Dan Callaway Studio

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Forget Goals — 3 steps I’d take moving to NYC for the first time

If you’re a performer and have moved or are considering a move to New York or any large theatre market, a goal isn’t going to get you there. And goals aren’t going to serve you once you land.

But there are 3 optimal areas of focus that will give you agency, traction, satisfaction, and help you build your career inside a wholehearted life faster than all the vision boards in the world.

I’ll explain —

When I moved to New York over 20 years ago, I’d already spent a year in London studying, auditioning, and performing. I’d landed an agent, and I’d done a few cool projects by the time my visa expired — womp womp.

In London, I wanted to perform on the West End. In New York, I wanted to be in a Broadway show — that’s what I’d set out to do when I studied music theatre at Elon College.

Not only did having that goal — to be in a Broadway show — not serve me, it held me back in more ways than I was aware of.

In fact, even when the call came with a Broadway offer (ironically after I’d left New York), I ended up turning it down — more on that later.

So, what if I told you — those goals you’ve been setting —

SMART as they may be — (you know: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound)

are not only slowing you down — they’re frustrating you, making you anxious, and distracting you from what will move you forward faster with more joy, peace, fire, and fun?

So, why am crapping on goals?

I’m not, really. You have an intention to be a working music theatre performer. Yes, that is indeed a goal. And a great thing to want.

And it’s a goal that depends on a lot of people, decision makers, timing, and putting your body in audition rooms doing good work for a certain amount of time.

What I’m pointing out is that when you focus on the goal itself — your dream to be in a certain show, win a certain award, gain respect from a certain group of people — it takes your focus off of the many things right in front of you that you actually have agency over.

And if you’ve followed the calling to be a singing storyteller, you’ll find out, if you don’t already know, that there’s a long list of things that are out of your control.

Why not notice the things that you can actually pick up and do something with and get to work?

Then one day you’ll look up, and a connection you made because you created a thing and invited people turns into an introduction to a person you didn’t know existed who then says,

“You know, I think you’d be great for this project.”

Or, “Hey, would you like to meet this terrific agent?”

Or “Hey, do you want to audition for Les Mis?”

All these things happened to me and in ways I could never have predicted.

And they popped up because I was doing the things I had control over. Then, surprises happened.

So, what are the three things that are worth your precious time as a performer?

And what will actually create a body of work and skill that makes you ready when opportunities do come? Because if you put your body in the place and do the thing, they will.

This first thing I want you to prioritize is going to give meaning, purpose, and nourishment to all parts of your life, and you’ll find when things get hard — because they will get hard — building this is going to make all the difference. 

When I first moved to New York, I ended up at an Episcopal church on the upper West Side called All Angels’. 

One of my first visits there was for an open mic talent show night, and at the end they opened the floor to any folks who wanted to do something. I got and sang, and afterward, a woman who was there told me I should call her agent and work with her vocal coach.

I called both her agent and vocal coach, and I ended up signing with the agent and coaching with the coach.

The funny thing is that the vocal coach opened more doors for job opportunities than the agent — I’ll talk about that in point number two.

All Angels’, and then later St. George’s Church, where I sang in the choir, provided places where I got to know people who didn’t know or care about theatre, I could serve in the homeless shelter find mentors, make friends who worked in finance, fashion, politics, and nonprofit.

It was a place where I was safe to make a lot of messy mistakes in my 20s, and folks loved me enough to tell me the truth and walk with me while I repaired things.

Throughout my time in New York and later Los Angeles, I had places and friend groups where I could contribute, and, honestly, got pulled out of many sticky spots.

I’ve had pay-what-you-can rent in neighborhoods I couldn’t afford.

I’ve been bailed out with interest-free loans. A few times.

I’ve been fed delicious dinners next to cozy fireplaces surrounded by people who wanted to make the world better.

I’ve been given coffee and hugs when parts of my life were falling apart.

And I’ve literally been Humpty Dumptied back together when things really did explode.

All this happened and held me together because somehow I knew it was important to find a community and serve.

I don’t know how much I actually served then. I was pretty self-obsessed in my 20s, but I knew when I was on the subway late at night with achy feet after a long shift or waiting and hoping to get seen for a union call before I was union, I had a tribe in the city — tiny living rooms where I felt welcome, and places where I could do something for someone else.

This made all the difference in the world, and managed to pull my head out of my introspective hole long enough to look around and notice other folks.

When you get to New York or any place you decide to live, you need to find a group of folks in whatever form where you can help and serve.

This will get you looking out to and for others, remind you that there’s a lot more going on than your career ambitions, and bring a level of sweetness to your life you can’t measure.

You can then pass that sweetness on anywhere you go.

And you might even get a surprise agent or vocal coach.

Which brings you and me to thing number two. The thing that helped me that I didn’t even realize I was doing.

My friend Jennifer from church sent me to a frequently messy studio apartment in the East 30s where this vocal coach I told you about, Steve Lutvak, lived.

We sang, he took a look through my audition book, and sent me to the corner store with a stack of music to copy. You’d Xerox the music and leave the scores with the doorman in an indestructible FedEx envelope.

At one coaching, Steve asked me, “Hey, you want to audition for Les Mis?” The casting director had asked him if he knew anybody.

I got an appointment! No waiting in the outer lobby at Actors’ Equity hoping to be let through at the end of the day to sing 8 bars this time.

I sang all right, and I didn’t hear back.

But a few months later, I got a call to come in for an immediate replacement on the Phantom tour. I did get that job, and that’s how I got my union card — a year to the day that I’d moved to New York.

Steve often joked — I think he was joking? — that the agent commission should have gone to him. He wasn’t wrong.

But, somehow, I stumbled and scraped my way into the studios of some of New York’s best teachers.

I sought out the very best training I could, and the surprise benefit of training with the best folks you can find is that when you work hard and they see you growing in skill, they’re likely to recommend you for things when their director friends call and say, “You know anybody who can sing Gilbert and Sullivan?”

So, thing number 2 you need to do: seek out the best training with the best folks you can find. Do what you can to make it happen because it’s worth it.

I wanted to study voice with Joan Lader; she was and is one of the best voice teachers in the city.

She didn’t have room for me and referred me to one of her terrific associate teachers. But I wanted to study with Joan.

So, I told her when she had a same-day cancellation to call me, and I’d be there.

After I spent my tour savings on therapy and lattes, I couldn’t afford her rate anymore, so I ended up doing half-hour lessons on my lunch breaks.

I learned a ton from Joan, and what I absorbed from her allowed me to start teaching at a decent level when the time came in LA.

Find the best people and the best people for you, and invest in yourself. 

A good teacher needs to know their stuff, tell you the truth with love, respect you, see the best and call out the gold, and have an open and curious spirit — they need to demonstrate intellectual humility, because the more anyone knows, the more they should know they don’t know.

There you go — strategic and top notch training.

So, you’re investing in a community of folks where you can serve and belong.

You’re on track with your training. You’re working and growing with terrific teachers.

Now what do you do?

Well, if you’ve moved to New York or Chicago or London or Minneapolis to dress up and pretend to be other people and tell stories on stage, there’s one thing left to do.

And for this point, I need to put you on a plane and fly you to Greensboro, North Carolina.

I was teaching at Elon University, and I realized I was itching to sing art song again. And some Sondheim. Because why not? I like to sing a lot of different things.

So I said to myself, “Self, how can I make something up where I can sing art songs I love and a slew of Sondheim? And maybe cook for people. I love that, too.”

So, I made up an event.

Friends of ours knew somebody who owned a terrific old house in Greensboro. There was no piano. There was no concert hall. There was just this terrific house with a charming parlor where I knew some great music could happen.

I talked to Mindy, who owned it, made a date, and got to work.

We found an upright piano that was being donated in a house move, I rented chairs from a party supply place, and I made up a terrific heavy hors d’oeuvre menu.

I asked my friend Katherine to play, I made a postcard, and I started bugging everybody I knew in a 30 mile radius who might enjoy Richard Strauss and Stephen Sondheim to buy a ticket.

I roped Melissa in to helping me make all the food, bought wine and fizzy water, set the whole situation up, asked students to usher and wrangle folks, set up an event on Brown Paper Tickets, and lo and behold, I sold seats and did the show.

It was terrific and exhausting and wonderful to do. Lookit!

Did it lead to a Broadway show or a movie deal or any kind of immediate career outcome? Nope.

Was it worth it? To me, yes, absolutely.

The structure of that concert led to my first faculty recital at Boston Conservatory and the beginning of a terrific collaboration with the best pianist in town, Scott Nicholas.

Now he and I are developing recitals that feature art song, musical theatre, and since we’re both avid cooks, we may throw some food in the mix, too. I’m excited to see where it goes. I’ll keep you posted.

The point is — work works. Work will work ON you. If you get to work and acknowledge that you cannot manufacture an outcome, it’ll set you free.

And while you’re at it, you will CREATE a community where you and your friends can serve, and you’ll be strategically training yourself because there’s no better way to learn your craft than by crafting. You have to do it.

And when you’re in an audition room, when you leave, you’ll have that project to think about.

