Friday, July 31, 2009

What is in that audition book????

Friday musings with my coffee...

I am back to work - a wonderful week in the studio and some marvellous conversations with my singers! A session and conservation with one of my students - singer/actor Barrie Kreinik (who is also featured in the showcase clip btw) inspired this blog topic...

As it is a very slow time in our business, this is the time to revamp, study, boot up, discover, and perhaps, re-discover your love for your MUSIC and your craft!!

So, this brings me to: what is in that audition book of yours?

Sorry opera people, I am going to focus this blog on the music theatre performers! I will look at the opera audition later on...

When was the last time you re-vamped that audition book? Does the music in that book EXCITE you? Does it motivate you to practice, to grow, to actually audition???

Your audition book should reflect YOU and your strengths as a singer and actor. Part of the reason so many of you micro-manage that audition book, is because the business has given you the impression you need to have all these different songs/genres to audition specifically for things. Perhaps you do, in order for a casting director to have more specific information, but I am going to go out on a limb and say that perhaps the micro-managing is not really necessary.

Often the micro-managing causes MORE confusion, not less.

If any casting directors read this blog, I would love your input on this subject! I just see these audition books getting larger and larger and more and more ridiculous in the categorizations!

Does it really matter that you have category/sub-category/sub-sub-category? Really? Is a casting director really going to be paying that much attention to whether it is PRECISELY a 50s tune and definitely a song that you could do the role of while you are auditioning?

Or is the goal to deliver a cut/song authentically, vocally and dramatically and in a style that is similar to that show that is being cast?

I would like to believe it is the latter. I am a singer and musician of over 40 years and have steeped myself in repertoire and I do not know ALL the repertoire and shows out there. I cannot imagine a casting director does either.

So perhaps we as teachers/coaches/singers need to start shifting these audition books to something less formidable and more performance friendly! What if we just start using material that we CONNECT to and can SING WELL?

What a concept.

I think we need to quit guessing as to what a casting director wants to hear. Often they don't know what they want to hear! So, singers, quit 2nd guessing and SING DAMMIT!

Your audition cuts don't always have to be gender specific to your gender - why? You aren't auditioning for that role obviously, you are auditioning for a show that shows that style. If you can find a cut that you make yours, what does it matter?

Don't lobotomize your common sense!! It has to make SENSE for an AUDITION. It is NOT a performance of the song - it is a cut of a song to SHOW SOMETHING.

When we look at pop/rock/contemporary songs, we can cross-gender many things, so why not for theatre songs too? If a woman can sing a Journey song why can't a man sing a Heart song if it makes sense for the audition?

If you are a woman and you connect to "Where is Love" from Oliver - and an deliver it - why couldn't you use it for an audition as a standard theatre ballad?

These are just examples to try to give you permission to quit putting yourself in a box!

If you just begin exploring shows and songs that you connect to and love to sing - then let THAT list begin to inform your audition material. You will not use all those songs. Some of them will not be appropriate as you develop your criteria, but some of them will be. You will begin to find that, if you approach your book from "what do I love to sing" as opposed to "what do I have to sing" - you will begin to find things quickly and actually build your audition repertoire with more authenticity and more reality.

Start with what you connect to - explore shows and songs and composers. There are many composers who write theatrical art song that are not from a show that can still be used for theatre auditions! If they show what you WANT to show why wouldn't you use them?

Composers like William Bolcom, Jeff Blumenkrantz, Georgia Stitt, Pasek and Paul and so many more have marvellous work that is theatrically infused. Do you connect to it? Does it show something about your voice you want to show? Does it connect stylistically to the show you are auditioning for? USE IT!!!!

Your audition book should excite you!!!! You should ENJOY developing each song and each cut and not just use something because you think you should.

This is YOUR book. YOU have to sing these cuts and deliver this music. Doesn't it make sense to you to love what you do?

So as you discover new material ask yourself some questions:

1. Does this speak to me?
2. Can I deliver this out of context as a cut/song and make it authentic dramatically? (think gender-crossing, age difference, so-called ethnicity crossing et al)
3. Can I deliver this authentically vocally and stylistically?

If yes to the above then, add the the following:

1. What does it show vocally? legit? belt? high notes? low notes? legato? patter? what?
2. What does it show dramatically? narrative? comedy? drama? character? what?
3. What does it show musically? uptempo? ballad? legato? complicated rhythmic patterns? line? what?
4. What could it be used for in genre/time? contemporary? pop? rock? standard? specific or general? what?

Can you DO it??? Can you FIND it??? Does it EXCITE you to work on it and DELIVER it?

There is SO MUCH repertoire out there - you should NEVER have to settle for a song/cut that you don't connect to for the sake of an audition call. EVERYTHING in your book should be chosen because you connect to it!

So if you aren't working right now - ask yourself if it's time to revamp that book. Whatever you aren't wearing, throw it out!!! Time to clean house and redecorate!


If you enjoy and connect to your material, and know WHY you are singing it, your audition becomes more authentic. If your audition delivery is more authentic, the casting table responds!!! Imagine it!!!

Don't dread that audition book, BUILD IT to reflect YOU and WHAT YOU DO.

Go get it.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Assertive vs Aggressive

Monday musings...

This vacation has been spent with many great friends who are in our business and  much wine has been consumed during passionate conversation about the state of our business, what we are seeing changing, what isn't, and on and on!

I have been thinking about these two words within our business, and how we come across as the singer/actor in this business.

