Disconnection is a horrendous plight that can leave us literally disfigured and old.
Connection is not a straight line.
A lot gets in the way.
Emotions are messy.
Change is hard.
Transitions are hard.
This has been a hard year for all. A busy year for me. So busy, I only had time to catch one show during the 2021 Hollywood Fringe Festival. My interest in all things Japanese led me to Ren Gyo Soh’s “Ikigai – A Purpose for Living.” [The hybrid show of film and live performances is a Winner of a Producer’s Encore Award.]
Now, I went in thinking it would be a seminar built into a show on how to figure out my life purpose at the intersection of What Am I Good At + What Can I Get Paid For + What Do I Love To Do + What Does The World Need.
Instead, I was treated to the rollercoaster of emotion that takes place in a human connection, as told by two fabulous physical performance art masters, Annie McCoy and Zak Ma, creator/director Saki Kawamura, sound designer Marlfaux, and stage managed by Veronica Ostroski.
And the intersection was actually Butoh + Poetry + Zoom.
In a quick wiki search, “common features of the [Butoh] art form include playful and grotesque imagery, taboo topics, extreme or absurd environments… traditionally performed in white body makeup with slow hyper-controlled motion.”
The facial contortions performed must have been so much fun to rehearse. Nobody’s getting a double chin in this cast! When joy radiates out of the mouth, eyes and chest, we can see it! Even in non-Butoh life! And pain? I concluded that pain mostly lives in the betrayed chest and throat, unexpressed, primed to take over the heart.
And writers will appreciate how “Ikigai” creatively limited its dialogue to truncated versions of a Wordsworth quote.
What this production managed to pull off with the Zoom platform was also extremely notable and is definitely worth seeing for that reason alone. I’ve been using Zoom for a year and a half and I didn’t know it could do that!
I cried at the end. I went on the journey with them. And the imagery indeed stayed with me after… in the DREAM I HAD LATER THAT NIGHT ……
I’ve had a very difficult relationship with my mother my entire life. Now that her body is on the brink of her last years (Is she though? Still resilient enough to have Level 9 meltdowns, so….quite the fighter), getting her a proper diagnosis is the priority. I’ve ratcheted up the “how can I help’s” and done away with the “how can you be so insensitive to me’s.”
But in the dream I had, the night I watched this performance, several of my family members were holding up my mother. I believe my nephew was even holding up her head. Somebody delivered the news to her that a landlady had been sick, or injured, I’m not sure what quite happened. My mother took on such a grotesque, long face, contorting into such pain, just like what I’d witnessed, as she drew out the words… ”Ohhhh, is the Landlady going to be OK?” As she trumpeted out a long wail, it all became too heavy for those holding her up, and my nephew actually could no longer hold up her head. It flopped forward. And she died!
Upon waking, I was really left with the notion that her last words described her life to a tee. Always so concerned about everybody else. Maybe to her own detriment. It was grotesque, but unforgettable.
Thank you to the company players of Ren Gyo Soh and “Ikigai” for giving me new understanding of all of our emotions. Sometimes, they just need to work themselves… out.
L-R, That’s Teresa and Vanessa Gertz, they’re sisters, because look at the button noses. Yet two totally different manufacturers! There’s Heart, she came from Circus Circus in Vegas (from the unforgettable trip mentioned in my diary). Billy Bob and his son Bobber velcroed into his arms. Daisy, a Puppet, who is a Princess, and her best friend, Prince Mouse Jean, Spot and Lil’ Ripples, whose dad is Ruffles. But Ruffles wished not to be photographed, as my dog just chewed his face off yesterday.
You see, they all have family relations. They all have a personality, history, love matches, favorite interests, college majors. One summer, we even made them a Yearbook!
You know those summers where you were so bored, you cracked the 9th dimension of your own creative abilities? And I wouldn’t even find weed for another 20 years!
Everyone was treated fairly, switching off nights to sleep with me. My sister and I saw the good, bad, and the ugly times with these wonderful companions. When they would put on plays and concerts and have interactions, I was unleashing and practicing 70 or so different character voices, fostering another early talent. When she outgrew them, I continued to lean on them for moral support through some of my bigger endeavors. Bringing along a few to the several big city adventures I’d go on would always make me feel like I had a piece of home with me. To Austin for college. To Chicago for my first job. To LA for….LA.
Hey, Melissa, Tom and Daphne (not pictured) even went with me to Burning )|( Man!
Tom and Melissa renewed their vows there. And then, tragically, 4 years later, Melissa perished in the Thomas Fire. She was stuffed into a drawer that I didn’t get to empty. Tom now grieves quietly, stoically, sitting in the passenger seat of my car, so that he can go with me everywhere.
