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Go Slow to Go Fast

The word that has been tapping my heart on the shoulder the last few weeks…slow.

I don’t do slow so well. And when I do slow down, a little panic button gets pushed in my brain. It activates an alarm for about fifteen minutes until my brain recognizes that I’ve actually grown more productive since I held my horses.

I don’t understand it. It seems like if you want to get more done, you should do things really fast. But I think what happens when I slow down is that I can take a moment and remember my priorities. Then I can make some wise and deliberate choices about what I’m doing rather than putting out seemingly urgent…squirrel!…fires.

I think this is a big thing for us to download this year. Going slow actually makes us go fast. Going slow makes us see that life is happening right now. Hurrying is destination-obsessed, thinking that we’ve got to scramble so we can quickly get from A to Z. And by the time we get to Z, we’re already preoccupied with the next over-there. So we don’t just miss the destination, we’ve missed every bit of scenery on the way.

This isn’t anything new. Ever since the Ten Commandments, people have known about the need to slow down, rest, and be present. There’s a reason. It’s important.

We should take some time to check if all these cliches we’ve heard our whole lives, i.e. stop and smell the roses, (and if you live in LA, you can actually do that. Sorry Polar Vortex sufferers.)…to check if these cliches have actually made it into our heart and experience. They’re cliches for a reason. Most of the time they are true.

The other day I was watering our veggie garden and I realized that I get more enjoyment out of watching the plants grow than I do harvesting and eating them. Made me think about my grandfather (Papa) Basil Jessup who had a massive garden every year and would give me the tour every few days of how the plants were growing. It delighted him so much to see things grow. And I realized that life should be the same way.

We believe that the actual event we’re preparing for (the audition, the opening night, the career-defining moment) is the real thing, the magical occurrence that will mark the beginning of real life. After that, then we have permission to really enjoy ourselves. Every moment up until then is drudgery that we just have to endure waiting for the big thing.

That’s a lie. And it sucks the joy and life right out of us, making us whiny and complainy and scared that the life-validating event may never happen or pan out. Hard to enjoy anything when we’re complaining and full of fear.

So here’s what I propose. Literally slow down. Walk a little slower, drive a little slower, talk a little slower (this is a powerful tool in that audition room, too). Take your time to plan your days based on your priorities, not on the fires you think you have to put out or the people you think you need to please. They probably care more about what you can do for them than they care about you. If you slow down, I bet you an ice cream cone that you will see yourself accomplishing more, seeing pockets of time you didn’t know you had, and appreciating things like hot running water, food and shelter, and friends in new ways.

Then you just might be a little freer to be an encouragement to the people around you. When we hurry, we are self-occupied (i.e. trapped), and we believe that everything is our responsibility. Lies. When you slow down, you trust, and you change the atmosphere wherever you go.

So that’s my encouragement to you and to myself. Let’s all walk a little slower and take the time to see the people and things around us. You might be surprised at how quickly you get to those surprise destinations that are so much better than the ones you thought you were heading for.

Why We Don’t Practice

I always miss East-Coast-style fall here in LA. I even bought some liquid amber branches with some fall color on them at Trader Joe’s the other day. They were for Melissa, but were they really? :)

But I am grateful that in LA you can still plant a fall garden, so hopefully there will be some good veggies to harvest by Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’m looking forward to the parsnips most of all.

Many of you know I’ve been studying opera and classical singing again. It is not for the faint of heart. It’s unearthed all kinds of gaps in my technique and pushed my nose directly into some very uncomfortable emotional/spiritual places. In other words, it’s a blast.

…Okay side note. I just went out to our little laundry shed to check the clothes in the dryer, and I saw a hummingbird just sitting on a branch. I’ve never seen one sitting still. It chirped a few times and flew away. I just thought that was really cool. Hummingbirds are incredible…

Okay, practicing. Why do we avoid it? Why is practice time the best time to check Facebook, text your mom, or dust the light bulbs?

I don’t think it’s because of the fear of failure. Most of us who are performers have failed plenty, and we didn’t die, and we’re fine. This is my theory. I think we avoid practicing because we know if we practice consistently, we’ll get really good at what we do, and then what are we going to do with that?

All kinds of heartbreaking possibilities come into play then. We could get really skillful at our art form and then never get the opportunities we think we want.