And when you’re sending a postcard every six weeks to the casting director you want to call you in, you’ll have something to invite them to.

So, that’s the third thing. Get to work.

Look at your skill proficiency, decide what it is that you do best, and create a way to share that.

Ask yourself, where can something like this happen? Do I need an actual theatre? Or will a living room work? A corner of a park? A bar or coffee shop or bookstore? Start asking and trying things, and the next steps become clear.

So that’s it.

Invest and serve in a community of folks who want to make the world around them better and more loving.

Figure out how to train with terrific teachers. However you have to do it. Offer service trades, cycle your areas of focus, pick up an extra shift or two at work.

And get to work.

Make your own stuff. Ask friends you love who will get in the trenches with you and put up with you when you get unreasonable and cranky.

And do the work to do the work. It’s its own reward. And it can’t do anything but benefit you. It’s worth it.

I heard this from Myron Golden who’s a business leader — Stop asking if it will work FOR you, and let it work ON you.

And then you might find that the GOAL you wrote down in your manifestation journal shows up, and you feel differently about it than you did when you wrote it down.

This happened to me after I left New York and moved to LA. I didn’t move for my career. In fact, I barely worked as an actor for my first 2 years there. (Sad palm tree emoji.)

Shortly after I got there, my agent called with an offer to join the Broadway company of Phantom. Without thinking about it more than 2 seconds, I heard myself tell him, “No thanks.”

I’d moved to LA for a relationship. And I thought if I went back to New York, that would be the end of that.

Turned out, the relationship did end (that was the part of my life I talked about earlier when loving friends Humpy Dumptied me back together again.)

There were many reasons I said no to that opportunity — some healthy and some not.

And it’s a fork in the road I’ve revisited.

When Phantom closed last year, I did think wow it would have been great to be a part of the Broadway company at some point.

But, if I had said yes, I probably wouldn’t have come back to LA.

Therefore, I wouldn’t have met Melissa, have the family we have now, and I probably wouldn’t have been pin balled into my life’s central professional purpose which is teaching. It’s always found me wherever I go.

So, I say that for you to know, yes, have a goal. Have a dream. And make a plan so the plan can change.

What you have control over are the inputs you contribute and the seeds you plant.

Those actions are the things that will create the surprises you could never make up, outcomes that are better than the ones you dreamed of no matter how specific and measurable you make them. That’s been my experience.

So there it is — look for a community where you can serve.

Seek out and invest in the best training you can find.

And get to work. Take a hard, honest look at your current skills, share the ones that you do best, and invite your friends to help. You’ll be making a community and training opportunity all at once.

You keep doing that, and you’ll see surprises appear everywhere. You’ll have the satisfaction of sharing, giving, and helping other folks. You’ll know you’re investing in making your skills first rate. And, you’ll be making meaningful work that you can center your creative attention on and have something to invite folks to.

You get those three actions rolling on a regular basis, and you’ll see all kinds of great things spring up in your life and career.

Now, if you’re like me, and you want to get to work, but you have forty seven things you want to work on and don’t know where to begin, so you get overwhelmed and end up binge listening to podcasts about vulnerability and  finding your purpose, I made a video for you —

How to know what to do with your life in 24 hours.

This exercise I learned was very helpful, and I want to share it with you.

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

Love much — Dan

PS I’m creating something very exciting and special, and you can get in here for free –

I just started this online group for theatre singers.

It’s going to be a community where folks help each other out and collaborate.

There’ll be courses and tools for

vocal technique, successful auditioning, storytelling and song interp, life tools for creatives, step-by-steps to make your own work, audition book/rep SOS, sheet music shares…

and any other help you need — let me know, and we’ll build it!

I’m making a place where theatre singers can access top notch training tools while you connect with and help each other.

Here’s where you can join — (I’m going to turn it into a paid membership later, but you’d be in for free forever) — I’d love to see you there as we’re just getting off the ground. There’s already been so much great connection and interaction among our first 21 members. Get in!


Find THE perfect song — and other horrible advice that tanks musical theatre careers

If you’re an auditioning music theatre performer, you own a 3-ring binder that casting folks call your book.

Have you stopped to ask yourself — how do I feel about my book?

What’s my relationship to this small library of musical theatre and contemporary commercial repertoire that’s meant to represent my best narrative vocal skills?

What guidance have I followed to curate this collection?

And is it doing me any favors?

There’s a pile of audition book assumptions based on terrible, unquestioned advice humming around in music theatre singers’ heads that keep them stuck and frustrated.

These untrue rules plop good singers’ pics and resumes right into the NO pile.

And the crazy thing is that a lot of these beliefs, they picked up from fancy, expensive degree programs.

So, you’re now wondering — what is this horrible advice?

Have I indeed fallen prey to it like a tap dancing lemming?

And, are these beliefs killing audition opportunities like Sweeney Todd on meat pie BOGO day?

Well, let’s get into then, shall we? Not the meat pies. The LIES. The liiiiiies.

There are many.

But to keep it simple, I’ll break it down to just 3 for you today.

Lie number one can be illustrated by the following tale:

It was the end of a long day of auditions for the music theatre program at Elon University — I was tired, and I was forcing myself to stay engaged.

A lot of kids had invested time, effort, and plane fare to be there, so I wanted to be there for them.

It had turned out to be a disappointing day.

Singers were nervous. Few folks seemed to be able to connect or open up. There was a lot of ok-yet-boring singing.

When I hear auditions, I listen carefully, but I don’t initiate the forward lean or try to coax people out.

If their heart is open, they prepared well, and they live wholeheartedly in their story, I’ll be irresistibly drawn in.

That was not happening a lot on this day.

In fact, there were three different singers who all came in singing “How Deep is the Ocean” by Irving Berlin.

It was clear they’d all coached with the same college prep organization because all three of them had IDENTICAL gestures, emotional colors, and vocal choices.

Only, they weren’t their choices. And it was clear.

Someone had shellacked a performance onto them, and the only thing I remember is that three young women wasted their money and time on terrible audition prep that gave no consideration to who they were.

One singer came in, though, and I don’t remember her first song. It wasn’t a great fit, and there were a couple of vocal struggles. And cool — it was a college audition. You gotta give professors something to do for four years, after all.

But this singer drew me in because her love of singing hadn’t been squished out of her through hours of robot coaching, and her sound hooked up with her heart. You know what that feels like when you hear it.

So, we asked her to sing something else.

She offered “No One Else” from Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812.

It’s a beautiful song, AND I’d heard it a lot — always with the same earnest, furrowed brow expression, staring longingly at one nebulous point in the distance.

I groaned inside, but sure. Let’s hear it.

By the time she finished, I said — “You just made me love that song again.”

She didn’t have perfect technique. She didn’t belt the high note at the end with particular prowess. There may have been a couple of wonky rhythms.

And who cared? She LOVED that song, and she sang it with an open heart. Thank GOD.

If I’d been coaching her at that point, I might have encouraged her to find something that wasn’t so trendy and perhaps overdone. But, she loved that song, sang it well and with her heart, and caused me to love it again, too.

So, lie/horrible advice #1 is — you have to avoid overdone songs.

Nope, not if you do them well and from your singular point of view.

Songs are usually overdone for a reason: they’re usually quite good.

The other advantage of singing well known material is that table folk can feel smart for knowing the song and then focus on how you do it.

If you sing unfamiliar material, I’m going to be devoting a brain cell to — wait, do I like this? Hmmm. I dunno. I think they could have made a better choice with “How Deep is the Ocean.”

So yeah, go ahead and be like terrific New York based singer, Broadway veteran, and voice teacher Christina Saffran did at an audition in LA when she sang the appointment before me.

You know what she sang? “I Dreamed a Dream.” And she killed it. I’ll put her website in the PS.

The second group of unhelpful advice harmonizes, however dissonantly, with avoiding overdone songs.

This particular falsehood wastes your time, makes you obsess over things that don’t matter, and blame your material for things it has no control over. Poor material.

I’ll tell you a story about myself and how this shook down for me.

Back in 2001 —

🎵 Way way back many centuries ago, not long after the Bible began! 🎵

I was doing outdoor drama on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

One of my fellow company members had his finger on the PULSE of the latest new musical theatre coming through the pipeline (He did go on to be a very effective audition coach and busy working actor.)

He recommended I get the new book of John Bucchino songs, Grateful.

There was one song in there that would be great for me. It was called “Better than I,” and it was written for The Prince of Egypt prequel.

Aaron, the recommender, hit the nail on the head with my vibe.

The song was faithy, sung directly TO God, and was, indeed, communicated by a hero of the Old Testament, Joseph.

🎵 Go go go Joesph, you know what they say…🎵

(You’re welcome for the week of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat ear worms.)

I used this song all the time.

No one else was singing it. It was pretty. It had high notes, a terrific key change, and it suited me.

I don’t think I ever got called back when I took it in the room.

It is a beautiful song, but it’s about someone who already figured something out.

There was little conflict, and while I do believe one can sing to God, it makes the make-believe harder in an audition room. It just does.

But, this song was so particular to me, and I developed a feeling of ownership and attachment to it. And I should have sung it in my club act.

