Liz and Riley, co-founders and Artistic directors of It’s Personal, pivoted their live theater show and classes to an online format at the start of the pandemic. Along the way they learned a few things…
1. Find Your Partner In Crime.
Grab your roommate, husband, partner, or that stranger on the street (virtually, we mean. Don’t be touching people!) We promise you will need them to push through the year 2020. We began our journey at Columbia College Chicago and found ourselves both moving to LA in 2013. 7 years later we had a successful theater company and started the journey towards a new year in 2020. “This was our year,” we said.
Running a theater company is no easy task. Running a theater company when you can’t perform in an actual theater is even harder. In quarantine, we were able to bounce ideas off each other, cry to each other, and celebrate ourselves when we had a win. Having each other to get through this year was irreplaceable. We highly suggest you find that person.
2 . Go digital. Now.
We don’t have to tell you, dear reader, how epically our expectations of 2020 quickly went down the drain. We made it through one of the five themed shows we had planned for the year; our Crush show in January and February. We made it through one month of classes in our rental space. We started rehearsals on our March and April show...and then the world shut down. We decided to just...wait it out. Wait for a date when theaters would open back up, when we could put up our now postponed Growing Up show, when we could cast our fall shows.
In the meantime, we did what we could. We did start our podcast in 2020 and figure out a way to record remotely so we could continue to put out an episode every Monday. We brought our classes from classroom to zoom call and many talented teachers in their respective fields taught classes on the It’s Personal zoom. We realized being in a theater again this year wasn’t likely so we took our storytelling shows online too, doing 6 online shows from May to October with so many fantastic performers. Raising money for charity has always been an integral part of our company, but this year we were able to raise more money than we ever have, raising over $1000 for dozens of amazing charities that needed our help.
Don’t wait for the world to open back up! You have the creative juices flowing so use it! Hop on instagram and share your story, send out email blasts, create zoom rooms where you can laugh and feel connected. (Maybe you even make a Tik Tok musical like Ratatouille.)
3. “Call Your Girlfriend…
I think it’s time we talked.” (Please just play Robyn on Spotify while reading this next paragraph.) Ask all your friends to help you any way possible! We are constantly scared that we are burdening people by asking for help or asking if they want to be a part of something. We forget that people want to work towards something and want to see their friends succeed. The worst thing someone can say is, “no thanks.” Okay, no biggie! Let’s ask the next person. Remember that most creative people are seeking a community.
We truly could have not done this 2020 year without our dedicated executive team, cast, crew, teachers and collaborators. We pushed them and asked a lot of them, but we all grew because of it. A creative outlet feels a bit like therapy too! And it’s 2020...we all need therapy.
4. Goals Are Not Just For Athletes.
As artists we are constantly inspired and working towards bettering our art. It truly helps to make goals (was this a good sports analogy? We don’t know, we’re theater kids). We found ourselves creating agendas, goal sheets, lists, and long winded emails to better understand where we were progressing our business and art towards. Don’t feel like you fail if you don’t accomplish your goal. Keep adding it to the list and keep working towards that goal. At IP, we have had ideas in the works for months, sometimes years! We are focusing on the stuff we already do, but also looking toward the future of what we can do next. We started this company as two women who wanted to make a space for people to tell their stories. It has grown, and will continue to grow, into something even more magical than we could have anticipated. Staying true to your mission is important. Staying true to your story is our mantra.
5. It’s Okay if it Isn’t How You Thought It Would Be.
Who had a Resolution for 2020 that they didn’t stick to? (raises hand) It’s okay if you didn’t accomplish everything you set out to do this year. Just surviving is honestly enough. You are enough. It’s okay if what you accomplished doesn’t look like what you thought it would. Making art is affected by your environment, and if your stage is a computer screen and you can’t connect with your audience, you may feel like a failure. But you’re not, because somewhere in the interwebs is someone receiving your art and better because of it. Because you shared a part of yourself with the world when you would have rather stayed under a blanket till 2021. If you don’t take anything else with you from 2020 (and like, please don’t) go into the next year and do the thing. The thing that scares you, the thing you don’t think is good enough, the thing you’ve been putting off. Because you, and the world, will be better for it.
We will be continuing (and expanding!) our digital efforts into 2021. We want to thank everyone that has supported us during the insanity that was 2020. Being able to continue telling our stories has meant the world to not just us, but the entire It’s Personal company. While we look forward to being back on stage at some point, we thank you for your ongoing patronage. Here’s to a better 2021!
I turned 26 last month, and I’m not thrilled about it.
I used to indulge in the chance to reinvent myself at a new age. At 10, I’d be one of the mature kids on the playground – sitting on the sidelines, braiding hair, and making conversation with the teachers – an old soul, if you will. At 16, I’d drive to school and back, and sometimes, if my parents allowed it, to the Krispy Kreme down the road. At 18, I’d finally be “an adult” and blissfully think I could “do anything.”
