Who Knew...

 Photo by Denise Medve -  Penguinmoon Studio

Photo by Denise Medve - Penguinmoon Studio

Once a teacher said to me after a performance, “Well, who you knew you had that in you?”  And then went on to wax rhapsodic about all they had done for me, and how lucky I was that they gave me this wonderful gift. I smiled sweetly, said thank you, and walked away. But it nagged at me for a long time afterward. Because I didn’t answer the question. 

I did. I knew. Let me preface what I’m about to say by saying that I have been extremely fortunate in having teachers and mentors who have nurtured me and believed in me, and to whom I owe more than I can possibly say. Their advice and instruction was invaluable, but it was I who did the work. I who chose them because I knew who and what I wanted to be, and then sought out the people who could help me become the performer (and human being) I knew in my soul I was. 

It was I who took every lesson home with me and thought over it, and cried over it, and then put in the hours of practice it took to master the material. I was the one who sacrificed the time, and money (oh, so much money) to learn as much as I could to be as good as I could. It was I who ignored friends, and family and housework (not the greatest sacrifice) to devote time to my craft. I was the one who tormented myself by constantly wondering if what I was doing, what I was, was enough.

I didn’t do it because I needed a hobby. I didn’t do it because I wanted attention. I did it because I had a vision. I was called to it. And. I. Knew.

She’s a Lady...

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Growing up I was always told to “act like a lady”. I knew that meant to be sweet, accommodating and not to draw too much attention to myself (I know, ironic, right?). Maybe being ladylike has had its day, maybe it’s an outdated concept, maybe we should just forget it all together. Maybe not. While there are definite parts of the ladylike life that are obsolete there are some others that I have found pretty useful. Perhaps it’s not necessary to jettison the concept all together, but to redefine it. So here is my personal guide to be a lady in the year 2018...

  • A lady knows that good manners and an excellent education, not money or status, will take you absolutely everywhere. - Two things here- Someone once said to me that they did not teach their children manners because it squelched their individuality. I think she got it backwards. Manners are less about which fork to use, and more about making other people comfortable and having concern for the other person’s well being. In my mind, manners allow the other person to be who they are which in turn gives us permission to be ourself. And two- when I say an excellent education I do not mean a gilt edged degree from an elite school (or any school for that matter) I’m talking about making it a point to keep up with the world around you and remain curious about things. which brings me to my next point...
  • A lady is well informed - Know what’s happening in your world and in the larger world. Read! Read! Read! Information is all around us, seek it out.
  • A lady finds her voice and uses it to speak truth to power - A lady has no tolerance for injustice or abuse. She speaks out in whatever way is best for her. For some that may mean a strongly worded letter to her government representatives or an eloquent op-ed column. For others that may mean full throated protest marches. No matter the method, if she sees something she says something
  • A lady supports her fellow women - The beauty of feminism is choice, we get to chose how we want to shape our lives. Every woman should not only have this right but should be respected for whatever choice she makes. If we suppport each other there is nothing that we cannot accomplish.
  • A lady knows how to present herself to the world- I’m not talking about fashion here. I’m talking about how you communicate in every way- verbally, visually and through your social media. 
  • A lady is ferociously herself - There are as many ways to be a lady as there are women on the planet. Why would you want to be a weak imitation of someone else when you can create the wonderful creature that is you?
  • A lady is compassionate- I don’t believe that women are innately more compassionate than men. I have wrestled with this issue enough that I know it doesn’t always come easy. It is a choice to be compassionate. There is enough meanness in the world and kindness is getting harder to find. I make it part of my life not be because I am a woman but because I am human.
  • A lady is persistent - There are days when you feel like giving up. Don’t. Just don’t. The world needs you and what you have to give. 
  • A lady never makes herself smaller to make someone else feel better. - Anyone who expects you to be “less than” so they can feel good is not a person you need in your life. 

I am sure there are more things I can add to the list, but I’m interested in hearing from you. Is being a lady a concept that’s worth redefining? If we’re redefining it what things do you think are important to add to the code? There’s a great big comment section just waiting for your thoughts... 

Dance Diary Sturm Und Samba

The first time I took a West Coast Swing class I went home and cried. The next day I went into the studio and my instructor said, “we’re going to do a West Coast Swing solo...” I worked really hard and did it, now it’s my favorite dance. This will not happen with Samba. If a praying mantis and a bunny had a baby that danced that’s my samba. It’s never made me cry, but more than a few Brazillilans have when they see me do it. Yesterday an instructor said to me, “I see something in your samba I have never seen before,” he did not explain what this meant. I love the music, I love watching other people dance it, I love the costumes, it is just not my dance. By now I have done enough samba to know my loathing will never turn to love. And yet...

