To be frank and honest, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to work on Paradise Square. When the audition came through, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to it. When the callback came through, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to it. When the offer came through, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to accept it.
This was less a reflection of the work and much more a reflection of where I was in my heart at the time. I had finished a physically taxing eight-month national tour where we sometimes played three cities in a week. I’d spent the summer reconnecting with New York City and focusing on putting roots down again. When Paradise Square came my way, the thought of packing it all up again — when I had just finally finished unpacking from the road — gave me nausea and agita.
However, the pull of the Bay Area was strong; it had been on my to-do list ever since I’d read Amy Tan’s “Joy Luck Club” set in San Francisco’s Chinatown. I signed on the dotted line, and I thought, if nothing else, at least I’ll get to get paid to go visit that Chinatown.
The tension in my gut proved to be wise and anticipatory. I don’t use the word trauma lightly, and I experienced it in Berkeley, both in terms of personal challenges and professional challenges. Because of some very tough circumstances, I found myself in a hole of despair, blaming myself for not following my intuition, away from all the things that might have helped me climb out of the hole; I was essentially in fight or flight mode in a place where I had no friends, family, or home (in the real sense of what “home” is).
I’ve been sad every day for months on end in the past. I’m not talking about depression, but a broken heart. When your heart is broken, you are sad all the time. This was not a new experience for me, but I didn’t want to look back on my time in the Bay Area and have my memories of it be permeated by a sadness that would not shift. I didn’t want the black hole to be defining of what I would remember about my time in Berkeley working on Paradise Square.
So, I put on a brave face and came into work and tried to laugh when people made jokes and tried to concentrate on learning all my swing tracks. On days off, I tried to spend as much of it outside. I watched the sun set on New Year’s Eve from Land’s End. I ran a 5k and two 10k races outside. I bought a book called “Secret Stairs of the East Bay” and let it guide me through the stairs and hills of the area.
I ended up having some once in a lifetime experiences. I put my footprints in places that many dream of walking. While doing so, there were moments when I was simultaneously in awe of life and so sad over it. I would cry out of both gratitude and woe. In time, I came to understand that we are not ever defined by a cut and dry feeling at any given moment. As we struggle, so do we succeed. As we falter, so do we fly.
Pure contentment... that moment when we truly are at complete and utter peace... I’ve known it extremely fleetingly. What is far more human is the devastation when the man you’ve been dating breaks up with you over FaceTime mixed with the joy of your third show as a swing mixed with the doubt of if you’ll ever be enough in any capacity mixed with the delight of hiking Muir Woods with your dad. I can’t speak to anyone else’s experience, but I can say that that’s what my experience of being a 36-year-old female actor who is single with two Broadway credits swinging a show out in Berkeley has been.
With three days until the end of my four months out here working on Paradise Square, I honestly conclude that I have no regrets and that I would not change a thing. Out of the dark hole, I came out slightly changed for the better, having taken multitudes of breaths of the San Francisco air and, again, learned an entire show from scratch. When my colleagues make jokes now, my laugh is entirely genuine. That is something to acknowledge and honor, as I pack up my dressing room.