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Dear Captain Awkward,

I have a performance in two weeks where I have to do a romantic scene with the best friend of one of my ex girlfriends. Usually when I’m on stage I’m cool calm and collective but it’s too awkward between me and her. The two of us are friends but it’s still awkward to sing to each other and dance with one another. I want the show to go perfect because everyone is counting on us. However I can’t get past this wall of awkwardness.  What do I do?

Greetings, I hope we’re getting back to you in time! I asked my spouse, Jeremy, aka Mr. Awkward who is an actor to give you a little pep talk. His words are below:

Hello, I am Mr. Awkward and I have a three decades-long experience in acting in theatre, improv, and acting on camera. Some of that experience is in musical theatre as well. I’ve also dealt with a bit of stage fright in my day. I think that I can help you get past this wall of awkwardness.

I have acted opposite my exes (and their best friends) on a number of occasions. Including in romantic situations. I will not lie to you, it is awkward as hell. But if awkwardness alone could kill, I would have cringed out of my skin long ago. You can make this work. I promise.

So, how will you make it through this performance with all this free-floating awkwardness? The first thing to do, if you are not so far along into rehearsals that it’s impossible, is to ask your director, musical director, and choreographer to give you very specific directions on how to act, sing, and dance this role including how and when you touch the actress opposite you, and then focus on making as precise a performance as possible. I know that it will only make you feel more awkward in the short run to ask for more direction, but these professionals want only to help you give the best performance. Let them help you do just that. Taking any ambiguity away from the performance will only help you get through this.

You say that you are friends with the ex’s best friend, but that it is too awkward between the two of you. How much of this is just your own awkwardness spilling onto the friend? Really examine this and see if it is your own projection or if she is also feeling this awkwardness. If you truly feel that she is in the same awkward boat, then a frank clearing of the air may be warranted, but only if you think that a conversation will improve the situation. I would personally avoid this for fear of adding to the drama, but I am not you and I don’t know the exact dynamic.

Lean into your technique and craft. Think of the years of training that you have and let it guide you. Use every relaxation, movement, and breathing technique at your disposal. Focus on giving a technical performance—this is not the place for The Method, improvisation, or ad-libbing. Focus on precision, not perfection. I know that sounds kind of paradoxical and even corny, but if you just focus on making small parts go well, the whole performance will be great. Go through your scene, line-by-line and beat-by-beat looking for places to anchor your performance to. The hard performances are why we do the training. Let it lift you up.

Lastly I am going to evoke the most shopworn of all cliches in the performing arts:

The show must go on.

Please do not do what I did once when confronted with the prospect of being in a show with an ex girlfriend of very recent vintage—rage quit the show and fuck off to California for a few months. Twenty-plus years later, I truly feel that I had no choice, but I still regret how unprofessional and disrespectful it was to my fellow cast. Even now, thinking about it makes me sick to my stomach. 0 out of 10, would not recommend.

You and your acting partner have committed to this show, and unless you want to carry around shame old enough to vote like I do, you will find the way to make this work. I believe in you and I want you to have a good show. Not because everyone is counting on you, but because you deserve to have a great performance. You are working with so much extra stress and awkwardness, but you will get through this. I want this to be a story that you tell younger actors for years to come about how you were seized by stage fright, but triumphed.

Jennifer/The Captain here: What I would add, as an erstwhile director, is that a little bit of human awkwardness makes romantic & sexy scenes better than they would otherwise be. Most big romantic moments on stage and screen involve first times and realizations about feelings, where it’s compelling precisely because these two characters don’t (usually) have much confidence and experience together, they don’t know for sure how the other person feels, and  — even though the script makes the inevitable happy ending visible from space — the characters don’t know for sure how it’s going to turn out. Unless you’re literally playing Gaston, being completely suave and smooth and sure of yourself is probably going to work against you and the truth of the moment you’re trying to create. So find your light, hit your marks, and use all the adrenaline, uncertainty, nervousness, inside you etc. to make it feel raw and real. That hum of nervous energy you are feeling is most likely going to read to the audience as a different kind of electricity (a good kind!) when you’re actually on stage.

You can do it! Break a leg!

P.S. They cast you for a reason. They cast you for a reason. Your interpretation of this character and these scenes (nervousness and all) is better than some theoretical “ideal.” Use what is yours, including your fears.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I have what might be a very unusual question, as it relates to something rather far off in the future but here goes. My husband and I have very similar goals, except for where it comes to a pretty decided split. We want to create a “family farm” as it were, mostly to provide for our kids and if there becomes a time there is extra, to be able to eventually profit a bit. I have a few step-kids whom I love, and two sons. We want to place the farm in a trust for our children. Difference being, he’d like to leave the house and farm and care of said farm under my stepson with Downs Syndrome. I understand wanting him to always have a place to be. That’s never an issue, I’ve made that clear. But he seems to have a very high and unrealistic opinion of this child’s character and capabilities, and although is fairly smart for someone with Downs, is very resistant, difficult to teach and work with, naturally lazy and given the choice would far rather be in front of a television than anything else, especially unsupervised.