Or we might get the opportunities, and we realize that we’re too scared to accept them. Our skill brings a level of responsibility that deep down we wonder if we can handle. It’s like the lottery winner who squanders all their winnings because inside they don’t think they deserve the money.

Here’s the big revelation. We don’t deserve any of it. Who among us made ourselves happen? We can’t make ourselves breathe. We can’t make our hearts beat. We can’t make our vocal chords phonate. We are downloaded with the most intricate and miraculous systems when we arrive on this planet. My wife is a biologist. She could tell you about it all day long. It’s mind-blowing, the universes that exist inside us on just a micro level.

So all of this is to say that any talent we have is truly a gift. We didn’t do anything to earn it or create it. But somehow we get into our heads that we are not worthy of it, or that we don’t deserve it. Here’s the truth. It doesn’t matter whether we deserve it or not. It’s been given to us. So what now?

We practice, and we make our skill beautiful and strong and precise.

Then we get to give this skill to others who, guess what, probably don’t deserve to receive it either. It’s a gift we get to pay forward. See how it works? It’s all a lot of grace and undeserved goodness.

A couple of weeks ago I was at my lesson, and as I was singing an exercise, everything lined up. The space, support, relaxation, focus, and a really beautiful feeling/sound came through me.

My teacher Renee stopped playing at the piano, looked up at me, and said…”Shit.” Then I started to cry. As the tears leaked out of my eyes, I knew why I was crying. I had been making it harder than it was, saying no to it.

I couldn’t just let it be easy and joyful, I had to worry it and work it. It’s the other side of the pride/ego coin. One side is stamped “grandiosity,” the other side says “self-flagellation.” And pride-ego careens us from one ditch to the other. The narrow, solid road in between the two is humility to receive the undeserved gifts. It’s an active acceptance, a decision to open our hands and receive something precious and un-earnable.

Think about it, though. If you let it be easy and joyful, you stop taking yourself so damn seriously, and something really beautiful gets to come through you. Then what does that mean for your audience?

And this is something we can practice every day. Just the ability to sing a scale is a gift. Because we can’t see an immediate outcome, we avoid it. It doesn’t look fruitful to us. Especially if you live in LA, we’re surrounded by a culture that is entitled and demands results without any investment.

So there is the paradox, right? We are given a gift we don’t deserve, and so we’re entrusted with that to make something beautiful out of it. And even the ability to work on it is grace. It’s a road that requires us to look at ourselves, feel afraid and do it anyway, and then do it again. And I don’t know of a more rewarding road to take.

So I’m encouraging you all. That thing you have been given, that talent: practice it. Commit to it. Be willing to do it even if your heart gets broken in the process. Take the hit. It’ll be broken open and then you’ll have more to share.

That’s the thing about our creative gifts. I can’t think of a more perfect means to redeem the crap that happens and turn it into gold…a song, a play, a poem, a painting, a sculpture, a film. We know the ones that have touched our lives. Let one come from you and touch someone else’s.

Being Chosen

About a year an a half ago in the musical theatre workshop, I stood at the dry erase board, and we talked about what we could do as artists in an environment (Los Angeles) that seemed to be offering less and less gainful employment to theatre actors.

Long story short, two separate production companies grew from the seeds we planted that month in our class community, and each is producing a fully-staged musical in the next two months here in Los Angeles. (Sugar Fix Productionsand Not So Artful Productions)

Here is where the bit about being chosen comes in. Almost all of us creative types have a deep need to be chosen. Whether we felt like leftovers when the kickball team captain called our name dead last or if it’s as deep as parental abandonment, we all need to hear, “I choose you. You are precious. You matter.”

The problem comes when we try to get these deep heart-needs met with a career. Every audition becomes a test of our innate worth as children of God rather than what it is: a job interview. Enter fear, shame, and several flavors of mental torment.

In my own life, I am now grateful that I didn’t book a Broadway show in my 20’s when I was finally getting the 3rd and 4th callbacks. I’m glad because to my 25-year-old mind, a Broadway contract was going to legitimize me. I didn’t know it, but deep in my background software, I believed that being chosen to be in a Broadway show was going to fill me up in some way. Don’t get me wrong, I still wouldn’t mind checking it off my list, but it’s not going to make or break my life.

