Tell Your Story

I have read that yesterday was Mental Health Day and today is International Day of the Girl. I would like to tell a very long story about a very young girl. A story that is currently 17 years old. A quick spoiler. It is my story. Not all of my story, but a very small part of it that has had a very large impact.

In 2001, I was a 21 year old who had two part time jobs to support my less than one year old habit of community theatre. I was listening to music while driving to my second job. It was a clear, calm, and beautiful October day. I do not remember the specific day in October, and I have never looked it up to find out. It is a day I do not want to commemorate, but I always get a feeling when the anniversary approaches. I have that feeling today, so it must be near.

I can still remember the clothes I was wearing, and the song that was playing, but I will not share what they were, what it was, nor the details of what happened out of respect for the other party. But they happened. By the purest of accidents, I was involved in a car accident that can only be described as devastating.

In one millisecond, two lives changed forever. By the Lord’s providence, my car was being followed on the road by a prominent lawyer from a neighboring town. He was able to testify on scene to the police my lack of fault in the events that transpired. A couple stopped and stayed with me until my family could arrive. I remember the woman had a bruised face, and said she had just escaped an abusive relationship. I think she told me she was from Florida. I remember how kind she was to me in contrast to how battered her face looked.  Later that night, I remember the feel of the rapid thumping of my father’s heartbeat as he tightly embraced me. He told me the hospital had called. The other person did not survive.

I cannot describe to you in eloquent terms the emotional turmoil that I went through in that moment, so I won’t attempt it. The best I can muster is to ask you to pretend your soul is made of fabric. Then imagine someone holding that fabric and ripping it in half. The sound of the tear is the disassociation one experiences in that moment.  You are in the moment, but also outside of it, observing. 

After the bold headlines appeared in the local paper, I had trouble adjusting to “real life” again. I was convinced everyone who looked at me, could see what I had done. It didn’t matter that it was not my fault. That if it hadn’t been me, it would have been the person behind me, or in front of me. It was me. I knew it. Even if no one else did. We sold the car I was driving so I’d never have to see it again. I never wore those clothes, and I never listened to that song (as best as I could control it.)

After I “adjusted,” the best way I knew how to cope was to not talk about it. I was never punished in the traditional sense of the word. No charges were ever filed, and no one blamed me. No one but me, that is. I became a self-punisher. If the world wouldn’t get justice, I would do it myself. I didn’t always punish in the physical sense, although sometimes, I did that too. I would hit my legs with belts or use my own hands to slap my head until my skull tingled. I had so much pent up emotion that it had to come out. And since I didn’t talk about it, I expressed it in that unhealthy way. But mostly, I would withhold things from myself that I thought would bring me happiness. I didn’t deserve it. How dare I deserve it.

I lived this way for ten years. Community theatre helped. I could be somebody else on stage. I didn’t have to be me. I could be funny, dramatic, whatever the play called for, as long as it didn’t call for me to be me.

Strangely enough, I never blamed God or asked “Why” it happened. It just did.

In 2008, the bullying incident I spoke of earlier this year took place, and I was suddenly without my safety net of my home theatre. I found a new set of friends, and tried to recover from another emotional sucker punch.

In 2010, my life shifted yet again, and filmmaking changed from a pipe dream to a reality. After several opportunities to work behind the scenes, and one successful collaboration was granted distribution, the opportunity to write a screenplay presented itself, and in early 2011, I bought a book explaining how to write a screenplay, and I penned “The Hepburn Girls.”

I changed the circumstance, and added humor, because Life has both tragedy and humor, and my life had not been all sadness. Great moments of joy and humor had punctuated my personal timeline. However, as the author and leading actor, the process of writing and acting in the film was the cinematic equivalent of ripping a bandage off a wound over a decade old- only now, I was finally allowing a healing balm to soothe the pain.

I learned a lot while making the film. Before, I didn’t know PTSD could apply to people who were not in the military. As I researched, it dawned on me that I had been experiencing the effects for years. I understood that my life split in two pieces after that moment. Audrey was me before that accident and Katherine was who I became after.

I also learned, intimately learned, that sometimes the hardest person to forgive is yourself. So when I created Katherine and Audrey—I created the two women whose bodies I had inhabited at one point in my life. The carefree teenager who loved old movies, nostalgia, and bounced back easily from her relatively sheltered life’s problems. And Katherine, the recluse shattered by tragedy, the person who was kind to everyone but herself, and who used humor to deflect attention without getting to the root of the problem. I thought, if only my two selves could meet and help each other. Katherine could tell Audrey to grow up, and Audrey could tell Katherine to let go.

Anyway, in 2013 the film was complete and edited, and ready for distribution- and just like that, the guaranteed distribution deal, very suddenly, but very amicably, fell through. Film festivals were entered, but there wasn’t a lot of interest. Other distributors were contacted, but they would only accept the film if pricey changes were made, including a new title. I couldn’t afford that, so Audrey and Katherine drifted back into the shadows.

