Where we go from here

Hey all. It’s March 31st and the official end of my month of blogging here on the topic of gender parity in theater. I recapped the other day some of the projects that this month has inspired and begun, but I also wanted to say a couple things not only about those specific projects but about a few bigger picture things that have slowly amassed over the course of this month on a larger, perhaps more philosophical level.

One of the lessons I feel like I’ve taken away from this month of work is the sense that it’s important to keep perspective on two scales – the very small and personal and the very large and grand.

I find for myself that when I get too stuck in the minutiae of my own little world and my own little perspective on that little world, I can miss solutions or a sense of possibility. It’s easy when we are used to seeing something all the time to assume that it will always have to be that way. There are trends of inequity that have persisted for so long they have become banal and commonplace. And so in listening to other creators, in gathering voices of women artmakers en masse, by looking at my field as a whole and branching into other mediums as well, by looking at this problem not just as a personal one but a community-wide issue, I feel like I’ve gained a feeling of possibility, of mobility that I haven’t had in a while. Stepping back and looking at the larger picture has made me say more forcefully there are things I see in my community that are not acceptable even if they are common.

Simultaneously, I have also gotten better at tasking myself with small concrete things that I can do in and hour or two with a few people. I have become more able to say, “What can I do right now to make a step towards a larger goal?” rather than getting frustrated at an inability to fix everything in its entirety. I have felt easier in making a step forward, even if it is imperfect or not totally complete and saying that something good and finished NOW is better than something immaculate that takes months to perfect.

Another lesson learned is the power of a system that can handle multiple points of entry. One of the most awesome things about the Awesome Lady Squad is the fact that there are projects starting to gain momentum that I am not the sole driver of. Projects that I am appreciative of but may not have the expertise or immediate interest in prioritizing. If the Squad is to succeed I think our responsibility must be shouldered by many. Because the truth is some day I’m going to get busy with a project or a life event. Or there will be (maybe already is) more to do that I have time to oversee. And one of my core beliefs is that we will do so much more if we all trust each other to take your idea and run further with it than you knew was possible.

And last, I’ve realized that there is nothing more powerful that one human looking another human in the eye and doing your best to speak honestly and listen to each other.

That sounds mushy.

It is.

But man, is it also effective.

I’ve written thousands of words about these issues, spent hours trying to articulate exactly how I’m feeling and what I want to communicate. And yet, one of the most impactful moments I’ve had was when I sat down talked with some other creators about how their choices affected me and listened honestly and openly to their response.

If there is anything that I take from a month of work trying to advocate for female artists it is this: we have to be brave enough to start saying what we actually think and feel. To do so assumes that real and substantive change is possible. It assumes that our views are valuable enough to be heard and flexible enough to absorb response.

It is hard to tell someone, especially someone you admire and care about, that their actions might have consequences they do not intend. It also feels like the closest I’ve come to actually shifting the way someone will think and act in relation to this topic in the future.

And in this way, let me share where I go from here:

I will continue to work with The Awesome Lady Squad in the coming months. I’ll keep you abreast of those changes.

I will return to many of the questions about sustainability and how to engage in a long and happy life as an artist.

I will send some focus to other special interest groups and work towards a community that is aware and equitable in all aspects.

I want to encourage us, Philadelphia, to start engaging in these harder conversations. The ones that scare us. The ones that are uncomfortable. The ones that might mean we really have to rethink some of the ways we do things. These are the ones that will make us the city that others look to. These are the things that will create a more sustainable and strong community in the future.

Feeling the renewing possibilities of the imminent spring,


Getting to “Fuck It” Faster

If you’ve been standing within 100 feet of me in the last month or so, you’ve inevitably heard me go on and on about my most recent directing project.

It is, in essence, a project that does not adhere to any of the rules that I follow in my “real” work. It is one that I traveled almost two hours a day to get to and from. It is one that rehearsed at odd and tiring hours after full days of other work. It is one that paid me far less than the salary I set for myself in my own company’s work. It is one that I embarked on with little choice in content, space, personnel or schedule. Never in a Swim Pony project do I allow designers to be assigned to me. Never do I cast a massive ensemble based on a day’s worth of auditions. Never do I work in a tiny and oddly shaped theater space. Never do I do so many of the things that I did for this recent production of Midsummer Night’s Dream at Arcadia.

