Thursday, November 12, 2015

Reflections On My Birthday

I normally don’t think much about my birthday. Well, that’s not true. I THINK about it, but I don’t really really do much about it. If it weren’t for Facebook, I don’t think anyone would know when my birthday was. I rarely if ever have parties, and the ones I do have are thrown together so last minute that very few friends can come. Somehow I have always viewed my birthday as a solitary thing - something to quietly ponder as the year marches feverishly toward the holidays.

This year is different, though. It’s different because for the first time my mortality is staring me in the face. Not because my years are advancing, but because chemotherapy is ravaging my body to kill cancer that’s been living unchecked in my breast for who knows how long.

We all have this survival instinct that says, “I’m going to live forever.” It helps us believe that we’ll fall on the right side of statistics and that miracles can occur. And that’s really comforting to live with.

But I don’t live with that feeling anymore. Those feelings have passed in innocence like my childhood. I meditate to reclaim that feeling, but instead my brain is forcing me to look rationally at my life, forcing me to contemplate, “You may not fall on the right side of the statistics this time. So, if this cancer means your time is up, what do you have to say about that?”

The scariest thing about my cancer is not the cancer that I have right now - the Stage IIB Grade 3 (most aggressive) Triple Negative Breast Cancer. It’s the cancer I might get later on. Even if I go into complete remission, I have a 34% chance of having a recurrence somewhere else in my body with the average relapse time of 2.6 years. This is also known as Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. There is no cure. Many of those people die, some very soon after the relapse. But recurrence rates drop dramatically after 3 years, and after 5 years people with my kind of cancer have virtually no chance of relapse.

My brain asks again, “So, if this cancer means your time is up, what do you have to say about that?”

I have been sitting here for what seems like hours trying to answer that question, but it just leaves me with more questions. Do I pay attention to the statistic that says I have a real chance of relapse that will likely kill me, or do I pay attention to the statistic that says that most women with my cancer do not relapse?

And then I feel an odd sense of calm. I have come up with an answer.

2.6 years. There’s an agreement here - this is the time both sides of the statistic say that I have. 

What I do with that information is the difference between living with cancer and dying with it.

What do I have to say about that?

I’m not done here. NOT YET. 

There are plays I want to share with the world.
There are more Christmases with my mother.
There are cities to visit that I’ve never seen: Berlin, Portland, Austin, Sydney, Rome
I want to take a long road trip with no firm destination.
There's the possibility of marriage and puppies in our future.
I want to see my theater company hit the Off-Broadway level so our artists can earn a living wage. Heck, *I* need earn a living wage as an artist.

I’m not done here. NOT YET.

There are more movies to cry to.
There are more songs I’ll sing to make YOU cry.
There are at least 120 more Saturday mornings to sleep in.
I have milestones to reach with my friends.
I need to be Candice's maid of honor.
I have resources I want to impart to anyone wanting empowerment.
I’m not waiting anymore.

I’m giving myself 6 more months of rest and sanctuary, to complete my treatments and get my body back into full health. During that time I will create my official bucket list. And when I’m at full strength I’ll tackle it. Because I have a number - 2.6 - that tells me everything I need to know about life.

So, yeah. It’s my birthday. I’m pretty sure I’ll be thinking a little differently about it from now on. It’s somehow scary and peaceful all at the same time. But I still think I want reflect alone for this one...

Erin


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Many of you have asked how you can help. I’ve created a wish list of things that would really make a difference as I go through treatment. Click here.

To read my medical updates, including how I’ve been doing with chemo treatments, click here.

I love comments almost as much as getting mail. Leave something below!


Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has toured nationally with plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. For more information, please visit http://www.erincronican.com.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

What I Think About Cancer Buzzwords

So, we’re ending the month of October - Breast Cancer Awareness Month - and I for one will be very glad to see pink relegated back to babies and Glinda in WICKED. I’ve never been someone who jumped on bandwagons just because they were popular. But there’s something about having cancer and having buzzwords and themes swarm me that puts my discomfort at a whole other level.

Almost as soon as I uttered the words, “I have breast cancer” my inbox, mailbox, and social media pages have been filled with all shades of pink and words like fight, warrior, brave, strong, battle, journey, etc. I understand why they’re popular - at a time when it’s so difficult to know what to say, sometimes buzzwords are all that come to mind. They come with love but are thrown with such abandon that their intention is often lost in a murky haze.

What’s happened is that these buzzwords have, in me, created a sense of isolation from the world, because when someone with so much love says, “You’ve got this, you’re the bravest person I know,” I can’t share how I really feel. That would be anti-social. Ungrateful. Mean. So I say, “Thank you - that means a lot! Happy face emoticon!” Because people want to know that I will be ok. So I make sure they know that I’ll be ok. But by not saying how I feel, I’m hiding a very real part of the experience of cancer:

Isolation. Fear. Fury. Frustration. Exhaustion. Loneliness. Confusion. Numbness.

The truth is, I don’t feel brave. You hear cancer patients say this all the time. Bravery is when you have a choice to go forward or back and no matter the fear you go forward anyway. There is no choice in fighting cancer. There is no going back. It’s only forward, no matter what. Beyond that, it’s obvious - you get cancer, you treat it. There’s no bravery in that. That’s survival - a basic human instinct.

I know that people view my openness to be brave. But that’s really just selfishness on my part, because sharing is my only connection to feeling human. I feel very lucky that you find value in it, but that doesn’t feel like the definition of bravery. Maybe self-benefitted altruism? :)

Alas, I’m not a warrior. I didn’t sign on to fight a war, and didn’t earn the distinction. I certainly feel a war going on inside of me, but I don’t own it. There is a crazy medicine being pumped into me every week and it’s everything I can do to just go about daily functions without falling over from “the wobbles” (thanks for the awesome description of that feeling, Laura.) If I had a spear in my hand, I would probably look pretty silly, so warrior has always felt disingenuous. (Note: I do know other breast cancer patients and survivors who thrive on the word WARRIOR, and that is fantastic. Don’t begrudge them their name - I just don’t feel like it fits me.)

