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.

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.

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.

A Surprising First, Day 22

Still sick, I’ve had another uneventful, slightly less than comfortable day.  Although I had planned to head to the library and continue work on my songbook and head to Naked Angels as per my usual Tuesdays, my sickness and the snow stopped me from leaving Long Island where I had traveled to spend just my Sunday night.  Thankfully, computers still enabled me to do some work, allowing me to find a thorough reply from Claudia with leads to follow about life modeling and another email from the model coordinator at the Art Students League of New York, and giving me the ability to search the library for song compilations to pickup tomorrow.

Although I regret that my sickness kept me from my regular gym routine and especially my new friends and regular networking at Naked Angels, I did have the rare opportunity to experience a simple first.  Leaning out of my boyfriend’s beach-side window, I saw waves crashing on a snow-covered shore for the first time I can recall.  The poetic beauty of the waves and falling snow simultaneously wiping clean the Long Island landscape surprised me, and I found myself repeatedly popping my head out to see it more clearly as the snow fell less and less and twilight approached.

I couldn’t be more grateful to have this blog, to give myself the daily push toward new experiences like life modeling, other performance avenues, and countless things I have yet to imagine.  On the other hand, pushing too hard invites exhaustion and sickness.  Apparently I need to find a balance but in the meantime, my little illness has afforded me time to relax, enjoy the scenery, and heal while watching the snow fall by the waves.

Life Model Research, Day 21

I have spent my entire day outside of my comfort level – sick.  That was not part of my plan.  Instead of spending the day relaxing with my boyfriend on his day off, I spent the day recovering at his apartment while he went to the store, bought me Zicam, and took care of me.  So I almost did nothing challenging of my own volition and didn’t blog.  Almost.

Challenging task of the day?  I admit to all of you that I want to life model.  If you don’t already know, a life model poses for art classes, often nude.  An old friend of mine and amazing person who taught me a lot in life, used to pose for the Rutgers University art department when he wasn’t singing opera, and I’ve been curious to try it ever since.

A couple of weeks ago, I began the task of attempting to gleam some concept of how to begin the process of modeling for NYC art classes.  Tonight, I continued the by researching more art departments, emailing a contact at the Art Students League of New York about the possibility, and discovering a great new blog about a life model named Claudia who writes about life, modeling, and art.  You can find her at http://artmodel.wordpress.com.  FYI, the site does contain (appropriate) nude paintings, drawings, and a few photographs.  I’ll be reading her blog in the days to come, and I’ve emailed her to see if she has any advice for an actor/singer who has solid training and experience in holding poses but no experience as a life model.

Although I doubt I’ll post any samples, I hope to report soon on this new artistic tack.  Unquestionably, posing for long periods of time would teach an actor with low blood pressure like me patience, persistence, and a new, unexplored level of artistry.  Now to continue my research, get some rest, and feel better.