You don’t have to look far to see the results of this broken promise (achievement = fulfillment) played out over and over. It’s the fodder that keeps every gossip magazine in business.

We believe a lie that whispers to us that we are not enough, that we are unlovable, and that we are worthless without some major bells and whistles to upgrade us. Then we begin to compare our bells and whistles to others’. Let the insanity whirlpool ensue.

You are precious, chosen, and significant because you are. End of story. God saw fit to put you on this planet; therefore, you matter.

If you know you’re already picked for the team, you can choose yourself.

Is there a dream that keeps knocking on your door and waking you up in the morning? Maybe you are the one that dream is waiting for. Maybe it’s time to start your own kickball team.

Cut Yourself Some Slack

Every week, I meet with a spiritual director. I sit down in front of her in a comfy wing back chair, and she will look at me with her smiling blue eyes and ask me, “So, how are you?”

Nearly every time she asks me this question, no matter how well my week is going, how happy I feel, it is that moment when her wise gaze casts a clear, soft light on some deep hurts that I forgot that I was carrying around in my emotional Red Rider wagon.

It’s good that I forget. If I thought about them all the time (like I did in my twenties), I’d be a non-functioning, narcissistic mess. (Yes, I was kind of like that in my twenties.) We’re not supposed to think about our hurts all the time. That’s why God gave us denial and subconscious minds.

This is also why I take time each week to go in and address these forgotten things in the presence of a wise witness who, as my Uncle Joe Bill Jessup likes to say, has seen the monkey dance.

(Speaking of a witness, can you draw the connection to how these things come up when we stand in front of people to sing, act, whatever?)

The hurts and wounds we sustain in our lives, either by the wrong that’s been done to us, the wrong we’ve done, or our reactions to the wrong, have a way of hiding out in our souls. They then mysteriously coordinate to run a background software that, in turns, tells us how grandiosely special we are and then take out the Louisville Sluggers they have hidden behind their backs and beat the emotional tar out of us. It’s a complicated, masochistic kind of dance, and we all know it. Especially if you have a passion to perform. We performers live on the Island of Misfit Toys.

I want to share a few keys with you that have helped me on my way.

Look outside. When the junk starts talking in your head, when you are feeling less-than, constricted, and on the verge of hopeless, you have to actively look out. Number one, log off of Facebook, then ask yourself, whom can you help? Whom can you encourage? Who could use a phone call (not a text) from you?

You will not feel immediately better. You will feel like crawling back into your cave to sort through all the various crap-pieces that you think this time you will finally figure out. You won’t. You’ll just get your head stuck farther up the wrong end.

Look outside and give help to someone else, ask for help when you need it, from others, from God, and keep your focus outward.

This exercises your trust. While you are giving, taking care of those around you, you somehow get taken care of in the process. That bit of info you needed drops in somehow, the light bulb finally hooks to the current. Sometimes you even experience a quiet healing without even noticing it. This isn’t easy, and it feels counter to our nature when we’re down, but it works.

Outward focus is also key to effective acting and singing technique.

Cut Yourself Some Slack. I am writing this one to myself. I will go through a day and be completely unaware of all the ways I’ve been cruel to myself, criticized myself, and withheld forgiveness from myself.

In the end, it’s really super prideful because all of these self criticisms are based on the assumption that I know best…I know best what I should be, accomplish, do, etc. I don’t know. I believe God knows, and if I trust myself to Him, He will carry me where I need to be. I didn’t make myself. I’m not making my lungs breathe, my heart beat, or my cells divide, so why do I think I have all the wisdom it takes to direct my path? I don’t.

Think back for yourself on an instance in your own life when something seemed to go very wrong, but in the end turned out to be exactly what needed to happen. Whether or not that was Plan A all along, something unexpectedly good was made from what seemed to be a crappy situation.

So I will commit to you if you will commit to me to lay off the self-meanness as much as I’m aware of it. It ain’t never helpful.

Sing. One of the great delights of my life is hearing my wife, Melissa, sing in the shower. She revels in music. She loves and enjoys it, I believe, at a deeper, higher, fuller level than I, who live by music, do.

