for people who break into song in real life

Category: Audition Advice (Page 1 of 3)

Who’s it for? — How I got more peace in my head and made the committee my ally. 

Journey with me back to my 20s any time I got an audition appointment. And witness me careen through the 12(?) stages of casting madness.

Stage 1: (212) area code calls. Hello, BroadWAY?

2: What’s the project? When’s it open? Who’s directing? What clever joke will I use for my custom opening night favors?

3: Wait, I have to learn the audition packet.

4: Better call my acting teacher, vocal coach, and numerologist.

5: Wait, look at the sides and the music!

6: Obsess. “What’re the table people looking for?” Examine the character breakdown forty-seven times to unlock the cypher that’ll reveal the perfect acting choices. (The numerologist didn’t come through on this.)

7: Finally, learn the material — enough so that I think that I know it, but not so much that I pour too much heart into it and get disappointed. And not enough to be in-my-body prepared when audition adrenaline kicks in. I can always blame it on self-sabotage.

8: Get to the audition right on time, maybe 90 seconds late depending on subways, humidity, and elevators.

9: Go in, smile, do the thing too quickly, look at my papers too much, and check in for signs of validation from the table folk.

10: Leave. Replay the event. Analyze every comment, question, and yawn for the next three days.

11: Check my phone every seven minutes to see if I missed a call from a (212).

12: The phone rings! It’s another audition. Repeat.

You need a breath? I do.

That’s better.

Last week, I chatted with a grad student who came to Boston from NYC; he was still adjusting to the SLOWER pace in Boston. I said I felt like New York was a neurosis nursery.

Not only were your hangups welcomed, but you could find two or three folks to sit with you at the Renaissance Diner and jib jab about commitment ambivalence for several hours.

The other morning on the train, I saw pieces of the afore-described brain torture show up.

I was batting around a couple book ideas. As I brainstormed, I wrote, “I’m afraid I’ll spin away at these ideas and then have nothing to SHOW for my work.”

Then I wrote down, “Show who?”

Well, I did write “whom,” but I didn’t wanna look like a complete grammar tool.

Isn’t that funny? That expression? Nothing to show for all my hard work.”

Seriously, to whoM are we showing these outcomes?

The 12 steps of tryout crazy you read above — all of those brain-guish exercises rely on imagining that someone’s looking at you. 

Many of us walk around with an imaginary committee opining on our choices, thoughts, and dreams. 

Comprised of a junior high bully, the teacher who said the thing that time, a nemesis, and chaired by a composite Disney villain step-parent, this imaginary crew influences our day to day.

You get so used to them that you act (or don’t) anticipating their reactions.

It’s exhausting.

May I offer a suggestion?

Thank them.

Why did you make up this crew in the first place? 

They probably started as your safety commission–a benevolent team that helped you navigate your early years: this big person likes it when you smile; this big person prefers you stay quiet; whatever you do, don’t tell this big person how you really feel about body piercings.

We become big people with our little people still running the back-end operations. 

So, that’s why we say thank you. 

This committee’s been seated to help us steer clear of all manner of life-threatening banishment. 

Their continued influence does get us all wiggle waggle when our bodies look like adults, though, doesn’t it?

Rather than our vision resting calmly inside us looking out to the world, we jerk the cables around and lock in to selfie stick mode. Then we’re selfie stuck.

So here’s some help —

👃🫁 Breathe. Through your nose. Small inhale, long exhale. About a minute.

🙏 Say, “Thank you, committee-that-I-made-up-to-keep-me-safe.”

🏞 Face the lens outward. 

Repeat as needed.

Then you’ll open-hearted see the outside while you have grace for your inside.

You’ll say things like, “Self, you get to try things out; Self, go ahead feel your feels; Self, it’s cool how you got to show up on the planet with all these other billions of selves.”

It’s a sweet place to be, I’ve found.

Hey, by the way, how’s your singing coming along? Are you enjoying it?

How’re your auditions in this post apocalypse self-tape landscape? (apocalypse in Greek actually means uncovering, and wow have things been uncovered, right?)

If you’ve hit snags, I can help you.

Email me and let me know what’s going on. Let’s talk.

If you’re in NYC or LA and want to meet with a real live human, I can recommend folks.

Or we can always hop on the Zoom and hash it out. Write me and ask me. Hit that reply button. I’m here for you.

Above all, remember that there’s only one you, and folks do indeed need to hear the story only you can sing. 

Love much,

dan

ps Happened upon this Tim Minchin feature on YouTube (You may know him as the composer for MATILDA). He talks about the fame experience as well as the camera-turned-toward-you phenomenon. Interesting journey. 

pps Have you ever read the Dr. Bronner’s soap bottle? I did yesterday, and one of the things encapsulates this dual-vision thing I’m talking about: “If I’m not for me, who am I? Nobody. Yet, if I’m only for me, what am I? Nothing. If not now, when?” He uses a lot more exclamation marks, though.

ppps And remember if you’re struggling with roadblocks vocal, creative, or career path, email me. Your singing can be free, your creativity flowy, and your work satisfying and clear. Tell me what’s going on. I’ll help you.

What’d I step on? 🐙 Ack! wooop $*@# BLUUURG — I’m okaaaaay

Noah and I explored the bracing waters of Nantucket Sound this week.

We examined seaweed samples, spied horseshoe crabs, and spotted shiny shells saying heeeeey from under the sparkly water.

It was one of those supersaturated perfection moments.

–where the self-conscious part of you wishes there were a photographer so you could prove to you friends, “No, really, this was the perfect New England Beach Day.”

