Dropping the Curtain on a Tiny Universe

Photo by Brian Geltner
Photo by Brian Geltner

How does one sum up months of rehearsal and ten successful, almost entirely sold out performances of an original, musical puppet play, based on the writings of Federico Garcia Lorca? Magic. In this world, thirteen cast members, three pit musicians, a composer, director/creator, assistant director, lighting, costumes, sound, friends, and unseen helpers brought to life puppets who in this story even brought themselves to life.

I do not speak Spanish. Neither did many of our audience members. Regardless of some not very subtle shadow puppetry and at least half of the performance in English, the purely Spanish moments read so clearly. Unmistakably familiar emotions translated across the audience and cast as Lorca, Rima Fand, and Erin Orr weaved their webs of comedy and incredibly human grief, as felt by the puppet Don Cristóbal.

When a new friend discovers the truth of my new adventures in puppetry, he inevitably wants more information. How? With whom? When? Where? I have yet to hear the missing question. Somehow whether young or old, everyone seems to relate to well-acted puppets telling a meaningful tale. Within the span of less than two hours, our audience connected to the point of caring about the heart of a wooden puppet. Each night as the puppet maker replaced Don Cristobal’s heart, I listened to hear their reaction. Sad sighs of empathy and occasional laughter as Don Woodsman, the puppet maker, held the broken heart of a puppet in his hands.

In those moments, I knew we had done our jobs as actors, transforming a small theater on Suffolk Street into a world in which strangers might empathize with the emotions of a self-aware puppet who had impossibly fallen in love and, as a result, felt “terrible.” I listen to the music still, even now on my ipod as I ride the subway. Familiar melodies and a beautifully touching story refuse to dissipate from the forefront of my memory, persisting in a way for which I give thanks.

After the close of such a captivating show with such a talented team of artists, and even tonight at the start of Orfeo at the Metropolitan Opera, knowing we have only four performances remaining, I feel akin to Don Cristóbal. Somewhat heartbroken, everything hurts sometimes when such magical universes come to a close for performers. “¡Ay! What a hard time I have loving you as I love you…”

Yet the next gig arrives already before the first ends, and I move on to another audience and another inspiring work of art. Don Cristóbal will hopefully one day return to the stage, and I already have the fortune of working with composer Rima Fand for Tableau Vivant this month. I will rejoice if I again work with Erin Orr and everyone on the insanely gifted cast and crew someday. In the meantime, visions of the moon, the midnight hours, the Rio Guadalquivir, and a brilliant production will have to suffice.

Photo by Brian Geltner
Photo by Brian Geltner

Trading My Guises for Gifts in Tableau ~ 169

Old and new friends and acquaintances reunite, familiar music resounds, as Sarah Small and her brilliant cast and crew come together once more for another, more private tableau vivant. Set in the Bathhouse Studios in the East Village, this version has both a more intimate audience, set, and feel. The same challenges arise as each of the models hold their static poses, sing, and watch in our peripheral vision to catch the tempo, the changes in harmony by the stringed instruments, and the moments when Sarah Small might float in to signal our poses to come alive and interact.

 

Original Photo Copyright Cecilia De Bucourt
Original Photo Copyright Cecilia De Bucourt

Earlier in the day, after a few hours of rehearsal for the tableau, interviews, hair, and makeup, Sarah also floated about the set, this time in a Tim Burton-like white dress and half upswept hair. We took our places afresh, this time for a new video concept involving Sarah as an obsession rivaling social media’s love of Justin Bieber, as we literally fall lifeless at her feet. Upon the long-awaited final entrance of a baby in the final shoot, lifted up to the heavens, we all breathed a sigh of relief at the prospect of a little rest and dinner before the performance.

Reminding me of my days of high school marching band, I felt a bit lightheaded but excited after our, “do it again, just one more time” (all lies!) kind of day. What could have possibly energized me so much after a truly exhausting day with little time to stop to eat or rest? With such a different venue from our DUMBO Arts Festival performance, a seemingly small change provided me the first and most profoundly personal inspiration from this tableau vivant.