Paul Russell's blog and website has some great insight from the casting side of things as well.  He calls it as he sees it - and says it!

So this got me thinking about the differences between assertive and aggressive as an artist pursuing a career in this business.  Remember, being an artist and pursuing a career are NOT the same thing.  

There IS a difference between assertiveness and aggressive behavior!  One does not assume the other!  

Assertiveness is an ability to take stock of self, to recognize one's worth and move forward in finding ways of promoting one's self and one's business.

Assertiveness is NOT a negative.  It is an astuteness of your ability - your talent and your ability to do the job.  Timidity is not charming.  Timidity comes across in an audition or meeting as being unsure.  Being unsure reads "not ready yet", so no matter how talented you seem,  casting, directors, agents, producers et al will immediately dismiss and move on.  

You are an ACTOR aren't you? Even if you feel timid, or insecure, YOU MUST NOT BEHAVE THAT WAY!!! Nobody can show what you have better than YOU, so claim it, act it, be it - and do not apologize for it.  Again, being an artist, and being an artist pursuing a career are NOT the same thing.  When we as artists are pursuing a career, during the BUSINESS, it is not time to 2nd guess, question, contemplate.  

 It is time to be assertive and GET THAT JOB.  It is time to introduce yourself to each audition, email enquiry, submission, direct meeting, with clarity, focus and confidence.  It is delivering what you have to offer with confidence, energy, passion and a focus that does not apologize for what you offer as a performer!  

How do you behave assertively? You make a DECISION! Behavior is a decision - and a follow-through of that decision.  Just like acting, it creates an ACTION.  If the action is strong, it will not be apologetic.  

The difference is aggression.  This is the negative side of assertive.  This is the behavior that is over-bearing, annoying, and does not recognize anything but the energy being pumped out.  Aggressive performers do not HEAR or SEE how they are responded to.  They are like bulls in china shops.  If you are driven into aggressive promotion, you are unwilling and unaware of what goes on around you and will miss the response to your behavior.  Behavior always gets response!!! It is that response that will help us determine how we change the behavior, if we are paying attention!!!  Aggressive behavior often doesn't allow for this and will only take a performer so far - and often end in a highly negative position! Soon, your aggressive behavior will be completely ignored and you will be wondering what happened and why you cannot be seen or taken seriously.

Are you over-bearing? Are you so aggressive you aren't listening anymore??? Or are you timid and always asking for permission?  These are the extremes for sure, but somewhere in the middle there is an assertive spirit that must surface to continue to explore the possibilities if you the artist want to pursue a career. It will not come to you. IT WILL NOT COME TO YOU.  If you want it, you MUST GO GET IT.

Do not ask if it is okay.  It IS okay!! PRESENT YOURSELF, PRESENT WHAT YOU DO!  Be aware, be present, be focused, be confident.  "Be" with purpose; "be" with intention.  When you motivate your BEHAVIOR with intention, it will clarify HOW you do your pursuit!  Then timidity or insecurity has no reason to be there.  

Assertiveness means the SELF leads and meets each person where they are with grace and confidence.  Aggressiveness means the BEHAVIOR leads and doesn't care how it is met.

One finds a place, and the other will be put in its place!!

Find your assertiveness - it is your birthright if you are to pursue a career in this business!!!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

What do you want from that audition?

Sunday musings...

Last Sunday I gave a Music Theatre Workshop in Toronto with the help of the multi-talented Blair Irwin, who not only has the artistic soul, but the organizational skills (!) and the marvellous Michael Barber at the piano.

I had the privilege of working with 10 talented singer-actors - taking a song and breaking it down into the audition cut.  I wanted to address more fully this process here - because it is another way of thinking and processing!

The most evident "issue" that we experienced in that workshop is that the artistic spirit often clouds the audition process.  Learning your music for the business of audition is a completely different process than what we imagine as artists.  We must set our artistic soul aside for a minute, in order to access the business of that audition. It will want to lead - and thank god for that! - but in times of business, it is not necessary. In fact, it gets in the way!

So business it is!

As you look at repertoire - and you learn it fully, then start asking questions, as it pertains to the audition.

What KIND of song is it?  SIMPLIFY!  Again, our artistic spirit will want to break it down, flesh it out, find the depth, breadth, life...NOT FOR THE AUDITION.

Remember - the audition is TO GET THE JOB.  It is a job interview.  We don't need your life experience, your blood, your family tree.  JUST GET THE JOB.  It becomes non-emotional, but committed in a very different way.

So back to the song: simplify - what does it DO?  Narrate? speak about? speak to? characterize? what?  decide...simply to one simple action if you can. "Narrates", "contemplates", "internalizes", "sobs", "laughs" et al.

Then, what does the song SHOW about YOU?  And what do you want to SHOW about you through that song?  Again, make it simple!!! Do not show us what you would like to be able to do, or what you THINK they want to see (this is a downward spiral of insanity!) but WHAT YOU DO WELL and what that song cut can do in a blink of an eye.

The most important thing is NOT to think about what "they" want to see or hear!!!! PLEASE!! You must show them what you DO.

What do you do well? What are your strengths?  The honesty of that is SOOOOO important. Just like any job interview, we want to see you are right for the job, not kinda/sorta, not ill-equipped, not wrong.  

Let us SEE you first - what is your type? Demonstrate that! Suggest it, intrigue us to pay attention and LISTEN.

