Monday, April 18, 2011

E.N.D. of "Spelling Bee"... B.E.G.I.N.N.I.N.G. of Workshop

Yesterday was our final performance of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” at the Westchester Sandbox Theatre in Mamaroneck, New York. What a joy this production was! I cannot express properly how talented and amazing this cast was to work with. Everyone brought so much to the table in creating these absolutely lovely characters to share this story. What I loved too was that we all held each other to a high level of performance quality that we collectively and instinctively wanted to represent in this piece. We knew we had the talent to create a great musical, and we did everything we could to do just that together. In turn, we heard yesterday from Jason Summers - the artistic director of the WST - that “Spelling Bee” was the most successful main-stage production the theatre has put on when looking at the net profit and amount of seats filled. What a treat to be a part of!

Not only was this cast an absolute joy to work with onstage, we also just had a fantabulous time offstage. Yes. I said fantabulous, and that barely conveys how much fun we had. I don’t think we ever stopped laughing really. The amount of memories and fun times we had could sustain my happiness for months to come. I already miss everyone so much but know that we will all be back together again soon whether on or off the stage. It’s gonna take a lot to keep us apart.
In other news, I just started a workshop this past week that I am super excited about. It’s called, “Produce Your Own Work” and is taught by my friend Molly Pearson. Molly was one of the producers of, “The Green” (the film I worked on this summer in Guilford... Be sure to check out the the trailer and the website for news and information about the movie:

Knowing that I had moved to the city and had done some cabaret work, Molly reached out to me with information about her workshop: “I think you'd have a blast, and we could really work together to develop a musical revue/cabaret/play/short etc to help you generate more industry attention and keep growing as an artist. I'd be so thrilled to have you in the workshop.” So, with a little re-budgeting, I was able to put my name in to be a part of this workshop. 
What really drew me to this class was that it is not only about the artistic side, but also the business side of it all. So we learn really how to be a producer for our own work and to be successful in getting it out there for the public and industry members to see.
Right after the first class, I knew that this is exactly what I should be doing. When it comes down to it, just auditioning to be in shows is not what I want to be doing. While I know auditioning is a big part of this business, I know that a lot of my time will be just auditioning and not actually acting. So I want to find other ways to work, and I’m going to do that by creating my own work. 
As part of my first assignment for the workshop, I had to write out the “heart of the project”, also know as “the why”, the reasons I want to create and perform a revisited and revamped version of my solo cabaret, “Another Staged Experience”. I feel what came out when I was writing truly expresses what I want to be as an artist through this kind of self-created work, so I though I’d share it here...
Just recently playing Chip Tolentino in "Spelling Bee", I kept thinking about how I didn't want to be spending the rest of my artistic career trying to be cast to play and tell others' stories when I have stories that I want to share just as much, if not more, with the World. Having now had performed my cabaret three different times for three very different audiences and receiving great feedback after each of them, I see that I have stories from my own experiences that are worth sharing and that people are actually interested in hearing them. 

I am now able to compare what it feels like to perform in another show after having done my cabaret, and I have to say there is something very different having come off the stage having played Chip compared with telling my stories. I loved playing Chip. The whole experience working with an amazing cast and creating this wonderfully funny and heart-felt show was a pure joy. 

On the other hand, each time I finished a performance of my cabaret, I had a new sense of joy and freedom, a feeling I had had only once before. It was after my performances of my senior thesis work at Middlebury. I had put together a night of scenes and songs of a large variety of characters - everything from a drag queen to a masochistic man - and finished the evening with my own autobiographical piece. When people came and talked with me about my show, all they could talk about was how my autobiographical piece really moved them. I was in shock; I had no idea that my experiences, my words, would have that much of an effect. All I wanted to do was be to me onstage, and just doing that made a much bigger impression that I thought possible. 

Now similarly with my cabaret, I leave the stage and am able to hear the audience's reactions to my stories, bringing them into their own experiences, and talk about that transition with them to further see how my stories make them feel. I felt I was starting a conversation that will and can only change lives. That's what I truly believe art is here for. This doesn't mean I think I'll be doing autobiographical work my entire life, but for right now autobiographical work is where I feel I can create the most authentic art from and start the most conversations from. 