Please. Comment below and tell me how I am supposed to let go of these treasures. Make a bonfire, B)|(M style to ritualize the letting go? Give them away to some of the beloved children in my life? Give the ones I didn’t bond with that much to the neighborhood dogs who need to chew a face off?
I am owned by them, “The Gang.” My heart hurts even as I write this.
I am a prisoner of my own creation.
For more cute, follow Rasika on IG | @jalapenopopper2012
For more mind galactic, follow Rasika on IG | @funnyogini
So I’m on the hunt for treasure in the parents’ garage, furiously forming garbage, recycle, shred and keep piles, when I come across this envelope.
Oh my! It has the FONT and THICKNESS of buried treasure…
What’s all this?? I won an award, for my poem “Pollution?” I don’t know what is more adorable — the certificate ormy environmental concern packaged into rhyming verse.
I gotta see this poem. I don’t remember submitting “Pollution” to a Poetry contest. I open up the vanilla-colored paper, and there it is, in all its Dot-Matrix printed glory:
Ok, so it looks like by poem, I meant rap. I get it. It was 1990. I was obviously channeling the heavy influences of Bell Biv Devoe, Digital Underground, Young M.C. and Salt ‘N Pepa. This is back when I was obsessed with In Living Color. Weren’t you?
The World of Poetry was obviously so charmed with me and my progressive vibe and youthful expression, that the following year, they invited me to fly to New York City to present the poem in person! On my own dime!
I CANNOT BELIEVE MY MOM AND I DIDN’T GO DO THIS. Who knows who I could have become if I’d performed my Golden Poem for them?! Maybe I’d have a tenth of Amanda Gorman’s success and accolades! Maybe I’d find Toastmasters early! Maybe I would have gotten the attention of a Mr. Arsenio Hall and gotten invited to come on and perform on his show! And then word would get around to Damon and Keenen Ivory Wayans! Maybe I’d crossover to get my TV Sketch Comedy career going! Become a spokeswoman for a reputable pet food brand! Do some foot modeling! Get jaded! Hit the bottles afterward! Find pot a decade early! What a glorious sliding door fantasy!
Ohhhhh boy, and there it is. I actually JUST dug up — in the middle of blogging this entry — an entire notebook devoted to my (do-you-believe-me-now) obsession with In Living Color.
Dopamine hits of newsprint.
So. this was me in 1990. A weird girl who loved comedy, rap, and the planet Earth. Wonder who she turned out to be.
You can follow Rasika on Instagram @funnyogini and @jalapenopopper2012 to find out.
When I was younger, I had a chance to read “The Diary of Anne Frank.”
Though I was not close to the caliber of peril she found herself in, I became inspired to someday publish my own childhood journals.
Then, in 2017, those journals ended up burning alongside everything else in my residence in Ojai, CA during The Thomas Wildfire.
Then, 5 months ago, I came back to Louisiana to purge my aging parents’ house, and just this past weekend, have recovered stacks of journals, notebooks and diaries, kept unharmed inside of a Winnie-The-Pooh and Tigger Toy Box.
These are my stories.
(LAW & ORDER SFX)
Dear Diary was so adorable, so used up, so SUPER private. Check out that lock. I wouldn’t realize until decades later that these tiny fakey locks can be opened by many a generic key.
I wonder if that trip to California was powerful enough to plant a seed in this Houston girl.
Now, right away, it’s quite easy to spot that there is an adversary to my heroine.
Ruchi is my older sister. She’s written about quite a bit.
As you can see, all of this anger is completely justified. Cohesive arguments are documented.
I will refrain from providing circumstantial evidence of New Kids on the Block merchandise.
Of course, let the record also show that today, this woman is a Saint to me, and to so many others. In fact, on the day I dug up these journals, this was my iPhone’s reminder photo to me, taken the Christmas after the Thomas Fire.
The difference between us is that she STILL goes to New Kids on the Block concerts as an adult woman.
I also found the entry where I describe my very first nervous breakdown at age 11…
…followed by my very first major defeat. Spelling Bees were serious business. Of course, decades later I would break all this down in therapy. The way I describe it here is so innocent. I only remember that the incident changed my life, and that that crippling anxiety followed me everywhere. I had no understanding of it’s enormity here. Did I? I know that I say I hit my head. But, I actually pulled my hair out, and my parents walked in on my freak out, and had no idea what was wrong with me, or how to console or help me. So much pressure on a poor sweet kid.
And of course, because Anne Frank was such a huge influence to me in my memoir writing, I wanted to include these pages, the last ones in this particular diary. Remember how we get to watch Anne grow up and go through changes as the pages go on? I do, too.
Spoiler alert: I go on to write many more journals, plays, scripts and blogs.
