Friday, April 29, 2016

Pray for Failure

“If you have sound nerves and intelligence and health and popularity and a good upbringing, you are likely to be quite satisfied with your character as it is. ‘Why drag God into it?’ you may ask. A certain level of good conduct comes fairly easy to you. You are not one of those wretched creatures who are always being tripped up by sex, or dipsomania, or nervousness, or bad temper. Everyone says you are a nice chap and (between ourselves) you agree with them. You are quite likely to believe that all this niceness is your own doing; and you may easily not feel the need for any better kind of goodness. Often people who have all these natural kinds of goodness cannot be brought to recognize their need for Christ at all until, one day, the natural goodness lets them down and their self-satisfaction is shattered. In other words, it is hard for those who are ‘rich’ in this sense to enter the Kingdom… If you are a nice person – if virtue comes easily to you – beware! Much is expected from those to whom much is given. If you mistake for your own merits what are really God’s gifts to you through nature, and if you are contented with simply being nice, you are still a rebel: and all those gifts will only make your fall more terrible, your corruption more complicated, your bad example more disastrous. The Devil was an archangel once; his natural gifts were as far above yours as yours are above those of a chimpanzee.”  -- C.S. Lewis 
I used to think I was awesome. I was, what I now jokingly refer to as a "low-key b****," while fooling many, including myself, into thinking I was perfect. There were a lot of things that came easily to me at the time which didn’t come as easily to the people around me. So I drew everyone’s attention to those things while denying to the point of my own blindness the things at which I was inept. When asked “what do you struggle with?” I honestly couldn’t find an answer. Only after some thinking would I come up with "pride." If you knew me in high school, I’m sorry for this.

I’m not saying the low-key belchiness is totally gone from my spirit. Jesus said we would be made perfect in Him, but that perfecting is a process that won’t reach its final completion until our own death and resurrection. Low-key birching may be the thorn in my side for life, one that seems to hurt people around me more than it actually hurts me.

Or does it? I’m reading Mere Christianity for the first time, from whence came the above quote, and I am, in true millennial hyperbolic fashion, OBSESSED! But focusing in on this section from the chapter called “Nice People of New Men,” Lewis makes it clear that when a lot of good things seem to come naturally to you, it may be more of a handicap than an advantage. You easily forget that every good and perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17), and are tempted to think every good and perfect gift comes from ME. BECAUSE I’M AWESOME. And even if they do come from God, I guess I’m just #blessed more than other people.

What a lovely reminder Lewis gives us with "Much is expected from those whom much is given," a little reference to Luke 12:48 quoting Jesus Himself. My friend, if you’re just really good at a lot of things, beware! If you don’t see why other people find it so hard to be compassionate because it’s second nature to you, beware! If it seems like everything’s just been easy-breezy in your personal life and career for a while, beware! If you’re glad you’re so educated and wise on scripture while those other people are so ignorant, beware! God does not see us in face value comparison to other people like we do; he sees our hearts and what we've had to overcome and sacrifice in pursuit of Him.

During a recent season of my life, I faced what I now know to be a true test of my compassion. God gave me this oh-so-clear opportunity to show radical mercy, patience, and love. And boy, did I fail. Every day I failed. I would wake up the next morning and fail. The next morning and fail. Miserably fail. Repent and fail, repent and fail. For weeks. These virtues were things I once thought came pretty easy to me. I thought I was just not an angry person, just let things roll off my back like it was nothing. But I never realized that even my nature had its limits. One day during this season I found myself weeping and shaking with absolute loathing – something that felt so outside of who I thought I knew myself to be.

I was confused. I knew that God allows us to go through tests and trials that we would grow and our faith strengthen. I thought this outcome required me to pass the test, so to speak. Like I was supposed to come out on top after saying "not TODAY, Satan!" in Jesus’ name and hear those dearly coveted words from my Father: “well done, good and faithful servant.”

But it is in our weakness that God is strong.

