Teaching a skill or a trick to another person is an art unto itself. You have to communicate what is necessary to the student in a way that is accurate, but you also have to be understandable in order for the student to be able to assimilate whatever it is you are trying to teach them. The biggest challenge is to try to communicate the information while considering that the student does not have the benefit of experience, which is something that you the teacher have in spades. If you are a good teacher you try to explain the finer points of your lesson while remembering that it is all still theoretical to your student. Hopefully, your desire is for the student to assimilate the information then be able to accomplish the skill or trick on their own. This challenge for a teacher has come up three times in the past month during discussions with good friends (and there was wine). Once while discussing teaching singing lessons, once while discussing teaching a new language, and once while discussing teaching me how to do this:
So I wanted to take a little time and share my journey, which is by no means over, as I learn to suspend my post pregnancy body from a rope using my own sheer will and my own upper body strength, then swing out over a body of water and a section of audience members who likely think it all looks pretty, darn easy.
Before my first attempt at doing a much shorter swing (that would only involve me having to swim in a few feet of water then dry off my ego and my body should disaster occur and I let go of the rope) I did dead hang after dead hang from my pull up bar, from a large ladder, from a sheet tied to my ceiling, and from the manila rope on the set. I gotta tell you, dangling for 2, then eventually three, and now 6 seconds does very little to calm the nerves when you consider that the consequences of losing your grip are a trip to the bottom of a body of water and a very bruised ego. Never the less, I screwed my courage to the sticking place, took about 20 deep breaths, and lifted my feet off the ground. I made it to the landing pad, barely, and after one swing back to the other side decided to call it quits for the day. I am now able to swing back and forth about 3-4 times before I think my arms are going to fall off and if I squeeze my knees together around the rope I can swing back and forth without touching. I should be attempting the above any time now!
So I want to give a few pointers for anyone else trying to traverse the finer points of swinging on a rope.
1) Your first time will be very scary, but it may not be as scary as the next time you come back and have had a few days to think about it.
2)Try not to think about it! For that matter try not to spend too much time talking about it either. Walk in and just do it as soon as you can as often as you can.
3) Some people feel that it is easier to keep your fists together at your chest, lock your elbows, and get "on top of the rope". I think it is easier to keep my dominant hand at my chest and my other hand just above my face. Neither of us are correct. The easiest thing to do is to not swing on a rope, over water, in front of people.
4) As you get a feel for hurling your body across open space with only a rope, your will, and your muscles to save you think about hurling yourself a little faster! The momentum makes it easier. Either give it a 3-4 step run, or jump up and slightly away from the rope in order to lift your legs.
5) You are probably not going to fall, so get out of your head. Remember #2? Try not to think about it.
Hopefully, someday I will be able to post a video of me doing this insane feat! I think I can!
Here's the thing, I've never been responsible to anyone except for myself. Sure, some would claim I have an unhealthy desire to gain the approval of my parents, but they are awesome so whatever; I spent two and a half years at the end of my twenties in a relationship while continuing to pursue my career, but to be honest he was never a consideration when it came to me auditioning for or taking a job that I really wanted. Maybe that was a sign, maybe not, but either way that relationship didn't last, and I reconciled myself to the idea that casually dating, partying with friends, and voraciously pursuing my career throughout my middle thirties, sans relationship and children, was the path that was laid out before me so I better get used to it. To tell you the truth I got so used to it, I was actually happy about it. Being single suited me. 2011 marked the seventh year since Brother and Mother had left me in New York with two bags and a pile of plastic tubs in Mom and Dad's garage to be mailed when I found a place to live. I have returned to the city again and again over the years- subletting, working in restaurants, auditioning, and taking gigs that took me out of town and around the world. It has been pretty frickin' awesome.