Yet, I can hardly recall a time in recent memory when I have been this excited to get to rehearsal, felt as free in pushing and playing with my actors, as wildly open to trying any and everything that my mind could conceive.  And ironically, I can also hardly recall a time when encountering things that did not go the way I expected where I felt so easy in adapting to the new circumstance and believing that success or no, it would all still absolutely have been worth it.

I thought about this yesterday as I semi-moped about my house feel post-partum performance let down. I thought about what it might mean that I have been so very happy these past weeks and what I might need to do to capture this feeling more often.  And as I was semi-moping I thought about the times in the past when the work has felt the most fraught and when it has felt the most free. And collage-like came a cascade of things people have said to me that feel strangely similar:

A written comment from a vocal jury performance: “Adrienne Mackey is a wall of sound”

A reader of this blog: “It surprised me to realize that you could be that vulnerable.”

The remark during a training session for Roy Hart work: “Adrienne, you are like a golden tank. Beautiful but bulldozing over everything in your path.”

In a therapy session recently: “Don’t take this the wrong way, but sometimes I find you very hard to read.”

And as these thoughts fell through my mind over the course of the day, they began to layer into the shape of something resembling a realization. Not an earth shattering one, in fact something that I’ve pretty much always known, but one that I realize I haven’t totally acknowledged as a problem: that when I really intensely care about something, especially when I’ve had the chance to stew about it for a long time beforehand, I often psych myself out of really enjoying it. When I really want to do my best, when I am trying my hardest to do that, I often over-think myself out of doing what I want and having a good time.

Often in school, in training, in life, in my work I have these moments where I want so badly to do well and I feel myself failing. And this failing becomes this nasty spiral where I want to do well so I push too hard or work too much and then feel the falseness of that work, feel the desperation of it, and end up falling farther down the hole. And so I try to relax and not care, but of course, I know this too is a lie, that I do care, that I want to do well, and so feel guilty about trying not to do and bounce back and forth between half measures of forceful pushing and uncommitted frustrating motions of trying to disengage from my angry and needing and deeply caring self.

Almost always when I get to an incredibly exasperated and dark place at the bottom of this spiral I say, “Fuck it.” And only then in hopelessness despair do I finally give up trying.

And this, inevitably, cliché-ingly predictably, is when I finally break the cycle and start making the stuff that’s really good, the stuff I wanted to make the whole goddamn time.

It is so recurrent that I can even know that I have to get to “fuck it” and in mind boggling-inducing meta levels of self-sabotage manage to try too hard at finding the feeling of “fuck it” until I give up even at this and rage at the gods with a hearty “fuck it trying to find fuck it!”

And then, of course, the work gets good.

Perhaps external measures of success have become so entangled with my own sense of worth, with my own sense of desire, that when I think about it I genuinely feel like I don’t actually know what I want. Maybe I am so often in my head that I start to game out every strategy ahead of time and this removes me from actually experiencing anything in the actual moment of its happening. Or possibly the key to really loving something is the delicate balance of knowing when it’s time to try hard and when to let go.

Maybe it is all of these things.

The real gift of the process I found with my students at Arcadia was that I walked in and had absolutely nothing to prove to anyone. I was doing a play with no one to impress in a style I have almost no expertise over on a subject I pretty much didn’t give a shit about. And somehow that gave me freedom to do exactly what I wanted. Which was lovely and freeing and incredibly important to me. And by the time I realized how much I cared about it, I had already found the permission to keep doing it. And in so doing, saw the freedom and permission that all of my lovely darlings gave themselves so that together we all set ourselves free.

This is what I thought about yesterday in the afterglow of a lovely process.  And sitting here now a day later thinking about those thoughts I think this:

What the fuck (it)?

Because, really, what the hell do you do about that? What do you do with the knowledge that when you try hard you are trying too hard? That when you try not to try you end up trying harder? That you’ll keep going around that until you despair and give up and then stop trying and then you’ll finally do it right? That this always happens unless you magically manage to end up doing something where you don’t realize that you care until its too late and you’re already doing a good job?


