What’s in a Birthday? Notes on turning a thirty-something

Guess what? Today, I turn the ripe old age of 34! I was just starting to get the hang of 33. "The Jesus year."  

Now, it might be hard to believe… but I wasn't always the comedy rock goddess you see before you today. It's hard to admit that some things have been tough for me – except when I'm on stage… then I apparently love to admit it. But we all want to look good, myself included, and to be respected and to make a good impression. But by doing so, we essentially lie. And my job as a comedian has always been to tell the truth. So here it is.

Yes, I've spent a over decade performing comedy, but it was largely unpaid and for give minutes at a time. It was easy to sleep in until 10am every day. Working day jobs that I didn't really feel passionate about. Since I was little, I had always felt like there was something different, something wrong with me, some way I didn't fit in.

I struggled for many years with an eating disorder, with a love and relationship addiction. It was easier to fall in love with men who had some quality that I wanted to possess, rather than actually developing my own self. Continually disappointed that true love was not forthcoming, I'd eat myself into a fog. And it's hard to pursue your life's purpose and make a real living when you're suffering from a love hangover and a food coma. The emotional vicissitudes were so intense–nothing felt stable or lasting or fulfilling, and I never really managed to create the kind of sustainability or impact or sheer good quality work I longed for, and was afraid I could never have. 

Seven years ago, I hit bottom. Not human bottoms. Ok, I did hit human bottoms. But I also hit low points. And I went into recovery for these various addictions. I've now done volumes of spiritual and growth work, from learning swing dance to doing a series of shamanic medicine journeys, to 12-step recovery programs.

And the most amazing thing happened four years ago. I became ready to cut the crap, and get serious about my comedy career. But this time, I had to walk my own path. And I had to let go of all my ideas and concepts about what "real comedians" do… real comedians perform at dark and drunken comedy clubs where you can literally smell the bitterness and competition… "real comedians" aren't spiritual. "Real comedians" eat ramen and live with 6 roommates. Well, my path, it turned out, was to take what I had learned through 10 years of standup and years of acting classes, and start telling the stories of my life in my own way, injecting humor into the pain and healing with laughter. And, often, inspiring others to take themselves less seriously. 

Last Wednesday, I put on my show "Eat, Pray, Laugh!" at my friend Jim's house. It was one of the best shows I've ever done… and one of the most fun. At the end, they brought out a cake and sang happy birthday. What a gift. That night, I realized: I have worked my ass off to to find my own comedic voice, one that is truer to my spirit than ever. Wow, it's okay to be funny AND earnest AND vulnerable! And I found my true audience–not in comedy clubs, but in alternative venues, theaters, yoga studios, and the houses of friends. God, it feels good to speak the truth and make people laugh like this. It's taken over 20 years to figure out how to embody this kind of truth and humor on stage, but it was worth working for.

 And it's amazing to have it pay off. This past Saturday, I played my highest paying gig ever at the Iowa City Yoga Festival, plus all those expenses paid (!! – flight, hotel, etc.) and they brought my boyfriend out to teach a workshop as well. That, and winning awards like "Best Local Comedian", "Best of the Fringe" and "Best Storyteller" confirms that I actually have found my path, and I'm walking it. But what's most exciting is that I know that, even with all the years I've spent working at it, it's just the beginning.

I recently met Julia Butterfly Hill, who has a totally amazing life story and a powerful impact on the world, and she confirmed for me something I'd been thinking. That we don't have to stop being who we are. Those of us who are different, who don't fit in, we are gifted. We are can be sensitive, intense, frustrated, angry, sad, and we sometimes overflow with passion and desire. And we don't have to change who we are–we just have to learn how to focus our energy in the right place. 

This has become a passion of mine to now share with others. I've developed a new coaching technique that allows you to accurately tap into your higher self, your soul’s deepest source of wisdom. and show you how to integrate it into your life – powerfully, compassionately, & effortlessly. I'm currently calling it Higher Self Coaching – which is designed for people who are tired of going to others for answers, and who just want to be able to access the real answers they know are locked somewhere deep inside, and move forward with clarity certainty. Some of my specialties include life purpose, relationships, and recovery. 

 If you're interested learning how to focus your energy in the right place, to find your own path, your own voice, your own gifts, let's chat – we'll set up a "Get Your Own Answers! Session." Email me, or you can schedule a time online here

Finally… I have several projects in the works that I'm excited to share with you soon. For now, enjoy a little feel-good music, on the house. This is a song I recorded, and it's dedicated to you. 

