So What is it, Exactly, we're Doing Here?

When I started this blog over five years ago things were very, very different.  Well, mostly different.  I was planning on shipping off to New York for grad school (that’s still on the to-do list, but it’s much more complicated now); I was working full-time in order to support my theater habit; I hadn’t yet set foot in a recording studio; and I was young and thin and bodacious and ready to conquer the world with my self-described Mad Acting Skillz.  This blog was meant to be my marketing machine - it would get me loads of gigs and I would be rich and famous and living The Dream. Since then I’ve settled down rather dramatically - I still live in Minneapolis and I have an organic kitchen garden and a bird feeder in the backyard. Not bad things, but not where I saw myself in five years, five years ago. I am now a full-time actress; I am well-acquainted with recording studios; I am no longer young and thin (have thankfully retained relative-bodaciousness, and working hard to regain once-held thin-ity); I am not rich nor famous, but I am living the dream.  Small t, small d - it's a different dream, after all.

So if this blog isn’t about acting as an everything’s-perfect-rah-rah-rah-please-make-me-famous platform, then what is it?  It’s still about my experiences, but it’ll include more of the scandalous (have I mentioned I am so over covering for shit directors who wield too much power and not enough intelligence, or for that matter, tact?).  It’ll also be a compendium for things performance-related that I find interesting or inspiring and want to share with anyone who is willing to join me on the journey.  And it’ll be a place that allows more than 140 characters (I’m looking at you, Twitter) and more than 420 characters (ahem, Facebook).  And because I wish more people would do the same.

Viva la sala verde!

2009 In Review

Oh dearest 2009, how I neglected to give you a proper adieu. But because I always need to have the last word, your shenanigans shall not go untouted nor unscathed. This here is my farewell parting shot: The past year brought a load of work, a load of appreciation for the work I was getting, and one giant, lazy attitude toward writing about it.  Of particular note, midway through 2009 I was able to make a return to performing for a living.  “What?  What do you mean?    Actresses in the Twin Cities aren’t filthy stinking rich and famous?!”  Surprisingly, no, not so much.  See, periodically a girl like me is obliged to suck it up and take a part-time “day job” to keep some steady cash rolling in while filling in the rest with voice-overs and stage work.  What is this world coming to?

What happened was this: in June I was cast as Nurse and First-Class Stewardess Evelyn Marsden in Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition at the Science Museum of Minnesota, as well as joined the museum’s Science Live Theater cast. When at the museum, but not in 1912 costume, I bust out my mad knowledge of nanoscience to thwart an Evil Scientist From The Future, as well as demonstrate the important properties of surface area by blowing giant fireballs and discussing chemical reactivity.  It has been a joy to perform regularly for the (what by now must be) thousands of audience members taking an interest in science.  Additionally, I am responsible for coordinating and moderating public forums for adults about nanoscale science on behalf of NISE Net (Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network).  Moreover, it’s less than part-time, and voice-overs and stage work really ARE filling in the rest.  Even in this wretchedly hobbled economy.  My stars are indeed lucky.  And I thank them regularly.

So here, for posterity, are my performance highlights of 2009:

January Marketplace Events spots - Ty Pennington (that dude from Extreme Makeover: Home Edition) and me on TV and radio urging you to attend particular home shows here and there in the U.S.  TV commercials aired on HGTV and ABC and their affiliates.  Read more about my sister's hilarious request.

February Nothing of note - sometimes that’s a good thing.  Looks like I was in rehearsal.  Not always a good thing.


  • Performances of Adam Szymcowicz’s The Captivity Plays at the Bryant Lake Bowl
  • After 18 months of pain in the form of oral torture, treatment was completed and my braces were removed.  I was rewarded with awesomely perfect teeth and new-found confidence.  Join me in reliving my happy dance.
  • Supervalu spots - radio spots for grocery stores around the U.S. - Albertson’s, Lucky, Supervalu, Shaw’s/Star Market, Cub Foods, Jewel-Osco, Kroger, Hornbacher’s, etc.

