This past week, I co-led a solo performance retreat in Santa Fe, with the wildly gifted Ann Randolph.
I have collaborated on workshops with other teachers before. But I intuited from the start that this retreat was going to be different. I sensed that there was an invitation in co-leading this group that would expand and challenge me.
I’d been following Ann’s work from afar, with great admiration, by the time the two of us connected about four years ago. As two of a handful of professional solo performance coaches/teachers in the country, our meeting was inevitable.
In 2012, I invited her to Santa Fe to produce a week-end run of her show “Loveland.” It was brilliant.
During the workshop, I couldn’t help but notice Ann and I both embody similar, yet distinct archetypes, in different magnitudes, including The Deep Creative/The Artist/ and The Intuitive Healer, among others.
From the first day of the retreat, I noticed the many facets of myself that Ann was able to mirror back to me. I also noticed aspects of Ann, where I could not find my mirror, one aspect in particular. That was, of “The Artist.” Her deep embodiment of her artist self had the effect of forcing me to turn and face myself and look at an aspect of myself where I have been hiding out for fourteen years. This is the part of me that sent “The Artist” on a seemingly permanent hiatus.
The story behind the story:
(Because there ALWAYS is one)
My work began as an actor. Then I moved into my role on the forefront of solo performance in the nineties when it was still considered a somewhat marginalized art form. In 1995, a few years after I moved from NYC to Santa Fe, my first full-length solo show got a rave review and was placed number three on the list of Top Ten Performances of the Year, by The Santa Fe Reporter. It was still early in terms of the solo performance movement, though I had already been devoted to it for ten years since meeting my mentor and inspiration, the late Spalding Gray. As the work was not very popular at the time it was amazing that my show drew such favorable response right out of the gate. My first self-produced, low/no budget solo show was publically put in the same category with huge prestigious shows that year at the Santa Fe Opera, Lensic Theater and Santa Fe Stages.
The attention I received, as well as an opportunity to perform the show at a Denver theater terrified me. I ended up responding to the ambiguity I felt around my visibility and success, by getting pregnant with my daughter.
Though I wrote and performed two other monologue shows when my daughter was small, I turned away from the spotlight being on me, and began down the road of coaching, directing and teaching.
Let me just pause for a moment and say that my work has been so, so kind to me. I love my students and clients from all over the world. I have learned so much about life, loss, love and story from all of them. Many of my students have done their shows across the US and abroad. I have staked my claim as one of the more notable story coaches on the planet. I’ve created an online training story school. I’ve made my living doing the work I love.
More than any of this, I have helped facilitate the experience of transformation in many lives, through connection, intimacy, challenges, with the love of story as the thread that has run through it all.
And, I would not un-do one moment of any of it for anything.
End of that story.
But (there is always a “but”), that is the story of Tanya, moving over the course of decades from the Wounded Healer to The Intuitive Shaman. That is the energy of the archetype that uses me as its tool in service to humanity through the work of story.
I love that work and will continue to do it.
However, a new story wants to emerge for me and I must claim it.
Being with Ann, who lives and breathes from a place of a self-actualized artist, working on multi-dimensional levels of consciousness when she performs forced me to see myself and how my own inner artist has gotten suppressed and buried over the last fourteen years.
My “go-to” story about why this happened is that I got divorced, was able to make a living through my teaching and directing and choose to commit to that aspect of myself deeply and that is true. Again, all that is true and yet, there is another unspoken (even to myself) “but…”
During the run of my last show, which was fourteen years ago, I experienced my first-ever panic attack. It is still the place where my personal shadow tries to keep me in check.
It happened on the Friday night of the second weekend of a successful run of my original show, “Pregnant Pause.”
“STOP/SHUT-UP/THIS IS NOT THE STORY TO TELL”, my own inner shadow/critic says, right about now.
But I prefer Rumi’s voice over the Inner Critic. He says:
“Run from what’s comfortable. Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious. I have tried prudent planning long enough. From now on I’ll be mad.”
I was in the middle of a successful run of my third show.
Before the show that night, I experienced something unfamiliar, paralyzing and terrifying. My heart began beating rapidly. My hands were sweating. I felt like I was about to faint. I called out to Ursula, my director, “Help!”
Ursula came running over. I was terrified.
“I can’t do it, Ursula. I can’t go on.” I felt desperate, crawling-out-of-my-skin desperate. I had no idea what was happening.
A frozen terror coursed through my body. How can something be frozen and coursing at the same time? I do not know. But it was. There was heat and cold simultaneously in my body. I felt like I was about to collapse and I huddled over on my chair.
