Monday, August 31, 2009

Teaching "Professionals" and dealing with the lack of it!

It's a 2 blog entry day!

This is an ENORMOUS pet peeve of mine and given that schools are resuming and it's the time of year to begin "cleaning house" - let's address it shall we?

First, there are many in our teaching profession who are truly TEACHERS. They teach the student - they work for the best interests of the students and work to become obsolete so that they are teaching singers to teach themselves. Teaching is a skill but it is also a calling in my opinion. Those who are exceptional at it become mentors and change lives for the positive. Just like any other relationship, a teacher/student relationship morphs, develops and shifts. Sometimes it means the teacher releases the student to move elsewhere, sometimes the student knows its time to discover elsewhere. No one teacher is all things to all students. We must recognize that there are many reasons and needs and we must be mature enough and aware enough to keep the students needs at the fore.

Sadly, there are still so-called teachers out there who blur the lines. They may have solid information ; they may have certain aspects of technical knowledge/musical knowledge/stylistic knowledge that is worth learning; but due to other issues that remain THEIRS, they blur the relationship of teacher/student and do not put the student's needs first. There are those teachers that have control issues; have ego issues; have passive-aggressive issues; play psychological and emotional games;

Just like ANY relationship that develops along abusive lines, this is simply unacceptable. You the singer, are not there to enable somebody's psychological flaws! You are there to LEARN! And the teacher's responsibility is to create a safe environment in which you the singer can explore and feel safe to explore and learn and grow.

If for ANY reason, you do not feel safe, do not feel like you are learning, you are free to leave. Sometimes this has nothing to do with you or the teacher per se; sometimes the fit just isn't right. That's okay. If as a teacher, I don't believe I am reaching the singer, FOR ANY REASON, I will suggest they need to find somebody who can reach them. I often will help them find somebody who is a better fit!!!

How do you handle this decision?

Simply, you must be professional about it. You must be adult and mature and handle it with clarity and simplicity. Whether you are studying privately with someone or whether you are in a studio at a college or university, YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR EDUCATION.

There are politics everywhere. Acknowledge it. Recognize the chain of command.

Whether you are in an academic environment, or a professional environment studying privately, PUT IT IN WRITING. An email allows you to have a record of it in case you need to refer to it later or forward it to a Dean or Chair of a department, or in a professional situation, simply have a record of your business dealings.

WHATEVER your reasons are for leaving a studio, a simple thank you for your expertise and your commitment to my vocal studies is all that's necessary. A simple "I have made the decision to change studios/move in a different direction" is all that is required. You DO NOT need to get into specifics. Keep it simple; keep it direct; keep it clear.

After you send that email - MOVE ON. Don't angst, don't question, don't re-hash. This is a professional decision that you have made and dealt with amicably. How the teacher responds is NOT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY!!!

You are under NO OBLIGATION to continue contact, especially if that teacher doesn't take it well.

Those of you in academic situations - cc your emails or forward them to the Head of Voice or the Chair of your department or your Dean. All or any professional exchange needs to have a paper trail. ALL OF IT IN WRITING!

KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT!!! I have learned in a similar situation, that even when you DO keep your mouth shut, people will make stuff up if they have no lives! Know your worth, claim your integrity, behave with intention and maturity and don't get dragged into the bullshit of political posturing and badmouthing! Eventually - and sooner than later - the "chatter" will end because you aren't fanning the flames! And the behavior of others will seek its own level and you will find yours.

Those of you in academic situations - this will hold you in good stead as you enter the "real" world and need to deal with difficult personalities later on!

Don't be bullied. Don't get wishy-washy. Be decisive. Be clear. Keep your own counsel and hold your head high. Find what you need from where you need it.

Rise above the games and be responsible for YOU. Do it with focus and clear intention. Do it with professionalism and with maturity.

If we begin to discover we as singers are responsible for our studies and we must seek out those teachers that can help us discover what we need to learn, we then feel we are on solid footing instead of trying to find a morsel of truth in amongst the mine field of some other agenda!

As we DEMAND the best of ourselves and others - as students AND as teachers - we will not enable the other behavior that does such damage to our profession and to the spirits of those who are put in the path of that destruction.

If you want to be treated as a professional, behave as one. Live as one. Conduct your business and your life with integrity and truth. DARE TO LIVE WITH PURPOSE. DARE TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

I promise you, even if you have to experience moments of discomfort, you will rise above, and move through and move on - AND THRIVE!!!!!!!!

GO GET YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!

What is Vocal Health?

Monday musings...

This question is asked of me often.  The answer is not pat nor is it exactly the same for each singer or actor.

More the reason to really discover and know your instrument!!! Only then, will be you aware of what it takes to keep it healthy, and whether or not you are willing to do that over a sustained amount of time to be able to DO YOUR WORK!

Developing discipline of craft is DISCIPLINE! Which means your lifestyle may have to change in order for that discipline to function optimally FOR YOUR INSTRUMENT.

And quit whining!!!  Your instrument doesn't function like somebody else's! It is uniquely yours!  Asking "how come so-and-so never gets hoarse? can drink beer the night before and it doesn't bother them? blah blah blah" doesn't have ANYTHING to do with YOU or YOUR VOICE!!!  Get over it - get back to you!!!

What is first about vocal health? Discovering YOUR INSTRUMENT!!! What does it do?  How is it thrown off? What does it take to make you feel comfortable and under yourself?

HONESTY is the first step.  There are no rights or wrongs - it just IS.  Accepting that, and dealing with it and not making excuses for it, allows for healthy choices.

You don't have to get neurotic either.  That drives me BATTY!!!  Just make an observation and decide what to DO with it.  If you know you have a sensitive mechanism and one night at a club makes you hoarse for a week - well then you have to make a decision: is the club more important or is the ability to sing?  Maybe you have to decide to find your fun in less noise! Maybe while you are working, clubs are not the day off choice!

Some of you have asked "should I quit dairy? what about coffee? what about wine? what about spicy food?"  My answer is my father's:  "Everything in moderation - including moderation!"

Again - find out what your instrument and your body NEEDS and find out what disrupts your discipline.  Some of us have hearty instruments and some of us have sensitive ones.  We have to listen and observe the instrument in order to find out what it needs to function properly and not cause mind and emotional trauma in order to do our work!

A great deal of vocal health should be common sense. Recognition of self is key.  What do you need to function?  Rest/sleep: how many hours allows you to feel rested? Then that's your answer!  Hydration: how much water makes you feel hydrated? there's the answer!

Is this in stone? NO!!! You don't need to live like a monk! You need to pay attention to your body and your voice in order to know what it needs and when it needs it!  I need more water while I teach or on performance days.  Not as much on a day off.  

Many performers deal with acid reflux - some of you more than others! Again, sensitivity of mechanism plays a great deal with it, and also how you are managing it!  Often, as performers due to our schedules we eat late - thus take it to bed with us! Our support muscles generally are stronger than most and the "silent" reflux happens during sleep causing swelling, hoarseness etc etc etc!!!  Spicy foods can aggravate it, so can coffee or alcohol.  SO - when you need that voice in optimum form, watch what aggravates it and back off! If you have to take meds - take them!  Make the lifestyle changes in order for that instrument to behave itself!

If it's performance day, back off a bit - have your coffee early in the day; maybe no alcohol while performing if it bothers you; duck out of the spice or again, keep it earlier in the day and go more bland as you near performance and afterward.

Being in noisy environments is exhausting - especially if you are trying to talk through it or over it!  It can fatigue the voice so avoid these places if you need to work or have a voice lesson or a coaching or are in rehearsal!  Know your instrument! Know your recovery time! Do what YOU NEED to do to stay healthy and focused!  

Interestingly, noisy environments aren't just bars and clubs...but also airplanes and trains and cars - which can be more deceiving!  BE AWARE of your environment!  PREPARE for it!

The saying goes "Your body is your temple".  Well, your instrument is your livelihood or potential livelihood.  You only get one set of cords.  Treat that body and that instrument with respect and care.

Your body supports that voice - find out what it needs to be nourished and healthy!  Find ways of caring for it and making it strong!  Whether you walk, run, jog, do yoga, pilates, go to the gym, stretch - all these decisions will allow your physicality to take on the physical and psychological demands of  using your voice as your career!

I work with many singers who deal with vocal issues.  And they work.  Why? Because they have come to terms with what their instruments are and treat them with respect.  They know what they can do and what they can't and work within that matrix.  They do not exceed the perimeters of their instrument.  They know what to do when things get rough. They recognize what they need to do to prevent issues from happening.  They are pro-active in their vocal health!!

I have worked with other singers who refuse to acknowledge their issues. And the issues continue and get worse and if the denial continues, the voice collapses.  Wishful thinking does not make a healthy instrument!

