As ways of conclusion, I would like to end with a piece of creative writing, a solo play in which I incorporate parts of my "Dictator within"* to make my thought patterns visible and actively deal with them.
This solo play is autobiographical. It integrates inner monologues, dialogues and music and is about the tension of being myself and performing myself on stage when singing and not singing, on and off stage.
It is built around the constant commentary that runs through our minds creating our own narratives of our life and our self on stage and off stage. What happens when different Julias meet on stage? I want to share the stories running through my mind that shape the way I behave and the way I experience my performances. With this play I want to perform what I usually hide, yet at the same time what is influencing my behavior on stage. Who is Julia the singer on stage, who is she off stage? The focus of this solo performance is to play with the role of private Julia and integrate her in a different way on stage. She becomes the focus through exploring her thoughts and doubts, hopes while she is getting ready in the dressing room backstage. It is set around the moments right before and after a concert – the inner and outer life that is happening around us and around our performances.
The singing Performer
Who I am on stage when not singing?
ART. DIRECTOR of the Jazzclub
CHRISTIAN – stranger from the audience
MARCUS – pianist & collaborator
SANDY – a friend
her bathroom and bedroom
Backstage in the dressing room of a Jazzclub. Water bottles are standing on the floor, small towels, here and there a leadsheet, a score lying around.
Julia is pacing up and down, breathing and vocalizing, warming up, stretching – trying to calm herself. She walks to her dressing room, stops in front of the mirror, looks at herself, takes a concealer out of her make-up bag on the table in front of her and starts doing her make up. She’s surrounded by other musicians, playing, getting ready, she turns to the audience and starts talking.
JULIA. As an Austrian I’m pretty good in the whole guilt and shame department. A catholic country, that once was a monarchy and then lost it all, Kaiser Franz Joseph, the emporer is hiding around every corner and my therapist tells me I developed an authority complex. I always look for someone…someone representing authority to give me permission to do something, be something or someone. I need permission. It never even occurred to me that I could look for this authority inside myself. Why can’t I give myself permission to be good enough, strong enough, brave enough to do and share what I love. (She continues vocal warm up, taking a sip of water, stretching; goes back to the mirror, continues with her make up, breathing in and out while humming)
As a child I had the hardest time with losing. I would start to cry every single time when I lost at playing ping pong or memory. In my mind, to be allowed to pursue something, you’d have to be the best at it. But music, art, is not about being the best. Or is it? I mean, I still want to be the best everywhere I go, it’s exhausting, because then I think, being the best might be permission enough. Permission to do what I do, be who I am. Why can’t I be enough? Oh here we go, my authority complex joins forces with my inferiority complex. What an exciting cocktail. (She breathes in and out, stretches, starts humming than continues with her make-up)
What am I going to say out there? Stick to the music, to the poems, stick to the music, trust the music. I mean sometimes I like talking on stage but sometimes I don’t like the person I become when I’m talking on stage. My complex-cocktail always kicks in when I’m out there and either, I talk like a little girl or I make jokes while I sing Schubert songs. People laugh but it feels….it feels like I’m hiding.
Why do I have to hide behind all these patterns? I mean…actually I know why, because they work. I’ve never been made responsible for anything, when you act like a child, they’ll say, oh you know that’s how Juli is, everybody calls me Juli at home, It’s just the way she is, chaotic and crazy, you can’t be mad at her. That’s quite a practical thing, if no one is ever angry with me - in my head that equals: everybody likes me. And isn’t that the ultimate goal? Isn’t affection also permission.
(She rolls her eyes as if she’s annoyed by her own words and thoughts, breathing in and out in a sigh)
The downside is, that no one takes you really seriously. I want to be taken seriously because I’m serious about what I do, but for that I would have to let go of my safety measures. I would have to be brave enough to be made responsible for what I do. Brave enough to take myself seriously. When I was working a front office job in advertising, I somehow managed to crash their brandnew computer and I lost the key to the office in one week. They had to change the lock and make a new key for every employee working there but chaotic, crazy Juli saved me. She is so good at distracting. I was not made responsible and everybody still liked me.
To be vulnerable, I’d have to be brave enough to be held accountable.
(continuing pacing up and down, taking a breath breathing out in a sigh - looking at herself in the mirror, whispering like a prayer)
Let me be brave enough to give what I have to give and be who I am.
(She turns away from the mirror and walks towards the stage entrance, listening to the introduction of the artistic director of the jazzclub)
ARTISTIC DIRECTOR. Good evening Porgy & Bess, welcome ladies and gentleman! Tonight we will hear the debut of a young singer who sings Schubert’s Winter Journey in a new way and with a rthythm section that needs no introduction. Please welcome: Lia Pale!
(She walks out onto the stage – takes a bow, looks at the audience, slowly walking up and down – she stops walking and starts singing the first verse of Schubert’s Erstarrung from Winterreise op.89)
“I search the snow in vain
No footprints can be seen,
Where hand in hand we wandered
Through pastures oh so green.”
She takes a bow and walks off the “stage”, walks through the audience in the room as if she’s walking towards the bar of the Jazzclub, the audience in the room becomes the audience of the jazzclub. She’s greeting people, nodding friendly and sometimes waving. She’s excited, full of energy, happy
Julia stops somewhere in the audience and starts talking
CHRISTIAN. Congratulations! Great concert! But can I ask you…how can you walk in those heels? Doesn’t that hurt?
JULIA. Ahm Thank you, no not really, they’re not that high.
