On December 18, 2009 I announced Introspect Dance Company. A company I was founding whose goals were to inspire original art created, directed, designed and performed by young people under the age of 25 with the goal of creating social change within our community. Over the next seven years we evolved into Introspect Arts, would perform 8 main stage productions, work with over 300 students from across the state or WI, and foster the creation of dozens of original plays, musicals, choreography pieces and visual art galleries.
Two years and 10 days ago today, we announced Introspect would close. On that day, I said I was at a loss of words but would be sure to give my closing thoughts when I had time to process.
Two years ago today, I went to our studio early in the morning, sat on the back porch in the crisp morning air with a steaming cup of my favorite Kona coffee from the Kwik Trip across the street, staring out at the view that I had come to love more than any other view in the world, determined to process. Determined to write my closing thoughts. Determined to make sense of what was happening. Determined to sort out who owned what part in our closing. Determined to make peace. Determined to move on.
Instead I cried.
And for the first time in a long time. I had cried out of frustration and stress over the years, but never from emotion.
And since we’re being honest, I didn’t just cry. I sobbed. A rush of emotion flew out of me like I had never experienced before or since. I was thankful no one was there to see it. Over the past seven years I had evolved into a person I didn’t recognize. Someone I never wanted to become. I’m glad no one was there to see this, because when humans see other humans break down they tend to try and comfort the person and say nice things. That was the exact opposite of what I needed, mostly because I feared (and still do) that those nice things were not coming from a genuine place. I needed to sit in the yuck. To sit and realize everything that had happened to get me to this point.
I look at the picture my parents took the day we closed and I don’t even recognize the girl sitting on the back porch of our studio.
She is jaded.
She is burnt out.
She is lost.
For years, I worked tirelessly to create a space for young people to explore their world and who they were. I preached relentlessly about advocating for yourself, taking care of your vessel, evolving into a person that you were proud of first and society was proud of second. The most important thing to me (well, other than people doing the dishes/cleaning up the kitchen so we didn’t have ants- just kidding… kind of), was that our studio was a place of love and laughter, that would often be a safe space to challenge our thoughts and ideas, but ultimately would be a respite from the drudge of the outside world and its “rules”.
From day one, everything I did was to ensure this would happen. Everything was about the young people involved. I know many people who will roll their eyes when I say this but I never viewed Introspect as mine or Nate’s, the company was not about my ego at all (trust me, if it was I would have done a lot of things different). Instead I was there to facilitate an opportunity for young people to feel accepted and to grow, something I had not fully had when I was young. Honestly, it was never about the performances. In my mind, the true impact Introspect made was through the discussions and community we created in the rehearsal room. Our shows were pretty good, some were better than others. But the real impact I was focused on was with the students involved, not so much the audience experience.
I always put myself on the front lines to protect Introspect’s community and artistic work. I purposefully did not involve adults in the company out of fear they wouldn’t understand and would somehow “wreck” the sacred space we had created. I took hit after hit, trying to shielded those involved as much as I could from the nay-sayers, from the degrading comments and debilitating negativity I received from so many people, including those I had at one point trusted. I was set on always “being the adult” never to openly speak out when people said or did things I did not agree with- which I openly admit I did not always succeed at. But at some point all this all this internal processing shifted my focus away from the work and instead was consumed by proving these people, who had said and done such hurtful things over the years, wrong. I fought to keep the company alive. I trusted no one and in the process became the passive aggressive, out of touch “adult” that I had feared would infiltrate the company to begin with. I had literally become my worst nightmare.
The moment I handed the key back to Dave Junion on October 25, 2015, I started my own “Introspect” journey. All the things I had urged other to do for the past seven years I had forgotten to apply to myself. As soon as the keys left my hand I had this enormous sense of hopelessness. I had no idea who I was, everything was poured into this company. I had no clue how to take care of myself. I had no idea how to advocate for myself. Over the years I became obsessed with conforming to what society wanted me to be. I had no voice, no creative expression. I was just this mess of a person my 19 year old self would have been horrified to meet.
It’s been a tough, ugly road navigating out of all this. I’ve spent a lot of time in gross feelings I never want to feel again, and saying and doing things I can’t believe I did. But I finally feel like I can process everything. It may be two years later than I hoped but here it goes:
Introspect was the greatest thing I may ever do in my life. At the same time, I allowed Introspect to become something incredibly toxic to me, and I fear others as well. I forced myself to become someone I’m not proud of. It was an incredible adventure that I can now look back on most days and be thankful for every high and low. There are a lot of apologies I wish I would have given, and ones I wish I would have received, but I’m thankful that most relationships have been mended. Introspect has helped me understand how important self-care truly is, and that without it I cannot create art. I don’t know what the universe has in store for me, but I know I’m not done using art as tool to teach empathy and to challenge society. I may not be at the point I feel totally healed and ready to create again, but I’m starting to come around. I can listen to and enjoy music again, and am working on sorting out my own thoughts and experimenting with writing. I finally am starting to figure out who I am without the identity of Introspect, and to be honest I think she’s way more cool and way less up tight (with crazy colored hair). I now understand how important it is to not always suppress emotions/thought to maintain the status quo, and I’m starting to learn to use my voice again (ie. this blog). The core of what Introspect was is what I am most passionate about and feels like what I’m meant to be doing with my life; I’m just not sure how that will manifest itself quite yet. There are still probably more days that I doubt myself than not, but the days where I feel deep despair are starting to dissipate and I’m trying to learn to have empathy for myself. I’m not sure what’s to come next, but I know it’s going to be great. And whatever it ends up being, I plan to lead with joy and compassion, rather than fear and anger.
I’m not sure I’ll ever do something I love as much as Introspect. I cannot put into words how proud I am of the work we were able to create and the impact we made. I have more memories than I can count that make me burst out into laughter when I think about them. And if we’re being honest, most of the negative memories have almost completely faded. I am so thankful for the friends I made, for the incredible people involved along the way and for the opportunity to now marvel at the amazing things our alumni are doing with their lives. There are days I still turn to Nate and cannot believe that he, and so many of other incredible people, was so supportive of the crazy ramblings of a scatterbrained 19 year old, but I am eternally thankful to everyone who believed and supported Introspect. I am so proud of the ferocity the young people in the company had to use theatre as a platform for change.
Most importantly though, on days where I look around and think the world is doomed, I think back to the incredible compassion and love shown to one another in the rehearsal room during trying times and difficult conversations, and I realize that with this generation in charge, Better Days are yet to come.