Source: The Boston Globe

There are times that I marvel at everything my body is able to handle, and honor my body as being powerful and awesome. But it doesn’t feel like my body. I feel like I’ve been taken over by aliens, and I never know what the surprise will be from day to day. Will this be the day where the other 50% of my hair falls out (despite all of my best efforts to keep it in place with Cold Caps?) Will I have normal bathroom function today, or will I have to wait that out ANOTHER day? How many days of fatigue will I have this week? Am I really hungry or is that the steroids talking? Are those normal chills, or am I starting to get neuropathy (a dangerous side effect of Taxol, the treatment I’m on for 12 weeks)? Wait... is that ANOTHER cold? WILL I EVER HAVE A DAY WHEN I FEEL WELL AGAIN?

I don’t want to fight. I’m very competitive and already had enough fight in my life, thank you very much.

I don’t value this journey. Yes, I’m sure I will come out a better person on the other side (people have told me so,) but I attribute that to my ability to make awesome out of crap. It’s NOT because cancer is a valuable as a journey. Don’t believe me? Would you like to take my cancer and have the benefit of the journey? Didn’t think so.

One thing I avoid talking about is my anger. Man, that makes people so uncomfortable. So, I hide it and it eats me up inside. So I’m throwing caution to the wind, and I’ll share something that really makes me angry.

I was at an open mic and a comedian was joking about menopause and she said, “Wait - is anyone here still menstruating? Show of hands?” Normally I don’t raise my hand when listening to a comedian because I don’t want to be singled out, but in this case I realized that I COULDN’T raise my hand IN REALITY because I’m in early menopause from cancer. Nope, strike that. I'm in early menopause from chemo, not cancer. As in, I haven’t had my period in 2 months. I’m in my 30s. Something’s not right. No period = no fertility.

And guess what? My insurance would not approve the one drug that might help me preserve my fertility. There is a chance that my menopause will reverse when chemo is done (as can happen to women in their 30s) but there is a greater chance that the damage to my ovaries will be too great and the menopause will be permanent. The worst part? I didn’t even know I wanted kids until the day my doctor said I wouldn’t be able to have them. In that moment, I began to grieve for the choice that had been taken away from me by cancer - a choice I didn’t know I held so closely to my heart.

Ah, yes... see, anger is just a foil for what’s really going on at a deeper level. It’s GRIEF. I’m grieving for the life I’ve left behind. I’m grieving for my innocence. I’m grieving for a body that will never be the same (with 4 knife-slashed scars across my chest to prove it.) I’m grieving the time I’ve lost with my friends and family due to appointments and the need for rest. I’m grieving the time lost in my acting career as I battle huge self-esteem issues due to hair loss, facial redness, eyelash fallout and steroid-induced weight gain. Will I age out of my “type category” before I’ve put myself back together? Yep - add ANXIETY to that list, too.


Speaking of anxiety, did I mention that there is chance that this invasive cancer could kill me? A small chance with all of the nuking going on inside my body, but a chance none the less.

Moving on...

The very hardest thing to hear people ask is, “How are you?” I truly do not know how to answer that, and the few times I’ve been brave enough to say so in the moment, people have responded, “Answer however you want to answer - I just want to know that I’m thinking about you.” So, maybe it’s better just to let me know THAT rather than asking how I am. Because I can’t answer that in the short, snappy way that social interactions have time for. When I’m asked, “How are you?” all I hear is, “Please tell me you’re ok” (which I’m not) or “I want to know what’s been happening recently,” (which, jesus, where do I begin?) At any given moment I can be feeling all kinds of things, it’s enough to drive me mad. So I’ve created standard replies that keep me in people’s good graces but allow me to keep closed the gaping emotional wound, “I’m hanging in there.” “I’m taking it one day at a time.” “Cancer is surreal.” “Cancer is stupid.”

I know I have been changed in ways I cannot fathom, and I am so grateful to gaining experience as a human being. But late at night as I stare at my ceiling, I hear this echo in my head:

I just want my old life back.

I’m on a speeding train and I can’t get off until treatment is done. Life will be a blur until then. I learn new things about my body every day that scare me and awe me. I want to cry and I can’t, and then I cry at the silliest things and I can't stop crying. Most of the time I just want to be held and don’t want to talk. Or I want to hear about things happening in your life, even the mundane stuff, but everyone's too afraid to talk about themselves because they think my cancer trumps whatever they're dealing with. (It really doesn't. Whatever is happening for you *is* what matters to you, and that's what *I* care about.)

The last thing I want to say...It’s hard to get your advice and suggestions for how to make my life better. My friends want so badly to be a part of the solution, but that’s already being taken care of by the doctors, nutritionists and wellness practitioners that I’ve hired to take care of me. I just need my friends to be my friends, to make me smile, to remind me that I’m ok to be me, and to help me out with the small stuff.

There are two great articles I’d like to leave you with, which share much more eloquently than I how best to deal with someone who has cancer:

• The Spoon Theory (which is about lupus but applies here. Thank you, Emily, for sending this to me.)
• What To Do When Your Friend Has Breast Cancer

And I can't leave you without at least a little motivation (for me as much as anyone else):



Thanks for reading. Stay tuned, because I actually have a humor article ready to publish here in the next week or so. See? We'll be back to our regular scheduled programming soon. In the meantime, please leave a comment to let me know you were here...

Erin  :-?

(That's an emoticon for "I don't know what the hell I'm feeling!)


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Many of you have asked how you can help. I’ve created a wish list of things that would really make a difference as I go through treatment. Click here.

To read my medical updates from 2015-2016, including how I’ve been doing with chemo treatments, click here


I love comments almost as much as getting mail. Leave something below!


Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has toured nationally with plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. For more information, please visit http://www.erincronican.com.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Art of Healing

This amazing piece of artwork is by Marilyn Huerta
I’ve been away from writing for a while as I try to get used to my new normal - life with cancer. It’s something I talk about with ease when people ask questions, and yet now as I write I get a chill as I write the words: I have cancer.

The truth is: I never talk about how I FEEL about having cancer.

Does that surprise you? Most people comment about how open I've been and how much of an impact that's made. So how can I assert that you don't know how I feel?

I chalk this up to always being a person who is perfectly open with talking about what I think about how I feel.

I'll say that again. I talk about WHAT I THINK about how I feel.