Rather than enter through the crowd, the house opened to a space full of “sleeping” models, each of us frozen in static poses for twenty-five minutes until a Bulgarian wool-clad Kamala Sankaram powerfully sang “Caro nome” from Rigoletto to bring us to life. Amusingly, Kamala actually made the dynamic a bit louder than usual on her first phrase in case any of the models actually had fallen asleep, but having to hold a perfectly static pose for twenty-five minutes makes sleep fairly challenging. Although I have spent some time considering the prospect of life modeling (posing nude for artistic endeavors, usually classes) in the future, I never quite grasped the difficulty in maintaining even a seemingly comfortable but perfectly still position for twenty minutes or more.

Somewhere between odd but unresolvable back pain and moments of Zen where I actually almost dozed off despite the discomfort, my thoughts began to compare the sensation with the reality of living my life in a static pose of inactivity. Like many Americans, I struggle with the temptation to hide from the cold or the challenges of life in the comfort of my warm apartment, in front of the anesthetizing influence of the television, computer, or other media. Only after I stand up and attempt to participate in living do I perceive the alternating pain and sleepy haze into which my paralyzed state has thrown me.  Doubtless this observation provided the motivation to move slowly away from the television, one muscle at a time, and back to living my glorious life.

Although I’ve re-discovered a much fuller existence these past six days or so, since my first day of braving the hazy shade of winter relentlessly blanketing the city, I have yet to act on another gigantic impetus to change, once more inspired by my performance at Sarah Small’s Tableau Vivant. Somewhere between each palpably quickened heartbeat before singing “C’est l’amour vainqueur” from The Tales of Hoffmann, a familiarly impish spirit of adventure washed over me as I decided to wait longer than I could seemingly bear in the silence before beginning my first note in the nude. Similarly, at the end of an ever-present and confidently sung aria with no clothes nor poorly-acted pretense, I enjoyed my final high note in suspended time, without fear or reservation, before coming back down to end the piece and tableau.

Afterwards, as we descended past the grateful audience down the frigid staircase to return to our fully-layered lives, I chuckled with an unusually cogent confidence upon the realization of a truly impressive feat. “Why,” I thought, “would I ever feel afraid or self-conscious at auditions when I know I can do something this amazing so expertly?” Those of you who have read my writing more than once or know me personally understand that while I must regularly promote myself as a performer, such self-assurance does not greet me readily when I rise each morning. For this I have to work so hard, such that I failed to attempt a single audition last month, even after agreeing with colleagues to apply for at least five monthly.

Yet somehow, performing with a roomful of dedicated and similarly vulnerable humans, without a single pretense or guise of fabric to call my own, the Tableau Vivant gives me the strength and faith to perform honestly and without apology, as the very best version of myself. In my life, I believe I have never received a greater gift; however, the offering each performer and creator lays out at the feet of their audience materializes into a much more profound treasure of creation. About this community at large, the performers within, and the message Sarah Small’s Tableau speaks to humanity, I have far more to say over the next few days. My thanks to those of you who have decided to join us.

Wolfy’s is a Journey Worth Taking ~ 150

 

Wolfy's Journey Production Still
Wolfy's Journey, by Leat Klingman

For anyone who has ever contemplated a journey of self-discovery, missed a soulmate or friend, indulged in too much of a good thing, hidden himself away in solitude, or faced a frightening task, the path of a small wolf puppet feels like home. Last Sunday night at the Moviehouse in Brooklyn, 3rd Ward‘s home for film and video screenings, an overflowing crowd gathered despite the cold to catch a first glimpse at Leat Klingman‘s Wolfy’s Journey, a puppet feature film over a year in the making. Foraging the building for extra chairs with many settling for the cold cement floor barely in front of the movie screen, we all settled in for fifty-five minutes of magic, laughter, and inspiration.

The star of Wolfy’s Journey began simply in 2007 as a wolf who wanted to eat the world in a few short films. including A Wolf I Say, although definitely not without effort. Leat Klingman explained in her question and answer session following the film that while she would prefer to take more even more time, the process of creating and detailing just one of her puppets takes about three months. As a visual artist, her attention to detail and extreme talent shine through all of the seven incredibly unique characters (eight, taking into consideration a two-headed dragon comprised of Cheri #1 and Cheri #2).