April Nexxus spots - I don’t believe these were ever aired - just voice-overs for a concept by the ad agency for the client.  If it was approved by the client, the agency would then film the spots.  Since I almost never watch commercial TV, I have no idea if these ever made it though the guess is no.



  • Caroline or Change, The Homosexuals’ Guide to the Universe, Tiny Kushner - now these didn’t involve me at all, save for my presence in the audience.  But I found the first two to be incredibly moving, incredibly powerful pieces of work.  And I was thrilled that Minneapolis was able to honor such a fantastic playwright in this way, and that such a fantastic playwright got to workshop a brand-new play in our fine city.
  • Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition opens at the Science Museum of Minnesota.  This is my new “day job” wherein I get to spend part of my weekdays engaging with the general public and informing them about Miss Evelyn Marsden’s life and the hospitals aboard the ship in a darling English accent. Personal ship preparation stories here.
  • United Health Care spots - my first political spots, something about calling your congresspeople somewhere in New England. Connecticut maybe? Urging you to take a particular stand on some kind of health care legislation.  Don’t remember the particulars, but got to work with the guys at Shout.  And I absolutely adore Mark Benninghofen, so it was a joy.

July Joined the Science Museum of Minnesota to work on NISE Net (Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network) projects - both performing live stage plays and demonstrations that deal directly with nanoscale science, as well as coordinating and facilitating adult public forums about nanoscale science.  This is only 10 hours per week, and I love it.  And it makes me feel a little closer to my scientific heroes of audio over at RadioLab.  And to paraphrase the words of my delightfully brilliant colleague Michael Ritchie: I realize that my day job can never be bad, because I work in a place with musical stairs.


  • Fringe Festival fail - this was hard.  This was very, very hard.  The Ministry of Cultural Warfare, the company I have both figuratively and literally sweat and bled for since 2000, planned to do a show.  Due to a Perfect Storm of really crappy circumstances, I had to remove myself from the process, and we ultimately had to back out of the festival at a late date.  It was heartbreaking, and the fallout was equally heartbreaking.
  • Marketplace Events radio and TV spots - the plus side of August was that Ty Pennington had some more home shows to promote, so it was back into the studio to add my special female aural sparkle.
  • The Minnesota State Fair - I spent an afternoon as host of the Labor Pavilion at “The Great Minnesota Get-Together.”  They gave me a wireless mic, put me in a Green building and the adjacent pavilion, and let me loose amongst the various Labor kiosks and the throngs of fair-goers.  There was trivia, there were hand-crafted on-the-spot copper roses, there were nurses and flight attendants and machinists and steel workers and everything in between.  At the end of my shift, they snapped a photo which made its way into the national AFTRA magazine.

September I spent nearly half the month on the road, traveling to Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco - this was for my work with the Science Museum of Minnesota on behalf of the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISE Net), and it was incredibly inspiring.  It did indeed involve some performing, but it also involved meeting with social scientists to consider the social, political, and ethical implications of nanoscale science, and how to get audiences considering these aspects, as well.  We also met for the purpose of setting goals for years 6-10 of NISE Net’s grant funded by the National Science Foundation, and it involved learning how other organizations engage audiences in learning about nanoscale science.  Inspiring, and the locations were fantastic.  I love the Pacific Northwest.

October Lead role of Hannah in Table Salt Productions' inaugural show, Burned at the Gremlin Theatre.  Nothing like spending an hour before each performance putting glue on my face, letting it dry and manipulating it and coloring it to make it look like nasty scar tissue.  While it was a serio-comic post-apocalyptic tale, it was a joy to make a foray back into dramatic work.  Read a little more about it.


  • Workshop and public reading of Dog and Wolf - an incredibly well-crafted, powerful,  and riveting play about a Bosnian refugee by Catherine Filloux, in which I played the lead, Jasmina.  This play is being produced Off-Broadway this February.
  • My first public nanoscience forum about privacy, civil liberties, and nanotechnology.  It was a small group of about 15 people, but helped me get my feet wet.  Now that I’ve done something in the accepted mold, I can hack it and make it more interesting, accessible, and engaging.  Watchout Twin Cities - you’re about to get schooled in nano.