It’s a trap that I’ve enjoyed living in for quite a long time. If I’m willing to talk about things openly, people will naturally assume I’m being open. But the expression of how I feel and how things occur for me is different than talking about details and facts. And so this blog - distinct from my medical blog - is part of my quest to unlock my true expression, in a way that can be cathartic for me and (hopefully) illuminating for you.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how art and creative expression make a difference for those who are dealing with extreme difficulties. I’ve already written here about how I was able to use the terrifying moments of my diagnosis and subsequent testing to fuel my work in BOY GETS GIRL presented by The Seeing Place (click to read that post.) But that was pre-treatment, at a time when I was still full of energy and the “battle” was on the horizon, not yet in my daily life. Now that I’m in the middle of aggressive treatment, art is becoming a healing of a different kind.

Many people who know me have looked at me concerned when I say that this fall I’m producing two plays, one in which I’m starring and the other co-directing. Those who know me know that I have always been indefatigable, never slow down, and always have a dozen or so projects at any given time. People beg me to rest, and to take time for myself, and to listen to my body. They hope that my doing so will mean that I step aside from projects or take on less so that I can shore up my reserves to fight this cancer that is trying to overtake my body.

It was good advice. And I contemplated that. What would it be like to step aside for one program of shows? Could I just silently produce the pieces without the effort of directing or acting? It would definitely be easier physically for me to pull back. And it would wipe to worried looks off the faces of the people who care about me the most. And so, with careful consideration I made a plan with my theater company to see how I could step back without the work being impacted adversely. I thought I was being smart. I thought I was being generous.

And then I stopped and listened to my body. Like, REALLY listened. Not just to the physical core, which tells me what kinds of mountains I’ll be able to climb, but also the spiritual core which fills me with the drive and passion to continue to make a difference in the world. And that part was dying.

If I pull back from the one thing that makes me feel whole in the world - telling stories - cancer wins. If I say, “I’ll set back just as a producer on these projects so that other people have the chance to feel the things I should be feeling and learn the things I should be learning through a character that I’ve been meant to play...” - how can I look at myself in the mirror each morning? How can I brush aside everything I’ve been working up to, in the name of “being good to myself”?

It just doesn’t make sense. Cancer can’t win - I must win. Art must win. Expression must win. Chemo, surgery and radiation will heal my body, but if I lose my soul in the process - what good am I to this world, and to myself?

So I told my body - I’m open, and I’m listening. And it said:

Heal your soul through art.

I knew it wouldn't be easy. And knew I still needed to answer the nagging questions about time, energy, and money which are finite and fleeting. I laid out all of my options, and asked myself one key question: How would I like to spend my time, and what will serve me best in the most holistic sense, including finances, home/family, friends, business, art, personal growth/reflection? I found that with good time management and clarity of purpose, I can have the exact life that I want without having to give anything up - in fact, everything will occur like this is the way it was meant to be all along.

So rather than step back from things that mattered, I have gone about restructuring everything in my life around that really matters to me - sort of stepping into a new kind of reality: My New Normal.

• I reduced my career coaching hours to a focused 15 per week (down from a haphazard 30+) and brought on 2 amazing marketing & PR associates to help me take on tasks that I’ve never had time to do but are vital to growing the business. The ultimate goal? Bring on a staff of coaches who can expand the services I’ve been providing while reducing my workload. MORE TIME AND ENERGY FOR ME = CHECK

• I deepened my commitment to developing The Seeing Place’s key ensemble members to take on leadership positions, which will position our company far better than I ever could alone, and will allow me to step up my game while reducing my workload. MORE TIME AND ENERGY FOR ME = CHECK

• I’m examining my relationships and saying "no" far more often, but I’m also saying "YES!" more often as well. I’ve noticed that in my frenzy to fit everything in to my schedule I’ve been someone who says “maybe” and then can’t be counted on. Learning to say no while still being love and support for people is a real challenge, but in doing so I improve my relationships with others and reduce the amount of interpersonal stress and anxiety. MORE TIME AND ENERGY FOR ME = CHECK

• And I’m opening my life to brand new experiences that never before were possible. I explore the city far more often as I try to work exercise into a daily routine. I’m checking off massive to-do list items that have plagued me for years. I’m accepting the gifts of time, advice and love from my friends and family, which has led to things like astrology readings, last minute karaoke, looking at puppies in windows, my first ever acupuncture treatment, coloring books, and playing with bubbles.

I have no idea what it’s going to be like to do a play while receiving chemo treatment. But dammit, I’m not going to bow out before the starting whistle has even been blown.

Take that, cancer.

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To read about all things medical, including how I’ve been doing with chemo treatments, click here.

Want to help? I’ve created a wish list of things that would really make a difference as I go through treatment. Click here.

I love comments almost as much as getting mail. Leave something below!


Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has toured nationally with plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. For more information, please visit http://www.erincronican.com.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

3 Things That Inspire Me: Vol 4

I’ve been following an amazing blog, The Simple Dollar, for a while now - and I wanted to share with you one of my favorite features: Ten Pieces of Inspiration. Each month, writer Trent Hamm talk about 10 things that inspire him to (quote) “greater financial, personal, and professional success.” I get so gosh darned inspired by his posts that I thought I would create my own “inspiration posts” in homage to his great work.




#1 Taking the Old with the New

I took this when I was in Scotland (Edinburgh Castle)

I absolutely love old architecture and seeing remnants of the past mixed in with our modern hustle and bustle. There's something about stone and brick that makes me feel at home. I don't know why this is - I was raised in southern California with adobe and stucco are the norm. But I find myself drawn to these things and am always glad when I have a camera with me (which is so easy to have with these darned smart phones!) I also love seeing how history stacks up to nature:

I took this at Notre Dame (Paris) with wild blooming roses in front

And here's one in our own backyard!

Stone storefront on 2nd Avenue in Kips Bay, NYC


#2 Best Friends

Erin and Candice (2013 at The Salon Open Mic.)

I know, I know. I hate the lingo that the kids use these days. But I feel giddy like a teenager when I think about my best friend, Candice Oden. I've noticed that once I became an adult it became harder to build and keep strong friendships because life always seems to get in the way. So when I met Candice (the most amazing human on the planet) I knew I had to do something different to keep her in my life. First, I plied her with bourbon and tequila for late night talks. Then I seduced her with duets from musical theater (notably Wicked and Jekyll & Hyde.) Then finally, one day I asked her if she would be my best friend, and she said yes! (Ask her to tell you the full story sometime. She does a really good impression of shy Erin.)

My Bestie sent this photo to me. Of Course.
Don't mess with Best Friends!

#3 Puns and Literal Humor

I. Cannot. Stop. Laughing.


Heck yeah it does!


You have to say this one out loud for full effect.

