What I Will Miss

Writing this from my desk here at home in L.A.. I’m ecstatic to be here in some ways and feel a bit lost in others. On my final morning in Edinburgh I woke at 4am for an early flight and the sky was a swampy blue-green, as if the city was underwater. The Edinburgh Fringe Festival was an exhausting adventure and the learning curve was a steep one, but I will miss the wild, shifting Scottish skies.

I’ll also miss walking endless miles every day, until my knees ached from negotiating the cobblestone. I’ll miss the feeling of permission I get from being in a foreign city- permission to sit at a corner cafe and drink tea and breathe for a moment. Permission to not constantly be moving on to the next item on my to-do list. I’ll miss the sense of slowing down and also, paradoxically, of increased urgency. The kind of urgency with which you look at a gorgeous place when you know you won’t see it again for a very long time. The urgency that inspires you to meet people in the park and become fast friends and skip the small talk.

I loved the charged atmosphere of the festival. And mostly I loved how hard everyone was trying. I walked through the streets each afternoon and thought that the guy on stilts juggling swords in his underwear and the high school glee-club in their matching bedazzled t-shirts and the nocturnal comedians just waking to thoughts of the previous night’s triumph or humiliation- not one of them was sleepwalking through their day. They were all resolutely, sometimes painfully, alive. It was an electric thing to be a part of.

And now, the true spiritual challenge- how to stay resolutely alive when stationed in the outfield at baseball practice…

Ghosts and Royal Dicks

Here’s the text of the second in my series of Fringe blogs for the Huffpo:

I’m performing my solo show, Mother Tongue, at a venue called Summerhall, Edinburgh’s newest and biggest arts venue. Summerhall is located in the former Royal School of Veterinary Studies (nickname: The Royal Dick, after it’s founder William Dick, and still the name of the café/bar). My gay BFF is convinced that this is a good omen. “There’s no way you’re going to suck at the Royal Dick,” he told me. Which is an enormously ironic statement, seeing as my memoir is about doing exactly that, albeit in a different context.

But all Royal Dick sucking aside, Summerhall is a terrifically cool space, with a fascinating community of international artists lounging in the courtyard, trolling the hallways, wandering in and out of its nearly 500 rooms (some filled with art, some abandoned, some undecided), playing music, watching films, hanging from the ceiling fans, getting naked, and making art in all mediums. I’m tickled to be performing alongside an installation by one of my personal heroes, Carolee Schneemann.

I’m performing in the Red Lecture Theater, which is located on the first floor of Summerhall, around four or five twisty turns and down a flight of stairs to the basement. In front of the rows of seats are long ledges on which aspiring veterinarians used to take notes and my audiences have been happy to rest their drinks for the hour. My director DJ Mendel and I both love the room. It’s technically not perfect by any means, but it’s intimate, the rake of the seats is just right and there’s a nice energy there.

The dressing room is another story altogether. It is perhaps the creepiest dressing room ever. Or certainly the creepiest I’ve ever experienced. It’s small and cold and smells of cat pee and paint, as if someone just slapped a fresh coat over God knows what stains, what smells. A door opens into a labyrinth of dark corridors (dark corridors in which Victorian veterinary experiments took place) and there are doors along the wall, with small windows in them and locks on the outside. Which is to say, cages. My dressing room has cages in it.

On our first day in the theater, as I was sprawled out stretching on the stage, an ancient man hobbled in the door, leaning on a cane. He talked to DJ for a while and in a thick Scottish accent told him he used to work there. He said he had been a porter and had loved the job because everyone there used to help each other. Then he said, “I can’t help you with that dead girl, though.” And indicated me, lying on the ground.

Then the man walked out. Our lighting designer Ian Garrett came in not five seconds later and insists he didn’t see anyone leaving. Weird old guy or Scottish ghost? Other spooky facts: The manager of the space told me that they have no vermin at all, which is almost unheard of in these old buildings. And that the seagulls won’t fly over the building. Won’t go anywhere near it, in fact.

I’m undecided about the ghosts, but I do know that I can’t stay in that dressing room for more than five minutes at a time. I’m usually someone who cocoons for hours before a show, but somehow the cages and cat pee and ghosts have inspired me to be more social during that crucial pre-performance time. Or maybe it’s the festival atmosphere itself that has emboldened me. There is so much fascinating stuff to see that I don’t really want to hide out in the dressing room anyway. I’d rather sit in the café with the Italian performance artists and Balkan musicians and Chinese acrobats and then walk right out onto the stage.

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Life on the Fringe

I’m doing a series of blogs over at the Huffington Post about my experience here at the Fringe Fest. Bet you didn’t know I have Scottish blood running through these veins. Don’t be confused by the Jersey accent, I do! Read all about it here.

Here’s the full text of the post:

Sometimes we change so radically that we become unrecognizable to ourselves. Even if that change is a necessary and welcome change, nostalgia for the former and more familiar self can sometimes creep in. Becoming a mother transformed my life in infinite ways, and while I love my son with a fierce passion, I still end many of my days staring at the ceiling and wondering what’s become of me.

A couple of days ago, I found myself boarding a plane to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Alone. Before I got married, I traveled alone all the time and it was a relief to feel like my old, independent self again. But the feeling left as quickly as it came and in its place I felt hollow in my very bones, as if some crucial marrow was missing. I was frustrated to find that I’m no longer the person who experiences nothing but freedom when the plane leaves the ground.