This lil PB and J snacker’ll give you a clue.

Check that posture! He’s always calling out my slump.

While we waded, I was feeling the squishy sand through my toesies and pointing out a sailboat when my heel encountered something that was not seaweed.

Something springy, slimy, and vigorous writhed its way under the arch of my foot as if to say, “Hey! I’m LIVIN’ here!”

I acknowledged its communication with a falsetto WOOOP and a splashy hitch kick.

“Daddy! What’s wrong?” Noah asked.

“I stepped on something!” I explained.

“Daddy, why are we walking out of the water?”

“I need a lil break.”

“Daddy, what did you step on?”

“I don’t know, buddy.”

“What did it look like?”

“I didn’t stay close enough to look.”

As we toweled off on the beach, Noah was trying to work out why I hadn’t paused to observe the offended sea creature.

He repeated, “Daddy, what was that?” and “Daddy, were you scared?”

“Yes, buddy, I was startled. I didn’t know what I’d stepped on.”

I could see brain jigsaws interlock as he added, “Oh, Daddy’s scared of some things,” and “There’s stuff Daddy doesn’t know,” to his file labeled “The Way Things Are.” (Remember that from Babe?)

The ocean is unabsorbably beautiful, reminds you how teeny you are, and hosts all kinds of beings most human feet don’t wanna touch.

What you can’t see can be scawwy.

Like vocal technique.


It’s not straightforward like, “You put your left foot in, “ or “Press these two keys to start ‘Chopsticks.'” 

It’s your whole body asking several muscle groups in your torso to play nice with largely involuntary muscles in and around your throat collaborating with more interdependent functions than you knew existed from your throat to your lips.

Your tongue alone has 8 different muscles.

Craysssy. 

And it’s not like you can just look down and check if you’re doing it right.

The good news, though, is that there are indicators you can rely on, and there are things your body already knows how to do.

You wanna try an experiment and see?

(inspired by a terrific thesis by one of the MFA grads I got to advise. Thanks, Evan Rees.)

Here you go. (May wanna do this alone or on a busy street/train platform where no one will likely hear or care.)

  1. 🐣 Pretend you’re holding a lil baby or a sweet animal, and sing a lullaby or a scale on [u]/oooo.
  2. 🎵 Sing it in different keys, and notice that your voice naturally knows how to soothe this sweet lil being.
  3. 🦹🏻‍♂️ Now pretend that a malevolent person tries to hurt your beebee.
  4. 🗯 Call out, “Hey!”
  5. 🎼🗯 Follow that impulse again, and slide ‘Heeey” on an interval, a fourth or a fifth.

What’d you notice?

Your voice is built-in ready when you’re meeting an unfolding sitch.

Your neurons know how to soothe a scared puppy and how to repel an invader.

This intel is crucial for theatre singers because the circumstances you’re imagining change the shape of your vocal tract.

Now, can you tell me something?

What is your number one vocal/storytelling question right now?

Because if you email me back and ask me, I can help you out. 

I mean it. Hit reply and atst — vibrato, breathing, unmanageable stage farting. I’ve heard it all. 

or

If you could make up a magical class or voice lesson, what problem would it solve for you?

It can be an impossible ask like, “I want my class to earn me a Pulitzer Prize for Journalism.” I mean, I can’t help you with that, but I do wanna know what your perfect class would do for you (or any singing storyteller you care about.)

Email me back and tell me.

And remember most of all, there’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing.

Love much,

Dan

ps We’re heading back to regular land life today, so I’ll have some lesson avail. If you wanna sing freer, love what you’re doing, and bring joy to the room, email me back, and we’ll get to work. 

pps Have you watched Joe Papp in Five Acts on PBS yet? I haven’t, but I plan to because all my snobby theayter friends say it’s terrific. 

ppps This was clearly a working vacation since I also shot a series of looks for an upcoming fragrance they’ve asked me to promote. 🙃 They’re still focus-grouping, but I think it’s gonna be called Panic at the Seashore.  

Pizza Box Solution — and breakfast tricks for your singing AND 🍳 poached eggs

You know those “before” parts of infomercials where the person is having an existential crisis?

They’re trying to hang their trousers in their cluttered closet, and they trip over a stray belt and crumple into an anguish heap on the bedroom floor.

Or they’re incinerating a grilled cheese in an aluminum pan over a red-hot electric stove, coughing as they’re enveloped in smoke and clasping their ears as the alarm screams?

I found this one, too. This gent’s physical comedy skills are top notch. I give him a full Sham-wow.



We’ve all lived the problem stage before the low-laryngeal baritone voiceover says, “Introduuuuciiiing…..

That’s a joke in our house when we’re struggle-bussing in plain view.

We say, “I’m an infomercial over here.”

That was me a couple mornings ago.

Even while it was happening, I said to Melissa, “I’m going to write about this.”

Then, later that afternoon, I said, “What was that thing that happened this morning when I said I was an infomercial?”

Neither of us could remember.

I clearly missed the one-time-offer for the memory supplement.

So, I decided I’d share three useful, unrelated tips that I DID remember this week that I thought would make your life (artistically and otherwise) better.

I mean, some of these are even directly related to singing and auditioning.

🎥 Self-Tape Pizza Box Confidence and Freedom Booster

It’s very clear — the self tape is here to stay. I did one this very week.

I like to be off-book for an audition because, you know, looking up and acting and stuff.

But this week proved prohibitive in the grey matter department.

I wasn’t quite showtime ready, so I used my trusty cue-card sides trick.