Get to know your instrument!  PAY ATTENTION TO IT!!! If you've never done this before, I suggest a 2 week journal of vocal health.  Write down your patterns: food, drink, exercise, stress release, emotional changes, lifestyle choices, noise variety, how you SPEAK, sleep, fatigue levels, and how it affects your energy, your health, your voice.  Don't judge, just write it down!  You will begin to see what works for you and what isn't always optimal.  Then it's your decision as to how you want to change and when you need to change!

Ladies, your menstrual cycle often plays a big part in your voice!  Get to know what happens and when! Know what you can do to find optimum vocal health during this time.  Some women are more affected than others; some months are more dramatic than others. Recognize it, and find out what your body and your voice needs!

Ultimately, vocal health is about YOU.  If being a singer/actor is what you ARE and what you are aspiring to, it only makes sense that your health should be important, and your ability to be aware and honest with what your instrument does and what it needs imperative!

PAY ATTENTION.  Make the choices that make sense for YOU.  You get one voice.  Take good care of it.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Leading With Your Strengths

Sunday musings...

As the fall approaches and we prepare for a new season, many questions arise:
Am I good enough?
Am I doing the right thing?
How do I get motivated?
Am I too fat?
Am I singing well enough?
Do I need a new agent?
How do I get a callback?

and on and on and on...

We are never "there".  We are always striving!  We should build our craft and our presentation to a certain level of professionalism to audition to be sure, but no matter what level that is, we are still learning, growing and developing as artists.

It's very easy to lean on the negative, or what still needs to get done; very easy for us to find excuses NOT to DO.

My goal for this fall for myself, and for my mentoring of my students is to lead with my strengths, and help those that work with me to find their strengths and lead from there as well!

It's so easy to find something wrong. It find someone "better".  Well, guess what, there is always going to be somebody who is more talented, more prepared, more more more, if we constantly look outward.

What about looking inward and ACCEPTING who is there?  That doesn't mean we don't keep WORKING to develop the potential within, but accepting what we see and learning to embrace the positive and the strength of who we are RIGHT NOW and what we have to offer is one of the most important lessons we have.

I am guilty of it too - not enjoying the fruits of your labor; the garden you have culled; smelling the roses along the way.  Sometimes I am so busy "journeying" I forget to ENJOY WHY and see that the building I am DOING and HAVE DONE while I continue to move along the path.

I encourage you to join me on this personal journey.  MAKE IT PERSONAL.

What do you do well RIGHT NOW?  What is STRONG, COMMITTED and TRUE?

There are many levels to consider, and all those levels need to be acknowledged and observed.

You can categorize as "strength" and as "still growing" if you want!  Even though the strengths keep growing too!!!

Are you comfortable meeting people? Being around people? Working with people? How do people RESPOND to you - not to your talent - to YOU?  Is this a strength? Or is this still growing?

How is your technique?
How is your stage deportment?
How is your narrative?
How is your musicality?
How are your languages?
What repertoire is a strong suit? What repertoire is still growing?
Which genres appeal to you? Which genres are strengths? Why?

These are only a few questions you can begin with.  Be creative!  Find them ALL and recognize change is constant and life is in motion, therefore change needs to be embraced and recognized as a GOOD thing!

As you discover your strengths, ask WHY.  It gives you a basis of decision.  Again, just because you WANT it doesn't make it so.  Finding your strengths and WHY it is a strength creates another level of honesty with self, and another level of honesty creates  another level of authenticity in you as a human being, as an artist and as a performer.

Perhaps as we become further evolved in this process the "wants" begin to dim - and the "reals" emerge with clearer focus and vitality!  And what is actually there is exciting and true and motivates us further to claim the strength of the truth!!

Discover the truth of those strengths.  Those strengths can pivot you into a direction that is uniquely yours and uniquely you.

Often, if we are unclear we become clouded.  When we become clouded, we are confused. When we become confused we become negative and fearful and we begin a downward spiral of self-loathing, self-abuse, criticism, and negativity that creates a black hole.  

We must embrace clarity.  With clarity comes ANSWERS.  With answers comes knowledge. With knowledge comes FREEDOM!  Freedom to BE WHO WE ARE.  Freedom to EXPRESS WHO WE ARE BECOMING!  Freedom to be true to ourselves, to others, to our craft, and to our discipline.

There is no room in the artist's psyche for fear. Trust me. Fear is the LAST thing we need.  Self-observation and self-doubt, yes; fear - no.  We must be willing and able to ask the hard and difficult questions.  To recognize what we do well, and what others do well.  Once we put this in perspective, it is almost a relief that we don't have to be everything to everybody!!!

What do you love to do? Do you do it well? Is it a strength? Are you doing it because it is a strength or are you doing it for another reason? What is that reason? FIND IT! If you KNOW you grow. You will make the choices and decisions that are right for you.

You can only lead with your strengths once you truly know what they are.  You can categorize them into artistic, creative, business and human categories if you want to begin to find them thoroughly and clearly.  Often as artists, things become nebulous and esoteric and the clarity of self becomes very murky.  We are responsible to find that clarity.  To seek it out and claim it.

Notice I did not say, what are your weaknesses.  I do not use that word.  
As we discover our strengths, our vulnerabilities will be more protected. Vulnerabilities are not weaknesses.  I prefer to have strengths, vulnerabilities (which often can become stronger with recognition) and things that I just don't excel in or things others are stronger at.  It doesn't make it a weakness. It just isn't a strength.

FIND YOUR STRENGTHS.  LEAD WITH THEM. NURTURE THEM.  A strength isn't necessarily something that is fully formed yet. So DEVELOP IT!!!!  If you are a singer and your strength is your ability to create beautiful sound - then STUDY AND DEVELOP IT! Don't just say it's good enough!  If your strength is your ability to tell a story through song - then develop that through the right repertoire, classes and study to develop it further.  If you have a an aptitude for languages THEN LEARN THEM!!!

And on and on it goes...

Do you have great people skills? Then develop them further!! Where will it lead you? 

Potential is NOTHING but potential unless you DEVELOP IT.  CLAIM IT. DARE TO MAKE IT YOURS!!!!!!!!!!

Potential only becomes a strength once it is acknowledged and worked and used and developed.

Do not apologize for your strengths!  EMBRACE THEM!

Claim the you that is growing, developing and has the potential to be AMAZING!  Claim the potential of your strengths to be STRONG!

Lead with your ability and your truth.  Lead with the strength of you!

Friday, August 28, 2009

What is Being Professional? Another Angle!

Friday morning musings...

As fall approaches, this is often the time of year where we re-visit and re-vamp our schedules, our lives, and re-organize our desks, our closets (!!) and the like!!

As we move into the audition season, the theatre season, the school season - there are always questions, or should be!  How do you want to be seen? How do you want to re-invent yourself? How are you starting fresh?

The question of professionalism has come up many times in my world over the past week in all kinds of interesting places.  It is an ongoing query and something that morphs and grows with you as you pursue your craft and your discipline.  Being a professional and "being professional" and "professionalism" all have very personal definitions and often it can be made to be confusing.

Several months ago I wrote a blog entry discussing the professionalism of having your team around you as you build your craft.  This is another step or another thought.

First, we must be willing and able to see ourselves honestly and question ourselves honestly. Self-deception and entitlement is very common in our business.  Mediocrity is rampant. That means there are MANY in our business on BOTH sides of the table who do not know how to be honest - are unwilling and/or unable to do so - and work very hard not to be found out.  If all one's energy is put into deception and self-deception there is no way real talent/real professionalism/real growth can develop.

How do we possibly walk the mine-field and step through and around the cesspool?

I believe that if we have the capacity for self-discovery, honesty, questioning, growth, and yes, even doubt, we have the capacity to demand from ourselves the very best, and in turn, learn how to demand from our business the same.  If we continue to encourage and enable entitlement, mediocrity, poor behavior - or worse - ignore it or have a neutral response to it, we become a part of the problem and allow it to flourish.  

If we are willing to demand an honesty of others, we must be willing to see the honesty of ourselves.  As a professional,  we must demand the best of ourselves.  We must find that.  What is our best destiny?  Have we developed our craft/our discipline?  Are we really where we need to be? Do we have the people around us not to enable us, but who can be honest in their assessment of our ability?  

Why do you do what you do? Answer honestly!!! DISCOVER that answer! 

How do you treat others? How do you want to be treated? How much experience do you have in your craft? Life experience? Have you learned anything yet?