(annoyed by the comment, she tries to get out of the small talk)
CHRISTIAN. I was staring at your feet, thinking, ohhh by now it must really hurt, I was watching your veins and then you took off your shoes. I thought you sounded even better when you were barefoot.
JULIA. Okay, huh…would you ask the trumpet player about his shoes too?
CHRISTIAN. Huh? What do you mean? I was just trying to make a compliment…are you saying I’m sexist?
Julia is looking over to a friend, who is is waving her over, relieved she excuses herself)
JULIA. sorry I have to, ah hey (waving), I’m just gonna grab a beer!
(Julia continues making her way to the bar)
MARCUS. You were great, but before the ballad you should think of a different way to introduce it, you were using all those aahms, and eehms, it was not clear what you wanted to say and in the unisono part with Mario your intonation was a bit off, you were a bit flat.
JULIA. I just gave everything I got for 90 min and you’re telling me this now?
MARCUS. You get defensive about everything I say, it’s about perfection, it’s not about you, it’s about the music and to play it as best as we can, I say it now so that I don’t forget it later. Don’t be such a child.
JULIA: okay…(turns to the bar) could I get a small beer please. Thanks!
(a friend of Julia comes up to her)
SANDY. Juliiiii wow you look so beautiful, I love your hair, did you do your own make up. I’m here with my tinder date. I’m not sure if I like him, do you remember the guy before him, who would NEVER touch my…you know…it was so annoying, I mean he should just grow up, you know…I did…you know everything…I got so bored after a while, so I just did it myself.
JULIA. Ahm ok, that’s great, you should always, you know, get what you need and you know…do what you gotta do. I have to pack up some of my stuff, I’ll be back. Thank you so much for coming!
(Julia walks back backstage, back to her dressing room, she takes a seat, it gets quiet, peaceful. She take a sip of her beer and turns to the audience)
JULIA. I started to walk the camino because I couldn’t go on…There was this one night on Day 9 of my camino, from Santo Domingo de la Calzada to the village Grañon. I stayed in a hostel that was built inside an old church. There were a couple of mats on the floor of the attic, the kindest hospitaleros and hospitaleras took care of us pilgrims - four Italians in their fifties and myself. I hadn’t been singing the last couple of weeks, except for humming while walking. I brought so many questions with me on my own winter journey, but the moment I started walking they all seemed so far away.
After dinner we all went into the church of the village. At the time it was being renovated so it was all dark. Pitch black except for the gallery where we all gathered. Everybody shared one moment of their day that they were grateful for. Then one of the hospitaleras asked me if I would like to sing a song. I stood up, walked to the front of the gallery and started singing into these empty dark halls.
(Julia starts singing; after the song she sits down again, holds still for a moment)
I mean was wearing my sweatpants, there was no stage, no rehearsals, I just sang. I sang for everyone in the room, and everyone not in the room. They all jumped up and hugged me, without saying a word. I remember this moment like it was yesterday and every time I think about it…(she’s moved)…it just reminds of why…why I sing…
There is this saying among pilgrims that the way will always provide what you need to keep you going, no matter how slow or fast but it would make sure that you have enough to keep on going. On my last 100km I got a bad tendonitis in my left leg. I mean…I almost crawled in front of the cathedral. Before that I walked like 20km day, and the last couple days I was able to do maybe 6. And the moment I arrived in front of the cathedral seemed so much smaller than the whole way I had walked. It gave me direction but it never really was about standing in front of it; it was about walking towards it, passing it, taking a breath and then continuing to walk.
At home in Julia’s bathroom, she stands at the sink and starts to remove her make up, once in a while she stops and stares, then keeps going. Her mum walks in.
MUM. Juli you were amazing tonight, it makes me so happy to see that you are doing what you love.
JULIA. Thanks mum, it means a lot that you came. Thank you for supporting me.
I’ll be out in a bit.
(Julia turns to the mirror and looks at herself, she is tired, she moves slowly as she turn to face the audience again)
My therapist, before he fell in love with me…but let’s not go there,- helped me to gather enough strength to get furniture. I mean I lived out of boxes since I got back from Sweden. I feel like such a looser for going home, alone, shouldn’t I be partying with friends, flirting, feeling young and beautiful instead of just exhausted. I love my family, I feel guilty for even thinking like this, but I’m here, feeling like this…lost, ashamed and uncool that I’m gonna lie down now, next to my mum. I have a family, people who I can talk to and yet I feel like I’m failing. This Julia on stage, who is she and where is she when I need her off stage?
Did you ever realize, that the things we dream about often feel a lot different from when they are actually happening to us, happening with us. When they become true what do we become? Sometimes I think a dream is like a white shirt, so white that it’s almost glowing and reality is like a stain I can’t get out and even though it is the same shirt, when I put it on, it feels completely different and I can only see the stain, not realizing that I’m lucky enough to get to wear it.
I feel the life of my sisters is the life I’m supposed to live, cute kids, settling down with a partner, building a home…not traveling all the time, starting over and over, searching…I’ve always wanted something else but now I think, what if I choose my career over everything else and then it might not happen or not be enough or happen just a bit? I’m so tired.
(Julia puts on her pajamas, quietly lies down next to her mum, the light on the bed side table is still on. She lies there with her eyes open, turns to the audience and continues to talk, quietly and slowly.)
The moment in front of the cathedral was not the end, but another beginning.
Maybe…as a pilgrim…as an artist, the expectation of enough, of arriving somewhere might never be fulfilled…what’s more important, they might not even be relevant…It might be the constant moving, the search, the finding a way, step by step, note by note…walking for the sake of walking.
She closes her eyes, lights go out.