It wasn’t doing what an audition song is supposed to do:

Tell a clear story with a beginning, middle, and end, demonstrate the ability to sing with artistry and authentic heart connection, and solve a specific casting problem for the production you’re auditioning for.

But, I believed this song was the perfect song for me, and I thought it helped me stand out.

It may have been perfect for a Wednesday night at the Unitarian Universalist Open Mic Fundraiser, but it didn’t do me any favors at my Dr. Zhivago callback.

And that’s because I believed terrible advice #2 — there’s the perfect audition song for you, and your choice of material alone will cause you to stand out.


There are thousands of theatre songs. So, there are hundreds of songs that could be perfect for you depending on many factors.

And your clever choice of material isn’t going to help you stand out.

No one’s going to be behind a table and say, “Well, that lacked conflict, drive, and clarity, but wow, you sure went deep into the Lincoln Center archives. Let’s collaborate 7 hours a day in a rehearsal hall.”

If you sing the crap out of “Popular” and put a specific point of view on it that’s yours alone, that would stand out to me.

Remember that singer who sang freaking “Popular”? Broke out into the Charleston during the la la section? Epic.

So, remember — there are hundreds of songs that can be perfect for you.

And your material choice alone cannot make you stand out. You stand out when you prepare, do excellent work, and open your heart.

Which brings us to the third falsehood you can disabuse yourself of and therefore lift a heavy, unreal audition burden off your shoulders.

This one is tricky, though, because this one is false until it’s not. I’ll explain what I mean later. As in most things — more than one thing can be true.

Imagine you go to a party, and the host of the party is a director you want to work with.

You’ve met them a few times before, and there’s rapport, but you really want to make a great impression.

You arrive with a couple of friends, and it’s a daytime party, and your host, the director, directs you to the drinks station where they’re serving just one cocktail. (Ina Garten always says, “Just serve one cocktail. How easy is that?”)

It’s a delicious, fresh gin, cilantro, and cucumber situation with sparkling something, and everybody’s sipping their glasses talking about how zingy and clean it is.

The problem is, cucumber makes you irrationally gag, you have the gene that makes cilantro taste like soap, and you haven’t drunk gin since an unfortunate evening of questionable life choices at an Irish pub on 2nd Avenue in 2003.

Your host hands you a tall glass of icy cocktail goodness with muddled cukes and Dawn dish detergent, and what do you do?

Ask for a water?

No! You choke down your bevvy, and lightly wretch/exclaim, “What an interesting flavor!”

Your host tops you up throughout the party, and soon you’re sneaking into the bathroom to empty the contents of your glass into the toilet only to surreptitiously re-emerge declaring that you need to switch over to water since you’re driving.

Your friend says, “No worries, I can dr—”

“NO!” you shout like Moira Rose. “I’ll drive.”

We do all kinds of dumb things to please people who can give us things we really want like jobs and shows.

And this shows up in people’s audition books all the time.

Agents visit schools and ask students, “What are you going to use for this show that’s currently running on Broadway?”

College seniors graduate from BFA programs thinking they need to be ready with perfect cuts suited to 7 Broadway shows.

In the meantime, they completely forget about the hundreds of regional theaters across the United States producing golden age revivals, Stephen Sondheim revues, and the complete works of Kander and Ebb.

There’s a wide breadth of style and representation of eras in musical theater.

If you don’t naturally vibe ’80s hair band, then it’s not wise for you to target all the regional productions of Rock of Ages.

What I’m saying is this.

There’s a style world, a narrative world, and a an energetic world that appeals to you on a cellular level.

You might want to do high-knee time steps in 42nd Street for the rest of your life, or your dream might be to play Fosca in every production of Passion in perpetuity.

There’s a way of doing musical theatre that appeals to you, and it’s important you know what that looks like.

I ask voice students at the beginning of the semester to describe what their dream career and work would look like. Go ahead and ask yourself.

What kind of shows would you do?

What kind of stories would you tell?

What style of music would you sing?

What would production aesthetics look like?

What kind of venues would you be performing in?

What kind of people would you be working with?

This gives them and me a sense of what their narrative and artistic values are.

Then, we can make a clear judgment about what kind of repertoire resonates most powerfully for them.

It’s super important to know this because you may be able to make the right sounds singing “Crazy on You,” but there’s somebody who rolls out of bed breathing that style like Pat Benetar and Animal from The Muppets had a rock monster baby.

You might be more at home singing “Not a Day Goes By.”

If that’s true, it’s important that you know it.

Pay attention to what styles and stories resonate deeply and satisfy you. That’s going to be the direction where you thrive effortlessly.

So, the bad advice here is that your book needs to be filled with everything that makes you current and marketable right now.

You need to have multiple contemporary commercial songs that apply to all the different styles being produced on Broadway stages so that you can be ready for any and all auditions.

All I’m saying is — it’s okay for you to know that you’re not the vibe for Hadestown or Oklahoma!. You’re more of a Beautiful: The Carole King Story kinda gal.

When you know what you love and what lights you up, your audition book will reflect who you are because it’ll be full of songs that shine your values.

You won’t have to worry about branding and setting yourself apart. Singing the things you love will tell that story.

Now, a distinction has to be made here — there’s a big difference between shoehorning yourself into a musical style because you think that’s what’s getting hired now versus opening yourself to possibility.

When I was in my 20s I got called in for Rent a lot.

Every time I went in, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if I actually could sing this? I can’t do this style.”

And sure enough, a rock singer I was not.

But I kept getting called in, so casting felt like I had potential.

Every time I went in, my head kept saying, “You’re not right for this. You’re a fake rock singer. This is so stupid. Why did they call you in?”

I’m not saying that I would’ve been Broadway’s next Roger, but what would have happened if I’d taken in the information that table folk saw that possibility in me?

Several years later, I got called in for Deaf West’s production of Pippin — for Lewis, Pippins brother. I’d always wanted to work with them ever since I saw their Big River in 2003 (not the same night as the Irish pub gin debacle).

The breakdown asked us to to wear a form-fitting T-shirt so they could see the bods. (Do they even do that in breakdowns anymore? Oof. I get anxious remembering it.)

That freaked me out because it was LA, and I was like, if they want a major gun show, they can find it. My agent, the inimitable Gerry Koch, said, “Dan, just go in and let them decide if you’re not right for the project.”

I ended up getting called back in for the voice of Charles, and I got to collaborate with one of the best actors I’ve ever worked with — Troy Kotsur.

The Academy thought so, too, because his skill got recognized with an Oscar a couple years ago. If you don’t know his work, look him up. He’s tremendous.

If I’d stayed home and not gone in and sang my Don Henley cut at Center Theatre Group that day, I would’ve missed out on one of the best theatre experiences of my life. Questionable casting breakdown and all.

And one quick PS on this, if you want a clear guide about what to include in your audition book, I recommend casting director Merri Sugarman’s book From Craft to Career.

She shares a very clear breakdown of categories that are flexible and will cover your bases as a music theatre singer.

She also wrote one of the most straightforward explanations of how to talk to an audition pianist. It’s an excellent book, and if you do what she says, you’ll see results.

So, quick review of our three audition book falsehoods —

Number 1 — You have to choose new, clever, and obscure material for you book.

Nope. Familiar works great, and things are usually overdone for a reason. Go ahead and sing those songs with skill and wholeheartedness.

Number 2 — there’s the perfect audition song for you, and your choice of material alone will cause you to stand out.


There are thousands of great songs, therefore hundreds that can share your best skills. And you don’t get points for clever song choice if you’re not actually delivering on it.

And Number 3 — your book needs to be filled with everything that makes you current and marketable right now.

I mean, an audition book filled only with Gilbert and Sullivan will have a very narrow usage, but the truth here is — focus your book on the styles and aesthetics that ring truest to you.

Feature your strengths, and at the same time, open your heart to embodying possibilities your ego might rule out because it’s new and unfamiliar.

Don’t sit in a chair in the middle of an audition room singing “One Song Glory” thinking, “Why’d they even call me in?” They called you in. Prepare, make clear choices, and then do them the courtesy of letting them make their own decisions.

That’s the beauty of being a theatre singer, after all —

You get to embody a different identity with every song you sing. Your irreplaceable voice and soul empathizing and looking through someone else’s ego lens. You get to make all kinds of sounds.

And speaking of new sounds, have you ever started working with a new style, started making the sounds — you were getting nods from teachers and music directors, but your brain was like, “That’s not YOU! YOU don’t sound like that! Who even ARE you?” Just me?

Well, I made a video for you — 3 simple questions that’ll unlock any style you want to sing.

Then you’ll be tootling off to your South Pacific audition in the morning followed by your Jagged Little Pill callback later that day and maybe some My Fair Lady tomorrow. How easy is that?

And please always remember, no matter what song you’re giving a tempo for, there’s only one you, and somebody needs to hear the story only you can sing.

Love much, Dan

PS Here’s Christina Saffran’s website.

PPS Here’s Merri Sugarman’s book that’ll tell you how to set up your audition book, talk to an audition pianist, and have more satisfaction and control in your career — From Craft to Career: A Casting Director’s Guide for the Actor

You can take it — the unpopular and liberating truth you need to succeed

If you could distill it down to one thing, what do you think is the single barrier that keeps singing actors stuck, frustrated, and low-grade hopeless?