Present that cut - what do you want to SHOW?  Your high notes? Your belt? Your mix? Your story-telling prowess? Your acting intelligence? Your low notes? Your legit sound? Your musicality and line? Your comedic side? Your ability to send chills down somebody's back?  WHAT?!?!?!? YOU decide!!!! BE SPECIFIC!!

If your REASON TO DO something is strong and very focused, you will go in and DO IT.  You will not be waiting to see if it's good enough, or wonder what they want to hear or see.  You will decide what you will be showing them, and the action and decision will be STRONG AND FOCUSED.  

There isn't time in an audition to get creative - from either side of the table!  There isn't time to guess or wonder...

So it is YOUR job as the performer to audition with purpose - to not be timid or afraid to show WHAT YOU DO and convince them you are right for the job!!

Let that audition BE BUSINESS!!!! Know your worth, know your product, KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING!  BE WHAT YOU ARE! BE WHO YOU ARE!  Prepare to show WHAT YOU DO with authenticity and clarity and no apology.

When you begin to approach your audition with this clarity and sense of purpose - the audition is then in your hands.  No gimmicks. No jazz hands.  Just you, your voice, your talent, and your INTENTION.  What do you bring??? Figure it out, claim it, and GET THE JOB!

What do you want from that audition? You want a job.  Simple.  You don't need people to like you, to tell you that you are talented.  You want the job.  Figure out how to simplify the process to get it - and let the artistic depth happen when you get the job and have a character to inhabit! Til then, don't confuse the two. 


Friday, July 24, 2009

Feast or Famine

Friday evening musings (can you tell I'm on vacation?!?)

Vacation doesn't mean my mind quits fact, I am thinking even more it seems!!!

After a short conversation with dynamic and charismatic soprano Marcy Richardson I came to this title. I thank you Marcy! This might end up a multi-blog!!!

My next question is what is your feast and what is your famine?

First of all, why does it seem that the theatre gods send you too much work and then nothing???? Couldn't it all spread out throughout the season???? Ah, something to take up with those gods...beyond my control!

How do you determine your feast AND your famine?  Is it just about work? Or is it the kind of work? 

Each of us has to decide what "works" for us in wherever we are in our career journey.  
Our career journey and our career ethic  has to be directed by us!! YOU are the only one who can determine what makes sense for YOU.

However, do you take everything in sight, the good, bad and the ugly? What happens if you burn out? What happens if you choose the "wrong" repertoire? What does that say about you? Does it matter? Of course it matters!!! It is YOUR and YOUR career.  Your choices must be that - CHOICE.  Choices change depending on so many factors.

I think if we look at a career as a journey, as a growth, a maturity, we can simplify a bit in this very labyrinth-infested journey!!!  Be it opera or music theatre!!!

Just as human beings begin as children, sit up, crawl, stand, walk and run and mature, so should our careers if we want longevity and development.

We must not just plan out our technical development, musical development, role development, dramatic development, but our CAREER development.  How do you want to create, develop, grow, mature and KEEP CREATING????  

This journey isn't is in the experience of each step, not just in the time it takes to get there.  I will say that again:  The artistic journey is in the experience of EACH step, not just in the time it takes to get there.

If you do not learn/grow/acknowledge the step, you will begin to move in circles, not along the path.  The choices will begin to feel like Groundhog Day the movie!!! 

Perhaps you need to turn work down because you are  already booked - even though the work you turn down would be more gratifying (you think).  I am not a Pollyanna, but I do believe things happen for a reason even if the reason is not clear right away.  If we are paying ATTENTION we will discover why we are where we are.  Being an artist on a journey means BEING PRESENT. Being present will give you the discovery and "a-ha" moment.

If you need to turn down work - what a great position to be in!!! There is your feasting! People are paying attention to you and what you have to offer!!! Keep those connections! If they truly are interested, they will call you again. They may call sooner when they know you are or seem to be in demand.

Perhaps you need to take that cover or that no/low pay gig - if you are just starting, or if it's a role you really want in your repertoire and it would be a great opportunity to get it on its feet.  Only YOU can decide whether that is a positive move for you.  

Maybe it's famine time - and no gigs of substance, but a smaller role that you could do comes up and it pays - and it makes sense to take it for the time being.  

There are no small roles, remember?  If we all wait for the starring role, we don't work. Some of us, NEVER.

Do we know our worth? Do we know our reality? Are we willing to tell the truth about ourselves to find out place in that journey?

We must find out what we CAN do, and what we MUST do in order to determine what we WILL do.  Taking on too much is just as damaging as not taking on enough.

Our business is small.  They remember.  Sometimes we wish they would forget (!) but they don't. Your decisions are always being carefully watched.  Be gracious, be real, look out for YOUR well being and YOUR journey.  Yours is unique and distinct. It does not belong to your teacher or your coach, or a director or a conductor.  At the end of the day, you can smile and say "I appreciate the offer but I am not in a position to take that just now - but I hope you keep me in mind next season."

Saying "yes" to everything does not necessarily give you the reputation you might be wanting to develop! Saying "no" for YOUR reasons can give you more time to experience and to walk! And then, TO RUN!!!

Work, dream, give yourself goals, meet them and give yourself more!!! But remember, you have NOW - and now can be glorious if you create where you are to your fullest.

Feast or famine?  Perhaps.  And perhaps it is in the eye of the beholder.  Perhaps there isn't a positive or a negative. Perhaps it is THERE. And you are HERE.  And HERE is the best place to begin the journey, and continue it.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Choosing Competition Repertoire

Thursday musings...