All my life, for as long as I can remember, my mother has been a yeller. She would yell to discipline me. She would yell to remind me, like, “Turn on the Puja light!” Or “Flush the toilet once for poop, and a second time for the toilet paper!” She would yell when she didn’t understand. “I tried Face ID but it won’t recognize my CHIN! Stupid phone!” And she would yell when I needed tenderness.
“Mummy, are you mad that I’m not married yet?”
“No…but is there something WRONG??!”
This yelling has gotten worse over time. As her spine changes. As her dependence grows. As she loses her once youthful looks lasting up through age 73 (!) to the stress of taking care of my dad, who has rapidly, during the time of quarantine, entered Stage 4 Parkinson’s.
So at these wee hours, she is probably yelling because she’s in a panic about any of the several ghosts in her mind, and doubly upset that my dad cannot console her the way he likely tried to in the past, and probably failed.
Acceptance. I have to accept people for who they are. Ok, fine. I accept.
But, see, for me, there’s always a glimmer of hope that people can change, that they can come around. That’s probably my downfall.
And that’s probably the reason I kept up the good fight for 2 months as I spent the winter with them, while they downsized their lives. I would lecture, give good sermon, educate, and model proper communication techniques. I would diagnose her with one of several rigid mental disorders, not allowing her to break out of her patterns of self-loathing and criticism. I would ignore, and work to increase my own power to withstand her rage attacks. I even tried matching….and that only left me completely depleted, with a throbbing eye headache (is that a thing?), pounding heart, boiling blood and an extremely short fuse, and how many of us can scratch the creative itch from that place? In an effort to be the good daughter, I went to places I never thought I would have to be called on to go when a parent is elderly and unable to control their temper. One of those places was to a Residence Inn, so I could protect both of us from each other!
But needless to say, it has been an extremely challenging time, as I come to acceptance, not just of them, but of myself, and just how different we are.
My parents would be leaving for my sister’s house once again in just a few days and I was aware of that. Before, it was like a countdown that would bring me relief. “11 more days, Rasika. And you can feel like yourself again.” “8 days, just 8 more days of this, let’s crank up the Pet Shop Boys to drown out the noise, maybe even remind everyone of the good ol’ days.” (What have I done to deserve this?) And with 5 days to go, I suddenly found myself thinking , “Oh. I don’t know if this is the last time I’ll EVER see them.”
So I became smarter about picking my battles. I would pick and choose when were worthy times to sit with them so they could feel me nearby, and when my mere presence would trigger another yelling episode. (I really also wanted my dad to have some peace and quiet. Of course, he’s so used to the yelling, he would muster his own yelling tirade to tell me to shut up! I get it, they have to be a United Front. Big eye roll, there.) I was getting adept at holding boundaries to protect myself. Not being naive enough to walk into a fight and asking my mom to simply text me her requests. Learning when it was better to just drop any resentment built up from the day and start a whole new loving interaction from scratch. And finding that I loved watching them when they would putter around doing things quietly, like my mom with her nightly dishwashing ritual around midnight. My dad staring at the TV, doing his exercises.
I know my Love Language is Words of Affirmation and Quality Time and Touch. And I know now that theirs is Acts of Service and Gifts. TOTAL OPPOSITES. So only in that last week, did I start to make their breakfasts as Service and stop expecting compliments or thanks afterwards. It should make me feel good to do, for myself. Period. And it was hard at first, because whenever they would make my favorite dishes growing up, I would let them know it. Ok, I’m sure there were days I didn’t but, it’s how we can even the score of love, allow the other to feel it, too. It’s weird when you’re facing the same emotional immaturity or limitation from a parent. Maybe it’s Karma.
One of the last tasks my Mom and I got to do together on this trip was figure out which heirlooms from her “KEEP” pile she wanted to leave me. Like, ok, we’re doing this now. Stepping into the big girl bloomers here. She was looking through these boxes that have been long set aside and they were labeled with yellowed stickie notes, “For (Insert Family Member here).” Like for my nephew’s wife, when he gets married! I mean, they would think ahead like that, for something still a decade and a half from now! And I counted that there were 5 things for me, 5 little stickie notes that said my name, along with little drawings of hearts like on my birthday cards growing up. And the items that she showed me, have a lot of value. But, I, being SO different, actually didn’t see value in those things. I placed value…on the stickie notes! That’s how much words mean to me! Isn’t that sick? And adorable, but seriously, no wonder my relationship to money is so … complicated.
What they wanted to give, in lieu of emotional support and encouragement – which I had been craving – is probably stuff I’ll end up pawning off. But I would frame the stickie notes! Because they contain the THOUGHT energy. The Thought of Me. I was THOUGHT of by them. They thought of me. Her sweet handwriting.
