An Addendum to My Last Post

First off, thank you to all of you who have responded so enthusiastically to the essay I wrote today.  It’s been a little overwhelming, but touching nonetheless, to see it shared so many times.  That being said, I want to clarify a few things:

1) I really DO love musical theatre.  I will always love musical theatre. I still want to do musical theatre when it’s right for me.  So I am certainly not condemning the genre or the people who work within it, but I think all of us can use a refresher course in constructive criticism in this internet age where everyone and anyone can be a critic.  I believe criticism is a necessary tool to help an artist grow when it is offered in a way that is constructive and provides positive feedback and tips on how to improve on “problem areas.”  Positive energy is far, FAR more powerful than negative energy.  Always.

2) I have other personal reasons beyond the one mentioned for pursuing other artistic goals outside of musical theatre.  We’re all more than one thing, and I am more than just someone who does musical theatre, so I’m taking time to pursue those things because I feel it’s time to do that right now.  I didn’t leave only because of what’s in my essay and some awful things people I don’t even know said or wrote on the internet.  As an artist, we frequently go where the wind takes us.  My wind is taking me elsewhere for right now.

3) Lots of wonderful, terrifically nice and supportive people DO work in musical theatre from the top down, and having met mostly those kinds of people, I can say they are the ones who keep my love for musical theatre alive.  It is overall a fabulous industry in which to work, and I still see it that way despite some of the behavior that has been displayed.  I am so proud of all of those I know who are treading the boards of the Great White Way and beyond and doing it with humility, grace, and a great respect for the art.

Again, thank you for all the discussion, enthusiasm, and appropriately enough, constructive criticism of what I wrote.  Keep spreading the love and joy to those around you, because we need more of that in the world!  🙂

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Let It Go or Why I’ve Quit Musical Theatre (For Now, Anyway)

I love musical theatre.  When I was a kid, I used to relish dressing up and singing at the top of my lungs to Gypsy or Sound of Music around my house.  I was obsessed with the ’96 revival of Chicago with Bebe Neuwirth and Ann Reinking, listening to it over and over again.  Fosse was like a god to me; Sondheim even more so.  While I originally wanted to be a ballerina, by the age of twelve, it became pretty apparent I was destined for a career as an actor, specifically one in musical theatre as I not only would get to sing and act but also dance too.  I used to check out tons of old movie musicals from my library and video store like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (that barn dance still gets me every time) or Streisand’s version of Hello Dolly!  The first show I saw on Broadway was the revival of 42nd Street, and when the curtain lifted at the beginning of the show only revealing a line of tap dancing feet, I started to cry.  Meeting Angela Lansbury once outside a theatre is still one of the great highlights of my life.

I worked hard in college as a musical theatre major at a school with a very good reputation in the industry.  It was competitive to be sure, but that competition fueled my own efforts to grow, learn, and further my own individual talents.  I studied voice with a wonderful teacher, performed in several musicals including the lead my senior year in The Light in the Piazza, and while I didn’t make our school’s agent showcase, I graduated feeling pretty confident about my own skills as a performer and ready to at last move to the Big Apple to begin my career as an actor.

I did not move expecting to land a Broadway show right off the bat or my Actors Equity Card.  I have always assumed I would have to work hard and pay my dues.  I have never done summer stock though I have auditioned many times.  I have barely performed much at all since moving here nearly two and a half years ago.  While it can be hard and you feel as though you’re behind everyone else (especially when one of your classmates is doing her third Broadway show, your best friend has been on a national tour for the last two years, and far more are leaving to do regional work all the time), it’s important to remember that, as cliché as it sounds, everyone has their own artistic journey to make and perhaps mine is going to be far, far different from my peers.  I don’t worry too much anymore about how often I am or am not getting cast because I know it’s not reflective of who I am or the value of my artistic talents.  I’ve always kind of done my own thing anyway.