On a more "classical" vent today...

As I have been in Canada recently (my home sweet home), I have been talking with Canadian singers and teachers and the discussion of repertoire choices for competitions came up.

Canada has a great music festival tradition, as well as the esteemed Royal Conservatory of Music that offers exams and diploma programs world-wide.  The syllabi of this system can be a great asset for choosing music and getting ideas for competition use.

However, given my discussions of late, I am taken by how DULL the choices have been.  And I don't mean SAFE, I mean DULL!!!

How does one make these choices? What criteria comes into play?

Obviously, the rules of the game must be taken into consideration  - be it Provincial or National Festival or a NATS competition etc.  There are certain hoops to jump obviously.  And YOUR OWN VOICE is the largest component of that.

However, where does it say choosing repertoire to create a program at this level needs to be uninviting, all the same, unexciting, not audience friendly?

These competitions have an audience - including the adjudicators! How do you the performer allow your audience to stay engaged in what you are doing?

The repertoire choices must take YOUR technical development into account, as well as your ability as an artist to reach an audience, your personality, your dramatic ability and how you can build an arc within a performance group.  

Are you doing that with your competition program?

Are you showing your versatility? Your uniqueness? Your strengths? Or are you becoming so safe you are going to wall-flower yourself before you even get on stage???

As an adjudicator, I want to SEE and HEAR some personality and creativity - and the program and how it reads can make me intrigued enough to want to SEE you and HEAR you!!! 

I am seeing, in competition, arias that are in vogue or out of vogue.  I can't quite understand that. Either you can sing the role or you can't.  How does EVERY soprano pick the same one?!? Why would I want to hear that? Why would YOU the singer want to sing the same as everybody else?  If we are, as artists, trying to be heard as individuals, then why would we want to be set up for an instant comparison?!?!

DARE to explore outside the box and find repertoire that you can truly stamp an individual mark on!! Dare to create a program that FLOWS - dramatically, emotionally, technically.  Dare to be creative!!! Dare to ENJOY IT!  Dare to show us WHAT YOU DO WELL!  This does not mean picking completely obscure things, or going so far afield we don't know what is going on.  This means finding what you do and DOING it.  

Show us what you DO NOW. Not what you would like to do or wish you could do, but WHAT YOU DO WELL.  If you are a great story teller - show us! If you are a great technician, show us! But do not limit it to that - find your strength and BUILD AROUND IT so the program has space and depth and breadth.  DO NOT PUT YOURSELF IN A BOX!!!!

Ask questions of your teachers and coaches, and then YOU MUST TRY THEM! If they do not fit, do not use them.  YOU are the one up there on stage, your teacher and your coach are not. If you are not comfortable, we will know that.

As an adjudicator, I want to see EACH singer SINGING, not worrying! I want you to be settled into the repertoire and the reason for DOING the repertoire.  

So, as you choose a program, safe is fine if it doesn't get dull - if it doesn't excite YOU, it won't excite us! Music has to find us where we are and ignite a passion - it is never diluted! Whether it excites, soothes, caresses, brings us to tears, it must do it completely.

Find that repertoire that allows you, the performer, to discover how YOU can access all those things.  Then nothing will be dull and we look forward to the performance - and remembering it!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Small Performance Peek!

Wednesday morning with my coffee...

I thank you for your comments and your emails and your ideas and questions!

A question I have been asked has been why don't I write a blog about myself. I thank you for your interest, but I really wanted this blog to be about YOU and base it on what I have discovered and what I can share with you!

I will perhaps, from time to time, give you something a little more personal as it makes sense.

I would like to share with you a short clip of a recent showcase cabaret of 10 of my singer/actors that I produced in NYC. I am at the piano! Michael Cano, of Unfolded Films, filmed it. It was a wonderful evening, and I am thrilled to see these young talents out and doing! If you want more information, please send me an email or comment and I can give you further information!

ENJOY! And keep those comments coming! If you have ideas you'd like me to address on this blog, I am ALWAYS open to suggestion!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

If It Looks Too Good to be True...

Greetings on a Tuesday evening!

A wonderful woman I know sent me a link to a "voice studio". I say that advisedly. She was appalled by the statements given and thought it was something I could address here.

The study of voice is not an instant fix.  It is not an info-mercial; It is not about vocal tricks or finding that magic bullet that suddenly "makes" you a singer.  The study of voice is about time, dedication and physical behavior.  It is about training MUSCLES, developing musical knowledge, languages, styles, genres;   There is no mystery here - it simply TAKES TIME.  

The difficulty is that we live in an instant society.  Everything is there at our fingertips - faster, better, bigger.  The study of music, and indeed of voice, is physical and in that, requires time for muscles to grow, develop, adjust.  It requires time for the psyche and spirit to comprehend the physical demands, and to create an athletic instrument that will DO what is required.

No matter WHAT KIND OF MUSIC you want to sing, if you want to sing it well - from a physical standpoint, this is NOT going to happen with a vocal trick in one lesson.  You are developing physical behavior.  You are not trying on a pair of shoes.

There are many charlatans out there that will try to make the idea brighter, shinier, and more appealing - they can even teach you over the phone and in one lesson you will be amazing!  If it looks to good to be true, it probably is.  And where voice is concerned, it most definitely is!!

The gimmick, the bells and whistles, the slight of hand is nothing more than the snake oil salesman.  If there was substance, substance would LEAD the discussion.  If there is no substance,  the gimmicks are GLORIOUSLY large!!