What’s one unpopular truth that — if you lived it — would change your skill trajectory, bolster your artistic confidence, and make your work wholehearted, satisfying, and successful?

I made a commitment to make regular videos and write weekly emails because every time I do, someone replies or comments, “Thank you — this helped me so much.”

And if I know the thing I’m doing 

#1 resonates with what I’m on the planet to do and

#2 will help one other person,

then I’m going to do it.

But I’ll sit down to shoot the video or write the email or reach out to folks about the community I’m building, and I’ll freeze like a ‘possum in high beams on a North Carolina back road at midnight.

There’s an animal instinct that grips me to my chair and tries to keep me from moving forward into satisfaction, purpose, and joy.

I’ve been looking at what all this is about — and I’ve found some important things about how to activate ourselves so that we don’t roll over in front of that oncoming chevy truck like the above North Carolinian marsupial.

But first, it’s important to ask what you probably already asked yourself when you read the subject of this email — what exactly to you mean by “succeed”?

Success! Making it! Booked and blessed. Working actor. BROADWAY!

Ok, for real, now.

A grad student asked me in class this year what my definition of success was.

And for that answer I zoomed ahead (hopefully) a good 40+ years and asked near-the-end-of-life me.

Near-nonagenarian Dan reported back that a successful life would be one in which

I loved people well,

loved my wife,

loved my boys,

and brought joy where I went.

He also said that if I could leave behind a legacy of healing and fun from the things I got to teach, then A+.

And if I were able to leave some plays and songs that would continue to move people, then icing.

I got emotional talking about it in class (I can’t believe it either) because that moment focused what was most important — how could I use my life as a magnifying glass for love? How could I boost the photon beams that make the world better?

If I work in light of that goal, my work changes.

I have an intention that lifts me up, gives me an elevated view, and most importantly, reminds me that what I do can affect you.

If my actions can make your life better, I mean, what a reward.

And ask yourself the same — who’s made a difference in your life? And what if they’d chosen not to contribute in that way for whatever reason?

You know I’m a big Tabitha Brown fan.

I’ll listen to interviews with her just for an inspiration refresher — and the thing I admire most about her is her commitment to live in harmony with her spirit’s purpose.

Her clarity is so refreshing when you’re surrounded by so much noise telling you the 7 Keys to beating 99% of your TikTok enemies.

But what if Tabitha Brown had decided not to listen when God told her to just start making videos?

All the advice around her told her no one would take her seriously as an actor if she did that. But, she listened and stepped ahead. And then she was consistent when no one was watching. What if she’d never started? Or stopped when the outcome wasn’t what she expected?

You’re someone else’s Tabitha Brown.

The things you’ve overcome, the ways you’ve figured out how to navigate through — those are going to make a huge difference to someone else.

I see a T-shirt idea: “I’m someone’s Tabitha Brown.”

But get clear on what success means to you. And when it is, write it down every morning.

Seriously write it down because we forget.

Make a little box in your journal or on your calendar where you remind yourself.

It seems silly because you’re like, how can I forget my dreams and what success means?

One stray post on Instagram that pisses you off, and you can get derailed faster than you can say “Get ready with me.”

Now that you’ve reminded yourself what success and satisfaction look like for you — what’s this unpopular truth that holds you and me back? Why’s it unpopular? And why do you even need to know it in the first place?

Well lemme tell you a story about it.

You know how I told you about my ‘possum pose?

I’ll sit down and be fixing to get a video in the can, and then — utter freeze.

It’s like the neuron trees I mapped when I was getting ruthlessly bullied in 7th grade go into hyperdrive and say — STAY HIDDEN! Don’t expose yourself.

I’m sitting there a 46-year-old man, and all of a sudden I’m afraid the country club rednecks in the center of the school yard are going to hurl slurs at me and challenge me to fight them behind the tire recapping shop. That’s where all the junior high fights went down.

I mean, 7th grade was one particularly focused swath of intensified bullying; other incidents of epithets, taunts, and various levels of physical threat popped up throughout my growing up, but my brain REMEMBERS it — and it wants no part of it again.

Just stay hidden — don’t put yourself forward in the school assembly or be the only boy in the 7th grade PE gymnastics demonstration. Keep your head down, lay low, and you won’t get hurt.

In my adult life, this fear got re-zapped by nasty online comments or reviews, snide remarks in BroadwayWorld chat rooms I overheard cast mates scuttlebutting about, and the odd ruthless student assessment.

I still get an elevated heart rate when my student assessments pop up in the inbox. :/

Why would I subject myself to this?

Well, on a recent video I posted, I opened with a story after dinner time. I happened to be seated at the table, and Melissa happened to be loading the dishwasher.

I mentioned that my dishwasher loading style is suspect, and that I usually take the lead on putting the dishes away in the morning — an activity my wifey finds very hawt.

The first comment I received on this particular video was from a very angry viewer who said OMG I can’t even watch past :32 — and proceeded to tell me I was a glaring example of male privilege, my content was worthless, that I should get off YouTube and work on my life and marriage.

After 32 seconds. I wonder how long it took them to craft the comment.

Pretty stunning to have your entire character assessed in the space of one snapshot from your life. It made me reflect on the times when I might do the same.

It hurt my feelings. It made my heart rate jump. It spiked my cortisol. I thought about it more than I wanted to. And I cooked up many snarky replies, comebacks, and takedowns, though I did manage not to reply.

But the thing it showed me was — I was afraid of what comments or nastiness might come flying at me from the far reaches of the interwebs. And nastiness, indeed, flew my way. Along with a video thumbs down.

And then I realized, well that sucked.

And I made it. I made it through that bit of unpleasantness. That morsel of discomfort.

And then I noticed there were a few likes on the video, so someone got some value out of it. Mission accomplished. I did the thing.

So, that’s the first thing you need to know — you CANNOT predict the shenanigans that are gonna fly your way. It’ll always be a surprise.

And you need to know — you can take the hit. Chumbawamba was right — You can get knocked down, and you can get back up again. And on you go.

You may be angry, hurt, sad, sore, and bruised for a while, but you’re going to keep walking.

And maybe you’ll even let that hurting soul’s vitriol throw some dry rotten wood on your fire. Stoke it, and double down on what you know you’re meant to share. DO IT!

But there’s a reason a truth as painfully obvious as this is super unpopular. It is to me, at least.

I started this project — to write a WHID page — WHID stands for “What Have I Done?” in order to illuminate what exactly I’m spending my time on.

Mind you, I’ve only made it to about 9:47 AM before I’ve totally abandoned the tracking of my time. But the tiny swath of morning I documented was ample evidence of how good I am at putting off the work that’s meaningful to me.

It might me writing this email to you — but if I check my journal, I’ll see that before I really got to work on writing, I read about an online course that would UNLOCK the blueprint I need to avoid all possible failure in my business future, checked email, checked another email account, went to Facebook to find a message only to be sucked into an involuntary scroll, checked on another online course I’d bought to see if it was still something I wanted to do, drank more coffee, read a news article, emptied the dishwasher, and watched two YouTube videos. Then I wrote one paragraph, and it was time to get dressed and to the train station.

I will do anything to delay the risk of failure.

Even though I enjoy writing and trust I’ll find my way. Even though I have tons of experience writing doodoo first drafts and then going back to revise. It’s still painful and scary to think I may run face-first into a lack of skill, and I won’t be able to figure it out.

I’ll sit down to write a scene for the play I’m working on, and I won’t know how to connect A to B. I won’t be able to put something on paper that matches the vision of a transcendent experience in an intimate theatre I’ve fantasized about. It’s easier just to see vague impressions of the dream and say, “Someday that’ll happen.”

We don’t want to know we can take the hit because we are so busy trying to figure out how to avoid all hits.

You can’t avoid them. They’re coming.

Last weekend, I turned around in the empty parking lot of the New Haven Ikea — we had Mother’s Day breakfast there. I recommend it!

We even grabbed a lovely Mother’s Day photo op in one of the living rooms — nice right?

But as I banged a louie through the parking lot, a man on a bicycle 50 feet away decided I was coming for him in my VW Tiguan.

Verbal abuse issued forth from his bike seat, and I was annoyed.

I said, “Relax, I’m not going to hit you.”

He no likey.

He FOLLOWED me through the parking lot, yelling more abuse in my direction. My boys were asking, “What’s that man saying?”

I parked, and he stopped his bike right behind my bumper.

I was like — are you waiting for a behind-the-tire-shop situation right now? Do I need to go into the Ikea and get my 6’4” brother who practices jiu jitsu? What’s up?

Well, the bike man pedaled away, and I was like, dang, that could have been a lot worse.

I felt an instinct to move the car, but waved it away — nah. It’s over.

Only to return to the car later greeted by a 7-foot key gash all down the driver side.

I have to say — insurance AND the New Haven Police Department were prompt and helpful 🙏— AND what the actual?

People are doing bonkers, hurtful things all over the place, and sometimes you find yourself synchronistically situated in the middle of dookie town.