Note: The last time I posted in this series I talked about "my healthy body." Since then my health has been a real struggle (read how here), and I do not take one moment of health for granted.


What inspires you? Leave a comment and let me know. Or, better yet, create your own blog series about inspiration and post a link to it so we can all take part!



Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has toured nationally with plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. For more information, please visit http://www.erincronican.com.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Donate, and get FREE FRIES!

So... I don't know how many of you know this but I have a truly great boyfriend, who happens to work for a truly great organization called Bareburger - a healthy burger joint that cares about sourcing its food purely and ethically.

Brandon asked for a day off so that he could accompany me to the hospital for a surgery to put a port into my chest (which allows for easier access when nurses administer my chemo starting next week):

This is a port. It reminds me of something from a horror movie.

This is where my port was just implanted via surgery. 

When Brandon asked for the time off, his boss came back to him with an amazing response: What did he think about Bareburger holding a fundraiser to help with Erin's cancer treatments? The owner of the franchise - who owns 4 Bareburgers in NYC - set aside one day to collect funds, and will give FREE FRIES to anyone who donates. Here's the flyer they put up in their stores:

August 19th, y'all!

I've always wanted a pig to hug my face while I looked away. So emo. 

BUT THAT'S NOT ALL. Other franchises got wind of this and started jumping on board, and as of this writing 16 LOCATIONS ARE PARTICIPATING. Holy balls! When I saw the flyers they made I just started to cry. Asking for money has always been difficult, but whenever I've had to do so it was always for a non-profit I worked for - never for myself. So, the fact that the owners of this incredible company have stepped up to help has truly taken my breath away.

So, if you want to help, here are all of the locations you can go to on August 19 to make a donation (there are even some outside of NYC!):

East Village
Murray Hill
Hell's Kitchen
57th St. (This is where Brandon works!)
73rd St.
87th St.
Astoria
Ditmars
Long Island City
Laguardia
Bayside
Great Neck
Hoboken
Port Washington
Philly
Columbus, Ohio

Note: Those in bold are the original stores that created this fundraiser, so if you have a choice pop by one of them!

If you hate fries but still want to help, check out this post which details other ways you can contribute.

I truly cannot even believe this. Thank you, everyone, for making what has been a very dark time have a little bit of lightness.

Erin  :)


Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has toured nationally with plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. For more information, please visit http://www.erincronican.com.

Friday, August 7, 2015

10 Years in NYC!


I’m officially a New Yorker!

On August 4, 2005 everything in my life changed. It was my last night in breezy, summery San Diego. I said goodbye to my car which was driven away by its new owner. I stepped onto a one way red-eye flight to NYC, armed with 2 suitcases and a carry-on bag holding my dog. I landed the next morning at sunrise, an amazingly romantic time of day to say hello to your new life. I had ARRIVED.

I moved to NYC because I wanted a new beginning in my life. Since the age of 8 I had lived in southern CA and for some reason it never really felt like home to me. When I got to NYC, it felt like the city opened up its arms and said, “Welcome home, Erin.”

I’ve had a lot of crazy experiences in NYC, which I readily blogged about. There is one about New York pickup lines, a guy who wanted to buy my dog, and a typical day in NYC. (There are hundreds more stories - choose from the labels in the right sidebar!

Since moving to New York:

• I have been in movies, on TV and performed Off Broadway.
• I have created my own day job (career coaching for actors- 2007-present)
• I started a theater company (2009-present) 
• I’ve performed alongside Tony winners on multiple occasions. 
• I was selected as an "Expert" columnist at Backstage magazine.
• For the first time in my life I stayed single for an extended period of time (Feb 2010-Nov 2011) and got a sense of what I REALLY wanted in a relationship. (Wouldn’t you know it- I would end up dating an actor from my hometown, Nov 2011-present...)
• I have taught corporate executive leadership skills with 3 different consulting firms
• I have been caught by cops after hours in the park (but got off with a warning!)
• I live in a crazy NY apartment with a shower in my kitchen and my toilet in the hallway outside my front door. I love it.
• I’ve sat down with a homeless person on the street and had a poetic conversation.
• I’ve offered my time at Landmark Education as a coach in their Self Expression and Leadership Program.
• I’ve exchanged contact information with a kind older man on the subway and he still comments on this blog!
• I said goodbye to my dog, my faithful partner for nearly 17 years (2012)
• I’ve been to Yankees games in honor of my father, who grew up in NY and was a diehard fan.
• I co-founded the most successful networking event for actors in NYC.
• I’ve loved this city in sickness and in health, mostly in health but currently in a battle that I WILL WIN.
• I find joy in the little things (the smell of roasted peanut and almonds on the street, the way the buildings look pink at sunset, the first delicate snow of winter.)
• I’ve met some of the most incredible people who have opened up their lives and their homes to me.
• And after 10 years I still feel like anything is possible in this city.

In the next few days I’ll be creating a bucket list for myself, which will help me keep my spirits up as I step into my next phase of treatment for my cancer. I’m looking forward to looking at next year’s anniversary to see what I’ll have accomplished in that time.

What do you think I should experience here in NYC? Leave a comment to let me know!

Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has toured nationally with plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. For more information, please visit http://www.erincronican.com.

Confronting My Neighbor

New York Moment! Photo courtesy www.artunlimited.net
This is goes into the “now I’ve seen everything” files...

Late tonight I unlocked the font door to my build and saw a guy at the other end of the hallway, facing the wall sort of in the corner. My eyes became wider as I realized that HE WAS PEEING ON THE WALL. I was alone and it was late, and I didn’t know this guy so I wasn’t entirely sure if I should say anything. Then I realized it was me we’re talking about - of course I said something!

Me: Can I help you?

Him (turning slowly to see me): I’m in the bathroom.

Me: Not really. You’re peeing in the corner.

Him: Oh...? (Seems confused, but continues peeing.)

Me: Am I going to have to call someone on you?

Him: I’m sorry...Uh...I’m sorry. (He grabs his keys out of his pocket, then walks two sets to his front door and opens the unlocked door, goes inside, and closes the door.)

Me: (standing there dumbfounded)


Yep. Dude just walked outside his front door, peed in the corner of his neighbor’s doorway, and then walked back into his apartment.


NYC living...


Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has toured nationally with plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. For more information, please visit http://www.erincronican.com.

