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!
Well, my last contract ended on October 20th. Receiving unemployment benefits has proven to be more difficult than performing Chekov in front of my Russian, college professor having not consumed any vodka. Nerve wracking to say the least.
Applying for unemployment has become a full time, week long job. Last year, when I was living in New York, you were required to apply in the state you were living. Now, you claim in whichever state you have wages during your base period which is not necessarily your last date of employment. Because I didn't get through to CA until Friday afternoon and what I learned is that I have to apply in New York, I couldn't speak to anyone until a week after I actually became unemployed. Since no one gave me incorrect information, I cannot back date my claim, and in New York, there is a mandatory waiting period, so my benefits will not kick in until two weeks after I was unemployed. That is, they will kick in if and only if New York determines that I can receive benefits at all. Not to mention that tiny, little Superstorm/hurricane named after my Mother, that knocked out the unemployment offices in New York on Monday and Tuesday.
Now I just have to send a fax, yes, I said a fax! Then wait to hear back from New York. Fingers crossed and prayers by my Mom, and hopefully I won't be reduced to Top Ramen and selling my body on the street. The life of an artist?
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.
This weekend I had the incredible opportunity to attend a portion of The young Americans 50th Reunion. I am completely overwhelmed by the scope of all that happened this weekend, and I have started a new job that is taking all of my creative energy so can't reflect and write about it just yet. That being said, my friend, Addam, wrote this beautiful observation and I wanted to share:
What an amazing era to be a part of this organization. While the 60s and 70s had so many incredible opportunities to work with legendary performers and the 80s had a seemingly unending line of divas I think we were afforded the witnessing of what seems to me, perhaps the greatest period of change.
At some point in the early 90's there was no Young Americans. The dream may have lived but for all legal purposes the organization was officially extinct.
Of the seemingly massive group that I had seen in the 80s, only a tiny group of people remained. Those folks that didn't jump ship are (nearly to a person) some of the most resiliant, headstrong, dependable, and admirable people I will ever know. Even at an age we now think of as children. It's hard to say if the group taught them to be these things or if these people were just this way by nature and happened to converge at the right place and time to keep things going.
It occured to me last night there was a magic that happened in the bankruptcy. If the group was to survive it had to change. I don't know if it ever would have on (what I know of) the course it was on.
Much like the Boyne shows are built around the individual people in the cast. The new incarnation of the organization would grow from the stuff these folks are comprised of. Greatly talented as performers, but more importantly as people.
This foundation gave birth to the NMOT. I don't know if the YA's could have done an outreach tour with the folks in 88. I'm not being critical of them, just saying their experience was different.
On paper, none of this should have worked out. An group that had seen glory days in the era of Perry Como should not have been able to survive in the same time frame as "Smells Like Teen Spirit". And it wouldn't have if we had continued relying on convention center shows and Boyne. We may have been able to draw out the death, but I don't believe the group would have made to to 2000 without NMOT. And I personally don't believe Milton and Bill would have had the confidence to send out the first one without knowing the kind of people they had at their disposal.
Once the NMOT started, being a part of the group felt much like entrepreneurship (without that pesky making money part). It was a world where hard work became reward. Our style of teaching grew from nearly nothing into the core principles of how the tours are conducted today. We learned by trial and error like some sort of music education pirate-gypsies. There were times where we had no money, times when we had no place to stay or food to eat but somehow just before the last bit of shit was about to hit the fan some inventive line of thought would solve or at least bandage the issue. These experiences helped shape all of our lives within the group and beyond. Seeing the current activities of the group really brought to mind the value of the folks that stuck around. Who they are as people casts a shadow you can still see in the mission and spirit of the modern organization.
So thanks to you guys. You know who you are
Me- "I guess I just miss being creative." Abigail- "But you get be creative you are going to auditions." Leave it to my new friend Abigail to always look on the bright side. As we lumbered down Broadway headed away from the bar and towards a fabulous, rooftop, Fourth of July Party, over looking the Hudson, there was one thing that was clear, my fabulous summer had resumed, and the deep, dark depression I had slipped into during the month of July had subsided at last. A few fabulous parties, a free ticket to The Book of Mormon, and a visit from my best friend Amanda with baby bump in tow, and I am feeling good.
When I first told my Father I was moving to New York, he said that, "every city is the same, just with it's own quirks. What matters is that you surround yourself with good people." Soon after I realized that I was feeling a lot of inner turmoil in regards to my career, living situation, and tenuous relationship. My friend, Derek, called me out of the blue and took me to Cleopatra's Needle for a little jazz and martinis. My verbal diarrhea combined with my inability to keep track of what I had just been talking about prompted him to say, "what the fuck is wrong with you?" at least once. Every time I get depressed, my body seems to start working independently of my brain. I have a hard time waking up and going to sleep, and the slightest provocation can send me into a fit if tears. On occasions like that, I simply tell myself as often as I can, "nothing is as bad as it feels." I also try to heed Dad's advice, and wrap my self in my own warm blanket- conversations with my friends.