But here again — you CANNOT predict what is gonna come flying at you.

So stop trying to find the 7-step plan to guarantee ice cream sundaes and blue ribbons. Somebody on a bike is gonna scream and swear at you, and when you pay them the human respect of being annoyed with their shenanigans, they’re gonna gouge your paint.

And you’re going to call insurance, call the police, and then go inside and get an Ikea hot dog and ice cream cone. You can do it!

But why is it crucial that you know this? Well, you tell me.

Where is this one truth — there will be doodoo, and you can take it, you can get through it — going to serve you in your life?

I’ll tell you a story about Melissa that will light up the answer.

Last January, my wife received a breast cancer diagnosis.

They caught it early, and her prognosis was good. AND she had to go through some very rough diagnostic procedures, 2 lumpectomy surgeries, and a course of radiation.

And there wasn’t a paid leave plan for moms that we discovered.

She managed her care, made sure there were folks to take care of our boys when she had to drive to Newton Wellesley Hospital every weekday, and somehow managed to keep our household running while I did my best to support her, us, and finished out the spring semester.

We did not see this coming. And I have to tell you, I watched her navigate this with faith and joy. Her head was high, and she kept it real. She was wiped out, overwhelmed, and completely dedicated to getting better and being here for her family.

I wish you could see the look in her eyes when she’d say, “I’m not going anywhere — I have too much to live for.” She walked through her treatment with faith, trusting that God was taking care of her and holding her through it all.

And we also discovered that we had a community around us.

Folks brought food, watched the boys, prayed for us.

My colleagues at the Conservatory gave us a Doordash gift card, cash, and beautiful flowers. The music division sent chicken soup and cookies. In new England it’s clear — folks are like, “Shut up, I’m bringing three meals over on Tuesday.”

But Melissa had evidence. She’d been through so many blindsides, heartbreaks, griefs, and general bullshit, that she knew this was going to suck, and she was going to walk through it.

And she did. With grace, joy, peace, and general badassery. I’m truly the most blessed. Like, jackpot.

But what kind of adversity have you slogged your way through?

I’ll bet you it was a lot harder than getting your mix-belt coordinated or sending a postcard every 6 weeks to the casting director you want to call you in. I guarantee it’s harder than writing your one-person show or crying because you didn’t book the job you wanted so much and had multiple callbacks for.

Being a storyteller is a challenge and a privilege. And you wouldn’t be reading this if that calling wasn’t burning in your belly.

So, what’s the thing you’ve been telling yourself you don’t want to face? What’s the hit you’re afraid you might take?

I’ll guarantee you, it’s not the one you think you’ll experience.

It’ll be some stupid surprise that’ll be hard and an objective ass-ache, but you’ll walk through.

And you’ll know you’re walking into the direction of the reason you’re here on the planet. Something that feels like goodness, satisfaction, and purpose.

Keep walking!

AND — if you’re like me, you’ve got a whole list of purposes and dreams, and sometimes you feel overwhelmed by all the things you want to do — so much so that you find yourself in paralysis staring at too many choices — I made a video for you — How to know what to do with your life in 24 Hours. It’s the one with the dishwasher story.

And remember — there is only one you, and somebody needs to hear the story only you can sing. You’re somebody’s Tabitha Brown!

Love much, Dan

Betty Buckley says so — One simple change will transform your auditions and your life — it’s physics

There’s a large club of theatre singers who work hard, sing well, have solid storytelling skills, and yet regularly deliver forgettable, boring, and tedious auditions that yield no call backs and no traction.

I myself have been a card carrying member of this club —

I took a class with a director I’d auditioned for in NYC once. I hadn’t booked any shows he was directing, but I’d heard his class was helpful.

After a few weeks of work and adjustments, he said to me, “I didn’t see any of this depth and potential when you auditioned for me. Not one inking of it.”

And he was right because I was doing this one thing that regularly shoots theatre singers in the character shoe.

What if there was one shift you could make that could fundamentally change everything about how you show up in an audition room, on camera, in the rehearsal hall, on the stage, and even in your life and relationships?

And what if this shift was very simple and something you can practice anywhere?

And what if this shift meant that you can guarantee yourself a satisfying, embodied, and integrated experience whether you’re in an audition room or at rehearsal or on the stage?

While you cannot control the outcome of what the table people decide, this shift will help you become so joyful about the things you can control that I’ll bet you a fro yo that you’ll also see changes in the results you’re getting from auditions.

This tool also shifts how you interact in the world and makes the experience of your life sweeter, more present, and helps you relate in a wholehearted way.

This journey starts with the one and only Betty Lynn Buckley.

I did scene study and song interpretation with her in New York City over the course of 3 years. If you don’t know her work, give her a quick google, and you’ll see she’s a master of theatre singing.

One thing about her class that confused, drew, mystified, frustrated, and taught me was meditation.

We meditated. A lot.

I was suspicious about how this was going to help me snag a leading role in an original Broadway cast, but the seeds she planted during those years grew into some of the strongest trees in my technique forest.

Meditation taught me to be an observer, a witness, and to look at things differently than I ever had before.

The reason I took Betty’s class was because the few times I’d seen her perform, I noticed the whole atmosphere in the theatre changed when she sang. And I wanted to be able to create an experience like that.

Betty said something over and over, and it made zero sense to my 24-year-old brain. “Be the seer,” she’d say. “Be the observer.”

see just fine, thank you very much. You’re telling me that seeing something is going to help me get a callback for Urinetown?

I was a basic mess in Betty’s class. I did some good work, and other days I’d stand in front of class and sob and not know why I was crying. (I’d tell my students now that was important work, too.) She stood with me through all of it.

And it was this lesson: to be the seer that created a superpower in me as a singer and as a human who wants to share and live a vibrant, wholehearted, connected life.

But, what was it about Betty’s admonition that created such a shift?

Well, it was quantum mechanics.

Of course.

What’s your first expectation when you walk into a singing class? Naturally, it’s to discuss the dual wave/particle nature of reality.

If you do a quick google on the Double Slit Experiment, you’ll find out how this process led to the birth of quantum mechanics.

I’ll spare you my attempt to explain, but the nutshell is this — scientists learned that light could behave either as a wave or as a particle depending on how it was being observed.

A photon beam was aimed at 2 slits in a metal sheet and created wave patterns after passing through.

Scientists were like, hmmmm that’s curious. Shouldn’t it behave like a particle?

So they set up a camera to see what was going on as light passed through the openings.

Once the cameras were operational, the light changed its behavior, and it made a pattern that showed the behavior of a particle rather than the behavior of a wave.

The mere change of adding an observer, a camera, caused the wave to collapse into a particle.

This is the power of the observer.

You’ve experienced this power in your own life.

Have you ever had a teacher who formed an opinion or assumption about you the moment they met you and the energy of that point of view completely shaped your relationship with them?

You can feel the power of an authority figure’s belief about you in your very cells.

If you had that little league coach who yelled at you all the time because they BELIEVED in you, while you may not have wanted to do those extra laps and pushups, the fact that someone saw great potential in you planted something substantial in your guts that told you you had what it took to play good defense or get around for that third pirouette.

I’ll say that again — in this series of experiments, light changed its behavior based on being observed. Looking at it changed it.

I remember hearing Betty say that in class, and my mind simply didn’t accept it.

A thing’s a thing, and how could it change just because you looked at it?

I still don’t know how that happens, but my experience has shown me that it’s true.

When I believe in a student and call out the possibilities I see, one day they turn around and notice they’re singing with a balanced, organized voice while living a specific story with an open heart. It even surprises me when I see it all come together — I’m like, dang, these tools work! Even though I know they work. There’s wonder about it, still.

This information — how you see things — is crucial for you as a singer and storyteller because you can actually determine not only how you’re looking at things, but you can also shift your actual vantage point. 

And this piece of intel is crucial.

And this is what Betty meant when she said “Be the seer. Not the seen.”

The question for you to ask is — are you seeing the world from behind your own eyeballs? Are you cozy and rooted into your own soul looking out at and relating to the world and folks around you?

OR have you hovered your consciousness somewhere outside yourself like a self-critical drone and begun to observe yourself from the outside?

You can feel the energetic shift in someone when this happens.

If I’m here hunkered down in my own body and looking out to you with an open heart, that feels a certain way.

And if I float out of myself and look back at me wondering what you’re thinking, or was this shirt a good choice for today, or what do you think about my singing, acting choices, and how can I get you to like me? Oof, that’s a very uncomfy place to be in my experience.

And we all go there. Humans, it seems, are the only sentient beings capable of this self consciousness particle collapse.

So, that’s question one to ask yourself.

Am I looking and seeing from behind my own eyeballs? Or am I somewhere outside shooting scrutiny lasers at myself?

Becoming aware of where your consciousness may have located itself is indeed step one. And this is something you can start to ask yourself anywhere.

An exchange with a cashier or barista is a great time to practice. Compliment their glasses or commiserate about the weather. What does it feel like to relate to another human without wondering if your shoes were a good choice?

Also notice what it feels like when you start to leave the center of you.

This happens a lot when we predict the future. If there’s a thing coming up when people will be looking at us — like an audition — we often pre-game it and imagine how it’s going to go.