I still do it. Yes, it’s part of my program I’m forced to do it no matter my feelings on the matter. But also, not liking something is no reason not to do it. Well, it is but in this case there are reasons to do it anyway. Samba has a very distinct rhythm and timing, and anything that gives a musician a different way of using those things is a very good thing. Samba is also one of the more energetic dances so I’m burning lots of calories thus justifying the occasional baked goods binge. 

Mostly though, I’m stubborn. I don’t like to be bad at anything, even something I hate. This might be my best/worst thing. Best because I think that getting through life requires tenacity and a refusal to accept circumstances which are not to my liking. Worst because it causes me to hold on to some things longer than I should. 

I’ll be holding on to samba a little longer. I suspect it still has some things to teach me. 

 

 

On Worthiness

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There are days when I struggle with the idea of being worthy. I was not raised by artists, my family didn’t know anyone who made their living from art and so I was a bit of an outlier. “It’s a nice dream, but not many people make it, what makes you think you’re talented enough to do it?”  I’m not blaming them, the world is a scary place and the last thing you want is to see your child struggle. You want them to be safe in an unsafe world. They were voicing the same ideas that many people have about pursuing a career in the arts. “Who are you to  think YOU are enough to do this”?

Even now I get comments from “well meaning” friends and complete strangers - “Well, it must be nice to.....” or “aren’t you lucky...” Luck has nothing to do with it. I’ve worked and I’ve sacrificed to be able to do the things that I do. It’s taken me the better part of three decades not just to be good at what I do, but to look another human in the eye and admit it . It is false humility to brush off compliments and pretend that the things I am able to do came about through any means other than sheer toil.

Truthfully, I wish I had learned this year’s ago, but maybe I wasn’t ready yet. My career path hasn’t looked like anyone else’s and most likely never will. There have been times when I’ve made it harder on myself than it needed to be, and times when I allowed someone else’s opinions to divert me. For a long time I refused to use the word artist in reference to myself because I thought it wasn’t up to me to declare myself one. It turns out I had it backwards. 

I am an artist, and I am worthy of a career in art. This is my declaration. I have put in the time and the effort to become one, and no one can take that away from me unless I let them. And that ain’t gonna happen.

My Life as a Broadway Musical

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A few weeks ago on twitter the writer Nicole Cliffe asked her followers to imagine explaining their lives to their therapist in one song from a Broadway musical. I chose  I Put a Little More Mascara On from La Cage Aux Folles. In case you aren’t familiar with this particular tune (and why aren’t you?) it’s about seeing life through the lens of your self created fabulousness. I recognize that to some people this is the ultimate in shallowness. How unfemininist of me to believe that a little lipstick and mascara can change my life. And yet...

I have to start this story with my mother. Mom was born with a very rare disease of the connective tissue called Marfan’s Syndrome (both Jonathan Larson and Abraham Lincoln had the same condition), it caused her a number of issues throughout her life, early onset glaucoma and osteoporosis, malformation of certain bones, and heart problems. She died, as many Marfan’s patients do, of an aneurysm at age fifty-nine. From the moment she was born she was the object of curious doctors who often treated her more as an object that a human being. She loathed, more than anything else being seen by the world as a “sick person.” 

In my entire life with my mother she NEVER left the house without being perfectly made up and immaculately dressed. This was not vanity, this was survival. She could not control what other people thought of her, she couldn’t control what was happening in her own body, but she could control this. She could choose the face she presented to the world. It was her rebellion against a world that could not look past the disease to see a brilliant, witty woman, who had endless compassion and empathy for everyone she met. 

I think maybe this is one of the most important things my mother taught me. I would rather my life be seen as musical comedy than Shakespearean tragedy. In musical comedy you know the plucky heroine may be faced with serious and seemingly insurmountable obstacles but she will triumph in the end and  along the way there will be sequins, great songs and at least one fabulous dance number. Unlike in Shakespeare where the costumes are lovely but by the end of act III not a soul is left standing. 

The actress Ann Miller said “I’ve tried to live my life like an 8 x 10 glossy”. There will be those who read this and think I’m talking about fakery, about not being “authentic”, and I would have to disagree. There is nothing wrong with wanting to chose what you put out into the world. Putting your best face forward is not a denial that life is hard, but a celebration of what makes life wonderful. There is joy in becoming who you are and sharing that with the world. In the words of La Cage’s Zaza 'Cause when I feel glamorous, elegant, beautiful, The world that I'm looking at's beautiful too!

 

 

Do NOT Try this at Home...

