Director's Notes: Discovering A Universal Inspiration Inside Personal Experience

Over the next few months, Director's Notes will document, from planning to performance, the challenges of local artist Katie Toohil as she mounts an original, independent theatrical dance production.

Who the hell am I, right?

Well, I'm Katie, and it's nice to meet you. My background is in theater and dance. I've been doing both since a very young age and have always found solace in performance and creative expression.

One of my proudest moments as a performer was in college where, after an intense production where I played a mother dealing with the loss of her son, my father greeted me with tears streaming down his face.

My father was a man of few words and little outward emotion. Prior to that moment, I had only seen him cry twice, both at funerals. I was amazed by the power of performance to draw out emotion in even the most stoic of people. Performance could be more than just "look at me, look at me" -- it could be about tapping into very real pain and possibly even healing it.

I lost my father unexpectedly in January of this year. It is by far the single most difficult obstacle I've faced in my almost 27 years of life. I had a wonderful relationship with my dad and the emotions that flooded my body in the wake of his death were overwhelming to say the least.

And let's face it: I'm your classic Type A personality. When faced with a problem, my natural driving instinct is to do something about it. But what could I do? Nothing would bring my dad back, so why bother? The frustration of not being able to take any action was crippling to me.

Then, slowly, a thought began to surface. I couldn't be the only person in the world -- in my little piece of the city, even -- suffering from the effects of an intense loss.

Turning a critical eye to the people in my life, I saw years of sorrow compartmentalized, stuffed away, "dealt with." I saw people stuck in various Kubler-Ross stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression. A rare few seemed to have happily reached the acceptance phase, but had they really?

Who really gets over the loss of a parent, a child, a best friend, a lover? Who among us in this vibrant Dallas community still needs to grieve a friend who has passed on, mourn for a family relationship you always wanted but never had, or acknowledge the pain of a failed marriage?

The realization that grief is universal and expansive struck me, perhaps harder than it should have. I suppose sometimes it takes a loss of our own to open our hearts to the losses of others.

In my pain, I longed for a way to help other people express their heartache, to spend time in grief without judgment or pity, to tap into the feelings we try so hard to never feel. Maybe in really exploring the concept of grief, I can find a way to help myself and others move that painful energy out of our bodies and replace it with peace.

So, this brings us to the show, to a performance piece I'm creating called Grieve. It's a combination of theater, music and dance that will explore the human connection to grief in the face of all-consuming loss. The performers will use their bodies and their voices to tell the story of the journey through the stages of grief and probe what happens when we find ourselves deviating from that prescribed path.

I hope you will join me on this voyage and allow yourself some time to reflect on your own connection to grief. It is my most sincere hope that this work will allow us all - performers, production staff, and audience alike - to heal our pain and celebrate life in all its manifestations.

Next time, I'll share the next step of my -- our -- journey to Grieve: auditions and casting.

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Katie Toohil
Contact: Katie Toohil