Pentecost

Pentecost

What was the moment like when fire crowns danced
On all the gatherd’s heads and outsiders traded
Tongues like keys to cities? What force entranced
Or spirit inebriated them? Pervaded
By supreme intelligence, their brains
And mouths translated wonders unspeakable,
And understanding fell like spring rains
Visiting the desert, sprouting unseekable
Truths from dormant seeds. What must that feel
Like, to give over your mind and voice
To the unknown language, syllables only real
On other soil now grafted by your choice?
The prophets said the spirit would be poured
On all, and what looked ruined would be restored. 

The conduit from heaven to cell

The conduit from heaven to cell

I read the story today about the woman
Who bled for twelve years and believed her healing
Arrived when Jesus came through (like an omen),
And if she could just get near enough, steeling
Her nerve through the throng, using what small 
Reserves of vitality she had for that day–
A widow’s mite–to spend for the chance to crawl
Through stronger, bigger bodies that looked away
From her in the streets since she was, after all, unclean.
She must have been low to the ground when her finger
Brushed the rough, dusty fabric — unseen
By her hungry neighbors, but felt by the life-bringer.
Was her faith-filled hand the conduit from heaven to cell?
Since the Healer said, “Your faith has made you well.”

And You Called Me by Another Name

I’ve had the privilege to be a part of Triad Stage’s production of Man of La Mancha this spring.

If you don’t know the show, it’s about an anachronistically Inquisition-imprisoned Miguel de Cervantes who defends himself to a rag tag tribunal set up by his fellow prisoners by enacting the story of a country squire named Alonso Quijana who fancies himself a knight errant named Don Quixote.

Don Quixote’s deal is that he sees things that we cannot see: Where we see an inn, he sees a castle; a windmill is an ogre to be vanquished; and when he meets a kitchen scullion who has a side hustle in sex work named Aldonza, he recognizes her as the lady to whom he will devote his victories and call upon in defeat, and her name is Dulcinea.

To me, Aldonza is the point of the show; she is the one dynamic character in the musical; the way Quixote sees her changes her.

Near the end of the show, she says to Don Quixote, “…and you looked at me, and you called me by another name: Dulcinea.

Every night as I hear this line, something moves in my guts. “You called me by another name.”

It makes me think of how the names we are called shape us, the ways we are seen. The ways we think we are seen.

What names come up to you when you think of this?

And then it always makes me ask, “What names do we call ourselves?”

If Aldonza transformed into Dulcinea because a man everyone said was crazy insisted on seeing her as that, how might we transform if we choose to call ourselves by another name?

How might we play a role in transforming those in our sphere if we choose to call them by another name?

I know enough about quantum physics to know that I don’t know anything about quantum physics, but I do remember that those brilliant scientists found out that by the very act of watching, the observer affects the observed reality.

So let’s see what happens if we observe those names and change them where necessary.

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.”

See?

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.:)

 

 

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