Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Trees, Leaves, Choirs, and a Cabaret. Real Life.

December 15th is when the list of the accepted students for Scott Alan’s Master Classes comes out. A full month. And there is plenty to do between now and then…

I am officially working at the Christmas Tree Place on Route 1 in Guilford. In fact, I’ve been working there for the past week and a half now getting it all ready for the way too fast approaching holiday season. Picture me, with my grundgy clothes on, with one of these on my back:
Oh yeah… I am the master of leaf blowing now. Among this newfound talent, I’ve been helping my new boss, Dale, get everything set up, nailed together, screwed in, and placed around the property. Every single spec of square footage is taken up by a display area or walkway; nothing is wasted. I’m at the point now though where I just want it all to be up and put together. It’s hilarious, Dale will sometimes just assume that I am an expert at using a screw gun or wrench, aka that I’m competent straight man. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am competent and can hammer a nail in when need be, but let’s just say I’d rather have a needle and thread. I’m definitely not as polished as this hardy, burly man’s man I’m working with.

I am learning so much from him though. And Dale is so patient with me, seeing that I’m willing, just not as skilled as others.

Soon I will be learning the trade/art of sales… I think it’s going to be one of those experiences that I’ll just have to learn with time. All I’m going to do is go in with the knowledge Dale provides about certain types of trees and greens, a big smile, and a little song in my heart. So come start your Christmas season with me down at the Christmas Tree Place, right across from Big Y and WalMart on Route 1 in Guilford and we’ll have a grand old time. I’ll sing you a song. J

November and December have all of a sudden been filled with choir work for me. I sang with Rob Mathes’ encore performance of “At Night A Song Is With Me” a few weeks ago, I just got a solo in Shoreline Soul’s Fall/Winter concert coming up on December 5th, I’m singing with Guilford’s Congregational Church choir on December 12th for their “Lessons and Carols” service as an extra first tenor, and then finally with Rob Mathes’ again in his Christmas concert on December 18th. It is SO MUCH fun to be singing again in a choir. The workout I get from sitting down with a piece of music, learning the tenor part among all the other parts is so refreshing for me. I love the puzzle work of it all, fitting my voice into the tenor line as well as into the specific choir I’m singing with. I’ve learned that all choir singing is not the same. I’m required to sing differently between Shoreline Soul, a much brighter and louder sound, and the Congregational Church choir; a more covered and classical feel. Learning how to change my voice while also still needing to blend from group to group has been a fun challenge and I cannot wait for the concerts to come this next month!

Along with all these choirs, I have been working a lot on my cabaret that I plan on doing here in Connecticut before Christmas as well as another showing up at Middlebury during JTerm. The process to find songs has been difficult only because there is so much that I want to sing. I kept saying, “Oh yeah, and that one - Ooooo, I want to sing that too - That would be great for me!”

My overall goal in putting this piece together is to bring in concert a mixture of musical theatre styles, honoring the old and the new, and using this compilation to see - through song - where I’ve come from and where I’m headed.

I wrote all the songs I would ever want to sing down and separated them into traditional (anything before 1960), contemporary (anything after 1960), and modern (mainly the musical theatre composers I’m finding on YouTube like Scott Alan and Pasek & Paul). This complete list of all styles totaled to 29 songs… WAY too many for a single cabaret. But I didn’t cull any out yet. I separated these 29 into four more categories: guy, gal, gay, gray. I did a little arts n’ crafts and cut pieces of blue, pink, green, and gray paper into thirds. I then took these colorful papers and organized the songs by who they were sung by: guys got blue, gals got pink, gays got green, and the “other/any” got gray. Each song title was written with its style respectfully. THEN I went to YouTube and listened to each song a couple of times and linked them to me, sometimes very specifically to my life experiences, sometimes not, and wrote my explanations on each specific slip. A lot of the songs told my exact story while others I just wanted to sing because I love the song itself. AND THEN, I laid them all out in the hallway outside my room according to style of song. It looked like some sort of rainbow vomited all over that rug. From there, I would sit amongst the vomit-like slips and switch things around, organize them into different groups pertaining to my life or to the show, continuing to see my relationships with each song. Through this I made cuts, seeing where certain songs said the same thing or signified a similar experience, then choosing my favorite of the two. All of a sudden from 29, I’m down to 13, which I think is a good number. There may still be a few cuts, but I’m going to go with this for now.

