Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Broad Abroad, Chapter 3: Lost and Found

I am over halfway through my adventure as a Berliner.  I have been here for just over one month with just under one month left before my return to Manhattan.  Perhaps it is the approaching American holiday that has me thinking so much about the US.  There are some things about New York that I am really looking forward to, one of utmost importance being good sushi.  However, coming back to New York also has filled me with fear and dread.  As excited as I am to see my dear friends and family again, I’m afraid I’ll let them down if I don’t come back with any career successes.   Before this European leap of faith, I’d never been so open and public about my operatic endeavors, for fear of embarrassment if I failed.  With this exploit, I had to be public.  Without my New York support system behind me, I would not have had the courage to get on that plane on October 9th or sing at my first European audition October 16th or stay strong when I was homesick or try again when I felt like I flopped.  I also hoped being open about my experience could help someone considering this path, just as those already singing in Europe encouraged and guided me. 

So far, this journey has not been as simple as people in America suggested or as successful as I’d fantasized.  I haven’t had any agent audition horror stories (for which I am grateful), but I haven’t had any success stories either.   I’ve had days when I felt everything I tried was wrong, obsessing over the dress, the hair, the starting aria.  I’ve had days when I cried into my tea, “How is this different from getting rejected at Nola studios,” with my only answer being, “Well, you left your day job and spent all your savings to be rejected in Germany.” Naturally, that is not the news I want to relay when I get back the US in December. That is the news that makes me feel like let my “fan club” and myself down.

Honestly, I don’t know if my life as a singer will change from this period in Europe, but my life as Laura Parker certainly has.  Aside from speaking a foreign language, I’ve had a number of experiences that have spoken to my soul.  I cannot walk the canals of Amsterdam, touch the Berlin wall, read Bach’s original manuscripts, or see the horror of the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp and walk away the same person.  My soul is richer… and perhaps my voice may be as a result.  I am a deeper person with more to offer to my friends, my family, and my music.

A friend of mine from my undergraduate days at BU arrived in Berlin a few days ago for his own audition experience, and as we were catching up on the past seven years and the one month I had in Berlin before his arrival, he asked, “So what do you do around here?”  There are many things I have not seen or done in this city in ample time, so what do I do instead?  I get lost.  I get off the U-bahn at a random stop, lose myself in the city, and eventually find my way back.  Maybe that’s what this European experience is for me, an opportunity to get lost in a new place and find my way back to my old life with new perspective.  I felt lost in New York.  I felt like I was perpetually running into a wall and waiting for it to become a window.  I felt the need for a change, even if it was just to feel lost in a new environment.  And just like a little girl following her trail of breadcrumbs back home, I’ve picked up a lot along the way.  I have developed a taste for new foods, read many wonderful books, and bought way too many souvenirs.  More importantly, I’ve found a team of coaches to guide me and a wonderful community of expats to support me. I’ve stopped sucking in my gut and started listening to it. I’ve stopped listening to my sound and started experiencing my body creating it.  I’ve stopped listening to noise and started listening to my heart.

Though my metaphorical brötchen may help me find my way home, I’m still not sure where home will be for me in the long run.  Some days I wake up thinking I need to move here, some nights I go to bed dreaming of New York.  I’ve obsessed over this question to the point of insanity, but I’ve decided to just let it sit for at least another month, when I will know more about Europe and hopefully, about myself.  It is hard for me to let things sit, but perhaps that is just one more skill I’ve picked up along the way.  If I’m still lost in a month, I’ll just flip a coin. Heads: sausage, tails: sushi.

“Twenty years from now you will be disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover” ~ Mark Twain

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Broad Abroad, Chapter 2: The Pleasure of Pain

I have been thinking a lot about the German culture and trying to understand the use of Schadenfreude during my European experience.  It seems like such a malicious concept, “Deriving pleasure from another person’s misfortune.” The song from Avenue Q summarizes it perfectly with numerous examples, saying, in short, “Making me feel glad that I'm not you.”  In this journey abroad, I’ve decided to take it into a different direction, finding delight in all despair, even my own.

I used to think of auditions as the ultimate combinations of pleasure and pain.  I would be thrilled for the opportunity to audition, but hated the experience because it required standing around in a musty hallway full of sensitive singers.  That was the period that would make or break my auditions.  Auditions often felt like swimming in a sea of jellyfish.  Nerves were so high, singers employed a defense mechanism of stinging each other.  “Oh, you’re singing THAT?”  “That’s MY aria.” ” Yes, the composer wrote that with me in mind two hundred years before I was even a fetus.” I can’t blame the singers who used venomous tentacles; I can only blame myself for being insecure enough to allow those words to sting, or for stinging myself with the same venom to save them the trouble.  On the bright side, if I ended up peeing on myself by the end of the experience, I could say it was for medicinal purposes.