In the pocket of my jeans, I carried a swatch of the MacTaggart clan tartan, like some kind of entry card or talisman. I’m a MacTaggart through my maternal grandmother — my birth mother’s mother. A few years ago, my birth mother sent me a booklet that contains photos and an oral history of her family’s immigration to the U.S., where they settled down in a dusty Midwestern town. In the pictures, the MacTaggarts look hearty and solid. I looked through the pictures in the book, yearning to see some sort of resemblance.

Everyone looks to the world and hopes to find a mirror, but for adopted children, that search takes on a different sort of urgency. I saw no part of me in these care-worn farmers, until I reached a picture of a group of women and one popped off the page, the only woman in the whole book wearing lipstick. Even in the black and white pictures, you can tell that her lipstick is a wild shade of red. What a defiantly frivolous thing — to wear lipstick when all the faces around you wear only the lines etched into their skin by years of hard-won survival. I look at the name and, indeed, this is my maternal grandmother. Of course it is.

I was raised by bookish, middle-class Jews, immigrants from Eastern Europe, and I feel more connected to that lineage than I do to the farmers in those photographs. And yet, this swatch of blue and red and black in my pocket is a piece of me, if only because flying low over the patchwork Scottish farmlands, I want believe that something this breathtakingly green is inscribed in my cells.

And here I sit, in a flat in Edinburgh, watching the fireworks above the castle out the window of my bedroom. Today I open a solo show about how adopting my son from Ethiopia enabled me to face my conflicted feelings about my own adoption. How the mishmash identity we piece together as adoptees can make locating a sense of belonging in the world a struggle. Not impossible, certainly, but challenging.

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the largest arts festival in the world, with over 2,500 shows playing throughout the next month, and it’s bedlam. Every charming cobblestone street is crawling with actors, comedians, dancers, circus performers, musicians and performance artists of all shapes and sizes. They try to lure you in to see their shows by dressing in costumes, taking their shirts off, offering free cake, hula hooping, singing, dancing around in scary fairy makeup. Every church and storefront and café and tent is a performance venue. There’s even a giant inflatable purple cow called the Udderbelly.

I stumble down the cobblestone of the Royal Mile, duck into a stone archway and find my lighting designer sitting and chatting with some elegant, slouchy dancers lounging on the lawn. I run into my friend Kristina Wong, a solo performer I know from LA, who is stressed about getting the scones she’s serving at her morning show. I meet a woman named Mrs. Clark, who wears face paint and a black feather headdress and tells me that I make her spoon happy, upon which she draws a spoon with googly eyes from her cleavage. Later, I find my friend, comic Eddie Pepitone, the Bitter Buddha, who is adamant that this many performance artists should never be in one place at the same time — no good can come of it.

I still have my tartan in my pocket, but really the culture I’m a part of this anarchic explosion of art. This is my clan — tired and puffy-eyed and tearing their hair out at tech rehearsals and making stuff — good stuff, bad stuff, funny stuff, awful stuff — and coming together here in this fantastically gorgeous place to do it. I miss my child, I’m anxious about opening night, and still there’s a vein of joy running through my day, through these streets. There’s no need to feel motion sick from swaying between these disparate identities. There’s room for all of it here. I’m right at home.

The Lost Art of Getting Lost

I opened my show tonight at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and this is the first moment I’ve had to organize my thoughts. Until now, my mind has just been unspooling into the streets of the city. I’ve spent the last two days either working my ass off at the theater or stumbling down cobblestone streets, which are crawling with actors and dancers and comedians and musicians and street performers- all of them pulling creative stunts to get you in to see their show.

The Fringe Fest is the largest arts festival in the world and there are over 2500 shows running throughout the month here. It’s wild. It’s mayhem in the streets. It’s kind of like Burning Man for theater geeks, but with slightly less nudity (only slightly, due to a proliferation of performance artists).

I got completely lost during my walk yesterday morning and wound up climbing Arthur’s Seat, which is a mountain nestled in the middle of the city. Purple and yellow flowers were bursting from every crevice. No pics of it, because I make a point of walking without a camera glued to my face, at least some of the time. From the top of the crag, I looked out over this gorgeous place and felt so grateful to have a morning to be lost in the world, to get turned around on tangled streets and wind up crossing a cast iron bridge and climbing to the top of a bluff. I never lose sight of the fact that this is an enormous privilege…

Even if my bedroom is right above a tent that’s blasting YMCA and the Macarena over and over right now. Really? YMCA? But it looks like this from the front window, so it ain’t all bad:

Tonight went beautifully, except for the fact that the house lights never went out, so I performed for a totally lit audience. But as far as technical mishaps go, it could have been worse. It almost was worse (our light board operator never showed up), but my director DJ Mendel was a hero and saved the day. Solo shows are never solo endeavors.

On the down side, Tariku had his first baseball practice and I wasn’t there. I’ll think I’m doing fine without him, and then I see a cool playground that he would like and I burst into tears. I told him that I was going away for a couple of weeks because we have to follow our dreams. He solemnly told me that he understands because he’s he’s following his dream too- with his band. I miss him like mad.

One show down, eleven more to go.

Off to the Fringe

I’m off to Edinburgh, like, now, to perform my solo show Mother Tongue at the Fringe Fest- the biggest arts festival on the planet. If you know people over there, tell them to come! I’ll be blogging about it over at the Huffington Post and here, always, of course. We’ve already had a great write-up in The Herald.

I feel as ready as I’m going to be to take this show on the road. It needs an audience now so it can come alive.