I was confused, and disappointed. I again, felt I was to blame. I felt as though I had let everyone down. That I hadn’t done a good enough job, hadn’t been pretty enough, thin enough, young enough, acted strong enough, whatever things you want to tell yourself when you tell yourself you’re the root of the issue. But then, I met a new group of people, a theatre was founded, and my life became very full, and very happy for four years. I gained a new self-respect, and a new lease on life and happiness and creativity.  I was writing again, and a routine seemed to be laid out and settled into.

In January of 2018, I felt an unexpected nudge. By chance, I had been sent the link to a film festival by a friend.  I half-heartedly read about it. Most festivals have a time limit. As in, you must complete the film within a year of the festival. “The Hepburn Girls” was now an ancient seven years old. But this festival said they would accept films from any year.

Again, I was confused. Audrey and Katherine seemed to be calling to me, but their fate was sealed. My fate was sealed. They were going to live on Amazon and Vimeo, downloaded by….no one. The Lord had closed that door and I had accepted it, and embraced it.

But still….I did love contests.

I thought about it, and prayed about it, and decided I would do a one year private experiment. What was the harm? Only more rejection, and I was getting better at accepting that. I filled out the information for fifteen festivals with varying deadlines throughout the year, and swallowed hard as I paid the various entry fees that added up to more money than I was expecting to spend. All the ones I entered said they would accept films from any year. Then, I went on with life and told the Lord I’d trust Him to let the chips fall where they may.

It is now ten months later, and of the fifteen, four rejected it (goodbye money!), five accepted it as an official selection, and four awarded it some kind of laurel ranging from “Inspiring Hope” in Atlanta, Georgia to a “Bronze Award” in Ellington, New York. Two are still undecided as of this writing.

One festival had some small print that once selected, asked that you be present to be eligible to win, so last week, my husband and I took a quick road trip down to Atlanta and were thrilled to receive Third Place in the Feature Film category.

I’m not sure why there has been a renewed interested in “The Hepburn Girls” or how long that interest will last. Maybe only this year. Maybe only when someone needs to see the film. Audrey and Katherine no longer belong to me. Once the film was released, they became wards of the world. In the intervening years, I have given up trying to orchestrate or figure out the why or how of anything. I have learned to just let go, and truly embrace that my timeline and the Lord’s timeline, are not the same timeline.

I think that’s why I wanted to share part of my story, today at the intersection of World Mental Health Day and International Day of the Girl.

Tragic things happen to many people for many reasons, and sometimes for no discernible reason at all. However, the Lord has taken my tragedy and used the circumstance for good. It is no coincidence that my life verse, even before the accident, was Romans 8:28. It has carried me through on the darkest of days. 

I don’t want to be seen as inspirational, or put up on some pedestal as a person who should be emulated in any way. I am broken, but I’m finally allowing the Lord to glue me back together. I’m still recovering. As with most of us, I will spend my lifetime recovering from Life and everything it has thrown at me, and is still yet to toss.

Actually, I do want a couple things I did to inspire others. Tell your story. I didn’t approach anything close to healing until I began to tell my story. There is power in words, and in sharing those words. Pain needs somewhere to go. It can either live inside of you, or it can be expressed out into the world. Inside, it will fester and boil, and cause internal emotional and physical chaos. Outside, it can be released. Given away. Some people won’t want to hear your story. That’s okay. Not every story is for every person. Tell it anyway. The right people will eventually find it.

Also, never do anything for the worldly glory you could receive.  Perhaps that was part of my early lesson. Don’t make a movie because you want to be told you are “the prettiest, skinniest, most talented, most-insert-adjective here” — do it because you have a story that is burning to be told, and you are the vessel by which it will be shared.  There are so many people who have stories, and they are allowing fear to hold them back. I still grapple with fear. I have won many battles with fear, but I’m still working on the war.

Also, also, remember that God’s timing is not your timing. And the fastest way to find that out is to inform Him of exactly what you plan to do. These laurels are wonderful, and have served as such an encouragement to me to continue to dream and work, even if that work isn’t immediately recognized- but they aren’t the basis for the true value of the film. That was achieved when it helped me overcome, and it will continue to be achieved as each person who needs the message of the film, views and absorbs it.

“The Hepburn Girls” is just a tiny part of my life, but if what I experienced can inspire someone to tell their story, and begin their healing, then perhaps they will be able to inspire someone else, and with each story told, together we can begin a trickle effect that will truly heal the most broken of lives.

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“The Hepburn Girls” can be found on Amazon.com by clicking here: http://a.co/d/aXOPzTX

Nothing New

“That which has been is what will be, and that which is done is what will be done. And there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which it may be said, “See, this is new?” It has already been done in ancient times before us.” Ecc. 1:9-10

To me, the study of history is the study of future events. What has happened before, will happen again. It is up to us to have the wisdom to recognize the pattern, and respond accordingly.

I actually didn’t blog for an entire year…on purpose. After my cat (and feline best friend) Simon died on Christmas Eve last year, there was nothing I really wanted to write about, or to say.  I had small bouts of creativity here and there, things happened that thrilled me, and other things happened that disappointed and hurt me, but for the most part, 2017 was a year I wanted to leave fairly well undocumented.