Also simply, his tale begins as Wolfy contemplates his destiny and role in the world as a wolf, wandering alone in the forest at night. Along the way, he encounters Ella Bella, a gorgeous Italian bird who sings and tells him tales of an enchanted tree in her magical forest. Lisa Van Wambeck puppeteers this fuchsia-feathered and cleverly-clawed creature convincingly and with the grace befitting her character. Skillfully operating the characters of Master Gugu Nunu and Alone as well, Lisa has her hands in much of the success of this production. Rima Fand, who voices Ella Bella, speaks and sings lyrically and with a lilting and authentic Italian accent. While her delightful voice sounds only through Ella Bella, Rima’s music as composer along with Leat Klingman enthralls the audience throughout Wolfy’s Journey, creatively using strings and piano alongside unusual instrumentation such as the accordion in the background music and in the charming and well-paced songs sprinkled throughout the film.

Following Ella Bella’s scene, Wolfy runs into Aitch, his best friend who disappeared and has now returned. Erin Orr, puppeteer and vocal artist of Aitch, gives Wolfy’s companion a consistently sweet and lovable demeanor whose high point arrives later during a hilariously clever song about berries. Eventually agreeing to combine adventures, they get into some trouble and visit a spectacular and original puppet named Master Gugu Nunu. Without giving away too much of the story, I definitely would purchase the DVD if only to see and hear the sparkling-gloved duo of Lisa Van Wambeck and Brendan McMahon. Brendan’s prowess as a voice actor shines through the Master’s commanding and dynamic demeanor as he places a spell on Wolfy that one must experience firsthand.

Rising out of a foggy lake, the two-handed, sequined dragon puppet of Cheri Cheri greets Wolfy and Aitch on their next stop in the land. Having sung, recorded the voice-overs, and puppeteered for Cheri #2, the silver diva of the two French-accented pair, I couldn’t watch this scene from an unbiased perspective in any way. I did however smile giddily at the presentation of it all, happily remembering Kim Berman’s efforts as the puppeteer for Cheri #1, sweating under the set with me for several hours this past summer. Logan Hegg, the voice for Cheri #2, and I also had a great time in both our recording sessions for the song and the dialogue, and I hope our mirthful rapport in reality read through our dragon selves.

Entering into a much starker setting, our two wolf friends Aitch and Wolfy finally come upon the final focus of their journey: to assist an artist who has stopped creating and sharing his art. Due to his melancholy state, all color has left his cave and the surrounding land. This black and white realm results in profound explorations of the meaning and purpose of art and companionship through the introduction of the artist appropriately named Alone. Whimsical and beautiful in his solitary state, this furry puppet brought to life again by Lisa Van Wambeck and the dynamic voice of Lake Simons (the skillful puppeteer of Wolfy throughout the film) has a huge emotional range from despondent to ecstatic, which this team executes impressively well.

Watching portions of the process of creating such a seamless and endearing product, I have to applaud Leat Klingman and Shachar Langlev (Director of Photography) first and foremost for their vision and commitment to Wolfy’s Journey. I can only speculate how many hours Leat especially dedicated to her first of hopefully many feature films, and the devotion of all of the cast and crew who tirelessly donated their time and talents reads in every second of this heartwarming tale. How happily I watched it all come together as a moving story of themes so familiar to my heart as an adult and yet so incredibly accessible and alluring for an audience of children. Thank you, Leat, for allowing me to take a small part in a truly beautiful voyage in creating your film. I can’t wait to see where you and Wolfy journey next.

To reserve your copy of Wolfy’s Journey, visit the film’s website.

If you have a way to help distribute or promote the future of this film, please contact the production team at wolfy@wolfysjourney.com or visit Wolfy on Facebook.

Irresistible Investments ~ 149

Visiting my friend and photographer David Michael‘s most recent website update, I paused to see his use of the word “investment” when referring to his fees for photographs and photo sessions. As my friend, David has used this word rather often over the years when speaking of friendships, relationships, and our careers as singers. Unfortunately, understanding the concept surprisingly doesn’t necessarily lead to keeping it in mind as a general practice.

