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About A Teacher

In my Pinterest search for teaching tips to help me out with Inside Broadway (because that’s what you do when you’re teaching and you don’t actually have any actual educational training), I came across a beautiful quote that said, "A teacher’s purpose is not to create students in his own image, but to develop students who can create their own image."

This morning, I learned that Alan Case, my voice coach from SUNY Geneseo, passed away. And while I haven’t seen him since I graduated, and we’ve only briefly exchanged some words on Facebook since then, I found myself thinking about him all day today. I found myself thinking that if there was any teacher in my life who exemplified the quote above, it was Alan. I found myself wishing that I had told him so, wishing I had given him more, given him something in return, something to make him see and feel the impact he had on my education as a performer and as a person. But since he was always there…since you rarely walked through Brodie Hall without seeing or hearing him…since he was as much of a Geneseo fixture as the bear…I suppose I subconsciously assumed, as many of us unwisely do, that he would always be there.

I didn’t get into the musical theatre program at Geneseo the first time I applied, as a high school senior. This was partly because I lost my place in the art song I’d prepared (“Danza, danza fanciulla gentille,” which, of course, I’d rehearsed perfectly a gazillion times) but I distinctly remember being grateful that the accompanist (Alan) didn’t stop, didn’t hesitate, and didn’t allow me to give up until I found my place again.

Though I didn’t know it at the time, this was the hallmark of his teaching style. He did not give up on any of us…and I, to be sure, was a very difficult student. I was cripplingly insecure, paranoid, and socially awkward. I was absent-minded. I panicked easily. I got lost in my own head.

But in spite of all those things, I really, really, really wanted to be there. Alan must have sensed this.

Nothing else could have explained how he managed to guide me so patiently through all my mental and emotional blocks, how he assigned me material that spoke profoundly not only to my voice type but to my soul and my spirit as well.

And it was rarely ever “do this.” It was always “why don’t we try…?” If I asked his opinion point-blank, he would sometimes give it—and he would really give it, without any vagueness or euphemisms. But he never allowed me to ask too many questions, because he wanted to break me of my dependence on teachers and coaches—on everyone but myself—to tell me what to do.

Before I worked with Alan, I had never thought very hard about, or been coached very much in acting a song. Indeed, I didn’t know how to think about it. I was a pop singer who made pretty sounds and also said lines and did choreography sometimes. I had never approached a song as a monologue before, never thought about phrasing the song in a way that supported the text, that put the text first. I didn’t know how. He taught me how. But not by telling me how to do it…by asking questions and letting me come to my own conclusions. Even when we disagreed, or when I arrived at a conclusion that wasn’t what he had in mind, he would very rarely tell me I was wrong. He’d usually say something like, “That’s not what I was thinking, but try it anyway” or, “You don’t have to do it my way. You just have to make a choice.”

And he stuck to that, even when the opinions I finally felt safe sharing and the choices I finally learned how to make conflicted with what he had had in mind. At the beginning of my junior year, he said he wanted me to become a voice major. He wanted me to work more extensively on Handel, give me more music with crazy operatic runs, have me work on foreign languages so I could speak them as well as I sang them. I enjoyed my work in the classical realm, but I still wanted to remain in musical theatre, and singing with the jazz band, and experimenting with different styles and genres.

So what did he do?

Well, first he gave his signature snarky chuckle and called me a “vocal schizophrenic.”

And then, he assigned me a little song called “The Girl in 14G.”

Alan, I wish I could thank you better. For your talents. For your patience. For your enthusiasm. For your humor. For your PATIENCE.

Thank you for teaching me, subtly and slowly but surely, that it’s okay to make my own decisions. That it’s okay to believe in myself. That it’s okay to feel things.

Thank you for developing me into someone who could create her own image, honestly and fearlessly. It is one of the greatest gifts a teacher can give. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

How NOT to Survive in New York: A Cautiously Optimistic Cautionary Tale

Well, there’s no point in putting off admitting it any longer: I moved back home to Westchester. I’m living with my parents again and I’m no longer a slave to the noise and mayhem of the big city.

There were several reasons for this, and I feel it’s fair and reasonable to explain them here, partly because I want to help other people plan their moves and lifestyles better, but also so that I can make myself feel more like a human being and less like a failure.

