for people who break into song in real life

Category: Things that make life better

What If Your Brain Became Your Singing Bestie? (🧠 = 🎵BFF)

How many teachers or well meaning actory friends have advised you to turn off all that mental chatter and just focus on, I dunno, an imaginary scene partner?

I’m not gonna tell you to do that. If you find a way to do it, let me know, though it sounds boring. Unabated mental yammering has kept my noggin entertained for over forty years.

In this video, you’ll find out about tools and gardening references that’ll help you

  • watch your thoughts like Jason Bourne clocks a crowded street peppered with secret snipers
  • slow your roll like someone just hit play on the Barry White Spotify radio and handed you a nice glass of Trader Joe’s vino
  • Understand how welcoming that pesky friend in is sometimes the quickest way to help them find the door
  • learn the counterintuitive, annoyingly simple way to poke your way out of almost any pickle
  • level up to black belt in one trait that’ll help you speed up your progress (also annoyingly simple)
  • practice the one body move that’ll smear icing on all this cake

All this and a stretchy reference to THE MUSIC MAN to boot. 🎺

1 Truth Bomb for You from the Ninth Circle of Hell (Seventh Grade)

In seventh grade I did the world’s worst Clint Eastwood walk imitation toward the front doors of Mt. Airy Junior High School. My acid stomach rumbled, and I knew I’d be asking my first period teacher for the usual emergency bathroom hall pass. 

My belly was always roiling in junior high. I’d transferred from the county school to the little city system. The city middle schoolers cussed a lot more than the county kids. Before I knew it, rumors about the new kid bounced like rogue dodgeballs around the beige cinder block halls.

Bullies shoved Moist Towelettes in my ears at lunch time, and kid gangs who summered by the country club pool said things I couldn’t track. But I did understand the cackling after the punchlines. 

I’m sure you know a twelve-year-old can feel a lot of pain and fear, and that is why I hurt when I hear about anyone any age being bullied. And I’m grateful there was no internet in 1990. 

My dad taught me how to throw a punch to defend myself against one particular redneck roughneck who took me into Dante’s deepest circle on the daily.

Picture this hell-scape set in the chain-linked grassy patch next to the school buses where this kid kept picking fights. Prepubescent Dan didn’t want none of that. Dad was trying to school me: Plant my feet, make contact, follow through. 

I said through my tear-streaked face, “But Deddy, If I punch him, that’ll hurt him.” “I know son! That’s the point!” (And I wondered why I could never get all beast about football. I’m a lovah not a fightah.)

And here I am. I made it! And when life throws me some booll-shit, I can always say, “Come for me, bish. I made it through seventh grade with As and Bs.”

You and I both know now that nobody gets out of junior high unscathed, bullies and bullied alike. 

And now get ready. You’re fixing to reap the benefits of the cold hard truths I grabbed like the last strawberry shortcake ice cream bar in the junior high war of emotional attrition.

Knowing you can take a punch is more important than throwing one. 

Fast forward to my twenties. Uh oh. I was on a date in New York, and I managed to hail a cab on Houston Street on an about-to-rain, windy night. My date wore heels, and I’m sure I was being a drama tool (because…my twenties), so she was over it, and her feet were at anguish level red zone. 

Every cab was full, so this taxi’s available light shone like a beacon in the humid, horn-saturated air. As the cab pulled over, three jaywalking bros about six beers into a weeknight bender piled in the back seat from the street side. 

I’d been accessing some deep anger in acting class in those days, so my interior trailer park dawg was pulling at his rusty chain. When my date and her feet wailed in despair at the taxi thieves, I observed myself shout, “Get the f*ck out! This is our cab!” 

Oh what did you just do, Dan? 

One of the loaded bros rolled out of the back and squared up at me on the sidewalk. I looked straight into his eyes, and I said to myself, “Self, you are about to get punched.” 

He looked at me for a protracted three seconds, and then he said, “Naw, man.” He stepped back and waved his pissed posse along. No punch.

I got in the cab with a little yeah-that’s-right in my sit-down. My date was not as impressed. What? I got the cab! 

