An open letter to Seth MacFarlane

Dear Seth MacFarlane,

I’m sure you get lots of mail: some from dudes who love Family Guy, some from people who hated Ted 2, some from ladies who thought your boob song at the Oscars was in poor taste (for the record: I’m neutral…even as a feminist), some from ladies who are only interested in your immense wealth.  Maybe some from dudes hoping you’ll put them in touch both literally (gross) and telephonically with Mila Kunis, Amanda Seyfried, and/or Charlize Theron.

seth-macfarlane-tuxI’m writing to you about exactly none of the above things (although I wouldn’t mind talking to Charlize about being a 5’11” kickass woman who manages to look good with any hairstyle), because what I care about is your voice.  No, not the Stewie or Peter one from which you have made millions.  I mean that velvety, unabashedly old-fashioned crooner voice of yours singing along with Joel McNeely’s amazing orchestrations.  The one that conjures up images of velvet suit jackets, smoky lounges, and stiff drinks.  The one that has graced the BBC Proms at Royal Albert Hall.  The one that recorded three albums.  I realize you probably get mail about this too, but because I’ve watched Sleepless in Seattle too many times, I have developed this idea that like Meg Ryan’s character, my letter to you will somehow be more important than all the other letters you and your adorable-if-precocious son have received from women all over the country.

Wait.  Sorry.  You don’t have a son.  At least, that is what my current Google Search results tell me.  They also tell me that prolonged cell phone use may cause an increase in back and neck pain and brought up the Wikipedia page for Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan.  So I have a very exciting life as you can probably tell.

Anyway, I think you should know that one night I stayed up until the wee small hours of the morning (Haha get it?  Because you idolize Frank Sinatra and he recorded an album with this title and this joke is so funny you should hire me immediately to write for one of your shows hahaha) watching you sing “Joey Joey Joey” from Most Happy Fella at the BBC Proms on YouTube.  I’m kind of a sucker for that song anyway, because I happen to think Loesser is one of our most underappreciated musical theatre composers (did I mention I have a degree in musical theatre and an old-fashioned belt like Judy Garland?), but something about the way you sang it in your beautifully spun vibrato just knocked me out.  And despite years of watching Family Guy in living rooms around the Midwest (Where I grew up; I’m dropping these details just in case you want to keep falling in love with me.), this is when I fell in love with you: at 2 am in a tiny NYC bedroom with just the glow of my Macbook screen slicing through the dark and your voice ringing from the speakers.

I’m pretty certain I’m not the first woman (or even the second or third) to tell you she’s in love with you, because you are, after all, a good-looking, successful adult male who is well-rounded and charming and has had his fair share of romantic relationships (and probable imagined relationships in the brains of too-enthusiastic, moony-eyed fans of both sexes).  And I’m pretty certain I’m not the first woman to tell you she likes your singing voice, because you have a mother, and mothers will always tell you they like your singing voice even if it is terrible (unless your mother is Rose from Gypsy, because she will definitely ruthlessly tell you you’re not cut out to be in the biz if you’re terrible).  But I might be the only natural blonde woman (Are you in love with me yet?  I’m 27, so I’m definitely within your suitable dating age range) to tell you both of these things and also say that I think it’s time for you to change careers.

I know, right?!  Who the hell am I to give you career advice?  I’m not Oprah or one of those super attractive “career consultant” type ladies in Manolos The Today Show brings on for a segment that Matt Lauer has to pretend to care about when he’d rather be talking about ISIS, but because I’m a fellow Scorpio like you (See? We are perfect for each other), who has killer intuition and x-ray vision for bullshit, I have always sort of felt like Family Guy was a way of giving you the so-called freedom to do what you REALLY wanted to do: make pseudo-Sinatra albums and give into your more Capra-esque cinematic leanings.  Basically, all that long-windedness above summed up: please just go make Technicolor movie musicals or a Frank Capra-style screwball comedy or earnest drama.  Ted 2 was basically a Capra courtroom drama masquerading as a frat boy comedy.  A Million Ways to Die in the West wanted to be a musical.  Your albums are oozing with charisma and sentimentality.  140529100659-05-seth-macfarlane-0529-horizontal-large-galleryThis is not to say that Family Guy doesn’t have its merits as a consistently funny show and that your voice and animation work are not also important facets of your multifaceted talents; I merely am saying that I feel you are sometimes afraid of being earnest, sentimental, and—dare I say—sweet outside of your recordings and concert appearances, and frankly, those qualities are more attractive to me as an artist and woman than someone who always goes straight for the joke every time (and I would know as someone who regularly is afraid of being honest and sentimental and covers everything up with a well-timed witticism or joke).