The study of voice is a commitment.  It is not going to a sale at the mall and returnable if you don't like it.  It is a commitment of time, money, energy, mind, spirit, soul.  If you are prepared to commit yourself to this study, then wouldn't it be worth your while to not look for the quick fix, but rather, talk with the teachers who are steeped in their teaching careers? Who know HOW to build voices? Who do not promise fast fixes? Who recognizes the commitment that BOTH of you must share for the outcome to be positive and solid?

Those of us who understand the voice can certainly, in that initial consultation, begin to show you where we could take you.  But that initial discovery is not developed.  It gives a sense of what COULD be  - with work, commitment, dedication AND TIME.

True teachers of ANY discipline recognize each student comes in with unique needs, and a unique spirit and will meet that student where they are.  It is not cookie cutter in approach. True teachers recognize the difference between teaching the student and presenting the material.  They are not the same.  True teachers recognize a student has the capacity to learn many things from many people and that they are responsible for that particular portion of the journey with that student, until they are not.

Take your time finding that teacher that you will entrust your instrument to.  Do not feel pressured!  Do your research - explore!  Ask questions! Take consultations!  Like any relationship, it is not to be entered lightly!!  Trust your gut - watch for those red flags! Watch for those infomercial tag lines promising you the sun, moon and stars.

Real teachers do not need to infomercial their expertise.  They need to show you what they DO to create a place for you to FIND and CLAIM. You need to experience the possibilities together. If these connect, perhaps that is the teacher for this part of the journey.

The study of music, the study of voice, the study of artistry - takes many different forms and cannot be summed up in "a few quick lessons".  It will, however, take you on a journey that is uniquely yours, and ultimately up to you.  GO GET IT!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Physicality of Presentation

Sunday musings...

Am currently in Toronto, preparing for a Music Theatre Workshop for this afternoon, and have been discussing and working on this concept with singers all weekend.

What is the physicality of presentation? What does it represent? How is it viewed?

We all want to exude confidence when entering the audition room or the performance space.  We want to "take" the space and claim it, so there is no sense of timidity or question.  But even if we want that, how does the presentation of our physicality affect it, and affect the person's view of us or sense of us as we walk in - or begin to perform?

Presentation is not just a mental construct, but rather, a physical manifestation of the emotional and mental makeup we carry.  We are often not aware of this, and ironically, neither are the people who see us! But there is an organic response to this energy that once we consciously become aware of it, can be shifted to a more positive and clearer message.

Energy by its sheer definition is in motion, and so it can be moved.  Where do you hold your energy centre? Where do you 'lead' from?  Some of us carry that energy naturally very high in the body -  sternum area.  Leading from this high position can often give people a sense that you are too assured - maybe snotty or unapproachable or bitchy!!! Often that is farthest from the truth!  Some carry the energy through the abdomen - and this energy tends to create a disconnected or displaced sensibility and creates an apology with the physical presentation.  

Often we go to that "natural" energy when we are nervous - so of course, prior to an audition, walking onstage et al, it would be easy to allow the energy to creep into that natural position.  However, is it always the most positive position for that activity?

Performance or audition should NEVER be apologetic, should NEVER be victimized! Nor should be holier than thou. It should be accessible, pliable and earthy in nature.  

So how do we access THAT organic response and delivery?

By developing first, a true sense of how our energy leads and where it leads from, will allow you an opportunity to be present in your body and aware of it completely.  Then, a decision and a practiced behavior (and I MEAN practiced - you cannot just think about this, you have to DO IT DAILY to ingrain the behavior) to bring the energy down into the pelvis to ground and stabilize fully.

Not only does this low grounding and deep energy change the PERCEPTION of you, it will affect your presentation in stance, walk, physicality AND your voice!!!! There will be deliberate purpose in how you enter a space; in how you greet and take in a room and the people there; in how you breathe and anchor your support to sing or speak; and the energy will create a simmer and a settling that allows a sense of specificity of task, presentation, accessibility and clarity.

The physicality of presentation is the manifestation of a clear energy.  Know your energy! Read it, claim it, shift it! You don't have to say "well, this is what it is, I am stuck with it".  No, it may gather in a certain place that isn't always the most desirable for certain activity!  YOU have the power - literally - to shift that, to be consciously aware to make a change - to NOT be a self-imposed victim in an audition room.  

Self-discovery and honesty with self is PARAMOUNT in becoming and developing as an artist. If we choose to hide, to make excuses, we are not artists: "faux" takes on a new meaning! Honest seeking and discovery remains the journey.  

Rejoice in the physicality of your instrument - claim it each day - notice the shifts, the changes, and recognize your power to make adjustments!  The physicality of our instrument and our artistry to as clear as it is mysterious - so GO GET IT!  Decide HOW you want to be perceived - and then walk in KNOWING you can be PRECISELY what you want to be by working with physical awareness and the mental and emotional connections to that physicality. 

The physicality of a song or aria or a character is as important as the noise you make or the words you utter.  It gives the abstract a place to live! It gives the essence of YOU as artist an opportunity to be seen as you wish to be seen.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Capacity for Honesty

Wednesday musings...

As artists, we are striving for truth.  Truth in our craft, our artistry, our level of performance, how we live our lives.  However, in all this pursuit, do we somehow lose the objectivity of honesty with self? Or do we allow ourselves to find it?