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I am a crazy person. This is something I tend to forget as in my particular group of friends I’m seen as “The Sane One”, competent, calm in a crises and polite to a fault. Finding myself in my car at 9:00 PM on a Friday night dressed to the nines surrounded by the disassembled parts of my center console and dash was a big loud reminder that I am truly and deeply nuts.

Here’s what happened...I get into my car, shift it into gear and it hits neutral and sticks. No amount of force will move it. A piece of the gear shift blind, the plastic that covers the shifter, had broken off and caused it to jam. This is where a reasonable human adult would get our their phone and call roadside assistance (which, I might add, was part of our purchase package). But not me! I saw the little piece break off and go into the well of the gear shift, surely I could get it out myself. That’s what the internet is for, right?

Ten minutes and four YouTube videos later I discover that to reach this part of my particular car I have to remove the entire center console. Sighing I picked up my phone and called...Spouse. I asked him to grab some tools and come outside to the driveway. There are many things I am afraid, nay phobic of (flying, doctors, really large spiders) but there are some things I’m absolutely fearless about. DIY repair is one them. It’s already broken, what harm could it do, right?

I blame genetics. I have clear memories of my Aunt determinedly tackling projects that would frighten even the most hardcore DIYers. I vaguely recall two of my cousins taking a sledgehammer to a living room wall to create an all new great room (needless to say neither woman had previous construction experience). One of our family mottos seems to be “Don’t Worry we can fix this.”

I think Spouse has finally learned that to argue with this impulse is utterly futile, or maybe it’s Stockholm Syndrome. Whatever, he came out of the house, tools in hand and spent the next two hours in the car with me dismantling things without a single word of protest. I figure it’s good for our marriage. After all if we can survive an eight hour marathon fix it yourself toilet repair session without killing each other we’re in pretty good shape.  (To say nothing of retiling part of the bathroom, replacing a sump pump, and painting projects too numerious to mention)

My mother often accused me of being stubborn, and she was right. I have been asserting my independence since she first left me in the church nursery when I was a year old. I like knowing I can do things myself. It’s good for my self confidence. And bonus- it shocks the Hell out of people who make assumptions about my abilities based on my appearance.

Two hours later we managed to get all the way down to the housing on the gearshift where we realized that this was beyond even the wisdom of the mighty internet to fix. A professional would have to be called.  A tow truck came and took Eartha Mae (yes, my car has a name) off to the dealer where I’m sure there was much eye rolling among the techs about people trying to use YouTube to fix their cars.

On the upside, if you need someone to disassemble a Volvo I’m your girl.

The Hardest Words

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For someone who considers herself a word nerd the two words in the English language I have the most trouble with are surprisingly...well...small. They aren’t hard to spell or pronounce, and don’t impress strangers at dinner parties. Just two simple ordinary words that manage to flummox me. They are “sorry” and “no”. To me they are opposing ends of the same spectrum. One I overuse and one I underuse.  

Let’s start with the word I find creeping into my vocabulary many more times a day than it should - sorry. I had the double whammy of growing up in the south and an extremely conservative male dominated religion which sent the message loud and clear that men don’t like women who eat on dates, beat them at board games or have opinions (especially if those opinions differ from his). I was told that I could not be the head of my household but if I was very lucky and smart (meaning able to use to my “feminine wiles to manipulate”) I could be the neck that turns the head. Thus I found myself prefacing any expression of my thoughts with the words “I’m sorry”.

What I am sorry for I’ve never been quite sure. Breathing? Being female?  Not being feminine enough to be keep my mouth shut? Maybe what I am really saying is, “please don’t hate me for having a well articulated and thought out  point”. Oddly, what I have discovered is that the more certain I am about something the more apologetic I can be about expressing it. It’s exhausting.

And then there’s “no”. It’s barely even a full syllable and yet so difficult for me to say. I cannot tell you the trouble this has caused. Well, I could but who has time to read a post that long? I suspect it’s hereditary. I have very few memories of my mother ever outright saying no. Mostly it was “maybe” or “We’ll see” accompanied by a enigmatic Mona Lisaesque smile and a fervent hope the matter wouldn’t come up again.  

Sometimes I find myself prefacing the word no with the dreaded “sorry”. As in “I’m sorry but no, I won’t be able to do a forty five minute set for free at your birthday party even though your nephew’s best friend’s cousin’s mother in law is a big agent.” The ugly truth is usually I’m not all that contrite. 

