10.19.2014

It's the fatigue talking.

(I'm tired, and I should likely not be typing: please indulge me if you're reading this, and know that I'm a little more sensitive than I might be with more rest.)

It's a little before midnight on an autumn Sunday night. My day started when the alarm went off at 5am. A road trip to and from Philadelphia was on the schedule for today, with 8 hours of auditions sandwiched in the middle. It was a long day, don't get me wrong. I was very happy at the end of it to pull into my own driveway, & walk into a house with my hubby and pets and bathrobe and cup of tea.

But it was a good day. Art was made, and some of it was really fantastic! I was pleasantly surprised by repertoire - both spoken and sung - performances, and personalities. There were bold choices being made; they didn't always pan out, but when they did it was amazing.

But I'm feeling discouraged, at the very time in our highly individualized casting process where I should be getting excited. After all, we're about halfway through our auditions, and while there are still a million scenarios that could play out for our summer season there are several that are starting to rise to the top...the "what-if" game is never more fun to play than right now!

I'm struggling, every time I get on social media, with the grumpier, louder voices who seem to dominate the conversation: on one hand the singers are upset about audition fees, and suggest solutions that show very little understanding of the financial workings of our program and I'd guess many others. On the other, discussions from admins about the obvious shortcomings of the current crop of singers: intonation issues, singing rep that's two sizes to big & doing so poorly. It's a lot of negativity being tossed around. And it resembles, in some fledgling way, the struggles at the big house that we've all been talking about, and at a number of smaller houses across the country

I realize that it's a huge privilege to do what I do, to sit on the silent side of the table. It's not come without sacrifices. I've been through the audition season on the other side of the table, and I know it's a struggle. I paid for auditions that I didn't get with beer money that I very much wanted to drink, especially after getting the PFO, believe me. I also in the past have had my salary frozen to allow my company to keep their artistic programs viable. But here's the thing: it's an investment. Everyone - regardless of which side of the table - who gets into the business is doing so for the love of it, and not to get rich off the backs of others. We all pay for the privilege.

My inner Pollyanna hatehatehates these clashes. I realize that behind each side are folks who want to be understood, to have someone acknowledge the struggles that they are facing. And the struggles are very real. But no one is feeling as if they're being heard.

I'd submit that there aren't two sides to this debate: there's only one. And if we've learned nothing from the current state of classical music and opera, I'd hope that it would at least be apparent that we are stronger when we collaborate.

Going to bed. Sunnier outlook promised for the morning.

10.05.2014

Monologues: Friend or Foe?

I know you’re thinking about it. You’re a Studio applicant, and you’ve received an audition for Wolf Trap. And you scan the audition requirements and see that there’s a required contemporary monologue.

Dang. (You may choose stronger expletives, but we’ll keep it family-friendly here.)

“Why in heavens name do they make us memorize monologues?” you think, knowing that memorizing text without a tune is so much more difficult than memorizing arias and song.

We all know that we’re not auditioning you as a straight actor. So what could our motive be, and how can you hack the situation to your advantage? Here’s the rationale, and what we’re really looking for from your monologue. Demystified!

1.     We’re trying to get to know you. Your 1st selection in an audition is fraught with all kinds of noise: stress from getting to the site, nerves from the whole audition process; technical issues and dramatic issues and musical issues. Most folks surf two out of the last three items pretty well, but the dramatic piece is usually the part thatis subsumed by technical and musical concerns. (Rightly so; please concentrate on singing beautifully and in tune!) So, with a monologue, we get to explore the dramatic piece of the pie.
2.     We want to hear you express yourself in contemporary language. This is why monologues from Chekhov and Wilde – while wonderful pieces – are not our preference. I don’t want to hear you imitate a Downton accent, I want to see you wrestle with your own language, and more importantly to really communicate with me. The accents and affectations just make it more difficult to learn who you are. So sit down with your favorite movie or TV show and memorize a favorite character’s speech – it’ll be more fun for you, and I promise we’ll enjoy it more than Mabel lamenting Tommy’s proposal styles.
3.     We want to learn as much as we can about you. Let’s be frank: we see you for a song, maybe two if time allows. The monologue allows us to see your body language, your personal aesthetic; it gives us a different window into who you are as an artist and performer.
4.     I want to see how your artistry transcends genres. Play around in another genre. You are an artist; I want to see as many of your artistic faces as time allows.

We’ve been lucky so far: some wonderful monologues have come through the doors here in New York. My notes are incomplete, but here are some of my favorites:

For the guys:
From Laughing Wild by Christopher Durang, about seeing one’s father in a restaurant baked potato. Weird, but wonderful!

David from The Four of Us by Itamar Moses, about looking (and finding) love.

 by Eric Berlin – about being a nice guy.

Eating Up Profits by Milstein, about an overzealous bakery employee.

This is our Youth by Lonergan, a pot dealer having a come-to-Jesus moment with some of his clients.

For the ladies:
Well by Lisa Kron – about choosing a Halloween costume on criteria other than being “pretty.”


Harper from Tony Kushner's Angels in America – a beautiful contemplation of the ozone layer and death. 

Sylvia by A.R. Guerney –   this falls into the “Know your audience” bin, as it’s from a dog’s perspective. Having two large mutts at home, I found this wholly entertaining!

Georgie from Spike Heels by Theresa Rebeck.  The scales fall from a woman’s eyes.

“I cannot love a weak man” from Patter for the Floating Lady by Steve Martin. (Yes, he’s a comedian, but this piece is a heartbreaker.)

Pieces I could do without hearing again. (Ever. I might have these memorized quite frankly.)
·      Mabel from An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde. C’mon y’all – he’s been dead for over 100 years. It would be like me swapping out Pitbull for Irving Berlin.  Choose a playwright writing during your lifetime!
·     Luisa from The Fantasticks,   only because its much harder to do than you think. And the whole “I love to taste my tears” thing always comes across as indulgent and soporific.
·      Chekhov, Dostoyevsky. They’re AWESOME. But let’s refer to the Wilde rule: 100 years since death = not the kind of language we’re looking for. I’m looking for something less removed from your own experience.