Tuesday, November 27, 2012
It's all about perspective. Yesterday, Alex and I were en route to a meeting with my Patsy Cline collaborator to discuss getting the show produced, anywhere, anytime. I love this show and want desperately to have many chances to perform it again, so this meeting was an important and exciting step in getting the ball rolling. And then I got a flat tire. No way could we make it to the meeting. I was pretty upset. This was my first flat tire experience, and it happened at a terrifically inconvenient time. So, there we were, pulled into a parking lot off of highway 99, me grumbling about the unfairness of it all as Alex talked through our story to AAA. While he was using my phone to call them, his phone rang and he handed it to me. I answered, "Alex's phone" without looking to see who was calling, then went on to tell the caller that Alex was in the middle of talking to AAA because we were stranded in a parking lot with a flat and woe woe woe is me was the basic message from my end. I heard a faint reply, "I'm sorry about that, just have him give me a call at his convenience." And that was when I recognized the voice. "Is this Max?" Yes, it was, and I apologized to him for not knowing who I was speaking to, then asked how he was doing. "Oh, I've been better." And I stopped. Because I knew what Max had been dealing with for some days now, a sick parent many miles away. "How is your dad, Max?" I asked. "Well, he passed away a few hours ago." Oh. Oh. OH! "I'm so sorry, Max," I said, and we spoke for a bit, as he told me that his father lived a full life, was married 54 years, that his death wasn't unexpected. You know, the talk of a man in mourning but trying his best to be brave. But there was no denying the pain in his voice. He just lost his father. And all I had was a flat tire. We got a flat tire on one of those rare sunny November days in Seattle. There happened to be a security guard in the parking lot that we pulled into, and his last job was at a tire store. He happened to be an expert tire changer. He helped us figure out not only that we had a donut (I had no clue) but also where to find the mini-jack that would allow us to access the donut (who knew there were so many nifty tools in my PT Cruiser?). He then changed our tire for us, in a matter of 10 minutes. He said he always feels bad for people who blow a tire on the road, so he keeps tire-changing tools in his car, along with flashers and traffic cones, and he truly enjoys being able to help people who are in a scary situation, like being stranded on the side of a highway. He said he would be happy to help us, he didn't need any money. His name is Adam, and he is awesome. In short, we got a flat tire in the most ideal location ever, with a happy-to-help, tire-changing guru at our disposal, on a sunny day in Seattle. I spent most of yesterday feeling incredibly fortunate. Yeah, I had a flat (which has since turned into a need for a new alternator) and missed an important meeting. But the flat got fixed, the meeting got rescheduled, and my family is alive and well. There are so many moments in Life that can knock us down, but when we put it into perspective, we're still pretty freaking lucky. Don't you think?
Friday, September 21, 2012
Friday, September 14, 2012
Over the summer, I taught a class called Step 2: Acting with Text, a 10-week, basic scene study course. This past Sunday was our last class, and the students were able to invite people to come see their final scene presentations. We began class with a warm-up, as we always do, and the room was filled with nervous energy. It was clear that the students were thinking of the next hour, when the audience would arrive, and the feeling in the room was one of pressure and anxiety. I wanted to help them remember that, while it's natural to feel nervous before a performance, it is vital that one not allow that nervousness to remove all the pleasure from performing. And I just happened to have a personal story to share with them in regards to the Patsy Cline concert I had sung the night before, and I'd like to share that story with you now: ************ I have performed many roles on many stages over the course of my life, but "Foolin' Around with Patsy Cline" was the first time I'd ever sung a full concert by myself. And while I was terrifically excited about it, as September 8th approached, I found myself getting more and more nervous, to the point of pure terror. I was afraid of forgetting the lyrics to the 41 songs I'd be singing; I was afraid that the between-song banter I'd written was lifeless and stupid; I was afraid of feeling amateurish in front of the band and the audience; I was afraid that I'd either hang on to the mic stand all night or bounce all over the stage trying to "entertain"; I was afraid that no one would show up; I was afraid I'd look ugly (finding the right dresses was a challenge); I was afraid that I'd discover, in front of a room full of strangers, that I really don't have any talent as a singer. I had spent months working on the music, but in a vacuum: I didn't get any rehearsal until running through the show with the band on the night before the performance. And for me, this was the scariest part, relying on my performer's instincts, not having a director's eye and ear to guide me. The week leading up to the show, I was in a state of panic, singing Patsy songs all day and rehearsing Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson at night, and my voice was fried, along with my nerves. Friday morning, I found myself sobbing uncontrollably, unable to be soothed by Alex's reassurances that I would be great, unable to believe my friends, who had seen me perform many times over the years and had no doubt that I would know exactly what to do once I was on that stage. I was having a minor nervous breakdown, and I needed a Valium and