During this time, my mom said, “I used to go with your grandmother to the storehouse, and I used to love going with her to look through all boxes, and this set used to belong to her. It’s passed down from her to me to you.” Ok, so that one meant a lot to me. Because my grandmother’s ENERGY and my mother’s little girl HAPPINESS was in it. From THAT ONE interaction, I GOT it. I exploded open and actually got their Love Language. I get it. They always loved me. It was through the form of beautiful roofs over my head, consistent education, great dental care, elegant clothing, and the delicious favorite foods made — all the things I’d scoff at in my early therapy sessions, “Well sure, they provided for me, snark snark snark.”
I started to tear up. And that moment of vulnerability, I realized, is where I always turned away from my mom. I didn’t want her to see what made me weak, because it left me open to the harshness. But while my Inner Child wanted to protect myself, adult Rasika had long been starving to be known by her.
So I seized the opportunity. Since she was more hunched over now, I put my face lower than hers and looked up and said, “Look, I’m crying. I’m very moved by how you love me through these gifts.” And our eyes connected, mine glistening. And she scolded in that voice of hers, “HANH! Mummy has always loved you and this is how you’ll be loved!” Very strict! That ol’ Military love! And then it was quiet. And then, I seized the next opportunity. Gently, I responded, “Yes, and my love language is words. The right words make me feel loved. The wrong words make me feel unloved.” And then I left it at that, I didn’t want to lecture her in a small room with little ventilation. So, what I said got to land on her, and I let the rest be.
A few days later, I made a really great breakfast using some leftover food we had from her birthday feast. I’d perfected my omelette to resembling actual circles, fortified them with some tasty Tex-Mex meats and sprinkled some fallen petals from the flowers across the plate for decor… I made myself proud! As per usual, I made the food, cleaned up and made myself scarce, going upstairs to begin my own daily routines. I heard my mother calling my name. I had on my headphones. Totally ignoring. Don’t wanna hear any criticism. Then my mom yelled louder, “Rasu! Rasu! I just want to thank you for the beautiful breakfast. The presentation was just lovely.”
SHE COMPLIMENTED ME! SHE MADE AN EFFORT TO SAY LOVING WORDS! SHE SAID THEM! SHE DIDN’T YELL THEM, SHE JUST SAID THEM IN A LOUD VOICE SO SHE COULD BE HEARD. And I could have been bitter now that I’d gotten what I’d wanted but I was open! And I said, “Really?! You liked it?” And this amazing back and forth ensued. And she didn’t compliment it once, she didn’t compliment it twice, she complimented it three times over the course of the day!
The last few days became precious to me. But it’s the days after they’ve left that have really opened my eyes. As I shred the years of bills paid, mortgages dedicatedly covered, medical bills and routines carefully adhered to, notes upon notes of their blood pressure readings and lists of their guests and food menus for parties, addresses where my sister and I lived throughout the years, so much of their life and what was important to them is being SHOWN to me, and I am so so privileged to witness it. I GET it and I am FED by it. I’m NOURISHED by understanding how considered I was by both of them all of these years in their way.
So yeah, there is still hope for them. And I’m glad there’s hope for me, too.
Rasika Mathur is a Comedy Writer + Inspiring Storyteller, Chakra Healing Facilitator and Yoga Teacher, and hosts The FunnYoginI Show, an uplifting and irreverent podcast from Rukus Avenue Radio, that you can access from Apple iTunes podcasts or Spotify. She is Dog Mom to Zephyr and needs to go turn on the Puja light now.
And I don’t know about you but I can’t live like that. Mind you, I have enough tomboy in me for two more lifetimes and one final incarnation, but I still have a soft fragile gooey inside that gets high off of helping post-rain snails who show up on my doorstep, taking long naps, and laughing with other people in very public spaces. I’m pretty gathery.
If you’ve witnessed recent road rage or more recent panic buy, you’ve probably concluded that we can’t afford to lose that balance. That would be devolving. And how much of the mess our natural world is currently in can be traced back to the hands of hunting gone awry?
I think right now Is about being smart. But not paranoid. I was there, vascillating this week between the two.
Tuesday can’t do it, I need to act normal.
Wednesday paranoid from WHO.
Thursday can’t do this, just wanna touch my eyes!
Friday the scene at Trader Joe’s Silverlake GEEEEEEEZ.
And today, I woke up to the grey (perfect timing this rain, eh?) lockdown feelings, thinking, “I can’t write like this. I can’t be creative, I can’t be productive, I can’t be present. What can I even say? Oh, great, I’m the guest this week, holding the mighty blog pen of LAFPI. What a waste this must be for them.”
