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.

Monday, July 2, 2012

What's my motivation?!

This has been a summer of challenges.  I desperately miss my friends who are at various music festivals this summer, living as full-time artists…full-time, non-starving artists.  At this time last year, I was on stage with Jeremy Irons and Helen Mirren.  This year, I’m alone in a studio apartment.  During these challenging periods, I am prone to wallowing and asking, what am I doing wrong?  When do I give up? Am I kidding myself?  However, I’m often neglecting the most important question: Why am I doing this?

In order to find the why, I have to go back to the when.  I have to think back to why I started singing in the first place, and why this is one of few things I’ve tried that I’ve never quit.  I can’t remember a time when music was not a part of my life.   Even in the womb, I was surrounded by music, as my mother was a choir teacher in North Carolina.  As a child in California, I vividly remember my mother brushing and braiding my hair before school while running warm-up exercises with her girls’ choir.  I always loved singing, and even when I wasn’t singing, I was infamous for my piercing, high-pitched squeals that suggested I was a true diva training.  I grew up singing in church, in choirs, community theater, and around the family upright piano.  I listened to my older brother’s beautiful tenor voice singing Pippin and tried to find my own soprano lilt and corner of the sky.   Even through high school, Jeff and I spent hours singing tirelessly around the house.  Why?  Because it felt good.   It was that simple.  We did it because we could and we did it wherever anyone would listen.  It was ice cream for the soul.  I never thought, “Ugh, I HAVE to sing today…” a phrase I’ve uttered more times than I care to admit over the past two months. 

I will never forget the first live musical I saw.  I can’t remember my exact age, probably around seven, but it was Big River at the Starlight Theater in San Diego.  The experience was transformative, despite the cast pausing for planes overhead and the fact that I got so excited I spilled my Kool-Aid Squeeze-It on a woman’s pantsuit, leading to yelling on her part and tears on mine.  I was hooked, though, and grew up adoring musical theater the way I can only imagine normal people grow up loving sports.

Almost ten years later, I saw my first opera.  I saw La Boheme the night before my junior prom, and it just as romantic as going to prom with my gorgeous high school crush.  I cried all the way through Puccini’s masterpiece, and this time, Squeeze-Its had nothing to do with it.  When I heard Musetta’s “Quando me’n vo” for the first time, I clearly remember saying, “I want to do that.”  I knew my friends wouldn’t understand.  I told them I saw Rent.  I almost forgot about that monumental Musetta moment but it came rushing back to me Wednesday night before musical improv class, when pianist Frank Spitznagel was playing the aria at the piano.  Sure, it’s not quite my ‘fach,’ so to speak, but I jumped in and blasted the Magnet Training Center with my own rendition.  Because no one in the room was terribly familiar with Boheme, I didn’t worry about singing the right words or paying attention to performance practices, I just embraced the opportunity to have my first opera jam in years, and even had a Marcello had in mind.   I can’t remember the last time I turned my judgmental brain off while singing, but I know will remember the newfound freedom I felt Wednesday night.

Freedom in performance was what brought me back to improv after so many years of admiring the art, but vowing to avoid participating in it.  My brother and I first started improvising when we were elementary school students attending Arts Between the Tracks theater day camp.  When we weren’t rehearsing for the big show, teachers Randy and Doug taught us improv games, and no game of capture the flag or arts and crafts activity could compare.  Jeff and I would come home from camp and study comedy like it was our job, and write and film sketches that, looking back, were both terrible and offensive!  Jeff and I lived the Kids and the Hall answering machine sketch before it was ever aired and still leave each other unusual messages after the “Eek.”  Somewhere in my life after Arts camp, I remembered I was a naturally introverted person, and lost any desire to improvise in front of an audience.  I still loved the art and went to shows constantly, but whenever performers asked if I would participate as an audience member, the fear of failure came over me and I forgot how to speak.  A ferocious shake of the head got them to move on to a more willing audience member.  It was the combination of improvisation and opera that brought back my desire to perform spontaneously and I am so grateful for the wonderful people and opportunities improv has brought into my life.  However, as opera has given me numerous struggles, I’m finding my confidence in improvising struggling as well.  My desire to hide in the audience is creeping in and I’m finding myself returning to the question, why?  Why am I nervous again?  Why can’t I just play like I did at Arts Between the Tracks?

I want to explore my motivation for all of my regular activities in my New York life. I know why I work; my monthly rent keeps that fresh in my brain.  However, I want to rediscover why I practice yoga.  There was a time when I did it because I loved it, not because I was afraid I would gain weight if I didn’t.  My operatic and yogi inspiration, Priti Gandhi, was the reason yoga became an art form for me, and I need more of her ohm in my home.  Even with the things that have ended, like friendships or relationships, I am looking back at why that person was brought into my life, not why they exited it.  I have enough factors contributing to a life of spinsterhood, I don’t need any extra bitterness contributing to it.

So, until the universe plops a timely fortune cookie or magic eight ball into my hand, I’ll have to continue asking my questions and searching for my own answers.  And each new lesson will be brought to me by the letter Y.

No question is so difficult to answer as that to which the answer is obvious.