Thursday, March 19, 2015

What Makes a Lion a Lion?

I don't often write about my singers specifically.  I write about what I see they deal with, discover, and what themes seem to rise through a week - cause there is ALWAYS a theme if you are paying attention!

However, after seeing THE LION again last night,  in its off-Broadway space at the Lynn Redgrave Theater on Bleeker Street,  I had to write about Benjamin Scheuer.

I am honored to have worked with Benjamin as this transformative and incredible piece of theatre has developed and deepened and taken roots.  His story,  his voice called The Lion.

Sean Daniels,  an innovative director with sensitivity, humor & vision,  took the reins and created the framework with Benjamin and this collaboration began to spin magic everywhere it went.  Sean now takes the reins as Artistic Director at Merrimack Repertory and you will be hearing from him and about him for a very long time  I have no doubt.

THE LION has been roaring everywhere it has been, and even where it hasn't been seen, is being felt.

The New York Times has raved;  The Huffington Post has raved;  The West End has raved;  Audiences are moved and lives are changed.

Am I over-exaggerating?

No I am not.

The Lion is transformative.  It is about becoming a man.  It is about Benjamin becoming a man. It is intimate and honest, raw and poignant, holds humor and tears,  and reveals shadows and light.

It oozes the truth of artistry.  Benjamin Scheuer is an artist.

What makes an artist an artist?

You cannot teach someone to become an artist.  They are born with that DNA.  Some artists perform, some do not.  It is how they live their lives.  It is how they view life.  It is how they choose to mold their journey called life and how they find that path to journey.

I am always humbled when an artist walks through my door and asks for my input.  That is a gift beyond words.  It is a responsibility that demands my truth, my commitment and my full attention.

Benjamin has everything.  He doesn't take it for granted.  He works at his craft.  Every day.  His musicality is so organic it's part of how he breathes.  His craft has developed to the point that it is simply an extension of his body.  His guitar playing isn't playing - it is a physical manifestation of the artistic energy that vibrates through his being.  He writes for his voice, and he finds the colors and timbres and textures because he works on it EVERY DAY.

It takes time to find out how to play like yourself.  Benjamin speaks of that in the show.  And he does. He plays, he sings, he reveals, as artist, as man, as forever evolving human being.

He is an old soul.  His artistry is timeless.  His absolute love affair with his music is visceral.

While working on the set of The Lion,  where it is just Benjamin,  and all those beautiful guitars,  he introduced me to that set by saying:  "Look at those guitars Susan, now THAT is sexy."

His love affair with his music is timeless.  He can make those guitars sing like no one else.  They SING for him.

So what makes an artist an artist?

What makes a lion a lion?

What makes Benjamin Scheuer,  Benjamin Scheuer?

Finding it each and every day.  Living it each and every day.  Being honest with it each and every day.

That lion needs to learn to roar.  Every day.

The artistry of Benjamin Scheuer could never be taught.  It needed and needs nurturing and breath and vibration so it keeps creating and renewing and growing.  He knows how to do that,  where to find that,  who to surround himself with to challenge him to keep honing that artistry and the craft it manifests in.

True artistry is complex but it doesn't need to be complicated.  It just needs a medium that allows it be seen, felt and heard.

When it is real, it doesn't need flash pots or jazz hands or anything blowing up.  It just needs to be about something real;  needs to reveal something real;  needs to tell us a story that makes us feel.

When you are in the presence of a lion,  you stay still and take in the majesty.  It isn't about you.  It is about the magnificence of something larger than you are.

When you are in the presence of artistry, you stay still and take in the miracle, knowing it is larger than you are.

When you are in the presence of Benjamin Scheuer,  you recognize the artistry,  the man, the spirit, the humanity, the humor, the depth and the warmth that touches you.  You are still because you know an artist like this is rarely seen in a lifetime.

The Lion is Ben.  It is his story.  Yet his story is larger than he is.  His talent and artistry is larger than he even fathoms.  His humbleness reveals that.  

And all those components were recognized and nurtured, along with director Sean Daniels, to take stage and dare theatre to get back to the truth of telling a story that reveals truth, human nature, human complexities, life, death, fear, humor, possibility, humor, tears, and laughter. 