However, in April of 2012 I started dating one of my oldest friends and on New Year's Eve he proposed (8 months after we started dating, let the judging commence), in February we bought a condo in California, I gave up my lease in Harlem, got pregnant in May, and had an incredible wedding in September. I am not living the life I envisioned two years ago, but I am admittedly living one of the dream scenarios that I envisioned as a kid, and on top of all that I am frickin' happy! Like every single day for at least a moment I look at my man friend, my belly, my vaulted ceilings, my life and I am undeniably, irresistibly happy. But with all things there is a catch. It is a nagging anxiety that I wish I could squelch. After I pop this kid out am I still going to be a performer? A theater rat? A singer? An actor? An artist? Once I have a kid will I still be able to be me?
I couldn't spend months of my pregnancy worrying about this little quandary on my own, so I reached out to some of my performing/Mommy/superheroes and I asked them how they coped when faced with the same prospect. The resounding response was not only can I can continue to perform but I will HAVE to. Even my girlfriends who don't perform anymore said that I had to continue to pursue my passions after this little boy ripped his way out of me or I will go crazy. Of course, I'd heard that advice before- I mean I've been an avid watcher of rom-coms since puberty, but this time it was from the mouths of moms. Real moms. Moms who are my friends, because at 35, I realize, I have a a LOT of those. Thank goodness.
Most of my performing Mommies said that Dad is key. If Dad has your back and your breast pump has your front then you can make it work.
So here's hoping that after this last year's hiatus, the dizzying happiness I've had in my personal life will infect my professional life with opportunities that add to the happiness frenzy, and that my little boy likes musicals!
...you should probably do it. Wise words that inspired me to sign up for an acting class with the very accomplished, energetic, and enthusiastic Rocco Lapenna. (Check out the links below) A few months ago, I decided to forgo my yearly battle with seasonal affective disorder (or the winter blues), so I sublet my apartment in New York to spend Thanksgiving, Christmas, and January with my long time friend but new found love of my life, here in California. As our relationship has grown and my devotion to him has become more clear, I've realized that Southern California is my home. Forget the fact that my family moved to California when I was nine years old, that most of my closest and oldest friends live here, or that my college and post college years found me living in this one region of the country for the longest period of time when compared to any other throughout my life. New York has always felt temporary even when I was happy. So here I am. My last contract ended so I came to hang with the boy, head back to New York in February and finish out my lease until July, then pack up my crap, sell my furniture, and come back to the Golden State to see what this new chapter has in store for me.
These three months may be a stopgap, but that has not deterred me from making plans. I have been discussing projects with my fellow and others, I have volunteered to sing at a fundraiser and in a school project, and I signed up for an acting class. Last Wednesday was week two and all I can say is I had a rough one. I started the class feeling confident and prepared, but after one misstep early during our four hour time slot I went into a complete tailspin. The negative self speak would not turn off, the worries about my age, my talent, my castability, and my choice to move across the country again (not to mention making that choice for a man) started to overwhelm me. Hell, I even started to feel too tall. I had reverted to my 13 year old self. So with nowhere to hide, no song to sing, hands shaking and a gorgeous, confident, talented, 18 year old scene partner to read with, I could not get out of my own head. I was a mess. Fortunately, Rocco pointed it out and moved on quickly. An hour later, when class was meant to come to an end, I slipped out while several of the other students stayed over to finish their work. My teacher took a moment to say, "you had a terrible class today, but you better bring your black ass back in here next week and try again." Actually he said, "Bye, Brooke," but I think my interpretation captures his true meaning.
So after spending a day pondering my meltdown I remembered a few things. I haven't had to work in the way you do in an acting class for ten years. When you spend two weeks, eight hours a day putting a show up you just put your head down and go because it is all about the result. Class is all about the process, and though it feels a little masturbatory to me right now there will be tangible results; a more confident, comfortable, and relaxed artist- me. I am in the middle of a self imposed upheaval in my personal life. Even though I am switching gears and moving across the country that does not mean that the relationship I have had with my career for 19 years is over. It just needs to evolve in a way that considers my relationship with this new person in my life and the new place I've decided to live. I didn't take this class because I thought it would be easy. The twenty somethings (and teenagers!) in my class are discovering who they are, they are excited to take on the world, and they haven't been bowed by the many struggles of being an artist. They are brave. So I have to be brave as well. I've been all the way around this earth, I've moved across the country four times, I've been in love then heartbroken, and still managed to fall in love again, and I have passionately pursued my life as a performer for almost twenty years. I think I can get up in front of 13 strangers and have real emotions in imaginary circumstances!