Never in my life before that difficult season had I really tasted the daily need for God’s grace and redemptive power in me. I saw naked my desperate need for grace and my total inability to change my own heart for the better. I felt like I had digressed as a human, but later realized I had always been this despicable, my true colors brought out by a mere change of circumstance. And what a blessing it was to see my own iniquity, because it was then that I grasped a little more of the depth of God’s love and grace for me (and for those to whom I could not give that love and grace). Each day that I returned to Him in need of forgiveness, He welcomed me into His arms, knowing I would fail Him again the next.

I would like to propose a new prayer for you and me. Let’s pray for failure. Pray that if you ever lose sight of your complete spiritual bankruptcy apart from Jesus, if you ever give yourself the slightest credit for any of the good talents, skills, virtues, or results of life circumstances God has graciously given you, that He would bless you with failure.

Yes, I just said bless you with failure.

Take caution with your prayers of "more of You, less of me," and "I want to know You more," but do not cease in them. You have no idea what kind of trials and suffering you’re in for with those prayers (and I still don’t), but keep praying them while it’s easy and relatively casual to do so. When neck deep in your own failure, God will remind you of what you asked for and that He is faithfully and carefully answering you in abundance. You will find yourself rejoicing when you look in the mirror and see what looks like a scummy enemy of God, because it is that total, not-even-low-key bench in the mirror for whom Jesus died to make new.

This is a really cool, completely unrelated photo of my bestie Payton at my favorite place in the world where I get to go in just 10 days!!

Monday, February 29, 2016

11 Ways to Reduce Waste on Tour

If you’re like me and you love the earth and hate to imagine trash being buried in it, or you’re baffled at how many consumer products are designed to be used just once before getting thrown away, or you enjoy an occasional embrace with a tree, you are probably trying to reduce your personal waste output. Obviously I’m not talking about the waste that goes in the toilet, but feel free to release those kindergarten giggles now if necessary.

After being on tour with In the Mood for a month and a half, it’s clear to me how much I forgot to pack in order to maintain my minimize-waste lifestyle! Only a couple weeks in I found myself having to spend money on things I already own at home and bruising from the repeatedly self-targeted kicks. So before you head out on a tour contract, or on similar travels, here are some tips and an extra little packing list of things you already have at home (or can easily acquire) that will help reduce your waste footprint abroad.

1. Water bottle with filter 
If your tour company is like mine, there’s plenty of provided bottled water every day on the bus and at the venues. And many will drink water ONLY from these plastic water bottles without refilling them (I’m cringing just typing that, sorry guys). If you’re a singer or actor, you probably need at least 3-5 bottles’ worth a day, and that’s about 480 plastic bottles going in the trash PER PERSON over a 4-month period. The main reason this option is favorable is that not every city you’re in is going to have tasty, healthy tap water, and the bottled water is more consistent in flavor and filtering. Solution: a reusable water bottle with a filter, like this cool Brita one! Ta-da!! Sure, here and there you’ll have to throw away an old filter, but compare that to 480 plastic bottles and, well, duh (still baffled over here).

2. Travel mug
Let’s be real, we live on coffee. And then there’s the Throat Coat ritual nightly after shows, the lure of local coffee shops, and the Starbucks Rewards program. Oh, and your company has a Keurig and electric kettle set up in every green room. The amount of hot beverages you consume is going to go through a lot of paper and Styrofoam cups. Why not pack your travel mug you can fill up five times a day with your favorite vices, no trash necessary? Bring it to Starbs, too.

3. Speaking of coffee - Stevia!
Some like it hot, some like it sweet. That was a bad theater pun and you probably didn’t catch it because it was so bad. Ignore me. If you’re not John Watson and you DO take sugar, consider bringing your own bulk Stevia or whatever it is the kids are using these days, so you’re not ripping open a little paper pack for every cup of joe. Keep the larger package in your suitcase and keep a smaller jar or other container in your show bag/backpack.
Bring-your-own-setting. Place setting, of course! All those catered meals your company provides at the venues require a lot of paper/plastic goods, but you can skirt the consumption with your own reusable place settings. Just one each of plate, bowl, fork, spoon, knife, and cup (if you’re planning to drink anything besides coffee and water) should do the trick. Bonus points if you pack a week’s worth of cloth napkins you can just pop in with your laundry load and use forever.