My birthday is coming up in just a couple of months and I think it’s time to enter my IDGAF years. Which means stop apologizing and start using the word no without guilt. This is the gift I’m giving myself. Well, that and a pair of shoes, which I will buy without an apology. 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Find Your Miracle

 Photo of harpist Maria Banks, Andre DeShields & me by   Lia Chang Photography

Photo of harpist Maria Banks, Andre DeShields & me by Lia Chang Photography

One of my jobs as an Associate Producer on this year’s Bistro Awards was to go through hours and hours of video footage of our Lifetime Achievement honoree, Andre DeShields. This was no hardship. Mr. DeShields is a remarkable talent with a stunning body of work in theatre, film and television. He is also a man of great style, humor and graciousness. When he complemented my outfit I had to exercise massive self control not to throw myself at his feet and beg him to adopt me. But I digress, as usual, back to the video footage. Among the clips of his performances with Patti LaBelle, Nell Carter and as the Wizard in The Wiz was a wonderful interview he did with Sherry Eaker. 

At the very end of the interview he says, Miracles are commonplace. Blessings are an everyday occurrence. Where we get confused is where we chase after other people’s blessings,or when we covet a miracle that doesn’t have our name on it. That’s when we get into trouble...Pursue those blessings, dreams and miracles that have your name on it, and everything will be fine. How much time I have I taken away from developing my blessings to moan about the things I haven’t been blessed with? Where do I find MY miracles and blessings? I don’t know really, buy I think I have an idea.

The first step is learning to be grateful. To look every day at what I’ve been given, and what it’s brought me, and where it’s taken me in my life, and to be thankful. These are the blessings and experiences that have made me who I am.

I believe that one of my greatest gifts is the ability to work really really hard. Talent is nice, and I do have some of that too, but talent is only the starting point. You have to work every day to develop that talent. The work I put in has certainly given me mastery over my gifts, but it’s also given me ownership of them.  

Culitivating generosity is the final piece. To learn to give a compliment sincerely and without envy. To take as much joy in the success of others as I do in my own. To remember that success is not a finite resource and that just because someone else has it does not mean that there is less for me. In fact, I think there’s more. I’ve always hated the gig scarcity mentality. The idea that if I tell someone how I got a certain gig then there will be fewer gigs for me. I’ve found the opposite to be true. When I pool my resources with other performers I have found not just success but community. 

I don’t know if this is the one and only path to finding my miracles. I’m sure everyone reading this may have a different idea of how to get there. (Which, by the way, is what the comments section is for. Please share how you find yours.) But at the very least I suspect that if I can manage to do all these things there will be no time to covet what is not mine.  

The interview is below, and the section I’m referring to starts about six minutes in. 

 

Dance Diary: Playing to Win

 Dress Courtesy of  Encore Ballroom Couture   Hair & Make-up by Melanie Rivera

Dress Courtesy of Encore Ballroom Couture  Hair & Make-up by Melanie Rivera

I am not a competitive person. That’s a lie, I am an extremely competitive person, what I do not like is organized competition. If you want to get all psychoanalytical about it, you could say it comes from forever being the last one picked when it came to kickball, softball, or any sport requiring speed, dexterity and the ability to remain undistracted by the nearest shiny object. Or maybe it was the whistle wearing, clipboard wielding elementary school PE teacher who lined us up like military recruits and screamed that we would never be popular unless we were good at sports. Exactly what this pasty, brainy, introvert who carried a breifcase through fifth grade needed to hear to assure her that elementary school was not really for her. Whatever it was, it was enough for me to swear off organized sports for life.

Thus when my dance instructors started strongly encouraging me to go to the World-Dance-A-Rama in New York City it was sort of a good news/bad news situation. The good news: I’d get to put on sequins and fringe and lots and lots of makeup and perform. Also, New York, so it wasn’t like I had to expend a great deal of effort to get there. The bad news: Judges. Giving scores. Prizes that I will not win. I’m not saying this to gain your pity or to self deprecate, but because I’ve only been at this for two years, and I’ve always been in it to improve my performance skills not to win medals for my samba bounce.  Something I knew I would have to continually remind myself if I went through with this.

 Dress Courtesy of  Classic Ballroom Elegance  Hair & Make-up by Melanie Rivera

Dress Courtesy of Classic Ballroom Elegance Hair & Make-up by Melanie Rivera

It did help that the judges, while definitely wielding clipboards, wore neither whistles, crew cuts or athletic socks. In fact, one was wearing  the most covetable pair of boots, and I was dying to ask her where she got them, but I digress.  I managed to do a West Coast Swing solo, and I danced tango, waltz, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot, Samba,  Mambo, Argentine Tango, Cha Cha, Rumba, Swing, Bolero, and Hustle all without major flashbacks. There were even times I managed to forget that I was being judged. That I can willingly dance in front of any audience let alone one made up people who are passing judgement on me is still a surprise to me. And the immense amount of  Preparation for this event definitely made me a better dancer, and the better I become the more at home I feel in my body. This is something I’ve been able to translate into every aspect of my performing.