Benjamin Scheuer is the embodiment of a 21st century troubadour.  He weaves a story through haunting musical language, and lyrics that will find their way into music history, with his voice, and his hands on those guitars. It is integrated, it is organic, it is real.  THAT is timeless.

And what do I do as voice consultant?  I just get out of the way.  I tweak.  I suggest.  I quietly work with the organic through the physicality of breath and language to give an artist more access to what they already know to do.  I try to simply reflect them, so they can see themselves and embrace it even further.

What makes a lion a lion?

You can still experience that for yourself in New York City at the Lynn Redgrave Theater til March 29th.    And when it goes on tour if you are even somewhere close to where it's playing,  please go and have your life changed.  One of the real reasons we go to theatre:  to be challenged, and forever changed. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Artists for Artists

The most recent studio newsletter went out last night.

If you don't subscribe, please feel free to do so - otherwise you can simply read it here.

This newsletter is "Artists for Artists" - a Resource Guide.

In it, you will find artists who have parallel and side businesses that can benefit other artists, as well as MANY resources that help the performing artist on their journey.

From acting and performing coaches, to voice coaches and repertoire coaches, to makeup artists to head shot photographers, to Alexander Technique to massage, to dance class and fitness, to ENTs,  there are TONS of INVALUABLE resources in this newsletter.

One of my missions is to support my colleagues in the business, as well as support my singers who create other work that artists need.

This is one way.  Just to make them more visible.

I hope you find it useful!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Me? Getting in my own way?

Happy Daylight Savings Time to those of us who lost an hour over night.  

There are no coffee rules today.  Who am I kidding?! There are no coffee rules any day.  Drink it til you can move things with your mind!

I am giddy because maybe, just maybe this horrible winter is over.  Although as I type, I am seeing white crap falling from the sky and 30 minutes ago it was brilliantly sunny. 

I do know it's warmer, because my weather app says so.  Let's hope that is true and spring is truly teasing us into something better.

So what about you?  How's the audition season?  How was the audition season?

Where are you at in your process?

How many times have you heard over the years: "Stop getting in your own way!"

What the hell does that mean?!?!?!

Well, in all honesty I do not know.  I cannot know since I am not you.  These things are personal, journey-driven,  craft-driven,  self-esteem driven. 

So, what I can share with you are ideas that may help you find out how to get to that elusive and universal question for yourself, in order to find the answers.

When we want something so much,  the idea of being still seems counter productive.  Yet, wanting can lead to drive, can lead to over-zealous, can lead to single-mindedness, can lead to craving, can lead to trying to do too much, can lead to frustration, can lead to desperation, can lead to anxiousness, can lead to confusion, can lead to wanting it harder, can lead to panic, can lead to...

Get the idea?  Are you breathing?

Stillness doesn't mean you aren't DOING something.  Stillness simply gives you permission to be you in the moment.  Not to say "yeah, but I have to..."  We all have to.  Wait a second.  Take a breath.  Let it out.  Take another one.

"But I have to show them I can sing, I can act, I can be what they want!"

How do you know that's what they want? 

Take a breath.  Be still.

Trying too hard often can be translated into trying to do too much at one time;  trying to reveal more than you have to;  trying, trying, trying.

So break it down:  What are you DOING to develop the TOTALITY of your craft?  Layer by layer. 

Do you study voice?  Regularly?  Do you understand your physicality?  Do you know where you are in that process?  Do you really understand how your physicality uniquely influences what your voice is as an athletic presence of sound? 

Do you study performance?  Do you study acting?  Do you know how and why and where the physicality embodies the characterization of breath, of intention, of thought, of action?  Do you find that in the lyrics of a song or aria?  Do you find that character in the phrase a composer has taken the time to craft for you to lift off a page?

Do you explore your physical athleticism outside your craft?  Do you know where you hold your tension?  Do you know your vulnerable spots? 

Do you find your trouble spots when you are completely safe? 

Do you allow yourself to find out what happens when you don't feel like you are in your element?

What changes?  Why?

How do you compensate?  Do you allow, do you try harder, do you become still,  do you just get in the way and spiral out of control?

Are you in your body during your study? During a class?  During your practice?  Are you present in your mind and spirit or are you going through the motions?  Do you mimic? Do you hide? Do you truly explore the messy, the raw and the undeveloped potential and let it be where it is or do you gloss over it hoping nobody saw, including you?