5. Speaking of catering – TUPPERWARE
When I’m not making money performing, I’m doing it in the NYC catering industry, and believe me, it’s such a huge source of waste! Whether you’re the one serving or the one eating, always be prepared with that tupperware. Or jars, or whatever you use at home for leftovers. More often than not, the food that doesn’t get eaten just gets thrown away, and that could be a free lunch for you on your travel day tomorrow. Save planet, save money: win-win, people. One of my castmates got a cool collapsible container like this so it doesn’t take up too much space when empty:

6. Speaking of leftovers - personal cooler
That cute little cooler you used during that summer outdoor theater contract near the beach – resurrect that baby from your closet, because she’s about to be put to work. You’re going to be hopping from hotel to hotel so much, there may be hours between times of fridge availability, so you might want to keep a cooler on the bus for leftovers and groceries that gotta stay cold. If it goes bad, there you are throwing away stuff again. The community Igloo at the front only holds so much.

7. Small Knife and cutting board
If you’re trying to be health on tour – and I hope for the sake of your show that you are – you may be buying groceries along the way to get your fruits, veggies, and greens in. In this case, you won’t be sorry for packing your tiniest cutting board and a small veggie-grade knife. This way, you can avoid buying the packaged, pre-sliced produce. Some people can bite straight into a cucumber; that’s not me.

8. Shopping bags
This should have been a given for me, but alas… You’re going to be doing shopping while on tour, whether that’s for groceries, souvenirs, or clothes (because you’re making so much money and even got a subleaser for that New York rent, right??), just like you do at home, so bring one or two small/medium-sized shopping bags. One could also serve as your mini travelling pantry.

9. Speaking of bags - Laundry bag
Or else you’ll resort to some plastic alternative.

10. Bulk versions of toiletries
If you’ve got room in your suitcase, go ahead and get that really big bottle of your favorite shampoo you can only find at Whole Foods or online. It might last you the whole tour (just remember to close the lid before putting it back in your suitcase – learn from my mistake), and then you’re not buying bottle after bottle while travelling, or even worse, using the hotel jank.

11. Budget
I am forever an advocate of budgeting, no matter how young and far from true adulthood you think you are. You’re on tour – you’re trying to go home at the end of this with some money in your pocket. Also, the temptation to buy unnecessary things while traveling is so much stronger than when you’re home. You get bored and each new city feels like a new excuse to splurge to say you have something from there. You’re not on vacation, boo, you’re working. Splurge as much as if you were making this same amount of money, but still in the daily grind of non-tour life. Ultimately, less consumerism means less waste, so you’ll do yourself and the environment a favor if you have spending limit goals.

I’ll be honest, I haven’t adhered to all of these. I just can’t bring myself to buy a ton of new little things I’ll already have waiting for me at home. Decisions, decisions… But maybe YOU can prevent waste-guilt by being prepared next time you hop on a bus for several months! Book for Jesus!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

What and Why is Beauty?

“Is it really there to just make us feel good, or is it there to actually help us navigate and understand our lives?”  --  Richard Seymour
This is Texas, not Louisiana. I know you'll forgive me.
Last week, as I often do on travel days, I was listening to a string of podcasts while trying not to fall under the bus’s spell of drowsy restlessness. I’m subscribed to NPR’s TED Radio Hour (you should too!) which, in each episode, gathers a few different TED speakers who have given talks related to that episode’s subject. As I adoringly scanned the horizon of the vast Louisiana wilderness beyond my window, the “What Is Beauty?” episode came on.

I’ve had lots of discussions with friends and myself (no time to judge, people) on what the definition of beauty may be, and I began “What Is Beauty?” with this in my mind: Beauty is that which reflects the beauty of God. I’d never thought to challenge that with “well, what makes God beautiful?” but I’m glad I asked that this time. My understanding was totally illuminated.

TED speaker and industrial designer Richard Seymour was struck with curiosity over the elusive definition of beauty as well. After a career of designing products that sell, he asserts that beauty must be perceived emotionally rather than intellectually.