a nap to be able to get myself to that band rehearsal. And then, finally, I met the band. And they were all so nice to me! And we started working through the set list, and I knew all the lyrics! And since my voice was fried, I didn't sing out, I just sang through the material and got a feel for what the band was adding to the melodies I'd been singing solo, and it was really cool! I tried on a couple of dresses, and I looked good in them! By the end of rehearsal, my excitement far outweighed my nervousness, and I felt like everything would be okay. ********** The day of the show, I spent 6 hours in rehearsal for Bloody Bloody, then drove down to the theatre to do another short rehearsal with the full band. My voice was tired, which was scary, but there was no turning back now. Finally, 8 o'clock rolled around, and the band played their overture, and I stood in the wings dancing to the music. And then came the announcement: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage, Miss Meg McLynn! The band began playing the first song, and I walked out onstage, and...I completely forgot what I was supposed to sing. Totally. Blank. I waved at the audience, then I looked at the pianist, David Duvall (who threw this whole thing together with his production company, Purple Phoenix Productions, as well as doing the arrangements for vocals and all 6 instruments), and he gave me a look that said, "You're supposed to be singing!!" And the look I threw back to him said, "And I'll sing, as soon as I remember what song I'm supposed to be singing!" While it was probably less than 15 seconds that I stood up there clueless, smiling and waving to no one in particular, it felt like an eternity while the band was vamping, waiting for me to get to the mic and sing my first line...COME ON IN AND SIT RIGHT DOWN AND MAKE YOURSELF AT HOME! I remembered!! And once I started, I was right where I needed to be. I sang through 2 songs, the crowd was enjoying themselves, and then I got to my big intro, a page of material I'd written to introduce myself, the show, my connection with Patsy Cline, and Patsy herself. I wanted to crowd to get a sense of who I am, and so I talked about being force-fed Patsy as a child (the crowd loved that) and how I came to eventually fall in love with her music. And then, I blanked, for the life of me I couldn't remember what I was supposed to say next. So, I looked at the crowd, held up the "give me a sec" finger, walked to my music stand which had my cheat-sheet of song order and banter, found my place, and smiled at the audience to let them know I figured out what came next. And they laughed, with me not at me, and that was the moment I needed: No matter what mistakes I might make, the audience was there to have an experience, to hear music they love and share that with people, they were NOT there to see a polished piece of performance perfection. From that moment on, I was on fire, completely in my element. There was no fear, no concern when I hit a funky note or mixed up some of the lyrics. No, this is what LIVE performance is all about! Those little mistakes, as long as they are handled with grace and/or humor, those moments are endearing for an audience; they turn a performer into a real person, and it's much easier to connect with a real person than with a performer. Oh, I had such a good time up there! I knew exactly what to do, with my body, with my voice. I knew the audience was with me on those songs that broke my heart, and I knew they were with me when I was dancing with joy. 2 hours flew by, and when I came out to take my curtain call, the crowd rose to its feet, an almost sold-out house of 220 Patsy fans who were now my fans as well. They liked me, not because I had a nice voice or because I looked pretty, but because I shared myself with them, I didn't shy away from my imperfections, and there was no doubt that I was having a good time. THAT is what an audience wants, THAT is why people see live performance. ********* And THAT is what I told my students: you've worked on these scenes for weeks, you know this material, these characters, the world of these plays. Now is the time to trust in all the work you've done, trust that it will be there to support you, and let it go, let yourself live in the moment and surprise yourself with what might happen. Don't turn the audience into the enemy, don't think of them as your critics; instead, know that what they want, more than anything, is to have an experience, to share something intimate with a room full of strangers, and they want you to have fun. The more fun you have, even while doing a scene from a tragedy, the more the audience will be able to get out of their own heads and enjoy the ride. This is the advice I gave them, and I think it helped, a little. And while there were mistakes made along the way as they performed their scenes, they also did the best work they'd done over the entire 10 weeks. They became actors. And afterwards, they were all buzzing with excitement, so proud of the work they had done, so proud of each other. I, too, was proud, as their teacher and as their friend. Getting onstage is a scary thing, but the payoff can be amazing. The performance I gave the night before is one of my favorite performance experiences of all time, one of the only performances that I didn't follow with a slew of self-criticisms. Sure, I wasn't perfect. But man, I was golden. And I am so happy to be able to say the same of my students. Congrats to all of us!!! ************ Also, a big THANK YOU to the boys in the band: Carey Black on bass; Don Dietrich on drums; Fred Speakman on guitar; Doug Zanger on steel guitar; Nathan Brown on violin (or perhaps it's called a fiddle in a country setting?); and of course, David Duvall, who gave me the chance to have an experience of a lifetime. Thank you, my friend, I hope we get to do it again!!