While preparing for the German audition experience, I worried that waiting areas would be even worse abroad, that more jellyfish would be present in international waters.  I even came up with a game plan to protect myself: to the German jellies, I would say, “Ich spreche nur ein bisschen Deutsch,” and to the Americans I would say, “Ich spreche nur ein bisschen Englisch.”   I would be the Harpo Marx of the waiting room.  I walked into my first audition prepared for polyglot putdowns, but instead, there was a communal sense of Schadenfreude, finding pleasure in the fact that we were all in a form of pain, nervousness.  English speakers from Canada, Australia, and US bonded together to help each other if someone was struggling with German or metric conversions of height and weight, and the Germans then jumped in and helped as well.   I actually made friends at my auditions, the places I thought I would feel most alone and foreign.    When many people, regardless of nationality, are on the same journey together, everyone benefits from communal support.  The result of this bonding: Vorsingenfreude.

 During this whirlwind week of auditions, I had an experience in the “real world” where I saw someone in pain and the familiarity of it brought some semblance of pleasure or comfort.  Before you start thinking about what a horrible person I am, I will explain the situation.  In Vienna, I saw a young woman on the subway, sitting very quietly, trying to maintain composure.   Upon closer inspection, I saw tears running down her cheeks.  I know, I still sound horrible.  However, I was touched at this sight because I think crying on a subway is something every city girl (and hopefully a city boy or two) has experienced at some point.  It’s a profoundly vulnerable moment, an urban rite of passage. People around a subway crier completely understand, we’ve all been there.  With this Viennese frau, it didn’t matter if she spoke German or English (she spoke neither), I was able to offer her a tissue and a look that said, “You’re not alone.”  Two days later, back in Berlin, I found myself still thinking about her, hoping her day got better.  Then, as my Ubahn ride continued, I started thinking about yesterday’s audition, with which I was not pleased, and about my friends I miss back in New York, and my eyes started to well up with tears.  Before I could even process that I was becoming a subway sobber, a man nearby looked at me with sincerity and compassion and said, “Schöne Dame, weine nicht.” 

It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are from, or why you are in pain, nervousness or discomfort, you are never alone.  It will pass as you find your way to the next station in life.   New people will come in and out constantly, but you are all on a journey together. It is nice to know that in those moments when we feel our suffering is the punchline of the Universe’s joke, we will find someone, if only a stranger, to remind us to smile again.  Making you feel glad that you are you.


Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Broad Abroad, Chapter 1: I am a jelly donut

Hallo!  I’m on day drei of my two-month German audition extravaganza.  I’ve never been to Germany before, and now I’m trying to live like an authentic Berliner, a Berliner who travels all over Germany and neighboring Germanic countries as well. 

I decided I would try to write as much as possible during this time because everything here feels new and different.  First of all, I’m shrugging off the New York Young Artist Program audition season for the first time in eight years.  While this German audition season is not going to be pressure-free, the moment I looked at yaptracker and started clicking the “Not interested this year” option, I felt a tremendous weight lifted from my shoulders.  Suddenly, I stopped trying to fit a mold and felt the freedom to explore the big questions, “What do I want to sing?” and “Why do I enjoy singing this?”  After eight years of running into a wall, I finally took Milton Berle’s treasured advice to build a door.  I went from people-pleaser to Parker-pleaser, and I hope this perspective lasts even when the auditions get intense.

In some ways, the immersion has been easy.  I live in what most would call a small apartment, but compared to my New York studio, this place is quite spacious.  I miss having a microwave but love having a washing machine.  I miss my bathtub, but love my balcony.   The subway system is easy to navigate and so refreshingly clean!   The food has been a more difficult adjustment. I can’t make a judgment on German food yet because the truth is, I haven’t really experienced it.  With my food allergies, finding things I can eat has been difficult.  Add in my starving artist budget and I’ve been preparing most of my meals at home.  Even though I have studied German, I find the ingredient lists and labels on grocery store items very confusing, so I’ve been keeping things simple to avoid my two main nemeses:  dairy and tomatoes.  They’re in everything! I’m not proud of it, but I did opt for baby food at one point and it will probably happen again.  I miss the abundance of produce options I had in New York.  It’s hard enough to find spinach in some markets, let alone kale and jicama.  Potatoes will get really old really quickly. 
Ich bin.

