On Stage: MMLA 2013

I love that I have friends from many different stages of life. Why? Because they still support and push me. Every once and a while, I need someone who knows my history to give me a little boost–especially when its a push out of the wings and into the spotlight.

This particular “push” started over a year ago–actually, over two years ago at the very end of my junior year at Rice. My Modern Drama professor (who later became the thesis supervisor for my playwriting senior portfolio) decided to take my group’s production of 4.48 Psychosis to the Midwest Modern Language Association 2012 conference. We re-rehearsed the piece that fall and presented it in November 2012 at the Cincinnati conference. It was my first conference experience and I loved it. I didn’t realize that it would be panels and papers and a whole hotel filled with people who wanted to discuss the issues circulating around English departments all over the nation–and internationally. Through my mentor, I made some great friends and contacts with other English students and professors.

Last Year's Performance

Last Year’s Performance

So last fall, she pushed me to take another step forward: submit a proposal for my own paper. I had never written an abstract, had never thought about presenting my own research in front of other academics–did I even have interests like that? It turns out I did in Noel Coward and suddenly I found myself signed on to return to MMLA as both a performer and a presenter for my second year.

Last weekend I travelled to the MMLA to both present my first academic conference paper and perform in yet another SteinSemble piece–this time one I helped to write/adapt. It was quite a journey to get there this year, not only because it meant waking up at 3 am (and then accidentally missing the first two buses) to get to the Toronto airport, but because it took me a long spring, summer, and fall to work through the process of developing an idea, writing an abstract, getting accepted, researching my topic, writing a conference paper to be read aloud in a room of my peers, and then revising it with all the pressures of being a full-time graduate student riding on my back.

Love me some Noel Coward.

Love me some Noel Coward.

I thought the actual conference would be nerve-wracking, that I would get sick to my stomach and nervy before the panel. Instead, I think the weeks and months of slowly planning my paper and preparing it meant that I didn’t have the normal pre-performance anxiety. Suddenly I was at the hotel, we were in the conference room, the other panelists were presenting and then–it was my turn. In spite of the British accents, the costume pieces, and unconventional delivery (a critical introduction, then two monologues partially taken from Coward’s plays and woven through with my interpretation of their voices), the paper was well received. It didn’t stand out in a bad way from the group, but actually linked up well with the ensuing discussion about narrative structures in musicals and straight plays. And I was able to answer some of the crowds’ questions.

And the paper was only the beginning; I spent all day Saturday, with the exception of a few panels and trips to the hotel pub for meals, rehearsing for Screening Sitwell’s Facades, a play adapted from Edith Sitwell’s poetry and Noel Coward’s parodies of her poetry. Just days before the conference, I was telling inquiring strangers that yes I study theater, but no I am not an actor and actually don’t enjoy performing. But after both performances, I feel I need to reconsider that position. Maybe, under the right circumstances and with the right preparation, I can act well and enjoy the process. Maybe I shouldn’t be shutting that door.

It was difficult to come back to Toronto after such an eye-opening weekend. It made me realize how much I miss being with Americans, studying English Literature, and hanging out with my mentor and my Rice University friends.

I don’t know if I’ll have time to attend too many more conferences during this year, but I do feel like it’s a useful exercise. It has opened doors for me and made me reconsider which path I might want to take through life, as a theatre-maker, artist, and maybe still an academic.

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About austinausten88

Playwright in love with Classic films, afternoon tea, and Noel Coward. She recently graduated from Rice University. In the fall, she will be exchanging her English major undergraduate status for that of Theatre & Performance Studies graduate student.
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