We live in a world where entitlement is rampant.  Just because you want it, doesn't mean you should have it.  Just because you THINK you want to be a singer or an actor (or anything else for that matter), doesn't mean you have the talent, the fortitude, the drive, the passion, the personality or aptitude to BE one.  Why do you want to DO this/BE this?  All important questions you must develop and answer for yourself.  

Being professional is a CHOICE of HOW you live and respond within your craft, your discipline and your business.  Some choose to live and respond unprofessionally within their profession.  These are the impostors and the posers and the entitled.  These are the ones trying hard not to be found out.  The irony of course, is everybody who is real, sees it.  The only ones being deceived are the enablers and the impostors themselves.

CHOOSING to behave professionally, means taking time to explore not just your craft/knowledge/discipline and your expertise of that discipline, but how you develop your BEHAVIOR within that expertise.  Professionalism does not encourage entitlement, but rather, encourages a truth and a sense of self.  It creates and develops an honest assessment of what the self can do and what it is striving to do. It asks questions - by researching and learning what questions to ask!  It treats others with the respect they deserve as human beings, and at the same time, challenging them to discover the best of themselves.  It creates boundaries of behavior and expectation. It is strong, precise, clear, aware and recognizes where it stands.  It does not pretend.  It does not play games.  It is REAL.  

Anything less is another "reality" show!  

If we start demanding from ourselves a professionalism and we live it and present it, we can then begin to expect it from others.  We cannot demand from others what we do not demand from ourselves.  Attitude cannot replace experience or self-development or true expertise. 

Demand and expect from yourself FIRST!!!  LIVE IT, BREATHE IT, DEVELOP IT!  Allow your professionalism to grow from your honesty of self.  Question, find the answers, make the changes and DARE to explore yourself and what you are there to DO. Then DEVELOP IT.  DO NOT SETTLE!!!! Challenge is exciting and challenge allows us to do what we say we do.  

Put your money where your mouth is!  Quit making excuses and BE what you say you are.  And if the excuses don't disappear, maybe it's time to re-think where you are.  And that's okay too.

BE where you are. BE what you say you are. Nothing is promised.  Nothing is yours just because you think it should be or because you want it.  You need to EARN it.  Earn it with your talent, your commitment, your intention.  EARN your professionalism in whatever field you are in. It is not bestowed on you. It comes from within.




Thursday, August 27, 2009

Upcoming Teaching weekends!

Thought this might reach more of you!

If you are in the Los Angeles area or the in Boston area, I will be in your city this fall!
I will be teaching private sessions and if you or anybody you know might be interested, please feel free to email me directly for information.

Masterclasses are also a possibility!

Looking forward to seeing you!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Finding that Voice Teacher!

Monday musings...

As we enter the last week of August, the fall season is upon us!  

That means school for some, the season of auditions and performance season for others...

As things wind up again, perhaps it's time to revisit the question of WHO you study with and WHY.  I have had numerous emails and messages throughout the summer from singers who are dealing with interesting situations and as we enter "work mode" again, let's revisit this issue.

I begin with this statement: We have all had to survive bad teaching.  The key word for me is "survive".  We need to recognize that we are survivors and we CAN survive and we DO HAVE CHOICES.

Let's begin with those of you in school.  Politics exist here in a very special way (!) and being aware of the cesspool is an important component.  Sadly, in my experience, even when you are very careful, some people really don't have lives and just make stuff up anyway!  

First and foremost, this is YOUR education.  You are paying for it!!  If you feel you and your current voice teacher are not a good fit, for ANY reason, you should seek out a change.  Easier said than done I know!  Learning how to LOOK AFTER SELF and how to look after your voice and your vocal studies is IMPERATIVE!!!  You should never let a system or a person bully you in any way.  You don't need to go into graphic detail about why you want to change studios, but if you feel it is necessary to change, then put it into motion.  Keep your mouth shut with your fellow students.  Keep your business to yourself.  Go through the proper channels and make the request and hopefully the change can be made.

If you are "stuck" - and sadly, I know it happens - then make a determination of how you will conduct yourself and what you can do to make the best of the situation.  Make a clear distinction of what you CAN take from your lessons, what you are going to invest and what your boundaries are.  If you know how you will enter the studio it will empower you to keep you on track and not be drawn away from your purpose of being there.  You are making the best of a situation you cannot change.

May I also suggest to you - younger generation - that there ARE things to learn, and perhaps even though you are not in the studio you wish to be, for whatever reason, perhaps if you walk into the studio you are currently in, you can decide to make yourself available to learn WHATEVER is there to learn.  You can learn to discern between real information and how to translate that into something you can use, and unnecessary, irrelevant politics, personality issues and the like.  This is part of becoming an artist: learning to edit, learning to adjust, learning to re-create in order to take something positive from a situation and assimilate it into your matrix!

I shall use the saying my father always gave me: Keep your own counsel.   This will keep you aware of your self and your surroundings.  Becoming an artist takes sacrifice, knowledge, choices and awareness!  School politics is an interesting microcosm that may teach you much if you are willing to pay attention and not fall into the trap of them!

To those of you who are discovering your professional self, the teacher you work with must be someone who fulfills your needs at the time.  True teachers teach you how to teach yourself so that you are never obligated nor tied to the apron strings!! Know what you are looking for and pursue that!  Know that your needs may change, and therefore, your teacher may change depending on what their expertise is.  THIS IS OKAY!!!  Moving on from one teacher doesn't mean you are severing a relationship - you are moving on.  Keep it simple.  If a teacher is worth his/her weight as a professional, they recognize this happens!!  In fact, they should send you off with their blessing to pursue and grow!  

Teaching is not about control, abuse or mind games!  Teaching is not about the teacher! Teaching is about KNOWLEDGE and TRUTH and allowing a safe place in which to explore that knowledge as it pertains to each individual singer that walks into the studio.  Teaching is about the growth of the student!!!  When the student grows and learns and understands and is able to create what they need, the true teacher REJOICES!  If the teacher needs more control, you need to leave. Yesterday.

Know what you need.  Know what you want.  Know what you are pursuing.  Find that teacher that will fulfill that for this time.  Knowing your worth as an artist and a human being will keep you focused on what you DESERVE in your studies.  Studying with the "it" teacher doesn't mean anything if it doesn't support your needs or pursuits.  The teacher doesn't do the audition, the teacher doesn't sing the role, the teacher doesn't get the reviews: YOU DO.  You do NOT represent your teacher.  You represent YOURSELF.  

Find your code, your ethic, and in doing so, find that teacher that embraces that, among all the other things that are important to your studies at this time!

Is it possible? Of course it is!  If singers start recognizing their worth as HUMAN BEINGS first, the teachers we survive will go the way of the dinosaurs and we can move past survival and really begin to LIVE!

GO GET IT!!! And enjoy the journey!


Sunday, August 23, 2009

What is Your Brand?

Sunday musings...



This is not about fach or type, but rather something more specific and more multi-layered in your marketing that is very interesting.

As singers/actors, we are working on CRAFT.  Building our artistry.  Taking lessons, classes, learning languages, dialects, exploring characterization, physicality and the depth of all of that.  

Suddenly, we have the "business of craft" and marketing ourselves becomes a daunting and scary proposition, because we just don't know what to do!  It's not because we can't, it's just because it is new and unfamiliar.

The suggestion from this article and website is that Personal Brand can be defined as how you are identified to your audience.  Then this personal brand is subdivided into 3 categories:

1. Core Brand - what you express to self
2. Functional Brand - what is expressed externally to an "audience"
3. Shadow Brand -  the hidden/unconscious brand that stands in your way

It is an interesting way to observe self as an artist in this business and how we are consciously and unconsciously being perceived and wanting to be perceived.

Even though many things are out of our control in our business, we still have control over our decisions and how we respond to others decisions:  How prepared we are, what kind of human being we are,  what our work ethics and personal ethics are, and the list continues...

The decision to find out WHO you are is yours.  This "core brand" is personal, always refining, and something that defines the essence of you TO you and you alone.  "Who am I?" is a lifelong question as the answer continues to morph and grow and evolve.  Often, with external pressures and movement, we can lose track of this very important and essential question.  This should be the FIRST and FOUNDATIONAL question of our lives - not just for business, but for the humanness of self.

The Functional Brand is the exterior brand.  What are you selling? How are you packaging it? This can relate to fach and type much more.  Often we throw "lyric soprano" or "leading lady type" around, but what does it mean? And more importantly what does it mean in relationship to YOU who is selling that particular fach or type?  How is it packaged - physically, emotionally, character-wise?  The idea of "exterior" is for others to see, but you must be aware of what is underneath that exterior to present it that way!