That was silly of me. We learn from everything Life throws at us…and I did nothing but a disservice to myself and my future growth by ignoring or pretending an entire year didn’t happen.

Despite this woeful beginning, I am actually feeling very optimistic about 2018. The word I’ve decided to focus on this year is: authenticity. I want to be more of it, and have more of it from people and projects in my life.

I want to invest my attention and energy into those who reciprocate it, and decrease my involvement with those who don’t.  No more small talk, awkward exchanges, or feeling as though I’m begging for attention. Life is becoming increasingly shorter, and my tolerance for that kind of treatment needs to as well!

Perhaps it’s the slow creep to middle age that is causing these reflections, or perhaps it’s just immersing myself in the study of the awe-inspiring people that created and made history.

So! On to a year of more writing, more reading, more movie-watching, more painting, and more introspection…more of becoming a person I will be proud to look back and remember, and less of a person who just existed to please.

Seven Questions for Theatre Lovers

 

Tickets for the very first show of “The Theatre Downstream” go on sale on Monday. This experience has been wonderful. My cast mates are incredibly talented, kind, giving, and very, very funny. They constantly challenge me to raise the bar on my own level of performance. Below is a publicity interview I did for the theatre. I hope you enjoy it./arb——–

Seven Questions with Ashley Raymer-Brown (Rosalind)

1. What was your first role?

My very first role was as the second flower on the left in my elementary production of….something. I think some sort of Fairy Tales. I also remember playing a Chimney Sweep in “Step in Time” from “Mary Poppins.” My first leading role, however, didn’t come for another twelve years until 2001, when the director took a chance on a complete newbie and cast me as Roz in “Moon Over Buffalo” actually.

2. What is your favorite role to date and why?
Shelby in “Steel Magnolias.” I didn’t really connect with the character until I did some research and found out she was a real person. I’m very sentimental and melancholy, so after finding that out, I connected on a very deep level. It was the first time ever on stage that I wasn’t ‘acting,’ I was authentic. I found the part of me that was her, and my emotions became her emotions. I got goosebumps when I did the emotional scenes, and I became very close with my stage Mama. It was a profound and special experience to be her, and I think it changed the way I approach a role.

3. What is your dream role and why?
For a really long time I’ve wanted to be “Fred” in “Once Upon a Mattress.” I love Carol Burnett, and I really enjoy being funny on stage. I’d love that chance…although I fear my limited dance skills would be a challenge for the “Spanish Panic!!” Also, I’d love to play the gangly, awkward “Myrtle May” in “Harvey.”

4. Why do you think theatre is important?
Theatre was important for me personally because it brought me out of my shell. I’m an Introvert, and for many, many years, I was extremely, painfully shy. Through playing different characters, theatre helped me reach outside of myself. It helped me connect with people. I made many, many friends…some short term, some long term, but all have brought something new and interesting to my life. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

5. What advice would you give someone starting out in theatre?
Be authentic. I held back a part of me for so long, and I regret it. I think that I could have been doing much better work.

Acting demands all of your time and focus when you’re on stage. But the audience can spot a faker. If you have to cry, find the part of you that understands the part of the character that makes them sad. If you have to be in love, find the part of you that loves the part of them.

Be as real as possible, and be as open and vulnerable as possible. The audience is living through you, give them someone worthwhile to live through. Also, be open to correction from directors. You can’t see the whole picture and they can. You’re not always right.

Love your castmates and understand that they all have a different method. Be adaptable. Be understanding. Be giving. And finally, remember…it’s a play. If you’re not having fun, you shouldn’t be doing this.

6. Who is your favorite actor? Locally and professionally?
Professionally, I always loved Johnny Depp (even before it was cool to love Johnny Depp.) I liked him because he consistently chose a completely different role every time. He was never the same person twice. He might have been weird, or funny, or scary, but he was always different. I really liked that quality, and it helped me to search for more variety in my roles.

Locally, I don’t think I could possibly choose. I have so many incredibly talented friends, that I’d feel really weird singling one out over the other.

Instead, I’ll tell you who the two actors are I’ve connected with the most on stage. The first was Kathy Todd Chaney as my Mama in “Steel Magnolias.” I felt such a deep relationship to her as Shelby that it arguing, crying and laughing with her was very easy, because there was such a feeling of love behind it.

ashley kathy

Secondly, Russell Cooper as my Paul in “Moon Over Buffalo” has been an incredibly fun experience. I’m sure he hasn’t noticed, but there have been several times when I’ve had an idea for a way for us to do something funny, and before I say it, he’s already doing it. He is very, very funny, and very, very talented–and to make people laugh with him has been just as delightful as I’d hoped it would be.

ashley russell mob

7. What is your favorite show?
“Beauty and the Beast.” I never, ever get tired of watching it, and it makes me laugh and cry.

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“Moon Over Buffalo” is the debut show for “The Theatre Downstream” and opens September 5th and runs weekends through the 14th.

Visit their website www.TheTheatreDownstream.wordpress.com for more show information and to view their ongoing web series.

Support their production by becoming a member at:https://squareup.com/market/the-theatre-downstream