But, notice where your imagination centers itself. Is it focused on your experience from inside your body? Or are you playing out how you may be perceived by the folks there?

I spent countless days in the latter zone. Still do. Even as I communicate this to you, my brain wants to ask “How’m I doing? How are you seeing me now?”

And yes, you definitely want to read the room. The way people respond to you is key information.

Now the question is, “Ok, so I get the whole where am I looking from thing and why it’s important, but how do I change it?”

And the good news is it’s just like singing — you can practice.

If you feel a kind of gut crunch or contraction, if your mind starts to run through scenarios and wheedle plans to manage how folks perceive you, you’ve sent the attack copters out.

On your next breath, you can bring yourself back into yourself.

Try it. Let your air out first. Now breathe through your nose and let yourself come back in behind your eyeballs.

Notice things in your environment and name them to yourself. Wall, doorknob, window, tree, bench, stoplight.

And when you fly out again, you can return on your next breath.

You’ll also notice a feature of self-consciousness is that it shuts down your breathing. So when you get it going again, it’s easier to move yourself back home.

When you’re singing a song, you may notice, oh whoops, I’ve floated over to behind the table people, and I don’t like this.

Tell yourself, on the next breath, I can come back.

And it may take three of four breaths, but you can come back to you. It’s the ability to fix the bike while you’re riding it — a phrase I learned from my spiritual director.

Anytime you’re moving from A to B, there will be things that don’t go to plan, so on the next breath you get to decide again. That’s how you move through a song, too.

So, it’s becoming aware of where your point of view is — are you grounded in your own skeleton looking out to your world, or are you zooming around to figure out how you’re being perceived?

Hint — you can never really know, and the good news is most folks aren’t thinking about you. They’re thinking about themselves. Just like you are. So that can be some very liberating information.

On your next breath you can come back home.

Now you’re probably like — all this sounds very self-realized and like a generally more pleasant way to walk down the street, but will this have real effects in the audition room? If I get behind my eyeballs, am I going to book those jobs???

I would bet you a frozen yogurt that if you cultivate this awareness and working from your identity as the seer, you’re going to see a shift in your results. You have to.

There are unlimited factors about auditioning that you have absolutely no control over. You cannot control what direction of the table folk. Stop trying to crack the code. There’s no code. Not like that.

But, if you’ve ever had the privilege of sitting behind an audition table, you will see this difference immediately.

When a human walks into the room, and they human from inside themselves and relate to you heart to heart, your own heart opens and says, “Oh thank God. Thank you for being a fellow human person.” It’s spring water on a hot day and a cozy blanket in grey winter.

That energetic exchange is life giving, and that actor made the table person’s day better just by relating in this way.

The director I took the class from that time? The one who told me he saw nothing about the depth and breadth of my talent? The reason I disappeared in the room was because I was desperate for a director-y person to say, “You know what? You’re really talented! I think you’re good!”

That’s not their job.

Their job is to cast a show, and your job is to bring excellent work into the room, and you’ll do excellent work with satisfaction when you commit to seeing.

The way you might be seen from the imaginary outside of you is not your business. It’s not controllable, and there’s no way for you to even form an accurate assessment.

And if you can, please get behind an audition table somewhere. Be a reader or monitor or get coffee for folks.

You’ll see this immediately. You’ll see there’ll be folks who come in, sing real pretty, do a nice job, and you just can’t make yourself care.

For a number of reasons, their attention is not hunkered into their experience of a specific story, and their energetic focus blurs.

You may hear directors and casting give the note, “That’s too general — I need specifics.”

General is a self-consciousness defense.

“You know what your decision is, which is not to decide.” Because a decision has to come from your own guts and your own point of view and from SEEING things clearly.

If you’re too occupied perceiving yourself from an unreal outside, there’s no way you have the mental and heart capacity to see and PLAY with possibilities in the story. And you’ll be like I was with that director — blurry and invisible.

So, my answer to — will this shift in focus, will being the seer help me get more jobs? I can’t imagine a world in which this won’t help.

Most importantly, can you imagine how much more content and satisfying your life will be living from this place?

You can practice all the time. And when you feel contracted, anxious, you notice your breathing stopped, you can come back inside on the next breath or three.

I always say that singing and storytelling is about opening your heart and inviting folks inside. Remember — you cannot invite someone in if you’re not there.


Before you go about your singing aggressively looking outward into the mid-distance checking on every breath if you’re truly inside your body, remember in our human experience we look a lot of places. I look at the outside world, and I look into my internal world.

I even have regular moments of self consciousness, and that, too, is a human thing you can share.

What if every time you noticed you were feeling self-conscious while sharing a song you remembered, “Every person within earshot knows exactly what this feels like.”?

You can then invite them IN to that reality with you. You don’t need to resist it. Acknowledge it as the protector it’s trying to be, and then invite in.

And to give you even more clarity on how to do this, here’s a video from a series I made for you, and this will give you a super simple fix for how your eyeballs can help you, number one, feel like a human, and, number two, enliven your experience of any story you’re singing about. See you over there.

And please remember there is only one you and somebody needs to hear the story only you can sing.

Love Much,

Crossing off Dreams — An unexpected and somewhat scary way to get clear, simple, and free

Sometimes after dinner, Melissa will be loading the dishwasher like a boss (she questions my dirty dish arrangement strategy). I’m an accomplished unloader, but my dish-putting method is more evolutionary Tetris.

She’ll see me staring into the mid distance toward the trees outside our kitchen door, and she’ll say, “What are you working on over there?”

Oof, you mean now or two seconds ago? I’ve had seven thoughts since then.

If you were able to slow-motion my neurons, you might see the following images:

A West End theatre.

Paperwork for a publishing deal.

Singing Valjean’s Soliloquy at one of the arena tours in Europe.

Soloing with a fancy orchestra.

Performing the one person show I wrote in an intimate theatre with a discerning and appreciative audience.

Buying a small farm near woods and creeks and turning a barn into a creative incubator.

Running a YouTube channel that demystifies singing and storytelling and makes theatre singers feel empowered and hopeful.

All that can run through my noodle in the time it takes to rinse the oxidized guacamole (tragedy!) off a plate.

My mind will bounce around to all these images, interpose some regrets and questionable professional decisions, and pretty soon I’m semi paralyzed.

I sit down to write half a scene of a one-person-show, and before I know it, I’m saying to myself, “Is this the right thing to be doing? How can I know this will pay off? I need a clear road map. There’s got to be a YouTube video on here somewhere that will tell me exactly what to do “

And actually, that kind of happened.

The algorithm delivered up an interview with this guy, Dr. K, a Harvard trained psychiatrist who speaks mostly to gamers. Not my demographic, but his videos were insightful.

In one video he talked about sabotaging yourself in a way I’d never considered — dream overload.

I was like — I think you’re talking to me Dr. K.

A few weeks ago I wrote in my journal — “I’m afraid to focus on one or two things because I know it means I’ll need to say no to 7 other things.” Felt scary.

Even with all the evidence in my life that mistakes and explosions and doodoo piles can all get turned to gold, I still fear errors, wasted time, and regrets.

But yeah, dream overload.

Dr K talked about steps 8 and 9 in the 12 Steps — making amends. How when folks start to say “I’m sorry” and repair things with the folks they’ve hurt, they get lighter and freer. A cognitive weight falls away.

Their mind isn’t trying to manage the emotional energy of that moral debt anymore.

A lot of things bear cognitive weight — unanswered texts, tricky conflicts, deciding which restaurant actually has the best cheeseburger.

And dreams.

So, I did an exercise this video recommended. I wrote down a list of dreams and regrets.

I let the list marinate for a while, thought about the items on it through the day, breathed them in and out on a jog, asked for wisdom and guidance.

Then I sat down, and I crossed off three quarters of the dreams on my list.

I thought I’d feel sadness.

I felt relief.

I felt lighter.

As I crossed things off, I wasn’t smashing them with a shovel. I was recognizing their wings.

I trusted that dreambird would migrate where it was supposed to go, and maybe their hatchling’s hatchling would fly back my way if that was right.

I felt lighter, and my focus became simpler.

I also saw some of my freed dreams were possible (uncontrollable) outcomes of a central satisfaction — telling stories, singing, and making someone else’s life better.

I invite you to try this.

Take some time to write down on paper the dreams and schemes pin-balling around your noggin. Give them some time to marinate and soak. Get out near trees and grass and walk around, let these ideas play around.

Then sit back down and see what it feels like to let some of these go so that you can offer focus and fire to the few that you sense will bring you and those you share with deep satisfaction.

Don’t worry. You don’t have to donate your dreams forever. You can put them in a box and check in on them in 6 months if you want.

If one of the things you crossed off won’t leave your insides, then that’s a message.

But make some choices, and start moving in a direction.

I heard a Navy SEAL being interviewed (YouTube, of course) who said when you’re lost in the forest, the worst thing you can do is stand still. Move in a direction. If it’s the wrong one, you’ll find out when you get to a vantage point and turn around.

Let me know how it goes for you!

And if the action you’re thinking of taking can make one person’s day better, then do it. It’s worth it.

