Filtering by Tag: Gigs

Notes From the Wardrobe: It’s Not About Clothes

Photo by Denise Medve - Penguinmoon Studio

Photo by Denise Medve - Penguinmoon Studio

What was supposed to be a short experiment in living fearlessly seems to have now become a way of life. My list of saying yes to things that terrify me continues to grow. Among the most recent additions are Hip-hop and Bollywood classes, further adventures in DIY and now - directing. Joining the board of Pioneer Productions last winter I expected to do many things - producing, publicity, teaching, and absolutely performing. What never occurred to me was that I’d be given the opportunity to direct a show. It’s not that I’ve never directed before, or that I didn’t like it. I have and I do, very much. It just wasn’t something that appeared on my radar as a possibility. Until an offer too good to pass up came along.

So, now I find myself in charge of a production of Nora and Delia Ephron’s “Love, Loss & What I Wore”, The initial reaction from some people has been “Of course, you’d direct a play about clothes.” I unashamedly admit that I love clothes. I love the freedom and creative expression of them, the fact that they can be used to stand out or blend in, their transformative power, and that they can be used to make a statement without uttering a word. But to say this show is about clothes is to miss the point entirely.

This show is about women telling their stories in their words. And even (or most especially) in the year 2018 that is a revolutionary act. These women speak their truth without a filter, they are not trying to  please anyone or curry favor all they want is be heard. Sharing their lives for the record makes those lives important. The stories they tell are part of the fabric of who they are - the good, the bad and even  the not so flattering. 

The clothing is merely the device for sharing those tales. Our clothing often contains our memories. The feel of certain fabrics against the skin, the swish of a skirt, or a specific pattern can transport us to the past like nothing else can. It gives us a safe way of remembering what was painful, reminds us who we once were and helps us relate to other humans. Who hasn’t had at least one catastrophic wardrobe malfunction in their lives? 

And while these are women’s stories this is not solely a play for women. More than anything this is a show about what it’s like to be human- to laugh, to feel pain and to yearn for connection. Guys have a relationship with clothing as well. Just ask Spouse about the plaid pants and jacket I made him get rid of when we got married. He thought they made him look quirky and artistic. I thought he looked like a used car salesman. Did I mention he had a pair of navy and cream saddle shoes that he wore with them?

I am enjoying immensely the challenge of bringing this show to life. The cast is an amazing group of women putting their heart and souls into creating these characters, and the production team is committed to making everything perfect. Most of all, I’m looking forward to sharing this new (and only occasionally terrifying) journey with you.

 

 

 

Who Am I, Anyway?

IMG_2002.JPG

Photo by Denise Medve Penguinmoon Studios  


I had a moment of absolute clarity during a rehearsal for Women’s Work last week. I was singing away and I heard the words in my head as clearly as if someone were standing next to me whispering in my ear, “THIS is who you are”. I am good at many things but nowhere am I as much myself, my absolute truest and best self, as when I’m standing in front of a microphone singing and telling my stories.  

I have neglected that particular self during the past few years. I had to. There were things I needed to learn to become better at doing what I do. I spent three years working on my writing, learning to dance, and returning to stage acting. I use these skills in ways I never imagined when I get up to perform, but still I had to leave this other self aside for a while to concentrate on mastering them. It temporarily disconnected me not only from myself but from those amazing people who are part of my tribe. At the same time it brought new tribe members into my world.

I am reconnecting with that girl in front of the microphone, and those mentors who first put me on this path. I have new things to bring to the table, and old things that have only improved with age. It means change, of course, something I actively fear every waking moment. But it also means returning to the thing that I love more than anything else. 

I am not going to abandon all those wonderful new things I’ve learned. If I don’t continue to work at them those skills will certainly atrophy. I will, however, work harder at putting this wonderful gift that is my very heart at the center of them all. The best compliment I got after the show was from a friend who hugged me tightly and said, “You’re a storyteller!” I am and I intend to use every tool available within me to tell my stories. New possibilities are appearing and I can’t wait to see where they take me!

 

 

Back to School

Graphic by Denise Medve Penguinmoon Studio

Graphic by Denise Medve Penguinmoon Studio

I am a fall girl. I’m not so much on the whole profusion of pumpkin products, but beyond that there’s something about fall that perks me right up (well, perk is a relative term for one who is so far down on the perkiness scale but...). It could be a throwback to the days of fresh notebooks and new pens and pencils that always came with a new school year. I still have an obsession with notebooks. I have a whole basket full of pretty blank books waiting to be defiled with my illegible scrawl. But I digress (as usual)...

This fall I actually get to participate in the whole back to school hoopla as I’m teaching a brand new workshop for Pioneer’s Stagecraft education program. Solo is a class built especially to inspire, encourage and educate performers about creating their own shows. One of my favorite Lin-Manuel Miranda quotes is, Don’t wait on anyone to make your favorite thing- make your own favorite thing. If there is one thing that can make me wax evangelical it is the art of solo performance. The freedom is immense and the creative rewards are incredible. In mastering the art of solo performance you learn how to bring your own unique strengths as a performer to the stage while discovering all new skills. Every performer should have this tool in their kit!