The executor of the trust is supposed to be his older sister, who although is fairly responsible will likely have nothing to do with the building of this place and doesn’t know how to do anything with farming. By contrast I have spent a pretty decent portion of my life doing so. My sons are young but industrious, and in all likelihood, it will be mostly off of their backs and mine that we are able to pull this off (if we can). I worry that they will be, not necessarily cut out but left with not much claim on what they work hard to establish with me, and possibly have to watch it decay. When I bring up my concerns, my husband simply says that I don’t have enough faith in my stepson. I’m not trying to be mean but I am being realistic, and before this venture is set in stone I’d rather know that I am not going to create something only to have it run into the ground, rendered useless to any of our children. I don’t mean to be disparaging but what am I to think? How do I tell him that this is something I can’t get on board with, and I’d far rather give up my dream, skip the trouble and leave my stepson with a reasonable home to live in and care for than to leave an entire farm under his care, which even people with full reasoning can easily fail at? Although I don’t want it to be, it’s becoming almost a deal breaker in my head as I feel like I’m almost going to be blatantly used to create a successful enterprise just to make sure this child is cared for…which would be fine if it didn’t mean it had to depend on this boy to survive. What do I do? Am I being selfish??

-About to Let It Go

Hello About To Let It Go:

You are correct that this is not my usual sort of question, so I’ll start with some timely advice from an expert. In the words of Chris Newman from Sylvanaqua Farms, Please don’t start a farm with your partner without doing couples counseling first.” There is a lot to work out here, and having some kind of formal process with neutral referees (a couples’ counselor to work through feelings, plus an attorney to create the paperwork for a new family business) is probably not the worst idea.

I’m neither an attorney nor a couples counselor, but  I can see when assumptions have been stacked like cards into an unstable structure. For instance, I think you are right to be extremely wary of a situation where the estate is entailed upon the eldest male heir, for so many reasons!

A more stable structure might look like this:

  1. Your husband puts aside a good chunk of money in trust for his son NOW, to be administered by his daughter after he dies. This money is completely separate from the farm, and there is no expectation that his son will ever work on the farm or have to “earn” long-term care and support, nor is his well-being at risk if the farm fails.
  2. You and your husband buy a farm together as 50/50 partners and create a separate business entity for the farm. Spell everything out: up-front financial contributions, ongoing in-kind contributions of labor & expertise, profit-sharing, what happens if the farm fails/the marriage fails, all of it.
  3. You and your husband both draw up wills that allow you to hand down your 50% ownership share to your children as you wish after you die. At the time of inheritance, one kid or set of kids could choose to buy the others out, or they could all agree to sell the whole deal and split the proceeds, as is done whenever one piece of property is left to multiple heirs. It will be completely up to them (you’ll be dead),  and your husband can rest easy knowing that your stepson will be cared for because that was all arranged long ago with a separate pool of money.
  4. In the meantime, if your sons decide that they want to work on the farm, the farm business entity should pay them fair wages* for their labor and distribute periodic bonuses based on any eventual profits. An income now > “This will all be yours someday” promise that pits your sons against their step-siblings. This also frees your sons up to leave the farm and pursue other careers if they wish, and you to pay for other labor, without anyone being held prisoner to sunk cost fallacy.

[*Note: If your husband can’t afford to put some money in trust now and separate long-term support for his son from the farm, and if you don’t anticipate being able to afford wages for farm labor once you’re underway, then that makes it pretty simple: You can’t afford a farm and should probably do something else entirely!]

This is only only one of many possible structures, hashing out the details is what the couples counseling is for, probably. My main goal in outlining each step was to encourage you & your husband to spell things out very clearly from the start, remove magical thinking as much as possible, and to leave all of your children with maximum freedom & options vs. making their future dependent on a risky venture that is more about your & your husband’s dreams than their own.

But, before I leave you,  I’m also going to suggest some questions, as well as shifts in language and attitude, to help you on your way.