I wonder how many performers purchasing a photo session pause to think of this yet another business expense as an exciting investment, rather than an annoyance, a financial burden, or one of the many initiation rites involved in keeping oneself current as an artist. Furthermore, how many dates give one the impression of purchasing dinner, paying her cover charge, and buying her drinks to invest in the future of a potential relationship? When someone flew 2500 miles to visit me this New Year’s Eve after only knowing me for a week, I began to understand the concept. Arriving a few days after his departure, two dozen red roses made his message ever clearer.

When faced with the option of making bold gestures and sizable undertakings with our finances, time, efforts, or talents, many of us pause in fearful protest, “I’m not ready for this.”  Teaching and looking after six to ten children per week, nearly twenty-four hours each day, I clearly remember not feeling prepared for the task of working as a camp counselor at seventeen. Of all of the many lessons I learned those two extremely rewarding summers, I regularly recall the priceless value of making even a seemingly risky investment in something truly worthwhile.

Handing out my first business card at my first rehearsal for my first puppet opera (Don Cristòbal, with ten performances this spring), I couldn’t help but contemplate the investments I have recently made of my money, time, and talents. Although I definitely need to monitor my finances and debt in order to survive as a performing artist, I don’t regret having spent money on new headshots, union dues, trade publications, opera tickets, etc. I did gasp for a moment when a promotional box of matches arrived in the mail with a 5×7 photo, both of which had an image of four women including myself (yes, nude) from Sarah Small’s Tableau Vivant in September.

After my initial shock, I weighed my experience with Living Picture Projects, new skills and strengths discovered, and my belief in Sarah’s vision against the handful of those who might innocently judge what they don’t understand. I realized that if I intended to continue appearing in her performances, with one later this month and another in May, I needed to embrace and celebrate overcoming such a challenge as part of my life. Now, the box of matches lies in plain sight next to a candle in my bathroom for any visitors to see.

To remind myself of the extreme personal profit I gain each time I defy the inner voice who constantly chimes, “I’m not ready,” I displayed the 5×7 of my first Tableau Vivant, framed on the wall by my bed, under another photo from this summer’s skydive. Hung for inspiration every day, they may help me remember to face the cold a bit more happily tomorrow to sing at church, act and puppeteer with some brilliant artists, and enjoy the fruits of everyone’s labor at the 3rd Ward Moviehouse for the premiere of Wolfy’s Journey at 8pm.

Wolfy’s creator, Leat Klingman, knows all about investment. She has done everything on this project and for many months has given her time, money, effort, love, and sleep to creating something magical, beautiful, and original. Presenting timeless themes of searching, loneliness, meaningful art, faith, and community, I expect the film to give back generously to the audience and its creator. As for me, I have already received so much more than the hours and effort donated to Wolfy’s Journey in skills learned and friends encountered. With an exciting day ahead of me tomorrow, I confess I most look forward to seeing how the journey ends – mine and Wolfy’s. Hope to see you there.

Tonight’s Rare Chance to Hear James Joyce, Day 131

Frame from Ulysses Seen by Robert Berry
Frame from Ulysses Seen by Robert Berry

James Joyce follows me. In my high school Honors English class, I fell head over heels for A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and his stream of consciousness style of writing. Shockingly, since then I’ve only enhanced my Joyce background with Dubliners and have diverted my attention from reading in general.  Sad, I know. This summer, my friend Josh Levitas piqued my interest once more (arousing international curiosity as well with an iPad application) when he and his colleagues Rob Berry, Mike Barsanti, and Chad Rutkowski created a stunning comic adaptation of Ulysses, designed to aid readers in their exploration of the infamously difficult novel. Although I have delayed my plans to read along with the comic, I hope to reinstate that goal soon after returning from Tri-Cities, WA in December. In the meantime, the creators of Ulysses Seen will visit New York City this Thursday evening at 7:30pm at the Irish Arts Center on the west side at 51st Street to discuss its process and evolution behind the scenes. If you can’t attend but would like to support their endeavors, visit their Kickstarter profile to donate to the completion of their project.