There are few things more healing, more beautiful, more a gift than music . And we all have it. This point came home to me so clearly when I had the privilege of performing in Pippin with Deaf West Theatre. Not only did I learn more about storytelling from my deaf colleagues than I ever learned in class or on stage before, but I also saw that we all embrace and feel music whether or not we can hear it with our physical ears.

We know the world vibrates. Science has shown us what appears solid is not solid at all but made up of all kinds of intricate, mystifying energy. It’s a miracle, and so is our gift to sing. Music is a higher reflection of what’s going on around us all the time. Why do plants thrive when they hear Mozart or Bach? We all know the answer.

So when we practice or perform or just sing in the car, let’s keep that in the forefront of our minds and hearts. We are given the gift of singing, so lets revel in it, appreciate it, and enjoy it.

Happy July, everyone. Thanks so much for reading.

Getting Your Compartments to Touch

It’s June, I just got back from my honeymoon, and, well, I’m just happy and relaxed and super content.
Coming back to “real life” is both exciting and jarring since after a time of so much blissful rest, it can be tough to recalibrate.
Melissa and I were talking about this today, and she mentioned how we all tend to compartmentalize our lives: work, play, creativity, rest, spirituality, etc. all get relegated to separate places like on a high school cafeteria tray.
Then I thought…what if we were more intentional about getting these different areas of our lives to touch? To extend the cafeteria tray metaphor, I hope you aren’t offended by touching food. As my mom used to say, “It all goes to the same place.”
And it should all go to the same place.
Let’s take a second to think about how this can apply in our lives as creative people/performers. What if we let our creative natures influence the places in our lives that often get pushed to the mundane category? Washing dishes, paying bills, going to your day job.
Not only can we let creativity enter these areas; I think we can also let rest and relaxation enter in. You don’t have to be on a vacation to experience rest. You can wash a dish with a bad attitude, or you can be thankful for hot running water, soap, the food you just ate off that plate, and the roof that’s over your head as you wash the dish.
Get my point? As actors, we think that the work we do gets to happen only when we are in rehearsal, on stage, or at an audition. Not true. Our work is all the time because when we get to the rehearsal hall and then the stage, what we have is the everyday experience to draw from. If we walk through life asleep to the richness of everything, then we miss the opportunity to bring that rich life to the stage when we get the chance.
I think we need to decide to look at the world with a childlike wonder, and whether or not we feel like it or believe it, just say wow.
Now go listen to Louis Armstrong sing “What a Wonderful World,” and when you wash a dish today, pay attention to how cool soap bubbles really are and say a quiet thank you for hot running water.
Have a great June everybody!

First World Problems

Hope this finds you having a great May, and if you’re in inappropriately hot Los Angeles today, staying reasonably cool.
…which would involve something like air conditioning, and leads me to this month’s thought…

I have been appreciating this whole new “first world problems” meme that’s been circulating, hearing it a lot from clients as they tell me about an audition that went awry or and agent acting crazy.

“I know,” they say. “First world problems.”

Before I go on, let me say that there’s nothing wrong with needing to fix a first-world problem. If you cut your finger, you don’t forego a bandaid because somewhere else someone’s bound to have lost an arm.

But with that said, I think it’s really important as artists to see and appreciate all the blessings that we stand on and live our daily routines completely blind to.

For starters: health, food, shelter, breath, sight, hearing, speech, the computer or handheld device you are reading this on, and indoor plumbing.

A big ole trap that we creative types can fall into (especially if we live in one of the big metropolitan areas where narcissistic neuroses are in fact encouraged) is to get really focused on ourselves and how well our career/artistic development/professional life is or isn’t going.

If I could give you one sure-fire recipe for internal hell, it’s to think about yourself all the time.

That’s the real first-world problem, our crazy self-focus.

We sleep-walk and assume that our health, food, shelter, and DVR’s are givens. We’re surrounded by so much abundance in this country that we become desensitized to it and start to think we are self-sufficient. It’s not real.

No matter what your spiritual world view is, we all have to admit that we are not currently making our hearts beat, our lungs breathe, and our cells subdivide. There is mysterious, miraculous stuff going on, and we walk around completely emptied of our sense of wonder. We get lulled to sleep by the very gifts around us that could make us grateful.

So, the point to all this is if we want to be happier, more peaceful, more joyful human beings (and thereby more productive artists) let’s be grateful for every little thing we can.