I’m surprised I haven’t heard more people share this. Or maybe I’m not reading the right Broadway World online community chats.

This is what you do —

Type up your sides in bullshit-bullshit-MY-LINE-MY-LINE format. Make your lines super easily readable

Leave a gap in the middle of the page.

Print.

Dig that Amazon Prime box out of your recycling, cut out a paper-sized rectangle, and glue your sides to the cardboard.

Cut or Exacto knife a rectangle in the middle or side of your pages that’s bigger than your camera/phone lens.

Clip these to your phone or tripod in whatever creative way that allows your eye line to be just off camera to your scene partner. A strategically placed music stand can also save you rigging headaches here.

And hit record.

And don’t do too many takes. I find the second one is almost always the best one. You peak, and then it’s downhill a lot of the time.

If you’re a visual learner, this is what my last round looked like. And I didn’t need the cuts after all. I used a music stand.



🎵 Audition Song What-Did-You-Have-for-Breakfast Trick

Your song coach told you that time to come up with an imaginary scene partner, pick a spot on the wall, pretend that was their face, and go.

Thing is, you and I have all seen the singers who get stuck on that spot and end up singing “On the Street Where You Live” like a stalker who finally cornered their stalkée.

In real life, our eyeballs move because our thoughts move.

So, here’s the tip to get you feeling more like a human when you sing.

Think about what you had for breakfast.

Now think about what you had for breakfast and notice where your eyeballs move.

That’s your memory spot, one of the places where your eyes move when you go into your internal brain space.

When you do that, I’m all like, “What’re you thinking in there?”

We go in there all the time to pull out memories, grab that word we can’t quite bring up in the rolodex, or to ruminate over that awkward interaction we had with the woman at the grocery store.

(Seriously, though, Melissa almost saw fisticuffs in the Market Basket produce department yesterday. Someone papaya-blocked somebody, I guess. I don’t have to tell you people done lost they mind these days.)

Back to your breakfast.

Yeah, make your memory eyeball spot a frequently visited friend.

Another cheap trick aspect of this — if you haven’t had time to do proper homework on your material (or you’ve practiced professional procrastination), this is a good way to allow some specifics from your subconscious to populate your storytelling.

Just be prepared for random thoughts about pop tarts or second-day T-shirts with suspect pit smell to emerge from the mind sea. 

🍁🍁🍁 Sometimes you gotta pick up two handfuls of dead leaves and throw them back.

I took the boys to the town forest yesterday to search for the witches’ caves.

I think they’re cute.



Noah discovered the joy of picking up dirt and leaves and throwing them at Daddy.

Usually down the back of my cargo camos when I was bending down to pick Jude up from his latest rock-trip.

“Noah, stop!” my humorless, tired morning self said.

He couldn’t stop laughing. And throwing more leaves.

So…

I remembered my days as a kid when we turned the tobacco field behind our house into a GI Joe war zone and had dirt clod fights. The furrows made good trenches, and we’d hurl dried clumps of red clay at each other hoping there wasn’t too sharp a rock hiding inside.

It was good, dirty fun.

And a laundry nightmare for my mom.

But I remembered. And it was on.

We ran our way out of the woods hurling leaves at each other and laughing all the way.

Well, except for the time Noah kept throwing dirt down my pants, and I got angry that he wouldn’t stop, took a wrong turn, panicked a little, told everybody to just hush for a second, and had to get out my phone to figure out which way south was.

Other than that, it was a blast. And there was a lot of dirt to scrub out of heads at bath time.

The moral — when would a good ole yes-and serve the situation?

Later that day, Noah said, “Daddy, I loved it when you started playing with the leaves with us. Daddy, why’d you do that?”

Note to self— maybe check for more opportunities to chill out and have a lil basic fun.

There you go.

Next time you’re feeling all

Take some time to

🤣 chuckle at self

📦✂️ organize your self-tape supply closet

🧠 practice thinking about what you had for breakfast

and

🍁 be on the lookout for quality leaf fight opportunities

And in the meantime, remember there’s only one you, and folks need to hear the song only you can sing.

LOVE MUCH (I’m belting),

Dan

ps speaking of breakfast, I tried this Julia Child trick for poached eggs, and after a couple of operator errors, I’m here to report it works well.

Pro tip, use a kitchen towel to help you push the safety pin into the egg. You’ll see.

pps Here’s some history on the witches’ caves in our town forest.

ppps Remember if you need any lessoning or vocal troubleshooting this summer, I’m zoomable. Just email me back here, and we’ll set up a time for you. I’m here if you need me. 🎵

Ungoogle-ables: Train revolution revelations and YouTube. You too?

One morning this week, I woke up and tip toed (so as not to wake the bairns) my way down to the coffee maker.

I got things brewing, drank some water, and pulled my phone from the charger in the living room.

The little white arrow in the red box beckoned me, and I obediently tapped.

ummm


I scrolled through the offerings and got increasingly agitated.

None of the click bait headlines were baiting my click.

“Algorithm, why have you let me down?”
I queried.

[I’ve logged more YouTube screen time since the invasion in Ukraine. Okay, that’s a lie. My YouTube time was already ample, but recent geopolitical events have goosed my stats.]

I comb the site for a reputable news source to tell me that Vladimir Putin has been vaporized.

My searches have proven fruitless thus far.

But that morning, I took note.

I was enmeshed with and dependent on my AI frienemy.

My internal monologue: “YouTube, you know I enjoy a good “A Closer Look” with Seth Myers, but come on, the Android monitors my every word. I’d think you’d understand my viewing need nuances as I wait for the BOGO Café Verona to percolate.