And then, I realized, “Yup. It got me.” The other virus. The one that lowers my humorous system, tugs my love vibration to come crashing down, and dents my ability to be of service.
So I am choosing to acknowledge my fear, not of the virus, but of the powers who could create such things.
How evil hearted do you have to be to think it’s okay to release a bunch of disease all over people (during rainy weather.) Vulnerable people. Fry their insides w technology. Fill us with forced vaccine/gunk? Declare us the enemy while we go on about our lives making small, sometimes big differences but not once prioritizing harm to others. Who are these people and why do we constantly give them the keys to the most important kingdoms of our minds and our loyalty? Haven’t a handful of Extremely Sadistic Hunters messed all this up badly and bigly enough?
When NBA, NHL, Disneyland, Hollywood Productions, and other huge organizations in arts, sports & entertainment began to shut down Wednesday…I could feel the seriousness — of course, we worry about our individual ability to pay the bills, but the bigger suggestions were to “flatten the curve” of an easily-spread, often deadly nuisance, as a collective, and I was all for that. All for that. Like, wow, we can all actually get on the same page about something. We passed those ideas on to our own yoga studios, school and class communities, small events, clubs and show outings — mostly met with shock, heavy hearts and initial resistance. What’s the big deal? People are panicking… but everyday more of a tipping point to comprehend the urgency of containment. I mean, how can I not be upset about some of the most biggest, baddest, most conscious and beautiful gatherings that have touched my life having to PAUSE if not STOP ENTIRELY?
So. Now what? I’ve literally admitted I’m powerless over all of this. Where is my power? I need some of my power back. What can I do?
There’s two viruses at play here.
The physical one, which is about being cautious and clean. I can keep sensible regarding that virus. Do all the things, the no face-touching, no going-outing, constant hand-washing things.
And the second one, which is designed to attack our mental and emotional state. I can keep monitoring how I’m allowing myself to be run by fear and negativity and collective panic.
So after waking up to media media social media, and articles, and government actions and lots of different points of view, I felt the itch to just go out, get shit done, and live.
I needed to breathe and let go. How? Because sometimes our anxiety can’t just be breathed away, right? I’m sensitive. I understand. I got you.
I look around. (like the Calm app says)
I see the beautiful Tibetan bowl gifted to me last night from my friend, Jodi. (Get present to my immediate environment)
I play it. (Sound healing)
I light incense. (Magical smells)
I make the bed. (Routine) (Touching soft, cozy blankets)
Put on my hat that says “hat” (Nobody ever laughs at that)
Go outside. Breathe. Pick oranges off the tree. (Vitamin D, Vitamin C)
Drive to a DIFFERENT Trader Joe’s for my Indian frozens dammit, and take the scenic route. (Calm preparation)
Play either beautiful music by Tycho that brings my cells and DNA back to the best times of my life – or grounds me back to that young, innocent person that I was growing up in Houston, TX with my sister during our school years, Erasure on loop (Remember who you are)
I overzealously wave to other drivers as I pass them. With this simple act, my sense of humanity returns. In an attempt to be sane, I look totally insane. I feel like Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker dancing on the stairs after he…well, y’know. Except what I’d brutally murdered were my thoughts of paranoia and other-ness! (Reaching out)
Choose to not text back a few people because I don’t wanna talk about IT, just wanna keep my vibe high (Shielding/Protection)
After doing all these things, this article began to write itself. My thoughts relaxed as I thought about you, receiving on the other end. I realized I could use the power of words today to comfort, relate and entertain. I started to feel like me again. And the cashier AND bagger guys at Awesome, Plentiful Trader Joe’s actually acknowledged and loved HAT!
I’m gonna leave you with the best viral links I’ve seen this week that have helped me to turn the corner on my self-care. Leave your favorite ones in the comments below. We are all aching in some way, and we need to stockpile the good vibes, and safely feel one another. You’re not alone, sweet friend.
And finally, as a former step-mom and current nanny, tutor and favorite Auntie, to the parents who are stressing about what to do with your kids this week? You can tell me to shove it, but YOU DO have the exclusive privilege and an unprecedented opportunity of being on the frontlines of teaching this next generation how to not become self-absorbed assholes who balk everytime they don’t get their way or think something is being taken from them, lest they grow up to pursue a career in revenge against the entire human race. What a great week to gather ye little ones and teach them how to sit w themselves and meditate. With you. That way I don’t have to teach them when they’re 21 and they walk into my drug rehab because they never learned how to sit with themselves and their never-ending thoughts and desires. What a wonderful time to interrupt the nonsense and say, “hey this is important. I want you to come over here and sit with me because there’s bigger things going on right now than you not getting that toy” and “It’s okay to be scared, I’m scared too, let’s be scared together” and teach them there are people, places and things in the world we cannot always control but we can sure control how we react and respond.