How now has James Joyce happily haunted my days? In my participation in the U.S. premiere this Wednesday night (tonight, in essence) at Carnegie Hall in the cantata by Mátyás Seiber, a Hungarian-born composer who brilliantly set his text to music. Taken from the section entitled “Ithaca” from Joyce’s Ulysses, these words create both unspeakable inspiration and challenge for a composer to undertake. Sieber has risen to the challenge, and this piece excites me as both a professional and a lover of choral and orchestral music. I have already waited too long to promote this performance, but if you have the time in your schedule and can make it to Carnegie on October 6 (tonight, for most reading this), go. A rare treat, you will miss out by staying at home for the premiere of this setting which I could never, without having heard it, ever have imagined. Either way, enjoy the text, as I have during every rehearsal with the American Symphony Orchestra and Collegiate Chorale.

From Ulysses, as set by Mátyás Seiber…
What spectacle confronted them when they, first the host, then the guest, emerged silently, doubly dark, from obscurity by a passage from the rear of the house into the penumbra of the garden?

The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit.

With what meditations did he accompany his demonstration to his companion of various constellations?

Meditations of evolution increasingly vaster: of the moon invisible in incipient lunation, approaching perigee: of the infinite lattiginous scintillating uncondensed milky way: of Sirius, 10 lightyears (57 million billion miles) distant and in volume 900 times the dimension of our planet: of Arcturus: of the precession of equinoxes: of Orion with belt and sextuple sun theta and nebula in which 100 of our solar systems could be contained: of moribund and nascent new stars such as Nova in 1901: of our system plunging towards the constellation of Hercules… ever-moving from immeasurably remote eons to infinitely remote futures in comparison with which the years, three-score and ten, of allotted human life formed a parenthesis of infinitesimal brevity.

Were there obverse meditations of involution increasingly less vast?

Of the eons of geological periods recorded in the stratifications of the earth: of the myriad minute entomological organic existences concealed in cavities of the earth, beneath removable stones, in hives and mounds, of microbes, germs, bacteria, bacilli, spermatozoa: of the incalculable trillions of billions of millions of imperceptible molecules contained by cohesion of molecular affinity in a single pinhead: of the universe of human serum constellated with red and white bodies, themselves universes of void space constellated with other bodies, each, in continuity, its universe of divisible component bodies of which each was again divisible in divisions of redivisible component bodies, dividends and divisors ever diminishing without actual division till, if the progress were carried far enough, nought nowhere was never reached.

Which various features of the constellations were in turn considered?

The attendant phenomena of eclipses, solar and lunar, from immersion to emersion, abatement of wind, transit of shadow, taciturnity of winged creatures, emergence of nocturnal or crepuscular animals, persistence of infernal light, obscurity of terrestrial waters, pallor of human beings.
His logical conclusion, having weighed the matter and allowing for possible error?
That it was not a heaventree, not a heavengrot, not a heavenbeast, not a heavenman. That it was a Utopia, there being no known method from the known to the unknown: an infinity, renderable equally finite by the suppositions probable apposition of one or more bodies equally of the same and of different magnitudes: a mobility of illusory forms immobilised in space, remobilised in air: a past which possibly had ceased to exist as a present before its future spectators had entered actual present existence.

The Inestimable Value of Vulnerability (A Tableau Vivant), Day 128

Powerhouse Arena

The Powerhouse Arena fills with people, their chatter and curious glances, and a subtle scent of wine and excitement amidst the still few but consistent camera flashes. On Saturday at the DUMBO Arts Festival, I make my final dash to the restroom in my green satin robe, take one last gulp of water, and join the line of clothed and nude models waiting to take our places. Leah, Morgan, and I excitedly wish each other luck, and as we descend the wide cement stairs to our places and static poses, I feel equally vulnerable without my water bottle as without my robe. Listening to Kamala Sankaran sing “Caro Nome,” I feel the defiant but calm confidence that comes from a performance that teeters on an edge with other talented and committed actors. My hands behind my head, resting on the column behind me with a frozen but intentional look of shock across my face with bit lip, I know Christina wraps elegantly around the column behind me, Liliana stretches her tattooed body back to a casual but beautifully dressed and supportive Donna, Des and Dragonfly kiss, Dashiell stands looking dapper in an early century suit, and CJ Boyd keeps me company to my right, as the only other disrobed musician, clothed only by his upright bass.

