Thursday, January 31, 2008

Miscellaneous

After the show tonight, I went out to the bar with some of my colleagues to unwind and allow the adrenaline from the show to seep from my system. Among this group of people was none other than Little Miss Bossy herself. As our conversation wandered from subject to subject, we eventually started discussing blogging, and I confessed to her that I really hadn’t felt so motivated this month to keep up the frequency of entries.

Now, at "home", unable to sleep because of the sheer volume of junky bar food that I just consumed, I find myself wondering why I have been so unmotivated. Part of it, as Miss Bossy and I were discussing this evening, is that it is easier to write about things while adventuring in Europe, because everything seems so different and interesting. It is a steep learning curve over there, simply because of the culture shock. The other difficulty is that my time here has been very challenging personally. Sometimes life seems like a spiral, in the sense that we come back constantly to the same points, but always from a slightly different vantage point. Houston is very much the place where I made the awkward transition from college student/kid to adult, and I have cringed numerous times over the past six weeks as various people and events have pulled forth the memories of the many personal stumbles I made in my effort to grow up here.

The show has been going so well – it is work that I am very proud of. The entire cast is excellent and have been incredible colleagues, and I can’t believe that we only have one show left. I feel like I am saying goodbye to Houston again, and it is surprisingly sad.

Sorry, this entry feels incredibly wandering and aimless to me. – I blame the chicken tenders from the Front Porch for my random sentimentality.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Plague Strikes Back

And then I spoke too soon.

Right after writing how miraculous it was that we were all recovered from illness in time for opening, I woke up Friday morning feeling strange enough to spend the afternoon at the doctor’s office. I managed to start feeling better in time for the opening performance Friday evening, but then crashed back down again to the point that I had a full-blown sinus infection by the time Sunday’s matinee performance rolled around. I was so blocked up that I couldn’t really hear well out of my left ear, which made the performance an act of faith in many ways. It was the first time I had to perform ill, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m not sure where the strength and energy (or the voice, for that matter) came from to perform at our second performance, but I somehow managed to find enough of all of them to step into Pedrillo’s sweet, energetic shoes for the afternoon. More than one teacher (acting and singing) has told me on more than one occasion that technique is for when you are not feeling your best – it was a a lesson learned on Sunday, and I was so grateful to have my training on my side last weekend.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Abduction

After practically everyone at the Houston Grand Opera catching what we are lovingly referring to as “the plague” over the last three weeks, the miraculous happened at our final dress rehearsal of Entf├╝hrung Tuesday evening – everyone sang.

It was so nice to have everyone back on stage and in full voice after so many absences due to illness. Somehow, singing the quartet at the end of Act II (one of my most favorite operatic ensembles ever written) is not the same experience when it is only being sung by two people. Elise, our superhero assistant director, stepped in for practically every character at some point last week. The most amazing thing was that Elise knew practically every bit of the German dialogue by heart and was able to lipsync in all the ensembles – it was like watching a one-man version of The Abduction from the Seraglio.

This, just like any good working experience, has been a really great journey. Pedrillo, while he doesn’t present the vocal challenges that Lindoro does, is dramatically one of the most challenging characters I have come across in a while. Comedy is difficult in that it requires virtuosic specificity in terms of dramatic beats and timing while still being able to stay in the moment. I’ve learned a lot over the past couple of weeks, and I am really starting to have fun getting to step into Pedrillo’s shoes for each rehearsal.

When I was in the Studio here not so long ago, it was stressed to us repeatedly that we needed to show up properly prepared for the first day of rehearsal, for a variety of reasons. What I’ve come to realize over the past couple of weeks is that I mistook “prepared” for “perfection”, which resulted in a lot of impatience and frustration with myself early on in the rehearsal process here as I tried to learn to do things like make a martini and sing in rhythm at the same time. Luckily, hearing Elise repeat to me over and over, “this is what rehearsal is for” helped me figure that out.

To my wonderful and incredible colleagues, toi, toi, toi for a fantastic and fun opening tomorrow and thanks for such a great time these past few weeks.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Jim

In 1994, around this time of year, I had just turned 15 years old and was about to take my first audition as a singer for the Greenhills School spring musical - The Music Man. My parents dropped me off at the school at around 6:00pm for the auditions, and I spent the evening in the school lunchroom and lecture hall staring at the white bricks while I anxiously waited for my turn to sing sixteen bars of “76 Trombones” and some excerpts of the top tenor lines in the barbershop quartet music from The Music Man. There were two people hearing and casting us that night. One was the school’s choir director, Wendy, and the other was a lively man with a slightly raspy voice, short-cropped, spiky gray hair with a thin pony tail in back, glasses, a handle-bar mustache, and an infectious laugh – our theater director, Jim Posante.