Next, let’s turn our focus outward to one another. Who can you pick up the phone and call today and say, “You were on my mind. How are you?”

Third, let’s just remember that the fact that we can even take a voice lesson, an acting class, attend an audition, means that we have been given so many benefits that have led us to this new place and the challenges we have the privilege to contend with.

We are not self-sufficient. We are dependent every moment on the gifts we have been given. My hope for me and for all of you is that we live and work out of that place of wow and gratitude.

Have a great May everyone!

The Perfection of Your Mistakes

I’ve been thinking about a wonderful performer I had the privilege of working with when I toured with Phantom of the Opera…over a decade ago! Wha’ happen???
Patti Davidson Gorbea played Madame Giry, the ballet mistress, and I still remember her focus, precision, and professionalism.
I remember she shared with me something a teacher of hers had said: There is no such thing as a perfect performance. There were always going to be mistakes. The funny thing is that I remember Patti being one of the most precise and “perfect” performers I’ve ever seen. Her performance never wavered. She always seemed to be focused, consistent, and present.
I tell my clients in their lessons, “Okay, so we have one hour together. You will make at least sixty mistakes.” Once that is checked off the list of things to worry about, 98% of the time, the client is free to get some great work done.
We as artists often approach our work like we are taking the SAT. We are trying to make sure we don’t get any wrong answers. When we’re focused on wrong answers, we can all guess what we are likely to get.
When we embrace the truth that we are going to make mistakes, we weave a safety net. Not only that, but it is in these mistakes where we find the most gold. I don’t know why that is, but I just know it’s true.
I also know this is true: When we embrace that we are frail, weak, broke-down humans with myriad imperfections, then God’s perfection fills up our imperfection. And when we perform, the people in the audience feel loved. Because we are telling them the truth about us and about them. When we are trying to appear perfect, we are lying.
So cross the worry-about-making-mistakes off your list. You are going to fail. You are going to make mistakes. And they will be great because they will build the stair to your next level.
Have a wonderful April, everyone!

Head Noise, Epic Failure, and Other Opportunities to Grow

I want to share an episode from “The Adventures of Operaman” from last month that I hope will be helpful.

It happened at a coaching. I had overbooked my week with teaching and other personal commitments, so I gave myself zero time to practice (or to grocery shop or to do laundry or to breathe).

The day of my appointment, I allowed myself about twenty-seven minutes to drive from North Hollywood to Los Feliz on a Friday evening at 5pm…in the rain.

For those of you who do not live in LA, I can sum up what happens to Angeleno motorists when the mysterious moisture pellets begin falling from the sky at rush hour: abject panic, mob rule, and gridlock.

I was a good twenty-five minutes late. “Hello Self-Sabotage, my name is Dan.”

It didn’t get much better. Here is a sampling of some of the thoughts that pounded through my brain during the coaching: “You are never going to make it through this aria,” “This is clearly way too hard for you,” and “You need to stick with musical theatre where you actually know what you are doing.”

Then there was what I heard from Bill, my coach, who is an operatic encyclopedia. I seriously don’t know how you could have a better coach. He knows most of the repertoire by memory, and in any language in which any opera was written, he’s fluent.

So, in concert with my own mind-cacophony, I was hearing (all in the spirit of tough love, I must add), “Legato!” “Did you practice? What exactly DID you practice?” and “Which end of the elephant did that sound come out of?”

Finally, when the ordeal was over, Bill gave me a hug and said, “Don’t be discouraged,” and sent me on my way.

When I sat down in my car, I thought a couple of things:
1. “Wow, this opera stuff requires actual work, time, and practice.”
and
2. “Why am I doing this? Why am I working on the opera again?”

That question I answered pretty quickly…Why?…Because I love the music as well as the experience of singing with my whole voice. Opera is the only place that affords that. It’s also giving me some great tools to pass on to all of you. And it’s also an opportunity for me to face some of my own self-doubt demons head-on.

The first thought…about actually practicing with quality focus and intention…took me into my voice lesson with my singing teacher, Renee Sousa. PS if you want to work your classical singing technique, email me, and I will get you her info. She’s wonderful.