 My friend and mentor, the late Erv Raible, always asked me after every show, “Did you win?” He wasn’t talking about prizes, what he wanted to know was did I give the audience everything I had? Did I play it safe or did I take risks that made me a better performer? DId I show the audience who I was and make a connnection? 

 So did I win? If you’re talking in terms of actual trophies, bestowed by judges, no. I’d like to tell you I’m perfectly sanguine in this outcome, but there’s still enough of the nerdy fifth grader in me that I really would have liked a shiny medal to stash in my briefcase. But in the terms laid out by my friend Erv of giving it all to get better at what I love  and communicating it to an audience. Absolutely! 

Can We Talk?

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Hey, folks! We need to talk about my face. I suffer from RBF, Resting Bitch Face. I can’t help it. I inherited it. From my Celtic ancestors I get pale skin that bursts into flames from the merest kiss of sun. From my Eastern European Russian/Polish Jewish forebearers I get strong bone structure and piercing deep set eyes. Add myopia and a tendency to get lost in deep thought and what do you get? RBF.

 Recently a friend was looking at my teenage ballet photo from a previous post and commented “Wow, you looked mean then too.” This same friend a few days before said to me, “You know, people think you’re really mean when they first see you, but you’re really nice.” I’ve been called uppity, intense, overly serious, and I can’t walk from Penn Station to Times Square without some brilliant genius yelling at me to “Smile, things can’t be that bad”.

I’ve noticed that men are never diagnosed with RBF. They are distinguished, stern, and Masters of the Universe. Meanwhile, we females are expected to walk around with grins of perpetual pleasantness lest someone think we’re “not nice.”  With every passing year I become more firmly convinced that “nice” is overrated, and worrying  about what my face is doing when there are so many other things to think about is a complete waste of my time. 

Having said this though there are times when I have to modulate my RBF. I had to sit through a slew of auditions this week. Many of those being seen were very young, and had limited experience in auditioning. I didn’t want to frighten the poor dears any further so I made a conscious effort to relax my face, and smile. It felt weird and unnatural, but it was the right thing to do.

This is the face that my peculiar combination of Southern, Jewish, Baptist, Mormon, English, Irish, Welsh, German, French, Russian, Polish ancestors gave me, and I am proud of it. It reflects those who’ve come before me, and my son who comes after. I’ve never wanted plastic surgery to correct what others see as flaws, and I have no desire to slap a smiley countenance in a place it does not belong. This is me, this is the way I am, and I love it. 

 

Mistress of Disaster

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 Did you know that the First Rule of Gig Calamity is the same as the First Rule of Parenting? It is this- Don’t panic - if you panic you’re sunk. The odds of dying from a gig related catastrophe are extremely low (though there are moments you may wish otherwise), and what does not kill me gives me stories.

Not every gig is perfect. In fact, it’s not really a gig unless some unexpected catastrophe occurs. Sometimes the disaster happens safely behind the curtain far away from the eyes of the audience, and other times it unfolds in full view under glaring lights.

I’ve gone onstage with my fly down, with colds and laryngytus and on one occasion, in the throes of a gall bladder attack. I’ve had pianists fall off the bench, things breaking on or off-stage, and the sound system crap out - sometimes all in the same gig.

Preparation helps. I can’t prepare for everything, but I certainly try. I’m a notorious over packer when it comes to gigs. I usually have at least one extra outfit. the one and only time I didn’t I ended up having to be sewn into my dress as they were announcing me onstage because the zipper broke. Then I was saved by my ever present gig emergency kit which contains a variety of sewing implements, spot removers and a giant economy size bottle of Tylenol. People may mock my hyper-prepardess but I’m their first stop when disaster strikes.

A few weeks ago I packed my car and headed out to a gig. Just as my tires hit the highway my phone rang. It was the producer informing me that our pianist had an emergency and wouldn’t be able to make it. This was not a small hiccup. I wanted to stop my car right there and throw myself on the pavement wailing and screaming, but there was no time. Besides, it would completely ruin my hair. I took a deep breath and flipped through my options. I could call another piano player, but it would be a risk as this particular gig involved dancers who were dancing a choregraphed piece while I sang. Throwing an unfamiliar piano player into the mix with virtually no rehearsal was not going to do anyone any good. I did have my iPad, and it contained rehearsal tracks for all the songs on the bill that night. It just might work.