Friday, July 31, 2015

BOY GETS GIRL and BOYS' LIFE

Me as Theresa Bedell in BOY GETS GIRL
I’m a little late in talking about these shows, because producing theater takes so much attention that promoting myself takes a back seat! But talking about these shows is more than just sharing the work I’m doing - it’s also a glimpse into my psyche at a time when everything is in turmoil.

For those of you who don’t yet know, on May 15, 2015 I was diagnosed with Stage IIB triple negative invasive ductal carcinoma, also known as aggressive breast cancer. Yes, I am in my 30s, and no, no one else on my family has ever had cancer this young. I am an anomaly.

I was in the midst of our pre-production process for BOY GETS GIRL and BOYS’ LIFE when heard the news and I’m so glad I was. It’s given me so much else to focus on other than my own worries and fears. What’s been interesting is that in BOY GETS GIRL (which I’m acting in - I directed BOYS’ LIFE) I play someone who sinks slowly and deeply into despair and fear. How fitting, then, that I’m experiencing the same kind of dread in my “real” life.

The day I was diagnosed I was in a session we call Dramaturgy at The Seeing Place. Our dramaturgy is different than dramaturgy you normally hear about. Normal dramaturgy involves having an expert go through the script and research the history of the play its details, then share those findings with the director and the cast. For us, this month long process is a chance for the production team and the actors to breakdown the script using a deep analysis that you might find in a literary book club (but this book club lasts for a month on the same text!) It’s during this time that we deeply explore the characters' intentions and the playwright's insights, and we start to craft what story we want to tell as actors, and what story we want to tell as a company as a whole.

So here I am sitting in dramaturgy for the Tony/Theresa date scenes, trying to desperately to seem calm, cool and collected. I had only gotten the diagnosis (by phone) 45 minutes before dramaturgy started and I was still in a bit of shock. (Click here to read about my diagnosis.) I was able to make it through the next few days without telling anyone and opted to make my big reveal to my theater company at our regular Monday night meeting.

Since then I’ve put my head down and worked tirelessly to bring these two plays to life. And the hard work has paid off - I’ve gotten some of the best reviews of my life for BOY GETS GIRL and audiences are raving about BOYS’ LIFE. (Scroll to the bottom to see what critics have said!) But I can’t help shaking the feeling that this is the last show of my “old life” - as soon as it closes I’ll be forced to contend with my new life where things will never be the same.

First and foremost - my hair. Chemo starts for me August 18 (read more here), and nearly all chemo that's used for breast cancer patients make them go bald. I have decided to do an experimental scalp treatment (Cold Caps) to try to stave off the hair loss, but even with that most people lose about 50% of their hair. I’ve built up a specific identity on stage and screen with the hair I have now. What will my “type” be once my hair is thinned or gone? As a person who coaches actors on “the biz” the unknown for my own career is almost crippling. And no amount of “you would look great with short hair/bald/a new style” makes me feel any better. I know people are trying to make me feel better by saying that, but that’s akin to saying, “He’s in a better place” when a loved one dies. It’s a generous sentiment, but the consolation is rarely enough.

In BOY GETS GIRL, my character Theresa is advised to change her name because of an unsavory admirer. It becomes a question of “Your Life or Your Name = Choose.” But her name is her life, because she is a writer who has built her life on her name. This is how I feel as an actor, having built my career on my look. Sure, Theresa can write under another name and I can act under another head of hair. Only those who know me well know how hard earned this particular look is. Here’s the short version:

Me as Cathy Hiatt in THE LAST FIVE YEARS
Such a similar photo as above!
I was asked to dye my hair blonde to do the San Diego premiere of THE LAST FIVE YEARS in 2004. I was a dark brunette, so a change like this was monumental. I was terrified but excited, and knew I could change it back if I didn’t like it. I finished at the salon and went to rehearsal, where the director proceeded to tell me that I didn’t have the right shade of blonde and they would have to wig me. I went into the bathroom and cried. Here I had changed my entire identity, and the director didn’t even like it! I cried all the way home and ran into my fiancé’s arms and told him my story of the day. After I calmed down, he turned to me and said, “We need to talk.” He then proceeded to end our engagement - a fitting thing to have happen a week before opening a musical about a breakup of a marriage. Through all of this turmoil my long blonde hair became a symbol for a new me. I was no longer the regular, brown haired mouse in the corner - I was a blonde, newly single, leading lady living in freedom. And it was that newfound fire that gave me the guts to finally make the move to NYC, which I did 9 months later.

Having to contemplate losing my hair brings all of my past rushing into the forefront. I have changed my look before and survived. But I have also built a successful life that I LOVE and I’m so afraid of what will happen when that changes. Will anyone see me as a musical theater leading lady with short stubby hair? Even if I don’t lose my hair, will I be able to work over the next 6 months when I’m not allow to dye my hair (hello, brown roots!) My hair is just one of the MANY fears and concerns I have as I deal with this disease, but it’s one of the scariest.

I also wanted to note: I think one of the hardest things in coping with all of these is dealing with all of the well wishers who work so hard to see the bright side. There have been dozens of people who have said, “You’ll look great bald!” but that doesn’t actually make me feel better - it makes me feel shallow for caring so much about my hair. Just like Detective Beck in BOY GETS GIRL (who says she knows that changing Theresa’s name will be “a hassle”) losing my identity and having to reshape it for my life AND my career is an intense and scary thing. And, damn it, if I’m going down I’m going down fighting. Bring on those frigid cold caps!

I don't know what this all means for performing, going forward. I am scheduled to do another show with The Seeing Place in November, but I don't know how well I'll be and I have no idea how I will look. The idea of not performing regularly kills me - it's my life blood and I want to hold onto it with all of my might.

So I count myself very lucky that I have been able to fill these past months with art to keep my mind at ease and build up mental strength for the coming months. I surround myself with incredible text by two tremendous writers, amazing actors who are giving their lives over to the audience each night, and our audiences who graciously allow us to tell them stories.

If you can make it out to see one of our last 4 performances you won’t be sorry. The show runs through August 2 - Fri & Sat @ 9pm, Sat & Sun 4pm. You can buy your tickets at www.seeingplacetheater.com/shows/6-boygetsgirl.html. Or... might I invite you to stay to see the whole program (my preference!)? Buy tickets to BOYS’ LIFE as well, which I directed: www.seeingplacetheater.com/shows/6-boyslife.html.