The capacity to be honest with self is not the same as being insecure or second-guessing ourselves. Not at all.  Nor does the seemingly secure and focused one actually have the capacity to be REAL with what they offer. Honesty must happen within a learned objectivity.

It's an interesting balance.  It is not about beating yourself up, nor is it about looking for reassurance from others to validate your talent.  It is about developing a sense of objectivity of one's ability, one's talent, and how it develops and where it lives and how it best serves.

Stripping the desire away to look at the actual being of you takes guts.  This takes true determination and will and sense of self.  It may at first look like a frightening thing, and yet, not to get cliche, the truth could set you free.

Just because you WANT to sing something, doesn't make it a good idea.  Now, if you want to go out and karaoke with your friends, or sing it in your shower or in your living room because it makes you feel good, then great, go for it.  But if you are trying to build a career, wouldn't it make sense to sing and present yourself in a way that shows YOU in the best possible light - to get hired and to get noticed in a positive way?  

Do you want to keep presenting yourself and material that will not be taken seriously just because you WANT to sing that song or that aria?

This happens in all aspects of our business - I am thinking primarily of music theatre and opera.  I see it again and again.  And I see the extremes - the artists who have so much ability, choose appropriate material and can deliver it - and yet are so insecure in their ability because they second-guess more than they claim! Then the other extreme, performers who have much more ambition than talent, have the audacity to choose material that is not appropriate and don't understand why they don't get hired.  

Notice, I made a distinction between artist and performer.  Sometimes they are both, and sometimes they are not.  

An artist must be emotionally, psychically, and spiritually available to him/herself to discover that bared naked honesty.  Others are not. They may SAY they are artists, but artists REVEAL - to others, and ultimately to SELF.

Your teachers and coaches may be honest with you - but until you, as an artist, have the capacity to accept that honesty in yourself, you will never be able to truly find out what your capacity is and where your place is.  How you do fit into this business? How do you find your way? 

Ultimately the choice is yours. If you ask my opinion, I will give it to you.  Be careful what you ask for!  

But if you are wanting to sing something just because you like it - and it truly doesn't serve your talent nor your ability, I just wonder what drives that desire? We can't always have everything we want.  Surprise!  Suck it up.  If you want to be an artist, that means being an INDIVIDUAL that bring his/her own unique talent and development and discovery to the table.  It is not about wishing or would-a could-a should-a.  It is being REAL WITH SELF.  It is about questioning, acknowledging, recognizing, developing, nurturing, questioning again, discovering, claiming, re-claiming, and re-discovering again.

The capacity for honesty with self MUST happen to allow the TRUTH of an authentic artistic life.  If not, we are just pretending.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

What is that "it" factor?

late Sunday musings...

My studio is presenting 10 singer-actors tomorrow evening in cabaret showcase and we had our dress rehearsal got me thinking even further.

Each young artist/performer brings something to the table, no question, but what is that "it" factor? Is it talent? Is it commitment? It is study? What???

Of course, all these things are so important in developing craft and creativity.  But why can some be so talented yet it doesn't grab you no matter what?  Or not have a  particularly "pleasing" talent (!) and yet you can't keep your eyes off them and they move you? Or both talent AND energy?

Can I verbalize this? Do I dare?????

Probably not...but what seems to rise to the fore is simple and yet most complex:


Pure and simple.  Passion.  

Perhaps it is not the "it" but it is the pathway there to access and harness the "it".

Do you have passion at all??? for anything???? Is passion for your craft, for your DOING, for your BEING over-riding you? Is your desire so multi-dimensional that the excitement of DOING through your craft and artistry visceral? Or have you ever found passion at all? for anything?

Perhaps this is not the "it" - perhaps we cannot define that, but could passion be the portal through which we access that "it" if it indeed exists?  And could passion be fulfilling and riveting and motivating and allow our audience an opportunity to leave changed, as we are changed claiming the passion we possess?  Or perhaps, is passion larger than we are, and indeed, challenges us and takes us where we need to go? Not necessarily where we want to go or where we would like to go or feel comfortable?

How often have directors told someone to quit being careful...or heard, it was a "careful" performance or a "contained" performance?  What are we scared of as artists? That passion is a beast and could consume us?  What? That we can't control it? 

Passion should be the largest, the safest and the most vulnerable and most committed of all emotions we possess.  We don't FEEL passion, we HAVE it - or we don't.  We allow passion to move us - to DO something.  Isn't this what true acting is?  To DO something to evoke a response in the audience?  It seems to me, passion is the primordial energy that feeds ALL of that - and allows us to find the excitement of performance, the development of character, the truth of the moment -  A raison d'etre in life.

If an artist cannot emerge drenched from and with passion what drives them? What soothes them? What motivates them? What inspires them?  Which leads me to another question - if there is no passion, are you truly an artist? Or are you a decent performer?

Can passion feed ANYONE? Absolutely!!! Every profession has its "passionate" ones!  We see them feed and motivate and STIR their talents, skills, crafts, LIFE with that passion - that "it" that is truly theirs - that energy that is vibrating stillness...latent and powerful.

FIND IT! CLAIM IT! LEAN INTO IT!  Is it there? Find out where it wants to exist and thrive - perhaps it will lead you elsewhere; discover it and find out where it wants to take you - the ride can be a brilliant one!!!  You don't have to wait for a performance to allow it to live vehemently!!! You don't have to wait for permission - yours to acknowledge, yours to claim.  YOUR CHOICE, YOUR RESPONSIBILITY.

