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!
Smokey Joe's Cafe
The Derby Dinner Playhouse
Playing February 21- April 1
and look out for my next blog: Musicals are Hard!
Come and see
The New York
Holiday Singers on
November 19th at
For Tickets visit: http://brownpapertickets.com/event/208840
My title should be read with a very quick, ascending pitch, starting at the word "headliner:
"Divas! A Cabaret...soon to be headliner show?" because, let's face it, that was all I really wanted to begin with.
I wouldn't say my cabaret went off without a hitch. The first night started 30 minutes late, and when I realized my cousin was in the audience on the second, I nearly yelled an obscenity. She had driven to surprise me, and, to tell you the truth, that wasn't a hitch- it was AWESOME! I would never do that in a classy joint, like say...a showroom, but I do like to riff a little on what is happening, in the moment.
Anyway, all in all I felt good about it. I am so grateful to all the crazy people who came out to watch. Thank you, thank you, thank you. And to anyone who missed: next time. No worries. I felt a lot of love this weekend, and I am grateful for that.
Hey Friends! Remember all the times we said let's get together and have drinks? Well, here's our chance! And I'll even sing to you...
A 1945 Code of Ethics for Theatre Workers Surfaces by Janet Thielke | August 11, 2009 While appearing on Broadway in her Tony-nominated role of Jeanette in The Full Monty in August, 2001, Equity member Kathleen Freeman died of lung cancer. Equity Councillor Jane A. Johnston, a longtime friend and executrix for Ms. Freeman’s estate, later discovered among Ms. Freeman’s papers a document containing A Code of Ethics for Theatre Workers. Ms. Freeman was a daughter of a small time vaudevillian team. Her childhood experience of touring with her parents inspired this Code of Ethics, Ms. Johnston writes. She also notes: “What is particularly interesting about this list of dos and don’ts for the theatre is that it was written in 1945 when Kathleen was establishing one of the first small theatres in Los Angeles and she was 24 years old. I wish I had been told some of ‘the rules’ when I was a young actress instead of having to pick them up as I went along.”
The theatre was the Circle Players (with Charlie Chaplin among its backers), which later evolved into the Players’ Ring. Although there is no record that either company used an Equity contract (they certainly pre-dated the 99-Seat Code in Los Angeles), Ms. Johnston confirms that all the participants were professionals.
Foreword to the Code
“A part of the great tradition of the theatre is the code of ethics which belong to every worker in the theatre. This code is not a superstition, nor a dogma, nor a ritual which is enforced by tribunals; it is an attitude toward your vocation, your fellow workers, your audiences and yourself. It is a kind of self-discipline which does not rob you of your invaluable individualism.
“Those of you who have been in show business know the full connotation of these precepts. Those of you who are new to show business will soon learn. The Circle Players, since its founding in 1945, has always striven to stand for the finest in theatre, and it will continue to do so. Therefore, it is with the sincere purpose of continued dedication to the great traditions of the theatre that these items are here presented.”
The “rules” follow:
1. I shall never miss a performance.
2. I shall play every performance with energy, enthusiasm and to the best of my ability regardless of size of audience, personal illness, bad weather, accident, or even death in my family.
3. I shall forego all social activities which interfere with rehearsals or any other scheduled work at the theatre, and I shall always be on time.
4. I shall never make a curtain late by my failure to be ready on time.
5. I shall never miss an entrance.
6. I shall never leave the theatre building or the stage area until I have completed my performance, unless I am specifically excused by the stage manager; curtain calls are a part of the show.
7. I shall not let the comments of friends, relatives or critics change any phase of my work without proper consultation; I shall not change lines, business, lights, properties, settings or costumes or any phase of the production without consultation with and permission of my director or producer or their agents, and I shall inform all people concerned.
8. I shall forego the gratification of my ego for the demands of the play.
9. I shall remember my business is to create illusion; therefore, I shall not break the illusion by appearing in costume and makeup off-stage or outside the theatre.
10. I shall accept my director’s and producer’s advice and counsel in the spirit in which it is given, for they can see the production as a whole and my work from the front.
11. I shall never “put on an act” while viewing other artists’ work as a member of an audience, nor shall I make caustic criticism from jealousy or for the sake of being smart.
12. I shall respect the play and the playwright and, remembering that “a work of art is not a work of art until it is finished,” I shall not condemn a play while it is in rehearsal.
13. I shall not spread rumor or gossip which is malicious and tends to reflect discredit on my show, the theatre, or any personnel connected with them-either to people inside or outside the group.
14. Since I respect the theatre in which I work, I shall do my best to keep it looking clean, orderly and attractive regardless of whether I am specifically assigned to such work or not.
15. I shall handle stage properties and costumes with care for I know they are part of the tools of my trade and are a vital part of the physical production.
16. I shall follow rules of courtesy, deportment and common decency applicable in all walks of life (and especially in a business in close contact with the public) when I am in the theatre, and I shall observe the rules and regulations of any specific theatre where I work.
17. I shall never lose my enthusiasm for theatre because of disappointments.
In addition, the document continued:
“I understand that membership in the Circle Theatre entitles me to the privilege of working, when I am so assigned, in any of the phases of a production, including: props, lights, sound, construction, house management, box office, publicity and stage managing-as well as acting. I realize it is possible I may not be cast in a part for many months, but I will not allow this to dampen my enthusiasm or desire to work, since I realize without my willingness to do all other phases of theatre work, there would be no theatre for me to act in.”
All members of the Circle Theatre were required to sign this document. And they must have-because the theatre, and the group into which it evolved, was successful for many years.
The second half of my tour experience was punctuated by actors trying their best to remain professional while dealing with the challenges of losing and gaining cast members, powering through successive one-nighters, a manager imposing his authority as opposed to earning it, and facing the inevitable end to any contract- unemployment.