Thanks for letting me write in this community-focused, virtual gathering space of like-minded, wonderfully artistic souls.
I’ll be over here gathering up my oranges and shiitake noodles with sprinkled bee pollen and cumin for flavor because I’m going to get reeeeallly creative with all these random foods, teaching a few healthy people yoga and deep breathing for anxiety, making myself laugh, and Trusting that I’m being taken care of.
Rasika Mathur is a writer and yogi. She is always living the dream.
As I said, I would take a special post to highlight the three co-producers of Breakthrough Reading Series because I believe they deserve so much recognition for what they done started, y’all!
I first met Teresa Huang through a mutual friend and prolific, talented artist and illustrator Nidhi Chanani on her visit to LA. Add to the mix another mutual friend and creatress, the marvelous workhorse Cecil Castelluci, and you know I’m sitting up to pay attention about how I could possibly hang in this magnificent mix.
Over the next few years, I’d see and hear about many of Teresa’s ventures, and what stood out was how she would generously inform her communities about networking opportunities, fellowship and scholarship deadlines, casting notices, and more writing gigs. She doesn’t keep anything to herself. She has literally cultivated her community by giving away what keeps coming back to her. This trait has blown me away and kept me watching and learning from her.
Teresa just wrapped on her second show as a staff writer. In 2020, she’ll be fielding new writing opportunities and finishing up the first draft of her sci-fi romance novel. And of course, she churns out great work in volume making BRS her own gym and playground where all are invited to partake.
When Teresa Huang announces that she is taking what’s in her brain and teaching POC how to write a pilot, you sign up. Or apply for the scholarship. Or attend the showcase. Or get one of the students drunk, make them talk and take notes. I had strong motivation to do all of the above, and in the end, was invited to act in the class’s student showcase at East West Players just this past November.
Teresa is no stranger to the lonely grind of LA and says that what’s kept her going is focusing her energy on what’s important outside of her career aspirations. She also draws upon classic wisdom from some modern-day creators:
“I live by two words – gratitude and tenacity. Tenacity gets me where I want to go and gratitude doesn’t allow me to be angry along the way.” ~ Henry Winkler “Stop complaining and just be undeniable.” ~ Sarah Silverman “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” ~ Steve Martin
This woman. This voice. This cosmic cheerleader for artists. Where do we begin? I met Karen at BRS obviously, and we quickly gravitated to each other because that is one positive energy swirl!
Karen is responsible for penning the first piece I ever saw, a rom-com called IN LIKE FLYNN, when BRS was being held at Tom Bergen’s bar in a packed back room in the summer of 2017. What I witnessed was astonishing: A dashing Asian-American actor playing lead to a gorgeous woman and nobody was batting an eye. It was the most natural thing to this room.
Karen likes and marches towards challenges, and she not only casts with actors of color in mind, she actually writes stories about POC. When she spoke to me about a few scripts she’s got in development, she came off so humble and open. For her process, she will make a point to surround herself with people of different backgrounds so that she can display historical/factual accuracy, pepper in cultural insider gems, and approach with sensitivity. Don’t we want more writers like HERR?
Karen also has a collaborative spirit. Not only was she willing to make some time to give me screenwriting notes on a script I will eventually showcase, she came onboard the crew of “What’s In Front Of You?” – seven beautiful one-acts written and directed by Joe Walsh, also a BRS alum, to bring it to the Broadwater stages, and brought me along with her! Because when Karen Herr has you in mind for something, you say YES!
Melissa is the casting powerhouse of BRS. When you come to our room, introduce yourself to her, and let her work you in to the myriad of roles to fill. One of the biggest highlights for me was when she saw me, her face lit up upon recognition from the previous month and she made her way over to hold my hand and eagerly introduce me to a writer.
She knows this part well because she is a brilliant actress herself. She got her start as a young dancer and singer in Australia, booking the starring role in a major musical against all odds. It’s always a treat for the BRS crowd when she takes a role for herself in a piece or two for the evening.
“I was offered The League which is a completely improvised show – no script at all. When I got the offer I said, ‘Who booked me? I don’t know anyone in that casting office!’ Well it turns out I had auditioned for another office and the associate girl BEHIND THE CAMERA whom I barely remembered MOVED to this new office and literally PUT ME UP FOR THIS based on THAT comedy audition. And it turned out to be a beautiful four scenes … and I got to have the last comedic beat of the episode … So it was a foundation for a new found confidence with comedy from which I went on to book Arrested Development, Shameless and Love (Netflix).”
