As I write this, I’m sitting in a café in Ísafjörður, which, by the way, I have no idea how to pronounce, with my friend and fellow ensemble member Chelsea. Last winter, I saw a low-cost airline advertising cheap fares to Iceland, and we said, “Why not?” Now, we’re here.
Now, this in itself is not very extraordinary. Not at all. On the contrary, American tourism to Iceland is on the rise. I hear about it amongst other hip, young travelling friends as the cool place to go, mostly because of the cheap tickets. But as I contextualized this choice with Chelsea, we slowly decided to be more and more adventurous. We decided we hated the idea of expensive, guided day tours. We didn’t want to pay for bus rides with loads of other tourists to carefully chosen “destination” trips. Instead, we chose to spend three days in Reykjavik with no plans, and then to book a cabin that is actually in the middle of nowhere in the tippy top of Iceland. We saw a website that said only 3% of tourists even come to this area of the country. Not that we knew that going into this, by the way — we did that little research.
There have been a lot more challenges. Driving over gravel roads on top of mountains, not knowing what to do because we didn’t make a plan, trying to turn on the oil stove in our cabin. Some moments, Chelsea will be the first to tell you, have been outright frustrating and Not. Cool. But despite the knuckle-gripping terror of possibly spinning out on the top of a mountain or the unthinkable expense of gas (petrol! So European!) for an SUV, when we finally found the waterfall Dynjandi and scrambled to the top, the victory was ours. The sore butts that followed us for days after spontaneously renting bikes and wandering through horticultural gardens and the zoo were well-earned.
Chelsea and I have had a lot of time, too, to reflect on Critical Point Theatre and our work there. While we were gone, our original audience-interactive show When We Grow Up premiered in D.C. This premise was most terrifying of all. When I found out we got into the Capital Fringe Festival, I knew this would be hard. I’ve spent two years as the founder and only consistent leader of the company, and on every previous output, I’ve watched it as sharply as a hawk. I’m sure every ensemble member can tell you about a story where I’ve berated them, strongarmed them by arguing ad infinitum, and was relentless about ensuring that the show turned out exactly as it should, okay???? Most recently, with When We Grow Up director Will Jennings, we devolved into a 30 minute exasperating talk about what rating system to put on the back of the clipboards for the show. I’m not fucking kidding you at all. I’m sure he hates me. I am a (not so) secret control freak.
Would everyone careen off the mountain without me?
This selfish, absurd thought creeped in my head more than once. I sent my boyfriend desperate messages in all caps about the program, for god’s sake. Chelsea had to watch me refresh the sales numbers in the Subway wifi that we stole from the parking lot more than once. Letting go was hard.
Today, when I logged in, I heard glowing reports from the team. We exceeded our sales goal. The audience was really into it. All was well. The hard path of creating an audience-forward show, the constant questions of how to best extend the invitation and what would activate or alienate the audience, the hand-wringing over sales, the shepherding of a cast of young actors, it all worked how it should.
When Chelsea and I have talked about creating performance during our week in Iceland, we kept coming back to the question of our way of working. It’s hard. I could make theatre in a lot of easier ways. We could both work with different people than we are. There are a lot of internal issues that we work through, constantly. I see a lot of people doing forms of performance that I find disingenuous, pandering, bought experiences, or self-congratulatory. I already have a pretty salty tongue about this, and I’m trying to work to be less judgmental and more accepting. After all, Marcuse believed that all genuine art had a revolutionary purpose, because it keeps the imagination alive by suggesting that other worlds are possible. There’s nothing wrong with doing guided tours and day trips from Reykjavik, and it’s probably the most convenient way to travel, anyway.
But in the moment when I felt most unnerved by the roughlands of the Westfjords was when I felt most sure in my purpose. Choosing to enter down this path as a theatre artist has caused me more despair than I thought possible, both in tangible losses (of money, friends, and time) and incalculable anxiety. I don’t know if I can call myself a better artist, leader, or friend. A few weeks ago, I watched Andrew turn down a safe bet (splitting his poker winnings evenly with his challenger) to play it out. He didn’t win, and yet I loved him for it. His unyielding idealism despite it all, his cocky stubbornness towards a hard goal – that grit was hard won.
The more I shit my pants, the more I’ve gained resolve. Hearing about opening night overseas, I relished the victories of my teammates. Passing off the baton wasn’t effortless, but it made me appreciate the sweat of an endurance sport.