally forced myself to finish it only because someone I trust insisted that the show would improve tremendously in Season 2. It did and continued to do so with each season. It stopped depicting some characters as two-dimensional and disposable and began depicting characters from vastly different backgrounds as complex and recognizably human. No show is perfect but some speeches in this one were uniquely gorgeous. So if a TV show with serious flaws can turn itself around under the pressure of deadlines and ratings and corporate “mainstream” demands, then you can fix your solo show, without a network breathing down your neck and a whole lotta people’s jobs on the line. Thank goodness.

Some tips on how to fix your script:

  1. Do you have a scene that includes a lot of ruminating, opining, venting, etc.? One that reads like a well written journal? Delete that sucker. You can keep the part in which you’re depicting behavior or something active that moves the plot forward or enriches the theme, but remove the part that reads like a…blog. I bet all that writing could be distilled into one narrative sentence or line of dialogue, and your delivery will give it more than enough substance.
  2. Is there a recurring character who comes across as the Bad Guy or the Good Guy? One way to improve any script is by making sure that every character is prismatic or at least unpredictable at one point. That includes the character of you. If you’re a lovable victim or hero throughout your show, you’ve got a problem. Luckily, it’s easy to fix. Add a scene or two in which you’re the most flawed character in the play. Now your audience will believe you.
  3. Work on another script for the sheer fun of it. As I mentioned in a previous post, when I didn’t know how to fix my current script, I started a new one with a goofy premise that made me giggle. It revived my muse and I ultimately realized that I could combine the two scripts, which made all the difference.
  4. Walk away for at least two weeks. It’s okay, you can work on the “fun” script or another creative project that doesn’t fill you with dread/despair in the meantime. It can be tiny: a doodle a day, or a one-line poem, or a single photograph, whatever. You can also take a real break and just absorb other artists’ work. They may inspire you.
    When you come back to your piece after the break, it will be easier to see what can go, what can be enhanced, and what can be restructured. If you decide that only 5% can stay, that’s okay. Every moment you spent on it was valuable because you were making something. Imagine if you’d spent that time destroying something, or doing something you hate, or passively letting your life drift by.
    Naw. We’re here to create. As Martha Graham so famously said, “It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.” That is how we connect, as artists.
  5. Set a timer to work on it for 20 minutes at a time, tops. I’ve fixed entire scenes in less time than that, especially after taking a break from working on the script. You do not have to give up an entire three-day holiday or spend 3-6 hours per day/night on it. Er, unless you’re on a deadline. The good news is: that deadline will arrive no matter what and it’s getting closer every minute…so the crunch will be over soon and then you can go back to 20-minute writing sessions when you revise. Woohoo!

Another tip: keep copies of each daily draft. I rename every single day’s work with the current date, so I can always go back to a previous date to find something I might have deleted or changed. Yes, this means I have a gajillion files for one script, but it also means I never lose anything I write.

You can also turn on the “show markups” option, but I find that that ends up looking too “busy” and confusing.

Do what works for you.

Always remember: your creative work matters. Every moment that you devote to it is productive and good. Better to have spent 10 minutes creating than several hours destroying/wasting/not-even-trying. The world is a better place for it, and I thank you.

BONUS: This talk is encouraging for anyone trying to make something. It also validates my point about spending less time on something while still working on it regularly.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Artists by Andrew Price

[Edited 4/11/17. -EL]

Announcement: I’ve set my workshop schedule for the rest of 2017. Take a look! Click on “click for more” under “Group Solo Show & Memoir Workshops.”

Thank you for reading my twenty-second post! I love your comments! Please feel free to leave one below.

To Commit or Not To Commit

Progress! I gave my first two readings of the new show to trusted theatre friends and they didn’t look pained or embarrassed afterward. On the contrary, more than half were very enthusiastic, and the rest were encouraging. They all gave specific feedback, which I have been implementing into the script.

Must say I’m relieved. This new show has an element that is so quirky-weird, I was afraid that it would be off-putting to my first listeners. But that’s the element many of them liked the most!

It goes to show: as creators observing our own work, everything is in our heads until we have an audience or readership. We have to commit to sharing our work with people we trust so that the work can truly evolve.

Of course, I still have work to do. Writing and creating are mostly revision—but we knew that.

Now I’m trying to decide if I want to perform this show at a local fringe festival. The deadline to be included in their guide is at the end of the month. This fest might be the perfect debut for this particular show.

On the other hand: festivals cost money—venue rental, insurance, crew’s fees, PR, etc.