Most recently, Melissa is starring in and producing a short film called Post Sentence produced by Teresa Huang. It was showcased at BRS and it got a fantastic response. She also recently shot an episode of ABC’s Fresh Off The Boat.
Inspired? Of course you are! If you ever have the chance to hang out with, attend an event with, learn from or jump onboard to offer your services to any of these wonderful women, do it. You will grow personally, professionally, and skip away with a sparkling pep in your step.
The next Breakthrough Reading Series will be held February 5, 2020 at the Broadwater (Main Stage). Tickets are being sold now. See Writer Submission details at the same link.
Rasika Mathur is a comedy actress, writer, and yoga instructor. She has tv/film and stage credits but is most proud of being able to have drinks with all these people while holding a Sprite.
It’s Thanksgiving week, and aside from my health, my family and my friends, I must express gratitude for one very special room in Los Angeles filled with some very special people. That room is Breakthrough Reading Series.
What is BRS?
Breakthrough Reading Series is a room that “supports women and diversity in TV & film by highlighting six stellar writers a month at a cold reading event filled with enthusiastic actors. It’s a powerhouse evening of inspiration and elevation.” Writers submit 10 pages at deadline a few weeks prior. Actors jump up the night of the monthly gathering to play in service to writers hearing their work out loud. The room stands out for one incredible reason – it is warm, supportive and known for being a place where everybody makes everybody else look good.
BRS is the brainchild of Teresa Huang, Karen Herr and Melissa Bickerton. I will be highlighting each of these incredible women in a subsequent post.
By attending their monthly event for the last 2.5 years, I’ve witnessed many actual “breakthroughs” in my career life.
Shifted the Work Ethic
Cut to the year 2017. I thought I was done. Washed up. Burned out, figuratively and literally (I’m looking at you, Thomas Fire). I needed to throw myself into the magical, healing powers of the performing arts I’d grown up with and began studying sitcom acting with Tony Rago over at Scott Sedita Acting Studios. Quickly I realized that I also needed a free (ok, $10) way to keep my skills sharp (hey, comedy school is expensive). And Breakthrough Reading Series became my batting practice.
It was a place to apply technique to scripts, try things out, hit my 1’s and 2’s. (Any DJ’s out there?) To practice being gracious and supportive if I didn’t get cast. To practice asking a writer questions about what she wants, about anything that’s not clear, about how she was inspired to write the piece. To practice introducing people to others. (Ok, don’t flog me, I still need tons of help in this area). This room brought me back to life. This room was my comeback.
Shifted the Schmooze
I have never enjoyed networking. I either left events and classes early, or I’d stick around hoping others could give me more, MORE! (Don’t we all want that?) But in this room, I was learning how to actually stay and hear compliments, congratulate anyone who stood out to me, chat about myself as well as the other person. I was learning HOW TO STAY IN THE ENERGY AND SAY YES!
So, when the producers needed help with concessions or ticketing (which some of us would think menial) I cheerfully made it work, which got me an amazing free burrito (but did you have one? Ok then) and an evening of drinks w the co-prods. If you’re awkward like me, this wasn’t something that came easy to you. Normal people may have just taken this initiative a long time ago. But for me, it felt earned, and I was surrounded with genuine support, feeling grateful and humble to Teresa, Karen and Melissa. This is the adjustment my ego needed as an actor who had sadly come to expect overnight results. It helped give me the foundation for learning how long term relationships in this industry are formed, and how to fulfill on some “networking” etiquette I recently read on Linked-In: it’s a two-way street. So I got to do more, MORE! for others, in addition to others naturally doing for me, leaving everybody nourished.
And maybe that first yes earns us the badge of reliability in another’s eyes. So, of course along comes the incredible Karen Herr asking me to please come onboard as her Assistant Stage Manager for a play she was helping to produce, “What’s In Front Of You?” – seven one-acts written and directed by another lovely BRS co-hort, Joe Walsh. TO WHICH I SAID YES.
Now I could really learn to be humble and invisible! These are real-world actor lessons, y’all! How else will we learn to appreciate all the OTHER moving parts of a production or play? And yet, I have never felt so important, the way that generous cast made me feel, citing how integral I was to the show running smooth. Joe and Karen were always on hand to rave about my on-stage talent as well (they did NOT need to do that). And I got paid waaay more than was promised. Life was starting to feel like that song by The Fixx, One Thing Leads To Another.
Shifted How I Saw Myself
Over 2.5 diligent years of attendance, I’d gone from dazzling the room as quirky, cute neighbors and cynical side characters to being asked to play Leading Lady. YEAH. And when you get to play opposite the handsome, uber-talented, “is there any accent he can’t do?” James Tang, it can really feel like dreams come true.