Here are some of the expectations I had, the realities that ensued, and what I would and will do differently the next time I run away to become a star attempt reasonable independence while still pursuing my dreams in a reasonable way.

Expectation #1: Working two flexible jobs that both pay twice minimum wage will surely make me enough money to live on.

Reality: I worked as a hostess in a busy Times Square area pub and restaurant, and I also worked as a barista at a high-end supermarket cafe kind of place on the Upper East Side (which is initially where I lived). Despite the fact that I was working 50-60 hours each week, these jobs barely managed to make ends meet.

Next time: In addition to securing a more consistent job so you aren’t scrambling to find backup sources of income, it’s advisable to have at least six months’ to a years’ worth of rent in savings before moving out. Yes, really. That much. One great thing I did do was never carry cash on me—I used my debit card for everything so I could track every single purchase and see where all of it was going, just in case I was being frivolous and spending too much money on lunch or something. Which leads me to…

Expectation #2: Food isn’t expensive. I don’t eat that much. Plus I can cook my own stuff!

Reality: Did you know that many species of birds have to eat 80 times their bodyweight in one day just to survive? That’s basically what you have to do if you live in New York and you’re on your feet all the time. And cooking? No. That is not a thing that I ever had the time or energy to even think about attempting. I found plenty of clever ways to score free food, especially since both my jobs were in food service (ah, showbiz), but the fact is that you will almost always need more food than you think you do and it will cost more than you think it will.

Next time: It’s okay if my next apartment doesn’t have an oven or even a full-size refrigerator. My sophomore year of college, my roommate and I had a combination mini-fridge and microwave; the fridge would automatically shut off when the microwave was running to conserve energy and prevent things from exploding. That thing is actually all I need to get by with the sort of life I live. Also, canned soup is everyone’s friend. Never underestimate soup.

Expectation #3: Going to the gym is totally something I’ll be able to do.

Reality: I joined Planet Fitness, and I have to say, it lives up to the hype. The one near Alvin Ailey is huge, immaculately clean, well-staffed, and a very comfortable workout environment. Thing is, it took a half hour to get there…but that didn’t matter, it was so cheap! Yes. It did matter. Because I only went once. Because that was all I had the time or energy for. Life was enough of a workout.

Next time: DVDs and YouTube are there for a reason. So are “risk-free trials” of a million classes at a million different places all around the city. Furthermore, if life tires you out so much that you can barely muster the energy to walk two blocks to the subway, it’s entirely possible that you are not, in fact, an out-of-shape piece of turd, and that you are just overworked and exhausted.

Expectation #4: I’ll go on auditions all the time.

Reality: I think I went to two auditions while I was there. That was all I had time or energy for. And they weren’t particularly good.As much as we sometimes want to think we’re rock stars who can wing it no matter what, we must remember that auditions—GOOD auditions—are not just spur-of-the-moment, spare-time sorts of events. They require preparation, and rest, and energy, and focus. If you’re so tired and disoriented that you can’t see straight…or if you’re coming straight from work and deodorant isn’t quite enough to mask the lingering smell of the dank storage room with a leak in the ceiling right above the box of cup sleeves you needed to grab…or if you’ve spent so much time working and commuting that you had very little time to devote to actually rehearsing…chances are, your confidence and morale will suffer, and that will show in the audition room even if your monologue is brilliant and you can flawlessly belt a Z in the key of impossible.

Next time: Planning is everything. At my barista job, there were only about eight of us, we never got each week’s schedule more than a day or so in advance, and there was no consistency to this schedule, which made planning (or changing the plan) very difficult, not to mention stressful. Not all survival jobs are like that, though—indeed, I’m doing the same job back at Starbucks, and planning is infinitely easier because (a) we get our schedules at least 2-3 weeks in advance, and (b) we are in touch with a whole network of Starbucks partners across the district, so that when we need coverage, we don’t have to limit ourselves to searching within our own stores. When seeking a survival job (or “parallel career,” as you might want to put it on your resume), it’s crucially important to find out as much as you can about the scheduling process in advance—without making it sound like you aren’t prioritizing this job or taking it seriously.

Expectation #5: Health insurance isn’t a huge expense, and I got the best deal I could anyway.

Reality: I was grossly overpaying for health insurance during my time in the city. I had a $244 premium with a $1250 deductible, which was almost entirely spent just a few days after my 26th birthday when I mysteriously came down with a fever of unexplained origin and got loads of bloodwork done to make sure I wasn’t dying. By the time healthcare.gov was fully functional and I could successfully apply for Obamacare, I was nearly broke.