I wondered at this incident. Did an imposing guardian angel materialize over my right shoulder? Did I shape-shift into a reptile beast? Am I just that intimidating? 🔔

It was probably the Steve-Buschemi-from-Mr.-Deeds crazy eyes I had also been refining in acting class.

The point–I found myself in a scary place, and I realized I was willing to take a hit. 

And while I do not recommend my actions of that evening to you, I did find a freedom that night that my twelve-year-old self on the patchy grass behind Mount Airy Junior High School lacked. Both versions of me were scared, but I knew between sheer stupidity and stage combat training, I was going to make it home from Houston Street.

That’s us–artists, singers. We make ourselves available to take emotional hits all the time.

We do it when we invest ourselves into the stories we sing. We do it when we stand in front of table people and open our guts gates and show the parts of us that got the shit bullied out of them in middle school. And we take the hits when the role we imagined playing a gajillion times goes in another direction.

I’m here to tell you I haven’t found another way. When I do find the success-popularity-and-ice-cream path through artistic risk, you will be the first to know.

But what’s most important for you is this–

You are resilient. Remember the thing you came back from that you thought was gonna end you?

You are flexible. Remember the duck-and-dive improv you pulled off as you yes-anded your way through that outa-the-blue shock? 

You are strong. Snot and tears poured out your face, and you did the thing anyway. 

You are smart. You’re reading this. You are a ninja of compassion, beauty, and connection. 

And when you do show up willing to take the hit, remember the other two things I always tell my students and myself: It’s just crying. And you will get up.

Now go get yourself a fro yo. 🍦💙

If you’re currently in the getting up process, please know that if my ruminating Enneagram 4 self can cry, snot, dust off, and keep walking, I know you can, too.
You👏Got👏 This👏.

This is how to stop wasting time beating the doodoo outa you

Or the time I talked about cereal in therapy.

I have a cereal addiction.

My Noom app, in all its quirky make-you-feel-cozy-about-tracking-calories supportiveness judges me for it. Noom says there are no bad foods, and I whole-grain-heartedly agree. But I know they’re giving me David from Schitt’s Creek side-eye when I log my Life Cereal with Ghirardelli semi sweet chocolate chips and half almond milk half moo cow 2%.

I remember back in my 20s sitting cross-legged, sock feet, pillow hugged to belly, on my analyst’s West End Avenue sofa. I’d finally stopped panic-lying about why I was in therapy, so one day I mustered the courage to blurt, “I think I have a problem with cereal.”

Dr. K leaned back in his Danish leather chair, gave his grey beard a rub, (Oh Dr. K–many things you said make sense now.) and asked me to elaborate.

“Well, you see, I eat several bowls of cereal at night. And I think it might be a problem. I mean, it’s not like I’m eating cake or anything.”

Dr. K replied in his measured baritone, “It’s exactly like you’re eating cake. You’re ingesting simple carbohydrates that give your body a dopamine surge.”

I tried to absorb this. But I was more Corn Pops than Raisin Bran–my emotional sugar armor created an impermeable milk-of-wisdom barrier.

And my cereal desire has gone unabated. It’s a tricky dance partner, and most nights I’m pretty good at doing one foxtrot over to the pantry. If I return for a follow up waltz, I notice what I’m doing and check in with my actual physical stomach to see if he’s hungry.

My brain then says, “But I’m MOUTH hungry!” or “This goes in the cereal stomach! It’s separate!” Or, “We need a carb hug inside!”

All this meditation on serial cereal consumption got me thinking about vocal technique.

You too? Of course. 🎵

I’ve been cultivating my cereal relationship for a good 38 years now. This is what we do with our habits, our things that we do.

My career coach, Barbara Deutsch, used to tell me to say, “Oh, there’s that thing I do” whenever I saw I was about to sell out on myself. Problem was, I wasn’t conscious enough to recognize the sabotage gremlin when it emerged from the desert junk yard of my self concept.