Then

later that morning as I took the train into work,

I did something utterly shocking.

Revolutionary.

I looked out the window.

I knoooow. Right?

I sat in my seat, and I watched the boulders, muddy Natick backyards, bougie Wellesley boutiques, and reservoirs go by.

I wondered, “Who lives there?”

“Who dumped that vinyl couch by the tracks??”

and

“How did that graffiti artist shimmy down that bridge?”

Reminded me of when I played Philadelphia with Phantom, and I stayed with the Ledger family out in Malvern. I took the SEPTA every show day, and all I had for ocular occupation was Pillars of the Earth and the Bryn Mawr station.

But nowadaze, you know the drill.

We’re all up in our screens.

I’m looking at a screen as I type this to you right now…on the train. (Although I’m attempting to type and look out the window, too.)

See?



And what are we missing? And what mysteries are we not getting to be baffled by? Like that couch!

That morning waiting for the coffee, I realized I’d given my agency to the algorithm.

I didn’t even take the step of going to the google machine to type in, “When is Vladimir Putin scheduled to be vaporized?”

Nope, like some laboratory mammal, I let the YouTube slow-drip the control group serum to my eager limbic receptors.


[***Quick tangent*** The train conductor just said, “Wellesley Squa-ah next, no no, Wellesley Fahms next. Wellesley Fahms.”***

That’ll never get old to my silly hillbilly ears.]


But yeah—the algorithm and the train window (The title of my next musical)— They got me thinking about you.

You know how we actory singery folk get when it comes to jobs?

Who’s gonna hire me? What’s trending? What do the table people want? What Olivia Rodrigo hook should I mash up with “Poor Wandering One” and a triple pirouette?

🤯

We’re waiting around all Daisy and Violet belting, “Who will love me as I aaaaaaam???”


But here’s the good news.

You don’t got to get this job, and I’ll put money on the fact that you’re not a conjoined twin. (In-Sideshow reference from above. Sorry not sorry.)

Therefore, there is no physical constraint placed upon you that would dictate any limitation on your creative path.

I’m surrious.

The thing that scares us the most (at least me, it does) is that there is SO MUCH possibility, not an opportunity drought.

Just ask me.

I submitted a few self-tapes this spring for summer work.

I was proud of em.

Response?

🦗🦗🦗

So, I could look at that and think,

(Molto drammatico)
“There just isn’t a place for me this summer. No opportyuuuunities.”

But thing is, there is. And there are.

I can make them up.

I can make up about five right now, and that’s not even counting garage organization and tax filing.

What’s coming to mind for you right now?

What idears did you talk into your Google Keep?

What if you opened that note and talked a few more ideas underneath that?

You might come up with something crazy and fun.

It might not pay your bills. Might even cost you.

But what if it knits community and connection for you and your people?

What if it’s the thing that makes someone laugh, cry, or feel beauty and meaning?

In my experience, that transcends a project’s ability to make money.

I mean, Anyone Can Whistle closed on Broadway after five minutes, but dang I’m grateful Mr. S wrote that score. 

And if you make money, too, I’m so happy for you.

And then there’s this cray cray notion —

What if you sat and looked out the window?

I know, right?

Now, that’s the thing we’re all relentlessly fending off while gazing at these 2D configurations.

Sitting. Looking. Noticing questions that aren’t google-able.

It’s way too Rilke for most of us.

I encourage you to try it, and I’d love to hear how it goes. Maybe take a pic out your window with that phone you’re not looking at. 

In the meantime, remember, for reals— There’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing.

Love much,

Dan

ps Today’s our Noah Bear’s fourth birthday. I can’t even believe it. I even typed “first“ in that last sentence. Our sweet miracle Cinco de Mayo baby.


pps This is what I meant when I said “way too Rilke.” Rainer Maria Rilke from Letters to a Young Poet



One thing that’s not a question? You’re terrific. Now go look out a window 💙.

Whose Idea WAS This?

🚂 The Commutah Rail was only runnin’ four double deckahs a couple weeks ago, so I wondered where everybody was gonna sit as the train dinged its way to the Framingham platform.

When the conductor got off the train, he confirmed my query when he smiled through his mask, “I dunno where you’re all gonna sit.”

After months of low pandemic ridership, this sardine situation was new.

But I spotted an open seat next to a kind looking person and asked if I could park myself next to her.

By the time we reached Natick, I knew she was going in for an educational meeting for school counselors, and she knew I was going in to teach young voices to screlt at the BoCo.

I learned about her background in childhood development, her teaching for future guidance counselors, and her research in gender; and her husband was working on a musical documentary project tracing the history of suffrage in the United States. Only in Boston, right??

We had a delightful chat, so I invited her and her hubster to come to my faculty recital. She recommended several great Boston restaurants, and after all that we finally told each other our names.

It was a great morning getting to know Barb.

Then last Saturday at my recital, I spotted her and her husband on the second row in Seully Hall.

As I sang the Strauss portion of the program, I saw them wiping their cheeks in my peripheral vision, and as I tried to keep all my German images straight in my head, I also thought, “If they hadn’t run just the four double deckahs that day, I wouldn’t have met Barb.”

Here’s a shot from the action on Saturday. 🙂

We got to chat afterward, and both of them reflected on how terrific it was to be in a hall with live performance again. We’ve all been starved for these chances to hear music and heal. It’s gonna be a while in recovery, I have a feeling.

This whole week had me thinking about you, though. As my recital approached, I kept asking in my brain, “Whose idea WAS this anyway??”