On the bright side: I envision this show having minimal production values. So I don’t have to worry about a lot of design elements and cues overwhelming our tech rehearsals, which happened with my first show. (I love that show’s design elements. The world premiere was beautifully lit and the projections and audio effects enhanced it subtly yet wonderfully—but it makes for long tech rehearsals when I go on tour. I’m ready for a minimalist approach this time.)

Most importantly: if I register with this fest, the new show will have to be ready by June. That’s right around the bend! I would need to start pre-production (hiring director and crew, renting the space, and more) right now.

I believe that I could have the script ready by June, but in order to be performance-ready, I’d have to spend all of May rehearsing the show, which means the script would need to be 90% ready by the end of April. (New solo-show scripts are tweaked and improved in rehearsal because the director also acts as a dramaturg.)

Meanwhile, I’m eyeballs-deep in post-production on the digital version of my first show. I want it to be available on DVD and streamable online by May. Could I do that and improve the new show’s script and start pre-production on that show in time for a June festival?


Well, I’m giving myself until the end of March to decide. Whether or not I register with this fest, I will make myself accountable with this promise: I will perform the new show for a paying audience in 2017. (Gah!)

Speaking of accountability, I kept the promise I made in my last post! I rearranged the box and container that hold lots of future-projects material and stuck pretty labels onto them to remind me that there’s magic inside.

It worked! Now when I look at them I feel a warm inclination to use that material in the future. No more guilt.

This blog entry is more stream-of-consciousness than usual, so I’m wary of hitting “Publish,” but I’m going to post it as an example of committing to something outside of one’s comfort zone. After all, the entry itself is about commitment and the balancing act of making the choice: do I or don’t I and why?

I hope that you will take leaps of faith to further your creative output. And if you hedge like I did above over the fest, I recommend that you commit to furthering that output by a certain deadline.

I’ll never stop saying it: deadlines are beacons. They only help us to keep our promises. May you keep yours to fulfill your creative commitment(s) this year.

BONUS: Lovely, short guided meditations—a couple of which are only three (3) minutes long (!)—can help when we’re feeling uncertain:

Free Guided Meditations from the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center

Thank you for reading my twenty-first post! I love your comments! Please feel free to leave one below.

Prompts, Time Limits, Creative Containers, and Magic

Here are five of my favorite writing prompts. They can help you to enrich your show or to find some major turning points in it. They can also simply be used as exercises to loosen you up right before you work on the script.

Have a timer handy so that you can answer each prompt within the recommended time limit. The time limits are short in order to prevent self-censorship and editing. Together, the prompts and time limits can stimulate deeply truthful answers, which are gold.

1. What’s the worst decision you ever made? (4-minute time limit.)
1b. Did anything good come of it? (2-minute time limit.)

2. What’s the best decision you ever made? (4-minute time limit.)

3. List five people who changed the course of your life in some way, for better or worse, short term or long term. Write about one of them and how they affected your life. (6-minute time limit.)

4. Write about something that’s gone. (5-minute time limit.)

5. Write about something that gives you joy. (5-minute time limit.)

Now that you’ve answered the prompts within the time limits, did you want more time for any of them because you didn’t finish giving your answer? Or did you finish but would now like to delve deeper into the nitty gritty? If so, set the same time limit that you had before, and continue answering that prompt.

If you still want more time after your second go, feel free to write for as long as you like. Take it away!

The point is to get yourself into the habit of writing truthfully on the spot without being precious about the process. If you hit the ground running (i.e., if your pen hits the page scribbling), something happens that allows truth, realization, and inspiration to flow.

This is preferable to writing gingerly around a topic until you finally get comfortable-ish. If you start with resistance, the entire job will be harder, and might not get done at all. You might end up writing about everything except the heart of the story.

Don’t get me wrong: I assume that you’re in a comfortable position with your favorite juice/coffee/tea/cocoa/etc. within arm’s reach, and that you’ve done some deep breathing to help yourself to “settle.” Any rituals you have that remind your psyche that it’s time to write/create are welcome.

But once you’ve sat down to write (or once you’ve stood up to improvise while recording it), the prompts and time limits are meant to jumpstart your creative process, regardless of your mood.

They’re simple questions (wink) and you only have to work on each one for four to six minutes. You can do one per creative session, or all of them in less than half an hour.


I recommend answering a writing prompt whenever you get stuck while creating your show. You can find prompts in umpticatillion books and online. Always give yourself a short time limit just to get the stuff out of your head and onto the page or into the recorder.

It is never a waste of time. It may spark something that manifests magnificently in your show or in some other way down the line. You never know.