The Shadow Brand is probably the most important to be conscious of.  This is that negative voice that asks "what are you doing?"  or says "You can't do this"  or "why don't you just stay where you are".  It is a self-constructed deconstruction.  We create this shadow to keep ourselves safe, and yet it often holds us back, makes us unsure, and often debilitates us for doing and being as an artist, as a human being and as a business artist!

The Jungian-based "shadow" in our psyches is often very well developed in sensitive creatures as artists tend to be!  When we don't recognize this self-sabotage, we either become very insecure and needy or become over-bearing and full of ourselves, or entitled.  Both extremes come from the same source of shadow.  The insecurity of self in what we are doing and who we are being.

Recognizing this shadow and embracing the dark side (!) of our psyches frees us to use that energy in a new way.  When we begin to get too comfortable, too complacent, too grouchy, too 'touchy', too scared, too annoyed or annoying, too entitled,  we can then make a DECISION to take a risk and step out of the shadow quite literally and DO something about it.  

We can decide to create destiny in our personal lives AND professional lives as opposed to accept a fatalistic attitude.  

This idea of "brand" is a very interesting way of discovering our "business artist" - and may help to re-discover our deeper selves to re-visit "What am I DOING anyway?"

Enjoy and embrace your journey!!! IT IS YOURS!




Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Audition Room Pianist - PART 2!

Saturday musings continue...

Okay, so let's assume that producers provide a marvellous pianist.  Let us assume all is well in the world!
Now what?!

Let's talk about musical theatre auditions and that cut.

Make sure your music is well marked and can be read easily - no bad copies (left hand left off the bottom page etc).  Make sure you MAKE EYE CONTACT with your pianist.  RESPECT THEM.  A great pianist can make you look great and save your ass...

Introduce yourself.  Thank them. MEAN IT.  Set up your music for them, tell them what you are singing and show them the cut.  Give them your tempo - but speaking and marking the first couple of bars in rhythm at the tempo you want.  SMILE.  SMILE WITH YOUR EYES not just your lips.  BE PRESENT.

If a pianist is worth his/her salt, and feels respected and sees you are prepared, you will get all the support they can give you!!! TRUST ME!

Some of you have asked me about those plastic covers.  I have mixed feelings about them. First, they are good to keep your music from getting tattered. However, you can't mark things easily and frankly even the "no glare" glares in certain light.  Why can't we just have clearly marked music that is double-sided and leave it at that?

You control your tempo.  NO MATTER WHAT.  It is your BREATH that conducts a tempo.  If you need to change a tempo, use your inhale to do so.  The pianist is there to collaborate with you - and in doing so, needs to see and hear what you need.  YOU TAKE CONTROL and the pianist will be there to support you.

I have had questions about difficult music - Sondheim, Guettel, Schwartz et al.  Here's my peeve - if you are playing for auditions you should be able to play anything. Sorry, but you should. Especially when Sondheim is in a category of his own in the theatre, you should be able to play it.  However, as a singer, you shouldn't have to decide NOT to sing something because the piano part is very difficult.  You need to find someone who will arrange you a reduction that is player-friendly in any situation for that cut.  Invest in that cause it'll save a great deal of grief in the audition room!  Many of the finest pianists are able to improvise and play only what is necessary from a more difficult score, but some cannot.  When in doubt, simplify. It is definitely worth the investment to have a great song re-worked pianistically so you can really sing and not worry about whether or not the pianist can play.  If it's playable, the pianist can relax and really support you!

When you finish, thank your panel for their time.  Walk to the piano to collect your binder and again, MAKE EYE CONTACT and thank that pianist.  If you don't know who it is, ask them for their name or for their card.  Leave YOUR card on the piano.  This is BUSINESS. It will also force you to SLOW DOWN and BE IN THE ROOM.  You will not forget or go into automatic pilot and will remain under yourself.

This isn't rocket science.  This is what we used to call "common sense" - which I realize isn't so common anymore.  Treat people the way you want to be treated.  Recognize the job the pianist has.  If you want the skills of that pianist to support you, support them.  

You don't change a tempo by banging on the piano, or snapping your fingers, or stomping your foot.  You don't get support by frowning or shooting glances or shaking your head toward the piano.   You don't get support by ignoring the pianist and their role in the audition.

Rudeness, making excuses, being dismissive, unnecessary attitude and anything else negative has no place in your business.  It costs us nothing to be professional, kind and real.  And in the end, it shows us in a positive light as a business person, as an artist and as a human being.

The Pianist in the Audition Room

Saturday musings...

I have I believe, a rather unique perspective in this theatrical business and hope I can speak to some of these issues due to my experience.  As I was building vocal craft and acting craft, I was working as a pianist to pay my bills.  I played for auditions of all genres, was a coach and repetiteur for opera companies and singers, played for voice lessons, ballet classes, was a collaborative pianist with singers for concerts and recitals, and even played in bars and lounges!  Been there...done that.

So, it allows me an opportunity to observe from both sides of the keyboard!

First and foremost, whether you call the pianist an accompanist or a collaborative pianist, they can make or break you in an audition.  I have heard in recent days of EPA calls where they have done it "American Idol" style and singers have shown up and there are no pianists and suddenly you have to try to come up with your audition cut a cappella.  A ca PALLING!  Shame on you casting directors for not having enough RESPECT and RESPONSIBILITY to create again, an atmosphere to expect the best and hear the best from singers!!

My biggest pet peeve right now, is the large discrepancy in the ability of the audition pianists.  I am talking now primarily in the music theatre world.  And I will simply say this: money.  If a producer/casting director whoever is paying the pianist to be there for day will not pay a decent wage, they will not get decent pianists.  Perhaps if "they" would recognize a fine pianist needs to be paid for their time, and PAY THEM, they would get far better auditions!!  What a concept!! 

I have even had to ask a pianist if they wouldn't mind if I played for myself in an audition because they had no idea what they were doing.  Yes I did.  No I didn't get the job.  I guess I was too bossy, but I did sing and play well!!!

So, if we could please rely on the following "for sures" in an audition room:
1.  There actually is a living/breathing pianist in the room at the piano
2.  That pianist is not adequate but GOOD! 

And what do I mean when I say "good"?  I mean a pianist who KNOWS the repertoire, is a good to excellent sight reader, has a great sense of time and pulse, and LISTENS to the singer.  A pianist who also has an improvisational sense is also helpful, as sometimes the notes on the page can be daunting and the ability to know how to find what is necessary to play and what can be left out can be helpful!

Are there pianists out there like that?  YES THERE ARE but you will need to treat them with respect and pay them for their time.  Is it worth it?  ABSOLUTELY!!!!!!!!!!!  Is it NECESSARY?  Hell YES!

If we do not respect the process enough to have the best support staff in the room, then we have already disrespected the artist and the project before it begins.  

We are not paid for our expertise.  We are paid for our TIME.  Expertise cannot be quantified, but time can be.  What is your time worth?  If we look at this business transaction like this, it would simply a great deal.

In opera auditions, often a company will have the option of having a company pianist there to play, who is available and paid for by the company, or individual singers bring their own pianists, and pay them accordingly.  

Perhaps if music theatre auditions started to have that option and encourage it, casting and producers would recognize the difference in the level of audition when a really good pianist is sitting at the piano and would begin to invest in that continually.  Another option I think would be that singers paid the pianist directly for their time.  This might eliminate the "wannabes" from the audition line if suddenly they had to invest in paying a fee to have the pianist play for them!

I do not believe that we have to settle for mediocrity!!! From ANYWHERE! We must challenge ourselves as singers to be the best we can be, and thus, we should demand that from the other side of the table and expect that from the piano bench.  

We have to begin to recognize the difference between the COST of something and the WORTH of something.  There is a difference and it is imperative that it is acknowledged.

INVEST in great pianists!  INVEST in great teachers! INVEST in great coaches! INVEST in great classes! INVEST IN YOUR PROCESS!  INVEST IN YOUR AUDITION!  INVEST IN THE BUSINESS OF YOU!

Demanding the best of yourself and those around you is not something you should apologize for.  Settling for less is selling out.

edited to add: 
the point to "singers pay for the pianist" is not a reality in the music theatre audition since it is usually a 16 bar cut.  When you are in the room for 60 seconds, that would not do! However, if a producer can afford to mount a production, why can't they afford to get a great pianist for the auditions? I don't think that's asking too much.

The point being that if those auditioning are serious about pursuing a career and not just there "to be famous/to have fun/to be whatever" then the production company must be serious about paying a good pianist to support that.  See comments!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Managed or Unmanaged?

Friday evening musings...

Is there really such a thing as an unmanaged singer/actor? I don't think so.  If you are not working with a management company or an agent, you are managing yourself.  There is much to learn as you manage yourself, in order to prepare yourself for outside management.