I thought, “What good is that gonna do, Barbara? Just notice something?…No! hand me that cricket bat with the scratched-off decals, and I’m gonna beat the shit out of this old habit and burn it along with all those bald tires over there. It’s the only way!!”

Barbara was teaching me about being the witness. She was introducing me to that mysterious, ordinary, immortal diamond real me that notices when my body is doing unloving things.

In the cereal evening hour, the wise me observes, “You had a tiring day. You want some sweetened baked wheat squares covered in a mixture of plant based liquid extracted from almonds and fluid that’s meant to addict calves to their mommies’ udders. I understand.”

Vocal technique = same.

Here’s what I mean. You’re singing, and your abdominals lock. Singing feels vulnerable. There’s that thing you do.

You’re belting along invested in your story, and your jaw tightens. Expression and vibration in your throat feels emotional. There’s that thing you do.

You judge the resonance you hear in your head and say, “I sound like that person I swore I would never sound like.” We go high stakes with singing — we tell ourselves stories about jobs, recognition, acceptance, competition, love. There’s that thing you do.

There was a terrific music director I worked with who always smiled, always joked, and always got precisely what he wanted. 

He would say, “You always get there, you just have to decide how you’re going to take the trip.”

I had never seen an in-charge-of-the-show person have so much fun. And honestly I was worried. I mean, we have to get READY!

And we were ready. He was right. We got there. And there was no drama making the drama.

It’s the same in how you’re growing in your vocal technique and life. If you can meet it with curiosity rather than a cricket bat, things gently and joyfully change.

I invite you to give some air time to your gentle witness. It’s the part of you that can see yourself the same way you see your friend who struggles with the eating disorder or your sibling who fights anxiety. You meet them with compassion and encouragement when they are in their dark days.

What if you met yourself with those same soft eyes, open ears, and huggy arms?

We all pick up the bludgeon method of self-ass-kickery at some point on the road. Let’s leave the splintered cricket bat in the Mad Max wasteland and take a walk by the cool stream. The water’s flowing like your breath, and we all need to hydrate anyway.

Soon, you’ll be like our one-year-old who knows whats up when you’re near a beautiful stream. 👇

Something about hearing a one-year-old say “Amazing!” that reminds you what amazing is all about.

You’ll also notice his left arm is drenched where he tried to become one with the stream.

What’s going on for you right now? What is the thing you do singing or just living that you’d love to have a little more freedom around?

I’d love to hear from you. Email me or share a comment about one of the things you’d like to gently witness on out the door. 🚪byeeeee.

And remember–there is only one you, and folks need to hear the story only you can share.

Add Beauty

We are theatre artists, and right now there is no theatre.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I watched a documentary called The Actor’s Apprenticeship about the repertory theatre companies in the UK and how they were a safe training ground for many master actors.

Near the end of the film, there was a shot inside a 3/4 thrust space, the seats empty, and I felt my stomach get all achy.

I felt longing, what every good breakup song is about–you don’t know what you had until it’s gone.

Like every theatre artist during this time, I asked myself what I could do in the absence of what I do.

Those days we went on drives.

We loaded up the boys, drove north toward the rolling pastures and hoped nobody pooped.

(Side note, we’d taught our older son to call the diaper genie Mordor. He’d say it in received pronunciation. Ready for the rep company, clearly.)

During one of these drives my brain was on the moon.

Melissa said, “You seem far away today.”

I agreed. I wanted to indicate my mental coordinates, but my mind was a pinball game amid a lot of arcade noise.

I’ve learned some good technologies to corral my brain and direct him in less stress-inducing directions, but this day my tewlz felt out of reach.

This day, as my older son said at the time: “need help.”

Sometimes we get stuck in there, and we need someone to throw us a rope.

Melissa encouraged me to start saying words attached to the images pinging through my headspace, and after much incoherence, I finally arrived at, “I want to add beauty to the world.”

There was a lot of noise surrounding this–ruckus related to achievement, perception, and shoulds. But that was a statement that felt like it came from a real and satisfying place in me.

Since then, it’s been a phrase I’ve returned to many times. What can I share with you that I think has some beauty about it?

And why beauty?