And it did. It helps that I work with talented tech savvy piano players who always give me beautifully played, high quality tracks to work with. I don’t love singing to track in front of a live audience. I feel it takes spontaneity out of the gig, but it was better than telling a venue full of people who had come out in the pouring rain to be entertained that they had to go home unsatisfied. In the end there was singing and dancing and a happy audience, and I got a new story to tell.

Dance Diary: At the Ballet

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The last time I was in a ballet class I had my original factory installed hair color. Apparently ballroom dance has made me braver. When Olivia Galgano (who choreographed a gorgeous pas de deux to my recording of So In Love for two of her professional dancers) invited me to her adult ballet class at  Art of Motion ,I thought, “why not?”

Here’s the thing about me and ballet - Deep in the darkest corner of my heart I have a secret list of careers I would pursue if I had absolutely any aptitude at all. Fashion designer is on there, so is archeologist. At the very top of the list is Ballet dancer. Alas, congenitally flat feet, my height and too much T and A (well, not so much T but a whole lot of A) precluded that. I knew that gong back into a ballet class wasn’t going to lead me to a new career, but at the same time I devoutly wished to make it through the class with my dignity in tact.

I was happily surprised to find that in addition to making me less trepedatious about even setting foot in a dance class my ballroom experience has improved the speed at which I picked up steps, my balance, my carriage and my foot articulation. It was extremely gratifying that Olivia asked me several times “how long did you say it’s been since you’ve taken class? Are you sure?” 

I am by no means ready to embark upon public acts of ballet, but I definitely want to go back to class and see where it leads. Now that I’ve learned that much of what I’ve learned about movement in the last two years can translate to other forms of dance I’m curious to try some new things.  Maybe I’ll try tap next...

 

 

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Notes From the Blender

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I find myself in the odd space over the last few weeks of wanting time to simultaneously speed up and slow down. I have just finished my annual wonderful crazy production marathon that is The Bistro Awards, and am heading straight into my first (and at this rate only)big dance competition. Scattered in between these events are meetings for upcoming projects, clean up from our string of nutty weather, impending houseguests, and just the daily stuff of living. And after all this? After all this...well...I’m not entirely sure.  Yes, I have things coming up, but as always at the end of a crazy busy spurt there is change. This makes me nervous.

I am trying my hardest to stay “In the Moment”. I suck at being in the moment. The hamster in the wheel that runs my brain is always jumping six spaces ahead of where I am at any given time. The hamster is fond of spiraling disaster narratives. To calm the feeling of onrushing chaos I find myself repeating a mantra I heard on NPR’s On Being, Now. Here. This. It helps to remind myself that I cannot control anything but the here and now, and sometimes not even that. All I can do is breathe and  move forward taking things as they come. Life will happen, and I will figure it out.

Tomorrow I will get up and sing and dance and plan for the furture. But for here and now, in the calm eye of my own personal hurricane there is only this, the small indulgences of a piece of cake and a movie night with Spawn. The rest can wait.

Coming Attractions: Valentine’s Edition

  Photo by    Denise Medve  Penguin Moon Studios

Photo by  Denise Medve Penguin Moon Studios

 

Why celebrate Valentine’s Day with flowers and chocolates when you can do it with song and dance and theatre? Far less caloric and definitely more satisfying! I’m going to be part of dynamite evening on February 11th at Art of Motion Studios in Ridgewood, NJ. I’ll be singing some of my favorite seasonally appropriate tunes accompanied by jazz piano prodigy Gable Plotkin. Dancers, Janette Dishuk and M.A. Taylor will be bringing their terpsichorean talents to the party. All of this will be followed by a reading of A.R. Gurney’s bittersweet valentine, Love Letters, featuring the talents of Sally Ann Tumas and Stephen Innocenzi. And if all this isn’t enough you are invited to join us for an opening reception with refreshments and a performer talk back afterward.

For complete details and tickets click right HERE

Who Are You Calling an Adult?

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Photo by Denise Medve Penguin Moon Studios 

I need a tee shirt that says Bad at Adulting. That I have a basically grown child astounds me. That said child is a functioning human being currently not eating Tide Pods gives me hope that perhaps I am not utterly hopeless as a grown up, but deep in my heart I know I peaked maturity wise at about fourteen. Which is entirely appropriate because my friend Rick insists that I’m a fourteen year old gay boy at heart.

It struck me last summer when Spouse and I were driving through the Berkshires in our volvo listening to NPR and stopping at a farm to table market for organic free trade chocolate that not only did the world see me as an adult but as “THAT” kind of adult. Really I’m more likely to be driving said Volvo just a wee bit too fast with the windows down and the music blasting (yes, even in the dead of an East Coast winter, that is after all, why God made seat warmers).

