White Christmas Update #1

Wow, we are beginning our third week into rehearsals for the show, but so much has happened so fast that I couldn’t keep up with the rehearsing and taking notes and pictures for these updates.  So, I will have to try my best and do it all from memory.  Bear with me!

Orientation night for the show always carries with it a unique kind of tension.  It’s not defensive or uneasy, it’s just kind of there.  We are all there for the same reason to put on a great show and to have fun while doing it, so there isn’t a need for ego or drama.  It’s not like going to a party where you have the cliques of people who exhibit that kind of behavior.  While there are people who do hang out more often together than with others, they are still approachable and welcome the interaction.  But back to the show…

Everyone was very nice and kinda chatty.  We watched the presentations from the designers and other staff members as they explained the vision and look of the show.  One thing that made me nervous was the Set Design presentation by Stephen Wathen.  In all honesty, I have no idea where they are going to put this massive set and still have room for the orchestra and the cast to move on and off stage.  That will be one feat of theatre magic that I am anxiously waiting to see performed.  If anyone can do it, then I know that he can. The Saratoga Civic Theatre has maybe about 50 x 65 feet of wing space on either side of the stage, and I may be exaggerating that measurement a bit on the high side.  From my understanding, and here comes a huge sigh of relief from the audience, the orchestra will be set up in the wings and not across the front of the stage as the often times are.  There are 15-20 people in the orchestra, so that nearly takes up half of the space on one side of the stage.  I can’t remember exactly how many people Rachel Michelberg, our Music/Vocal Director,  said she will need, and at the time she needed a few trombonists.  You should’ve seen how quickly some people, myself included, whipped out or phones and sent out the call on Facebook and/or Twitter.  Luckily, that’s all taken care of now.  The rest of the orientation was introductions of the cast to one another, and with that we were excused for the rest of the  night, but warned to be ready to work on Monday night.

The first night of rehearsal was the usual figure out which vocal part everyone will be singing, and skipping around the score to familiarize us with the sections of music that we will be singing.  I did arrive to rehearsal nearly 6 minutes late that first night and was given grief, in a lighthearted and non-accusatory way, right as I walked in the door.  I slinked to my chair, and people laughed.  I don’t know if it’s because I got in “trouble” or if I played up the pity tail between the tail puppy dog eyes.  We carried on with the rehearsal, but nearly 5 minutes later, my buddy Brett Carlson saunters in like he’s right on time and quickly grabs a seat as he puts his feet up on the empty chair in front of him.  Throughout the night, he was the target of friendly jabs from Rachel and some of the other cast.  I know it doesn’t seem like it reading this, but as a group we were really beginning to bond already.  Most of the time Rachel would have us sight read the section just to see what we can do.  With me not being able to do that, I would focus my ear to hear what Brett was singing, because luckily he knows how to read music.  So, thanks Brett for the help!  ‘Preciate it.

During most of the rest of the week, our vocal focus was on the number “Snow.”  I personally, am not a fan of the number.  It’s not that it’s a bad song, or anything like that.  I think I just may be over-Snowed or something.  Nothing too interesting happening during this time except when Rachel would stop us because we were creating a few brown notes during the process.  Um, you don’t know what a “brown note” is?  I don’t know if it’s something that my friends had created during one night of our many “rousing” game nights or what have you.  Without being too vulgar, I’ll just say that a brown note is a note that makes your stomach cramp in that bad seafood kinda way.  Nuff said.

Week number two vocally continued with the intricately harmonized “Snow.”  Although, I do have a question, what the hell is “shussing?” I am assuming that it is the sound the skis make during the activity, but I’ve never been skiing, so I can’t say for sure.  It’s just a really weird word to hear and say.  Ms. Director/Choreographer lady, Katie O’Bryon got us moving for the number “Let Yourself Go” and I freaking LOVE it!  The movement is so Gene Kelly/Jack Cole in style that it is a pure joy to dance.  It’s kinda hard to get pictures of it when I’m dancing, but I will try and have some for the next post.  I got partnered with the AMAZING Valerie Valenzuela.  She’s a ball of incredibly supportive positive energy who is always ready to work and laugh.  I am so jazzed that I get to work with her on yet another show.  Speaking of which, I am also delighted to be working with Ben Perez, Stephen Evans, Sven Schultz, Sean Carson-Hull, Frank Sherlock, Heather Schweitzer, Paul Hale, Andrea Stanley and of course Katie who were all in Sweet Charity earlier this year.