When I shared with Renee the tale of the hot mess I had become in my last coaching, it opened the conversation up to deeper things…namely why I get daunted when it comes to practicing and I give up before I begin.

None of us want to practice.

Not when its framed in the form of a DISCIPLINE, or something we HAVE TO do.

Renee told me about when she would commit to exercise and her health. She said that if she didn’t want to go to the gym, she’d just tell herself, “Well, I’ll just put on my sweats.” Then after that, she said, “Well, maybe I’ll go chill in the sauna or the whirlpool at the gym.” Then as soon as she got in the door, she was off and running on her workout.

So Renee suggested to me that when I go to practice, I just tell myself, “I’m going to vocalize just for five minutes.” Then see what happens after that…I can tell you from experience that once the engine gets revved, I’m ready to sing and have a good time, taking my time and working in a focused, helpful way.

It also sets up a space in your head where you know it’s most beneficial to go in small chunks, rather than feeling daunted by the task of the entire aria, song, monologue, novel, checkbook, tax return, or whatever.

I also had a great conversation with her regarding the practice of technique. When I work with Renee, she helps me so quickly. Everything gets lined up, and effortless singing ensues. Then I wonder how to find and recreate this in my own practice.

Renee compared it to burying a treasure chest in the desert. You go back to find it, and it may take you a few hours to locate where you buried it. The next visit, maybe less time, and so on. Until you have visited the site enough that you know exactly where the gold is buried every time. That is building technique, and it requires many visits.

But I have to say, the idea of saying, “I’m just going to sing a couple of scales, that’s all,”…It’s effective.

Notice where it’s helpful in other areas of life. Today when I was working out, I said, “I’m just going to do this one set. I can do that.” Until I had completed them all after an hour.

Final point is…I’m learning a ton from confronting all of this. I’m growing by doing something new and unfamiliar, and I’m gaining so much experience from the field to share with you all…not to mention compassion for your plight when you are in the middle of working out your own technique.

We are fellow travelers. I get to circle back and walk the road with you that I have covered. And in the meantime, I keep seeking out those teachers who can show me the way on roads I haven’t yet traveled.

2013…let’s remember why we sing, why we perform, and why we decided it would be a good idea to dive into this crazy business. Or maybe it’s a good time to ask yourself these why’s for the first time.

I will give you a clue from my own experience, though…Whether or not we get paid, whether or not we make it on Broadway, whether or not we win awards…WE GET TO SING. We have lungs and a voice. We get to open our hearts and share the love of God with people through music. And that, itself, is its own reward.

Happy 2013 to you all. Let’s make this year about sharing the gifts we have been so generously given.

The D Word

Discipline.

It’s a word most of us no likey, but I will put money on it being the thing that’s standing between us and the lives we were created to have.

Okay, so first let’s get over our knee-jerk reaction to this word.

Discipline derives from the Latin word disciplina (instruction) and disciplinus (a learner). It’s also related to the word disciple, which in the original Greek (mathetes) means a pupil or an apprentice to a master craftsman.

So check that out. Discipline really means learning, being apprenticed by someone who knows what they are doing.

As performers, the wonderful thing is that there is always something to learn, and always someone to learn from.

Like I said last month, I’ve been working on my opera sangin’…I’ve found a coach and a teacher who are truly master craftsmen. They actively work in the opera world and know a lot more than I do. I’m growing and learning week to week, I’m doing what they say, practicing, and I’m able to use that in my own performing (musical theatre and classical) and paying it forward to my clients.

Another great example of discipline for me is one of my teachers and mentors, Betty Buckley. Betty is a master at what she does, and that’s because she never stops working on it. Her work ethic is incredible. She is always studying, always seeking to be better, always finding the best people to give her the best tools. I would call Betty a master craftsman. That’s why I still use what she taught me eleven years ago when I studied with her (was an apprentice) in NYC. A master craftsman continues to work. That’s why she’s a master.

Ok, here’s how you break down discipline into practical terms for yourself. This is also a recap from last month, but worth repeating.

1. Life Priorities  

What are they? Family, friends, spiritual life, career, financial, etc. What’s in your gut? Pay attention over time as well to what might be buried and keeps coming to the surface. You might be surprised.

2. Goals

From your priorities, your goals will flow. Let’s say you want to invest more into your relationships. And in my opinion, relationships come before your career.