As you are signed or working with an agent as a freelance artist, or sending out packages or going on interviews, here are a few things to remind you.

Agents work FOR you.  You do not work for them.  Again, the business likes to play with the unsuspecting artist and begins to get bossy and thinks they can change the rules. They get paid when you get paid.  That means, they work for you!

So, if that is clear in your mind, your fear to please/be accepted etc etc needs to be put in perspective as you interview a prospective agent.  Yes, I said, YOU interview.  You are submitting to them to take you on a roster that they represent and work FOR.  Not that you join to work for them.  

So here are a few things to consider as you discover your "place" in this business.  Remember, that place and the relationships you develop will shift.  Nothing is in stone. Nothing.

Know your worth.  I mean it!!!! Know what you have and be true to it!!  Know what your talent is, what your integrity is worth, and how you want to be treated.  You treat others, including prospective agents, as you would want to be treated.  If that is not returned, that is not the agent for you!  

An agent/artist arrangement is a BUSINESS arrangement.  That's it.  Business.  You are not friends, you are not buddies.  You do not have to believe in the same things.  You need to find someone who is willing to believe in YOU and help you find the opportunities to work.  Keeping this relationship very clear and concise and uncomplicated will save a lot of grief!

Know how you want to be seen!  Again, when you speak with an agent, you want to know your worth and your presentation as PRODUCT.  You are the artist and THEY are the business seller.  Do not confuse that either.  They are not necessarily thinking artistically. They are thinking PRODUCT, SELL, INCOME.  This is business now.  One of the first things an agent will ask you is "how do you see yourself".  If you do not know that, it will make that agent hesitate if they are worth their salt.  They want to sell you as you see yourself, and as they can sell you.  If you don't have a clue, that shows them you might not have a clue about more things - and business is busy and too short to be educating you on these basic principles!!  

Don't suck up.  It's so cheap.  And it doesn't achieve anything at all.  
Don't take rude behavior in a meeting, unethical conversations,  any red flags that you sense.  Trust your gut.  If a potential agent is making you feel like they are doing you a favor then graciously thank them for their time and move on!  There are MANY agents out there!  

This is a working business relationship.  This is not an artistic endeavor.  Your craft and your art is in your performance and process AFTER you get the job!! Do not confuse it.

Agents will not necessarily "get" you - but they should know what they are selling, and they should respect you as a human being.  There is NO REASON for being treated like furniture.  Again, THEY WORK FOR YOU!  You are hiring them, because they get a percentage of what they negotiate for you!  

Just like casting directors, we have given agents too much power in our minds.  The business wouldn't be here if it were not for the artists that create theatre/opera/musicals/concerts etc etc.  The casting directors and agents are in place to move the PRODUCT of process into the public eye of the producer.  It is HR and contract negotiation.  

If we look at it in that light - it becomes much more cut and dry, less emotional, and more business driven.  The business is business and art is art.

You never have to beg, take attitude, neglect, abuse or any kind from ANYBODY let alone an agent or potential agent.  Often, the agents that have proven their respect of artists and are well respected, will never be an issue.  Sometimes in this competitive business we see more disrespect lower down the totem pole.  This is compensatory behavior.  NO ONE and I mean NO ONE needs to deal with that.  Between rudeness, inexperience, insecurity and down right scams, there is enough to go around.

You the artist, when you make a decision to find an agent to represent you, NEVER need to deal with that on ANY level.  If you walk in prepared to be represented - have the goods, the knowledge, the work ethic, the willingness - then you need to demand the same from someone who represents you!  That agent REPRESENTS YOU!!!! This is the face/the voice/the attitude that represents to the business what YOU are about.  Settling for less is careless, and shows your willingness to sell out and compromise to the point of looking desperate.

If more artists recognized and seized upon the realization that the agent is their face/words in the business, then we would not settle for the rudeness and attitude we sometimes encounter when first starting out.  It doesn't matter how long you have been out here or how experienced you are;  you deserve to be treated with respect, with loyalty, with openness and with honesty.  Nothing less.

If we begin to claim this as a community, many of these lower species of "agent" will either evolve or be put out of business.  The true management is reciprocal.  It is a partnership to work together to create an atmosphere of essential communication and opportunity - for both parties.

You do not need to settle.  Manage yourself to understand your business worth and your business focus.  Once that makes sense to you, you can present that to someone else, and your opportunities to find an agent will open up.  Your work and your presentation of your work - through your artistic endeavors and your sense of yourself as product - will speak for themselves.  You will draw the right people to you.  You will trust your instincts.  You will not feel desperate.  You will wait and seek out the correct timing and the right people for that time.

Manage your life; your art; your craft; your work habits; your work ethic;  KNOW your worth; Know how you want to be seen; Know how you ARE seen;  recognize the strengths of the person you are interviewing;  Do they match your needs at this point in your career? No relationship in business is forever.  Find the relationship that is healthy for NOW.  When it's time to move on, you will recognize it and do it.

For now - be true to yourself.  Trust that.  Without self-knowledge, we are nothing and have nothing to offer ourselves.

Balance and Negotiation

Friday morning musings...

I hear this a great deal, and it came up again yesterday, so I wanted to address it.  The joys of the day job and how you balance your craft, your career and how you pay your rent til your career allows you more flexibility!

This was the statement from an actor that pin-pointed it: "I started a bar tending job to pay my rent, and I looked down at my watch and 10 years flew by."

Many actor/singers I know are scared to death that they will be in that position and the survival job will take over their life.  In that fear, your life can turn into a tailspin and you end up spreading yourself too thinly and nothing happens except exhaustion and disillusionment.

So how do we avoid this? How do we find balance, find LIFE, find survival and still develop craft and build toward making a living in our craft?

First, nothing is promised.  When nothing is promised, it's all in the negotiation.  But the negotiation is with SELF.

These are just my ideas so take them as that.  If you can use them, please do! If it gives you an idea or creates a portal for you to develop something for yourself, fabulous! DO IT!

Negotiation with self simply means you prioritize your needs/wants as well as necessities and optionals.  There is NOTHING in stone thus the ongoing negotiations!

I am always amazed with talking with artists how rigid they become with themselves.  We must allow for fluidity and flexibility in our lives and psyches to order to accept changes and challenges and new twists and turns. There are no rights or wrongs; there are no blacks and whites.  There is just YOU and what you need to do for YOU!

You are not, and I repeat NOT selling out your craft if you have to concentrate on a day job or two to get ahead financially for a bit.  Sit down with yourself!  Make a date with yourself - take yourself out for coffee and negotiate your life.  Write out your dreams and goals - start wide and open and gradually draw it in.  It will give you the large view and the specific day to day goals.

Decide to re-negotiate your needs/goals every 2 or 3 months, or every 6 months. Whatever makes sense to you and for you!  Write it in your day book and make a date with yourself to do this re-negotiation!

Let me give you an example:  You have an opportunity to work a day job that will give you decent money and lots of hours and you need to pay off some bills.  There is nothing wrong with taking those 50 hours a week and commit to it, because it is going to put you ahead financially.  No, you aren't going to have time/energy to commit to much else. That's okay.  You re-negotiate in 2 months.  So, your focus is your day job.  You decide you will read a play a week or listen to a new opera a week or a new score or musical a week.  You will not focus on classes or lessons right now, but will keep your craft going through the research and learning of listening/reading.  You will work, be with friends, laugh a little, and not feel guilty for this balance!!!

You have your next re-negotiation date written in your daybook - and at that time, perhaps you can negotiate 10 less hours a week on the day job; Start regular voice lessons again; or semi-regular lessons and a 4 week acting class; then add one audition a week;  Or if audition season is coming up for opera, that is your negotiation.  YOU decide.  If it isn't working, you can re-negotiate!

EVERYTHING is negotiable.  You have to decide what is NECESSARY for you in that time frame, commit to it, recognize you CANNOT do EVERYTHING and focus of what you need to do.  When that "doing" is in a good place, then you can shift your focus elsewhere.

This allows you focus, flexibility, a chance to breathe, a chance to live, a chance to discover without feeling pressured or guilty.  How you live your life is YOURS.  It belongs to no one else. If you are willing to be honest with yourself and re-visit your priorities, goals, dreams, realities, you will discover what is important and why, and how you want to live and what you want to do.

Don't try to do everything.  Take a breath.  Negotiation can happen as often as you need to.  I recommend giving at least a 2 month umbrella to allow for a pattern to emerge.  If you need to, start with that.  It gives you a short term goal and you will look forward to achieving within that 2 month period and what the next term will show you!

This creates focus and determination and a sense of possibility!  And if there is a sense of possibility, there is a reality that is can happen!!!