For a while after I first moved, I was going to lots of musical auditions: cattle calls, EPAs, ECCs, tours, etc.  Any young woman currently in the industry will tell you we have always had it much rougher than the men, but with economic setbacks, it’s even worse these days.  400 women will show up to audition for about 8-10 roles whereas 180 men will show up for about 10-15 roles.  You do the math; it’s bleak.  I could get into a whole discussion about the lack of equal representation for women in the entertainment industry, but that is a much lengthier topic that deserves its own time.  ANYWAY, the thing about auditioning with 399 other women on a regular basis is having to squeeze into a holding room for hours on end while we’re all waiting to audition and listen to them all try to one up each other about their resume credits, the famous people they’ve worked with/know, etc.  I’m sure this happens at the male audition calls too.  I’m not one for audition chitchat, personally.  I like to come in, do my thing, and get out and on with my day, so I got used to bringing my iPod or a book to drown everyone else out, but it’s hard.  And it’s not everyone doing it, but you can feel the negative animosity buzzing around you, and it was starting to make me dread going to musical auditions.  In fact, the more musical auditions I went to, the more miserable I felt.

To clarify, I could give two shits about what’s on your resume (because if I wanted to know, I’d just read it) or who you know/worked with, because on the day of the audition it only matters what you can do NOW, but the negativity being thrown around is unsettling.  Everyone around town uses a website called Audition Update to check the progress of various auditions throughout the day, whether callbacks are being given out, etc.  It’s a great resource.  But I’m dismayed by one particular aspect of the website called the Bitching Post where you can literally bitch via web comments about how auditions are run, various theatres, even people you may have worked with.  After reading through diatribe after diatribe each more hateful and venomous than the last, I realized this was the same crap I was hearing at auditions, and not only was it hurtful to those on the receiving end of these comments, but totally unprofessional conduct from people I consider colleagues.

And it doesn’t stop there.  Too often over the course of my 2+ years in this city, I have been at gatherings with musical theatre industry people and when the topic is turned to a fellow artist’s singing performance on a national or international stage, that artist is completely ripped to shreds with no redeeming qualities mentioned whatsoever (a lot of it online, which is the breeding ground for a lot of bad juju).  Apparently, according to some, this is acceptable simply because we all have fancy advanced degrees in singing so we have more knowledge and it’s “constructive criticism.”  I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to believe saying someone sounds like they’re dying and should stop singing forever or just “raped my ears” is “constructive.”  It’s actually just vitriolic, petty, and mean.  I find myself wincing at the words coming from some of my colleagues’ mouths or computer keyboards every time someone sings on national television or a YouTube clip or even just a cast recording.  I understand we’re all educated, trained artists with differing opinions, but when you’re watching the Oscars or the Sound of Music Live Broadcast JUST HOPING to see Idina or Carrie crash and burn vocally instead of in support of fellow artists doing something exciting and challenging, it says a lot more about what kind of artist and person YOU are than what kind of artist and person these women are.  Remember when your mother said “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all?”  Well, I do, and this whole mentality that it’s okay to rip a person (and one you don’t even know personally) apart simply because you’re “educated,” actually doesn’t make you look educated at all.  It doesn’t take an education to spew icky words.  There is a big difference between being passionate and being poisonous and too many, I fear, are confusing one for the other and veering more into the latter category where this industry is concerned.  It’s becoming an epidemic, unfortunately, and not just in musical theatre.  It’s everywhere: just look at Twitter. Look at comment boards.

I have left musical theatre (for the time being though I occasionally go to an audition or two for something I’m really interested in) in part because I do not wish to have this kind of negativity in my life.  I don’t enjoy it.  I don’t want to be part of a group of people who so eagerly (and at times, gleefully) turn their back on one of their own just for cracking on a note or having an off night instead of tightening ranks around that person, giving them the encouragement to shake it off and hit the stage or audition room the next day or offering REAL constructive feedback to help them improve.  It’s a hard thing to choose to be an artist in an increasingly money-obsessed world, but I can’t help thinking that it’s that much harder when you don’t even have your own artistic community really supporting you the way they should.  I’m a tough girl, always have been, and a little criticism never bothered me, but when it’s so inhumane and malicious, I have to take action.  I have always been one to look for the best in others and especially in art, and I am so disheartened by what I have experienced firsthand and read online.  What I loved about musical theatre is that it always felt like a little happy community, but it doesn’t feel very much that way to me lately, and so I made a decision a little over a year ago to walk away for awhile; to focus my time and talents on other artistic ventures.  And guess what?  I’m a lot happier.  I’ve found people who are genuinely supportive and encouraging, and with more positivity in my life, I feel my own talents have started blossoming in ways they never would have.  I have turned my eyes to writing, to acting, to producing, and discovered that I am equally as passionate about these things and the film and television industry.  It’s amazing what positive energy can do.