Friday, July 10, 2009

That Little Black Dress...audition to performance!

Friday musings...

I offer the little black dress as a literal possibility of course, but also as a way to into today's musings...

It is so important to recognize WHAT you are doing on stage - and I am not speaking about blocking, choreography, etc, but WHERE you are and WHAT you are there to DO.  This may seem straight forward, and I thought it was too, but am always amazed and surprised at what isn't common knowledge and wanted to share my findings!

I think simplifying is best.  Think of your "on stage" appearances as 3 primary divisions: audition, performance in a show, performance as self.  What happens with each? How are they related? How are they different? How do you spot the differences and MAKE the differences?

First - the audition.  You are trying to get a job.  Micro-managing is not going to help, as it is IMPOSSIBLE to figure out what a casting director is truly looking for.  Dress for your body and your type without costuming yourself.  Sing the material well, however, remember you are trying to get a JOB not provide nuance of execution.  (especially in music theatre!)  Audition is not performance - especially for those of us who are artists and revel in the audience energy. A performance in a completely odd way perhaps?!!!  Audition is job interview - Often with a table of people or a person who seems to not be paying attention. (although often they are...hmmmm) A satisfying experience? usually not. Dress and present for the job interview not for a performance.  Expect little or not feedback. Move past it quickly and into your day! Wear your little black dress if it's type, or change into it as you meet friends for dinner later!!!

Second - the performance as character in a show.  That little black dress might be part of the vision or not.  Your development of character will be a collaboration between you and the director and the vision of the show.  Your blocking and staging will have to find the motivation of your character development.  It will have to read fully on that stage and in the context of that production.  Many performers are comfortable here because they can develop something other than themselves...The little black dress is up to the director.

Third - and perhaps the most exciting and the most frightening depending on the performer's experience and development!  The little black dress as YOU the performer.  Performing in concert, in cabaret, in recital - as you, by you, with you.  How do you define YOU on stage? Not you as character, not you as audition type, but YOU.  THIS character is often LEAST developed in artists - the character of self.  The little black dress defines a sense of neutral - a starting point -  As a basic unadorned entity that allows no where to hide.  It simplifies. It creates a clean open canvas on which to paint nuance and subtlety and give life to the direction of CRAFT not character; of evoking emotional responses from the audience through commitment to language, to mood, to the DOING of a song and its reason for being sung. The commitment of having something to say!

I see often singers trying to side-step the third option by staying locked into the audition mode or performance as character mode - even while doing a performance as self. Letting type lead, letting a costume lead, blocking or staging overpowering everything else -  or trying to creating a character through SONG WITHOUT BEING YOU!  This never rings true.  This rings scared. This rings fake.  This rings confused.  This is pretend.  

It's okay to begin confused or scared as a performer.  Often these strong reactions and responses evoke a growth - or certainly can if we are paying close attention!  Daring to stand on a bare stage in a little black dress and heels (or the male equivalent obviously!) and DELIVER A SONG can be very vulnerable and at the same time LIBERATING!!! It is YOU and the MUSIC. You and the message. You and the creative force as you draw on your knowledge, craft, and artistic decisions.  As you begin to claim this third vision of the little black dress, it perhaps will become an artistic muscle that becomes your favorite - no middle man, no diversion, no "jazz hands", no distraction.  

Many artists are not comfortable with the third - they are happier in the 2nd - and sometimes, there are those of us who are happiest as self in number 3 and will do number 2 when needed. We just need to recognize the differences and not confuse them to allow each to have its deserved place in the theatre.

As you continue to develop your artistic life and your life in the business, recognize the areas you are required to explore.  Know how you accessorize that little black dress. Know where you are wearing it.  Know WHY you are there.  Know HOW to be there.  It's yours to find, accessorize, and ENJOY!

Monday, July 6, 2009

When That Day Job Gets in the Way...

I wish I had the magic wand and magic answer to this one!!

But I thought I would discuss it anyway, as it comes up a great deal, in many different circles.

As a singer/actor/dancer - in whatever genre that may be - you have chosen to be a kind-of gypsy. I say "kind-of" because there is a fluidity in that statement. Your choices change over time, with experience, and with discoveries.

However, pursuing your artistic life and trying to make a living at it can be exhausting and "sacrificing for your art" can get really tired, really fast. So, a "day" job is a necessity - to pay rent, to not starve, to do the things that are needed to get by and get through. Remember, 95% of us are unemployed at any given time! Day job is REAL!

When the auditions are slow, when there is no work, the day job can be a welcome diversion. But if there are possibilities, and now you have to juggle your day to day with what COULD be, ah, now the dilemma.

How do you pay rent, work your day job, audition, build your craft, still have friends and time to laugh and just "be", get performance job, and find another day job when that job is over???

It is fatiguing - no question. Just writing that I had to stretch!!! It is exhausting.

Is it do-able? Of course! Now is the time to get creative with your life! You HAVE to in order to accommodate all the necessary things you must DO.

Balance takes time - and it changes. Priorities change. Life changes. The one thing we can be sure of is that nothing stays the same. So, do not beat yourself up if you haven't found a balance yet! You will if it is important to you!

Pursuing a career takes energy - time, emotional, psychological, physical, money. How much are you able and willing to devote? We would all like to say EVERYTHING, but believe it or not, artists must be realistic and the ones that can be real with themselves find their place much more comfortably.

