Staying present and making progress: an interview with Lillith Fallon

For Decent Company October: fear, Lillith Fallon will be confronting her worst fear head on by embodying it. Lillith and Decent Company producing director Josh Boerman sat down and talked about everything from balloons to being a functional member of society.

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JB: So let’s talk about what your show is. You are going to be standing up in front of the audience portraying a possum.

LF: Yes. You’re not gonna be fooled. You’re not gonna be like, “Oh, wow. I know that was Lillith, but really what I saw was a possum. (Josh laughs) And then there was a moment where I forgot it was Lillith entirely, and it was a possum.” It’s not going to be that type of portrayal of a possum.

JB: That’s too bad, because I was hoping for stark naturalism in this piece.

LF: Right, yeah, that will come eventually. I need at least six months to really do that, and we just don’t have the time, Josh.

JB: Right, right, right.

LF: We don’t have the time. But yeah, you will see me dressed as a possum. Will I physicalize it? TBD. I’m considering it. I’m considering doing a little bit of that, but I don’t know. I don’t think so.

JB: Because to you in this piece, the possum is representative of what you are most afraid of, essentially.

LF: Correct, correct. I will be personifying an active member of society who also happens to be a possum.

JB: Okay, sure. Sure. But maybe not always functional member of society, which is an important distinction.

LF: Correct, correct. Yeah, that is very important. I’d be very interested to know what it means right now to be a functioning member of society. I know what that means to me, and that same standard I hold for friends and family, but what does it really mean to be a functioning member of society?

JB: Sure, let’s talk about that. Because I think actually that this piece you’re doing has a lot to do with that.

LF: It absolutely does.

JB: Because it is about the way that anxieties prevent you from going out there and doing what it is you really want to do because you’re afraid of the possibility of failure, essentially.

LF: Right. Correct. And it’s also about how anxieties are just like a shirt every day. You know, it’s like, yeah, I’m functioning, I’m doing my job, but while I’m doing these things, I’m thinking about my anxiety, thinking about whatever it is at that moment in time or whatever it’s continuing to be.

JB: So what then does it mean to you to be “functional?” Does it mean to overcome those things that are getting in your way?

LF: Ideally, yes. To be overcoming things is the ideal place to be. Right now what functioning for me is, is being seemingly present. So that means that if I’m anxious and I don’t wanna be somewhere that I need to be, the functioning part is being there.

In high school, I remember I had such a time in my last two years of high school. And I remember one teacher— or I don’t know if was my mom or my teacher, someone said, “Just show up.” And I said, “Okay. Well, if I can just show up, and if that’s getting by, then at the very minimum, I can do that.” Some days I couldn’t.

And to be fair, right now, just showing up is not functional. Because we know people who just show up, and then they have to go home.

JB: Well, there’s showing up in a physical sense, and then showing up in a practical sense. You can be physically present in the space but not actually mentally present.

LF: Correct. So for me, “functional” right now is showing up and being able to have windows where I’m present. As in, I am there doing what I’m supposed to be doing, interacting with people, and being present in the sense that I am without my anxiety or I’m able to objectively set it aside for a moment so that I can do the task at hand. Like waiting tables, or if I’m at an audition or something like that.

JB: I think when people think “functional member of society,” it’s generally in connection to our work, our occupation. But I think that for those of us who experience social anxiety sometimes, it can also be just as simple as, like, seeing somebody and having to interact with them for a second, right?

LF: Yeah. It cracks me up, too, because you know that instance where you see someone and you’ll immediately turn the corner? I don’t do that anymore. I used to, and I don’t do it anymore, but it’s being done to me. It’s been done to me a couple times.

And because I understand that need, it will never be offensive to me. Because I’m like, “Nope, I’ve been there. I know. Yep. You’re pretending you’re on your phone right now. That’s cool. That’s cool.” A nod will suffice.

A nod is actually— if you acknowledge that I’m even passing you, that’s great. Good for you. No one understands not being able to do something better than me because of anxiety.

JB: Because to go back to the piece, that’s really what it’s all about.

LF: Right. It’s about not accomplishing things that you want for yourself or that you see for yourself because of anxiety. For me, it was realizing that because anxiety was such a huge part of my life— I mean, I’m just throwing that word around so loosely. That’s such a part of me that I almost feel like I’ve accepted it as who I am.

And that means that when I’m limiting myself, or when I don’t do things and it’s like, “Well, that’s because I was anxious,” that all the sudden that that’s, like, suddenly okay. And I really don’t want to live a life like that. I really don’t.

I don’t want that for the people involved with me, I don’t want that for my husband. I don’t want us to not do things because it’s like, “Oh, well, Lillith can’t do that.” That, to me, feels like I’m robbing people. It used to be only me, but now I’m married. Now I’m a unit, and I can’t do that.

I can’t do that to him, and I can’t do that to— when you get involved with theatre companies now, they’re so ensemble-based. And people need you to be supportive. If I’m letting that get the best of me, then I can’t be supportive. If I can’t be supportive of someone or something that I believe in, then I’m not, like, living, you know?

JB: I also asked this question to Erin, because her piece is also a little bit about anxieties, too. What do you think the relationship is between anxiety and fear? Do you think they’re two sides of the same coin? Do you think that one leads to the other?

LF: I don’t know. I don’t know, because that was why this piece came up for me. Because again, I saw the word “fear,” and I just started kinda meditating and thinking about what my understanding of fear is. At this moment in time, what I understand fear to be is synonymous with anxiety.

However, I know that they’re not the same thing. Thankfully I’ve never been in a situation like, you know, a horror movie type situation. I guess that that is word for word the definition of “fear.”

JB: Yeah, like terror.

LF: Terror, right. But for me at this moment, they’re synonymous. And I’m grateful that that’s what that is right now. How easy for me, but—

JB: Well, if something is a major challenge in your life, you naturally will be afraid of it.