As he described, “I began to ask myself the simple question: do we actually think beauty, or do we feel it? I think it’s about feeling beauty.” [emphasis added]

Beauty is an experience. It is found not only in images, but in moments, in words, in discoveries, in nature and humanity. In his talk, Richard Seymour presented on the screen a simple crayon drawing of a butterfly - nothing profoundly skilled or pretty. He asked the audience if it was beautiful. The response was lackluster. Then Richard proceeded to explain that this drawing was the “last act on this earth” of a little 5-year-old girl named Heidi before she died of cancer. Suddenly, the emotional climate in the room transformed, along with everyone’s evaluation of the painting.

Beauty elicits an emotional response, and no thing is described as beautiful apart from that emotional response. What is this emotion, then? If we can isolate what it is that beauty uniquely inspires within us, leading us to declare something “beautiful,” maybe we can arrive at a clearer definition.

What does beauty stir within us? Perhaps it’s what my generation would broadly label “inspiration.” It is a longing feeling, but not a hopeless longing. Beauty does not immobilize. Quite the opposite. Beauty elicits a feeling of hope, and hope is a mobilizing, catalyzing emotion. This is why TED speaker Bill Strickland, when designing his vocational arts school in a not-so-beautiful Pittsburgh neighborhood, resolved that within it, students would come in contact with beauty everywhere they looked:
“The building is very hopeful and it’s very bright, even on a grey day, because we believe that the philosophy of being positive and being hopeful and literally being in the light is a part of the strategy to be able to recover people who have had some challenges in life… Students walk in the front door, on any given day, and there’s an orchid that greets them at the front desk which is the first thing that they see when they walk in the place… And now that many of our students that have never been in touch with orchids, or have never seen them before, it is now becoming a part of their vocabulary. They’re assuming that the world is made up of pretty things like orchids and they’re absolutely right. The world that they’re going to enter into, they’re going to be seeing a lot of orchids. They in some ways become an orchid.”
After all of this, it’s so obvious to me that we NEED beauty! It’s not a frivolous venture. Beauty sparks the feeling of hope, which inspires strength of action, and our world needs that terribly.

Here is where my understanding of God comes in. When I think of hope, it must be very beautiful to me because it hits me right in the feels. I believe in my core that true hope is only found in Jesus. Like pure, over-arching, evil-conquering, not-just-wishful-thinking hope. Like imagine that “world peace” isn’t just a nice sentiment for a Miss America interview question, but a future reality. That kind of hope. It’s the sure hope that one day, there truly will be peace. All will know who we are and why we exist, justice will be wholly served, the oppressed avenged, all hunger and suffering eliminated.

If all things were made through Jesus, and without him nothing was made that has been made (check out John 1:1-3), He also carefully designed the profound thing we call beauty. And He created it to elicit this stirring of hope that makes the depths of our beings cry out from within: “Jesus is Lord!” Or maybe more simply, “God IS!”

You're probably thinking "uhh... I sure don't think about God every time I see something beautiful," and I'm not arguing with you. I'm trying to put words to an emotional response as opposed to an intellectual response. This, to me, this wordless wrenching cry of simultaneous longing and relief that rushes up from my gut to my eyelids, this declaration of unwavering hope to be beholden, is the best possible description of the experience of beauty I can imagine.

Perhaps beauty, as designed by God, is that which creates an experience of the divine, a glimpse into the future Hope of all things renewed, justified, made whole, and reconciled to the one true God.

So why beauty? Maybe pondering its purpose can help us figure out what the heck it is.

I mentioned earlier that beauty does not immobilize, but it activates. Beauty found in art, in the eyes of a child, in the body of a woman, in the night sky, in a melody or a line of language, has inspired many to change the course of their lives or even change the world. God designed beauty - this experience that makes your heart swell, your belly tingle, and your eyes wet - as both a declaration and invitation. I’m convinced everything created by God on earth was crafted as a reflection of Heaven, intended to lead us to Jesus and help us understand His character. Beauty is no exception. It’s like David wrote in Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the skies proclaim the works of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words, no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

Beauty inspires hope because it makes us feel (even before thought comes into the picture) that there is something better and more satisfying than the ugly things we see in the world, and that this hope must be pursued.