Hold onto your answers! Even if they don’t make their way into the show that you’re working on, they are the proof of your truest self in the moment that you created them, and they will be good to refer to for future projects. They can also be very grounding. I’ve looked at my answers to prompts from years ago and thought “Yes. That’s exactly how that felt. There’s a recurring theme that I’d like to explore more in another show.”

Keep all of your creating-a-show papers and recordings in one place. Twyla Tharp talks about putting it all in a box. Wherever you choose to put it, make it something that gives you comfort and perhaps even pride to look at. Something that reminds you, “I’m someone who creates. And in that box/bag/binder/tupperware/etc. is magic that only I could make.”

Full disclosure: I have a bag for my new show, and it does make me feel good when I look at it. But there are also a nice box and plain storage container in my office that hold a lot more stuff that I intend to use for…something…someday. I tend to feel guilty when I look at them.

So here’s my promise: before I publish next month’s blog post, I will rearrange the box and container in an attractive fashion and stick pretty labels onto them that remind me that there’s magic inside. I think that’ll go a long way toward changing my feelings about them.

I hope the prompts and time limits and containers will all help you in the creation of your show. Regardless, I hope you always remember that no matter how unglamorous, confusing, frustrating, or slow-going this creative work can be, you are nonetheless making magic.

Now, in a time when bigotry is on an even greater upswing than usual, one might begin to fear that there’s a dark magic afoot. There’s not. It’s just people who can—and in my opinion must—be stopped.

However, people have achieved great and terrible things via the stories they’ve told, and that may be a kind of magic, figuratively speaking. Of course that’s what I’m talking about.

I’m going to assume that your story is truthful. Here’s a tip: the more you’re willing to be vulnerable and make yourself the most flawed person in the play alongside your more likable traits, and thus make a connection with your audience’s vulnerability (and humanity), the more likely it is that you’re not telling a self-indulgent, narcissistic, I Wanna Be Popular story. In other words, it’s more likely that yours is a good magic.

Thank you for sharing it.

BONUS: John Steinbeck’s brief and superb advice on writing and how there’s magic in it:

Six Tips on Writing from John Steinbeck compiled by Maria Popova on

[Edited 02/02/17.-EL]

Thank you for reading my twentieth post! I love your comments! Please feel free to leave one below.

The Why Is Everything

It’s the new year and for the last few weeks we’ve been reminded to look back on 2016 to determine how we succeeded, how we failed, and most of all what we learned, blahblahblah, etc., etc.

I’m not against doing the above—it can be eye-opening and galvanizing. It can also remind us to express gratitude. It can even inspire us to pat ourselves on the back for accomplishments we had previously neglected to honor.

Nonetheless, as a creative person, I think this is actually a good time to reflect on why we create what we create.

Have you been performing your show so often that you’ve lost some of the spark?

Or are you in the middle of creating a show and getting discouraged?

As always, the why is everything. Why did you create it? Or why are you creating it?

The answer is the engine to your creative pursuit. Sometimes, when you need inspiration or guidance, all you need to do is to close your eyes, take a deep breath, and on the exhale say “I am performing/creating this show because _____.” (Remember the business card I mentioned in my first post?)

Whenever I’m asked why I created Alien Citizen, I say it’s because I had never seen a story like mine told in any medium, and I wanted to tell it for all the Third Culture Kids and multiracial folk and multilingual people and intercultural persons and girls/women who never see our multifaceted, prismatic stories on stage or screen. I don’t pretend to speak for any of the above people, but I do believe that something in my show will resonate for them, or that it will motivate them to tell their own very different and unique stories. I hope that watching me will give them courage to express themselves more often.

(I also created the show because I wanted people to stop asking me if I was from the midwestern USA. That question made me feel like my life had never happened. I’ve never lived in the Midwest.)

When I perform the show now, I do it for one person. Every time, as the nerves creep up on me at ten minutes to “Places,” I remind myself that there is one person in the audience who needs to see the show very badly. Whether or not this is true is irrelevant. I decide that it is true, and I perform the show as a reaching out, a connection, a service to that person who feels like an incurable outsider who stifles themselves in order to avoid being seen as an incomprehensible misfit.

My belief usually turns out to be true. That person is in the audience and they thank me after the show. There are frequently quite a few of them and they all “look normal.” Yet internally they have yearned to see/hear a perspective that they rarely see/hear in any medium.

But even if no one cared for the performance afterward, I would still have given my all for that one person I imagined. That’s my job.

What I don’t say when I’m asked why I created Alien Citizen is that I needed to express myself in a direct, honest way, without hiding behind a fictional character. That may be obvious for any autobiographical solo show, but the need was manifesting in curious ways before I ever performed it.

