Epicness

Bed! Go to bed! 

I couldn’t go to bed!

My head’s too light to try to set it down!

Sleep, go to sleep!

I couldn’t sleep tonight!

Not for all the jewels in the crown…

–“I Could’ve Danced All Night” , My Fair Lady

That’s how a super great–nay, EPIC–performance feels.  Like, what I”m feeling right now.

I have to go to bed. My alarm will be going off in a little over eight hours. But right now? Total epicness. I could, indeed, dance all night.

Audrey Hepburn, "I Could Have Danced All Night."

(And then I’d crash in the AM. That probably happened to Eliza but we just don’t see it.)

There is almost nothing I’ve experienced like the high of a good performance. Maybe when I’m with little kids and they do something cool, or when a baby says his first word in front of me, or I’m bodysurfing in the Atlantic. But those aren’t really the same thing. There is so much energy after a good performance. I feel like I could write War and Peace right now. (If Tolstoy hadn’t already done it.)

Every time I perform this show, I find something new to do, something new I understand about this character.

11 more shows to go!

Now, sadly, since my life is NOT a musical, I have to go to bed. 

“Don’t you agree now? She ought to be in bed!” 

Fall Theater season begins!

(And winter theater season, and spring theater season…)

So, the summer is over. Summer musicals have wrapped, scores have been put away, and costumes stored for next season. But what if you want more theater?

You’re in luck. Fall is a super busy time for auditions. For theaters that run on an “academic” schedule (Sept-May/June), this is the time they are auditioning for their shows. Big winter/spring musicals often have auditions in October/November/December. As the year turns to 2012, then the summer theater auditions/rep theater/ summer musicals are being prepped.

So if you want to break out, check out the local theater companies and see what shows they’ll be doing. See if you like any of them. I tend to audition only for musicals I really like. Plays, I’m a bit more adventurous (OK, a lot more adventurous!).

It’s a good idea to get your resume together, and to check your headshots–are they still an approximately accurate photo? Do you need more copies? It might not be a bad idea to start or revisit the audition notebook. Check your closet for audition worthy outfits, and look over those audition cuts of music! Do you need monologues? Check out libraries or bookstores for books and find some favorites. Practice them-which also means staging them.  You don’t want to just “stand and deliver.” Put copies of the resume, headshots, music and/or reading in a thin black binder so you can whip them out. Remember to put the music in page protectors for ease of turning!

For additional audition tips, see Auditioning for Musicals and Auditioning for Plays.

Any questions? Ask me in the combox!

Tips for singers

So lately, I’ve been to several different churches, where I’ve had the opportunity to view different cantors/choirs and how they sing. And I’ve come up with a few tips for singers (ALL singers, not just church ones).

And yes, some of these are pretty basic. But bear with me.

  1. Breathe from your diaphragm. As my first voice teacher told me: “Imagine there’s an inner tube around your middle, and you have to breathe out to touch it.” Do not move your shoulders! You should inhale, deeply, from your diaphragm and fill your lungs from the bottom up. This allows for more air!
  2. Open your mouth! Form the vowels with your mouth. If you just sort of open it, there’s no place for the sound to resonate. This affects pitch, tone–basically everything. Nice, round “O”s, please! (Or whatever) Another trick from my high school choir director: Sing like there’s a Hershey’s Kiss on your tongue and you don’t want to touch the tip of it.
  3. Raise your eyebrows! This also helps with pitch and resonance.
  4. Along with three: Have a pleasant expression on your face. Look like you enjoy what you’re doing, as opposed to looking as if you are about to face the rack.
  5. Stand with your feet about hip-width apart, knees relaxed. Shoulders back for maximum breath allowance! Also–good posture, stand up straight!
  6. Remember your ending consonants. Vowels are super-important, but without the beginning and ending consonants, we’re not going to know what you’re saying. Help us out. 🙂

These are tips that are, like I said, basic. But they make the sound and experience so much better, for both singer and listener.

More P&B thoughts

More thoughts from yesterday’s Porgy and Bess post: one of the complaints from the creative team and some of the actors is that there isn’t any back story for the characters, thus they seem one-dimensional. So the creative team is adding back story.

Back story is something actors do on their own, in order to more fully flesh out the character once they are onstage. You don’t depend on the script to give you everything about your character–some things you decide on your own. Yes, the actor needs a back story of some sort to bring a character to life, but that doesn’t mean the author has to provide you with it. Some of it is your own work! That’s one of the fun things about acting!

