Author: dancallaway (page 2 of 6)

The Right Time and the Wrong Time to Apologize

I was teaching a student recently whom I know very well. We were doing a familiar series of exercises when she began to grow tentative as we climbed higher. I stopped and realized something that I had not seen before; she was apologizing.

I was surprised that as her teacher I had not seen this before; she explained that this was an issue that had come to the fore recently for her as well. I often find I notice things when they’re showing themselves in student’s consciousness.

I said, “You know the only time to apologize is when you do something crappy and need to say ‘I’m sorry.'”

This bit of advice from a recovering severe over-apologizer.

The thing is, if I apologize for my presence or performance, I’m withholding parts of me from my audience. I’m editing parts that I think might be rejected or misunderstood.

Here’s what’s jacked about this thinking.

Number one, I don’t have enough actual insight on myself to know what should be edited out and what should be put forward; I don’t know what others are perceiving or picking up from me—that’s their business.

Number two, it short circuits the opportunity to have a satisfying interaction. If I go into a room in apology mode, I’m already asking someone else to take care of me. In an audition situation we are the solution bringers; we take care of the table people.

It’s super uncomfortable to let this apology habit go, but if we want to break through to giving full us when we do our thing, then that’s one thing that’s necessary.

And in the event that you do act like an ass, by all means, apologize.

Just Do One Thing

The number of things that we cannot control in an audition room are too many to count.

To name a few: who or what the creative team believe they need for the cast, the kind of day any of the table people are having, the accompanist your creative collaborator, the production/budget needs that dictate the makeup of the cast, the fact that you may look like the director’s ex, the fact you may be too tall, too short, too edgy, too vanilla, too too too too too tooooooo

Almost any actor can tell you of a time he or she walked into an audition room, sang a song, and left the room only to realize that there remained no actual memory of what just transpired.

I experienced this in a particularly embarrassing way when I booked a co-star role on a TV show in LA.

I was new to the TV and film audition world, and by some miracle I stayed focused and offered a decent read in the room with producers.

What did not occur to my 28-year-old brain after booking the job was to do a quick google of the producers’ names so that I’d know who was kind enough to give me a two-line chance.

When a nicely dressed woman approached me on the day and said hello, I introduced myself, and she said, “Yes, I know who you are. I gave you the job.”

Can someone take out their Blackberry (it was 2006) and locate the nearest hole into which I may crawl?

The point is…I had no memory of who was in that room that day because I was highly adrenalized as one wise teacher taught me to call it.

Here’s where today’s tip comes in.

This is what you do have control over in the audition room. Every audition is an opportunity for you to hone a skill. You can go in each time with one particular aim in mind.

Here is a list to get you started.

  • Today I’m going to make sure I’m exhaling and inhaling (this is 80% of success in a room, I’m convinced)
  • Today I’m going to SEE the elements in the room: the windows, the door, the ceiling, the curtains
  • Today I’m going to really see the accompanist and take my time (not too much time) to communicate my sheet music to her or him. I’m going to listen to the piano and collaborate.
  • Today I’m going to see, take in, and listen to the table people, even if all they say is “Thaaaank yoooou.”
  • Today I’m going to go in slow motion so that in this adrenalized state, I’m actually going at normal human speed.
  • Today I’m pretending that this is a rehearsal, and I’m going in to offer my best to this collaboration.

All of these goals help us get outside of ourselves so that we are working from generosity and courage rather than need and fear.

Next time you’re in an audition, an interview, a performance, or even at a party, pick one thing to do. Choose to soften your eyeballs and see what and who is around you. I guarantee it’s going to change your experience.

And if you get the job, for heaven’s sake, google the people before you show up for the first day of school.

Can I Have a Life and Be Successful?

I listened to a student a few weeks ago who sincerely asked me if it was possible to have a successful career in the theatre while maintaining other interests, family connections, and maybe even a healthy relationship with a significant other.

I told him that not only was it possible, but in my opinion it was necessary.

This student had some real anxiety because there were times when he wanted to spend time with friends who were business majors (how a music theatre major at Elon University even met a business major, I don’t know, but good job!), go see his family on weekends, and listen to music that wasn’t musical theatre.

I said, “All that sounds like you’re aiming to achieve some balance in your life.”