I ask that we all look at ourselves as artists and human beings and really evaluate why we are saying these things.  Is it because we are envious of those who have found success in our field?  Is it because we are not secure enough in our own gifts we must attack those of another?  Our first job as artists is to be good human beings and show the world what humanity can be, and it is an ongoing, challenging process; believe me.  The work is never done.  And we all have lots of work to do because no one is perfect, but what a beautiful thing that is.

One of my very favorite recordings of my hero Judy Garland is a number from her Carnegie Hall Concert.  During “You Go to My Head” she completely flubs a lyric.  At Carnegie Hall.  During the biggest concert of her career.  And she’s literally singing nonsense lyrics on the album but she laughs, keeps going, and gets back on track.  That a performer so polished, so revered as Judy, made a mistake we’ve all made a million times is a reminder that she was human just like all of us.  Flaws are reminders of humanity.  I’m glad to know Judy isn’t perfect, because it gives me hope I can someday be as inspirational to someone as she has been to me even with my own flaws.

And since I really DO look for the best in others, I want everyone to prove me wrong.  I hope that if I decide to fully return sometime in the future to musical theatre, I will find a loving, supportive community like the one I first fell in love with.  The one full of awkward kids belting show tunes in their mother’s old clothing because they just love the lights and the music and the magic of theatre.  My mother also used to say, “Play nice,” and I ask that we all try to do that from now on.  Please?

*For an addendum to this essay, please see this.

The Thankful Challenge: Day 9

9

Taylor Hughes Smith.  I’m thankful for him, our friendship, and the fact he lives here in this crazy, huge, weird, yet wonderful city with me.  We’ve been friends since we were five, but really became closer than close in middle and high school.  He is one of my oldest, dearest, best friends, and I just can’t believe we wound up here together like we always said we would back in high school when real life seemed so far away.

Taylor and me

Taylor and I always knew we were two-of-a-kind; artsy yet focused free spirits in a conservative, small town.  When classmates around us talked about wanting to stay in Missouri for college, becoming a teacher or something “practical,” the two of us would just smile and nod, because we both had bigger plans.  I should note there’s nothing wrong with our classmates’ plans; plenty of people do exactly that and are very happy, and I wouldn’t deign to belittle their dreams simply because they are different from mine.  Teaching, banking, owning a business, being a doctor or lawyer are all noble professions, it’s just not what I ever wanted for myself.

I can remember so many times we’d sit together on the way to a band competition or in the choir room, making plans and dreaming about what we’d do when we graduated and left our hometown.  I’ve wanted to live in New York practically my whole life; I had this romantic vision of taxis and Broadway shows and grand apartments and picnics in Central Park.  After growing up in a town where I could go to Wal-Mart and see practically everyone I knew (especially when I was buying something embarrassing like lady-parts hygienic supplies), the idea of living in a city where nobody knew my name or reputation or what brand of lady-parts hygienic supplies I bought was completely welcomed and wholly appealing.  Not to mention the fact I needed to be in a place where I could embrace my art and more importantly, that place would embrace it.

Taylor felt the same way.  He was desperate to play in a symphony orchestra where all his hours of practicing the bassoon were not thought odd (his dream job is the NY Philharmonic).  Being one of the first and few openly gay students in my high school often put Taylor at odds with other students and teachers who couldn’t and wouldn’t understand why he was the way he was (well, is).  He faced a lot of bullying, hurtful comments, and downright discrimination on several occasions simply because he refused to hide who he was or change it to make himself less “controversial.”  Music was his escape.  And he was/is damn good at it.  New York, for both of us, meant escape.  Freedom.  Art.  Love.  It became a beacon of hope in a town occasionally stuck in the dark ages.

He went to school in Kansas, and I went to school in Oklahoma.  We often had phone dates to catch up on each other’s lives.  We were both happier being at schools where we could be free to be ourselves and pursue our passions.  Several spring breaks, we both wound up being in New York together at the same time, so it became like a preview of what life could be like: our dreams inching closer to reality.  When I finally moved here last year, it was without Taylor.  He still had a semester to finish his second degree at KU.  True, I had my other dear friends, and things were good, but it didn’t feel quite right being here without him too.  He would occasionally come to visit, auditioning for grad schools and catching up with friends like me who already had lives and jobs here.  Finally, he was admitted to Manhattan School of Music, and moved last winter.  The dream became real.