After the wordless feeling, the thought comes “oh, that's what beauty is,” then oftentimes “ok, that’s nice, moving on.” Our sinful human nature wastes beauty. Like a starving wanderer in the desert given a sponge to draw water from a spring, we lift up the prize, wring it out onto the ground below us and cry “I’m so thirsty!” Rather, the wanderer must lift that lifeblood to the lips, drink its sweetness, and stand up with renewed strength.

It’s in our nature to reject God’s gentlemanly invitations. Even when something so powerful as beauty whispers to our souls, “Come, I want to give you a Hope that conquers all despair,” we simply reply “Oh that makes me feel so good, say it again.”

If we want to know the true Hope echoed just beyond the window of beauty, the only good response can be “Yes, I will follow you, yes, I will give you my life, because this beauty is better than life.”

Monday, November 16, 2015

How I Booked Amanda’s First National Tour: starring Jesus as Jesus

Waking up to my alarm at 5:00am last Tuesday morning launched an intense battle within I knew all too well – whether or not to settle for an insufficient night of sleep and take a 45-minute train commute into Manhattan to write my name on a piece of notebook paper taped to the side of a building in hopes of getting a decent audition time slot. The battle was intensified by cold symptoms growing from their 24 hours prior onset. After a few rounds of half-conscious mental games, I touched my feet to the floor, threw on shoes and a sweater, skipped the coffee this time, and headed to the M train. I was going in for an open call*, which meant I was pretty much guaranteed to be seen, but so were the other hundreds of thirsty non-Equity* singers in the city, so if I wanted to get an early audition slot, I had to fight for that worm before sunrise. Unofficial list* still posted outside the building, I signed in as #2 on the female singers list. Worth it. Back home for a few more Z’s and plenty of time to get ready and warm up before the 1:30 call.

Fast forward to noon. I’m warming up my voice in my apartment, planning to leave soon and get to the audition around 1:00 or so, thinking that’s plenty of time, when I casually check Audition Update*. Turns out the monitors* are only transferring unofficial list names of people who are present at 12:45, and those who show up later will be added onto the end. I wasn’t going to make it in time to claim my #2 spot. On top of that, I had an audition appointment for a showcase* at 4:10. 

I show up to the open call at 1:05, and am given #237. I’m doing the math in my head like “there’s no way they can see this many women AND have an invited dance call before 6:00.” I haven’t felt this frustrated about the realities of the non-Equity New York performer life in a while.

First sign of hope: some guys from the male singer call that morning let me know their call started with numbers somewhere in the 60s, that the first chunk of numbers belonged to dancers from the previous days. Alas, when the female singer call began, they started with #164. I would be seen that day.

I got my dress and heels out of my backpack to change and realized I left my spanks at home, which I didn’t need for the audition, but in a potential dance call would be imperative to preventing a moon show for the choreographer and casting directors.

I stare at the clock and then Apple Maps and back, forming all sorts of plans for how to do this audition, stop by TJ Maxx, do my appointment ten blocks away, and make it back for the dance call should I be invited. It would all work out if I could get into this audition room by 3:15.

3:15 passes by and I’m in the next group of ten to be called – the very LAST in the next group of ten, to be precise. At this point I’m just worried about making it to my appointment, with or without spanks. It will take 15 minutes to walk/scurry ten blocks. Finally, my group is called, and I humbly ask the monitor if I could be moved to the front of my group. He’s a saint and lets me know he’ll line everyone up and then take a poll. A poll?? He lined up us ten ladies and then asked the other nine if they’d be willing to let me go ahead of them since I had to be somewhere. At that point, who could say no? Thanks to the strong belief in theater karma and the social pressure of not wanting to be that b**** and of course the genuinely good heart of some people, they all agreed. I would walk into the audition room two minutes later.

Of course when I get in there, all I’m thinking about is delivering my killer Judy cut and getting my butt out the door. I get to the pianist, hoist my rep book onto the piano, open to my cut, and my heart stops. “Oh, sixteen bars… this is definitely not sixteen bars,” I say, so embarrassed at my oversight. I had ONE JOB as the auditionee, ONE JOB – one that I am FULLY capable of performing. But of course, today, I had walked in with a 32-bar cut when they clearly requested 16. To proceed without remedying the situation would be just plain rude to those behind the table, so my mind raced to figure out a 16-bar solution. The pianist was my second saint of the day. She pointed to the music and said “Four other women have brought this song in today. It’ll be 16 bars if you start here.” That I can do. I thank her generously and get to my spot.