There’s only one you, and someone needs to hear the story only you can sing.

Love much,


PS I encourage you to take the 30 minutes to listen to this interview with Sara Gettelfinger who’s in WATER FOR ELEPHANTS on the Bway right now. This interview is wholehearted and courageous.

You’ll never regret it. And a simple, generous way to make choices

Almost 2 years ago, I was kissing the boys good night and about to leave the bedroom when Noah said, “Daddy, can you hold my hand?”

Well, sure, I thought.

My brain also sent up a little alert:

What about all the parenting advice you’ve followed to help these two become independent sleepers? You hold their hand one time, they’re going to start depending on it.

And then I thought — one thing I’ll never say is, “I wish I’d hugged or held my boys’ hands a little less.”

Never going to happen.

So, I plopped between their twin beds and held both their sweet little paws while they flopped around, taught me about dinosaurs, and eventually conked out.

Two years later, I still hold their hands while they fall asleep.

Mind you, I’ve gamed the system.

Now that their bedtimes are different, the process takes longer, but I carpe the end of the diem to listen to audio books, play the NY Times word games, and catch up on my YouTube Watch Later list.

Melissa and I also flirt via Instagram messenger.

She’s curated a quality menagerie there, and she shares the riches.

There are some FUNNY folks on the socials. I’m grateful for the yuk yuks.

I’m always like, “Look at them, making the videos and putting it out there. Go ahead.”

And then I’m like, “How LONG did it take to conceive, shoot, and edit that video? How much of their life is devoted to, throat catchahmhmhmhmmmm, content creation?”

Con’-tent. A noun. Meaning the stuff that’s inside a container. I guess that’d be contents.

Con-tent’. Adjective. Being peacefully balanced, fulfilled, and grateful.

An irony, noooo?

These brilliant folks make content and contribute it to a technological platform that’s designed never to be content.

Especially with Instagram and its cousins, you’re talking about a 48-hour life span before everyone’s moved on to the next hot take on “Can I pet that daaawwwg?”

(That’s exactly how I talked growing up, PS.)

Stresses me out for them.

I’ve got an ambivalent relationship with the socials.

I’ve paused my accounts, read Cal Newport’s books and listened to lectures about digital minimalism, fired my accounts up again and scheduled more than a year’s worth of, hmhmhmhmmm, content, in a spread sheet, been elated that something I posted helped someone else, and spent many more hours than I wanted to recovering from snark slime slung my way in the comments section.

I also dislike the window it opens on my human susceptibility to all the Vegas-y scroll-scroll-scroll dopamine drip manipulation brain grab techniques they wield.

I’m also not a fan of how the platforms puff oxygen on the fires of surface knee-jerk statements on complicated, nuanced, both-and situations.

And as soon as you click a button in favor of such statements, it’ll serve you more to confirm the bias it just detected.

But I was thinking about something walking into work the other day.

When I write this email to you, and you write me back and say something like, “Thank you. This is exactly what I needed to read this week.” That alone makes it worth it.

If I know I lightened someone’s load for the day, that’s worth it to me.

And it occurred to me — that’s a great standard for decisions. “Will the thing I’m sharing lighten someone’s load? Will it encourage someone? Will it give them something that helps in any way?” Worth doing.

I think this is a great way to think about sharing stories and songs, too.

Is this ringing true in me? Is this wholehearted and honest? And will this make someone’s day better in some way?

It reframes our work because we’re seeing the world rather than worrying about how the world sees us. (A HUGE trap with the socials and life in general now. How do you not consider that when part of your brain may very well have merged with the phone camera?)

I’m remembering what Betty Buckley used to say in class in NYC 20 years ago: Be the seer, not the seen.

Made no sense to me at the time.

But now I get it. If you focus on what and who you’re seeing, your very observation can change the atmosphere around you. Quantum mechanics has been telling us that for years now.

If you turn the critical lens toward yourself, you collapse your love waves into picky particles, and I don’t think that’s how humans are designed to thrive.

How you see someone affects them, I’m convinced of this.

Think of one instance when someone saw a possibility in you that you were blind to, and how that probably changed your life. You and I have that very consequential ability right in the eyes of our heart.

“Will it lighten a load? Will it encourage? Will it offer something that helps? And does it ring true in me?” Then yes, go ahead.

We’re so inundated by choice, that’s a specific yet generous rubric to guide us. Spans from complimenting the cashier’s earrings to getting that one-person show on its feet for your trusted friends in your living room.

Just like hugs and holding hands, if it’s something you’ll never wish you did less of, go ahead. Do more of that.

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

Love much,

PS Great podcast interview with Betty Buckley that reminded me about the seer not the seen. https://open.spotify.com/episode/4yPahxBIqsRKqAFce81i3o?si=5168d2f9265c49c5

PPS Three people worth following — 

Tabitha Brown

Good News Movement

Justfrogetaboutit — (links to IG)

Running from what? Why’m I doing this again? And I need a snack.

It’s Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts which celebrates the role this state played in the Revolutionary War.

It’s also the running of the Boston Marathon. We went into Boston yesterday to see my Conservatory kids do Something Rotten, and it was a mess. The city, not the show. (They were terrific.)

Between race people and Red Sox people and your garden variety Massholes, we made it in and out relatively unscathed.

We even got a cookie and a blondie at Flour Bakery, so BONUS!

Walking down the street and holding hands with Melissa is one of my top favorite things in all of life.

The marathon goes right through Ashland a mile from our house, so we might try to get a peek at the folks who need to run, even without anything chasing them!

Yesterday about 2/3 of the way into Boston, I said to Melissa, “Those folks will still be running at this point. AND have a ways to go.” Bless em, God.

Got me to thinking, though, what kind of focus does it take to decide you’re going to run a marathon? Training for said marathon, and then running the 26+ miles…whether or not you choose to display a number sticker on your car. Up to you.

But what’s that runner’s reason for this? And what do they tell themselves for early morning training? What do they say when their brain logically tells them, “This is an insane pursuit. You should stop and have a snack.” Perfectly reasonable.

Do you know Tabitha Brown?

I watched her make a kale salad on Instagram today, and then she got a word from the Lord. She looked right in our souls from her kitchen and said, “You getting distracted.”

How do you know about me, Tab?

I mean, there’s been a lot going on in Calla-town. If life were a college course, I could be getting all kinds of extensions. (Though I did get taxes in this weekend. Boom! And ouch.)

But I have to be honest.

When I do have half an hour to sit down and write a scene, revise the musical that had a reading 18 months ago, or make a funny postcard for the casting director I’ve committed to bug every 6 weeks, I’m amazing at answering work emails, researching the best place to watch the marathon, or playing Wordle.

So, today I’m reaching out for your help.

What do you do to transcend or sublimate distraction? Write me back and tell me! I’ll share with the class.

And if you’ve run a marathon, how did you train? What did you do on days you didn’t feel like training? Fill me in.

One thing I do know, though, and this helps. I’m a forgetful creature. I forget why writing stories is so important, why singing means so much, why I still feel a tap on my shoulder telling me I have more to share.

We have so many chances for distraction. So many ways to get pulled off the path. Like, actual technology platforms designed to commandeer our brains and dominate our attention.

We have to exert a huge amount of choice energy to stay on the path.

So, I invite you today to write down why the thing that always taps your shoulder and burns your guts is crucial to you. Maybe investigate what’s behind that knee-jerk jealousy you feel about that person you have thing about. That’s a map and points you to the kind of work you you need to be sharing. (A helpful idea from Julia Cameron.)

I’ll do it, too. And for real — write me back and tell me how you diminish distraction. Share with the class.

And here’s one big why — there’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing

Love much, Dan

Is that necessary? Hot goss burning me up inside like a geyser of red hot indignation

I get judgy when people gossip.

Can’t they think of something better to talk about? How sad.

Oh, if you want your business known, just tell Chatty Pattie over there.

(A statement which itself crosses the line into the center Gossip Town.)

But I’m just telling you so you can be warned. And to pray for Pattie, of course, bless her heart.

(“Hot Goss Initiators: Survey says,” DING! “prayer requests!”)

A friend and colleague was visiting the Conservatory last week, and we grabbed coffee before the studio class they were going to teach.

A mutual acquaintance came up in conversation, and before I knew it, I was spilling the goods about an awkward Messenger exchange that didn’t put the aforementioned in the most favorable glow.

I didn’t even offer a prayer.

I felt something in my gut shift as I casually exposed this person — a deflating, slime balloon.

I tried to say something a little kinder to recover, but the goo had been slung.

Later on, my guest sent me a link to the training program they were teaching at, and it looked like some good work was going on.

I checked the About page and discovered the program was founded by someone I have a yawning respect deficit for. Someone who’d done hurtful things to friends, and, ironically, figured into a betrayal matrix in my own life.

The impulse arose. What oblique yet morally superior barb could I sling about this entrepreneurially savvy turd monkey?

I wanted to tell my friend what kind of jerk wagon they were working with, but then I remembered leaving the Dunkies that night and throwing casual shade on that other person.

And I heard a wise voice inside say, “Is it good? Is it true? Is it necessary?”

Um, not really. Yes! And no.