We don’t see each other as often as we’d like to now that he’s started grad school, and I’m busy working and auditioning (but we have lots of fun when we do, see here), but knowing we’re doing this crazy thing together like we always planned makes me feel wonderful anyway.  I’m not sure if I ever thought it would really pan out the way we wanted it to, but so far, so good.  Neither of us have our dream jobs yet, but living here together, working hard to get those dream jobs is a start.  And if we could accomplish the living here part, I have a feeling we’ll both eventually accomplish that whole dream job part too.

Who Am I Anyway, Am I My Resume?

Like many people my age, I am in the throes of an identity crisis.  I am rapidly approaching the date marking my one-year anniversary of being a college graduate.  I do not have a steady income or a job in the actual field for which I (or rather, my parents) spent thousands of dollars in training at a private university.  Also, I don’t have a boyfriend (or god forbid, a fiancé), much to my extended family’s chagrin.

In short, I’m a little lost.

I don’t know what I’m doing with my life, and to be honest, that scares me sometimes.  I’ve always had a plan or known what I was going to do day-to-day because of school or my family.  We all grow up with a safety net, and the minute we reach a certain age, it’s yanked out from under us.  Once it’s gone, we’re in control of everything, and that is a lot of pressure to put on our shoulders.  Sure, we’ve been preparing for that pressure our whole lives, but until you actually feel it, you have no idea how much it can weigh on you.

Psychologists and news commentators believe my generation is self-absorbed, whiny, and spoiled.  They say we’ve been given more opportunities than any other generation and grown up with the latest technology, but we squander it by using our education and technology to complain about our lives and detach from society.  We’re branded as lazy and ill equipped to do “real work in the real world” because we majored in philosophy or world cultures or acting – things that actually interest us – and don’t want to sacrifice our principles to work a job for the sole purpose of just making money (even though eventually, many of us do).

So naturally, all these psychologists and news commentators don’t think the quarter-life crisis actually exists.

But I’m here to tell you it’s very real.  Though I’m about six months away from being twenty-four years old and thus, not a quarter of a century old yet, I still feel this aimlessness sinking in.  Who AM I?  What am I supposed to DO with my life?  Which direction should I head?  There are so many questions and never any tangible answers.  No compass.  No map.  No schedule.  I am the only one who can answer these questions and decide where I’m going and what to do, and that kind of controlled chaos is terrifying.

Though I suffer from the general form of quarter-life crisis I’ve been talking about, my real identity crisis can be pinpointed to the decision between film and stage.  All my life, I’ve been training to be a stage actor, taking dance classes and voice lessons and acting classes, doing shows.  I’ve always loved musical theatre, because it let me do everything I loved in one space of time: act, sing, and dance.  It’s the best of it all.

But over time, my interest in film grew.  I’ve always loved going to the movies, but as I got older, I became more interested in how they were put together, different directors and their styles, cinematography.  I would study certain actors I liked and look for all their nuances.  I started keeping up with what was in pre and post-production.  I read about Italian and French cinema and watched every indie movie I could.  I followed the awards season religiously and forced my family to play an Oscar prediction game every year.  I basically began having a not-so-secret love affair with film, and that’s where the guilt began.

As you all know by now, I have a degree in music theatre from a rather prestigious, if lesser-known, music school.  All throughout college, I felt as though I had to put my life and interests in a box.  I was there to study music theatre, and that’s it.  Though I had an excellent educational experience at my school, one I cherish, it was far from a perfect place.  There wasn’t a lot of room for exploration outside your chosen field of study, and I certainly felt that if I committed to studying music theatre in college, I wasn’t allowed to do or be anything other than that.  I felt like I had to be all about music theatre all the time and couldn’t be interested in anything else or I’d be branded a – GASP – traitor.