No matter how well we do or don't know each other, you've been an important part of my path. Thank you for joining me on this journey, and I look forward to walking on the road of life with you. 

Sending blessings for a year filled with laughter and light!

Alicia

Creativity Workshop Starts January in Oakland!

Six to One : Six Weeks to Complete One Creative Project

Are you ready to kick your creative work into high gear?  

Starting in January, and meeting for six weeks, the Six to One course will challenge and hold you to complete your chosen creative goal.  Each week, we'll meet, set intentions, check in about our work, and set about the task of completing a creative goal.  We'll also have guest co-leaders teach a new skill each week that will empower you to get closer to your goal.  

Life is short:  If you've had a creative project on the back burner–or the front burner–for months or years and needed that special combination of kick-in-the-butt and holding-the-hand to really get it done, this is your chance.  Life is short and it's time to live it up!  

Small Group, Special Attention:  With eight participants, you will divide into four pairs.  Your partner for the course will be your daily action partner (you'll let each other know at the beginning of the day what you plan to do and at the end of the day what you did do.)  We'll also have a mid-week phone call to check in about your progress each week so that you don't have any chance to slip through the cracks.  

The Syllabus:  

The evening meetings will be approximately three hours; the first hour will be for checking in, and a new guest co-leader each week will join us for two hours and lead us in the following skills.  

Week One:  Visioning, clarifying and setting intentions for your project.  We'll get really clear on what your project is, get a timeline worksheet to break the work into manageable sized tasks, and then give each participant the attention of the group.

Guest co-leader and I "circle" the group regarding desire and fulfillment and letting the deep heart lead.

Week Two:  Writing and the unconscious, opening the channel to creativity.

Guest co-leader and I lead the group to unblock the heart and the pen and help you "blow out the pipes" to get the creative juices flowing.  We'll write until we get blisters on our fingers.  Well, almost.  And this will be a practice you can take into the next five weeks to increase the speed and reduce the censorship of your creative flow.

Week Three:  Making your dreams sing, using your voice.

Guest co-leader and I lead a voice session that will allow you to purify, align and express your intentions, and make them manifest through sound.  As you speak your dreams, you reify them.

Week Four:  Embodiment and aliveness.  Your life is a performance.  We are working from the subtle levels to the gross, from inside out in this course.  This is the process of manifestation.  This is not airy-fairy stuff, it's just plain creation.

Guest co-leader and I will take you from thought to word to speech to body, and awakening your whole being.

Week Five:  Support, self-care, and stepping into a bigger you.  One reason we don't step into a bigger Self in our lives is that staying small keeps us "safe".

Guest co-leader and I lead you in learning the essential skills of self-care and boundary setting that allow for a sense of safety and security which ultimately allow you to take your wings and fly. 

Week Six:  Celebration and integration.  If you have ever found yourself caught in a never-ending cycle of doing without rest and appreciation for the hard work you've done, you may not have learned how to enjoy yourself properly.  

Guest co-leader and I offer a celebration and integration of music and party (!) where you will learn to truly celebrate your accomplishments and allow yourself to receive the benefits of your work.  Authentic joy and celebration builds in such way that it pervades every area of our lives and warms the hearts of all those we come in contact with.

It's not where you are that matters.  It's how far you've come.

Early bird signup: now until December 11 for only $195.  After December 11, the course is $295.  

In this project-based course, you get the support of:

-Special attention with a small group

-Community building with fellow artists and creators

-Eighteen (18) hours of class time

-A daily action partner to check in with

-A midweek conference call with the group to keep the momentum high

-Email access to Alicia for questions

Divulging the Material that Will Create Your Solo Show

Writing the story of your life (or any other made up story for that matter), and then performing it for others, can be a difficult task.  A one man show or one woman show however depends on your ability to reveal the nitty gritty of your story in a way that is fascinating and entertaining, as well as perceptive and often humorous as well.

via www.creativeheartcoaching.com

Whether performing standup comedy or making a new painting, your creative process feeds on bits of truth from your subconscious. Here's how to dig inside and get the goods…

Just Call Me Mario


3-177
So I wrote this story back in 2005, and recently remembered how much I love it.  Added a few details and re-posted it here.  It's all true.

~

I get a desperate call from my acting teacher in LA about an acting job.  Truth be told, it's my first gig ever.  I don't know what the job is yet–all I know is that I don't have to audition.  So it either has to be an adult gig or a wearing-a-giant-animal-suit-to-sell-something gig.  Fine.  As long as it's not both.