Your negotiation power is with you.  It is for you and with you. You just need to claim it and DO IT!  Then you will never wake up in 10 years and wonder what happened to your craft and your artistry.  You will have been living it all along!

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Hustle

It's too hot to do anything else...so I do a TWO BLOG ENTRY DAY!

This was going to be my follow up blog tomorrow, but after having a conversation this evening with one of my singers and powerhouse performers, Stacey Tavor about her day of auditioning, I thought I would see if I could codify my thoughts and get this down tonight.

I have spoken of the integrity of the actor (performer/singer/artist - fill in the blank).

Now we need to explore what my husband would call 'The Hustle"!

Why is it that those people who are often (not always, but often!) not particularly special, not particularly talented, not particularly beautiful, not particularly anything,  get the callbacks/get the jobs/work frequently?

Now, don't start screaming - there certainly are some marvellously talented people working!!! But we do see a great deal of really ordinary talent out there getting chances that many of you who are exceptional in some way, aren't getting.

What is the deal with that?!

Well, it comes to The Hustle.  How are you hustling to get that work? To be seen? To be heard? To be known?

Often, on some level of consciousness, those who are more ordinary, know they are; and in knowing, they know they have to achieve something MORE and they tend to really put themselves out there in ways that those with more exceptional talent/skills do not.  These actors who hustle LEARN that skill to compensate for something else.  And by learning that "hustle" skill, they are seen/heard/called back and if they are reliable, are hired.

We can hold "the artist" philosophically in highest esteem.  And we SHOULD.  However, "the artist" can co-exist and develop in parallel with "the hustle".  Basically, you have just gotta get OUT THERE.  You have to be willing to TRY.  Being good enough is NOT enough.  Art is art and business is business.  If you want to be an artist that makes a living making art, you gotta learn how to DO business.

Our lifestyle is ACTION. DO your craft, DO your art, DO your business.  They are all threads that can negotiate and intersect and live together.

As an artist, if you lead by your integrity and your code, you can balance that with what you need to do to create business for yourself.  Recognize the landscape you walk and the land mines that exist there!  Make decisions, choose your battles, learn your negotiation skills!

The Hustle means you might get pushed or prodded or shifted a bit; Decide how you are going to deal with it.  Often these shoves are there to throw you off your focus or your game. Do not fall for it.  What is your goal once you are solid in your craft?  Make it simple!  You want to get a job! You want people to know your name! You want the business to recognize you as someone they want to hire and see and be around.

I cannot create your blueprint for you.  Only YOU can do that.  As my husband says, there is a difference between  being an artist and making a living being an artist.  We as artists need to recognize those differences as it can be easy to confuse the two.  If we make the differentiation we create clear boundaries for ourselves and recognize what we are willing to do for a job or not.  Then it is up to us to create an integrity for our business.  

If we create an integrity for the business of self, we begin to expose those who pretend the emperor has clothes when he doesn't!  We begin to find out what it will take to be seen, to be heard, to be called back, and to work and still create the art that is most important to us!

We find the balance between giving and receiving vs. taking and selling.  We create an energy of purpose and a freedom to speak our thoughts and our visions, not trying to be a know-it-all.

If you have the artistic goods - if you are building craft and it's time to build business, you are NOT selling out.  You have made a decision to make a living.  Do not assume your talent is enough.  It is not.  

If that girl or guy in the audition line is driving you nuts cause they seem to always get called back and you don't know why, make it your business to find out why!!! What are they doing? What can you learn from that?

So if you KNOW you have something to offer, then get your bootie off the couch and DO it.  Get that audition book ready, and GET OUT THERE.  Learn how to hustle...learn, ask, be ready to take the jobs that will lead you to the roles you will eventually play. 

Don't take rude behavior or disrespect - FROM ANYBODY.  Lead by example.  Show your integrity in how you act, behave and respond to those around you.  Your business integrity will lead from your artistic integrity, because if you are an artist, you will form this!!! This is what will give your business DEPTH!

The Hustle is not superficial - it is real and necessary to develop your business.  Your business is your craft in action.  GO DO IT!



The Integrity of the Actor

Monday musings...and yes, even on these hot August days, I STILL drink coffee!!

With all the outings of last week, it has brought much to the surface of our business.  Acting/Singing and THE BUSINESS of Acting/Singing.

In my world, integrity is a huge thing.  It was something instilled in my being from a very early age and is one of my father's legacies to me.  

What is this personal and professional integrity?  Simply put, it is how we live our lives and how we do business.  How we treat others, how we work with others, how we treat ourselves in the interaction with others;  What we value;  What we believe;  What we DO.

Living is DOING.  Acting is DOING.  What are you willing to DO for your craft? What are absolutely NOT going to do for sake of  business?

As we spend time on this earth, and hopefully learn a few things along the way, our personal and professional credos begin to emerge.  Our sense of personal and professional integrity adheres to the the code we live and work by.  A sense of morality and just-ness.

Only YOU the actor/singer can develop that code.  It has to be personal.  It has to be personal in order to truly have value.

What are you willing to DO for your craft? How do you LIVE your craft?  

Sadly I see both ends of the spectrum:

  I see the actor who creates standards for him/herself.  Standards of personal and work ethic that is lived.  They expect professionalism from themselves and others; they are prepared within an inch of their lives for each and every audition and rehearsal;  they do not dial in performances but are constantly creating and renewing a character;  they live with passion and commitment.  They CHALLENGE themselves and they challenge the thoughts and ideas of those around them.  THESE are the artists in the truest sense of the word.  These artists HAVE true integrity - a value and a code that allows them to rise above the murk that often clutters the BUSINESS of acting.

On the other end, I see actors who go with the flow.  Who are willing to suck up to anybody or anything in order for a what they think will be a shot at the brass ring.  They have no backbone. They are simply "yes" actors.  Lackies.  Willing to sacrifice any sense of value/morality to feed the whim of somebody or something that looks powerful.  And I say "looks" powerful because that's precisely it. Power is deceitful and full of illusion.  Sadly, I have seen many over the years make a decision to sacrifice their integrity in order to get a job/have a chance.  I very rarely see that help in the long run.  It might get one job, and then, nothing.  And forever you will be remembered as the actor who did "whatever/whomever" to get the job.  Nothing is ever mentioned of your craft, your talent or anything else of value.

Often, artists say they are desperate. Desperation is a state of mind.  It is a nagging, relentless and disgusting feeling that has no place in our craft or our lives.  If it is allowed to reside, it takes over and there is no room for craft or integrity.  It pollutes everything you do, and everything you try to do.

If you are an artist there is no room for desperation or desperate acts.  You are creative; you are worth it; you will find your place or a place will be made for you.  You will inhabit that place!  Artistry and living in that creative passion will always find a place.  

The integrity of the actor does not settle.  It constantly seeks.  It constantly asks questions, and tasks itself and others to find answers and energy.  The integrity of the actor does not confuse itself with a job.  Jobs come and jobs go.  The integrity is a constant.  The integrity of the actor does not hovel or sacrifice itself at the whim of something or someone else who shows no respect for it.  The integrity of the actor has value and has purpose.  It has light and often shines so brightly it shows that the emperor has no clothes on in this business!

The integrity of the actor does not lie.  It tells truth, it shows truth, it lives truth.  It strives for truth and purpose.  the integrity of the actor wants to make this a better place then how he/she found it.  The integrity of the actor is not a diplomat.  If someone says it's green, and it's red, the integrity of the actor will simply say "perhaps you see green, but I see red and this is why." The integrity of the actor asks why and gives reasons for why.

The integrity of the actor is open, willing to try, willing to learn, exchange ideas, explore, ask questions, discover - of self, and others, and process.

The integrity of the actor will not settle.  Will not accept without reason.  Will not lie down and "behave" because someone or something is threatened by it.  The integrity of the actor must be willing to stand up and be what it is - a code and an artistic ethic that has life breathed into it daily.  

If you are willing to stand for something - what will that be? 

As actors/singers/dancers/performers, as artists, WE define our times.  It is our integrity that changes lives and makes the world a better place.  It is up to us to STAND and DISCOVER and COMMIT to ourselves and our craft and take nothing less than what we demand from ourselves.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

"Sing Roles You Will Be Cast In"

After this week's insanity and necessary "outing" in the casting industry, let's get back to YOU the artist...YOU the actor...YOU the singer...and your craft!!

I have heard from many of you - and thank you for taking the time to write me! The confusion for what to sing continues to be a major issue.  I am thinking primarily of music theatre.

We often 'invest' in classes and get lots of information. And often that information is conflicting and contradicts the class you took last week!

How do we sift through it all?