My other dear friend Chris had slipped into a similar state despite the fact that only one week prior he had won tickets to the fan performance of The Book of Mormon, the foul mouthed, religion mocking, multiple Tony award winning show created by the same guys who brought you...wait for it...South Park. Since my tip about going to the daily lottery had lead his name to be entered into the drawing for this special performance, he thought it was only obvious that he would take me along. It was not, however, so obvious to me. Me- "I can't believe you won those tickets?!" Chris- "yeah! It's on July 1st at 2p. It's general seating though so there will be a line. And if they try to make me work I swear to God...", Me- "soooooooooooo- who are you taking?" Chris- "You, dumbass. I think that's only fair!" He showed up at my door around 11 am and I cooked us a quick lunch. After he spewed a string of verbal attacks on the city that I recently decided to call my home, I made him promise to spend the day noticing and remembering the charm of the city, and we were off. As we followed the line from the doors of the theater to it's end, I ran into one person from almost every sphere of my life. Winners of the fan performance tickets stood in a line that snaked across 50th street, down eighth avenue, east on 49th encompassing an entire city block, had it not ended up switch-backing under the shelter of a hotel parking lot. Claiming aisle seats in row Q of the orchestra, laughing until we cried, and heading down to Union Square for dinner at a cute little place called Chat and Chew, I definitely felt like we had recaptured the charm of the city.
The past week was a whirlwind of auditions, bars, restaurants and Amanda et Alex, my best friend and her husband, in from Paris for five nights. They brought the eldest of her younger brothers, Scott, along with them and the youngest, Jeff, is here for the summer, working as intern at a financial company. My busiest day went something like this: 8:30 wake up, 9:30, work, 5pm done, 45 minutes at TJMAXX for some quick shopping for an upcoming wedding, 7pm dance class, 9:30 home, 10:30 Hiptix party with the cast of Death Takes a Holiday, including my buddy, Mara Davi, midnight to a bar opening, 2:30 in a cab, 3:15 bed. Swap out an audition here and there, or maybe a morning of laundry, a trip to a piano bar, or possibly apartment hunting and you will have a clear depiction of my five days with the Louis'. Today I am so tired my eye is twitching.
Which takes me back to Abigail's comment and my need to recognize when I am doing good things for myself, my career, and my life. My never ending quest for work in the theater and beyond has taken me to Chelsea Studios, Actor's Equity, Pearl Studios, and Ripley Grier more times in the past two months than I would ever describe here. Which, when you think about it, is ironic because this is my "professional blog". Instead I am describing my depression, frustrations, relationships, and daily happenings. Well at least I am doing it in a creative way!
My dear friend, who I assume is the sole reader of this blog, told me last week that I need to write more. So as I reach the halfway point on my tour with PEG’s national tour of All Shook Up I am writing this one just for Josh.
Our first week was spent in New Jersey and Pennsylvania which meant that our shows were within striking distance of much of my extended family on my Father’s side. So coordinating tickets and communicating schedules pushed me to the limits of my social networking capabilities. Happily, my two cousins who are closest in age to me managed to trek down to Uniontown to see the show. They admitted to me that they were a little late getting to the theater and I laughed because so was the cast bus! About an hour and half outside of town our bus got a flat tire and we were stranded by the side of the road. A service truck was called along with the crew bus driver, who was put on alert that he may have to come find us. As the driver of the service truck worked on our little problem, the time ticked by for what seemed like eons. For some reason the tow truck was unable to fix our issue immediately so the crew bus was called and arrived back at our bus at precisely the same moment as our crew’s bus. The tire was changed, but we arrived at the theater fifteen minutes after the curtain was supposed to go up! It was hectic, but at least my family didn’t miss a moment and I got to spend some time with them after the show was done.
The following week included some blissful time off in Colombus, OH and Birmingham, AL where I was able to reunite with some dear friends and head to some of my favorite tourist attractions. However, dear reader, you will have to click over to http://adventuresinbrookeland.weebly.com to hear about my time there.
If there is one thing this tour has taught me it is that I know someone everywhere! I had two awesome reunions the last week of January one planned one a surprise, both unofficially adopted siblings from one of my many past lives. Desiree has been teaching in Mississipi for about two years and seems to be doing wonderfully. Jeremy moved back to South Carolina, and despite the fact that he prefers tall girls, under 20, who are skinny enough for him to climb up there rib cage like a ladder, I love my little brother from Young American’s to pieces. It was fantastic to be able to share what my life has become, a series of hotels and groups of people spontaneously breaking out into song and choreographed dance, with each of them!