If I look back at my past, I see this pattern emerge everywhere. Beginnings are so often the most joyous place for me. The moment of beginning, the time before I know enough to know enough to know when I’m messing up is usually when I manage to subvert the work and get to “fuck it” faster. It is the moments when I don’t realize what I’m doing or I go into it not thinking much at all about it that I am able to just relax and really let rip.

This is how I discovered a theater of devising rather than scripted plays.

This is how I became a funk-a-delic back up singer.

This is how I started teaching new approaches to voice.

This is how I found myself loving so fully a production of Midsummer.

This is how a person who has intense personal space issues looks at a hoard of college students and cannot help herself but to hug them, to grab them about the ears and kiss their faces. How a person whose persona is thoroughly entrenched in wanting and needing and demanding respect in my field and from my peers can have no shame. How she who is so studious and careful in letting people in has no trouble showering these students with all the feelings that I am filled with when I see them in voluminous words unprepared ahead of time (so as to ensure they accurately describe the true depth of my feeling). And how in such total lack of preparation I find truer expressions than in the many times in the past I have tried with hours and days of writing and re-writing to say something right from the core of me.

Even here. Even in this space, it feels just a bit forced trying to pin it down in words after the fact. And I am trying as I write these very words not to hit the back button, but to allow myself the luxury of letting these thoughts tumble out just as they come.

And I don’t exactly yet know just how I will do it, but I think this is the work I must be doing now. Finding my way to “fuck it” faster. Figuring out how I can be as generous with myself as I am with them. How I can give myself the sovereignty over my artistic space, to do whatever I want simply because I want to, because it makes me happy, and believe that this happiness is the key to my artistic success.

– A

Been a while…

Hey Friends.


It’s been a while.

This summer has been a bit of a hiatus from this space. It’s been a lovely and hectic and busy time. And it’s filled me with lots of new thoughts about making and doing.

And I’ll be honest, at some point after being away for a while I started to feel a little guilty. This is par for the course with me. I like to do things perfectly or not at all, and once I start to get that, “I haven’t written anything in a while…” feeling, my first instinct is to find some kind of distraction – a stupid show or a silly game – that keeps my mind off the fact that I’m feeling a little overwhelmed because something I care about isn’t perfect.

This is the same perfection/ignore cycle that resulted in my mom threatening to cut me off if I didn’t call her to say hi during my junior year of college. Because once you feel a little guilty about not doing something it just builds and builds and builds.

Back then, I just worked more to keep that feeling away and at bay. And surrounded by other workaholics, that seemed like the norm, just what you did – put your personal problems on hold – so I never questioned the impulse. Now though, whether it’s because I don’t have the stamina (negative view) or I’m less able to give in to the self-destructive impulse (positive view) I just don’t tolerate the punishing schedule ad nauseum anymore.

Which isn’t to say I don’t work hard. I do. We all do. But it is not with the frenetic blind need from before. I can’t work and work and work if I don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, if it seems like it’s working for working sake alone. And this summer has been an interesting case study. It’s one of the first times in years that I’ve had as many things going on. But it’s also one of the first times that I feel like I’ve given myself a process in which I actually have all the resources I need.

The Ballad of Joe Hill which is running currently at FringeArts has, in particular, given me some food for thought. The first iteration of this show had a kind of magic. It was brutal, produced on about $1,500 of cash and a whole lot of sweat and heart, begging and borrowing. There was a tiny core of people and we did everything. We carried each object into the space with our hands. We rehearsed in dribs and drabs when we could fit the time in between jobs. We changed where we performed. We hauled dirty, heavy risers in and out of tiny storage spaces. We printed fliers and begged the press to come. We made change for the audience and stored our money in a cigar box.

The stuff is still carried, the space is still dirty, but this time Joe Hill has a small army of folks – a full time SM, PM, riser and light crew and more. Our equipment was delivered. We have real bathrooms. Our box office is taken care of. I have not once had to think about marketing. We have had full 8 hour day rehearsals in lovely controlled spaces. And – and this really is the greatest of all the things – I haven’t worked a single other job since we started working full time.