Do you do that? Start a creative idea full of excitement and then about two-thirds of the way down the development or rehearsal road, you imagine loading up the El Camino and driving as fast as you can in the opposite direction?

That’s all of us.

Singing songs for folks takes a lot of practice, and you never know what’s gonna shake down in the moment of the thing. There’s trust and faith involved after all that prep.

All this to say I think you should still make stuff up and do it.

And invite all the folks to it.

You never know when you’re gonna meet Barbara on the train and give her and her husband a much-needed afternoon of healing music.

Healing. Or as Jude used to say— Heawing.

That’s the highest goal that we have as singers. We breathe in free oxygen, then we get to vibrate that back out in artfully crafted frequencies.

Keep doing that.

Listen for folks around you who inspire you and light up your soul. That’s who you’re supposed to be working with.

My incredible collaborator 🎹 for Saturday, Scott Nicholas—I heard him play master’s program auditions at school and thought to myself what is this gut-honey wizardry I’m hearing??

So, I emailed him and told him his piano playing made me feel bumble bees in my nethers, and would he wanna make music together(?). He said hell yes, and now this is the beginning of a terrific partnership.

So that’s the lesson for this week. Keep making stuff up, putting things together, and invite all the folks you can. Someone will be there wiping tears that they needed to cry out for several months.

And in these times, we all have a big reserve of those.

Most of all, remember that there’s only one of you, and folks need to hear the story that only you can sing.

Love much,

Dan

ps Noah and Jude warming up backstage before the recital 



ps and this is the gold of getting to be a teacher — students who become your friends and take the bus form NYC to come see your recital. Love you, Justin Norwood

I’m Sorry and Other Gifts — a theatre moment I’ll never forget, and why you gotta keep singing

I’ve been working with a student on a song from High Fidelity this semester called “I’m Sorry.” Or “Laura, Laura.” I don’t know which is the official title.

The first reminds me of the dramatic strains of The Platters’ 1954 hit. That’s not the one we’re working on. But side note for your own research—The Platters recorded some great tunes.

The song I am talking about, I first heard in a staged reading of High Fidelity back in LA, geez, like 12 years ago produced by Musical Theatre Guild, the terrific company I was a member of.

You may know the film starring John Cusack which was based on a Nick Hornby novel. Musicals and their provenance, I tell you.

Aaaaanyway—By Act 2, the lead guy, vinyl record store owner Rob, has a Damascus Road experience and realizes how his constant side-glance to the bigger better thing took his gaze off of the invaluable love in front of him.

It’s a pretty rock ballad, and my student, Nick, sings it great. I keep yelling at him to take out gratuitous riffs, but if I were as good a riffer as he is, I’d put too many in, too.

I told him how I’d never forgotten this one moment at the Alex Theatre in Glendale, California.

After all the boollshit this guy puts his ex-girlfriend, Laura, through, he finally sees it, looks right at her, and tells her all he’s done that hurt her and their relationship.

And this is why I’ll never forget the moment in the theatre.

Will Collyer, the actor playing Rob, and Robin DeLano, the actor playing Laura, stood downstage center. Will looked right into Robin’s face, standing profile to the audience and just sang the whole song right to her.

That was the blocking–look at her and sing the song.

I’ll never forget it.

After the lesson teaching the song that day, I had to throw up a social post reminding the director, Richard Israel, how that was such a special two-plus minutes.

It was heartwarming to read all the comments from friends who remembered that moment, too.

You got a memory like that? A sweet-savory morsel of theatre experience that arrives like a surprise chocolate box when you hear a certain song?

That’s soul medicine. It’s beauty. It’s gratitude, and it’s us recognizing us in each other.

Just imagine how things might look different if we were able to do more of that.

All this to say–what we get to do matters to folks.

More than one student has come into the studio this past week wondering how their pursuit of being a musical storyteller matters in the face of the unbelievable suffering happening in the world.

I wonder the same thing.

While we’ve learned in the last 2 years that getting to stand on a stage in front of people depends on a ton of things going well, it doesn’t mean that what we do is frivolous or a luxury.

When Will stood on the Alex stage and sang that ballad to Robin, he opened his heart and shared the deep healing that happens when we tell another human that we understand how our actions hurt them.

To stand in that place with open hands and ask another human to forgive you is a gift.

To hear someone say, “Yes, what you did hurt me, and I’m going to erase that from my ledger over here,” is Tiger Balm for your heart.

And when we forgive each other on stage singing beautiful melodies with stick-to-your-feels images, all that music and poetry psychs out the stubborn, cross-armed bridge troll in our brain, and we start to set our hearts a little freer.

I mean, you’re a musical theatre nerd. Haven’t you asked yourself if you woulda said you gave Valjean the sliver candlesticks like that low-voiced priest did?

This question–do we keep singing while the world burns?–also brings up our universal human need to practice comparative suffering.

I teach another student who received a challenging medical diagnosis just before starting his studies at the BoCo. When I ask, “How you doin’ today?” he’ll often respond, “Aw, could be worse. People are going through much more.”

Yes, both statements are true. 

And then I remind him that just because the guy next to me is a triple amputee doesn’t mean I don’t hit the cut on my hand with peroxide, Neosporin, and a Paw Patrol bandaid.

I’ve been trying to hold my weeping at the news footage of the Ukrainian father sobbing at the head of his 16-year-old-son’s murdered body together with the deep gratitude, guilt, and relief I feel when I tuck my boys into a safe, warm bed at night.