As long as I don't screw it up.
Looking for a place to do some scene study in LA? check out Rocco Lapenna's class at The Director's Playhouse:
Yes my friends, the time has finally come for me to draft an Artistic statement. An honest assessment of my approach to the theatre. It was edited by my new friend, Roger Ellis, who writes a fantastic blog http://mtheritageblog.com that I recommend to anyone interested in musical theatre and its historical relevance. My statement was sent to the Stage Directors and Choreographer's Foundation in order to attain an Observorship of a master director as they direct a new production, revival or original, on Broadway, off-Broadway, or regionally. :
The audience offers the theatre artist their time, and in return the theatre artist gives them a glimpse into an imaginary world so that they may reflect and improve upon their own humanity. As a woman, African American, and a world traveler I have strong motivation to explore themes commonly tackled in drama, particularly love, race, and community. As a director, my guiding principle is to facilitate and guide the process of all the artists, designers, craftsmen, and performers involved in a production as they tell stories, create worlds, and, ultimately, reflect what it is to be human.
My experience as a performer has given me significant insight into the actor/director relationship, and I have developed a work ethic that has allowed me to boldly pursue employment in the theatre in many capacities. As the producing director of a non-profit theatre company, I directed three staged readings and one full production of original works. I was able to develop my process for analyzing text, plot, and structure, and I developed a framework for communicating that information to the actors and designers so that the productions were consistent, clear, and relatable to the audience. I have produced variety shows and cabarets performed by myself and others simply for the joy of being creative. I am equally comfortable directing musicals or plays, dramatic or comedic, and it is when I am at the helm of a collaboration that I am the most certain that my particular set of skills, as a leader, organized thinker, and decision maker are fully realized.
I have an insatiable curiosity about people and the world and this has carried into many non-theatrical disciplines. As a child I played tennis, golf, water polo, and gymnastics. I was taught how to build a fire, ride a horse, and sell cookies. I can water-ski, sew, and play the flute, but the pursuit of all of these activities was never as satisfying as imagining and acting out scenarios inspired by whatever setting I found myself in. Playing castaways in a boat or vampires in the basement were my favorite ways to pass the time whether I was alone or with friends. My varied life experience has shaped me into a well-rounded theatre practitioner. As I evaluate my life as an adult, I realize that not much has changed. My acting career has found me playing a stripper with a gimmick, a fairy godmother, and one of twenty singing library patrons, singing horse race attendees, singing farmers and cowmen, and singing citizens of Baltimore. The theatre is where I have resided my entire life.
As I transition into the next chapter of my career, I intend to continue to work as an artist by directing musicals and plays from the classic repertoire to modern. Admission into this program will allow me to observe a master director while they tackle pieces with a larger scale, cast size, venue, and production team, and it will strengthen my resume by more accurately reflecting my interest in directing at a premiere regional theatre, off-Broadway, or on Broadway.
The theatre teaches us endless lessons about our own humanity. Whether witnessing from the audience or as a member of a production, these truths are what I will strive to learn from and communicate to others as I continue to grow as an artist.
As usual I have tried to avoid growing any moss. My contract onboard the Crystal Symphony ended on May 26th, and since then I have been an auditioning and submitting machine. I've managed to spend some time with my lovely family, including my brother and his family, and I've even gotten some sleep!
I am so thrilled to be heading back to Louisville for a few months to play the Godmother in Rodgers and Hammerstien's Cinderella, and I cannot wait to see all of my good friends there. I also think it will be a great opportunity to focus on writing a headliner show and submitting it to different booking agencies. My expereince on the ship gave me some fantastic tools for creating an entertaining headliner show, and I met some of the most incredible musicians who create fantastic custom arrangements.
Here's to making goals and staying on track.
Since the age of sixteen my adventures in musical theater have taken me all over the country. For the next six months I will be coast hopping between New York and LA. Here are my stories.