A Love Letter to Austin, TX
Updated: Jul 1, 2019
“We dance in our pain, we dance in our grief, we dance for the ones we adore. We dance for the hope and the love and the joy that reminds us what we’re living for." -Allen Robertson, Rob1n
It's hard to believe that it's been nearly a month since Summer Stock Austin's 2018 season ended, drawing the curtain on three heartfelt productions and my most challenging, rewarding summer to date.
This summer brought so many new things: 1) my first professional performance contract, 2) an internship that opened my eyes to a new passion, 3) the experience of living on my own (in a new state) for the first time, and, most importantly, 4) friendships that I will cherish forever.
It's a strange thing, being paid to do a job that you've happily done for free since you were a child. The beautiful and difficult thing is that the "job" of performing doesn't feel like work because you love it so much--that is, until you are working 12-14 hour days for weeks on end. When I accepted my offer at SSA, I underestimated just how challenging it would be to mount 3 fully-produced musicals in just 2 weeks.
I had no idea how mentally and physically exhausting performing can be when done in such a large capacity. As it turns out, acting, singing, and dancing for 10+ hours a day? Not for the faint of heart. But, despite the aching feet that feel victim to 3-inch LaDuca's and the 9-part harmonies that were better left unsung, Summer Stock Austin opened 3 fully produced shows--on schedule.
Our season opener, The Music Man, represented so many "firsts" in my life: my first paying theatrical contract, my first BroadwayWorld review (read it here!), and my first time fulfilling a principal role in a regional theatre. Directed and choreographed by Ginger Morris (co-founder of SSA), The Music Man is a Golden Age classic that was reimagined by her creative, progressive vision. I had the pleasure of playing Maud Dunlop, one of River City's most flamboyant Pick-A-Little ladies. How fun and challenging it is to portray a woman so far from who I am as a person!
The Music Man is also unique in that it requires a children's ensemble to tell the story of Harold Hill's con. From Reece (who played my son) and our pre-show dance routine (#floss) to Juno and her surprise positivity post-its that covered the dressing room, the kiddos in our show were responsible for some of my favorite memories of MM.
SSA's second show, Rob1n, is an original musical written and directed by Austin's own Allen Robertson. Based on the themes of Robin Hood in the addressing the reality of 'big pharma,' Rob1n made its world premiere at the Long Center. I worked on audio crew as an Audio Assistant (A2) and Q-Lab Operator for this production!
It would be wrong to write about Rob1n without mentioning the kind of person that Allen Robertson is. He is the director who brings breakfast for his cast and crew to every. Single. Rehearsal. He is the playwright who trusts actors to fully bring their personalities into his artistic vision. He is the leader who invests thought into hiring a diverse cast, writing a great of deal his show in Spanish to reach a broader audience. He is calm during the storm that is tech to tell the Q-Lab operator (me) that he appreciates the work she is doing, no matter the size of her role. Working for and learning from Allen was a joy that taught me the kind of director that I hope to be one day.
From a technical standpoint, working on this show was an incredible opportunity to learn about the side of theatre that brings the magic together. I am now confident in the upkeep, application, and usage of various types of microphones, as well as the basics of Q-Lab software. I also got to be on headset for every performance, which just made me feel cool :)
There are so many more things I could say about Rob1n, but I'll keep it wrap it up. Allen's message of inclusion is embodied through the show's central theme: juntos. Juntos means together in Spanish, and I can't help but smile when I think of this show's killer music (check out the cast recording here!), tight-knit ensemble, and uplifting message. I truly hope to have the opportunity to work with Allen again in the future.
Our season closer, Jeffery Lane & David Yazbek's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, is truly a production that I will never forget. The music jumps from classic MT to jazz to country with gusto, and the book is strong enough to stand on its own as a terrific comedy. I played the French beauty Reneé, in addition to being in the ensemble as a female dancer. While I will always remember the many lessons of ingenuity and grit that DRS taught me, I know that this experience with stick me forever because of the incredible people it led me to (more on them later).
To put it simply, DRS is a beast of a show. Several elaborate production numbers + a stressed production team + less than 2 weeks of rehearsal time to piece it all together? Does not equal smooth sailing. To say the process was messy, both professionally and emotionally is an understatement; we performed our first run ever on opening night.
While the process may not have been ideal, DRS clued me in to so many lessons that made me a better artist. In a time of high stress, Nick Mayo (SSA Producer) imparted some wisdom on the entire SSA company. He said:
"Pressure is a privilege;
I cannot think of a better mantra as I go into an industry that is exceedingly challenging, both physically and mentally. Sometimes in the theatre we need a reminder of the incredible privilege it is to storytell, especially when surrounded by people we love. Perspective is everything. Adopting an attitude of "I get to" rather than "I have to" really changed the game for me, as well as the rest of our cast.
This summer also marked my first time living alone, without any roommates (in a new state, nonetheless). Cue triple-checking the locks before bed, trying to cook and accidentally setting off fire alarms--the whole nine yards. I had the privilege of getting to stay in a garage apartment nestled in the beautiful greenery that surrounds Austin (who knew?) I adjusted quickly, and I grew to love the place more (and living alone) than I ever expected to.
The best part of my Summer Stock experience? The life-long friends that I made through the process,. 100%, hands down. My #GrigioGirls--Anna, Lydia, Hannah, Maggie, and Peyton--quickly became some of the closest friends I've ever had. Anna is kind down to her bones. Lydia is authentic. Hannah is fiercely passionate. Maggie is loyal. Peyton is brave.
Words fail when trying to describe what these girls and what our friendship means to me. We still talk every day, and I know I'll always have them to lean on--even though we're all spread out now in NYC, New Jersey, Austin, Nashville, and Oklahoma City.
From the moment I entered Austin, I was captivated by the variety it had to offer. From mountains of beautiful trees to city streets filled with unique shops and restaurants, Austin truly has something for everyone. Below I've compiled just a few of my personal "must-see's" from the few times I was able to sneak away from the theatre.
As I reflect on my time in ATX, I continue to be more and more amazed by the incredible blessings this summer brought me. What a joy it is to tell stories that I love, among people that I love even more. This summer will always live in my memory as the best season of my life to date. I see it as a testament to the perfect timing of my life; I am now so thankful for the plans that didn't go as I expected & led me to something even better.