The student replied, “I look at some of my classmates, and it’s like they can eat, breathe, sleep this stuff. Some days I don’t want to do it at all.”

I told him about a friend of mine who was on a long-running tour who would call in periodically “sick of the show.”

Just because you love what you do doesn’t mean every day is charged with passion and excitement. Ask any writer who decides to put her butt in the seat when she’s feeling major resistance.

This conversation highlighted to me the myths or assumptions we create while watching what we think is going on with those around us.

In this case, it’s the very American message that success in our career validates us as human beings (I’ve believed it….still working on it), so we put all the eggs into that basket.

In college and through most of my twenties, my ego whirred like a shop vac and believed that when I was in a Broadway show, then I’d be a real boy. I could point to that and say I made it. (Please note I was pointing that out to imaginary others….who are these people our ego is trying to prove things to, anyway?)

I had a singular passion to succeed as a stage actor, and this affected every decision I made. I recall saying no to a few out-of-town trips in case I missed an audition opportunity.

There is a place for this singular focus. It helps us accrue all those hours Malcolm Gladwell tells us about. But I think it comes at a price.

Last fall I flew up to New York to attend an open call. I had not been to one in years, and it was nuts to see that all the people waiting in line were different but the same.

Lots of very resonant conversations about, “Oh, when I worked there….,” “What are you doing next???” (pretty dumb question, we’re both at an open call), “Oh, I heard they aren’t looking for….are looking for…afhuiebuiwaohfguawilfiwophgop)(*&^%^&*(*&!!! INTERNAL BRAIN EXPLOSION!

The sucking energy of that actor desperation…this is EVERYTHING–it made me feel sad because it was such a futile pursuit, and I also reflected on my years believing the same thing no matter how quiet or cool I tried to stay about it.

(I also ran into two former students in line for the same audition, so the real value of that experience was getting to give them a hug and tell them they’re doing great and it’s normal to feel mildly depressed and acutely anxious in your first few months (years?) in New York.)

Here’s the thing: if you walk into the audition room with a full life around you, you bring a generosity of spirit with you.

If you’re taking care of your spirit, your family connections, your friendships, getting your bills paid in some way that doesn’t completely vacuum your soul out, and perhaps you have a couple of creative projects you’re mulling or collaborating on, then you have something to go back to when you leave the room.

So, the full-life thing ends up being a really good tool for your career after all.



God Only Made One of You

I just walked through a very special rite of passage with the Elon Seniors: the spring casting directors/agent master class series.

Each year, the seniors pull together, raise thousands of dollars by themselves, and invite the industry’s top casting directors and agents to campus.

It is not for the faint of heart: imagine working all year to make sure you have every possible musical style and requirement in your audition book, understand what type you are, or think you may be one day, have a few good monologues in your back pocket just in case, organize several original Broadway combinations in your mind and body, get your pictures and resumes all set, try to get yourself in a good psychological headspace…all to hear vastly different points of view, reactions, and opinions from industry professionals who are the ones who help actors get jobs.

Aaaaahhhh. And people ask why actors act crazy sometimes; our career environment is antithetical to mental balance.

The seniors did a phenomenal job, and all this got me thinking about an essential question so many auditioners ask: What makes a person stand out?

I’ve also pondered this question after watching over 400 very talented students audition for a small number of spots in next year’s incoming class.

I will offer you my opinion  on this. There are the obvious steps of preparation and technical skill that we must display as actors and singers in the audition room. That’s a given.

I’m talking about the many many, actors who enter a room prepared and skilled and offer a performance that is lovely, nice, well done, and completely forgettable in the sea of lovely, nice, well done auditions.

Don’t panic, though. This is not about competition and numbers. This is about you.

I tell my students regularly, “God only made one you.”

And that’s the secret.

And that’s the most difficult thing to trust.

It feels like nothing. It feels like, “That’s it?”

But in order to stand out I have to DO something. I have to make them notice.

Sure, there are things we do to make the table people look up: choice of material, masterful execution. Sure.

But the real encounter, the thing that makes the other humans in the room have a substantial, real experience is when you open the door to your heart and trust what is there. Because what is there you didn’t make, and it’s beautiful and transcends all competition.

I often describe it like this: imagine you have double doors right on the front of your heart. You walk in the room, you open the doors, and you say “You’re welcome here.”