  1. If you and your husband had zero children between you, would you still start a farm together? Are you starting a farm because of a fantasy of leaving a certain kind of legacy for your children, or are you starting a farm because you both want to spend the next couple of decades farming? One of these is a good reason to start a farm together, the other one is actually terrible. My vote is do it for yourselves, present tense, or not at all.
  2. Are your sons actually interested in farming as a career? Are you sure? Have you asked them lately? If so, if it’s really in the blood, what’s stopping you and your sons from creating a family farm as a joint business, with your husband in more of an investor/silent partner role?
  3. Replace “industrious” and the ableist “naturally lazy” with “interested in farming” vs. “deeply uninterested in farming” and you’ll immediately get to better questions. Regardless of relative capability, does it make sense to build a farm for decades and then leave it entirely in the hands of the family members who are the least interested in farming? No! If your husband makes that a condition of starting a farm, then yes, you are right to say, “we either leave it to all of our children and put that in writing from the start, or we don’t do it at all” and hold firm. But you can get there without belittling anybody.

I hope this helps!

Sincerely,

An Inside Kid who is “naturally lazy, and given the choice would far rather be in front of a television than anything else, especially unsupervised.” 

Hello everyone!

Everyone who’s coming please make sure you take a lateral flow test (or PCR) the previous evening or that morning if at all possible

Obviously I will cancel if the situation changes or the rules change

9th April, 1pm, Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, SE1 8XX.

We will be on Level 2 (the upper levels are closed to non-ticket-holders), but I don’t know exactly where on the floor. It will depend on where we can find a table. I will have my plush Chthulu which looks like this:

Please bring your masks/exemption lanyards, and obey any rules posted in the venue.

The venue has lifts to all floors and accessible toilets. The accessibility map is here:

The food market outside (side opposite the river) is pretty good for all sorts of requirements, and you can also bring food from home, or there are lots of cafes on the riverfront.

Other things to bear in mind:

  1. Please make sure you follow social distancing rules. This particularly includes respecting people’s personal space and their choices about distancing.
  2. We have all had a terrible time for the last two years. Sharing your struggles is okay and is part of what the group is for, but we need to be careful not to overwhelm each other or have the conversation be entirely negative. Where I usually draw the line here is that personal struggles are fine to talk about but political rants are discouraged, but I may have to move this line on the day when I see how things go. Don’t worry, I will tell you!
  3. Probably lots of us have forgotten how to be around people (most likely me as well), so here is permission to walk away if you need space. Also a reminder that we will all react differently, so be careful to give others space if they need.

I will cancel this meetup if government guidance changes, so keep an eye on this space.

No need to RSVP, but please let me know if you want me to keep an eye out for you!

kate DOT towner AT gmail DOT com

Dear Captain,

I (she/her) married my husband Alex (he/him) 8 months ago, and in the process married into an incredibly tight college friend group focused around Alex, his best friend Ryan (he/him), and his best friend’s wife Sara (she/her) (everyone is mid-30s). All three are night owls and I am a morning lark. At home, Alex and I just crash and wake up at different times; he’s very loving and respectful of my need to sleep. However, for vacations the group ends up traveling together and sharing a hotel room or RV space. It ends up 3 on 1 for preferences around timing and I always end up the one who is sleep deprived.

I’ve tried explaining this all to Alex, and he keeps saying I’m not clear to the group about my need for sleep. I think they’re all looking for me to loudly yell back in the moment when they’re keeping me up, but that’s not who I am and not what I’m capable of at 3am when I’m exhausted. At this point, my preference would be to just not share sleeping space with Ryan and Sara, but if I decline the RV or shared rooms in advance I’m left out of planning and don’t get a say in food or other things.

I love Alex but… I need sleep. We don’t have kids yet, but we’re of that age where it’s a question. I don’t want to end up sleepwalking along (pun semi-intended) in this marriage until I find myself facing the same issue with fewer options to resolve it.

Sara and Ryan (Ryan especially) just kind of bulldoze through life. I think part of it is that Alex would rather be behind the plow than in front of it with me. I also can’t help but think Alex just wishes I was a night owl like Sara, or that I just was Sara (we look incredibly similar and it’s a recurring joke in the group). I know that’s not an entirely reasonable fear; I just don’t know how to disentangle that insecurity from all of this. Advice?

Sleepless Lark

Dear Sleepless Lark,

Greeting: 

Hello, I have retained your most excellent subject line as the post title. Love it! A+!

Advice:

1) From now on, if Alex wants you to accompany him on future vacations with Ryan and Sara, he must plan to include a private space so that they can all stay up as long as they want to and you can go to sleep whenever you want to. In the past, Alex has told you that you’re “not clear to the group about my need for sleep.”  Challenge accepted! You’re about to get extremely clear about all that.

2) If you and Alex are not already doing this, I suggest alternating trips with Ryan and Sara with vacations where it’s just the two of you and/or YOUR closest friends doing stuff that YOU like at YOUR pace sometimes. Budget out your vacation time and money for the year, as a couple, in advance, so that it’s not always this thing where your vacation is more about other people’s incredibly specific fun than your own.