Often, we are given statements, as the title of this blog entry suggests, but the statement gives no further indication.  Why?  Well, in my opinion, it is often because the person giving the "advice" doesn't have enough knowledge to fill it out.  These are sound bites that have no depth.  If they did, they will not cause confusion or not fall flat.  Ultimately these statements mean NOTHING if they cannot be specific as it relates to you.

We as actors/performers/artists need to have presence of mind and spirit to recognize that no one has a monopoly on truth. NO ONE.  These sound bites are simply that - and unless someone is willing to follow it up with specific information that relates to you individually, please take it with a grain of salt.  Also, recognize WHO is saying this to you.  Is it a teacher, a coach, a director, a conductor? Or is it a casting director or an agent?  What is their background? What do they KNOW really? And what do they know specific to YOU?

Know who you are speaking with.  Know their position in the business.  Know their motivation in the business.  This can dispel all myths and confusions rather quickly!

Learning roles and songs that you will be considered for is of course great advice - sort of.  But what are those roles? What are those songs? And do you learn that for an audition or could you find another song for an audition that shows what is needed for that audition?  Does it matter?

Again I say - what do you want to SHOW about you in that audition?  What needs to be seen and heard in 60 seconds or 90 seconds?  Don't assume ANYTHING.  Assume no one in that room knows and you are the only one who has the truth today. You will present the truth of what you can do to be what they need.  

Learning roles and songs that create an arc of journey is also another thing to consider - your voice, your "type", your temperament might be ahead of itself - you may not come into your own artistically for awhile.  How do you arc that? Who do you seek out for help and advice and guidance?

Recognizing what each segment of our business does and not confusing it will make a big difference.  If you want to find the reality of what your voice does - you find a teacher; if you want to further explore the musical and dramatic possibilities within the music and roles you are pursuing with that teacher, you find coaches and often more than one!  If you need a makeover to match your look to your sound, you work with an image consultant.  If you want to try it all out - you take an audition class and get some feedback of how it is projecting.

It can be confusing, but it doesn't need to be.  Trust the people that give you the DEPTH of information that is YOU specific.  General information is simply that - general.  It works, or doesn't work for EVERYBODY.  If an agent or casting agent tells you to sing roles you will be cast in, you go to your teacher and your coaches and say "what does that mean to ME?" and begin to work on that arc.

I often recommend to my singers to offer 2 cuts in an audition - let the table decide what they want to hear.  It allows them in a split second to see a contrast in you - and a possibility.  It also shows you are prepared.  Depending on your type and where your voice is, one of those cuts could be something you can sing NOW (role-wise) and something you will sing LATER or in a stock or smaller regional theatre...showing you are preparing for ALL possibilities in the building of your career.

Sing what you sing well.  Sing what moves you.  Sing what speaks to you.  This creates energy and motivation and allows the artistic spirit to speak fully.  Sing with conviction and sing with purpose.  Do not sacrifice YOUR ideals and your knowledge for what you THINK they want to hear.  Show them what they will want to hear.  If you are committed, they will listen.  If you are unsure, they will notice.  

What roles will you be cast in?  Well, what roles are suitable - here and now? in a small house? in a regional house? on tour? later on?  It's a rather large and grey area don't you think? You will not know unless you take the time to EXPLORE - vocally, stylistically, musically, dramatically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually.  It is a JOURNEY and it is a lifelong COMMITMENT.

So if you prepare for what you are auditioning for and show what you DO, you will not have to second guess your decision.  TRUST YOUR JOURNEY.  Know who is in your corner and what their expertise is.  If their expertise leads and acknowledges YOUR talent and your journey, you can rely on that.

Sing what you LOVE.  Sing what you CAN.  Sing what you WILL.  Recognize blanket generalities are different from YOU SPECIFIC conversations and work sessions.  INVEST IN YOU not the general.   GO GET IT!

Ongoing CD Observations

Sunday musings...

From two Casting Directors I respect:

First, I am following up the Audition Privacy and Twittergate Issues of last week! Paul Russell named names and called for accountability from his position as CD. Here's his final blog on the subject: Thanks Paul!

http://answersforactors.wordpress.com/2009/08/16/casting-director-accountability/

With her permission, here is CD Joy Dewing's LETTER TO ACTORS she posted on her facebook account: (Thanks Joy!)

G-13)
An open letter to anyone who has ever or will ever audition in my presence:

I have been watching the Daryl Eisenberg Twitter scandal unfold over the last few days with a combination of disgust, incredulity, outrage, and utter contempt for a person who would violate the tenuous thread of trust between actor and casting director and the sanctity of the audition room. I could go on for pages on this topic, but it’s been well-covered and most of the points I would make have been made in depth on sites such as Broadwayworld.com and talkinbroadway.com, as well as right here on the FacĂ©. I read her apology, which smacks to me of ass-covering insincerity; maybe someday I’ll forgive her, but right now I’m pissed and I just don’t fucking buy it. Anyway, here’s the message I want to share with you all:

WHEREAS:

1. I respect you. Yes, sometimes you screw up. Sometimes your headshot doesn’t look like you, sometimes you pick the wrong material, sometimes you make questionable fashion choices, sometimes you do things that I don’t agree with. But you work your ass off, you never give up, and you throw your heart at me every time you walk into the room.

2. I am a human being. Sometimes I am not as polite as I should be, sometimes I get exhausted, sometimes I get frustrated, sometimes I get bored. But I am also a professional, so no matter how I feel, my job is to pay attention to you and create an environment in which you can feel safe to do your work in front of me and my team.

3. It is in our mutual interest for you to give the best possible performance in your audition.

THEREFORE:

1. I will never Tweet, Facebook, text, email, or publicly comment about you or your audition to anyone not involved with casting the show for which you gave said audition.

2. I must, on occasion, use my laptop or cell phone to email, IM, or text during audition sessions – for example, to IM callback information to my assistant so that he or she may provide you/your agent with the necessary information in a timely manner; HOWEVER, I will NOT do this while you are auditioning.

3. I will always endeavor to create and foster a positive, nurturing, safe environment in which you feel secure to do your work. I ask that if you ever feel that I have failed in this endeavor or violated your trust in any way, you contact me directly and let me know, so that I may have an opportunity to correct this infraction.

My fondest wish for both of us is that you continue to inspire me, as you always have; and that I continue to be the kind of casting director that you are excited to see when you wake up in the morning. Thanks for your time & attention.

With Love and Sincerity,
Joy Dewing
edited to add this link: http://www.lastageblog.com/2009/08/11/a-1945-code-of-ethics-for-theatre-workers-surfaces/

from a dear colleague Vincent Gerrard

Saturday, August 15, 2009

"Why Aren't You Singing on Broadway?"

Saturday musings...

A young and talented and deep-thinking artist that I have recently had many conversations with, Arianna Armon has given me further ideas for upcoming blog entries and this one is no exception!

Along the same theme of dealing with people who are not initiated in our business, nor our lifestyle and who often ask questions out of pure ignorance, not necessarily rudeness, and these are some of them.

"Why aren't you singing on Broadway?" "Why aren't you singing at the Met?"

Those are two HUGE questions, which draw more energy than we often realize.

Before we begin our own journey, often as youngsters when we are still starry-eyed and dreamy, we look at Broadway or the Met as the iconic "place" to aim for! If we make it to "that place" and sing and perform there, then we know we have "made it"!  I still see it when young singers come to me for a voice consultation to work with me - singers who have just arrived in NYC or are striving to move here.  When I ask them what sorts of goals they are aiming for - the green ones ALWAYS say "I wanna be on Broadway" or "I want to sing at the Met one day".

Those of you reading who have been around the block a time or two are giggling to yourselves. Not because it's funny, but because we have ALL been green, we've all thought it or said it out loud.  Then the REALITY of being an artist and building a journey begins, and we begin to see for ourselves!

What the green performers and the general public don't know - yet - is that even though Broadway and the Met SHOULD represent the highest of standards in their respective businesses, they often do not.  

"You are so good - why aren't you on Broadway?" is often a question.  Sadly, "good" has very little, if nothing to do with it.  If all we had to do was be good at what we did, or even EXCEPTIONAL and we'd get a Broadway role or a contract at the Met, THAT would be easy!!! Sadly, exceptional or even competent has very little to do with the "business" on Broadway, or the "business" at the Met.

Now, don't misunderstand me - there are some marvellous singers and performers in both these places, but it doesn't preclude that ALL are and that there are not marvellous singers and performers ELSEWHERE as well.  And that just because a singer is NOT on Broadway or at the Met that they aren't good enough to be there.  

What we learn very quickly if we choose this journey, is that there are no absolutes.  Broadway is NOT an absolute.  The Met is not an absolute.  They are flawed systems, like every other one, and they do not hold up the highest standards that we as a society have deemed they do. 