But the anticipation of a fresh number has gradually lost its sparkle. The older I get, the more I can’t get rid of this gnawing feeling that I’ll never have time to do it all, and that I’ll have to compromise – either travel the world or have kids. Either climb the ladder at the same steady-income-job, or try something new and have to start from scratch.
I consistently can’t make up my mind, and that’s not stopping the time from keeping on, and dragging me through the dirt. I am aware that 26 is not “old,” but 26 is not your early twenties. Am I setting my life up for success? What is success, really?
For my birthday this year, I went on two walks, ordered overpriced pasta from Jon and Vinny’s, and had a Zoom dinner with my parents – just enough to not feel too much like a lonely loser. It was expectedly sad, not just because of COVID, but because here I am again, feeling like I’ve lost yet another year of my life. Everyday is another day that I haven’t found the answers, and I know I know, that’s not how life works, but that doesn’t stop me from the existential panic.
At what year does that sentiment switch? How old are you when age becomes a thing that’s lauded, and not an imminent dread?
My grandpa’s birthday is a few days before mine, and I forgot to call. I remembered this as he and my grandma called me – they’re seriously punctual about phone calls, especially on your birthday.
Pop-Pop is 81 this year, and he spent most of October in the hospital, alone. He’s out now, and currently on dialysis and a strict diet. He honestly sounds a lot happier than he’s been in a while – we think it’s from the lack of tobacco use (thank you long-term hospital stay), but it could just be that he’s thankful to be home.
Our phone conversations don’t usually last more than five minutes – neither of us are solid at small talk. But the past few calls have been five times that – on my birthday, we energetically chatted about the clam pasta that my grandma cooked him for his 81st, and all of the other low-sodium, doctor-approved meals he’s been eating.
We agreed that next year, we’re going to have a massive party, because we all deserve it. And I felt guilty that he called me, and not the other way around.
I keep thinking that it’s an honor to know him. To have gotten to know him. And I’ve strangely never thought about what he’s accomplished in life. I just think about the way he loves the Yankees, does every New York Times crossword, and gives good hugs.
At 26, all I want is to have my year back. But I’m trying to revel in the days spent. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, and we don’t know who it will take. I’d like to start believing in the passing of time as magic in itself.
This very blog post was on my to-do list.
There’s always something I’m working on and a to-do list on my phone really helps me get all of my tasks organized, but even then some errands get lost in the shuffle. You see, when I skip a task on my list, a push notification lingers on my phone and it drives me bonkers! I absolutely despise having a push notification on my phone, probably because I have some mild, undiagnosed OCD. I’ve seen people with email notifications in the tens of thousands and I had to bite down on my lip to prevent myself from snatching their phone and smashing it on the ground. Seriously, just disable push notifications at that point to keep a clean phone.
This list is incredibly helpful though because if I don’t get a project done, it nags at me from the back of my head. Not all the time, just when I’m relaxing and feeling accomplished.
“Oh man, I’m really enjoying this movie! I should make a movie. Well, I need to write a script first. Ah geez, I was supposed to write a script…”
Writing it down and having that nagging push notification is a great visual reminder to do that before the guilt sets in. I’m sweating thinking about what’s left on my list.
Deleting that task seems like cheating in a way. It’s sort of like I’m skipping a level in a video game. The developer wants me to experience the entire game from start to finish, but I’m cutting out certain obstacles and deceiving the game and in a way, myself.
If I have an idea in mind for a project, I just have to finish it. I can’t really show off my work portfolio with a bunch of half baked projects. I need to have some completed works that I need to show off. If that’s not my line of thinking then I think that I have to complete it for myself. I need to prove to myself that I can complete that project or I can never really move on from it.
Sometimes a project just does not work and even if it does, it keeps me away from other obligations such as bigger ideas, friends, and even my own self-care. You can’t force a piece of coal to shine, just as much as you can’t force a project to work. People change with time and that means older ideas don’t align with who they are at the moment. They need to express themselves in new ways and not get stuck in the old ones.
Though that project is still on my to-do list, it is ready to be deleted. I've made the conscious effort to abandon it. All that’s left to do is discard it from the list. Though it’s just a simple swipe and a tap on my smartphone, it feels like I am pushing a boulder with all my ideas, hard work, and heart off a cliff. Once that boulder reaches the bottom of that cliff, I can’t push it back up. It’s gone. Time to roll up a completely different rock.
Hopefully, I’ve become a stronger person after that project. Maybe I can tackle the new one with a bit more ease. If another project doesn’t sound too frightening, I might add a brand new item on my to-do list. Maybe I can check it off this time.