I can’t imagine his suffering, and looking right at it shows me that the grace my life overflows with is something I want to cherish and share.

Telling musical stories matters, and the way you tell musical stories matters. The way you show up to sing one day could be that heart and honesty morsel someone saves for a devastating day. 

Because remember, there’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing.

Love much,

Dan
 

ps The YouTube algorithm delivered a moment of healing beauty and grace to me this week. I was about to ignore and go to the next doom news video, but it started before I could intervene. 

Take a moment to watch and listen to this Beethoven’s 9th Flash Mob in Tokyo. I may have been shoulder-bounce crying as I packed our picnic lunch yesterday.

pps You wanna learn from a really smart director like Richard Israel? You can! Here’s his website. And here’s where you can find out how to work with him. I recommend. 

ppps You know I gotta hit you with the latest New England cold-ish beach pics. We had a quick day trip out to Nantasket Beach/Hull, Mass. I love being an hour from the water–the ocean’s healing.




pppPs One more thing—I’m prepping for a faculty recital at BoCo Saturday April 9 at 2pm, so mark your calendars if you wanna catch the live stream. Or come to Boston! The school’s open to outside visitors attending performances now. It’ll be the music of Richard Strauss and Stephen Sondheim. I’ll keep you posted!

Thank You, Trauma? 🧳 Your baggage has great news for you.

Hellerrrr You Brilliant Resilient —

I’m a late processor. Late for what? I’m not sure.

I’m a take-my-time processor. That’s it.

When I was in London, 🇬🇧my voice instructor would sometimes pour us both a whiskey and ginger before a lesson (in tea mugs).

I remember the end of one session while another was beginning, she sent me to the corner off-licence for supplies. That’s when 22-year-old me learned what a Moscow Mule was.

At some lessons she was sweet as pie, and other lessons she said things to me that made my throat catch, my stomach clinch, and tears sting my eye corners.

I never knew which teacher I’d be seeing that day. And I wondered why I felt stressed biking down to Brixton every week.

A year after I’d moved to NYC, I was walking down Second Avenue when in an 8-part harmony angel choir theophany moment 🎶, I stopped in my tracks and said out loud, “Sylvia was an alcoholic!”*

I just thought all Londoners drank that much. I did bartend in a pub, so I had plenty of evidence.

But yeah. A little slow in the evidence assimilation there.

As I tell you that, a list of dodged bullets runs like a dang-that-was-close news ticker through my young adult years.

You see, for various reasons in my childhood, my mind learned to file potentially painful information in the “Process Much Later” file. 🗂

While this has caused problems (ask the active paperwork inbox in my still-unpacked studio), it’s also brought benefits.

I’ve navigated scenarios so chaotic that if you proposed them in script form to Lifetime TV, they’d tell you to bring them something realistic.

My brain created all kinds of back door exits in response to life traumas that are very handy escape hatches when I encounter crap-tastic circumstances.

Don’t get me wrong. My lil-Dan coping mechanisms have wreaked their share of havoc.

Thousands of dollars worth of therapy and credit card interest later, I’m here to tell you I’ve come to a spot where I can usually meet my psyche’s brilliant survival tactics with understanding and gratitude.

They even work in my favor sometimes.

Big emotional event?–My mind organizes the ordeal into the deal-with-later file, and I know one day I’ll let the snot and tears dribble. But today I may just have to pay bills.

What are the things that little you did to cope that keep showing up today?

Did you know that your voice tells you about these kid skills too?

👅Tongue tension, for example, is often a belief that you need to press back your expression because you might have run into negative consequences for letting out your feels.

😣Pharyngeal constriction (intense whispery/constrained feeling) can link to earning love through meeting a perfectionistic/impossible standard.

🫁And hypofunctional phonation (not enough breath energy for a vibrant sound) can shine a light on areas where you’ve judged you don’t deserve things.

I remind myself, and I tell my students that these things are all tryina help you.

Your tight tongue is protecting you from the danger your expression got you in in the past.

Your constricting pharynx is trying real hard to keep you doing the things that get you love and acceptance.

And that stingy air flow is keeping that story alive about not deserving nice things so you don’t have to grieve over the years you’ve ID-ed with the deprivation that got shellacked on you as a kid.

I’ll often ask a student to pause and meditate into the spot that’s not doing what they want it to do.

They have a little conversation with their tongue root or their pharynx, and just like when you ask anybody a genuine question with the desire to understand, those parts of the body speak up.

When we can meet the parts of ourselves that seem to be getting in the way with empathy and compassion, we learn a lot.

I guarantee you it’s a lot more effective than shouting, “JUST RELAX!”

This week I invite you to notice the patterns little intelligent you cooked up to survive, and maybe give your baby psyche some props for their resilience brilliance.

When we invite these things to share their stories with us, they can mellow out, and they can even integrate themselves into some healthy adulting if we can partner with them in a gentle and conscious way.

And remember, beautiful you with your intricate assortment of survival skills, there’s only one of you, and folks need to hear the story that only you can sing.

Love much,
Dan

ps *re: my London story, names have been changed, and I still talk out loud to myself on city streets.

pps here’s the bar where I worked in London. The Havelock Tavern. Still there in Brook Green. I enjoyed working there, and it’s where my love of cooking started.

It’s Always a Prius 🚗 — A shoutout to the hybrids — and encouragement that it’s worth it

Hey There DMV Daredevil–

I drove to NYC this weekend to teach and see some of my former student supahstahs be fabahlahs at 54 Below.

On my way down Interstate 84 through Massachusetts’s autumnal glory🍁, I found myself in a behind-2-cars-going-similar-speeds-side-by-side situation.