We do not have to get to Broadway or to the Met to feel we have achieved artistic success! In fact, artistic success can often be found elsewhere!  Some singers never get a chance, and some decide they are content to be elsewhere.  It is not about "settling" it's about BEING WHERE YOU ARE and making your journey YOURS.  The arrival is not what is important, it is the work and the journey.

We do not understand that until we begin the journey.  The people that ask these questions don't understand the questions they ask because they have nothing in their lives that relate to it.  As a journeying artist, it becomes less important WHERE you are working, but JUST that you are!   Sometimes you work for the money, cause we all have bills to pay! Sometimes to work for the opportunity to do a role you really want to inhabit; sometimes to work WITH a certain director/conductor/choreographer/another actor; The reasons are always changing! Only YOU know what are the right decisions for YOU.  

As I get older (!) I realize more and more that I owe NO ONE an explanation for my journey.  My journey is uniquely mine.  My decisions uniquely influenced my journey.  I made and am making it work.  

YOU do not owe explanation, excuse, or treatise to someone who asks you an unintentionally loaded question like "Why aren't you singing on Broadway?" or "Why aren't you at the Met?" They wouldn't necessarily understand your answer anyway.

Sometimes simple is the best:  "Maybe someday I will."

Smile - and work on YOU and let your journey unfold.

Friday, August 14, 2009

You're a Singer? Sing Me Something!!!

Friday musings...

Several of you have offered this as your pet peeve and asked me to write about it!

How do you handle that query of "Oh you are singer? Come on, just sing something!"

First of all, generally the people asking are genuinely curious. And don't have a clue about what you do or who you are.  Singing isn't a career or a calling or a way of life or an artistic temperament or anything of the sort - it is more of an American Idol parlour trick to them.  Often, they are not trying to be rude, they just don't know.

Now, that doesn't excuse the behavior! But instead of allowing ourselves to develop a stroke due to the stupidity, perhaps we need to examine the psychology of WHO is asking the question.  Once we recognize that, we can often walk away quietly, or in some cases, educate!

What makes us unique as singers and as actors is that we carry our instrument with us.  I would be interested to hear from those of you who play an instrument that doesn't happen to be nearby what you are asked to do and how it is framed!  As a pianist, when I as younger, often the question was framed thus: "You play piano? I would love to hear you play sometime! What do you play?"  The piano wasn't THERE.

Unfortunately, as a singer/actor, YOU are your instrument.  And there is a great deal of ignorance about what that means to an outsider - a non-musician, a non-artist, a non-career in the arts.

It does not excuse the behavior, especially if it is persistent, but it does create an interesting point.

Sometimes a simple smile, and a quiet "Thanks, but I don't break out into song" is enough.  If possible, change the subject, move on or in the best of circumstances, walk away.  Getting angry will not get your point across. Even when it's frustrating!

Often I try humour in response to queries such as these.  "You'll have to pay for your ticket to hear me just like everybody else" or "My CD is available online, here's my card" or "If I was warmed up, sadly I would probably take the side of your head off" - and most times, people move on!!! Or it opens up another avenue of conversation...then questions about where you sing, what you sing, what is on your CD etc begin to emerge.  And a REAL conversation and REAL information can begin to be discussed!

If you are pestered - be it at a party, in the living room with relatives, in the hair salon with wet hair, WHATEVER and WHEREVER, perhaps then you can instead try to describe not WHAT you do, but rather how it relates to the person pestering you!

I always try to turn it back to them.  What do THEY do for a living? Where do they do that? How would they respond to be asked for legal advice, a bang trim, financial ideas, a shoulder rub, medical advice when not in the office/place of business on their day off?  Often, when it is translated into terms they understand, there is a moment that allows them to get it.  And you have educated someone!  

In this culture, you will always be asked something like "would you have been in any shows I know?" or "why don't you go out for American Idol" or the like.  Sadly, it again is ignorance. They don't know! You can either go into a grand treatise and debate and watch them glaze over, or you can simply smile and say "probably not" or "not interested thanks" and move on.

I have even used the same language back and it often stops things cold, just because it sounds so ridiculous! Example:  "You are a singer? Sing something!" with "You are a lawyer? Legal something for me!"  To which they look at me like I'm nuts and I return the gaze!!!  It is stupid, but they don't understand it but often, they get it. If they don't - it's not your responsibility!

Smiling and nodding and moving away can be your best decision but the situation will dictate what is necessary.  Trust it.  If you have the energy and there is room to educate, then do it!  Remember, education is not about talking AT someone but rather talking WITH someone, and translating an idea to allow them to make a decision.  It takes wit, patience and clarity of purpose. Sometimes we don't have time and energy for it.  So know what you can do and what you are willing to do, or not, and commit to that.

Bottom line: never feel bullied into doing something and certainly not to feed someone's curiosity when they are not actually willing and able to recognize what you are about!

Smile, nod, put the subtext in your face and your language.  

I had a hair stylist who in the salon was telling other stylists I was a singer - and they all wanted me to sing.  After a few minutes of pleading, I simply said "If I were to sing you a short song, you would owe me haircuts for the rest of the year - if we want to trade services."  Everybody disappeared.

EDUCATE!!! And when in doubt, walk away.  After all, some people just won't hear it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Technology in the Audition Room

Wednesday pet peeve...

I begin with this: students of mine, feel free to take my name off your resume if you feel my words will get in your way. I understand!!! But I believe this needs to be addressed and as this is a forum for my observations, I am going ahead and taking it.

The audition room is a space in which artists in development and developed artists are able to present themselves for a job, in front of people who are in casting in some form or other who are in charge for whatever reason, of hiring said artist.  

We often know very little about these casting people - where they come from, what their background and expertise is, but, we as artists, prepare/study/develop craft and throw ourselves out there in front of these people.

Now, don't misunderstand me - there are some legitimately talented, knowledgeable and humane casting people in our business.  However, there are many who are not.  This is a fact. Just as there are many who are auditioning who should perhaps find something else to do, so there are just as many sitting at that table that need to find another job more fitting to their "strengths"...

How can you legitimately stand in judgement of talent in front of you if you have not been on stage? If you have not studied and know the discipline and craft of theatre? If you know nothing about how a voice is built? How a character develops? How to use vocabulary specific to theatre, acting, and voice and music properly? Just asking...

We have all heard the horror stories, and in many cases, experienced them - of being in that audition room and being summarily ignored - no one looks at you, acknowledges you, talks through your audition, gets up and walks around, or is on the phone the entire time.

Now we have entered a new technology:  the computer in the audition room.  Casting people are IMing, on facebook, and now, twittering about what they are seeing and hearing and commenting during an audition process!

Where is the line?!  What is the point?!

Perhaps if you were actually paying attention and creating a safe space for an artist to create those few moments, you would get a much more authentic audition and a stronger sense of what that artist could do.  Perhaps you might learn something!

This appalls me.  It angers me. It disgusts me. If performers and artists were not auditioning, there would be no "show business" and casting/agents would not have work to do.  We are dependent on each other.  We are each other's necessary evil aren't we?!  

So what happened to a superficial courtesy?! At least look as if you are interested even if you aren't! At least look as if you know something about what is going on even if you don't!

This shows lack of respect, lack of professionalism, courtesy and frankly a complete disregard to the process of auditioning.

Just as I have said to emerging artists and wannabe performers  - "learn your craft - develop it! Live it! Be it!"  and if you just wanna be "famous" do it somewhere else, I say to the casting director/intern - whoever you are or whoever you think you are:

"Know what you are there to do! Learn YOUR craft! Learn the craft you are assuming to make judgement on! Learn how to treat people the way you would want to be treated! Develop a sense of ethic and morality that shows LEADERSHIP and PROFESSIONALISM - and if you cannot - please, get another desk job."

We need to support those casting directors who show empathy, reality, true talent and true professionalism.  We need to support those casting directors who GET THE PROCESS, who understand art in business, who recognize real talent, who don't make excuses, who are about SOMETHING REAL.  

The rest of them are making the process murky and giving the business a bad name.  Shame on them.  Grow up and be a professional! If you are demanding professionalism from the people who stand in front of you, then demand the same from yourself and your staff.  DEMAND a simple competence.  Heaven forbid we all actually can enter a room with certain level of knowledge and development instead of ignorance and rude behavior.

Knowledge is power.  Rudeness is stupidity. Our business deserves more - from BOTH sides of the table.  

edited to add: Freedom of speech is NOT the issue.  EVERYBODY in that audition room - and I MEAN EVERYBODY is accountable.  If you cannot respect the process and give it its due, you have NO BUSINESS being in the room.  ON EITHER SIDE OF THE TABLE!