This was when God miraculously suspended my cold symptoms and the sounds that came out of me were the best and easiest I’d brought into any New York audition room thus far. What just happened? They asked for another song. This I was prepared for. I gave them a higher number, a different part of my voice. The music director asks the pianist to play the same song, down four keys. I’m loving it. I croon out my best alto notes and they seemed pleased, especially that music director. As I’m awkwardly hurrying out the room post thank-yous, they invite me to the dance call at 4:45. “Yes, I can be there!”

Now I’m running up Eighth Avenue. Yes, running. Running through that icky misty precipitation that doesn’t warrant an umbrella but threatens the consistency of that hairstyle you spent a significant amount of time perfecting this morning. But I’m beaming. I was on an adventure with the Lord, experiencing the specificity and generosity of His provision minute-to-minute in the very thing He called me to do in this city.

I made it to my showcase audition appointment 10 minutes early, was out of there by 4:15, confirmed performance date in tow, and faced another ten block hop/skip/jump to the dance call. I headed back toward Eighth Avenue, putting it out there “Okay, God, if you want me to be that slightly-obnoxious chick wearing jeans under my dress in this call, so be it, but if you want me to wear spanks and look classy, I’ll have to pass a store that clearly sells them on the way back.” Suddenly I’m thinking I’ll take Ninth Avenue instead of Eighth. A few blocks later, I’m questioning the decision because ALL I SEE ARE RESTAURANTS ON RESTAUARANTS ON RESTAURANTS.

Suddenly the grey heavens part and, accompanied by choruses of angels, ethereal light beams down on a sign ahead: American Apparel. Shoe-in for some black booty shorts. I’m in and out in five minutes and once again find myself skipping along the gloomy street like a little girl on a Friday afternoon.

The dance call was delayed until 5:15, giving me plenty of time to dry the sweat, calm the eff down, put on my character shoes and new shorts (tags still strategically attached, let’s be real), and praise Jesus for this lovely miracle of a day.

I had one of the best dance calls of my life. My biggest struggle in these is just picking up the choreo and preventing the appearing camera from having the effect of those mind-wipey-thingies from Men in Black when it’s time to go up in small groups. It wasn’t perfect, but definitely a personal record for retainment and regurgitation.

The rest is history, like a quick denouement wrap-up montage. I was asked to return to callbacks the next day. I left in time that evening to catch the reading of one of my very talented friends’ brilliant new play. I got to sleep in and recover from the Common Cold’s morning delinquency, I soared through the callback, piss poor throat situation and congestion once again briefly detained. I waited, albeit rather impatiently, for the call, and it came Saturday morning.

I’m now preparing to perform in a US national tour of the 40s-style musical revue In the Mood this winter/spring. It’s not what I expected my first contract booked out of NYC to look like, but it’s very clearly a life detail written lovingly and specifically by my Father. Very clearly, for even more reasons than those I’ve mentioned here, like how the last existing conflict on my calendar is the evening before rehearsals start or how I was going to be running low on savings come January.

A month or so after I moved here, already a little burned out from too many exhausting audition days where I either bombed or didn’t get seen, I internalized a very clear message in my prayer time with God. “There will be auditions I will do perfectly, be perfect for the role, have a great relationship with the casting director, and if it’s not in Your will for me, I will not book. There will be auditions in which I make a complete fool of my self artistically and personally, and if it’s in Your will for me, I will book. I surrender to Your sovereignty.” The pinnacle goal in my career should not be to book, but to glorify God in all of my work. That requires calming down, using the gifts I’ve been given well, using the knowledge I’m accumulating well, and spending a lot of time loving and listening: to God and to people. AND being radically generous, with money and resources, because God blesses a cheerful giver, and when before has He not provided? Lillies of the field and stuff.

Matthew 6:25-34

photo courtesy of

*denotes some NYC audition lingo I was going to explain here, but got lazy, so just ignore it or Google it or ask me elsewhere