You can also buy tickets at the door. Our theater is located at 309 East 26th St (just east of 2nd Ave.)

Now... here are those reviews from the show...


Reviews from BOY GETS GIRL:

“Leading actress Erin Cronican gives a downright breathtaking performance as Theresa Bedell. Cronican gives Theresa a level of depth and complexity that is profoundly human – above all else, Cronican’s performance made this production real...” - Time Square Chronicles

"In this excellent revival, Erin Cronican (who not only plays the lead role in Boy Gets Girl but also directed Boy’s Life) is absolutely sensational as Theresa. She perfectly epitomizes the successful feminist in today’s world who finds herself forced to balance a variety of different relationships...Much of the success of this production must be attributed to her performance." - A Seat on the Aisle

“Erin Cronican [gives] a richly layered and naturalistic performance.” - Talkin’ Broadway

"Brandon Walker directs a tough and hard-hitting version of Boy Gets Girl, which stars Erin Cronican in a touching, dazzling star performance.” - Theater Pizzazz

"When it came to the storytelling of Boys Gets Girl, the way the mystery unfolded was breathtaking. And that is also partially due to the exquisite performance by Erin Cronican as Theresa. Cronican showed her vulnerability from start to finish, allowing you to want to see her become victorious despite the odds thrown against her. Cronican was dynamic and found a way to not be a victim." - Theater in the Now


Again, you can get tickets at www.seeingplacetheater.com/shows/6-boygetsgirl.html


---

To read about my breast cancer story, click here. Some people have asked me how they can help. For you, I have created a post on my medical blog which will keep you updated on what kind of help I could use. You can find it by clicking here.


Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has toured nationally with plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. For more information, please visit http://www.erincronican.com.

Friday, July 3, 2015

I'm A Risk Factor


When I got my diagnosis - Triple Negative Stage IIB Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (which is a fancy way of saying Breast Cancer) I was stunned. All of my life I’ve been asked questions by doctors about my general health, and the common consensus was, “Well, you have no risk factors for XXX (cancer, stroke, heart attack, etc) - you don’t smoke, you keep your weight down, you eat healthfully, you have a meaningful outlook on life” etc etc. So when I went in with this pain in my breast, they ran me through the entire battery of questions about chest pain, because the possibility of breast cancer was so rare (like, less than 5% of cases are for women under the age of 40.) Could I have receive trauma in my chest? Is my asthma flaring up? Did I have a cold recently? And so on and so on.

When I answered ‘no’ to all of the above, they started asking me about my family history of cancers. Yes, my maternal aunt has breast cancer, but she was 65 when diagnosed and not considered a risk factor. Yes, my uncle has had renal cancer, but again it was over the age of 50 so not considered a risk factor. Yes, my grandmother had endometrial cancer but she was over the age of 70 and was not considered a risk factor. And even my own history of cancer (did you know that I had skin cancer - basal cell carcinoma?) wasn’t considered a risk factor. I was risk-free and still got cancer. Twice.

My own surprise at my diagnosis was big and it was palpable. But I wasn’t prepared for what the doctor would say to me next:

“Make sure you talk to all of the women in your family, because they are now at a greater risk for getting cancer.”


NEWS FLASH: 
I AM NOW A RISK FACTOR FOR MY FAMILY.


Even as I type this a chill is sent through my spine and I am filled with a sense of panic and dread. From now on the people I love will have to be extra careful because of what is going on with me. On the one hand, maybe this is a little nudge that will make a real difference in their health. But on the other hand I’m riddled with guilt. I know logically that I did not do anything wrong to make cancer happen. But I feel like I couldn’t forgive myself if someone got cancer but didn’t catch it soon enough to do something about it.

So, I did it. Before I was ready to tell the world what I was going through - before I had even processed it myself - I composed an email and sent it to all of the females in my family - aunts, cousins, nieces, sisters and my mom. I also shared with my brother and uncle since it may increase their chance for prostate or male breast cancer.

And I also consented to have full genetic testing done, because I feel like it’s my responsibility to provide my family with full information about our genetics. I should have the results back mid to late July. I think this will give me a lot of peace of mind, even if it shows up positive. I know I have great medical care, and if I’m genetically predisposed to cancer a) I can stop beating myself up for getting cancer, and b) I know that there are things I can do to offset the risks.

But I’m still afraid. Nix that, I’m terrified of what they’ll report. So, until I know I’ll be accepting your comments, love and support to help stave off the mid-grade panic that has been evolving...

Erin :)

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To read about my breast cancer story, click here. Some people have asked me how they can help. For you, I have created a post on my medical blog which will keep you updated on what kind of help I could use. You can find it by clicking here.


Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has toured nationally with plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. For more information, please visit http://www.erincronican.com.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Top 10 Benefits of Getting a Lumpectomy [Humor]


Pretty much the only way to deal with a difficult diagnosis is to they to find something positive about the experience. I've found that really hard to do when it comes to something as scary and life-changing as cancer, but I was still able to face my first treatment - a lumpectomy - with an unexpected dose of optimism. I've decided to include some of my observations here so, without further ado... here is my

Top 10 List of Benefits of Getting a Lumpectomy:

10) The radioactive dye they inject for the sentinel node biopsy gives you a little surprise in the bathroom - your pee turns bright blue!

9) The fashion is to die for:


8) Your sense of sarcasm is heightened. (See #9)

7) If you're lucky - and I sure was - your anesthesiology team will be incredibly good looking. There's nothing like flirting when someone's filling your veins with happy juice.*
* This is what my doctor called the cocktail he would give me to lower anxiety before putting me under. He was not kidding - I couldn't stop giggling...

6) Right after the surgery you get as much apple juice, graham crackers and ginger ale as you can stand. I could only stand one sip and bite of each, but the offer was appreciated. :)

5) I have earned the right to wear pink.

Can I have a pony?

4) The swelling makes my boob look bigger. Ah, cleavage! There you are! :)

3) The medication they give you for after-surgery pain makes you feel fuzzy.

2) A lumpectomy TAKES OUT THE CANCER.

and the #1 best thing about getting a lumpectomy:

1) The love from your friends! 