Sharing a song in a room is an act of hospitality. You are like a mansion, and you have no idea how beautiful the architecture is.

So let this be part of what you think about when you stand in an audition room or on any stage. You’ve done the work. You’re prepared. (If you’re not prepared, I can’t help you.) So just open the door.

And if you feel the door closing, you can simply re-open it the next time you breathe.



Beauty and the Resistance Compass

I didn’t post yesterday because I stopped writing mid-blog.

This is what I had written so far:

We sat on our front step this afternoon to breathe in the early spring-like weather (we like to call ourselves the neighborhood watch).

The trees looked like sculptures, and the sky looked like a Maxfield Parrish painting. I said, “It looks like a painting.”

Only it was an actual experience of beauty and warm breezy grace.

I often assign beautiful experiences that happen in my everyday life an alternate identity in a painting, a poem, or another locale: those clouds look like Parrish; that birch tree like a Frost poem; those grassy hills near the 101 Freeway I imagined were like the Scottish Highlands.

I did that ever since I was a kid…

Then I just closed the computer, listening intently to a voice that said, “What is your point? Who is going to care about this?”

The point I was trying to get to was that I think there’s a paradoxical both-and about experiencing beauty; there is something immediate and present and at the same time remote and longed for when we encounter it.

Stars, clouds, sunsets, mountains, ocean waves, Mozart, Rembrandt, Simon and Garfunkel :).

It gives me permission to enjoy the present while also letting whatever that thing is spark a forward-looking into the future, into the longed-for even if that’s unnameable.

The other point is that when we pick ourselves, create, share, hold ourselves responsible for adding beauty to the world, shame and resistance will come hand in hand and try to silence us.

I love what Seth Godin says about this, that when resistance kicks in, that’s when he knows he’s on the right path. It’s a compass.

Enjoy beautiful things. Make beautiful things. When resistance comes, lean your shoulder in and keep moving.



Man Flu Meditations

I write you this missive from the throes of man-flu.

Here are some things I’ve been reminded of between chills and sweats:

  • My grandma Frances always said “If you have your health, you have everything.” I want to take more moments to be grateful for health and energy.
  • The immune system is miraculous.
  • People at work can make do without me. My family shouldn’t have to.
  • I have a wonderful wife.
  • We are simultaneously strong and weak.
  • There is always something to be grateful for.

When It’s Right to Say Me

Can we all get clear on something?

Sometimes it is right and proper to use object pronouns.

The pronoun that suffers the most neglect: me.

Now, I admit: growing up in Surry County, it seemed as right as right could be to say to my mama, “Me and Ben (read: Bee-yun) are going down to the creek.”

But just because poor “me” has been misused, misplaced, and misconstrued as a subject pronoun doesn’t mean that we throw the grammar baby out with the object bathwater.

Quick example. “This means a lot to Melissa and ____.”

Y’all, it’s “me.”

Melissa and me.

There is a to before those people in that sentence, so I spy an object pronoun coming up.

Let’s do it again. Put yourself in this scenario. “The multiple Grammy Awards were awarded to my producer and ___.”

Yes! My producer and may! (It was a pop album.)

When in doubt, take the first person out of the list, and you’ll see what it’s sposed to be.

“The multiple Grammy Awards were awarded to my producer and me.”


If I can inspire just one of you to consciously embrace and hold fast to the object pronouns in your life, it will be so meaningful to you andme.:)



Are We Satisfied With How We’re Working?

Before I moved to New York when I was 23, I put together a pass-the-hat concert at the Andy Griffith Playhouse to raise some money to move.

My internal dialogue startled me when I walked out on the stage. : “YOU did this. You made this whole thing up and invited the people here, and you’re responsible for it.”

I mentioned in the last blog how giving ourselves things to commit to that people will see is a good way to inspire (or harangue) ourselves into action.

I mentioned this to a brilliant singer I know, and she said, “I have a concert in two weeks, and I haven’t looked at the music yet.” Mind you, she has a ton on her plate right now, but I thought of all the gigs when I’ve procrastinated my preparation.

I realized there can be a difference in our investment when we see ourselves as the hired talent as opposed to when we generate and produce the work.

I know there are disciplined actors who diligently prepare for the rehearsal process, but I know there have been several times when I showed up to a first rehearsal feeling disappointed for not providing myself ample nights’ sleep with the material I was hired to perform.