Then somewhere between week one and week two, one of our cast members Michael Carey who was supposed to play Sheldrake was nowhere to be found.   The role of Sheldrake has now been picked up by Sean Bender.  I didn’t get to see any of the rehearsals with Michael, so I can’t tell you the differences between the two, but Sean is making the most of Sheldrake and I am enjoying watching him play with this character.  With crisis averted, the show plugged onward.  Then some time over this past weekend, the wonderful Peter Schuurmans, bowed out of the show due to familial issues, and the cast has, in my eyes, lost a great performer.  I hope that everything works out and that he is back on stage as soon as possible.  Meanwhile, this departure has left the role of Private Phil Davis available.  For those of you only familiar with the movie version, it would be the Danny Kaye role.  Then I got a phone call Monday morning from Ms. O’Bryon, asking me if I would be interested in assuming the role.  Well, yeah, I would, but the acceptance was a little bittersweet.  There were many reasons why this isn’t a straight up joyous arrangement.  First, I was truly looking forward to the camaraderie that seems to build throughout the run of the show by being in the ensemble dressing rooms.  Second, I don’t get to dance with Val anymore.  Third, I have to learn two weeks worth of work in four days to keep the show from falling behind schedule. Fourth, because it was under this particular situation.  If it came to this because of  an injury, then maybe I would be a little more happy about it.  And NO, I am NOT wishing him any harm.  He’s a great guy and performer, so don’t you try and twist my words around.  Katie’s called ended with, “so…now this means you have rehearsal tonight.”  Not that I mind, but I was all set to have the night off like the rest of the ensemble.

My first night in the new role was a bit stressful.  I made sure to study the script and music for most of the day, but the music was still a train wreck when I got there Monday night.  In my head, those little voices that said, “Why on earth did they choose you from such a strong cast,” began to play with my head making focus a little more difficult than usual.  Luckily I was recording every note of that night, so I have something else to practice with.  Also, the publishing company has this software called “Accompanease” which is what will be saving my hide during this transition.  I have managed to create a playlist with most of the orchestrations and only the parts that I need to sing.  Lucky for me that little bit of help is available.

Last night, I had to learn the dance break for “The Best Things Happen While Your Dancing.”  A lot of fun, but I was expecting that.  What I wasn’t expecting was how long the song was! The best way that I can equate it is, it feels like I have done so much cardio and I am getting to the point of where I have to stop, but then I push a little further past that.  I don’t know how much I retained, but I know we will revisit that number again, so I am grateful for that.

So my friends, that’s how White Christmas is shaping up thus far.  It’s going to be AMAZING!  Katie’s staging/choreography is spot on and brilliant, the entire cast is strong and great to work with, and Rachel is drilling these numbers into our heads so well that we should know this music for YEARS.  Even me, the guy with the awful memory!

I don’t have a lot of pictures right now, but you will be able to find them by clicking HERE.

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Confidence…

Photo from CapeTownDailyPhoto.com

Has anyone ever told you to trust yourself? Or how about: Get out of your own way?  I get that often.  Actually much, much more than I really care to hear.  While hunting for an old headshot of mine last night, I came across all of my old paper work from past theatre classes and I kept a lot of it. On nearly every critique from my teachers or more advance students, that dreaded word was in each of them: Confidence.  Character believability, vocal choices, physical choices and interpretation were all very well received, but that little word has kept me from reaching the fullest of my potential.  And, to be frank, I don’t know how to get over that.

The reasons that I have thought of have been fear of success or fear of failure.  Of course that’s always a big issue for nearly everyone.  There is also lack of a seriously studious work ethic because I have to try and balance a “normal” job somehow/somewhere in there.

But I think with the advent of shows like “American Idol,”  I may have actually found the real reason.

I am amazed at the ego that some of the “hopefuls”, and I use that term very loosely, have when they come in to audition for things like SYTYCD (So You Think You Can Dance) or AI. I worry if maybe I have been coddled as clearly most of these people have been.  You can tell that they are being told by people how good they are, when it obviously isn’t true.  Most likely, it’s their parents, or friends or even well meaning teachers that are just trying to build up their confidence.  Could I possibly be having that same thing done to me?  I don’t know.  I can tell you for a fact it isn’t my family.  They always had quite the opposite reaction. But I won’t get into that.  Friends are supposed to support you, but do they always tell you the truth?  The really good ones do.  Even if you don’t want to hear it.  For the sake of breaking this down fully, let’s look at some other possibilities.

Or I can liken this to crazy people.  Please forgive my use of such a politically incorrect term.  The thought that I have is that crazy people don’t go around asking if they are crazy do they?  It doesn’t occur to them that they are standing just outside of the “norm.”   So logically, one would believe that simply by asking yourself that tiny question, you shouldn’t be crazy since you are taking the time to think about the issue.  If I were just to believe that I could do everything well, would that I mean I have the talent to do it?  If I stopped and thought about it, it wouldn’t make any sense.  This would then make it fall into the realm of ego right?  But what if I had examples of it working out in some aspects and not others?  No longer is it ego, but more like the crazy man trying to figure out if he is indeed crazy.  So, couldn’t that same theory hold true for my situation as well?  Possibly.  Let’s look at another thought.

There is also what could be the attention factor.  By saying that I don’t believe in what people are saying about my performances or ideas, some people usually try to explain why they are well done or good, thus breaking down the work and adding more compliments to it and more time praising which equals more attention.  And while yes, I have a lot to say (some which isn’t appropriate for this blog site) and a outgoing demeanor the occasional ego stroking could be most welcome.  However, I can assure you this one isn’t the case.  Well maybe by 5% it could be.  Subconsciously, speaking of course.