And then there was Florida. Blissful, five days at one hotel, heavenly, some rehearsal, relaxing, fun venues, warm - Florida. That was when I really got to settle into the show and reaffirmed that I love this role, this crew, and this cast. Oh and I went to Disneyworld - FOR FREE!!!
After that you could say the crazy travel portion of our tour commenced and is still happening. Thankfully, we have had some evenings off in incredible towns like Dallas and Davenport. There was a three story water slide in the hotel in Topeka, I got to see a friend from YA’s do a production of All Shook Up at Circa 21, and, best of all, I reconnected with Josh, the inspiration for this blog, on a side trip to Austin.
Every time things get difficult, my back hurts from being on the bus for so long, or I get no sleep because we have a 4:45 a.m. bus call, or our lead quits the show and we have to add rehearsals in the towns that I, inevitably, know people in, I wrap myself in the warm blanket that is the fact that I get to do a musical, and travel all over this incredible country!
Six more weeks.
So here is a detailed list of all of the cities I will be in. The humor is that I lifted this off of one of my talented castmate's website and her name also happens to be Brooke! I hope you'll take the time to visit her site sometime at www.BrookeRobyn.com
I hope that this tour brings me close to many of my wonderful friends!!!
1/13/11: Johnston, PA
1/14/11: Uniontown, PA
1/15/11: New Brunswick, NJ
1/16/11: York, PA
1/18/11: Owensboro, KY
1/20/11: Montgomery, AL
1/21/11: Vicksburg, MS
1/25/11 - 1/26/11: Newberry, SC
1/27/11: Niceville, FL
1/28/11 - 1/30/11: Delray Beach, FL
1/31/11: Belle Glade, FL
2/1/11: West Palm Beach, FL
2/2/11: Ft. Myers, FL
2/3/11: Deerfield Beach, FL
2/4/11: Ft. Pierce, FL
2/5/11: Boca Raton, FL
2/6/11: Hollywood, FL
2/8/11: Eatonton, GA
2/9/11 - 2/10/11: Macon, GA
2/11/11: Maryville, TN
2/13/11: El Paso, TX
2/14/11: Alto, NM
2/17/11: Baton Rouge, LA
2/18/11: Shreveport, LA
2/19/11: Alma, AR
2/22/11: Brownsville, TX
2/25/11: Davenport, IA
3/1/11: Grand Forks, ND
3/3/11: Butte, MT
3/5/11: Lancaster, CA
3/6/11: Santa Clarita, CA
3/7/11: Arroyo Grande, CA
3/9/11: Queen Creek, AZ
3/11/11: Topeka, KS
3/12/11: Des Moines, IA
3/13/11: Grand Rapids, MN
3/15/11: Oskaloosa, IA
3/16/11: Muncie, IN
3/18/11 - 3/20/11: New Haven, CT
3/22/11: Charleston, WV
3/23/11: Mansfield, OH
3/25/11: Morristown, NJ
3/26/11: West Point, NY
3/27/11: Bayside, NY (click here to purchase tickets - comps are unavailable for this venue)
3/29/11: Rockford, IL
3/30/11: Elyria, OH
3/31/11: Byron Center, MI
4/1/11 - 4/2/11: Aurora, IL
4/3/11: La Crosse, WI
4/5/11 - 4/17/11: Dayton, OH
Although not performing in the following cities, Brooke will be travelling through them and would love to see you if you're in town!
1/17/11: Columbus, OH
1/19/11: Nashville, TN
1/22/11 - 1/23/11: Birmingham, AL
2/7/11: Bunnell, FL
2/15/11: Canadian, TX
2/16/11 & 2/20/11: Dallas, TX
2/21/11: San Antonio, TX
2/23/11: Denton, TX
2/24/11: Topeka, KS
2/27/11 & 3/14/11: Minneapolis, MN
2/28/11: Fargo, ND
3/2/11: Miles City, MT
3/4/11: Cedar City, UT
3/10/11: Tucumari, NM
3/17/11 & 3/28/11: Youngstown, OH
3/21/11: Hagerstown, MD
3/24/11: Bloomsburg, PA
4/4/11: Chicago, IL
Going back to the ship was delayed for an indefinate amount of time, and it reminded me that I have a problem being still. According to our contract, our paychecks were not threatened by the delay, however their was no convincing my brain of this fact. Not to mention the deep dark places that my dreams took me, where, somehow and for some reason, our contract was completely terminated. Then this morning we received word that all was well and that we would join the ship on the 18th in Sydney. Now all of the stress and worry of the last week seems like a terrible waste of energy; a terrible waste of energy that my best friend, my mother, and even my ex-boyfriend will tell you I expend EVERY TIME I am not working.
So there are two things to be done, I can learn to quiet my crazy mind, or you, dear reader, can offer me a job. I am available June 4th!
I'm gonna give stillness a shot.
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.