I don’t have the answer on this–the hired hand versus producer/generator contrast. I just thought it was an interesting difference to note–

And the real point is that anything we bring ourselves to is work that we are generating and producing ourselves.

We can invest anything we do with a kind of work that makes us feel satisfied. That is a very helpful standard: am I satisfied with how I’m working? We can invest anything we do with a kind of work that makes us feel satisfied. That is a very helpful standard_ am I satisfied with how I'm working_

I remember watching a very accomplished actress I worked with in LA do this. We were performing in a new musical that was bad.

As my people say, she made a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. She didn’t bitch about how bad the show was; she did her work, and she elevated the material. She was a lesson to me.



This Song’s Just Not That into Me

Today I entered a very important phase of rehearsal and song relationship: beginning to dislike the song and myself singing it.

I practiced today with a headache and some throat crud, and I was a little locked up. (Man with a headache!–ahhhhh–it was pretty dramatic, but I soldiered on.)

That’s why it’s good to give ourselves real things to commit to that people are going to see; they make us show up and do our work when we don’t want to.

At least that’s what works for me. For my ENFP self, intrinsic motivation lasts as long as the original excitement of the new idea.

(As I write this, I realize this means that I just need to schedule the date for the reading of the musical I’ve been kicking around and working on since, well 2012. That will make me actually finish the first draft.)

Creative relationship stages mirror our own human connections; we move into the part of relationship when the uglies come out, we have to navigate conflict, and here’s the ringer: we actually have to face ourselves.

The tough parts happen in all creative endeavor just like they do in our human interactions because we are the ones creating them. They come from us. So that means we have to meet ourselves.

If we truly develop an intimate relationship with a song, a role, a painting, a story, meaning that we’re going to break through to something real and meaningful to share, there will be friction and frustration.

When we put one foot in front of the other with an open heart and the willingness to look with love at what the challenges squeeze out of us, we do better work, and we can offer something more true and beautiful to those we want to share it with.


Speaking of Crack

Iyanla Vanzant wrote the bestseller Yesterday I Cried. 

I am hard at work on my own book: Today I Cracked. 

Practicing for an upcoming house concert of Richard Strauss and Stephen Sondheim, my friend Crack was right there with me. He’s never far away.

I happened to capture this magic moment in my trusty phone, and now I can share it with you.

(This is one practice technique that works well for me. Once I get to a certain stage of learning with a song, I’ll video myself to give myself a sort of observer. I’ll then go back and listen through the recording with my editor’s ear and mark my music accordingly, slow down and practice the sections that need more attention.)

Here’s the breakdown:

This is “Wie sollten wir geheim sie halten” from Strauss Opus 19, Lieder aus Lotusblätter.

:07 the crack happens on the text, “durch die Natur.”

:10-:20 you can see my 10-year-old OCD start-over-again impulse, then decision to work it out.

Then follows various elements with my own psyche and cell phone camera that you can diagnose for yourself.

Here’s what happened technically. You can spot some of these things from yesterday’s crack treatise.

  • “Natur” is pronounced [na-tʊr] 
    • [ʊ] is like the sound in book. I spot some oo-vowel trouble. That’s what happened. The vowel was too closed when I sang it, more like [u] (oo) than [ʊ].
    • I’m in an overdrive mode here, so [u]/oo no likee. It yodeled into neutral
  • The other factor for me was the [r] at the end of the syllable. Knowing what voiced consonant we’re heading toward can sometimes influence the current vowel we’re singing. In this case, the [r] idea brought the back of my tongue up as if I were going to say an American ‘r’ sound, and that disrupted the space in my vocal tract.

So then you can see me clarifying the vowel for myself and then doing whatever that is I’m doing communicating again with my cell phone.

But those two factors cleared it up.

And here’s a commitment to remembering this when I’m singing it in front of people on Feb 21.

I also missed a spot shaving.

In case you’re curious, here’s the text and a translation:

Wenn zwei in Liebe sich gefunden,
Geht Jubel hin durch die Natur,
In längern wonnevollen Stunden
Legt sich der Tag auf Wald und Flur.
When two souls have fallen in love,
Nature’s filled with exultation,
And daylight lingers on wood and meadow
In longer hours of rapture.
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