Ever since I was little, I have loved reading non-fiction books. There is something truly amazing to me about reading other people's real experiences, knowing that what I was on those pages actually happened, that someone really felt that, that someone made that leap. I feel our perception of reality has been skewed drastically since the creation of "Reality TV". I want to bring "reality" back to it's true meaning through my art, my own creative powers. And what I'm seeing is that my own life is a great place to start from. 
I am looking so forward to the rest of the sessions with Molly and the other individuals taking the class. It not only will get me on a schedule to actually get this cabaret performed in the city, I will also be learning so much about producing along with acquiring many new contacts and ideas from others. I really feel this is the perfect place for me to be at this point of my artistic career. I don’t want there to be any moment when I can fall into complacency and despair when it comes to my art due to not being cast in a show. It is my duty to myself, to the artist within me to allow as many opportunities for my artist to shine. That means staying a step ahead of the game at all times and having a show or two in my back pocket. Molly’s workshop is helping me do just that and so much more. 
With an end always comes a new beginning. Let’s go! 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

MiddKids, "War Horse", Creation.

Last week I was beautifully reminded how talented Middlebury Students are. I was invited to a benefit concert for an amazing organization, “Opening Act”, a non-profit who’s aim is to bring theatre arts to some of the poorest public schools of New York City and the Boroughs surrounding. Through a guided process, these students create a piece about what they want to discuss to be performed on a large main-stage theatre right in the city. Their work is so wonderful, bringing students a sense of self-confidence through this creative outlet. 
Be sure to check out their website:
My best friend Leah was the one who put this evening of entertainment together. In being a Midd Kid herself, she brought many of our mutual friends to the event to perform in as well as support this cause. Three of my good friends sang, each bringing me straight back to the hills of Vermont. Tim Shepherd sang with guitar on his knee both covers and original work, rocking his rasp and runs out of the park, chilling the audience into absolute awe. Judith Dry came to sing her own original songs in front of a live audience for the first ever time, and of course in Judith style nailed them with confidence, wit, heart, ingenuity, and her Dry humor. Emily Kron rocked out soulfully on covers with her singing/guitar-playing friend Peter Albrink with a connection any stage duo would kill for; it was beautiful to experience.
Among these three, many other friends from Middlebury came to support our Midd performers. It was a lovely reunion, sending me back to so many wonderful memories. I was definitely nostalgic and I relished in it as long as I could. It made me realize how much I miss the ability to be around so many talented, smart, driven people 24/7. I do hope this quick meeting will lead to more get-togethers amidst all of our busy city schedules.   
My parents and I every Christmas treat ourselves to a Broadway show. This past year we ended up waiting till this past weekend to see our show of choice, “War Horse” at Lincoln Center. When I was in London a couple of summers ago, this show was just getting huge, but I never had a chance to see it. When I heard that it was coming to New York, I knew we had to see it. Luckily, Santa read my list, checked it twice, and left an envelope with tickets to “War Horse” amidst the ornaments of our tree for Christmas morning.
This was the most magical production I have ever seen on stage. Hands down. Everything from the use of projections, to the minimalist set, to people morphing from darkness into the light, and of course the puppetry was amazing. I’ve seen “The Lion King” on Broadway twice and absolutely love it and was thinking it was going to be quite similar with both using these elaborate, life-like puppets. In reality though, they are so different. While Disney pulls out all the stops and fills every moment with stimulating business and creativity, the production of “War Horse” was specific, purposed, focused in its work. Every set piece, every costume bit, every light, every projection, every part of the puppet had its purpose on that stage and meant something for the story. A door frame that was to symbolize the house meant more than just that. I saw how a door can create a separation, a barrier, and an opening all at the same time. Projections of dates, images, animation, and abstraction were blown up onto a meaningful shaped screen adding other options for the audience to collectively follow the story along with. The bare stage with simple abstract graveled streaks of paint formed the basis of a canvas from which the action of the actors and puppets jumped off of and into audiences’ minds. 
Then there were the puppets. I have never seen such beauty in my life. The technicians that worked those creations were geniuses. Having grown up with horses, you learn how to read them by their body movements and their sounds. Sitting in that audience, I thought I was watching a real-life horse up on that stage. Every single movement the three people collectively made in creating each of those horses was spot on from where the movement truly comes from in response to the horses’ natural instinct. Whether is was a kick, a shiver of the withers, a tail flick, or gait, those puppeteers had it down. And they never stopped moving! Even when the horse wasn’t being referenced in the scene, if it was onstage, it was alive and breathing. How all three men were able to become that one creature in motion as well as in sound astounded me. It was ingenious how the multiple puppeteers would often make the one sound of the horse. If you listen to a horse neigh, you can hear multiple tones at once, and that was exactly what these puppeteers did in perfect harmonic unison. 