We aren't always ready to see.  We aren't always ready to acknowledge.  We aren't always ready to claim.   It's okay.  But not being ready creates panic in a pressure situation and then - we get in our own way.

If you want it badly enough,  you have to realize,  recognize and do the work to create the stillness to access it.  Period.

There isn't a formulaic plan for that, sorry.  Each of us, with guidance from someone or several someones outside ourselves,  have to find that for ourselves.

We need to know in order to see the truth.  Once we see those truths, then we don't make excuses for them:  they simply are.  There is no value judgement.  We now can pick up those truths and develop them, hone them, sculpt them to create a larger reality that we can be still in;  live in;  claim fully.

You can't get in your own way if you are living in your craft and your body and spirit in an authentic way.  You cannot get in your own way if you let go of excuses.  You cannot be intimidated if you find the desire to simply learn about YOU and what the development of your craft reveals ABOUT you.

This should allow excitement to bubble.  This should lead to possibilities.  This should lead to desire and not panic.  Possibilities lead to timelessness,  not running out of time.

Those voices that tell you "if you don't figure it out now it's over"  - need to be kicked to the curb. 

YOU have never been here before.  All of our possibilities are new.  It's not over because it hasn't been before. 

How do you get out of your own way?

Get ON your way.  Claim the journey,  warts and all.  Make no excuses.  Find everything you need to fulfill your possibility.  Make no excuses.  Make choices.  Be BOLD.  Be real.  Be still.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Do You Know?

It is March.  Thank the Universe.

Spring is now possible, even though as I type, there is light snow falling.

This post is really about the questions you need to ask in your technical and artistic development.

I am always amazed, and yet not surprised at many singers' lack of knowledge of their instrument.  This can be for many many reasons honestly, so this is a general overview.

I was asked last week if I could tell singers and developing artists one thing that could help them,  what would it be.

And here it is, without hesitation: ASK QUESTIONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

DO NOT BE AFRAID TO ASK QUESTIONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(enough exclamation points for you?)

No one expects  you to have all the answers.
Nobody has all the answers.
Questions lead to answers or exploration or more questions.

That's what this is all about!

Sometimes you have to ask a question to simply find out what question to ask!  That, too, is fantastic.

From a purely technical, behavioral perspective,  do you know what building your physical instrument is going to take?

Do you know when the actual vocal mechanism reaches maturity?

Do you know what "reaching maturity" actually means?  (hint:  you aren't done when you mature!)

Do you know what the process is for YOU as you progress toward vocal maturity?

Do you know HOW you are building the instrument?

Do you know how the support mechanism works for YOUR body?

Do you understand how the basic vocal mechanism functions?

Do you know where your lungs are?

Do you know how to care for your instrument?

Do you recognize the athleticism of your vocal instrument?

Do you care?

Are you afraid to ask questions?

Are you excited to ask questions?

As a teacher, my job is to find the singer where she/he is.  Not to start them again.  I have to figure out where you are,  and access what you know, what you don't know, how you learn, how you respond. 

Guess what?  As a teacher, I ask LOTS of questions:  of you; of myself; of my research, of my experience, of my knowledge, of my intuition.

In asking lots of questions to discover MORE,  I expect the same of you.

It is YOUR instrument.  It is YOUR development.  It is YOUR journey.  YOU are responsible.

Development isn't passive, it's active.  It's action-filled.  It's exciting, and frustrating, and annoying, and thrilling and amazing.

Remember that person who never asks direction and thinks they can figure out how to get there and they never do or it takes all day and a tank of gas?  Remember how much EASIER it would have been to simply ask the gas attendant how to get there, cause he lives in the area and would actually know????

ASK QUESTIONS.  If you don't get the answers that help (not always the answers you are comfortable with btw) then go find someone else that can answer them.

You are never beholden to someone but rather, responsible for you.  You are responsible for your development,  and therefore, responsible to ask the questions, to find more questions, to discover more answers, and in more answers, more possibility.

So if you don't know.  ASK.

Ask some more.

Asking questions reveals a desire for truth and understanding. 

If you know WHY you can replicate the behavior.

If you don't know why,  you wander around,  and find yourself back in the same place wondering how you are still there.

So, do you know?

I think it's time to start finding out!