If you follow this link, you’ll be transported to my YouTube channel where the playlist of “My Cabaret” is so you can listen to and see what I’m hoping to sing. I wonder if you can see the trajectory I’m going for without the little dialogue I’m planning on writing to link them and tell my story.

Now I’m just looking for accompanists for both the Connecticut and Middlebury versions of this. I have feelers out, but it’s always hard to get people’s schedules to work in sync. Hopefully things will come through. Once I get the accompanists, I’ll then look for spaces. I’m thinking about my church for here in Connecticut (amazing acoustics) and really wherever there is a piano at Middlebury. That all needs to be happening soon, I just want to make sure I have someone to play for me before that all comes together. Luckily my parents agreed to helping me pay for a pianist when I was planning on doing my cabaret my last semester at Middlebury. So I’m just hoping they will still help me out. J If not, this is an investment in my career, one that I’ve wanted to do for a really long time, so I’ll make it happen however I can.

This space before Christmas is definitely chuck full of opportunities and things that need to get done. It’s amazing though; this is one of the first times in my life when I actually feel I have the time to get done what I really want to do. This is ironically terrifying for me being a person who is used to being so busy that I can barely breathe in between activities. I’m now learning how to schedule my life, schedule what I need and want to get done, and make my very own busy-ness.

Being a real person in the real world is fun. Scary, but fun.  

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Essay.

So today is the day my Scott Alan Master-Class essay is due, and I just sent it in. I am hoping for the best and be chosen to participate in Alan's free master classes over the next year, but I'm sure there are many others that have put their heart and soul into their essay about how they can't live without theatre. If anything comes from this, it will be the experience of writing this essay. It was such a joy to write it and really put out why theatre is so important to me. It brought my understanding of my connection with theatre to a whole new level.

And here it is! I hope you enjoy it.

Why I couldn’t live without theatre.

an essay by
Schuyler Beeman
Actor – Singer – Dancer – Choreographer

I love the essence of “blank”.

As an adjective, it can be seen as, “having no mark - not filled in” while as a noun it serves as, “a space to be filled in - the object toward which anything is directed; aim; target.”

Everything connected with theatre starts from this fundamental ideal. Even when a story is already provided, or a concept previously thought, or a feeling felt before, theatre allows a blank space for all ideas and desires to be founded on and seen in a creative way. That blank space allocates endless options and opportunities in which to find a connection with an audience member to that story, concept, feeling… to that idea that is be given on stage. The search for this connecting factor between the stage and audience is why I perform, why I create theatre. It’s how I exchange my deepest desires, my inner thoughts, and my daring dreams. I don’t know how I could speak without it. Theatre has given me the blank space, drive, and correct amount of pressure to see myself in my own true light through another’s story. I am the secure, joyful, harmonious person I am today because of the stage and all that it has given me.

I also really like the idea of “perform”.

It’s active: “to carry into effect – to fulfill – to accomplish – to complete – to execute – to yield a profit.”

All of those definitions truly bring together what I love to do when I perform. Not only do I want to honor the ideas of the piece I’m creating with, I want that fulfillment to naturally bring across a profit for the audience, something they can bring away with them into their own lives, thoughts, and experiences. That connection, the bridge of communication, is what I cherish; it is what I want to give back to the World for all the experiences it has provided for me.

I’ve been performing every since kindergarten. My first time onstage was with the Teddy Bear Rhythms, a children’s art program, where we danced in the elementary school talent show. Every talent show after that, I was there on that stage. Whether I was dancing my mother’s choreography, playing the piano ending with a “cartwheel straight into a full straddle split bow”, sitting on a table draped with my parent’s living room rug singing “A Whole New World” from Disney’s Aladdin (I could go on and on), I lived to perform. This soon morphed into joining as many school choirs as I could.