I don’t understand how my mortgage works, cocktail chatter about interest rates, private school tuition and European vacations makes my eyes glaze over, and I can’t insist Spawn keep his room clean when mine contains a pile of clothing that dwarfs me, Spouse and all the felines put together in height and girth. My role model will forever be Auntie Mame, audacity combined with a great wardrobe. I take great pride in being the “fun” aunt, allowing my nephew to paint his fingernails green and giving my ten year old niece a makeover complete with a smoky eye.

My latent immaturity has its advantages. It means that I refuse to believe there’s a point where I have to give it up put on the sensible shoes and get on with growing old. That point where I stay home and yell at Television news (okay, I kind of do that, but it’s only an occaisional diversion, not my reason for being) and talk about how great things used to be. I still believe in taking risks and trying new things. That success is possible at any point and that there’s not a cut-off age on following your dreams. To quote my role model, life is a banquet and most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death . I intend to eat my fill.

Do or Do Not...

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Photo by Denise Medve Penguin Moon Studios

And so the year of creeping out of my comfort zone continues, although, let’s face it, at the rate I’m going it’s shaping up to be more like a decade. As I mentioned previously, I was asked to sing at a benefit for Pioneer Productions Company this past weekend. When the director contacted me I thought, Great! I’ll put on a pretty dress, say something witty, sing a funny song, and then sit backstage and eat cookies (baked goods always figure prominently on a Pioneer prop table). But it turns out that was only the first act. The second act was to be all rock musical material, and he wanted me to sing the Magenta part in Time Warp from Rocky Horror Picture Show. My first response was, Have you met me? I am known for many things Pop, country, music theatre, specialty material...Straight ahead rock music is not the first or even the fifth thing that leaps to mind.

Of course, I kept my thoughts to myself and said yes. If nothing else, it was a chance to wear my silver sequin shorts and a corset, something that is generally frowned upon in the produce aisle of my local Wegmans. Meanwhile, the little imps that inhabit the darker corners of my brain went to work. What are you thinking? they whispered, you know you’re going to look utterly ridiculous. The calmer striving for inner peace and harmony voice said, Of course, you can do this. Obviously the director saw something in you that you don’t see, maybe you should trust that. The imps rolled their eyes at this and went back to their usual activity of throwing all my clothes out of the closet and onto the chair (hey, somebody must do it).

The night of the show arrived, I sailed through the first act, rewarded (and fortified) myself with an absolutely sinful apple salted caramel blondie baked by our producer and emcee Doug McLaughlin, and donned my corset and new black velvet boots (when in doubt always go for confidence giving footwear). Onward I went into the light. The song began, the band was rocking, Dan Vissers (doing double duty as director and performer) was wailing the first verse and the imps having retrenched returned to let me know that I hadn’t the foggiest idea of what my lyrics were. I knew them when I left the house, I knew them at sound check, but somewhere between act one and my orgy of blondie consumption the words had fled.  Don’t panic, I told myself, just keep smiling, shake your hips, and something will come to you...maybe... Two bars and a hip roll before my verse the first word magically reappeared, and the imps were vanquished.

So, the moral, if indeed there is one, is if you’re going to move out of your comfort zone do it with all your heart in defiance of your personal imps, and trust your director, sometimes he (or she) can see things that you can’t. Oh, and being a rockstar, even if only for thirty-two bars is awesome!

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Photo By Michelle Oates 

Music for a Snowy Day

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So, remember last week when I said that Spawn has introduced me to a whole world of new music? Well, today one of these tunes has been stuck in my head, and I figured that was a pretty clear sign that I needed to share it with you. I am absolutely in love with Frank Turner’s ballad (of course, it would be a ballad) Balthazar Impressario. It’s a gorgeous story song about the last night of an English music hall.

There are two things I adore about it (well, more but I’m trying to keep this short and sassy).

One: The line “Always take the stage like it’s the last night of your life” .  Of all the ear worms from this song this is the one that I hear over and over again. It is performing advice to live by.

Two: It reminds me of my friend George Hall. George is an expert on English Music Hall, and one of the most delightful people I have ever spent time with. He knows Just about everything there is to know about theatre having worked with pretty near every luminary to trod the English boards. He’s in his nineties now and still teaching young performers in the UK. He once said to me he could not imagine retiring. I miss his twinkling eyes and exceedingly dry sense of humor. It may be time for me to plan a trip to London...

So without further ado...here’s your tune for the day. You’re welcome. 

Bailey’s Rules of Life, Love & Style #1

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Rule #1: Just because it comes in your size doesn’t mean you should wear it.