When the offending left lane pokey butt finally moseyed to the right, it was like Star Wars reverse wrap speed in my little green Scion as a stream of harried New Englanders whooshed by–very eager to get to Connecticut on a Saturday morning.

The car causing all this kerfuffle? A Prius. It’s always a Prius.

I normally refrain from always and never in my moral pronouncements, but you tell me, even if you are a responsible and considerate Prius driver (and I know several), does this truth not bear out in your experience?

After the Escalades with Greenwich dealer plate frames barreled by, I scooted my lilttle electric wasabi butt around my fellow Toyota motorist and made my merry way Manhatttan-ward. 

Side note, I was excited to take a leisurely Saturday morning drive along the Merritt Parkway, but folks be cray on that road. I was like, calm down, people. Can you not see the stone bridges, 50 mph speed limit signs, and lack of shoulder? 

Prii (Pree-eye), though, they always make me think of life’s unexpected delays.

You had any of those lately?

On Saturday, I got to teach not one, but two of my dear students from LA days–back in the little blue singing cottage on Vineland Blvd.

Those were some days. I swear I encountered more wildlife in and around that building in North Hollywood than I did growing up in the cowntry in NC.

I lost one student when a mouse decided to run across a rafter mid-lesson, and there was also the possum-raccoon death match 🦝in the crawl space that I heard while updating quickbooks. The loser of that battle alerted my olfactory senses to the altercation’s outcome about four days later. (It was the possum.)

But back to my LA beebees. One I started teaching when she was 12 and her email address included the words “onbroadway,” and the other had just finished up at USC.

Saturday, my 12-year old Broadway dreamer showed up a 25-year-old performer with NYU degree in hand and tons of skill, and my USC grad recently earned their masters at ACT and is navigating this new landscape as a trans actor.  

In both lessons we looked at the shape of the industry as far as we could understand it today, and after some discussion, we shrugged our shoulders and said, “Let’s sing.”

In both conversations, I came back to the same truth–storytelling is worth it.

I looked at both of these tremendous artists that I had the privilege to share some time with on Saturday, and I saw a world of possibilities in both of them.

💛I saw collaborations with friends
🌱creating new work in small-ish rooms that would ask new questions that would have to travel to bigger rooms one day
💡new points of view that I’d never considered that these two beautiful voices would sing about. 

Yes, the industry’s a cluster. And commercial theatre is gonna make choices that make money. We know this. 

The new voices we want to hand the microphone to, that’s on you and me. And small beginnings are beginnings.

The industry might feel like the Prius going under the speed limit in the left lane. But eventually, a lane will open. Hell, you might even have to drive on the shoulder for a little while. And then there’ll be times when you just have to make your own road. 

And this brought me back to the central truth of why most of us are here. We love stories. We wanna tell them. We wanna sing them. And I’m here to tell you that it’s worth it.

You can tell them. You can sing them. And I believe you can even create ways to pay your bills doing it. 

I wrote a musical. I started working on it in 2012. It’s been percolating, plot changing, song shifting. Characters have appeared and disappeared.

To go further it has to get on its feet, and I need collaboration. 

But here’s the thing–if it doesn’t go any further, I’m so grateful I wrote it. Writing it has been precious, and living in the story has made me a better human. 

I haven’t made any money from it. Not many folks know about it or have heard the songs. 

But so far, it’s been worth it. 

What you do is worth it. By itself, it’s worth it.

So let’s take the thing and take steps to share it because chances are there are folks out who’d be touched, moved, delighted, and maybe healed by your courage to open your heart and invite them in.

No shade to hybrids, you silent shifty vehicles. You help us slow down, and maybe you even saved us from an unpleasant altercation with an Escalade from Greenwich later. Who knows?

One thing I DO KNOW–There’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing.

Love much,
dan

⏱ You Don’t Have to Play the Game —

Today’s the Boston Marathon.

How many it’s-not-a-sprint-it’s-a-marathon 26.2 sticker clichés can you pull up?

I get the whole long-haul wisdom of the massive distance race imagery. The thing about this analogy is that it’s filled with stressful givens–

🏃🏾‍♂️There’s a slew of lean game-face runners with their numbers pinned to their shirts ready to pound you into the pavement.

⏱It’s a one-time event.

🛌There are no nights of sleep involved (or other forms of rest).

🏆There can only be one winner.

Enter your life as an artist and/or singer. You look around at all the create-y people around you, and someone said “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” and not only do you think there’s a race, but you think y’all are competing for the same finish line.

A ridiculously talented and beauty-hearted student came to their lesson this week, and when I asked them what they were liking about school, they said, “The people.” 🙌

When I asked them what was tough, they said, “Feeling like I have to catch up.” 😥

Number one I was so grateful this student opened up and shared this with me. We took a few minutes to play around with this thought—I have to catch up.

The student was so game and willing. We took that thought–I have to catch up— and asked, “Is that true?”

It was a gift for me to watch this singer go right inside to their heart to see what the answer might be. Very quickly, I saw the student’s face open like sunshine peaking behind a cloud.

They told me there was nothing to catch up to, nothing to compete with, nothing to do but do their stuff and learn their things.

And as they imagined their peers succeeding, a bubbly joy fizzed up in the room.

Then they sang their song, and I freakin cried because their heart was so wide open and beautiful. I have the best job. 

When I compete, I contract. I compare. I look outside and ask what’s the minimum I have to do to be better than.

Competition can be really fun when there’s a game and agreed-upon rules.