If I had to imagine what I really needed for this show when I did it that first time, this is close.

And I have to remind myself of this. Last time, the crap that seemed out of my control the first time – the money, the resources, the time, etc – gave me a mental pass on making my best work:

“If only I had real money”

“If only I had everyone all the time”

“If only I knew someone with more expertise with lighting”

“If only I could just concentrate on doing my job”

“If only”

The problem with “If only” thinking is that it puts you in the past (“If we’d only had…”) and the future (“If I can only get…”) but never in the present. And theater in particular as a medium is about the glorious immediacy of RIGHT NOW. It’s our biggest superpower – the ability to require another human to “be” with you, right then and there. “If only” stops you from seeing what’s really there and instead what could have or might be if only you were a different person in a different place with different stuff.

I don’t have that pass anymore.

I have myself and the work.

And in a way, that makes this project a bigger win. Maybe even harder fought. Because it’s not a battle with tangible limitations. It’s just a battle with myself and all that empty space. If I fail, there aren’t other excuses to blame. It’s not because I didn’t have what I needed. It’s because of me.


It’s been a while.

I hope to be here more often. And I’m going to try and not let myself get too caught up in the “If only I had more time to write this” feeling I’m having right now. I’m going to attempt to work through this lesson and simply do the work that I can do, right now, and let that be good enough.

– A

Are you climbing up the mountain?

There’s this thing that my friends and I used to do in college while we were eating.

“Oh my God, I am so fucked right now. I have a biochem lab write up and a Theatre History paper AND I need to read three chapters for sociology.”

“Well let me tell you that I am so f-ed right now because I have to do the Theatre History paper, memorize two scenes, complete three comp sci projects that are all past due and I have an a capella rehearsal until 10.”

“And can I just say how totally and completely screwed I am because I have a poly sci exam tomorrow that I haven’t even started studying for, a 10 pager for linguistics, the Theatre History paper, the scene memorization, two rehearsals and I said I’d tutor my roommate in French for an hour.”

This can go on ad infinitum.

There was a perverse glee with which we detailed and enshrined our over committed-ness. It was pandemic across the student body. It was our mascot, this looming specter of the impossible tasked to us. We wore it with pride the way we might have worn out maroon and white had we been a school with more traditional means of displaying pride. (Perhaps it’s why something as lame as “The Garnet Tide” was allowed to continue into perpetuity. Really? The Garnet Tide? Though, for such an extremely liberal school, a vaguely menstrual symbol of our collegial devotion is also sort of fitting. But that’s a side note.)

Anyway, in thinking a little deeper about the writing that I did last time I was in this space, I was trying to suss out the exact difference for myself between useful frustration at one’s limitations – the kind that leads to progress and growth – and shame and anger that pulls one back and gets in the way. I started thinking about that habit, one that I took to so easily along the route of higher education. And I started to realize how this parasite of “I am so fucked” has found itself quite a number of comfortable hosts here in the artistic community.

How many times when you talk to people about their work do you hear them bemoan their over-full schedule with stuff it sounds like they aren’t really excited about? When was the last time you asked someone the dreaded “What are you working on?” and received a calm and happy, “Just this one amazing project that I love”? I notice in myself a weird feeling of not enough if I answer that I am simply doing one show for months (years!), rather than rehearsing one, finishing off the run of another, while prepping three for the next coming months in the span of a few weeks.

Why is that?

To be sure, there are financial pressures that force us to do more than we ought. But if it were money alone, why are there are an awful lot of projects that I see people take on for next to no pay or exposure? Projects they don’t even like. Projects that they seem to refer to with disdain.

“If you hate the work and you aren’t really getting any money, why are you doing this?” I often want to ask.

But I don’t. It doesn’t feel like my place to tell someone that they seem to be making some pretty artistically self-destructive choices. And who am I, with my measly one or two projects a year, to say anything at all?

What if we all took a step back? What if we all tried to cull the herd and take on things that really serve at least two of three purposes – artistic growth, making money, or real  enjoyment.