Now, because my family and I have a connection with horses, we were loving it. During intermission, I overheard the lady next to me talk with another lady she came with about how she didn’t understand what the big hype was about. I was flabbergasted and immediately asked her why. I think she was stunned, but responded saying, “If I wanted to see a puppet show I would have gone to the circus.” I almost fell out of my seat explaining to her that this was probably the most magical thing I have seen on stage. We proceeded to have a conversation, this lady and her friend along with my mother and I about the show and theatre. While her friend was loving it, this lady said that she likes a show that dives deep into characters minds, where there is turmoil and grit within the human existence. She self-processed to liking theatre to be black and white. 
I agreed with her in liking that depth that theatre can show us of a character and that this show didn’t really have much of that as far as character and storyline goes. Overall, those aspects of character development and storyline were basic, BUT welcomingly relatable amidst all of the other stimulation the stage was providing. In response to her “black and white” comment, I rebutted saying that it is - and should always be - theatre’s job to bring us into the gray to learn more; black and white is actually quite boring and doesn’t bring us anywhere in our existence. I also explained to her about how life-like these horses actually were, how special that was for me to see with my connection to horses. I urged her to go home and watch videos of a horse or even just see a horse in New York City, inspect them, and remember how this show portrayed them and see all the similarities they were able to express with materials and humans. We talked the entire intermission, and as the house lights were dimming for the second act, she leaned over and said, “I’m definitely watching the rest of this with a new eye.” That’s all I could ask for. (At the end of the show, she told me she liked the second half much better after our conversation.) 
I don’t cry in theatre often, but I do. The last time I cried in a show was during the opening montage of the recent revival of “Ragtime” on Broadway. I was crying twice in this show. For me, it was because of the memories the scenes brought up from my own soul’s experiences. 
The first was when the boy was saying goodbye to his horse who was being taken to the cavalry lines. Immediately I was brought back to the days when I had leased my horse, Liberty, from my camp out in Colorado my sophomore year of high school. After 10 months in Guilford and having to send her back to Buena Vista, I had asked camp to tell me when she was going to be retired (it was going to be soon as she was getting older and continually harder to keep weight on her thoroughbred frame) and I would see if there was anyway to bring her back home to me. 
In the year between my Counselor in Training summer and my first summer on staff, she had been retired, given to an adoption agency, and adopted out, all without me knowing. I was heartbroken. I did everything I could to find her, to see how she was, to hear about where she was, but all my leads brought me nothing. I had lost my Liberty. Now watching this scene, I saw this boy saying goodbye to his horse and all of the times they had had together and was thrown back into those years of connection and love with my own horse, and knew exactly how he felt about losing this bond. 
The second would ruin the story, so I won’t give specifics. But immediately I thought of all the horses at A/U that have stood out in my life for me, Dorsey, Rita Girl, Rockie, and Liberty, and wished that I could see them all just once again. There’s something about this connection that I attain when riding and learning with a horse. My mom always said that when she watched me ride in my lessons growing up, I morphed into this other being. I was focused and at one with this creature beneath me. I really can’t explain it completely, but it’s amazing how much a simple weight change can affect your relationship with your horse. Even just a look or a breath changes the alliance between you and your horse. Everything is a conversation when working with horses, and I am constantly learning because of that. 
I miss riding so much. My Artist Way experience has me bringing up horseback riding a lot and I’m thinking it must be a sign. Even if I can’t ride, I would love to just be around horses again. Maybe when I’m home in Guilford I’ll make an effort to go see some horses that aren’t clomping the pavement of New York City. 
So, if you have a chance to see “War Horse”, GO! It’s a theatre experience unlike any other, and it really is something to be a part of.
A lot of actors are out of work right now, and are getting frustrated. Many of my new friends from the theatre world are in this predicament right now and it sucks. One of my friends feels that without a role, without a stage, he has no voice, no leverage to go and make a change for the World. My immediate response to that, which came out in my Morning Pages this morning was this: “I say make the stage and people will hear you even louder than before.” 
My art allows me to create, not only perform, and that is what I plan to do. Even if people will not cast me, I have reason to create along with ideas to produce, and no one will stop me from doing just that. Because of that, I am happy and excited. 
It’s hard to stay positive in this business. I know I am young and naive, that a lot of the World’s rejections and criticisms haven’t chewed away too much of me yet. But I’m holding firmly to what I want to do, what I want to create from, in, and for this World. I will do that. I will create that work to start conversations, to bring change, to make people think and question.
That alone brings me happiness, and I can’t ask for anything more. 
But... playing Hannah in “La Cage Aux Folles” would be nice too... :-)