LF: Yes.

JB: And then that thing that you’re afraid of can very easily become an excuse to avoid other things as well.

LF: Right. Yeah, my anxiety is being afraid of having a moment in which I’m afraid, and the build-up to it.

JB: Do you feel like you experience that less often since you really— because at this point, you’ve really come to be at a point where you’re like, “I want to challenge this thing head on,” right?

LF: Yeah.

JB: Do you feel like you’re making inroads toward—

LF: Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve ever been able to really— you know they say in lucid dreams, when you’re able to turn the light on, things like that? I kinda feel like that in my life right now with anxiety.

Like, there are moments where it’s so objective or so predictable that I’m kind of like, “Wow, I’m literally going through the motions and I know exactly what’s going to happen next in terms of anxiety and how I’m feeling.” And the fact that I’m able to switch the light on in that scenario, or just be present and exist in it? Yes.

‘Cause it used to be, you just shut down. Do you know what I mean? Like, you know when you get low blood sugar and you’re like, “Nothing’s making sense?” That was how anxiety was for me for a long time. It felt like all the sudden I put on these huge goggles and a helmet, and everything around me couldn’t move, and all of the sudden your breathing’s crazy and you feel like your balance is off.

And that still happens, but not nearly as frequently. Also, now you start finding new ways to kind of make yourself laugh during it. Like, I can’t remember what I read where they said how long it takes fear to leave your body— is it thirty seconds or something like that?

But I started listening to songs and finding where in songs all of a sudden my anxiety was beginning to dissipate and then stop at that song. And so I get to really interesting parts of songs. (laughs)

Or sometimes if the train stops, that’s when I get on my— because it’s so physical. This whole notion of moving forward is stopped, and I’m stuck on it. And a lot of times when trains stop, my body starts shaking, ’cause I’m like, “No, no, no, I’m moving forward. I need this whole thing to keep moving forward.”

And I’ve been able to a couple times recently when that happens – ’cause it’s New York, the train stops all the time – to start laughing. Which, I don’t know how that’s gonna manifest. You know, just, crazy lady on the train. (laughs)

JB: Crazy lady. “Oh, she’s laughing, great.”

LF: “Oh, this is funny to her, great. (Josh laughs) That’s convenient. I have to be somewhere.”

JB: You just have a little chuckle to yourself, you let those endorphins overpower or whatever.

LF: Well, and when your body starts doing exactly what you know it’s gonna start doing, you’re like, “Well, how fortunate that I was able to predict that. And it’s currently happening, and okay, there goes my hand,” you know what I mean? So I keep trying my best to—

JB: And I also feel like, you know, as someone who is writing and performing, doing this, this is also an opportunity for you to really take that shit head on too.

LF: Yeah.

JB: And confront it in a very real way. I’m curious what that has been for you so far, what that’s meant for you, and what you’re hoping to get out of this whole thing.

LF: The level of honesty that you have— like, just being honest with yourself. Do you know what I mean? Like, of course we like to think, or I like to think, that I’m honest with myself. But so much of life, during the day, you’re just kinda getting through it and on to the next thing, and you’re missing out on parts.

For me, anxiety and all my fears have always felt like my body is here, and there, like a balloon following me— I like the image of me walking around with a balloon. And my body’s functioning and doing it, but the anxiety is just with me. And this notion of connecting the two is like combining two strong forces and making a team.

JB: Right. So it’s not just about releasing that balloon—

LF: No.

JB: —it’s about figuring how you—

LF: Well, if it is a part of my life, which clearly it is, if it’s gonna have a say in everything I do, then I might as well be able to frickin’ combat it or at least support it in a way that means I still progress. By being open about it and honest about it, that’s a huge release, you know what I mean?

Like, I don’t mind people knowing that I’m an anxious person. I often tell people right away that I’m an anxious person, ’cause it has to do with whatever is happening in my life, you know? But being super honest about it, to me, makes me feel like I’m even more accessible.

And I wanna be accessible to people as a performer and as a friend, or as an acquaintance, honestly. With other actors, before we perform, I kinda just wanna be like, “There’s nothing you can do that will scare me any more than I already scare myself. And there’s nothing terrible about falling flat on your face, ’cause I’ve done that my whole life. You literally get back up.”

And I’m old enough now to know that, thankfully, that you do get back up. But for me, this piece, writing it, has been more about being so open and vocal about it that it’s been a release in that way and been helpful in that way.

Because, like, you say anything, like when you say, “I’m terrified of something right now, and that is my truth at this moment in time,” it’s a release. And sometimes it just helps for people around you to know. Sure, oftentimes you think, “Oh, God, I don’t wanna burden them, I don’t wanna be that.” But it’s not always a burden when it’s about sharing.

JB: And maybe they have that same experience and maybe you sharing your experience helps them with their experience.

LF: Correct. That’s why I think a lot of acting things, they’re like, “Let’s share a secret about yourself.” And it’s a safe space to do that. I kinda want that to be the case always.

I want to live my life more fearlessly, and I hope I can. I really hope that for myself. And I hope that for other people who feel that they might be the reason that they’re not moving forward. Because that’s a really hard thing.

We blame everything. We’re like, “Oh, god dammit, I’m late because of the train,” or all these things. And when you acknowledge that you’re not the reason that things aren’t going the way you want to, that sucks.

But you can either dwell and go, “Shit, I fuckin’ suck,” and I sometimes do still, but otherwise it’s an opportunity to be like, “Oh, I’m just like everyone else. I’m my own worst enemy, and I can fight myself every day.” I’d rather fight myself than fight other people, you know?

And that’s all gonna be said, hopefully, as a possum.

To purchase tickets for Decent Company October: fear, click here.

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