But artists get really jacked up when we start to make up a rules-y game where there isn’t one.

You hear folks say, “You gotta play the game.” What game is that, exactly?

Thing is, when you show up and do your work in a way that brings you satisfaction, find the people who can help you do your work with skill and generosity, and share that work, things start to move.

People start to say thank you. And then surprises start to happen.

People you don’t know hear about you from those people who said thank you before, and they ask you if you wanna come play. And so on.

Let’s review—

👋🏽 Show up

💛 Talk to/invest in your people—coaches, teachers, collaborators

🤲🏽 Share your things in all the ways you can

⚽️ This gets rolling.

(But it’s not a game!)

It is, however, fun! And scary. And challenging. And terrific. And unfamiliar. And satisfying.

Truth is, some things (most things) take longer than we want (double marathon category), and some things show up more quickly than we feel we’re ready for.

Both things are a mercy.

I look back on the things I wanted when I was in my 20s, and if I’d had the skill and integration to get those things, I’m not convinced I had the character to sustain.

Delays in my life have been gifts.

Didn’t feel like that at the time, of course, but the look-back is instructive.

So, if you’re racing and you’re tired, I invite you to look at the reality around you. Are all these crazy folks even competing in the same event?

Maybe you can stop by one of those nice people holding the paper cones of cold water and orange slices, catch your breath, and ask yourself what kind of course you even want to be on.

Here’s permission.

And no matter what course you’re jogging down today, remember that there’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story on only you can sing.

Love much,
Dan

So Simple it Might Piss You Off ❤️ — how to be incomparable, love bombs, and captivating

Hey Care Bear —

Today’s a big birthday for a dear mentor, teacher and friend—One of the biggest reasons I do what I do.

I met Catherine McNeela at a singing competition when I was in high school.

I remember thinking she dressed a lot cooler than the other teachers parading their prize pupils around the halls of whatever college we were at.

She invited me to study Music Theatre at Elon College after kindly counseling me on the phone that one of Tevye’s monologues I learned for the Mount Airy High School production of Fiddler on the Roof wouldn’t be the best selection for my audition.

I followed her advice and performed an equally ill-chosen speech from Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing.

After singing “Vittora mio core” and then doing my very best Alan Campbell impression of “Sunset Boulevard” –complete with jacket-over-the-shoulder cross stage right– the folks at Elon said, “He can sing. Let’s hope we can teach him to act and dance.”

I rolled up the next fall not knowing a jazz shoe from a Reebok. And you shoulda seen my face when they explained what a dance belt was.

I arrived in Cathy’s studio a very capable brain 🧠 attached to a disconnected, terrified body.

One day I sang “Anyone Can Whistle.”

I’d struggled through the rep Cathy’d assigned me that semester—unable to connect, clueless about how to move air out of my face, and singing flat a lot. Womp womp.

That day, though, I stood in the crook of the piano, Sharon LaRocco, piano goddess of the ages on the keys 🎹, looked into the corner behind Cathy’s door and sang,

“What’s hard is simple.
What’s natural comes hard.
Maybe you could show me
How to let go
Lower my guard
Learn to be FREE 🦋
Maybe if you whistle…
Whistle for me.”

Cathy nodded her head and said, “You’ve thought about this.”

I had.

I let myself sing about things I believed if anyone knew I was thinking—traumas, buried secrets, my daily dance with self-loathing—a shame pit the size of Gibsonville, NC, would open and swallow me.

But no shame chasm gaped, and no one pointed and scoffed.

It was just me and two brilliant artists in the room sharing music and recognition of the truth.

I learned that day it was a little safer to feel.

I also learned that day that when you sing, people can’t see what you’re thinking about. They just know if you invited them in.

I learned to unlock the door and open it just a crack that day at Elon College.

Flanked by her illustrious LP library and her snow globe menagerie, Cathy challenged, nurtured, called out, inspired, and encouraged me. I’m one of hundreds of students who can say the same thing.

Did you know that this door to your heart is the secret to all impossible-to-compete-with sparkliness?

It’s the voice print that only you are.

It’s your diamond human soul that invites all the other diamond souls to come to your party.

You say welcome here to all my human mess, confusion, working it out, love, guffaws, sarcasm, compassion, understanding, and the occasional fart.

And the person who’s there to hear your story knows it’s a legit invitation. They can’t help but come in and have a slice of that Ina Garten chocolate cake you’re serving up.

The reason we don’t do it (invite folks in like that) is because it feels like nothing.

You didn’t make you show up on this planet with your glittering self, so letting people into that is super humbling and real real uncomf for the ego who likes working, earning, and deserving.

Yes, be excellent in your work. Give yourself your best.

Then know you’ve done your work. Feel your heart pound as you step in front of folks, raise your sternum a little bit, let a thought arise, and welcome people in.

Try it out in the everyday, too. See if you don’t give a little lift to the person slinging your morning coffee. I’ll be interested to hear.

And always remember—there’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing.

Love much,

Dan

ps Remember I’m going to be in NYC Saturday Oct. 16 teaching at the American Opera Center studios. (They don’t care if we belt.)

There are a few times left, so just email me and let me know you wanna work together. Your heart’ll be so open you’ll be Care Bear starin’ all the way down 7th Ave.

(Rate is 150/hr, 75/half hour. Proof of vaccination is required at the Opera Center.)

pps I can’t just tell you about Ina Garten’s life-changing chocolate cake and not hook you up with the recipe. Here you go! Cathy McNeela, you deserve a slice of this today. A chorus of grateful students and I say thank you and we love you. 

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