Next time: Every time a Republican talks about repealing Obamacare, it makes us actors want to slap you. We don’t want to be on Medicaid any more than you want your tax money to pay for it (it’s our tax money too, just saying). We are hardworking people who deserve affordable healthcare at least as much as anyone else. Luckily, Starbucks has me taken care of for now (for those who don’t know, Starbucks offers substantial, comprehensive benefits to part-time workers), and I suspect that I might have lasted longer in the city if I’d been hired there from the get-go, but most jobs don’t have the flexibility AND the benefits that Starbucks does. Luckily for us, that is changing. I hear great things about Costco and Trader Joe’s, for instance; they operate on this radical concept that companies will do better business if they treat their employees better. Mind-blowing, huh?

Expectation #6: I’m a failure if this doesn’t work, and I’ll give up.

Reality: I’m smarter, more mature, more resilient, more creative, more assertive, simply MORE of a person for having tried this. I also realize all the things I took for granted without even knowing it…clean air, quiet nights, stars in the sky, money in my savings account, driving, oh Lord did I miss driving. My increased awareness has done nothing but good things for my craft, and for my life.

And what’s more is…after all I went through during my several months in the city (and to be clear, I went through a lot more than I’ll ever post about in a public blog, but these are the basics), I still want to go back. I still taste that dream every time I crack open my rep book, every time I pop down there for an audition or a cabaret show, the energy of Broadway fills me up and energizes me inside out until I feel I’m simply a mist of weightless passion floating through Times Square.

There is still no other life I want, and that thought is wildly comforting. It means I’m not dead. It means my passion is still there, that it still motivates me, that it lights a fire that will keep me going no matter what’s thrown at me. Giving up never entered my mind, and it never will.

I still heart you, New York. I’ll be back soon.

How the crap is it JUNE?!

Finally!!

In the time since I last wrote:

  • We had an awesome run of Spelling Bee in Yonkers!
  • I returned to Don’t Tell Mama for Seth Bisen-Hersh’s 300th Showcase Extravaganza! Video soon to follow!
  • I began working as a teaching artist for Inside Broadway, bringing song and dance to NYC public schools. I’m directing and choreographing a Disney revue with 3rd/4th graders, and an 80s rock revue with middle schoolers. It’s the toughest job I’ve ever had, but extremely rewarding. Plus, I finally had an excuse to choreograph “Safety Dance.”
  • I was just cast in a one-act play called Life in the E.R., which will be premiering at Theater for the New City's Dream Up Festival in late August!
  • I got a callback for another awesome regional show helmed by a Broadway director…should have official news by the end of the week!

I could NOT be happier for this endless winter to be over. Hoping to squeeze in a few official vacation days (e.g. going the heck away and shutting off my phone), but we shall see how that goes.

Spring Stuff

The Jesus Christ Superstar concert at the Winery was an enormous success. It was great performing alongside some incredible talent for an extremely appreciative audience…of mostly non-thespians. Which is the best. The best compliment any of us can receive is someone saying, “I don’t usually go see live theatre, but now I’m going to!” (AWESOME shit non-thespians say.)

On that note, I just have to say that theatre hipster snobs need to stop pretending that Andrew Lloyd Webber isn’t awesome. So what if he’s “mainstream?” THAT IS A GOOD THING. ALL MUSICAL THEATRE SHOULD BE MAINSTREAM. The more mainstream it is, the more we work, and the more people appreciate the work we do! Plus, can anyone listen to “This Jesus Must Die” and NOT get overwhelmed by the utter badassery? Or the 7/8 part of “Heaven on their Minds?” 7/8, man…impossible to breathe, but when it works, it REALLY WORKS. Okay, I’ll stop. </geeking>

Up next, I’ll be joining my friends at Little Radical Theatrics to play Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Show dates are April 25, 26 and 27 at LRT’s new home in the Grinton I. Will Library in Yonkers, NY. Tickets are available here!

I’ve been recording some new songs with Gabe Pressman and Brian Keenan, I have lovely new headshots (by photographer Ben Esner and stylist Jacqueline Cookson), and I got my first SAG-AFTRA waiver working on a new Starz series. That means if 300 of you buy one of my albums before I get my next two waivers, I’ll be able to pay my initial membership dues immediately, and then I’ll feel all high and mighty.