Some goals might be to take a friend out for dinner who’s going through a tough time, babysit for friends who have kids who can use a date night, or writing a just-because card to a member of your family you haven’t connected with in a while. Simple things-and you can easily see how you can translate this over to your career goals.

3. Repetition 

Now you have to do these things consistently over a period of time. And like I said before to all my fellow approval junkies, get a good friend who will hold your feet to the fire. Find a mentor who you want to make proud. Approval-seeking can be turned into a positive force in our lives.

This is just a sketch, but what’s most important to take away is that discipline is the foundation that your life structure can be built upon. We would never want to live in a house without a sound foundation and structure, yet we look at our structure-less lives and say, “Why isn’t this working?”

It’s like singing a song in the wrong key and choosing whatever lyrics you want. Doesn’t work.

So spend some time with this. Just pick one or two areas to focus on, and see what happens!

10,000 Hours…You’re Off the Hook!

September is back to school time, so let’s go get our school supplies and take a look at how we are learning and growing as people and performers.
The cool thing about the School of Life is that when we fail a test we get to take it again until we pass. Hopefully this article will help you place out of a few general studies courses.
What better month to think about the work we do as performers? The thing that we often forget as creative people…our work is as close as opening a script or score.
Yes, I know no one is paying you to do that, but the more we do the work that no one sees, the greater the chances to do the work we get paid for.
I’m sure many of you are familiar with Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and his discussion of the 10,000 hour rule:

“The emerging picture…is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert-in anything.” 

That means about twenty hours of quality practice per week for ten years.

I’ve definitely not reached that, and I’ve been at this for way more than ten years.

The good news is that most of us are not trying to be world-class…the Tiger Woods/Bill Gates/Serena Williams of musical theatre performance.

Most of us want to work consistently, doing good work with good people in good theatres.

Well, great news. That doesn’t require 10,000 hours. But it does require hours.
But before you get busy getting your pop/rock selection up to speed in your audition book, step back.
Is being a performer what you really want to invest your time in? Seriously. It might be something else like writing, teaching first grade, or real estate. It might be performing AND real estate. AND freelancing as a social media expert. AND a homemaker.
The possibilities are endless. I just want to shake us all out of a mindset many of us get: I won’t be successful as a performer until I achieve “x”.
Might be a Broadway show. Might be a certain award. Might be an amount of earnings.
Now think about someone you know who has done a Broadway show or won an award. Do you see them able to hang on to that accomplishment as the foundation for their well-being? If they are, you might want to re-calibrate you friend-picker.
Okay, so here is the practical piece of this you can use. And you can thank my friend Kim Shively for this. BTW, if you ever need some great acting coaching, Kim is your girl. Just email me, and I will get you her info.
Grab a notebook, a writing utensil, and a supportive, unconditionally loving friend.
  • Write at the top of the page, “Long Term Priorities.”
  • Write one third down the page, “Fires to Put Out.”
  • Write two thirds down the page, “Daily Tasks.”
Now I will share a little of what my page says so you get an idea of how this works.
One of my long term goals is to build my classical repertoire and strengthen my classical chops. So a piece of my page looks like this:
  • Long Term Priorities:
    • Building Opera Rep/Shoring up classical chops, eventually moving into singing classical music and opera professionally.
  • Fires to Put Out:
    • Nothing here has anything to do with my classical singing, thank goodness. If you don’t have fires to put out, then hallelujah :).
  • Daily Tasks:
    • Daily Focused Practice (6 days a week):
      • vocalises
      • studying and learning repertoire
      • keeping a regular schedule with my coach so that I’m accountable

The A-word is key here. Accountability. Most of us performers are such people pleasers that this actually works in our favor.

If we set up a structure where we have to check in with a friend who is also working on their goals or a really good teacher, we are going to move forward.

Then once we’ve knocked out that long term goal by following small daily tasks, we’re ready to make a map for the next one.

I can even say that I PROMISE you…if you will take the few hours to sit down and chart this for yourself, post it where you will see it regularly, be intentional about it, and surround yourself with people who will kick your ass if you don’t deliver, you WILL see results.

Your skill will solidify. You will grow as a person. And then the You you are bringing into the audition room is someone a director is going to want to work with.

Happy September everyone!

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