So, how did a middle aged doctor's daughter and doctor herself embark on this path of actor? (And yes, actor is now the word for all of us, female, male and nonconforming).
After my stroke, I invested every once of energy I had in rehab with the object of getting back to work. And though I did, and could still do it well (with accommodations for slower processing speed and inability to multitask), after a while, sitting alone in a dark room reading case after case didn't feel like how I wanted to spend my time. What I'd always loved, the intellectual puzzle of radiology, was no longer as stimulating, rewarding or meaningful. And as hard as I was working to keep everything together, I found the antipathy from my colleagues, who were essentially "one man down", hard to live with.
I knew I would step away from medicine.
When I neared the first landmark birthday that would allow me to retire with a reasonable package from Kaiser, I wondered how to position myself for a different life. What did I want to do? What skills did I have that would translate? What would be deeply satisfying?
As I pondered these questions, a Stanford Continuing Education Catalogue came in the mail. Flipping through, I saw, "Show Up For Your Life." Well, if I don't show up now, when will I? I thought. The class, taught by Stanford Drama Professor Emerita, Patricia Ryan Madson, author of Improv Wisdom: Don't Prepare, Just Show Up, described using the tools of improvisation to improve your everyday life. The latest iteration, called, "Everyday Spontaneity: Improvising Our Lives," course description describes Improvisation as "the practice of becoming awake." I enrolled.
That same winter quarter catalogue had a second course, called Compass Journey: A Personal Career and Life-Strategizing Course. Taught by Kathleen Sexton, who had worked at the Stanford Learning and Development Program, the course was designed among other things to "clarify your hopes and dreams...and create an action plan to make your vision a reality." I enrolled in that one, too.
The mantra of improv is "Yes, and.." Meaning accept all offers, and add something, almost the opposite of the scientific inquiry in which I'd been steeped. Instead of meeting new information with, "Show me the evidence", the world of improv encourages accepting and building on "offers". Improv encourages celebrating failure with a circus bow! You took a risk! You tried! Improv was a playful world of making stories and finding gifts in the offers that arrive.
My biggest personal epiphany came the improv class where we were to give a 10-minute monologue as a character. I watched excitedly as people pulled their assignments from a hat: "clown", "trapeze artist" and "nun" from the hat. My turn. I pull "CEO". My immediate reaction was of profound disappointment then anger. High status, the boss, not so far from my day job, what a miserable straight jacket! I wanted to put it back and choose another, but of course, couldn't. It was my offer, and I was learning to accept all offers, "Yes, and..." I walked down the hall to refill my water bottle grumbling, when all of a sudden, I realized, I'm the one putting a box around that title. I can be any kind of CEO I want to be! I can be the most egalitarian, fun CEO the world has ever seen!
Suddenly, I was flooded with ideas. I'm a 14 year old girl, I invented a new adhesive that made so much money we're giving the product away, and looking for great projects to spend all the cash we amassed. (No, that wasn't it exactly. I clearly remember 14-year-old girl, being giddy with excitement and feeling as if I were flying over Stanford Campus holding on to a huge bunch of red and pink helium filled balloons. But only 3 years out from my stroke, my new verbal memory was still impaired, so I mostly remember how I felt.) I became that 14-year-old, and had more fun that I could remember! I suddenly also saw how many times I had put that straight jacket on! And suddenly felt empowered to change my life with "Yes, and..."
At the same time, I was working though The Personal Compass, the visioning and goal setting workbook for the Compass Journey course. It started with a focus question we were each to ask ourselves as a starting point. Interestingly, mine was "How can I create a life with meaningful service to community that also brings in fun, recreation and room for a significant other!" (That's verbatim from my completed workbook.) The workbook than includes tools to assess where you are now, look back at your history (with highs and lows), measure how you spend your time and the satisfaction you get from each of those activities, an inventory of strengths, weaknesses, challenges and opportunities, imagine your best future, choose your outcomes and create a strategy for accomplishing those outcomes. In addition, the class included discussions and assessment tools like Meyers Briggs.
There was incredible synergy between the two courses. Compass Journey course was the intellectual and deep diving background to the spiritual aliveness and rebirth of improvisation.
An improv course requirement to see a performance of improvisation at BATS in San Francisco was another turning point. We went as a class; watching grown ups play, be funny, evocative, silly, serious, sharp, spontaneous, wild and wonderful, telling great stories on stage knocked me over. I was triply hooked. I enrolled in BATS school, taking every class I could, and started performing. At one point, there were no performance classes I could take at BATS, so I went over to Pan in Oakland for classes. A coach there, Ralph Thomas, asked me to be in a play he was directing. I said, "Sure". The whole process was great fun. I loved it! And mourned when the show was over.
Then I realized I really didn't have a clue about what I was doing. Actors go to school, same as I did for medicine. Respect the craft.
So, I began taking acting classes first at The College of Marin, then Berkeley Rep, and ACT's Summer Acting Congress. In a College of Marin Solo Performance class, taught by W. Allen Taylor (Walkin' Talkin' Bill Hawkins: In Search of My Father), I did an 8-minute monologue about the process of qualifying to adopt my sons. Several audience members rushed me after the performance. They hugged me. With tears in her eyes, one said, "Thank you. You told my story." I was overwhelmed. As a radiologist, though I made many a call that changed someone's life, I rarely saw the impact. I gave my reports to their doctors, and never lived with the consequences, good or bad. Now I had told my first story, and touched lives. One person said, "You were meant to do this! You need to find David Ford at the Marsh." And so I did.
At the same time, I felt I needed more acting training, so completed a 2 year Meisner Technique program. Along the way, I did a workshop with Anna Deveare Smith.
And here I am an actor with a full-length show; unplanned, a function of serendipity and being open to the unfolding.