Normally, hints of back story are evident in shows, usually in the “I Want” song, where a character express what s/he “wants”. Some examples: Belle’s “Belle” in Beauty and the Beast; Elphaba’s “The Wizard and I” from Wicked; “It Might As Well Be Spring” from State Fair; “Where Is Love?” from Oliver. In Les Miz, we understand Fantine’s history from “I Dreamed A Dream”; we get Christine’s back story in Phantom of the Opera from “Angel of Music” (and the accompanying dialogue). In plays, you’ll get it too, like Abigail’s relationship with John Proctor in The Crucible. So I would guess most shows provide you a structure that you can base your back story on, as an actor. But if you want more, you have to come up with it, as you study the character, and then find ways to communicate that onstage. Theater would be mighty boring if every character’s entire life story was introduced before the plot could get underway!

 

How do you solve a problem like…

Porgy and Bess?

The American Repertory Theater in Connecticut is putting on a new version of the Gershwin American opera classic. And some people–most notably Stephen Sondheim–are not happy with it.

Why isn’t Mr. Sondheim happy? Because it’s much more of a “rewrite” than a “revival.” The director is adding “back story” which, apparently, isn’t in the original P&B. Audra McDonald, who’s playing Bess, sees her character as one-dimensional. So the powers that be are changing that. The highly-praised ending, Porgy’s “I’m On My Way”, is being tampered with in (some say) unacceptable ways.

The crux of the debate is: When is it re-staging–bringing a fresh eye to an older work–and when is it against the composer’s intentions? Sondheim states that he’s overseen several re-stagings of his works–most notably with Company and Sweeney Todd–and that he approves the changes those directors have made. Obviously he’s not against new ideas, per se. The big difference, however, is that Sondheim is alive, and able to give a thumbs up or down to what directors do to his pieces. The Gershwins aren’t. Whose to say, as the director does, that they would have changed Porgy and Bess eventually? (I think that’s a bit presumptuous–what, is she having seances with the Gershwins on a regular basis?)

Obviously, directors have a vision for their pieces. Sometimes they set Macbeth in the 1940s, and sometimes Hamlet is a modern-day retelling. These can be very brilliant. They can also be awful. But what the current production is doing is fundamentally changing the show as written. This is equivalent to what people used to do to the end of Lear–Cordelia lives! Lear lives! All is well! But that fundamentally changes what the story is about, and what the audience is meant to take from it.

One of the biggest problems I have with this is the way the director talks down to the audience. Apparently, she thinks we have the attention span of gnats. (She’s quoted in the link above.)

There is a fundamental difference between reinterpreting, and rewriting. For example: The recent production of Earnest that I was in moved up the story period to the Edwardian era, instead of the end of the Victorian era, where Wilde originally placed his story. This happens all the time in opera. Some people actually have fits about this. But really, sometimes it works. And again, sometimes it doesn’t. But we didn’t change the characters, or add extra speeches for Earnest, or anything like that. We stuck with what Wilde wrote and made our interpretations based on that.

Opera, especially, is where people tend to be very sensitive on this subject. Audiences boo interpretations and directors they don’t like. Mary Zimmerman’s La Sonambula is one example of this. It sounds like what’s happening at the A.R.T is a director taking original material and then adding/subtracting to serve her own needs and what she thinks “today’s audience” wants.  As an audience member, I find that insulting. As an actress, I’d be sort of horrified. Not that a play is a SACRED TEXT, but messing with authorial intention? Not something I’d be really keen to do. I’ve been very lucky to work with directors that haven’t done this.

Bottom line: if you want to gut something, write your own version.

(And a note: In the case of Zimmerman–I have to say I like what I’ve seen of her opera direction. She gives her actors/actresses something to do, and I love her version of Armida)

The Angel of Music

 

Most actors remember that pivotal show that opened the magic of theater to them.

He’d get us center, orchestra seats for any show coming to town so as a kid I’d be watching Phantom of the Opera with my jaw to the ground. I was like ‘This is what I’ve got to do! I have to do this!’

–TJ Thyne (AKA, Hodgins on Bones)

For me, it was The Phantom of the Opera, and I imagine a lot of kids my age (20s/early 30s) feel the same way, either about this show, or Cats, or Les Miz. And for me, it started with the music.