I zoomed forward to ask near-future-Dan, and he said, “Better leave it.”


But, I want the people to KNOW. As if it might not be general intel among the theatrical community that this particular person may have engaged in assy behavior.

I wrote back, “Looks like some great work going on there,” which was true, and sat while the gossip geyser in my guts abated.

It was hard not to splay the indignant truth on IG messenger, but after an hour or three, I was grateful I practiced what career coach Barbara Deutsch calls containment.

It was also a statement to myself.

The things this person did that hurt me have less significance now. I even noted the lack of charge when I saw this person’s name. It had been high voltage several years ago when those syllables came up in conversation. (I did not restrain my opinion in that instance.)

But, a few things I learned from deciding to zip it this time:

It was a little hard to do. And worth doing.

I noticed I was a little proud of myself. Choosing not to engage that was a loving act toward me. And my friend didn’t need that noise, either.

And it reminded me how useful the three Socratic sieves are. Is it good? Is it true? Is it necessary?

What would our hearts and minds be like if we kept this top of our consciousness?

It would change how we talk to ourselves, what kind of media we read and soak into our brains, and it would help ALL interpersonal communication.

Good, true, necessary. And I’ll add beautiful.

Adjectives that describe you very well.

Because remember, there is only one true you and folks need to hear the good story only you can sing

Much love,


PS Have you heard about The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store by James McBride? It’s just a beautiful book. I listened to the audio, and it’s excellent. Good, true, necessary, and beautiful.

PPS And do you know the work of Nilaja Sun? I’m late to the party, but her play No Child… is exceptional. What a wise writer and open-hearted storyteller.

PPPS Shout out to my Voice Teacher from Elon, Cathy McNeela. Yesterday was the spring recital for my BoCo nuggets, and I caught myself making the following Cathy faces:

deep nostril breath before a long phrase:

Open mouth deep feels when a student is being all brave and courageous in their storytelling

And the sweet flowers the schmoopie seniors gave me. I love these kids, what a privilege.

Where’s the stage? I dreamed a dream, and it was crazy.

For more than twenty years I’ve dreamed variations on a theme:

I’m in a show I haven’t rehearsed for. I can’t find my costume. And I never get to the stage.

Recently, I dreamed I showed up to sing with the good people of First Presbyterian Church of Burlington, NC, and someone asked me to sing “Bring Him Home” from the Les Miz. Alain Boublil and Claude Michel Schonberg would be in attendance.

My friend Bill Solo (who played Jean Valjean on Broadway and many national tours) was going to accompany me, and I’d come prepared to this dream! I brought not one but TWO copies of the song with me.

As I walked in a smooth fashion to the piano (just as I teach my students to do), I couldn’t find the sheet music.

It disappeared from my binder.

I learned this event also happened to be a party? Hosted by voice actor queen Tara Strong, it turned out.

And since I still couldn’t find my music (neither copy), we decided I’d sing later.

I never got to sing the song.

I even asked Tara if she could help me print the music from Music Notes.

She said, “Sure!” and walked over to a computer she called Doja Cat, and told it what we needed.

It didn’t print my music, but it did pop out a delicious autumn-themed meal featuring roasted squash and rosemary.

If you have insight on what my subconscious has been trying to communicate to me ever since college with these never-making-it-to-the-stage dreams, fill me in, Dr. Freud.

But do you ever experience this feeling of thwart in your artistic life?

You send the emails. You make your own things. You invite the people. You post on the platforms. You show up at the auditions. You take the classes. You worry if maybe you’re becoming transactional in your relationships.

And still you feel a little like me in my dreams where my costumes disappear off the rack and the hallway from the dressing room to stage left gets all morphed like Dr. Strange meets Inception.

I recently wanted to be seen for a project. My terrific agent said, “I’ll reach out to casting.” Thanks 👍. Crickets. I even went in for an open call for the project. More crickets (it felt like). I knew folks involved and everything. Not a fit.

In fact, most attempts I’ve made to audition for projects since the panorama, doors have remained closed.

The story that goes through my head: They think I’m a professor person now. Or they’re not thinking about me at all.

Maybe that’s wrong. Maybe there’s a grain of accuracy there. Dunno. No one’s confirmed or denied.

But when I slow down and listen to my life in this season, I see that I’ve had all this amazing time holding my boys’ hands at bedtime.

And teaching keeps finding me.

(Even at my last audition, I ran into a long time student from LA who needed a hug, some love, and a few therapeutic vocal exercises.)

I remember something I often tell students: a closed door is direction.

I look around at the closed doors, and I realize a few things.

There are just a few roles in current musical theatre that I want to play right now.

And the roles I really want to play? Someone needs to write them. And that someone is me.

I’m working on it. Along with the book I’m writing. (I’ll let you know if I can work on two projects at once.)

So, if you’re like me in my anxiety reveries, and you hear the show starting on the monitor while you walk around lost in the halls with half a costume on, maybe it’s time to pause and ask if you’re trying to break down the wrong stage door.

There might be a story that’s been tapping on your shoulder that only you can tell.

How will you do it? No clue. But I do know you’ll never find out if you don’t get out your pen and paper or recording device and start getting some things down.

Jump to the first lily pad you see, and you’ll be surprised at how clear the geography of the pond starts to become.

There really is only one you (and me), and folks need to hear the story only we can sing.

Love much,


Is this weird? It totally is. You got any ideas?

I went to an audition last week.

I prepped like I believed that phrase “there‘s no such thing as too much preparation.”

I chose a song that was perfect for the character I had in mind,

transcribed and transposed it in Finale,

even worked it in studio class to give my students an object lesson – see how your 46-year-old professor who’s been doing this for a while still freezes with panic sometimes and shouts creative profanity when he messes up that part. Again.

(Side note — my students had the BEST notes for me. Bravi y’all!)

The audition went fine. I was satisfied with my work, and onward you walk.

It got me to thinking about us theater storytellers, though — this crazy audition game we play.


read a break down,

choose a song that sounds like the world of the show,

has a story like the one your character would sing,

wear the clothes that suggest a costume,

but don’t get too costume-y.

Really want the role,

but don’t present as needy.

Answer the questions of the breakdown well,

but remember it’s not about what they want,

but it is, but don’t try to figure that out.

This is why I saw a couple of people in the holding room I’m sure I recognized from auditions 20+ years ago only with various degrees of manic desperation crinkling their brows.

I thought oh no, it looks like this is the center of your life, showing up to the calls and singing the songs and talking to the other folks about how it went in the room. I felt sad.

Of course, I have no idea if the things I projected on these strangers was accurate, or just a swirl of my own fear and ambivalence, but it did make me consider why auditioning is such a specific and tricky practice.

Auditioning requires that you understand the show, understand what piece of the show’s puzzle you might be, and then you need to figure out how to clearly convey your understanding through song choice, shirt choice, and vibe choice.

This one particular piece of this one particular puzzle calls on one facet of your overall skill set. If you were an architect, that day you’d feel like you’re sharing a blueprint of a backyard shed, while on the shelves of your studio, you have drafts of libraries, museums, and art deco skyscrapers.

No wonder actors fall into the kitchen sink trap.

I’ll shoehorn the journey of Oedipus into 16 bars and add an opt up. Shipoopi!

It’s the impulse to share, and the reason we joined to the drama club.

I can keep on making up stories and playing pretend? Yes, please! Oh, and sometimes people laugh, cry, and clap? Sign me up!

When Noah, our older boy, gets home from kindergarten, he heads straight to the living room, builds a ship, or a pyramid, or an army base out of Duplos, and begins a whole production playing all the characters featuring Elmo, Bluey, and a Ninja Turtle.

It’s delightful to hear his imagination fly.

Auditions ask us to narrow that wild, child-like stream into a very focused task, and the annoying truth of most creative endeavors is — you find a lot of freedom inside limits.

So, perhaps, rather than bemoaning how reductive an audition might feel, what if we combined our imagination powers with the rules of the game? (Auditioning is very Chutes and Ladders.)

The audition breakdown is like the instructions. You learn the object of the game and understand if it’s Candy Land or Settlers of Catan. You devise a strategy song choice, decide what game piece you think you are, and you prepare and share.

I find the more focused you are on the task of the audition, the more committed you are to your particular point of view, somehow the multi-facets of you naturally emerge and shine.

It’s not something you can be aware of, but your focus on the story along with an open heart creates human connection.

If you go in a room prepared to tell the story you crafted, alive in that moment, and open your heart, that’s a successful audition.

And then there’s this question for you:

What would be a way for you to create and share a rich story that features those blueprint drafts you’re so proud of on your shelves? Your sense of humor, dialect skills, well-honed belt-mix and accordion playing all in one show? 🙂

Dream up some possibilities, write them down, and practice them and share pieces with your trusted people. Then you’re on your way to building your own thing. No audition necessary.

Anything you make will be unrepeatable because there is, after all, only one you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing.

Love much,


PS You’re precious, and you’re loved. You may feel like you just had to slide way down a long chute on the board game. I’m confident that your next few turns are going to redirect you to a terrific ladder you may have missed the first time through. Keep doing your thing and share. 💙

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