Coming into middle school I decided that I wanted to begin taking dance lessons after hearing my guy friend Steven recently enrolled. I soon was amidst endless girls with tightly knotted buns, colorful leotards, and my own black tights and fitted white tee. I enjoyed learning my basics and essentials on the ballet barre to then apply them into the more expressive jazz, tap, modern and hip hop classes I continually added to my schedule. Soon, dance recitals joined the endless other concerts I already had from the three choruses I was in. My parents went to everything and couldn’t ever imagine missing one of my performances. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have had such supportive parents. They saw my passion and dedication and did they all they could to help me continue in my happiness.

The summer before freshman year of high school, my jazz teacher asked me to audition for a community theatre production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s State Fair. I was cast as a dancer/chorus member, and was immediately bitten by the musical theatre bug. Here was where all of my performing loves came together in a wonderfully wound creation. I was in heaven. All of sudden, the next four years were determined by the theatre I was doing; there was the fall drama, the spring musical and summer community theatre.

As I started the college application process, I looked into schools’ biology programs as I wanted to be a zoo habitat designer. I believed theatre to be an impractical choice as a career path; I mean, who actually ever made it? I did however look into schools that had ample opportunities to sing, dance, and act even with a vastly different major. Middlebury College in Vermont was that school, and I got in. Within the first week I was in an a cappella group. A few of the senior members of the group were theatre majors, so I got to hear about their experiences and how much they loved it. It was halfway through my first semester when I saw my first show at Midd and realized my true calling. I thought, “If a student can create that, I want to be doing what they’re doing.” I quickly dropped my biology books and never looked back. Once having left the biology track, I realized how much theatre meant to me and how it was going to be my life’s work to be a part of it. It was my calling and I was terrified and excited beyond belief.  

My college experience was chuck full of a cappella concerts, dance performances, and theatre productions. Once again, my parents never missed one. Even though I was four and a half hours away from home, they still came to support my new-found career path. In turn, my mother became one of the proudest and biggest “stage moms” known to man. She’s no Mama Rose, but Mary Beeman could give her a run for her money, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. She provided the honesty I needed to become that better performer. Along with her, I had the best group of theatre friends who not only encouraged me in my theatrical endeavors, but pushed me, giving me the needed criticism through acknowledging my strongest points of a creation. Up in the hills of Vermont, I experienced all kinds of theatre, which only expanded my depth at which I was able to create a character and story. Physical theatre work informed my body, drama informed my thought, all the while infusing me with the tools to publish more credible people within a musical piece. I was being given foundations I had never felt, which in turn grounded me in more ways than I had ever expected.

Now I’m a graduate, one of thousands making steps to that New York City stage. So what makes me different from everyone else? Why is it that I do theatre? What do I actually love about this kind of creative work? Sure, (like everyone else is probably saying) I love the rush of being on stage in front of a live audience for whom an alive, connecting transfer is built. I love the comradeship of theatre, working together to fulfill that goal of expressing a truth. I love seeing something come from so little and then become so much. I love hearing what people have to say about the piece and in turn learn even more about what I am saying from the people I just said it to.

But what I love the most are the challenges of the process and how they are met and conquered. How these challenges were met with questions, trials, errors, and changes ultimately take the production’s performance to a whole new level. All of the hardships and frustrations of creating a piece that help find the specific message are what give the actual performance the depth that is needed to validly reach audiences’ souls.

This larger point is linked to my own search of how I do and don’t relate to the character I’m living. Through tug and release, I am able to see where I understand the character’s struggles and desires, their secrets and purposes in life, while also seeing what I don’t relate to. This brings up paths to be taken and obstacles to move through, learning more about the character but also about me. In learning about how someone else thinks and is fundamentally, I am given the amazing opportunity to better understand humanity, and find ways to live peacefully, deliberately, and judgment free. In turn, I hope I can shed some of the light of my own discoveries onto the audiences. By being the character, I wish to create opportunities for audience members to also learn a little more about our true reasons for being here together in this lifetime. I hope to best allow my character, through me, to illustrate his good attributes as well as his personal flaws in which audience members can relate to and inadvertently be linked into the story, feeling the message being played.

The best thing about the theatrical process is learning how to not show the beliefs of the character - how not to show his positive and negative qualities, but rather to plainly be them all. It’s when I forget about performing and fall face first into a character, and can just be, that I reach an audience. I lose myself, giving into the values and features of this being. That is the moment I cherish.