There’s so much dirt flying at us that I want to contribute something that feels like clear water on our faces.

Beauty tells me there’s purpose and design that’s smarter than I am.

And it sets off something vibratey in my guts that feels connected to you and bigger things.

When we look at something beautiful together, we can join in that.

That’s why the theatre is so special. A group of us gather in one space to share a story artfully told.

We witness a story in time together, and when that’s over, we all leave with our own imprint of what happened. There’s nothing like it. I can’t wait to do it again.

In the meantime, what’s beauty to you? Or what’s your equivalent? And how does it feel to share it?

Here’s a list of possibilities that come to mind:

  • asking the Target checkout ninja how they’re doing
  • giving someone full mask smize in public
  • making some box mac n cheese really well
  • washing dishes
  • planting a flower
  • looking at a leaf or grass blade for more than seven seconds and saying wow
  • telling someone you love them
  • taking someone a meal
  • writing a thank you card or a letter and putting a stamp on it
  • making your bed
  • laughing
  • writing a rude limerick

Here’s a flower by our front door. That color, right?

I’m inviting you to join me. Instant Artist: just add beauty.

Use-What-You-Got Picnic Salad

We had a family picnic last week, and I made this salad out of our end-of-week fridge:

For your own salad brain, these are things that dance well together: good dressing (many possibilities in the pantry), greens, some crunchy things, a protein (beans, meat, egg, etc), other textures (starches, soft things like avocado, sweet potato, goat cheese).

Here’s how this one worked out.

Ingredients:

  • Dressing: lemon zest and juice, Dijon mustard, salt, maple syrup
  • kale
  • bell pepper
  • leftover chicken breast, brown rice, mushrooms
  • cherry tomatoes
  • sweet potato
  • Everything but the Bagel Seasoning

Start the dressing in the bottom of your bowl. You need an acid, an emulsifier, salt, and something sweet if you want that.

This is lemon zest, juice, Dijon mustard, salt, and a little maple syrup;

Then see what kind of greens you have. We had a big ole bag of untouched kale, so that’s what I grabbed. Put it in your dressing and squeeze those greens. Kale needs encouragement.

We had leftover chicken breast, brown rice, and shrooms, so I threw that on there. Leftover starches and proteins are great in sallets.

I added cherry tomato, an orange bell pepper, a leftover sweet potato, and Everything but the Bagel Seasoning from TJ’s.

And there you have picnic deliciousness. Don’t forget the forks.

For graduating storytellers wondering what the….

I hope these words bring you clarity and encouragement today.

There is a select group of people who are going to naturally vibe with who you effortlessly are. This is great news.

If you are operating a small business, (and if you want to make your life as a storyteller, you are operating a small business), you only need a small, loyal customer base to have a successful go at it.

Example: when I ran my teaching studio in Los Angeles, I worked out that I needed 120 regular clients in order to teach 20 hours a week. I had about 500 on my mailing list. With that lil number, I was busy and able to pay my bills.

120 musical theatre nuts out of how many in LA County—not a big percentage. But if I had more than that, I’d have to start hiring.

Think about the life of an actor now. Let’s pretend there are 100 casting directors in your market. How many do you need to believe in your skills in order to start getting in doors? A much smaller number than 100.

If five casting directors are wild about you and keep calling you in, one day that’s going to turn into a job and another. (PS that’s about the number of offices that consistently called me in when I was a working actor in NY.)

And how many agents’ offices do you need? That’s right: one. You need one, if even that. I knew many consistently working actors in NYC who were agent-free.

Please inquire into this thought distortion we pick up–that everybody needs to love and understand us and validate our talent. You don’t even need to validate your talent. You just need to bring your best work into the room and communicate it better every day.

A couple days ago I told Melissa that I was feeling really confused. She said, “The world is objectively confusing right now!” Oh, right.

Please remember that, you all. There are less things that seem readily graspable right now, so let’s focus on what we have agency over—making art and sharing art in the ways we can.

And remember. You just need a lil itty bitty tribe that gets you and your work to have a career that’ll make you complain about how you need to find some balance.