Little did I know it at the time, but that evening of my knees shaking in the Greenhills lunchroom marked the beginning of my journey as a singer and shaped the entire trajectory of my life ever since. Jim decided to cast me as Jacey Squires in the Music Man’s barbershop quartet that spring, and I found my calling. It was with Jim that I learned what it took to transform a gymnasium into a theater, the basics of how to be on stage, what a thrill it was to step into the shoes of another character for the first time, and the exciting rush of singing under stage lights and in front of an audience full of people. It was with Jim that I found that I had a voice, and that I could do something with that gift.

Jim was more than a teacher or a director to me, though. It was through him that the theater kids in whom he nurtured the drama bug found a community and a niche. He is actually responsible, by drafting all of us to take part in the school’s theatrical productions, for helping me find the group of friends from my youth in Ann Arbor who have seen me through my hardest times, and that I consider to be practically family today. He was also the first out gay man that I got to know on a personal level and was a huge support for me as I took my own first steps out of the closet 13 years ago. Even after graduating from Greenhills, Jim was someone I counted on for support - he supported me while I was in college struggling to come out to my parents, and he continued to support me and cheer me on as I made the scary transition from college voice student to professional singer. We could always talk about anything, and I knew that in him I would always have a willing and helpful ear to bounce things off of.

Saturday, as I was in the middle of doing some yoga, warming up physically for the day’s rehearsal, I received a call that Jim was in critical condition after suffering from a massive stroke in the morning. He passed away at around 8:30 Sunday morning.

I’ve discovered that one of the hardest things about this operatic life on the road is that so often I can’t be there for the milestones of my loved ones – both the happy ones and the sad. So, I resort to saying goodbye here. Thank you, Jim, for helping me find both myself and my passion. You were a great guide and teacher, and an even better friend. I can’t help but think of you constantly as I spend most of this week in the theater, where you taught me so much about both the stage and life. Words can't express just how much you will be missed nor how much you were loved and valued.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Back to School

I rang in my 29th year yesterday very quietly, as I had rehearsals to think about both yesterday and today on top of being partied out from Christmas and New Year’s, as I always am around this time of year. As I near 30, I am well aware that many people my age are well into the workforce and well out of school-mode. Regardless, among my closest friends who are non-singers, I am one of the only one of us out of school and not trying to finish a second or third degree.

It is an odd sensation, therefore, to be back working in the place where I spent my “final” three years of training. I am a total believer in the idea that we never stop learning, especially as professional artists – there is always another level of things to discover. Still, I notice that I have the distinct desire to hear feedback about how much I have improved and how wonderful I am from these people from whom I learned so many of the tools that I have tried to perfect since leaving here. I find it is extra difficult to fight down my ego because of that expectation and desire, and it is proving to be quite the mental challenge when it comes to my work. I get flustered more easily, and it is harder to focus on the task at hand sometimes. There is something about returning to the place where I cut my operatic teeth that makes me search for a level of approval that I wouldn’t necessarily look for elsewhere. I think it has something to do with the fact that apprenticeships are about planning for the future as much as they are about honing one’s craft. The reality is that when it comes down to it, this is a job, just like any other, and it is the task at hand that is the priority – not my development and career trajectory. It makes me wonder how much more I would have learned as a Studio artist here had I not been so focused on the future and gave more of my attention to the tasks that were at hand then.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

America the Beautiful

Having spent so much time away from the United States recently, I was really excited to come home for the holiday season and the New Year. During my first travels abroad for work, I used to feel as if I needed to apologize being an American in social settings. I felt that I needed to explain that I was not responsible for the political situation in my country to the many people who would ask me to explain what they perceived as a mess here. As I have traveled a bit more over these past few years and spent more time in Europe, I have come to appreciate the positive aspects of being an American. People would often ask me if I was interested in moving over to Europe, and I have even had a couple of opportunities to consider it professionally - it has been an idea that I have toyed with quite seriously for some time now. While I love working over there with all my heart, and I really enjoy spending significant portions of time over there, I always come back to the fact that I love living in the United States and that I am actually quite proud to be an American. As a result, it is always so exciting to come home after long stretches away - it allows my appreciation to grow.

It also makes it this much harder to come back to the harsh realities that are not so pleasant about America today. Two things have stuck out to me as rather upsetting in the political/media sphere upon my return. The first was this editorial in the New York Times on New Year's Eve. I am heartened to see that people in the mainstream media are talking about the events of recent years in such frank terms, but I also wonder why we weren't speaking in such frank terms (in our land of free speech) earlier on. There is also part of me that fears that this is all falling on deaf ears. The other item is the recent events in Oregon regarding their new domestic partnership laws that were to go into effect on Tuesday. The news that came on New Year's Eve that the new laws in Oregon were put on hold was just another reminder that people like me are second class citizens in the place that I call home. If this is the land of the free, why am I still denied such basic civil rights?