The same night [above] happened, I met a writer-director who wrote a wonderful piece that I wasn’t asked to read for. This didn’t matter. Tricia Lee (Meeting Mommy, Mother-Daughter) and I were so impressed with each other’s work, we kept in touch.
A few days after the event she reached out and it turned out we had a few things in common. Among those, both Canadian, both lovers of family relationship stories, both fans of Dr. Joe Dispenza’s work. But at the end of her note, she asked me to share my goal/dream with her. Well, I have to admit I was still coming out of a creative depression/still feeling skeptical/still kind of fuzzy about all of this. But when someone else asks us, it’s an indicator that it might be time to get clear on it. So I closed my eyes and asked my sweet inner child Rasika what she wanted. And it was really clear, and yeah, she still wanted it. And I shared it with Tricia, and I shall share it with you as well:
To be an Emmy-Award Winning Character Actress on an Emmy-Award Winning Conscious, Ensemble Sitcom or Dramedy That I May or May Not Have Written!
The Last Breakthrough
Now. There was ONE last, sad, nagging thing amidst all this happy that continued to be a huge albatross in my game. And that was that somehow, I still couldn’t seem to translate the confident, creative genius that everyone witnessed at BRS to my auditions.
See, I would experience the kind of auditions that I want to forget but can’t because they’re so traumatizing they’d become an indelible part of my fabric and wiring.
The one that was so insulting because they asked me to instead “try it with an Indian accent.” I cried for 4 hours after (in 2014 for a major network y’all?? UGH.)
The ones I’d prep and prep and feel amazing and bookable and then I get to the waiting room where some sassy pants is chatting everyone up and she looks great and in my mind I cast her and abandon myself
The ones where I’m ready! In the waiting room casting myself! But then I get in the room and the CD feels hot, bored and tired and is looking at her phone the whole time and actually cuts me off! So much for “I own this role”
I brought this problem to each of the co-producers as well, because let’s face it, they’d become my fans and my friends. They each sat there shocked that I was still dealing with this. Here are the amazing words of advice each one gave me.
Melissa: You don’t enjoy being a girl. You always dress tomboy. So either go out for those parts, because you rock at them, or start loving your feminine and dress with that essence.
Karen: You’re so amazing. You have got to start transposing all of our faces cheering you on, on top of the faces of those casting directors. Start imagining all of us there, in the room with you.
Teresa: It’s higher stakes, so somehow you have to trick yourself to thinking it’s no big deal. I know that’s hard when money is on the line. Also, keep writing, because when you have something else going on, it removes the stink of desperation off of you.
So, like batting practice, I tried to transpose, but I got thrown by the waiting room. The next time, I tried to transpose but I got thrown by the thin walls of the casting room. Another time, I tried to transpose but the girl they really wanted had a cute baby in the lobby and an existing relationship with this casting director, so.
Then, finally, the day after the last BRS (see above, with me as Lead Mermaid), I got dressed confidently for my audition with my cute suede power boots worn the night before. I enjoyed doing my curly hair and my glossy lips. I literally had the BRS energy coursing through my veins and fresh photos and likes in my Gram. I also had one last secret weapon: 20 pages of a script I was writing, posted up in the passenger seat like a co-pilot. And what was being asked of me for this audition? IMPROV. Just like a stone cold read, baby.
I got there early, and cool as a cucumber, transposing all on the drive down. And it was still mine no matter how stressed the CDs were about late actors. I went in and was told to drive the scene’s beats while my fellow players asked random questions. I found my game, kept it understated and snuck in my wits in little bits. The other CD was trying to contain himself from cracking up on camera.
I DID IT.
I NAILED WHAT I WAS SUPPOSED TO, AND I HELD IT LIKE A NINJA, LIKE THE PLAYFUL, COOL, RELAXED, RELIABLE ACTRESS THAT I KNEW I COULD BE, THAT I’D SEEN MYSELF BE AT BRS.
So, did I book it?
NO, and that’s totally NOT the point, DAD.
The point, my dears, is that THIS IS A 17-YEARS-IN-THE-MAKING BREAKTHROUGH. Now that I’ve done it, once, it’s right back to swinging so I can increase my averages. Because, and wait for the sport metaphor switch: this is a marathon, not a sprint. Understanding the patience, grace, process and gratitude that is needed now, I feel like I’m actually ready to manifest my dream. And that HAS to be why they call it Breakthrough Reading Series.
The next Breakthrough Reading Series will be held February 5, 2020 at the Broadwater (Main Stage). Tickets are being sold now. See Writer Submission details at the same link.
Rasika Mathur is a comedy actress, writer, and yoga instructor. She has tv/film and stage credits but is most proud of being Canadian.