I have received so many amazing care packages and cards from people in my life. The well wishes have been too numerous to even count, but I wanted to include some shout outs of care packages I have received:

Original Silk Painting from Lee
Matzo ball soup (and more food) from Adam
Books and other gifts from Laura
A bag of organic prepared foods from Sue
Care package from Mary Ruth 
A crap ton of donations toward my theater company from a bunch of you!
...Essential oils and a diffuser from Cherie, loads of love and endless TV watching from Candice, fresh food from Tanya, the CUTEST handmade greeting cards and wee gifts from Mary, mini-bottles of bourbon from Veronica & Horatio, strawberries & chocolate from Janice, daisies from Michelle, chocolates from Virginia... I'm sure there are some I'm forgetting (and I promise to update this list as soon as I track those down!) I've also been able to spend more time talking to my mom and reconnected with my sister, which almost make it worth having cancer (I said almost.)

Seriously, your love has meant everything to me. Thank you so much for your support - YOU'RE #1!

---

To read about my breast cancer story, click here. Some people have asked me how they can help. For you, I have created a post on my medical blog which will keep you updated on what kind of help I could use. You can find it by clicking here.


Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has toured nationally with plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. For more information, please visit http://www.erincronican.com.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Yes. I Have Breast Cancer.

As I sat down to write this post, dozens of ideas swarmed in my head for what I wanted to say. But as I typed the subject header, my body went cold and mind went numb. I mean, how do you share with the world something so personal that you’d rather keep private, but something that you know will get out anyway so it may as well be YOU sharing it?

On Friday, May 15, 2015 I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. 

I had been feeling some intermittent discomfort in late 2014 so I went to the doctor who did a full exam and felt nothing unusual. They asked me a whole host of questions, and since I was “so young and have no risk factors (so the likelihood of cancer is very small),” they suggested I keep an eye on things and come back if things got worse. The pain/discomfort continued off and on but never got worse, and everyone online stated that occasional pain was completely normal.

The weekend of May 1, I started having pain that was uncommon - more sharp pains rather than the dull ache I had noticed previously. While my boyfriend and I watched a movie, I decided to do a breast self exam and noticed a fairly large “dimple” in the breast next to my armpit. The best way I can describe it: it’s like I have an implant and the left side of it popped and deflated. When I felt that, I knew something was very wrong. I jumped up from the couch and went to the mirror. Brandon (my boyfriend) asked me what was wrong and in a fit of anxiety I yelled at him to leave me alone. I was too afraid of what I deep down knew was something very serious.

That was a Saturday, and I had to wait through the rest of the weekend before being able to make an appointment on Monday. In the meantime I did all of the research I could, and while pain evoked the “it’s likely nothing” message, the dimple evoked messages of, “Danger! Danger!”

On Tuesday I had an appointment with a physician’s assistant, and though she assured me that I was “so young and I have no risk factors (so the likelihood of cancer is very small)” she immediately referred me to a radiologist. who gave me a mammogram (most painful thing EVER, jesus christ on a cracker!) and sonogram that same day. The mammogram came back clear, but the sonogram came back with a suspicious area. They immediately scheduled me for a biopsy for Thursday, and I was told that it would take 4-5 days for the results. Again, the radiologist said I was “so young and I had no risk factors (so the likelihood of cancer is very small)” but they would get me an answer as soon as possible so not to worry.

Less than 24 hours later I receive a voicemail from the radiologist asking me to call him back right away on his cell phone. I looked at the clock. It was 5:22pm, and I thought, “Well, they wouldn’t give a cancer diagnosis over the phone, so maybe he wanted to give me the good news before the weekend.” But I had a sinking suspicion this would not be the case.
Me (ringing his number): Hi, it’s Erin Cronican returning your call.
Him: Oh...hello. It’s Dr. Lee, who did your biopsy. Um, I got the results back from the pathologist, and...um...it was positive.
Me (knowing that doctors often say things that are the opposite of how it sounds): What does that mean?
Him: You have cancer.

Yep. They give cancer diagnoses over the phone.

The rest of his very short call was a blur. The lesion is less than 2cm...maybe Stage 1...meet with a breast surgeon tomorrow... In the midst of this conversation, Brandon is staring at me trying to convince himself that everything is ok, when I mouth to him, “I have cancer.” I hang up my phone in a daze, dial the number he gave me for the surgeon (this was about 5:25pm at this point) and by 5:30pm I have an appointment for the next morning at 11am with a breast surgeon. I take a moment. I call my mother and when she picks up I ask her where she is and if she’s alone. I realize pretty fast that this is a terrible way to start a phone call so I make it even more awkward by blurting out, “I have cancer!” It didn’t help that my mother was currently visiting my aunt who just finished treatment for her breast cancer which was diagnosed at age 65. (Not a risk factor, as it turns out.)

After giving my mother all of the vital information I hung up the phone, paced around the apartment half crying half panicked, and then cleaned up my face, gathered myself together, and prepped the apartment for a pre-production dramaturgy session with the cast of the play I’m starring in this summer. The rest of the night I struggled to hold onto the last bit of normalcy which I already knew was gone. The roller coaster had left the station - my life will never be the same.

-----

[UPDATED 6/25/15] Since then I have had additional biopsies, mammograms, sonograms, an MRI, a lumpectomy (to take the tumor out) and been stuck with more needles than I am comfortable mentioning. Did I mention that I have severe needle phobia that leads to panic attacks?

Here’s my official diagnosis (for those who research these sorts of things):

First, less than 5% of breast cancers happen to women under the age of 40. So, apparently I’m special. And rare.

Type: Invasive Ductal Carcinoma

Size: 2.1cm (initially it was thought to be 9mm, but the MRI and surgery showed otherwise)

Stage: IIB (They initially though it would be Stage 1 as my surgeon did not think it has spread. But one of my lymph nodes had the presence of cancer and was removed along with another which turned out to be healthy.)

Grade: 3 (which means it’s very aggressive)

ER: negative (not responsive to estrogen hormone)

PR: negative (not responsive to progesterone hormone)

HER2: negative. Initially I was scored as 2+. This is considered a “borderline” score, so they did further testing and discovered that I'm HER2 negative.

So, I'm considered "triple negative" which means they do not know what is giving the cancer strength. Only 10-20% of breast cancers are triple negative.

Prognosis: Very good if I follow all treatment protocol.

Treatment Recommendation: Surgery (lumpectomy, completed June 16), radiation, and Chemotherapy (which will likely happen starting in August, once my breast has healed fully from the surgery.) There is a slight chance that they may forego recommending chemo and head straight for radiation, but because I’m so young and my cancer is aggressive they usually recommend chemo to make sure no cancer has traveled anywhere else in my body.