For best results, talk to Alex  – and only Alex – during the initial planning stages of the next trip with his friends. Be direct and forthright about what you need from now on in order to have fun on these vacations. He wants you to “be more clear” so yeah! Be clear with him about the incredibly reasonable stuff you need, and then be clear that you’d like him to a) ensure you are included in discussions about meals and activities and b) make whatever it is clear to his friends on your behalf, without making you the unreasonable fun-killing scapegoat, so it’s not three against one at 3 a.m or you ready to eat your own hand at 9 the next morning because nobody told you whether breakfast was going to be a thing today. Does he want you to come with? Does he want you to enjoy yourself? Great! This should be no problem, then! If seeing to your own bodily comfort is such a problem, then perhaps he should go by himself next time.

Possible starting script: “Alex, a road trip to [place] sounds fun, but before anybody books anything, I want to make sure that we’ll have our own room or some other way that I can have a private, quiet space to sleep when the rest of you stay up late.” 

Good news, you live in a time where there have never been so many options for doing this! You can:

  • Book separate hotel rooms, so that one can be Party Central and one can be The Sleepy Zone.
  • Book a motel room or cabin nearby where the RV will be parked so that you have a separate place to retire to when you’re ready for bed.
  • Rent a larger space, like a vacation house or apartment that has multiple sleeping areas so that they can stay up and you can have a little quiet.
  • Budget these trips differently from the start, with the baseline expectation that you’ll need private/separate sleep accommodations. If that makes the trip unaffordable, oh no, guess y’all can’t afford to go this time!

If he balks at any of it, remind him that he told you to be “more clear” (I’m never letting that go, fyi,) and remind him that you are telling him this because you DO want to go on these trips, you DO want him to be able to stay up with his buds and do all the fun stuff in the world, and to do that well you need a little bit more attention to your own creature comforts.

Start with “a room for Lark to sleep” as the minimum, baseline necessity for traveling with these people, and build from there.

I don’t really know what to do about your feelings about Alex’s potential “joke” feelings about Sara, except to say: This is your marriage, this is your precious vacation time, and I think that you should generally take up more space in all of it, not less.

I think that some of the anxiety and friction here is because you’ve been hovering between “date/guest of founding group member” and “active group member/participant” for a while with these trips. As a date/guest, it’s Alex’s job to make sure you are comfortable and having fun. As a participant in your own right, you have more power to assert what you need, and Alex’s job as your spouse to help you do that/get out of the way of you doing that.  If you’re not particularly enjoying yourself, maybe it’s time to either stay home doing exactly what you like with your time, or go full participant.

For example, since you’ve said you tend to get “left out” of meal and activity plans, probably do a little of your own advance planning/scouting in the area to ensure that you can eat regular meals at reasonable times. If there’s something you particularly want to see or do in the area, make sure Alex knows about it. If there’s a group grocery list, put things that you like to eat and drink on it. If Ryan and Sara and others are cool with winging it, fine! If you have a plan, and someone else in the group comes up with a better plan in the moment, it’s okay to do that plan instead! But if people want to join you for breakfast at [place] on [day], they should be ready to leave by [time], because that’s when you and the giant stack of books you brought along are going.

If the rest of the group, especially your husband, imply that a few alterations that will greatly improve your vacation experiences amount to you “being difficult” or “ruining the vibe,” or try make it about how “unclear” you are, remind yourself: You’re not asking everyone else to tiptoe around your or keep your exact same hours, you’re not screaming at all of them to shut up and go to sleep at 3 a.m. (even though your husband thinks that’s what you’re supposed to do). Instead, you’re asking for a little space, grace, and forethought because you are not Sara 2.0 and you have different needs. So don’t retreat! “Yep, that’s me, Mrs. Lark T. Buzzkill, Esq, also, if you want in on the the free hotel breakfast it closes at 10, see you there, or not. Hope that’s clear!”  “Ha, that joke about how much I look like Sara never gets less funny, but it’s so easy to tell us apart! Sara is married to Ryan, and if I don’t get enough sleep I stop functioning, so, goodnight y’all!.” 

In closing: You are not weird or difficult for having a bedtime and wanting to know when your next meal is coming from. ❤

Bonus: Here is a tried-and-true general recommendation for vacationing with a group of fellow adults with different planning styles, activity levels, people-ing capacity, and interests: DON’T try to plan out every minute or do every single thing all together as a group. Pick a few set things to do all together on specific days, and be very transparent about costs, travel times, and logistics. Pick maybe one daily meal as “everyone cooks/eats/goes out all together for a hot, sit-down meal” and leave lots of down-time for people to nap, go off exploring, and subsist on iterations of the cheese plate or things-dipped-into-other-things as they wish. You’ll get plenty of fun and way fewer headaches.

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