I used to have a day job that was just a money job. I hated it and it felt like it was actually making me stupider. It was also really easy. And over time, I realized that even if this job paid me double, triple, ten times what I was making, I would still resent being there. And that’s when I quit.

I’ve also had artistic projects that felt like they were so fulfilling and so happiness inducing that I would find a way to make time to make them happen even if I had no cash. So I kept doing them, because they feed enough of the other parts of me at that moment to make the little money worth it.

Sometimes we start things because we love them and they make us happy, and we forget to check back in and see if that’s still happening. Like any relationship, the way that you are when you first start seeing someone/something has to change over time. A job that at one point in life was a real step forward, ten years later might feel like a step back. That only makes sense. But it’s tough in the moment to remember that, that sometimes we outgrow the things we once wanted.

Here’s the image that I have in my head. (PS credit where it’s due – I first started picturing this image for myself after hearing an amazing speech by Neil Gaiman from a commencement at UArts). Imagine the artist you want to be, the life you want to lead.  That life is the top of a mountain. With each step you take, are you going up the mountain or down? Are you getting closer to the top, or walking away? Even if the thing you’re considering seems like a good idea, is it still getting you closer to the peak?

If it’s not, why are you doing it?

Coming back to the original thing for a moment: Taking on too much can be a way to distract ourselves.

If we are so busy that we don’t have time to stop and think, when we are so busy looking at the road just in front of us and hacking through the brush just to move ahead, it’s actually easier in some ways. We don’t have to evaluate choices. The work to get ahead is so strenuous, so effortful, that the prize is simply moving forward, having done it at all.

That forward motion may be exactly what you need. Or not.  You have to look at the mountain to know.

When I was in school, I had a moment where I realized that by committing myself to a Chemistry thesis, a devised acting piece, an original directing work, a voice recital in four languages, not to mention the choice to shed dorm life and learn to pay bills and cook my own food all at once, I was giving myself an out.

The out was this: If I do all of these things, no one of them has to count.

If my concert was under prepared, that was only understandable, as clearly I had no time to rehearse. If my thesis was a little sloppily slapped together, well that’s alright, because I was balancing so much else. If I wasn’t the actor I imagined, that was because I was too busy not because I didn’t really belong on stage. If I paid my bills late, who could blame me, no one else in my peer group was acting like such an adult.

All these things together meant that no one of them really reflected back on me. Their shortcomings were the limitations of my time. Their successes were the “real” me.

As a life long perfectionist, this has always been a struggle – finding ways to keep hold of this “real” me fantasy. But these days, when I have actually set up my life in such a way as to actually have that stuff, the time and money, I find myself strangely more bottled up than ever. As I found ways to have more control over my life, it was more difficult to keep pretending that given infinite time and resource I would someday make those amazing things that I kept promising myself about.

I think it’s because there’s finally no excuse. There’s not much left between “real” me and myself. And it’s hard look at the things you’ve done and say, “That is the best I could do.”  Not because I was busy, not because I was under funded, because it was actually just the extent to which I was capable. This is why we (definitely me!) procrastinate. Not because we are bad. Because we are scared that we might be less capable than we wish we were. So we over book and over commit so we never get the chance to measure the “real” thing, and so we can keep the fantasy.

The times when I have most found myself climbing down the mountain are the times when I was afraid to come up short. They were the times when I let myself be measured by other people’s expectations (and hated them for it!) because I feared myself incapable of succeeding by my own. The times when I have most despised theater and myself in it are the very times when I’m carrying all this crap I didn’t want, when it feels like it’s holding me back, like some kind of gravitational inevitability. That time and energy were conspiring to keep me from my best self.

There is a real sadness in giving up the idea of the “real” self, and as Americans I think it’s especially difficult. We live in a culture that teaches one to dream, dream, dream. BE YOUR BEST SELF, we are admonished. And while I am all for dreaming, the flip side of that tendency is get so comfortable with the imagining of one’s best self, that we never actually bother to get it. You have to give up the ideal to make something real.

I think more likely, more often, the thing holding me back is me. Me struggling to be ok with being less than perfection.