The next day I’m sitting in a secret back room in the Metreon, a giant new mecca of capitalistic bliss, full of movie theaters and food courts and stores where they sell cologne for young men at the beach.  The place smells like popcorn, expensive electronics, and Drakkar Noir.  I've been asked to put on a foam suit with a 65″ waist, strap-on boots five times the size of my feet, giant white gloves I have to hold on to by clenching the inside fabric in my fists, and a very large fiberglass head attached to a football helmet, out of which I have about 10% of my normal vision.  My "handler" tucks in the character's "neck skin" inside my foam suit. 

I am a method actor.  That morning, when I learned my assignment, I’d decided to explore my character.  Just who is video game character Super Mario? (Strange guy with mustache?)  What is he passionate about?  (Killing turtles?)  What motivates him? (Saving the princess?) WHAT MAKE HIM TICK? (Gold coins?) I am getting in touch with my inner brooklyn Italian plumber (except that I’m on the inside and he’s on the outside–maybe it's more like Mario getting in touch with the Inner Alicia…). But so what does a middle-aged video game plumber say and do and think?  On the way in my car I’m trying him out, “I’m a mario! I love-a da princess! Princepessa I’m-a comin! I fix-a you toilet!  Just gotta kick a deese turtles and eat-a some magic mushrooms!" (Maybe we have more in common than I thought?) But I’m not allowed to speak, so I figure I’ll channel this character information directly into my body movement.

The event is a ceremony called the Walk of Game.  Video game inventors and their characters are receiving lifetime achievement awards.  I run into a technology commentator Adam Sessler, who I used to work with at TechTV. Turns out he’s hosting the whole event.  "What do you think I am supposed to do, as Mario?" I ask.  Sessler bounces his head and says, "Bounce, wave, shrug your shoulders."  Ok, that's easy.

Not easy.  Once I zip up the 40 pound suit, I can’t reach my feet to put the shoes on.  My “handler”, a PR guy from Nintendo who is late and dressed in a brown leather jacket, ties my shoes for me.  I am getting paid handsomely for this is a last-minute gig. I have never done anything remotely like this before. Handler dude tells me I need to be very animated and wave a lot. Presumably, because I seem to be quiet and he looks worried. But so we get out in the open and one of the “game girls”, a cute Asian girl in a short, white skirt, is guiding me, holding my “arm”, keeping me from tripping over small children. We line up to receive awards. As we approach the stage, someone shouts, “MARIO’S NOT REAL.” and I throw up my arms in response (I’m contractually obligated not to speak) and get a big pre-show laugh.

A live pianist begins playing the Super Mario theme song. “Dana-nana-nana… dana-nana-nana…” They cue me, and I walk out on stage with my Game Girl.  She makes me feel more like Mario.  I bounce, wave, and shrug to the music, and the crowd loves me hamming it up.  About a hundred cameras (it’s only press people in the audience) are flashing their bulbs. No kidding.  Turns out Mario is one of only five people and/or characters being honored in the First Annual Walk of Game ceremony. Mario gets a star on the Metreon Walk of Game.

This suit is hot and heavy inside (does that make me live “action”? ha ha). We walk over to uncover the stars and take photos. People are jumping in, one after another, next to me to take photos. We pose. I put a foot out for style.  I shake hands.  Just standing in this thing is a chore.  We didn’t use the ice packs they recommend.  It's getting hotter and hotter inside here.  Today we’re serving BAKED ACTOR from the Mario Oven. My sweat.  The sweat of previous Marios.  The heat from the lights. I’m way above my target heart rate. But the worst part, the velcro from the boots (which are constantly slipping off my feet) is rubbing against my shins, grating my skin, and the raw skin is mixing with the sweat to create a pain of moving I can only be thankful for because it’s distracting me from the weight of the costume.

Despite the impediments, I am actually having a blast. I–which is to say, Mario–am famous.  For about an hour. It’s nothing to do with me, but still, I’m making it all happen. I’m dancing, doing all these great moves which I know must be hilarious for people to see Mario do.  Moves from SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, Eminem videos, my circus show… It’s all fair game. Cameras keep flashing, so I keep posing. I develop a whole repertoire: bounce, disco bounce, hands on head, pat tummy to the beat, raise roof, shake hands, left foot out, arms in circle a la Mr. Sandman backup singers, knee down fist up power chord rock stance, etc… What does Nintendo think of my interpretation of Mario? Will public the conception of disco Mario seep back into the minds of the developers, creating a dialectic whereby the next Mario game has just a little hustle in his bounce?