I am also a firm believer that theatre should be entertaining. Sondheim’s words ring true for every production I am a part of: “Let me entertain you.” Entertainment isn’t just about being happy; it’s about being moved from your soul. I personally think the circus does this amazingly well. You see an act and you are completely mesmerized, fixated on what is going on around you. A lot of it is fun (cute dogs spinning around doing flips) but it can also be daring (lions and tigers jumping through rings of fire), weird (contortionists), and dazzling (processionals of huge elephants and flashy horses). My goal in creating theatre is making an experience that is truly entertaining, pushing and pulling audiences in all directions, causing them feel everything I can, and having them leave with a sense of “Whoa-”.

As Middlebury exposed me to a variety of types of theatre, it also expanded my interests to different parts of the field other than performing. All of a sudden I was writing for the stage, directing a show, and choreographing a musical, things I have never done before yet somehow threw myself blindly into, willing to learn on the go. I love this dabble effect; it has informed me on where the other creators of theatre are coming from, how they work, and what they need from their actors. Since Middlebury, I have already performed in as well as choreographed two musicals and am hired to choreograph again this upcoming January. I love choreographing and creating these rhythmic illustrations. While performing is still my primary focus, this little choreography bug has definitely bitten me and I’m really interested to see where that could take me.

You have asked, “So why should I pick you?”

Pick me because I know that there are other people out there that love theatre as much as I do, who can’t live without it.

Pick me because I want to meet all of these people and create with them, the artists that take their work as whole-heartedly as I do.

Pick me because I wish to create with others who can’t communicate without theatre, who want to share ideas with audiences from all backgrounds, races, sexualities, genders, and ideals to better humanity.

Pick me so I can take what this blank space has to offer so I may produce theatre that provides some sort of understanding, or at least opportunities for questioning and discussion, to help make the world a more harmonious place.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Decision. Concert. Workshop. 2 Months...

Wow... So much has happened since my last entry, and it hasn't even been a week!

Well, I made the decision to step out of Essex Steam Train's production of "The North Pole Express". After much thought, chatting with family and friends both in and out of the production, and really stepping back and listening for that true answer. I was talking with my grandmother about it and she put it so great when it came to hearing that true and right answer; "How will I know it's the right answer?". "It'll feel like an elephant stamped on your foot," she said. And it did, a big ol' elephant foot right on my toesies. It came that I need to be working on some other stuff now to continue getting me ready for my big move. At this point in my life, when I am about to make a major change that will in turn affect the rest of my life, the commitment of the Essex Steam Train production just did not seem plausible anymore.

I was very worried about how this would come across when I officially pulled myself out. The last thing I wanted was to look like I was quitting. I personally feel it is quite the opposite. With where I am now, I know that I will not be able to give 100% of myself to this piece, fulfilling the integrity of the production as well as be at the best level as I can. Over and over I expressed my apologies to the creator about how late this news was coming, but that I really had to do a lot of soul searching and that I wanted to talk with him in person about it. Luckily, he took it really well plus there will be someone who can fill my place.

Thank you Essex Steam Train's Fright Train for teaching me that sometimes it's better to step away when it feels you need to be somewhere else, even if it's a paid gig.

Jeez... I seem to always start these entries with the more serious topics... Sorry, I guess I just want to get it all out so I can focus on the fun stuff. :-)

I got to go to Cheyenne Jackson's concert at Carnegie Hall with Michael Feinstein this past Friday. I went with my mother and we had such a blast! The concert was absolutely beautiful, and Cheyenne was phenomenal. The ease at which he sings astounds me. I was SO happy that he sang my favorite song off of his album, "Someone to Watch Over Me". I can literally have that on repeat in my stereo for hours. I will definitely be singing that in my cabaret, there is no doubt about that.

I also got to wait backstage in the reception room to say hi after the show [I made the list!! :-)]. Due to my giant self, I stood heads above others naturally, and as Cheyenne was making his way over, he caught my eye and smiled. It was so great to see him and be able to congratulate him in person on such a wonderful concert. My mom wanted to take a picture, so Cheyenne and I got ready, but of course the camera wasn't working, and I immediately started sweating. He went to sign someone else's CDs as I got my Blackberry out for my mom to use. I was SO embarrassed. But the picture turned out well.

