My year with The Private Theatre - Lauren Grajewski


I am always limiting myself. I currently am a Drama student at New York University, and in classes I will tell myself, “There is someone else who can answer this question better than you. Keep quiet.” While brainstorming for projects, collaborations, and scene work, I will often hear my inner voice saying, “No,” to any ideas I have before ever giving myself time to figure out if they are possible. I tell myself I will never be able to learn the piano, I will never successfully go on a diet, I will never be as outspoken as I aspire to be. This does not mean I don’t have big dreams, because trust me, I do. And I believe I am capable of achieving them. However, more often than not, I find myself to be my own biggest bump in the road.

According to my Stage Combat Professor, this inner voice that causes me to put limits on myself is called my “Monkey Brain.” I don’t know the scientific definition of the Monkey Brain, so if my Professor ever reads this he may think I butchered the description, but this is my understanding of the Monkey Brain: It is a primitive voice in each of us that encourages us to choose whatever is most instantly gratifying or safe. In order to be a fuller creative self, we must quiet our Monkey Brain and take time to explore what is beyond the limitations we naturally put on ourselves.

I first joined The Private Theatre as a Development Assistant last April. My job was to help the company research and organize grants and funding opportunities. I did not know anyone from the Private Theatre before joining the team. While I was an acting student at the Stella Adler Studio at the time, I, of course, heard of John Gould Rubin, but I never had him as a teacher. As a result, I was extremely nervous at our first meeting -- not only was I venturing into a different field in the theatre industry by straying away from acting and working more on development opportunities, but I also did not have any previously established relationships with anyone in the group. My Monkey Brain encouraged me to stay quiet at the first meeting, and I probably said ten words the entire evening.

To my chagrin, my Monkey Brain continued to silence me for the next few meetings I attended with the Private Theatre for fear of looking unqualified, despite being given ample opportunities by the other generous members to contribute. Looking back, this was not an entirely terrible thing. It gave me the chance to observe the company, to really listen and decipher how it works. I discovered that we are a group of 11 people, all of varying ages, varying experience in the field of theatre, and varying specialties and skills. Nevertheless, we all have the same power in the room. Most of us do not even have job titles within the company. We are all managing members who are working together towards the same goal: to create raw, intimate, and startling productions of classical, contemporary or devised work.

This may sound like a large spectrum of theatre that we cover -- that’s what I thought at first, too. However, my observing the company for so long made me truly understand how one company can equally pursue all of these diverse types of theatre productions: The Private Theatre has no Monkey Brain. We do not limit ourselves. While it is easy for me as an individual to limit myself, as part of The Private Theatre, it is impossible. The group is always pushing each other to be more than. None of us are just an actor, just a director, just a writer, just a producer. With the help of each other in the group, we push ourselves to be multi-hyphenate artists who can create any art we put our minds to. All of the tools we need to do so are in each and every one of us, and if they are not, we learn how.

In the last meeting we had, we began talking about the current politics of America and how we feel one of the only vehicles for change is art. We realize that something innate within the art of theatre is that it takes time to refine and develop. We wanted to find a way to create a type of theatre that can respond to the current moment within days of events happening, not years as theatre often does. Figuring out how we can achieve this concept frustrated some, excited others, and confused the rest. However, we all had the same response to the idea. We believed it was important and we said, “Yes.” We then brainstormed ways to make it happen. This is something I believe to be very unique to the Private Theatre. Ideas some people would find impossible, we excitedly say, “Yes! Why not?” We then follow up that question with, “Now, how are we going to do it?”

Throughout this past year, with the help of my Private Theatre family, I have worked hard at overcoming my Monkey Brain, and truly opened myself up to expanding creatively. While I still continue my development work with the Private Theatre, my position in the company has grown as the exposure the company has given me has caused my interests to grow. I now cover social media, I was Company Manager for our latest production of Rocco, Chelsea, Adriana, Sean, Claudia, Gianna, Alex at HERE Arts Center, and most importantly, I am a fearless contributor at our meetings. I cherish the moments I spend with my fellow Private Theatre members around company member Vieve Price’s kitchen table. The sharing of ideas that happens there and the willingness from each person to put in the work to make those ideas come to fruition is nothing short of magical. A courage to grow beyond what I think I am capable of has been instilled in me from my work with the Private Theatre and has inspired me to grow even outside my work with the company. I now run towards the things that I fear, speak without judgement, enjoy asking for help, and am thrilled by the unknown. My challenge to you? Next time you are encountered with something that pushes you out of your comfort zone and your Monkey Brain says, “No,” instead choose to say, “Yes.” Then ask, “Now, how?”