These are ONLY suggestions, but perhaps it can help or lead you to way that works with you and for you. Often, when I am overwhelmed, I write (surprise surprise!) and making creative lists can help. Keep these lists and every couple of months revisit the exercise and then look to compare from 2 months ago. You will begin to see yourself in light that will draw you into YOUR next. What is important to you? Write down 5 things that come into your head - no value judgement, no thinking about it. What do you want to do? 5 things - first things that come into your head. What do you love about YOU? again, 5 things - no thinking, just respond! What do you want MORE of? same deal; What do you want LESS of? again, 5 things...

You might be surprised, elated, provoked by what you reveal to yourself about yourself.

Where do these "answers" take you? I hope, deeper into your psyche to discover who you are and who you want to be and how you can better find that person fully. It is a beginning exercise to then bring it into a fuller dimension of how your day patterns, where you are losing energy, gaining it, putting it, needing it. These are your choices. The change may not happen immediately - perhaps it will become clear you need a different day job. That may take time, but you will put the focus and energy into it to find the right one for the right time. Perhaps you need more sleep, more exercise, more practice time, more specific goals on classes/auditioning/building a project for yourself...

Whenever something begins to feel like it's in the way, it is yours to do something with. There is a change a'coming and it is YOURS to recognize and YOURS to develop. This can be an exciting time for you if you SEIZE it and discover it.

Clear space for you - make time for you - discover you! Then and only then will the discoveries happen and the changes show clarity. Whining and moaning might feel good for a minute (!) and then it's time to DISCOVER AND CLAIM.

Each step is closer to the authentic YOU and the complex YOU that will find the path that is right in the moment. Stay fluid, stay present, BE in the moment and know that path may change! Be true to yourself - if the path changes, it is okay; Explore it! It if takes you elsewhere and it makes you content, go where YOU lead, not where somebody tells you to go.

So when you wake up exhausted, disgusted, frustrated, blah, or just curious - take it as a sign to do a "life check" - where am I? where do I want to be? what is important NOW?

It will allow growth and development - and perhaps you will see why that day job is getting in the is trying to show you something - your choice as to whether you see it or not.

COME ON!!! Be that creative creature you are!!!! LIVE creatively! Discover it! Breathe it!!

Friday, July 3, 2009

What is a Voice Teacher?

Friday musings...sorry I missed the coffee/musings this morning!

Several conversations and discussions/comments lead me to this post...

Please also consider that this is MY interpretation based on my experience and my philosophy and every voice teacher will have to answer for themselves so I cannot speak for anyone else but me...

What am I, as voice teacher?

I can tell you what I am NOT.  I am not a therapist, I am not a buddy, I am not a mother, I am not a sister.  I do not do this for "fun", "hobby" or the like; 

So what am I?  As a teacher, I  must know and continue to learn about my profession.  I am constantly reading, discovering, developing and honing the craft and art of teaching and the knowledge of the instrument of voice.  I saturate myself in the "knowing" of how the instrument works, and how it develops and how I translate that knowledge to each singer that walks into my studio - not just to their understanding intellectually, but to their physical instrument.

I work to meet the student where they are - on every level.  I work to challenge you - musically, technically, - and also challenge your knowledge, your desire, your language and your commitment to yourself and to your craft.

I develop a fluid form of study that is catered precisely for YOU - not a "one size fits all".  The fluidity of this form is so important to allow for changes and developments that are uniquely you, the singer.

I am an advocate of you.  I will give you support, not enable you.  I will create a safe place for you to explore your instrument, your vulnerabilities and strengths, and never EVER abuse that safety nor that trust you put in me.  I will not lie to you.  I will encourage you/build you up to continue to encourage you REALISTICALLY to be better than your previous self.  I will not blow sunshine up your nose.

But my PRIMARY raison d'etre is TO TEACH YOU TO SING.  I am committed to that. And your raison d'etre is TO LEARN TO SING.  

I will commit 110% to your lesson and your development only if you do. I will NOT take your lesson time more seriously than you do.  In fact, if I find out I am more committed than you are, you are free to find another teacher.

I am a PROFESSIONAL and am committed to that and to all it entails as it relates to YOU.  I expect YOU to discover what you need/how you learn, as I expect from myself to discover what you need/how you learn and how I can provide that information fully to you.  What you DO with it, is up to you!

Your successes are YOURS. Your failures are YOURS.  I am not responsible for what you DO with the knowledge, but I AM responsible to provide you with knowledge.  I want YOU the singer to walk out the studio with more knowledge, more confidence, more sense of self.   You need to take that and BE THE SMART SINGER!!! I can speak the knowledge, demonstrate the knowledge, present the knowledge as it pertains to YOU - and YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE to assimilate that knowledge into your body/brain/psyche to discover your voice, your craft, YOU!

You pay for MY TIME.  Time has value, and you can NEVER get that back.  Wasted time is probably the thing that disappoints me the most.  It can NEVER be returned.  I cannot charge you for my expertise, but I can charge you for my time.  How you USE that time is up to you -and then, up to me.  We make that decision together. 

As a teacher, I will CARE ABOUT you, but I cannot care FOR you.  YOU must do that.  I will challenge you in every aspect of you as it pertains to your craft and your development as a singer - but it is up to YOU to make the changes.  I cannot change you.  

If you ask me a question, prepare to be answered with truth.  I will always ALWAYS give you the truth as I see it, and always present it with all the humanity and sensitivity I have to give in that moment.

This is the voice teacher I work to be each day.