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Occupational Hazard, Day 18

February 11, 2010

I woke up to the sight of a beautiful blizzard outside my window and an email rescheduling my rehearsal for this weekend’s performance at  Symphony Space, where I’ll sing with the New York Virtuoso Singers in Orpheus Lex.  Oh, I love that feeling of excitement at a genuine snow day, when I have every excuse to stay indoors and do nothing.  Instead, while indeed staying inside, I downloaded some musical theater and jazz songs to hear and learn for a new song book for auditions.  I even – gasp – warmed up, practiced, and learned a new jazz standard/ballad for potential gigs and auditions.

After singing professionally for years, many singers can feel perhaps a little too comfortable with their instrument, forgetting the importance of regular warmups, rehearsals, and lessons.  Unfortunately, resisting the necessity of that upkeep can result in virtual vocal suicide, as the technique weakens and bad habits then rule over time.  I hate practicing almost as much as paying for voice lessons with money I really don’t have (though my amazing teacher, W. Stephen Smith, deserves every penny and then some).  Having taken a couple of days off from singing, it took my voice a little longer to warm up than usual, which reminded me not to try that too often; however, learning the new ballad proved to be the true occupational hazard of the day.

Let me just say that I am aware, very aware, that I asked for it last week on day 15, “A Need to Suffer.”  I truly should have known better, and probably did, when typing the title of that post.  I love my life and have no regrets about how my experiences have shaped me.  Having said that, I must admit to have suffered through varying degrees of rough patches, like many others.  In order to press on in life, I  try my best to fully grasp and deal with a painful event, learn from it, and mourn a loss if necessary.  On occasion, despite my best efforts to understand and grow, I naively bury a memory in the backyard of my mind, expecting it to remain there undisturbed.

Acting is not for the faint of heart, and naivete does not endure.  In pursuing truth in acting, I can’t use generic, less emotionally-committed objectives when performing a character in despair – at least, not if I want to get the gig or to move the audience in any way.  Of course, the first ballad I picked up to learn tonight exudes desperation and emptiness.  After really examining the lyrics several times, committing the melody to memory, and finally acting it out with clear objectives in mind, I opened the door and Pavlov’s dogs ran out to play, again digging up some of those memories I thought I’d buried so well.

Earlier this week, some personal events almost brought the same recollections to the forefront, and I admittedly pounded a little on the dirt to keep them below ground.  I should have known they would surface all the same, especially in my renewed dedication to acting.  As actors and singers, we don’t have the luxury of constant contentment, and drama will try to seep in from our lives to the theater and from the theater to our lives.  What to do?  I don’t know, but I imagine that admitting it doesn’t hurt and that trying to keep my life separate but one will challenge me throughout my career.  I do know that backing away from that challenge is not an option.  I also believe that I have an important talent and perspective to share, and playing it safe accomplishes nothing.

One Comment leave one →
  1. kwFrance permalink
    February 11, 2010 4:16 am

    Hi Abby, what a great blog….!!!
    I totally think the challenge of ‘honesty’ on stage in a role can be so exciting, but also debilitating, depending on what the role requires. In my own experience I actually used to try to mirror what I was trying to convey on stage in my personal life – I nearly killed myself doing it – it just isn’t healthy. The discovery of ‘practising my feelings’ came when I chose to recently act the part of a mom who’s kid gets kidnapped and dies – I was litterally watching myself go sleepless and foodless and into mourning, even when I wasn’t on stage – I became overwhelmed with tragic empathy, depressed, desperate….of course in real life my kids were fine and I was missing them while on tour and whatever, but I was so ‘into’ the role and the horror of what this poor lady must have felt that I sympathized my way into ‘being’ her all the time for about 3 weeks- something that was really only temporarily necessary on stage….
    Finally I remembered that I didn’t have to do this, that away from rehearsals I could allow myself to laugh, go to movies, cook, call my family, party with friends, read comedy, watch videos on youtube of beautiful things etc
    I think there are 3 tools to use in order to not confuse your temporary stage feelings with your real life ones

    1) not mimicking your lyrics/role in your real life – although finding coincidences can be intriguing for sure, one is on stage and isn’t really you, the other is REALLY you everyday

    2) making your real life everyday achievements into a real active routine :warming up and warming down after a big ‘scene’even if it’s only practising really changed this for me! Preparing yourself physically but also mentally by saying ‘ok, now I’ll try out those big feelings’, not just letting them surface when you need them – and really thinking about and intellectualizing those feelings so that they didn’t rule everyday life, which is hard work if you’ve had truly tragic stuff in your real life to get over – but every tragedy requires thought and tears to move through (I think), and certain therapies (psychoanalysis, sofrology) help you through with accompaniment

    3) Remembering what makes you laugh – and resorting to it as a useful tool to get you off being ‘too’ involved in your character…we don’t need to torture ourselves for our experiences for our acting. It’s only a job! Remembering this and then reviving or allowing ourselves to feel laughter/pleasure is really important every day.

    Congratulations on your successes, I wish you the best
    Love Karen

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