When I was around eight years old, my carpool locked me in the car. It was accidental. I think. They just...well, they just forgot me. I wish I were joking, but alas:
I remember being squished in the backseat middle, and when we got to school (my favorite place in the whole world!) all three kids and Mrs. Morris (their mom, who had been driving) piled out of the car. As I was scooting across the sticky seat to the door—which Graham, the kid next to me, had oh-so-helpfully closed behind him—I heard the click of automatic locks. It didn’t register at first. Not until I pulled the door handle, and...nothing. So I—seemingly very calmly—pulled again. Nothing. Now, you should know that I live in a perpetual state of low-grade anxiety—you know, a general feeling of impending doom!—but that second attempt at the door is when I started to really freak out. It must have been childproof locks or something, I don’t know. As a matter of fact, to this day, I still have no idea what happened, because what did I do after I couldn’t get that door open on the first two tries? I stopped trying—And this from a kid who loved school and was deathly afraid of being tardy!
But in that moment, I was more deathly afraid of being visibly “stuck” or “wrong” or not being able to figure it out,” so I simply stopped trying. I didn’t pull any other door handles. I didn’t honk or scream or bang on a window. I just sat there—watching my carpool (who —it was clear—had forgotten me) blissfully skip off to school (OK, they weren’t exactly skipping, but still). Anyone who walked by the car in those moments would’ve seen a little girl casually sitting in the backseat, totally fine, totally normal, nothing to see here, folks. But the reality that no one saw, of course, is that inside the car, I was trapped and internally, freaking out, sliding all around the seat which was no longer sticky, because at that point, I was sweating in places...well, all over.
And that exact picture—that kid in the car, left behind, panicking, sweating all over but trying to look calm, cool, and collected—perfectly sums up my experience with anxiety. It’s my reality. It’s the reality I made for myself long before I was locked in that car—and long after I made my daring escape. In fact, I’m still living in that reality so much of the time—afraid to rock the boat or honk the horn, afraid to speak up, not surprised or indignant when I’m left behind or forgotten, just trying desperately to look cool and quietly figure out what I’m doing wrong in this situation. I’m still so mortified by my very existence.
I’ve lived with anxiety my whole life, it seems. I feel like it’s this huge thing that follows me around—like it’s stuck to me almost—and so I’m forever trying to find creative ways to hide it. Like a big zit smackdab in the center of your forehead that absolutely refuses to be covered by any amount of makeup. So then you start contemplating giving yourself bangs just to cover it up (anyone else? Or is that just me?). Kids at school used to make fun of my sweaty palms, which would leave slimy handprints on the papers at my desk. Sometimes by the end of a class period, the papers would even stick to my palms—you know, like Spiderman! But with an anxiety disorder. My thoughts are always racing like bullets. But if they’re bullets, the gun is pointed always at me: I’m ugly, I’m fat, I’m stupid, I’m stuck, I’m old, I’m unlovable, I’m doing it wrong, I’m going to get in trouble, I’m wasting my life, I’m poor, I’m sick, I’m lonely, I’m unlikeable, I’m worthless, I’m going nowhere, I’m afraid, I’m a fool, I’m anxious (yes, I even beat myself up for being anxious).
Some well-meaning people like to point out that anxiety (and the low self-esteem that often accompanies it) is actually very self-centered, because you’re always thinking about you—even if it’s just about how inadequate you are. But that’s not really the whole story. Sure, I struggle with thoughts of self-hatred, and yes, they take up a lot of mental and emotional energy. But truly, my anxiety comes not from being intensely aware of myself, but rather being intensely aware of myself in the world. How I relate to it, how I interact with it, how I can make it better, how I might be making it worse. I’m hyper-aware. Like, to a fault. Or a superpower. Depends on how you look at it, I guess.
And if you’re looking at me now, you wouldn’t know it. You wouldn’t know any of it. I’ve learned to hide my sweaty palms and my racing thoughts. I’ve learned to hide period. I’m no longer eight years old, locked in a car. That kid’s still inside me, sure, but she’s inside a woman with way more life experience (and who can take on any childproof lock, thanks very much). And what I’ve garnered during those thirty-some years of life experience is that anxiety isn’t all bad. Don’t worry!—I promise I’m not going to sugarcoat this; no fairytale endings here. But hear me out: apart from being biologically, ancestrally-designed to keep me safe, my anxiety makes me a kickass friend, a giving lover, and a talented writer/storyteller. Sure, I overthink everything. But that means I’m thinking about you a lot of the time. I remember birthdays and anniversaries, I can tell almost immediately when you’re having a bad day, I want to help you feel good, I worry about you. I won’t just walk a mile in your shoes. I’ll also polish them and bring them back to you. With a hug and a cup of tea. Because I understand—perhaps better than most—what you’re going through. My anxiety makes me incredibly empathetic. Which is arguably precisely what we need more of in the world today. So I own all of it. The good, the bad, the ugly, the zit. I wipe off my palms. I try again. I speak about it. I share it. I tell my story. I honk the horn.
And in case you’re wondering: Mrs. Morris did eventually remember and retrieve me for that car. I didn’t get a tardy. She apologized profusely to my mom, and we all laughed about it for years. Because it is kind of funny. And after all, it didn’t turn out all that bad.