So I stuck to the plan: finished my music theatre degree and moved to New York City.  I audition for stage projects (unsuccessfully thus far, I might add).  My friends audition for stage projects (some more successfully than others).  And the nagging guilt is still there.  I want to do music theatre, I do, but I don’t know who I am in music theatre right now.  Nothing seems to fit.  And the only place I’ve been feeling a sense of belonging has been the few times I’ve filmed at NYU.  I haven’t felt boxed in by how I look or what “type” I am; I’m just me playing a character and saying lines to a camera.  It feels good and right.  And that’s where I feel guilty, because I’m here in New York with a music theatre degree, and I think I want to pursue film instead of musicals.  Even the idea of moving to Los Angeles at some point down the road doesn’t feel foreign or repulsive to me anymore; ME, the girl who has wanted to live in New York City her whole life, wouldn’t consider living anywhere else.

I’m so tired of feeling guilty about my own life.  I’m tired of feeling guilty that I have a degree in one thing but I don’t necessarily want to pursue that right now.  I’m tired of feeling guilty about hating open calls for a stupid chorus role or rolling my eyes when someone talks pretentiously about some obscure, brand new musical.  I’m tired of feeling guilty about knowing more about what’s going on in the film industry than I do about Broadway.  I’m just exhausted by all this guilt.  It’s MY life, and I don’t know why I’m letting my guilt (or how I might be perceived by others) run it.  I have to take control, because there’s no net to catch me, and the leap or fall is mine alone to take.

I don’t know who I am or who I’m GOING to be, but I have to trust my instincts and stop apologizing for or feeling guilty about them.  I know who I’d LIKE to be, and I have to pursue that whole-heartedly and hope for the best, and I’ll be damned if anyone tries to make me feel bad about it.  I will not be boxed in anymore; I will not be categorized.  I am not one thing, I am MANY things, and I will explore and develop all these things inside of me because that’s what life is about.  Life is a series of identity crises and you have to get lost in order to find yourself.

So I’m lost.  Big deal.  I’ll find myself soon.

I Hope I Get It

It might be the most famous opening number from a Broadway show ever.  The audition or “I Hope I Get It” from A Chorus Line is intense, nerve-wracking, and above all, totally awesome.  Having performed as Sheila in this last summer, it’s one of the most thrilling onstage experiences I’ve ever had.  The energy of the music and the choreography is infectious; it pumps through your veins, grabs hold of you, and doesn’t let go.

It’s also pretty exhausting, but ridiculously fun.  I think A Chorus Line is still the best, truest-to-life musical about the cutthroat world of showbiz.

This performance is of the original Broadway cast at the Tony Awards (Skip the 80s movie version; it just doesn’t do this terrific musical justice…and I don’t buy Michael Douglas as a choreographer.  Sorry, but NO.).

Sometimes at auditions, I catch myself singing, “…GOD, I hope I get it!”  What can I say?  It’s a catchy number.

Happy Birthday, Carol Channing!

Attention world:

Today is Broadway broad Carol Channing’s 912th birthday! Okay, really she’s only 89, but I feel like this woman has been old for forever! Though I’ve never cared for her abrasive voice or looks, there’s no denying she’s truly one-of-a-kind and a legend in her own right.

Hello, Dolly!  You’re still glowin’, you’re still crowin’, you’re still goin’ strong.  Cheers, Carol!

“Soon…I want to.” (See this revival, that is.)

Since it was announced all those months ago that Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury would be playing Desiree and Madame Armfeldt in the new Broadway revival of Sondheim’s liltingly beautiful A Little Night Music, I’ve been simply dying to see it.  I fell in love with Night Music a few years ago and have become increasingly more in love with it as I’ve gotten older.  I love the structure of the music (every song is written in a variation of waltz time: 3/4, 6/8, 9/8, 12/8…meters with a triple feel.), the story, and of course, Sondheim’s always brilliant lyrics.  I’ve always felt Night Music was a bit underrated in Stephen Sondheim’s canon of work, perhaps even forgotten in the shadow of his masterpieces Sweeney Todd and Sunday in the Park With George, but it’s truly a musical as lovely and delicate as the lace on the country dresses of its female characters.

Having seen Ms. Lansbury in her Tony Award-winning role (well, her fifth, that is) as Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit last year, I’m absolutely ravenous to see her in a musical.  I’ve listened to her sing “the Worst Pies in London” and “Beauty and the Beast” a few too many times to count, so I feel it would be like fulfilling a life-long dream to see and hear this phenomenal lady live in a musical.  Not only that, but I adore Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Luckily, I’ll be in New York City in mid-March, so I’m planning on making a trip to the Walter Kerr Theatre to see it, and I can’t wait!