Kamala ends “Caro Nome” stunningly mid-aria after sensing the arrival of all of the other players and for a few minutes, we hold our charged but quiet poses to the din of flashes and growing whispers. Six plucked notes on the cello signal the singing of a Bulgarian folk quartet by members of Black Sea Hotel dressed in traditional wool attire, adorned with flowers in their hair. Half of their song about awaiting death and love ends as every model continues to carry the key to a single drowned pitch. The first pulsating and repetitive melody begins, one cycle of keys completes. The cello enters, another cycle finishes. My turn. Each group of models enters on their soli lines to add a layer to the now undulating round and at the height of our crescendo, our inspiration stands and enters the tableau to interact with hers.

Photographer and creator of this Tableau Vivant, Sarah Small ascends each cement stair and signals to various groups and individuals to activate their poses and more fully interact. Christina and I embrace and separate in a repetitive motion that somehow enhances our already connected singing until Sarah comes around once more to return us to our (connected) solitude and decrescendo the action and vocal dynamic.

As Sarah takes her position amidst us to sing her solo within the Bulgarian folk tune, I thank God that I remain as one of the few voices to support her in the background. I enjoy few things in life as much as supporting, literally and figuratively, an artist as talented and a human being as sensitive and creatively giving as she. Despite a week-long cold and directing rehearsal alongside Adam J. Thompson since 8:30 that morning, Sarah Small sings fully and with a clear, beautiful tone above the drone and few softer solo voices. As she fades away, the drone diminishes to nothing throughout the final section of the Bulgarian folk quartet who hauntingly and skillfully end the piece with the word “umre,” meaning death.

“Umre” resonates through the spacious arena as each model intones the word for death and passes it along to a neighbor while finding an audience member upon whom to rest his or her gaze. I sing the final “umre,” and we all relax our positions, standing straight toward the audience, with whom we interact for the first time as a group. For a heart-pounding minute and a half, we remain in silence this way as the noise-level amongst the non-performers in the room begins to rise. Unable to decide if waiting longer would make me more or less nervous, I end the standstill. “Vois sous l’archet frémissant…” I perform Massenet‘s passionate plea to the poet from Les Contes d’Hoffmann, and the models and other singers begin to exit the stairs.

With the refrain and a final return of the chorus remaining as I stand alone on the top step, vulnerable, unclothed, and with only a bass player to my right and the cellist and violist (diversely talented and skilled music director Rima Fand) far to the left, everything stops in a moment of surreal suspension. In the span of one short second, I see a friend or two and strangers packed into the large space from each wall all the way to the door, watching, snapping photos, taking videos, and ordering wine. I remember the long rehearsal day of singing and interacting with incredible and emotionally available people, from the models to the musicians, to the makeup artist who donated her time and cosmetics in part to “glam me up” with big hair, hot pink lipstick, and pretty little flowers in my hair.

Considering the lyrics, I share a deeply held belief of mine with the audience of strangers and friends, that music and love do heal and console all of us. For one brief moment, I allow all of them to see all of me, as I share my voice in a way I have never done and transcend a lifetime of countless barriers in performance. This, and the interactions shared in time spent with the creative team and models, makes every second of preparation and performance worth my time, talent, energy, and heart.

When I receive the video of Saturday evening’s Tableau Vivant of the Delirium Constructions: Part II, I will post the link here as well. Having learned so much about vulnerability and nudity, I have at least one more post to contribute on the subject from this experience. In the meantime, I can only say thank you. My most loving thanks to my dear friends Rima Fand, Charlene Jaszewski, John Rose, and Leat Klingman for your sincere and supportive presence on Saturday. Sarah, you inspire me to no end. Adam, thank you for your clear direction and kind friendship. I hope to work with both of you again soon and often. To all of the other performers, I feel so blessed to have met you and your beautiful spirits. May we all embrace the giving and vulnerable energy we shared on Saturday throughout our lives together and apart. Until our next meeting, all my love and gratefulness…

Stylist Melanie Randolph's Concept Rendering of Tableau Vivant
Stylist Melanie Randolph's Concept Rendering of Tableau Vivant

A First Lesson in Bearing All, Day 121

Photo by David Michael

“You shouldn’t have sung opera to me.  Now I want to see you nude.”