Sometimes I start giggling to myself about how heavy this costume is and I'm just trying to hold it all together, and I can make out the sea of cameras.  It would be so funny if Mario tripped and fell onto Sessler, or started humping the leg of Sonic the Hedgehog or the inventor of Halo, or touched the tit of a Game Girl, or if he hit on Gavin Newsom (our San Francisco Mayor). So at the party afterward gavin takes a picture with mario, and he whispers to me, “you know you and I have spent a lot of time together… indirectly.”  Whoa, Gavin. What is it about puppets that make people confess things?

My handler dude sees me start to wobble, and realizes I’m about to pass out after three hours in the MO (Mario Oven).  He says I did a great job and he’ll pay me for an extra half hour.  I take off my head.  The heat wafts up from inside the suit.  You could unseal envelopes with the steam floating past my chin. I leave in plain (sweat-soaked) clothes, my face beet-red, walking past the hordes of people who moments before were yelling “my” name. I feel like a superhero after a change in the phone booth. Inside I have this exciting yet totally inconsequential secret, and there's nothing to do with it.  People walk past me like I'm just another human.  I want to yell, “I WAS THAT GUY YOU LOVED! I was Mario!” But instead, I walk peacefully back to my car.  I go home, put some ointment on my shins. And keep my secret (for a little while).

I wonder, once in a while, who else is wandering the street, freshly emancipated from their own Mario.

Solo Performer and Comedian Bill Santiago Interview

image from assets.nydailynews.com Alicia Dattner> I remember you'd been performing for a year when I first started and we met… How did you start doing comedy?

Bill Santiago> I had friends that were interested and got me hooked. But it appealed to me right off. Say what ever you want to say. Use your wits. Get people to see things your way. Laughter. Applause. What's not to like?

AD> What was your motivation to write a show about dancing?

BS>Whenever I'm dancing I have this inner monologue going on, about about how well it's going or not, all the characters out there that you see and meet and dance with, whether I just nailed a move, or someone's foot, the constant frustrations and occasional moments of unparalleled joy, and the simple human interaction of being that close to someone you don't know and trying to synchronize. Plus how obsessive people can get about their dancing, and how far it's come, the Latin dancing, from the way that my parents danced, how people are taking it now to a ridiculously Cirque du Soleil level that is frankly laughable. 

And the way the different people dance the different dances, and how each dance has its own tricks and personalities, salsa, versus tango, versus bachata, versus samba, versus flamenco, versus cumbia, versus merengue, and on and on. And the teachers, my God, they're all such crazy gurus! And the whole process of learning, how you have to train yourself to absorb these movements into your own being, and how thrilling it is to be learning. There's a lot there. 

The quest to become the dancer you'll never be and enjoy yourself as much as possible along the way. It's a comedic gold mine, really. And combining standup so closely with dance is new for me, allows me to be physical on stage, and look for the humor in the physicality as much as in the words. And I get to work with super musicians, and invite people from the audience to come up on stage and dance with me. It's very interactive. It's always a different show, you know.

AD> What's your favorite thing about dancing?

BS>My favorite thing about dancing is the connection that you have with where you come from, this music stirs that in you, and the escape that you have from everything else in your day, in the periphery of the present. I love that when you're dancing nothing else matters, and if you're lucky you can let go, and maybe connect with someone else in a very unique and beautiful way. But it's high stakes because there is a lot of pride on the line, that's the stuff of funny. 

image from www.speakoutnow.org  AD> What's your favorite thing about comedy?

BS>My favorite thing about comedy is whatever latest the line I am working on to perfect, or idea that I am trying to get traction on. When it works, when I finally get it to gel and I hear the laughter, it's very satisfying. I like that bulls-eye feeling. It's also nice when people remind you that you are doing good work, that it has affected them, that it matters, that they want to see more and that you are appreciated. 

AD> How would you classify what you do? Is it standup? Is it solo performance? Is it something else?

BS>It depends on the project that I am working on, the particular show. The "Funny of (Latin) Dance" show is way beyond standup, but standup is the basis of my approach, I apply that skill, those chops to this new topic, and hopefully renders an entirely new kind of show. 

AD> Anything else you'd like to share with us?

BS>I'd love to share some of the spontaneous magic that happens on stage when I invite folks from the crowd to come up on stage and dance with me in this show, but you are just going to have to come out and experience it for yourself.

Bill Santiago performs all over the country.  Go see him. 

-Alicia