So that’s the 2014 update thus far. Happy April! Thank goodness it’s getting warmer. I was getting sick of waking up to single-digit temperatures.

But, even if you’re not fat, if you’re a woman, you’re probably still so caught up with your toxic weight shit that you can’t even see straight. During my working life I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been part of these ridiculous workplace group diets. Almost all of the participants have been women. Sometimes they even try to bribe one another with money. They all put in ten dollars on the first week and whoever loses the most wins the pool at the end of 4 months, or whatever it is. Look, I’m like you. I’ve done it too. And at a perfectly normal, healthy weight I’ve done it. All because of a sick, shitful, ugly little voice in the back of my head that tells me I ought to be smaller.

And that’s the rub, right there. Exactly why do we want to be smaller? What exactly is the appeal of being smaller? How does it benefit us? Does it make us better mothers? Better students? Better lovers? Better artists? Scientists? Friends? Does it make us more badass badasses?

No, no, no, no, no. You must see that it doesn’t. It doesn’t do anything but make us smaller.

Babies and puppies are small. So are dimes and Skittles. You’re a fucking woman. A woman! You are entitled to occupy as much fucking space as you like with your awesomeness, and you better be suspicious as fuck of anybody who tells you differently.
Why, ladies? Why must we continue to whittle ourselves down? Who is it for? What is it for? You can walk through a certain aisle at the pharmacy or at the grocery store and see the language of diminishment all over the packaging for weight loss aids of all kinds. “Shrink your waist.” “Lose inches off your thighs.” “Slim down.” “Get skinny.”

How about “Grow your mind.” “Increase your confidence and productivity.” “Beef up your knowledge.” “Enlarge your scope of asskicking.”

That’s a valid message for women and girls: grow, expand, branch out, open up, get bigger, wider, faster, stronger, better, smarter. Go up not down. Get strong, not skinny.

You are not here to get smaller. You are not here to have a thin waist and thighs. You are not here to disappear. You’re here to change the world! Change the fucking world, then! Forget about “losing a few pounds.” Think about what you could be gaining instead.

Ladybud.com  (via albinwonderland)

Thanks to Tiffany for Facebooking this. It merits re-blogging. Again and again and again.

(Source: heyheyjules)

Why You Can’t Cockblock a Theatre Person: A Cautionary Tale.

Last night after performing in Jesus Christ Superstar, I was sitting at the bar having an excellent conversation with an extremely talented friend of mine whom I’ve known for several years and respect the shit out of as a professional and as a person. It was a very take-it-at-face-value scenario: Theatre people hanging out, drinking wine (which the venue comped because they think we’re famous) and generally being our awesome selves.

A vague acquaintance of his (who was just one of a group of completely plastered women) then proceeded to hijack our conversation to ask him if he could drive her home, before informing us very blatantly that she was trying to “fuck up his game,” and telling me (in a tone of voice that people generally use with misbehaving three-year-olds) that this man had a beautiful wife and children (which, obviously, I already knew) and imploring his friend to “watch him, don’t let him leave with her.” Luckily (sort of), she then left us to tend to her even-more-plastered friend who had just vomited on the couch.

It’s worth noting that all of these “women” were at least in their forties, at least two of them were clearly ACTUALLY trying to screw him, and all of them talked about me like I was some dumb bunny chorus girl who couldn’t hear a word they were saying—which itself is a whole other feminist rant that I’m not going to get into right now.

You might be asking, “What can I take away from this story?” Aside from the obvious fact that people in their forties shouldn’t be getting white-girl wasted in public, the bigger moral is this: don’t ever try to cockblock a theatre person. EVER. You will only look like a fool.

First of all: eighty percent of the time, there are no cocks to be blocked—we’re just THAT much more open and honest and touchy-feely than everyone else, and it’s a damn shame you don’t have the same comfort level in your own skin, but that’s not our problem.

And secondly? When there are cocks to be theoretically blocked? Theatre cocks are unblockable. We are passionate and creative people, and if we want to get laid badly enough, you’d better believe we will find a way to make it happen without giving a rat’s ass what you think.

But in case you’re wondering, my awesome friend drove me home and no sex was had, although many laughs were had.

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