Another reason could be trust.  Now I know that this could be a real stretch, but hear me out.  I know not everyone likes the same genre of music or style of singing so therefore, many people don’t agree on what sounds good. There are the singers that sing out of their nose.  There are the singers that sing like they are trying to hold everything in the back of their throats. Then there are singers who have a whole other voice sound or quality that they use to sing.  That one I can’t even explain but I’ll try.  Now I am not going to name any names, but let’s say I know someone who talks like Kermit the Frog, but when he sings, he sings like Miss Piggy.  For the sake of argument, I did exaggerate this.  But the sound and quality of his voice changes in a way that, to me, makes the whole performance feel fake and just bad.  So when I see things like this happen on stage especially when there are other people that I know who could have fit into the role better, then I feel I have a legit reason to distrust people.  And sometimes that distrust of people plays with my head. For example, about a month ago, I went in to audition for the role of Bob in “White Christmas” and the Vocal and Orchestra Leader was Rachel Michelberg, who I worked with on “Sweet Charity” at the beginning of the year.  She had never heard me sing, and after the auditions, she said how well she thought I did.  Do you know what I told her?  My dumb ass said, ” Really?  Blech.”  Then she took me to task! Whew!  Her mouth fell open for a second in disbelief and she said, “I am a professional music teacher! I teach people how to sing so I know what I am talking about.  When I say that you sing well, you say ‘Thank you!'” So really really embarrassed I said sorry and thank you and quickly left.  I do have to say thank you, Rachel for that needed slap in the face.  The thing about that exchange was that it was just like a reflex to disregard the kind words of someone else.  I find it confusing, because I can take a compliment if it were about shoes or clothes or even a blog post, but when it comes to “talent” or appearance, I just can’t do it.

So in the end, I guess what it comes down to is even if you don’t believe in yourself, ACT like you do; but seriously dig deep and find out why.  The roles or opportunities that you have missed out on before could be yours if you have confidence.  Here are some ways that will give you a boost.  Be prepared.  Study your material so you know as much as you can about it.  Know what your guidelines are and be sure you respect them.  Dress in something that makes you feel good about yourself, not necessarily something that makes you look good.  When I wear a suit I feel super constricted and uber-self conscious so you’ll hardly ever see that.  Be sure that it’s not something trashy though.  Don’t wanna walk into an audition in a pair of cut off shorts if it isn’t called for, right?

I think that maybe my lack of confidence comes from a little of everything, I don’t know for sure.  But I figure if I point it out to myself, I will finally start working on it.  Thanks for lending me an eyeball!

Do you have confidence?  What are some things that you have found that work for you?  Do any of these ideas about where the lack of confidence stems from resonate with you?  Which one?  Let me know, maybe we can help each other out of this.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Vocal rehearsal last night…

Last night the cast had a vocal clean up rehearsal.  Keeping to my promise of working numbers out over the course of the week, I got there at 5:30.  We went over Brass Band, not as many times as I wanted, but more than we have had the chance to do in a single rehearsal.  On Tuesday, I had taken video of the run through and showed the cast how close they are to getting the dances down.  I think they need to see for themselves that the steps are in their heads, they just have to stop over analyzing.  The great thing about a Bob Fosse show is that he uses musical cues for so many of the steps that when creating something in this style you have the music to help guide you through.  In most productions, I’m A Brass Band is done as a tap number (in the movie Fosse didn’t have them tap nor in the Broadway version), with huge chunks of music edited out for not only time, but for ease of creating a piece.  The steps in my version are simple, but the fact that they are interchangeable create a barrier in the mind that you have a choice as to which step comes next.  Luckily, we have muscle memory, and I emailed detailed notes to everyone after the dances are complete.

At 7:00, when Rachel, our music and vocal director came in, we switched gears and began singing.  Listen to me say “we”.  I didn’t sing.  They sang, and they sound great.  Rachel is concerned about the breath because after the dances, you can hear that they are low on air.  However, I fully believe that since they didn’t sing while they rehearsed the dances, that is the cause of the problem.  With practice, they will get it, and as we head in to “Hell Week” they are going to have plenty of time to practice this.  I planned on heading home once Rachel got there, but she said that she wanted to fix a couple of things and have the people run the dances.  I went home to grab a bite to eat and when back at 8:00 like she asked.

Rachel Michelberg (Musical DIrector) works with Ian Teter on Cry at Weddings.

The cast ran through Rhythm of Life.  Looks pretty good.  I will make some small adjustments.  SMALL.

Brass Band: Once they get the trumpets for the jazzy part the ladies can really put the hurt with that body swing and contraction step.  Then the percussion will be a huge help for the section that it’s ONLY percussion that’s playing.  Will change one step for the ladies.  At the end, have to get that jete on 7-8.

Cry at Weddings: Just have to get Herman to address all of the cast at the beginning.

Not too shabby. Not too shabby at all.