Bless all y’all. Be kind to yourselves. Do your work. Your people will recognize you.

***Please do yourself a favor and get to know Seth Godin’s work. I believe he’s an important voice for art makers of all kinds.***

Write Down the Dreams

My bullet journal suffered fatal injuries yesterday when I left it on top of our car after chasing our one-year-old through the parking lot.

I was lucky enough to find its pieces later that day strewn and smashed along the Holden Road/Bryan Boulevard overpass.

As I wait for a new one to arrive from the Amazon fairy, I pulled out a journal I bought for us in 2015 that I labeled our family dream book.

The cover has a great quote that I eagerly claim now that I’m officially in middle years.

I’ll take it, Mr. Lewis.

Only the first three pages of the journal have been utilized.

And to my delight this morning I opened the front cover to see a list of dreams Melissa and I wrote down in October 2018.

We wrote down fourteen things, and without any direct attention or focus on these particular goals, seven of them have happened.

I was like whaaaaa?–those write-it-down-woo-woo people are on to something. I’m totally one of those write it down woo woo people.

The other goals we wrote down are pandemic-limited, so when we are out of the woods on this, we’ll see!

So, write it down. Make it plain. Even if it’s sitting on your night stand for two and a half years, I’m reminded there’s power in it.

And make them crazy! Go big and stay home–for now.

Your enough-ness

Brené Brown wrote, “The opposite of scarcity isn’t abundance; the opposite of scarcity is simply enough.”

This stuck with me. I have lived most of my life believing the former duality.

When I perceived scarcity, I saw the absence of abundance. I was blind to all the enough within and without.

I go back to the story I’ve told about sitting in my car in front of a check cashing joint in North Hollywood crying because I couldn’t even get a usurious payday loan to cover all the bills I had said yes to.

Looking back, in that moment I actually had enough. I mean, here I am right? I made it.

I knew to call a friend and ask for help. This assistance bore no interest and came with a lot of empathy. This friend also didn’t really have a large cushion to spare, and still he lent. He had enough.

Let’s take a second and look in. Yep, your heart, where you really live, the real you that’s not your hair, skin, clothes, eye color, or bank account.

Are you looking? I’ll wait.

Look, you’re enough! How can you not be? You’re a miracle of creation here on this earth skewl with me, learning as you go down the road. How beautiful.

Have you tried affirmations? I swore off of them. (Though I’ve stumbled upon a cool way forward with them that I’ll share soon.)

Yeah, affirmations when you say, “I am all these grandiose amazeballs things,” and your brain says, “Pssshht. Um, look at your resume.”

The thing with I am enough is that you know it’s true. Enough is just right. You’re enough to be reading this, enough to contemplate this, enough to look inside and see, oh wow, there’s a whole lot of enough there.

Yesterday I said that when we sing, we can open our hearts and invite people in. They don’t know what’s in there, only whether or not we are being hospitable. That’s where all that enough lives.

And just think–I invite you in there, you see, “oh, Dan is full of all this enough. Wait a second, I’m a human just like him. I bet I got all kinds of enough, too.”

You would be right. It’s sweet. It’s full of rest. It’s powerful. It burns away the illusion of our separation and better-or-worse-than-ness.

In every present moment, you are enough. I am enough. You have what the moment requires–washing that dish, putting on that shirt, projecting a hello to that person in the grocery store through your mask and squinching up your eyes so they can see you’re smiling.

When you’ve done your prep, when you’ve practiced the notes, when you’ve made the words your words that stand for your images and your thoughts, you can stand in that song and know that you are enough.

Dang, even if you haven’t done all the work, know you’re enough and do a great job. Trust me, I’ve been fooled by many a student 🙂 In fact, you can do all the homework, and if you aren’t on board with your enough-ness, there’s no way anyone else can be. You have to go first.

You. Are. Enough. Promise me you’ll say that today. I am enough.

Because you are, and you know you are.

And maybe somebody needs to see you live that in front of them so that they can get a beautiful clue about their own cozy, infinite, breathtaking enough.

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