As a nerd, I can instantly recognize other nerds, and you are a big one.  I’ve heard you give interviews, talking, in detail, about Nelson Riddle or Gordon Jenkins (who is totally underappreciated) or film scores with an enthusiasm normal people reserve for like, Beyoncé or the latest episode of Game of Thrones.  I once wrote a 25-page paper in college comparing John Williams’ scores for Star Wars, Jaws, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind to Wagner’s use of leitmotif in his operas.  This is not what normal people do, Seth, and you and I are not normal no matter how hard we both try.  I have made peace with this as I have aged and realized the right people will think I am cool, and I think you’re still working on that, which is totally fine.  Being comfortable with your nerdiness actually makes you cooler, I think (I’m still waiting for the popular girls from my high school to confirm this on Facebook, so I’ll get back to you).  I’m not saying you aren’t comfortable with your nerdiness, but because most people know you for being the cool guy of Family Guy or making dirty jokes at the Oscars, it’s almost like your nerdy jazz career is a super-secret alter-ego you only reveal to those you can trust, which is apparently mostly musical theatre/jazz aficionados, the BBC, and old people who miss the Big Band era, which are three very trustworthy, awesome, reliable groups, honestly.  Kudos.  But no great thing ever came from not taking risks, and I think you’re on the precipice (I am always looking for an opportunity to use that word, which I learned from Old Rose in Titanic back in 1997) of something great if you have the courage to just go for it.

I’m sorry for sounding like one of those motivational posters teachers hang in their classrooms that have trippy photos of nature, but I really think it’s time for you to boldly go where you’ve never gone before (Star Trek is still on the brain, clearly).  It’s your earnestness that I responded to when I watched “Joey Joey Joey” at 2am on Youtube, because you didn’t do anything for a laugh or to coast by on charm: you just sang the damn song from your heart.  I think there’s a big ole warm, gooey heart inside of you, MacFarlane, and I want to see it, because it’s way more interesting than everything else.  It’s real…you know what I mean?  And unlike Blanche DuBois from Streetcar Named Desire, I want real, not magic.

Okay, I sometimes want magic too (and especially during the holidays), but real is the substance of life, and I want that.  I think you want that too.  I need to take my own advice, as per usual, but this isn’t really about me.  Actually, I guess it IS sort of also about me too since I’m the one being all righteous and trying to tell you what to do with your life while ignoring my own.  So for the record, I get scared too.  Being funny always feels better because people don’t have time to judge the real parts of you when they’re laughing at something you say instead.  But being funny isn’t all that I am, and I could do a better job of letting myself be honest too.  I guess we both have homework to do, Seth, and if you’re anything like me, you probably enjoyed doing most of your homework (except math because you don’t need that to sing Sinatra or Garland songs).

I’m gonna wrap this shit up here, because I’m worried you’ve already stopped reading and/or are considering getting a restraining order against me, and I really only wanted to write to tell you I’m your fan and really rooting for you in whatever the next phase of your multiple careers is.  I think you’re probably the coolest nerdy dude in Hollywood, and I’m hoping NBC casts you as Harold Hill whenever they decide to do Music Man Live.  You’d crush it during “You’ve Got Trouble.”  I know that because I also watched you do it at the BBC Proms on Youtube in my bedroom (I should probably get a social life).

And if you feel like meeting me at the top of the Empire State Building on Valentine’s Day, I will be the blithely-cool, semi-neurotic, blonde Meg Ryan type (but taller) waiting for you.

Think about what I said.  And think about my Valentine’s Day offer.

Live long and prosper,

Emmy

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.