Sierra Boggess as Christine

I don’t even remember how I got the tape. (Yes, tape, people) First, it was the highlights tape. My best friend, Anne, and I loved it so much we’d listen to it on our walkmans on the bus ride home from school. Pre-Internet, it was harder to find out show tidbits, but I bought The Complete Phantom of the Opera and devoured every detail, from the show’s inception to the libretto. Then I got the complete recording–two tapes, four sides. I learned every note of every part.  I could sing the octet “Prima Donna” in a split-personality way, alternating rapidly between prominent melodies, or just sing any one line.  I practiced it in my bedroom. I learned that the high D at the end of the song “The Phantom of the Opera” was recorded, so the actress didn’t have to sing that high every night.

The show was coming to town after my eighth grade year. Anne and I were dying to see it, but my parents and I had missed buying tickets, so we were pondering going to Toronto (where the show was playing all the time).

Then we got lucky!

The run sold out so quickly that they added more weeks. And my mom got tickets for August 14, at 8:00. In the front row.

I was dying. I was dead. I was convinced heaven could not be better. My next door neighbors had seen the show, and when I went over to baby-sit their kids, I leafed through the glorious, white-covered and red-tasseled souvenir program like it was a sacred text. Oh, Christine’s dress at the end of Act I! Oh, the final trio! I wanted to be Christine, tossed in a love triangle between the richer-than-God childhood sweetheart and the tormented musical genius (who was slightly crazy).

The Day came. I wore an emerald dress, embedded with discreet sequins, and heels. I bought my very own souvenir program. We were escorted to our seats.

“Watch out that the chandelier doesn’t fall on you,” the usher said as he seated us.

What? Fall on me?

OK, I knew the chandelier fell. But I didn’t think it would fall on me. Great. Thanks, Mr. Usher, you have ruined the first act for me, I’m now worried about being decapitated!

When the chandelier rose up at the end of the prologue, it was so close I could touch the beaded strings. And until the ballet from Il Muto, I was enchanted. Then I remembered–chandelier.

I scurried off to the bathroom, thinking I’d get out of it that way. The ushers told me to hurry back, I didn’t want to miss the chandelier! (Yes, yes I did) One of my indelible images of that performance is the female ushers, in their white shirts and black skirts, sitting on the stairs, peering through the box openings to watch the action onstage.

I made it back in time for the beginning of the Rooftop Sequence. Oh, my little 13 year old heart was taken by “All I Ask Of You”, and the Phantom’s tormented reprise from the Angel that towered above the proscenium.

And then the chandelier fell. Slowly. I have to say, I was somewhat disappointed in that–I wanted some sort of thrill to it, some sort of danger! Oh well.

I still remember the names of the leads that night. I remember being entranced by Raoul, soaking wet behind the portculis, and his shirt unbuttoned as the garrotte hung around his neck. How Meg finds the mask “and picks it up in her small hand.” How did he disappear like that?

Phantom, for me, was the beginning of my real love with musical theater.

“The Era of Ragtime had run out”

“…as if history were no more than a tune on a player piano. But we did not know that, then.”

The Little Boy, “Epilogue/Finale”

The Immigrant Chorus Women

 

And with that, ’tis done. Ragtime–and summer musical–are over for another year. Some of these people I will see between now and next summer, but most of them are summer-only folks, and seeing them is part of the summer musical tradition. The HAC show next year is Cabaret, so I’m not sure if I’ll be auditioning for it. I can sing all the major female roles (ROCK the contralto-ness, people), but I’ll have to see what else is going on. I try to do at least one musical every year, but I’m picky about them. I want to have music I can sink my teeth into, or a show that’s going to be lots of fun–preferably both, like this year. It was a LOT of hard work, but it paid off in spades when we got a standing ovation every night!

So now I’m pretty “not busy”, theater wise, until the fall. I’ll still post here, but it’ll be on more general theater/voice/music stuff, as opposed to show-specific posts. There will be stuff on voice, acting, pointers, all sorts of goodness, and probably more ragtime photos. 🙂

So, the final fan club list:

  • Chris B.
  • Andrea G.
  • Tiffany
  • Bill
  • Mom and Dad
  • Robin
  • J.R.
  • Bryan (my brother)
  • Kelly Z.
  • Matt Z. (These two are siblings, and my cousins!)
  • Sarah N.
  • Missy, Katie and Sarah

Thanks again to everyone who came out! We had more than 1,000 people see the show over three days.