Monday, January 17, 2011

Amidst the Snow

Vermont... so cold right now. 
Why did I come back here during the coldest time of the year again? Oh yeah, cause I love musicals. 
Two nights ago was my cabaret, and it was so wonderful. Forest West Lounge was looking like a really awkward place to myself and others, but as soon as people began to fill the seats and floor with their support, love, and smiles, I knew it was the perfect place for me. The space was just cute and quirky enough with its mismatch furniture, fake candle lighting, and squeaky door, making it so precious. 
The lounge was full with professors, teachers, and friends from all my activities during my four years here. I was so blessed to have all these people here to encounter this buttoning experience with me. It was definitely a different audience from my first try at this night. Right from the start I realized that I was going to be able to talk with this audience like no other audience I will ever come across again. Here was a group of some of my closet friends and professors that not only know the places and people I am talking about, but know me personally, complete with all my quirks and feelings. So all of a sudden I had people laughing and responding to everything from silly anecdotes to my mannerisms. And because of this, I felt that the audience’s responses allowed my stories to become disjointed amidst my own facial expressions and giggles. It was hard to harness my own responses to the audience’s ones, but after a few songs I felt I had gotten back to my more direct focus. 
Even though the stories felt a little more sporadic than my prior performance, the songs felt much better. All of a sudden I was finding brand new moments within all of them. My accompanist (the wonderful Ricky Chen) and I were rehearsing a bit the night of just before going to dinner. We started the first song, “It’s a Grand Night for Singing”, and it just felt awful. I was focusing so much about the sound and trying to keep my voice bright and out of my throat, but it sounded and felt horrendous. Immediately I stopped and asked Ricky if we could start again. Quickly I changed my thinking and went back to the words, focusing solely on them, and my voice was there like never before, feeling better than ever before. It’s when you give into the story of the song, what those lyrics are expressing and sharing, that the true voice shines through. And that’s just what happened during my performance that night. Never before have my songs of my first heartbreak felt so real to me, and that came through in the actual vocal quality of the song, making it that much more poignant for me and for the audience. It was an “Ah-Ha!” moment for me.
I love talking with people about my piece, hearing their ideas and seeing what they responded most to and in what way. I got a beautiful response from everyone I got to talk to. One of my good friends did say how he wished that I did more showing and less telling. At first I didn’t really know what he meant, but then I realized it was in response to the flow of the piece. As it is now, there is a lot of story, song, story, song, etc. I’ll tell a story and then look to my accompanist to play the intro for the next song. It’s a little stop and go due to the fact that it isn’t scripted. I actually made a point to not read over my script too much before this performance as I wanted to stay away from that feeling. What I’m now seeing though is maybe a script could help, with the knowledge that I’ll be playing within that script and chatting with the audience. This would give more opportunities for my accompanist to have a cue to listen for to start playing as I’m still telling a story, thus being able to fall right into the song, creating that seamless transition. 
With this, I do hope to create a more polished script, sticking to that direct purpose and point I have been told I am getting across in the expression of my stories. So that’s my next goal. It was so amazing to see how my experience at Midd affected others that I both knew and didn’t. It gave me yet another showing that the sharing of personal moments in as stripped and honest of form as possible does touch others in a positive light. 
Now I’m in the process of getting some of the better clips from this performance up on YouTube, so be sure to check in to see when they get up there!
With the completion of my cabaret, now I’m gearing up for “Urinetown”. Things have been going so well with this piece. Out of the four productions I have choreographed this year, this is the first that I am not in as well as choreographing, and I am loving that. I am having this great time of playing with the choreography aspect fully and seeing what I can do with it. I can put my full focus into this one piece of the puzzle and make it as powerful and memorable as possible. And what’s great is that we have three full days left! That seems like eons to me nowadays and I love that. What I am stressing now is sharpness through the means of fully completing each step that is given. Nothing is sloppier than letting moves bleed into one another. But it will all come together; it always does.  
Be sure to get your tickets to “Urinetown”! It’s gonna be fabulous!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"Another Staged Experience" in Many Parts