Ursula continued to offer soothing words. Due to her many years in the theater, I know she thought this was a bad case of stage fright. I wanted to explain to her that I knew this was not stage fright. I’d had stage fright and opening night jitters. This was not that.
I’d been a serious actor since I was fourteen years old, and I was now thirty -six. This was not stage fright, but my mind could not find the words to explain what was happening because I did not know what was happening.
All I knew was that it was like I was outside a glass fish tank. I could look inside and see myself swimming around, but I could not get back in there. It was the most terrifying sensation I had ever had. I wanted desperately to get back in the fish tank, but had no idea how.
Years later, my a therapist would say to me, “If you’re actually outside your body, that is called a psychotic break.”
Somehow, I made it through the run of that show: two more performances. I remember nothing about them. I must have gone through the motions. Interestingly, I have some video footage from that night that I had my first panic attack, and I was strong, embodied and present onstage. All my years of training in theatre kicked to get me through the shows. And no one knew.
But, I knew.
Shortly afterwards, I remember standing in my friend’s kitchen and saying to her, “I have no need to perform anymore. I will direct and support others.”
I was looking for a way out.
I felt defensive. “I’ve done three shows already. What more do I need to say?”
Within three months of that panic attack, which went undiagnosed, I descended into full-blown panic disordered hell.
Flashes from that time, which lasted acutely for several months, still haunt me after all these years. Every month before I get my period, I still flit around the edges of an attack.
Last summer, grieving my father’s death, preparing to send my daughter away to college on the other side of the country, while running my business and getting ready for a move, I had the panic attacks worse than that I had in many years. Luckily they only lasted for a few weeks. But, every time I have one, part of me thinks that I will fall down that rabbit hole again, and never come back out.
That’s because, fourteen years ago, I almost did just that. Anyone who thinks that a panic attack means simply feeling stress or anxiety has no idea what a true panic attack is.
In my own case, back in 2001/02, I was unable to stand up without immediately fainting, became agoraphobic and was literally unable to leave my house for weeks at a time. I was unable to fly on a plane or sometimes, even drive across town. But, the worse things about what ended up being diagnosed as a panic disorder were much more insidious. Something got triggered in my nervous system called nocturnal anxiety disorder. Every time I would begin to drift off to sleep, I was roused with an intense burning sensation in my chest that would awaken and re-awaken me all night long. It was during that same period that I was out of my body completely and stayed out for three weeks. Had I not had a child, I might have committed suicide. Every day, I would think, “I cannot take one more minute of this.” Then I would picture Chloe in my mind and know that I had to find my way out of this and back to her.
Being unable to get inside my body was the most distressing experience of my life. Every night I would pray that by morning, I would be back inside my body looking out, instead of outside looking in. It took about a month, before I got to the right doc, who got me on the right medication before that began to happen.
It was not like the medication was a quick fix. I was extremely fragile for months afterwards. I had to give up caffeine, sugar, wine and stick to a high protein diet to help my brain and nervous systems re-balance themselves. I also had to take loads of vitamins and supplements (zinc, magnesium and B vitamins) and take walks daily. For a while, as I was coming back into myself, I could only stay in my body when I was around other people. It was uncomfortable, but I was forced to ask for help and accept other people’s help just to keep my head above the water.
Panic disorder can take people down hard and fast. The degree I experienced would be akin to clinical depression. The energy turned outwards into panic instead of internally into deep depression.
So, what does this panic disorder story have to do with Ann and the Artist and the Retreat?
While I have a successful and creatively fulfilling career as a coach and director, I gave away my Artist to that panic.
I promised myself that I would never risk being in that position again and that getting back on stage in my own show might trigger it again.
It might. I do not believe it will, but I could be wrong. I am a different person in so many ways from who I was in 2001. In many ways, that panic disorder re-calibrated my essential being on a much deeper personal healing journey.
And my revelation at our retreat was that I am hiding an essential and powerful aspect of my own expression by staying off the stage. I have to move forward. I have to walk into my current greatest risk and fear. That is simply the way I need to do things in this lifetime. It’s the “no escape” karmic path.
The page is safer that the stage. Teaching is more comfortable than performing. But that is where I find my own soul. I am heading back to where I left my Artist self behind, fourteen years ago, as a solo performer, the art form that I love above all others.
I am now actively working on writing my first show in fourteen years. I understand viscerally what I have been hiding behind and what a complex web I’ve spun.
This past week, was, for me, an extraordinary example of teaching what we need to learn and allowing myself to be deeply inspired by my peer, Ann, and her relentless commitment to risking it all onstage as an artist.
For years, I have supported others in their stories and their voices.
Now, I am re- claiming the part of my own voice that I thought I lost forever.
I’m asking you for your encouragement and support, as I walk into my own fire of completion.