Many months ago, a friend read my post on Sally Golan’s Naked Painting Party and passed along a harmless link to Spencer Tunick‘s website, offering me yet another potential prospect for my newly redesigned, open-minded life. A project involving a sea of bodies might make for a profoundly interesting but somewhat anonymous experience. Hoping to learn another lesson, I signed up to receive updates for future dates in the area and opened an unexpected window overlooking a beautifully unique landscape of expression.

Enter Sarah Small.  A master of fusing unexpected combinations of subjects and emotions into her art, she breathes thought and vitality into an incredibly unusual exploration of life.  Thankfully, Spencer Tunick’s email list informed me of her need for models, musicians, artists, and actors for an upcoming project appropriately named Tableau Vivant.  While at Bard this summer, I sent in the application form to participate as a clothed singer in this mixed concept involving nudity. I rode my bike downtown to the audition, not at all knowing what to expect last Friday afternoon.

What I discovered surprised me in more ways than I can articulate. Sarah’s assistant immediately put me at ease as I awaited my turn to interview and audition. Somehow I hadn’t thought to prepare a song to sing and allowed my thoughts to find a quick solution to my a cappella interview dilemma, resting upon a fairly obscure but wide-ranged song that unfortunately didn’t work so well when started in the wrong key. Hopefully Sarah and her director Adam J. Thompson forgave that awkward-at-best choice and enjoyed the remainder of my tryout.

Interviewing with a talented male model, I had a chance to pose with him clothed while he contorted himself in the nude. We made faces, stretching them into shocked expressions for the camera and thrashed about the room. I sang at him angrily (definitely not a standard audition request) while I repeatedly lost character in my amusement and astonishment from the experience as a whole. My partner dressed, and we continued to interview as Sarah and Adam discovered some extra time for our process. I repeated a Hungarian folk melody in mostly chest voice and then sang an entire Bach recitative and  aria with no accompaniment.

“You shouldn’t have sung opera to me.  Now I want to see you nude,” mentioned Sarah, as I took a short second to decide that I would in fact participate nude for the sake of such a project in which I could believe and find purpose. Feeling a bit nervous as I removed my fabric barriers, I talked and laughed to compensate before standing before creator, director, and interviewee to sing the Habanera from Bizet‘s Carmen. I sang fairly well, and I have to say that this certainly trumps every audition I’ve ever given in terms of vulnerability; yet, the experience gave me a feeling of life and enjoyment that both awakened and stunned me simultaneously.

I don’t know if Sarah Small will use me for her mini tableau in two short weeks, her larger project in 2011, something else entirely, or nothing. In that overall vulnerability I experienced, I opened myself up to their judgment and possible acceptance or rejection (objectively, of course, they may or may not need me – decisions are rarely actually personal in nature). Physically, vocally, and dramatically, I displayed my flaws, mistakes, successes, and strengths together as they presented themselves with no apology. I can only hope they blended together for a successful audition and look forward to the hope of working with such open-minded artists in the future.

In life as in art, honesty hides nothing and can inspire joy, awe, disgust, and pain. What we decide to hide behind our clothing or in conversation frames our lives and the perceptions of strangers in the audience and our dearest friends next door.  As we interact within our society, covering everything next to another of life’s players who perhaps exposes too much, the unexpected will ultimately occur. Sometimes I err on the side of revealing myself inappropriately and must take a step back to judge my own motives.  Today, I awake grateful to the possibilities explored by Sarah Small, who combines the beauty of all extremes with human beings in a safe and somewhat controlled environment. May my study and potential participation only teach me how better to enact my role in the all-enveloping and expansive arena of existence.

You can witness Tableau Vivant live on September 25 at the DUMBO Arts Festival from 7:30pm-9:30pm at the Powerhouse Arena on 37 Main Street in Brooklyn.  Free admission.