I started writing it in 2009 in bits and pieces, but a funny thing started happening between that time and the world premiere in 2013. I was getting cast in roles I understood to the bone—even when they were nothing like me on the surface. That’s a gift for which actors yearn. It doesn’t happen nearly as often as we would like.

During that period, I was cast as a Brazilian standup comic who is hired as a maid in a homogeneously WASPy town in Connecticut or New York. She is described as having “a refined sense of deadpan.” The show opens with her telling a long-form sex joke in Portuguese with a Brazilian accent.

Now, on the outside, one might think I’m not good casting for that role as I’m not a standup or Brazilian and didn’t speak Portuguese. But I am Guatemalan and my family moved from Central America to Fairfield County, Connecticut, twice in my childhood. Thus I understand to my marrow what it’s like to be a Latina who moves from Latin America to a WASPy town in the Northeastern USA. I also have some facility with language and a good ear for dialects, in part because I had to speak four languages when I was in the 8th grade in Morocco. Thus I was able to learn and understand all of the Portuguese in the show during the rehearsal period. (Shoutout to the internet and language-learning podcasts.)

Furthermore, I’ve been told countless times that I’m deadpan in my everyday life, so that character description wasn’t a stretch for me.

Most importantly, I found that I needed to play the character. We understood one another. On top of all of the above, she has experienced traumatic loss, while I had experienced a steady accumulation of less traumatic losses that became overwhelming over time. Playing that character allowed me to express so much from my life without tipping my hand to the audience—it was “safe” because I was disguised in her character.

Directly after that show I was cast as a quirky woman in Kansas who believes that aliens abducted and raped her as a child. She and I literally had nothing in common. Right after playing her, I was cast as a Southern, dutiful big sister. Again, I was not an obvious choice. Yet I understood both roles in essential, emotional ways that I was able to express on stage.

I also learned from the roles, which is another thing that every actor hopes for. The Southern big sister is in almost every scene in a long play, so I learned how to build and maintain my stamina onstage. This is vital for anyone planning to do a solo show.

In their final scenes, both roles have to master fear, and one learns to fight for herself. Directly after that show closed, I began working on Alien Citizen in earnest, writing and revising the script about my life. It was scary, but I was mastering my fear and fighting for myself.

I played my next role right before I went into rehearsals for Alien Citizen’s premiere. In that last ensemble piece, I played a multiracial, born and raised in the USA, conservative control freak who travels to her deceased mother’s homeland of Vietnam and reconciles her emotions over her troubled relationship with her mom. She is very closed off to her Vietnamese heritage until the end of the play.

She’s the opposite of me—I grew up in six countries, I’m not conservative, and neither of my parents was born or raised in Asia…and yet. I knew I was going to open my solo show in a couple of months and I was afraid that my parents might be hurt or offended by it. I had to push through my own fear, defensiveness, and self-righteousness and just accept that my folks had the right to react however they would react. I sent them the parts of the script that they were in and told them that if they didn’t want one or any of those sections to be in the play, I would remove those scenes. They didn’t object to the scenes, which was both brave and generous of them.

Among my many flaws, I find it difficult to practice forgiveness in my own life. So it was helpful and moving to play a woman who learns how to do it towards her loving parent and for herself.

I think all four of the roles that preceded my solo show trained me for the solo show.

Serendipity, perhaps.

And then Alien Citizen opened, and my life is entirely different now from what it was in 2013.

So in the few years leading up to the opening of my first solo show, I accidentally discovered that I needed to explore and reveal elements of myself in the roles that I played—more so than I had ever needed to before. Of course, I also needed to interpret the characters as they were envisioned by the playwrights and directors, but underneath that was a need to stake my claim to my own story. Those roles challenged me in ways I hadn’t encountered before and they made me a stronger and braver actor, and thus better able to create and perform my show.

Why did you create your show? Did you find yourself landing very different roles that were weirdly right for you before it opened? Or did other coincidences occur that now seem like serendipitous stepping stones to your show’s premiere?

If you’re creating a show now, why are you doing it? There’s no wrong answer. You do need to know the answer, though. In any case, you are heeding a call, you are doing it via the act of creation, and the world needs creativity and connection. It needs it in person, “live,” in a room with your fellow humans, breathing together, sharing the ephemeral moment.

Thank you for doing it, and Happy New Year.

BONUS: My favorite TED Talk, bar none. For creative pursuits…and…existence:

The Power of Vulnerability by Brené Brown 

Announcement: I’m leading new solo show and memoir workshops in January and February. Give me a holler here if interested.

Thank you for reading my nineteenth post! I love your comments! Please feel free to leave one below.