Yet another long streak in between posts... Will I ever get used to regular postings?
The holiday season has passed and we are already in the New Year.... What? How did that happen so fast? One minute I was outside with freezing fingers decorating Christmas wreaths and tying trees to people’s cars, the next I was at the James Blackstone Memorial Library performing my new cabaret “Another Staged Experience”, then I was in Florida with the Middebury Swim Team as “Sprint Coach Schuyler”, and now I am back at Middlebury choreographing “Urinetown the Musical” while putting together another performance of my cabaret. Among all of this I’ve been trying to find my first apartment in the city over the internet with my good friend and former team-mate Peter. I’ve barely had the time to let everything sink in and understand what’s been going on. 
But now I have an unexpected afternoon off of rehearsal and thought I would put together a post. So to the Town Hall Theater dressing room I came with my new Mac (her name is Penelope... I’m obsessed), put on Cheyenne Jackson and Michael Feinstein’s “The Power of Two” into my earbuds and am ready to give the low-down...
I did a cabaret... My cabaret virginity (as Faith Prince refers to it) has been taken and I feel wonderful. Getting to perform this idea of a night of showtunes which follow my own experiences interlaced with personal stories of love, heartbreak, failure, and success was such an amazing experience. As the performance date was coming up, I was getting pretty nervous cause I couldn’t figure out a way to rehearse for it. I had written a long word document about all the moments I wanted to touch on, and had chosen the songs that I was going to sing and made the connections to my life for myself, but I couldn’t figure out how to rehearse the stories and songs together without making it all too scripted. 
So I didn’t rehearse it.
That’s right. I worked on the songs with my wonderful accompanist John DeNicola, who I have worked with at Ivoryton Playhouse’s productions of “Cabaret” and “Finian’s Rainbow”. But when it came to the actual story-telling, the first time I had run through them all in the succession of my piece was the night of, in front of an audience of around 70 people. While waiting backstage for my entrance with John, I was terrified. However, as soon as I stepped out, all that fear just disappeared. I got up there and just told my story as I have done countless times before. The only difference this time was there were so many more people listening. 
It was surprisingly all so easy. And I was having fun. So much fun. I knew I was doing the whole cabaret thing when at the beginning of the final song I came in with the wrong lyric and just stopped saying, “What?! Hold on... Let me try that again.” John and I chuckled along with the audience and we just started again with full forgiveness and love from the audience. As that piece finished, I was greeted with one of the most joyous and honest applauses I have ever received from an audience. After a while I finally had to yell out, “Thank you... Thank you... PLEASE! My cheeks are going to explode if I smile any harder!” I quickly returned to my hallway of a dressing room to gather myself and return to the room with and equally strong smile in my cheeks. 
For the next hour I was grounded only a few feet away from my dressing room with people flying up to me to congratulate me and chat with me about my process, my stories, my decision to bring this together and put myself on the line. I loved hearing how people were responding to this, to my life, and learned so much more about my cabaret experience in talking with others about it. I was worried about everything in my cabaret was corny, boring, cheesy... Like it had all been said before. What I was hearing from the audience was not that at all. All they said was how honest it was, and in that they were able to see a being, someone who had some experiences, some that they could relate to directly, others indirectly. 
What I was seeing was that this cabaret, yet another staged experience, is more than anything, a story. That is what I am keeping in mind for my next incarnation of this. This Saturday, January 15th, I will be bringing this cabaret to the Middebury audience. Some things will have to be changed just for privacy’s sake, but it is all the same music and the same stories. I believe that it is going to be an end of a chapter for me doing this piece up here at Middlebury on so many more levels than I had expected. Middlebury is where my first love, my first heartbreak, and so many failures and successes came to be, so being here, talking about all of these, admitting my wrongs and showing how I grew from those to be the person I am today is just going to be a great way for me to thank Middlebury for everything it has done for me. 
So, if you’re in Middlebury or the area, be sure to come and check out “Another Staged Experience” on Saturday, January 15th at 8:00 PM in Forest West Lounge on campus.