Despite my lack of culinary options, I still worry about my weight while I’m here.  There is a Weight Watchers on my street that has meetings on Tuesday nights.  I can’t wait to see how it differs from those in America and seeing my weight will be a lot more pleasant with the metric system on my side.  I’ve been avoiding the enticing pastries and chocolate so far, but once I found dairy-free Nutella, I knew my willpower had an expiration date.  Without my weight loss utility belt of weighing and measuring tools and an encyclopedic knowledge of Weight Watchers points, I worry I may lose my way and gain some weight.  I want to nip it in the bud early and not after I find myself in a sea of strudel and streusel. When in the land of the wurst, prepare for the worst.

As far as the language is concerned, I expected everyone to assume I wanted to speak English, but surprisingly, I haven’t used it since I moved into my apartment.  I love being immersed in the language.  One great tool has been watching American sitcoms dubbed over in German.  The worse the show, the easier it is for me to translate the obvious punchlines.  Zweieinhalb Männer may not be funny, but at least Charlie Sheen is finally serving a purpose.  

I miss my close friends back in New York and I miss the way they make me laugh.  I have seen many charming and lovely things over the past few days, but I don’t think I’ve found anything terribly funny since my arrival.  Again, this is one of the unfortunate consequences of watching Two and a Half Men.  I miss laughing so much I considered it my cardio, but this makes me that much more excited about visiting Boom Chicago in Amsterdam.   Or maybe the taste for Schadenfreude will come with the taste for sausages.

Travel makes a wise man better, and a fool worse. -Thomas Fuller

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

San Diego Smize

Last week, I flew home to California so my family could be together for the first time in years.  Sometimes it seems as if we’re changing every minute, so naturally, so I flew home with some a combination of excitement and trepidation.  Would this be one for the photo album or for the therapist’s couch?  Only time would tell.

Despite the fact that my parents, my brother, and I are constantly evolving, we all seemed to come together like a Parker Pangaea.  I’m so proud of the grown-up my brother has become and he seems to be proud of me trying to become one myself.  As sensible adults, we were able to behave as immaturely as always, but this time while holding non-dairy iced chais.   We bought fancy scotch for my dad’s birthday; he paid, I obsessed over not being carded anymore.  We saw The Dark Knight Rises and he pretended it was his first time seeing it.  We had a catastrophic birthday cake cutting adventure resulting in more icing on me than on the cake.  We were a team again. 

For better or worse, I think my brother and I see each other for who we really are.  I am really trying to see myself that way as well, which seems to be more challenging.   I got new headshots while I was home, which required a conversation with my photographer as to what message I was trying to send about myself.  Apparently, the phrase “Me on my best day” wasn’t specific enough.  I decided I wanted to look young, fresh, confident, and fun.  Am I these things?  I tried to put my years of studying improv and America’s Next Top Model  marathons to use.  I tried to smile with my eyes (smize!), relax, breathe, and look natural.  This rarely comes to me in photos.  I am certifiably unphotogenic, and perhaps it’s because I want to look more at ease in photos than I am in real life.  So, I struggled during the headshot shoot. I often reverted to my sultry side, because for me, that’s just being shy with some sex appeal.  Looks #1 and #2 were conservative: minimal make-up, simple clothing, a variation of closed and open-mouthed smiles.  For look #3, I needed to shake it up.  I decided to stop worrying about the rules of headshots and just get some fun, editorial shots.  Natural make-up? Not on my watch!  The make-up artist gave me a smoky eye worth of Ru Paul’s Drag Race and teased my hair like a sixties bombshell.  She said, “I don’t think you’re of this era,” and with a yes and acceptance of that idea, I finally felt like I was in my own skin.  I threw off my pants to sport a Risky Business oversized collared shirt and bare legs ensemble.  I even threw off my bra because adjusting it was taking me out of the moment.  The photographer pounced on this idea, referencing a young Julie Christie and Goldie Hawn.  I felt so much more beautiful portraying someone other than myself.   I was at my most natural when I was looking the least authentic.   It was hard to wash off all of that mascara and see the vintage vixen swirl around the drain.

I’m looking forward to seeing the proofs and trying to remember not to be too hard on myself for not being Tyra Banks-worthy.  I want to challenge myself to be more confident under less cover-up.   I want to see the same person my relatives see when they look at me.  In a perfect world, I would be as perfect as my dog sees me, but let’s take this one step at a time.  Young, fresh, and confident?  Let’s start with genuine and see what develops.

You stay classy, San Diego.