  • more Marketplace Events spots - this time for home shows around the U.S. in 2010.
  • Caribou Coffee spots - The tone and delivery in these spots makes me feel like we’re sitting on a front porch swing, lazing the day away.  And they’re all about handcrafted oatmeal.  And I got to spend some good time with my friends over at Babble-On Recording studios.  I love those engineers.
  • General Mills spots for Tuesday Taco Night - you know you’ve made it when your VOs keep getting interrupted by a mariachi band.  Plus more time at Babble-On!  Whee!

Plenty to share for January already - but it’s a new year, so it gets a new post.  Here’s looking forward to a peaceful, prosperous 2010.  And I'll actually work on getting all of these 2009 (and future) voice-over spots posted for your listening pleasure.  It's not as hard as I make it sound, and yet here we are.  Soon, I promise.

Art and Fear and Having a Genius

Several months ago Jason Kottke made mention of a book titled Art and Fear.  One particular allegory in this book struck me deeply, and the sting of shock and self-recognition remains - the story goes thusly:

At the beginning of the semester, a pottery instructor divided his class into two halves.  Each student in the first half was going to be graded solely on volume – the instructor didn’t care about the quality of the pieces, he just wanted as many complete pieces as possible.  The other half of the class was going to be graded solely on quality – each student had the entire semester to complete one perfect piece.

At the end of the semester the students who were graded on quantity had multiple perfect and near-perfect pieces in their vast collections, while those who were graded on quality ended up with only mediocre and good results.  Those who were in the quantity group made mistakes, learned from them, refined their work, and kept producing.  Those who were in the quality group analyzed and planned and got stuck in their heads, and were ultimately paralyzed by their self-imposed restrictions (they didn’t want to waste time making a load of work and choosing the best from that – they needed to focus their energy solely on THE ONE).

Huh.  The quality group mentality sounds embarrassingly familiar.  Who doesn’t follow through on most of her artistic ideas for fear of failure?  Who doesn’t take risks and try new ventures for fear of failure?  Who stops the execution of ideas before she even starts them for fear of failure?  Me.  Me, me, me.  I am outright terrified of failing myself, terrified of learning that I'm not good at something I love; terrified of letting people bear witness to my weaknesses.  I understand full well that performing on stage is ephemeral and a living, breathing organism that changes based upon any number of factors – but in all endeavors, not just the stage, I want to take comfort that I worked hard and know my shit.  I want to be confident that I’ll succeed.

So if I can’t be assured that I’ll succeed, I should just stay home, right?  Artistic Paralysis - 1; Leigha - 0.  With that mentality, the art dies.  The ideas die.  It’s like shooting a foal because it can’t run immediately after it’s born.  Yes, my art is a little baby horse, and I kill multiple little baby horses daily.  Ideas that could fail?  chik-chik, ka-BLAM.  Wrong. So terribly wrong.

Thankfully, there are some artists who have made it beyond the killing fields and lived to tell about it.  There is hope beyond little baby idea carcasses.  Imagine that.

Elizabeth Gilbert, for one - the author of Eat, Pray, Love - gave a fascinating speech at this year’s TED Talks about changing our vocabulary from “being a genius” to “having a genius.”  It’s taking the pressure off of people and placing it on the work – no need for constant perfection, just a need to go forth and artistically multiply.  To be fruitful in one’s work, to try new approaches, to learn, to experiment, to revise, to explore, to revise again, to feel fulfilled in the process, and to let the work be what it is intended to be.  Nothing more, nothing less.

The director of my present production, Burned, is another.  His approach has lent itself beautifully to my tippy-toeing back to dramatic works - it’s been nearly a decade since I’ve done stagework with an overarching serious tone and this water is a wee bit chilly.  Sean’s advice to begin a renewal of trust - trust in myself and trust in the process, allowing the product find its own way, has been a gift.  It’s okay to be ugly, it’s okay to make grand mistakes, it’s okay to grope until I find my way.  The director is there to walk with me and encourage me in the right direction, to shape my work in a way that fits the vision.  My internal director can go suck it.