While we were chatting, Cheyenne asked, "Did you get my email???" Immediately I thanked him and went into how much it meant to me to get that from him. I felt weird cause you know you never send a thank you for a thank you. I did follow up the weekend with a quick email to Cheyenne congratulating him again on the concert, that I'm looking forward to his next work on "Glee", plus how much him email truly meant to me and how I use his advice daily. It was a great night!

My mom sent me an email a while ago about a workshop for auditioning led by two of the current company members of Goodspeed's production of "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying", which my parents and I saw a few weeks ago. The production was phenomenal and so professionally done. The talent was top notch, but what I found even more impressive was the execution of the beautiful direction and inventively precise choreography.

The workshop was advertised as a place for high school students to get feedback for their college auditions... Hmmm... I signed up anyway. I thought, why not? Feedback in any format from professional actors is great. So there I was, 23-year-old Schuyler among ten other high school girls. :-)

The workshop itself though was amazing. I learned so much about what a great audition consists of. I saw the audition in two sections all of a sudden: Schuyler's part and (Character's Name)'s part. Here are some of the notes I took...

Schuyler's Part -
  • Don't try to be perfect. Be Schuyler.
  • Present who you are, your essence.
  • "Here's what I can offer... This is what I have for you."
  • You can't communicate without this work, this art.
  • Every audition creates a lasting impression, so somewhere down the line it will pay off.
  • It's not the job of the auditioners to fulfill my dreams.
  • I am my own "brand": How do I present myself?; Know my brand and don't try to be different than that.; Be specific and know that I change and thus does my brand.
  • Have a grounded sense. Be just the right amount of confident, be harmonious, be joyful.
  • Cultivate charm.
(Character's Name)'s Part:
  • Be the role when the song starts, not when I come in the room.
  • Auditioners want you to turn it on, but they don't want to see you turn it on.
  • Just be the character. The vocal performance will be so much better when you stop listening to yourself sing and let the story come out.
  • Relax the arms.
  • Have the focus above the auditioners' heads, but don't feel the need to stare there the entire time.
  • Give the auditioners a human experience they can relate to. Present both the positive and negative qualities of a a person.
  • Be prepared, but not too prepared. Do the vocal coaching work before, have it be the foundation, and then allow the character to influence the song.
The two guys leading the workshop, James Beaman and Richard Vida, were so great and gave me awesome critique on my performance of "Old Devil Moon". I found out that I don't need to add flourishes to show my range; people are able to hear that I have higher notes just by my vocal quality. Those flourishes can actually sometimes be seen as cocky... EEEEEE.... I definitely did that in my singer audition for La Cage. But, there's nothing I can do about it now except not do it again. Jamie and Richard completely reworked "Old Devil Moon" for the better and I can't wait to use it again. Big thanks for Richard and Jamie for all their help!

So where am I now...? It's November. I go to Florida to be the sprint coach for the Middlebury Swim Team's training trip right after Christmas, come back and go right up to Middlebury to choreograph Urintetown: The Musical. After a month there, I come back to move into the city officially.

Two months before my life changes completely. Two months...

What do I need to do? What do I want to do? Well, I am looking for a job. I may work at a Christmas tree place, I'll be babysitting, and whatever else I can find. I'll be singing in a few choir performances (be sure to check my facebook fan page soon for details...). And I have a long list of theatre related work. I have decided to carve out a few hours everyday, dedicated to my theatre work, no matter what. Here's what I'll be chipping away at:
  1. Choreography for Middlebury's Urinetown: The Musical
  2. Concert form of "Jon and Jen" the musical with Amy Forbes
  3. My own cabaret (versions for a performance at home and and at Middlebury during January)
  4. Start writing some pieces of ideas I have for plays/screenplays
  5. Work on audition pieces
  6. Get my website up and running
  7. Scott Alan essay
  8. Make DVD compilations of my choreography, dancing, and singing
There's probably more, I just can't think of it all now. I'm looking forward though to these two months to really get my butt into gear and get myself prepared in many ways so I can have options in my back pockets when I move to the city.