I’m also awaiting results on genetic testing to see if I have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic variations that make me predisposed for cancer.

-----

Moving forward, I will be using this blog to explore the many questions and concerns that come up for me as a person living with cancer - How does a workaholic learn how to take it easy? How will losing my hair affect my acting career? Will I find a silver lining (like finally being able to lose weight)?

I have also started a medical journal where I will be posting updates from appointments, treatments and procedures so that you can see how things are going for me, medically. I’ll also have guest posts from close friends and family who are accompanying me on my journey. You can find that journal here: PostHope: Erin Cronican. There you can leave comments, read my story, or (if you're so inclined) make a donation (since I’m self-employed and will have no income when/if I have to take time off for treatment.)

I have done a ton of research and can answer any questions you have about what is happening with me. Emails or texts (917-574-0417) are best. I may not be able to get back to everyone right away, but I will sure try. I would also welcome your support and love. I usually try to appear like I have everything under control, but this is one thing I can't manage on my own.

Much love to you all...

Erin  :)

Some people have asked me how they can help. For you, I have created a post on my medical blog which will keep you updated on what kind of help I could use. You can find it by clicking here.

Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has toured nationally with plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. For more information, please visit http://www.erincronican.com.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Breaking My Neck Each Night

When I was in college I did a paper on the Shakespeare tragedy, OTHELLO. In it, I talked about the play itself but also talked about modern adaptations (including the Kenneth Branaugh film) and how it related to current society. Little did I know that in 2015 I would get the chance to play one of my favorite written characters - Desdemona, with The Seeing Place Theater.

My love of Shakespeare goes back to middle school. I was in the school concert choir in 7th grade, and for one of our concerts we decided to put on a condensed version of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, with just the mechanicals & fairy stories punctuated with the music of Mendelssohn (music which was set to the lyrics of Shakespeare’s songs in the play.) In that performance I got to play Bottom (one of many gender-bending roles in my early years as an actor.) I was fascinated by the language and the stories, and I had a heck of a lot of fun playing an ass.

In high school I gave myself the challenge of taking 4 full years of every subject possible rather than just the required minimum - math, science, English, foreign languages, etc. This meant that, to complete my English challenge, I got to take Honors level Shakespeare from our school’s expert, Mr. Parker. In that class we must have read 10-12 of Shakespeare’s plays, and at the end of the year each of us were assigned to study one play and present it to the class, either in book report form or as a presentation I was assigned, “ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL” and I opted for a mix of the two. I ended up writing a 30 page modern play adaptation which set the events of the play in current times. For my presentation, I set up each scene and assigned roles to my classmates, who read the play in front of the class.

So it comes as no surprise that I would be running a theater company that always produces plays with the intention of shining a light on modern times, exploring how the themes are relevant today. Our OTHELLO explored modern tensions between Arabs and Americans, especially Black Arabs who find themselves discriminated against both by black Christians, non-black Arabs, and Americans. As the co-director of the play, I got to influence much of the storytelling with my particular passion for equality. We opted to start the play with a beautiful pre-show ritual, where Othello gives Desdemona a traditional Muslim prayer shawl to be worn during their wedding, while Othello wore a suit similar to those worn by Christian grooms. In this brief pre-show (set to intoxicating tribal music), we wanted to show the audience what it’s like to have two very different people embrace and accept one another’s differences and blend them together to create a new life.

Desdemona and Othello, united

I also had traditional Mehndi on my hands - the henna tattoos that Muslim women put on their hands and feet when getting married. We chose to do this so that, to detractors, I would always seem “marked” by Othello, no matter how happy we seemed. And when Othello (spoiler alert) prepares to kill Desdemona and calls it an honor killing, he says the traditional Muslim prayer for peace. (Scholars generally agree that Othello converted to Christianity after being baptized - in our telling of the story this was the case but he reverts back to his roots when Christianity fails him.) The Muslim prayer was particularly upsetting for many audience members on both sides of the issue. Some thought that this proved that all Arabs wanted to kill Christians, and some of the Muslims that saw the show were worried that this peaceful prayer would continue to be connected erroneously to violence. What was so exciting about this directorial choice is that IT GOT PEOPLE TALKING. In our “advanced” society we all know it is taboo to express racism against blacks. But for some reason racism is alive and well against Arabs and many Americans have been conditioned to think that way. Focusing on this part of the storytelling allowed our audience to experience the downfall of Othello in a whole new way, and they got to explore their own attitudes about race and religion in America.

Aside from the community impact of the play, it was pure joy to be able to perform with this talented group of actors each night. And our theater was small and intimate - just 70 seats - which means that audience members were very close to the action. So in my final scene where Othello tells Desdemona to say her last prayers, I was no more than 2 frets away from the first row of seats, so they got a palpable sense of what it was like to witness a marital spat gone horribly wrong. My co-star, Ian Moses Eaton, was terrifying. We had a carefully choreographed fight scene which involved him lurching at me, almost hunting me as his prey, when he finally grabs me and I plead for my life, he says, “It is too late” and he grabs for my throat to choke the life out of me. My servant Emilia comes in and find me barely alive, but it is indeed too late and after a few words absolving my husband, I die.

I’ve seen a number of productions where the death was highly unbelievable. Desdemona gets strangled for 2 minutes and seems to be dead, but then she somehow resurrects enough to says her 3 lines clearly right before she dies. Both I and my co-director wanted to make the death as realistic as possible, but were stumped - how can Desdemona be left for dead and still be able to talk before she dies?

Othello strangles Desdemona

That’s when we came up with an idea - maybe she doesn’t die from strangulation in particular. Maybe his strangling her sets something in motion that takes some time to complete. What if Othello, in a fit of rage, snaps her windpipe? This would immediately change things in the fight and allow Othello to step away from Desdemona, knowing that her demise is near, and it would allow me to continue to gasp for air and do everything I can to communicate when Emilia enters the room.

It was brilliant. Once the neck was snapped, I put out this pitiful squeaking sound and intermittently gurgled, which gave the audience a gruesome look at what death by strangulation might look like. It was so much fun to do that scene each night, knowing what was in store for the audience.

Desdemona in happier times...

To see more photos from the show and to read many of the incredible reviews from both critics and audiences, visit: www.seeingplacetheater.com/shows/6-othello.html


Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has toured nationally with plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. For more information, please visit http://www.erincronican.com.


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