The incredibly talented man who played our lead for the first part of our run did what incredibly talented people always do- booked another job. He left us somewhere in California and his understudy was thrust into the role. The process of working the two of them and the new chorus member in and out of the show seemed eternal, and the poor, ten-person chorus was put through their paces, re-staging the show for 9 of them, 8 of them, 7 of them, and, the most dreaded incarnation, 6 of them. At a certain point the need for rehearsal was rendered unnecessary and codes like, “ ‘A’ blocking for 3 and 3,” was the only thing that stage management needed to utter in order for each of them to incorporate the myriad of individual changes that made each incarnation of the show look great.
As the company rep, I did my best to familiarize myself with our contract and handbook, communicate information that affected the production as a whole as well as individuals, and dole out hugs whenever and wherever they were needed. There was a time when I felt overwhelmed by the constant dissatisfaction felt by the acting company, and then one day I realized it wasn’t that everyone was unhappy, it was that a different person was unhappy every day. In that instant, my role became so clear- help people recognize when they simply needed a friendly ear versus when they needed to pursue action up the chain of command. After that, I was always willing to hear my cast mates out, and navigate the emotions inevitably attached to each situation and get to the root of the problem. However, there was one little snag. While I expected easily resolvable and ultimately small issues to come up every day, including my own, our company manager was reporting these momentary bouts of unhappiness as attacks against himself and therefore, the producing company. This lead to a very misguided and one sided picture of the acting company being reported to our producer, which lead to hurt feelings on his part after working very hard on this project, which lead to a very negative and disparaging speech being made by him to us a few, very short hours before our final performance. Amends have been made, and I hope that the only long term affects of this negative situation were lessons learned by all parties involved. In the very least, it was a lesson learned by me.
Whenever things were difficult you could catch at least one of us saying, at least we have Dayton. We spent two weeks in a hotel and not on a bus, frequenting the local eateries and pubs, and using the time on our hands to do some projects of our own. Some of my cast mates even made a horror movie! The service at the hotel was sublime. After being caught by the night manager video-taping a submission in one of the ballrooms at 1:00 in the morning, he laughed and winked every time I saw him thereafter, and the valet guys drove us all over town happily chatting about the merits of Dayton, OH. I tried my first attempt at a fundraising event in the form of a cabaret hosted by a drag queen, and it created some major stress, but all of that disappeared the moment our accompanist hit his first downbeat. We had a blast that night, and despite the charity forbidding us to use their name in any of the advertising because the event was taking place in a bar, our drag queen host had to be replaced last minute because she had to go to the hospital with another drag queen, and there were strippers (yes, strippers) scheduled for the same night, we raised almost $300 from the local gays who were probably only expecting to drink and maybe hook-up with a cute stranger (the main objective of any single person in a bar, not just the gays, marriage equality now!)
My ‘ship friends’ who have never done a truck and bus always ask me how a terrestrial tour compares, and I consistently answer, “it’s just like being on a ship, except you can use your cell phone.” Much of your autonomy is lost, therefore interpersonal issues are magnified, having a kitchen or a single room feels like having a piece of heaven all to yourself, no one has any secrets (or they were really good at keeping them from me), and every day feels like a week, every week feels like a month, and after it’s over you feel the need to sleep for a very long time.
ALL SHOOK UP: A Broadway Success Story? You bet!
March 18, 2011 / Posted by TRW
The success of the current ALL SHOOK UP National Tour is another great feather in this much storied show’s blue suede cap. Produced by the Prather Entertainment Group (PEG), the tour is currently on a 50-city run that’s been SRO from New York to California.
The PEG tour rolls-out a stellar production to showcase an immensely talented cast of twenty who gamely deliver ALL SHOOK UP‘s irresistible Elvis songs matched with Joe DiPietro‘s rapid-fire riff on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Like the regional, community and school productions that came before it, the PEG tour is earning rave reviews.
ALL SHOOK UP, one of a wave of Jukebox Musicals that crested in New York and London in the 2000′s, hit Broadway in 2005, with break-out performances from Cheyenne Jackson and Jenn Gambatese. Broadway, and the West End perfected the Jukebox Musical phenom in the first decade of the new century and it’s no wonder. Depending on your definition of what is now an widely recognized genre of Musical Theatre, no fewer than 40 new Jukes were launched in the ‘ots! From 2001′s LOVE, JANIS to the just-closed FELA!, musicals featuring the assembled songs of beloved artists or eras have become a defining part of the modern Musical Theatre landscape.
ALL SHOOK UP played for over 200 performances during its Broadway run. Not a long run by Broadway’s measure, but very effective indeed for propelling the show into a new theatrical orbit! The appeal of the Elvis music is pure magic and with a hilarious, romantic and endlessly clever book by DiPietro (MEMPHIS), the show is achieving a new success, especially with schools and community theatres. ALL SHOOK UP is now enjoying its 5th year of licensing with TRW.
Catch the PEG tour in one of these upcoming cities and get in on the fun and excitement of ALL SHOOK UP!
March 22, 2011 Charlestown, WV
March 23, 2011 Mansfield, OH
March 25, 2011 Morristown, NJ
March 26, 2011 West Point, NY
March 27, 2011 Bayside, NY
March 29, 2011 Rockford, IL
March 30, 2011 Elyria, OH
March 31, 2011 Byron Center, MI
April 1-2, 2011 Aurora, IL
April 3, 2011 La Crosse, WI
April 5-17, 2011 Dayton, OH
Since the age of sixteen my adventures in music have taken me all over the country. After years of bouncing around I've made Orange County my home. Here are my stories.