This class is meant as a one day intensive, “get your feet wet” kind of thing. I’m covering a lot of ground including song performance, choosing material, working with a musical director, arrangements, structuring your show, visual image, and booking and promoting your show. We’ll wind up the day with an informal performance for an invited audience of friends and family (your friends and family that you get to invite, that is).  

I am lucky to have as my willing accomplice for the day Bruce De La Cruz as musical director. Bruce works all over the place as a musical director, accompanist and an arranger. He’s also a Staff musical director at Paper Mill Playhouse. 

If youre a performer I hope you’ll consider joining us. You can sign up HERE . If you sign up by the end of the day on September 16th you can get $25 off the price of the workshop by using the code early. If you are the friend of a performer please feel free to pass this info along to them. We are limiting the class size so that there is lots of personal instruction time and attention. If you’ve got questions feel free to drop me a line.

 

In Our Own Words...

Michele Brourman  & Me Photo by Cindy Banescu

Michele Brourman & Me Photo by Cindy Banescu

So, you may have heard...I’ve got show coming up (September 16th you can check out the details HERE). Not only does it reunite me with Michele Brourman, but it gives me the chance to celebrate the work of female songwriters. Why female songwriters?  

I’m a storyteller at heart. I was raised in a world of women sitting around a table sharing stories. Family lore, ghost stories, things that happened every day, men who disappointed, children who misbehaved in public and embarrassing ways- each story sparking another one, voices overlapping and rising making it impossible for little kids not to listen. And listen I did. I still remember them. Even the most horrifying anecdotes would be salted with so much laughter and humor that it was years before I realized what some of those tales were really about. 

The more time that passes the more I return to my roots as I’ve realized that as far as we’ve come as women we still are not always the ones in charge of telling our stories. Terms like chick lit and chick flick get thrown around and are used to dismiss stories that are seen as being too small, too domestic to be universal. Stories not told from a male perspective. 

But those stories I heard growing up were not just fluffy, funny anecdotes. They were about survival and problem solving and standing up for yourself in a world that makes it almost impossible. It told me that I could do hard things. That what does not kill me gives me stories (I find myself saying this more and more often these days. As regular readers of this blog will note.)  And most of all that in sharing them we create bonds, and community. They are meant to be shared. In the words of Maya Angelou, There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.

This is why I chose female songwriters in this moment. I think they often go places where male writers fear to tread. They fearlessly take on subjects others would see as too small or mundane and use them to illuminate a larger truth. They (to quote my friend, director & performer, Shellen Lubin) created their own sounds and poetically documented their lives and hearts. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not talking about excluding males from my audience. And there are several songs that I’m working on that have male co-writers.  I want men there just as much as I want women there. There has been so much ink spilled over how men and women are incapable of understanding each other. We speak different languages, inhabit different planets..blah, blah, blah. I don’t believe it. Maybe if we could listen to each other’s stories in our words, we’d learn not about being male or female but being human. 

Hitting the High Points...

This summer has been one of constant motion - I joined the board of Pioneer Productions, produced (and had a cameo appearance in) a musical and hit two very big milestones. One was inevitable and the other came through more than two years of blood,sweat and blisters.

The first biggie was my birthday. Whether it was divisible by five, ten or three hundred twelve I will leave you to guess. I’m not ashamed of my age but I also don’t feel the need to advertise it. I have officially entered my IDGAF Years. You have been warned.

The other was that I moved from Bronze level to Silver in my dancing. In my studio you start out at Bronze one and work your way through four levels until you reach the Silver level. Basically the Bronze syllabus is what most colleges use in their ballroom dance majors so finishing it is the equivalent of a Bachelor’s degree. It took two and a half years and a whole lot of toil but I did it and I’m proud of it. 

I had no idea when I started it but studying dance has been the best decision I could have made. It has made an impact on almost every other aspect of my life. In an odd way almost everything that has happened in my career in the last couple of years can be traced back to this decision. 

Dancing did not make me a different performer/person but through it I have become more myself than I have ever been. I am finally at home in my own skin and that has given me confidence both physically and psychically. The skills I already had when I started, the ability to create a character, to perform, to engage an audience, to tell a story have only grown stronger. Added to that are new ways of expressing myself and different ways to explore and understand music. Also, because ballroom is an art that is dependent upon working with another person it has enhanced my ability to communicate with a partner.

I have always been great with words. Words have been my salvation throughout my entire life. Dance has enhanced my nonverbal communication. I can take the stage without saying a word and that is a powerful tool to own.

It took me a while to come around to seeing it this way, but Dance has given me the gift of being a beginner again. You can never fully master an art unless you allow yourself the time and space to be bad at it. It’s not just how you conquer your craft but what teaches you empathy and patience. Knowing this makes me a stronger performer and a better teacher of performers. (This will really come in handy when I teach my Solo performance workshop in October. A plethora of shameless plugs coming soon.)

Finally, there’s the wardrobe. It hasn’t really changed that, it’s just given me even more opportunities to break out the sequins, fringe and corsets. This is the most excellent thing of all! 

 

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!