 

Someone once said to me that I could never be president because my name (and by extension the rest of me) was too girly. Up until that moment I had never considered a political career, and had a moment of wanting one for pure spite. As we have seen this is never a good idea. But that comment stayed with me for a very long time until I realized that it was absolute bunk. There was nothing wrong with me then and there is certainly nothing wrong with me now. I am a “girly girl” though I hate that term as it always feels like a veiled insult. I love clothes and the freedom of expression they give me. I enjoy the transformative aspect of fashion, I can be who I want to when I want to be depending on my mood. This does not mean I am not a serious person, or that I judge others based on their appearance. This is just who I have been from my earliest memories of fighting my mother on what I wanted to wear.

 Over the years I’ve developed my own style code. As I’ve taught classes to performers about public image, and helped nonperformers define their own style I’ve gradually developed a set of rules that I like to call Bailey’s Rules of Life, Love & Style. Personal style should be just that, personal. Unique to you and your life. While it’s always important to be aprorpriate to the occaision, it’s just as important to be true to your personal style code.  Clothing is meant to compliment who we are not hide it. With that I bring you rule number one...

Just because it comes in your size doesn’t mean you should wear it.

Fit can mean a lot of things. There’s physical fit. Is it too big? Is it too small? Do the proportions work on my body? Is it flattering? This is important but there are other almost more important meanings to the term fit...

*Does this fit my idea of who I am and who I want to be? Clothing is powerful because it tells people something about you without saying a word. What do you want to say with your outfit? What do you want people to know about you? Does the garment in question say that? 

*Does this fit the way I feel? How do you feel when you put on a particular article of clothing? Does it make you feel good? Does it give you confidence? Does it feel like “you”? Our clothes have an emotional effect on us for both good and ill. Life’s too short to wear clothes that make you feel bad.

 *Does this fit my life? Am I buying this item because it truly makes me feel great and confident in my own skin?  Or am I buying it because it’s “on trend”? On sale? Someone else told me I should? If the answer to any but the first of these questions is yes, set the garment free to go to a new home. There’s nothing wrong with trends or sales or asking someone else’s opinion, but when those factors override your sense of self confidence that’s a problem.

 *Does it fit the occasion? Here’s the thing, clothing is certainly about expressing oneself, but it is also a sign of respect. If your basic style is casual and you’re invited to a black tie event, it’s not okay to show up in your jeans and shrug and say “that’s just who I am”. It’s rude. But that doesn’t mean you have to show up in an overly embellished gown and torture chamber shoes. Find something with a simple cut, a fabric like silk jersey that is comfortable yet elegant, and add a pretty pair of flats. It sometimes takes creativity but you can translate your personal style code into any event.

 The bottom line is that a garment that fits on all levels will make you feel great! If it doesn’t you don’t need it. If it makes you want to run for president, even better!

Mother & Spawn Playlist: Guilty Pleasures

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Spawn and I have both wildly divergent and yet eerily similiar tastes in music. Over the years it’s been interesting how our positions have reversed. It used to be me introducing new artists and genres to him, and now, more often than not he’s the one bringing new stuff to me. We’re always tossing songs back and forth (sometimes multiple versions of the same song) so we thought it’d be fun to start an occasional feature here on the blog where we pick a subject and build a playlist around it. 

SInce it’s January, the weather is dire and all is pretty icktastic we’re kicking off with something short, sweet, and silly. We have each chosen two of our favorite Guilty Pleasure songs. Nowhere is our divergent taste more evident than here. My choices are late seventies and early eighties pop complete with cringe inducing fashion, while his tend to a have a harder edge. It makes for a very interesting play list.

My First Pick: I have had a particular affinity for the hustle ever since my cousin Pam taught it to me in the living room at age nine. This is one of my favorite hustle songs. Plus, I got to meet Paul Shaffer the co-writer of this song last year, and he called me gorgeous so there’s that.... 

Spawn’s Take: The theme song of every cougar who ever lived.

Spawn’s First Pick:  Weezer’s tough for me to stomach between their poppy sound and the fact that their frontman is, according to things I’ve heard, a bit of a jerk. I will say they’ve got a couple of nice tunes, and I’m a sucker for a good bluesy guitar riff.

Mother’s Take: I feel no guilt in saying I take no pleasure in this song.

My Second Pick: The stuff of my seven year old singing diva fantasies. I used to imagine myself in a yellow dress wowing a packed house with this. Unfortunately,  Donny & Marie beat me to it, and on ice skates no less.

Spawn’s Take: Makes me think of guilded, feathery, Vegas trashiness...

Spawn’s Second Pick: Andrew W. K. is not really like most of the people I tend to listen to. He’s just fun. No Depth, not rhyme or reason. He’s just fun. What’s so damned wrong with that?

Mother’s Take: Uh, son, do we need to talk?