I Want to Be a Millionaire!

Photo by David Michael

Well, who doesn’t, really? As I sit in the ABC Studios building, my heart pounds a little hearing the quirky proctor shout, “One more minute!”

“Who passes this thing, anyway?” I wonder, imagining my friends who reported an extremely easy test in years past to have taken a very different exam. One not based almost entirely on pop-culture that this girl, who watches too much television, seems to have somehow missed. Waiting to hear my number amongst the passing scores seems a bit comical, but I listen like someone hoping, without expectation, to hear the right Bingo combination.

“Number 283!” Wow. I believe moments like these inspired the texting creation of “lol,” which I do, at least twice. As I complete my application and answer the friendly interviewer’s questions, I remember what ultimately led me to audition for, of all things, a trivia show. My father used to watch Jeopardy and Win Ben Stein’s Money. Though politics occupy his most recent and lasting television fascination, I suspect he’s still that guy in the room who solves most of the Jeopardy questions correctly. Not me.

So aside from the inspiration of my dear friend Matt Hensrud (and the less-than-brilliant contestant before him who won some decent money) when he skillfully and confidently competed on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, what prompted this seemingly odd lapse of realism? The same impulse that started Skydiving for Pearls: a drive to enjoy the sound of my pounding heart, rather than fear it, to try new things, and to reach for the things I want (in this case, some financial stability or freedom) without caring about the fear, the “What if I’m not good enough?”

My most exciting moment occurred as I left the studio, exhilerated from a successful test, interview, and audition (I did my best, we’ll see what happens), when I realized how much I’ve gained since starting Skydiving for Pearls a year and a half ago. I get sick sometimes, weeks pass between writing, the television sucks me in again, I still haven’t done my taxes this year (extensions are my adult version of “my dog ate my homework”), and I often feel like a cowardly, lazy lioness. I do not skydive every day, and I haven’t even ridden my bicycle since sometime last fall. Occasionally, I have a hard time deciding whether my bravery sputters or comes in spurts.

Regardless of my human failings, I yet managed to plant a seed last year in this heart once so afraid of change. “I could never appear on a trivia show.” Well, thankfully I stopped saying “never,” because I will look in the mail in a couple of weeks for that postcard, Millionaire. Whether I make the contestant pool or not, I’ve taken another try at reaching for that brass ring, and it feels good to let go of one more negative assumption and one more unnecessary “never.”  The weather has shifted dramatically in the city tonight, and it carried an impulse to start afresh. My personal trainer from last year contacted me today to ask when I want to workout. Coincidence or not, I’ve had it with this sickness and television diet, let’s work! I suppose this means I have to finish my taxes…

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.

A Pinky-swear Beats a Resolution Any Day of the Year ~ 148

Pinky Swear

Six years ago, on a very memorable New Year’s Eve, I needed a fresh start more than oxygen. Traveling to New York City and meeting a friend for the ultimate ball drop in Times Square, I converted myself to the worship of this annual holiday and sought to celebrate each year in style ever since. As for resolutions, I’ve lost weight, changed relationship status, exercised more, visited grandparents, made fewer excuses, and oh yeah, started a blog.

Beginning a journey of writing about abandoning excuses and embracing change led to regular resolutions, which changed my life and path and made the need for an annual “New Year’s resolution” a bit trite and, after a busy season of work and travel, unnecessarily exhausting. This year, I felt a bit under the weather and actually turned down party invitations to (gasp!) stay in with someone special, rest, and watch the ball of newly swirling lights descend above the crowd from the comfort of my upper Manhattan apartment. Despite my best attempts, the relaxation and healing ended a bit prematurely as I traveled on Sunday to Philadelphia after my church job to hear my friends sing an incredibly worthwhile concert with The Crossing Choir, conducted by Donald Nally.

Still recovering from this cold that thankfully waited for a short break in gigs and rehearsals to attack, I have now have a bit of enforced downtime to reflect, and the concert proved well worth the extra effort and travel despite the minor health consequence. Having sung for several years in Philadelphia, I sat in the audience at my old church job and home at Chestnut Hill Presbyterian and missed the acoustics, the beauty of the space, the clear and inspired conducting of Donald Nally, and the uniquely beautiful voices of my friends who perfectly blended to give life to all of the recently-composed works. Afterwards, I refrained from alcohol but not from colleagues or good company, as I enjoyed the brief time to reacquaint myself with some dear and beloved musicians and friends.

Somewhere amidst the din of the reception, I stumbled upon the best and most motivational impetus for resolutions imaginable : the shared goals of my competition. You may imagine classical singers sabotaging one another’s auditions, withholding valuable advice and information, secretly wishing for the other to fail. Although I too have heard the urban legend of pianists booby trapping the pianos at Juilliard with razor blades, I literally can only remember one instance of another singer intentionally giving me bad information since I began singing (from the womb), and I didn’t know her at all. Very much to the contrary, other professionals in my fach (voice type) have given me good advice on agents, jobs, upcoming auditions, networking, and just about every opportunity imaginable.

A few weeks ago, my dear roommate and fellow mezzo soprano Ariana Chris began turning my accountability wheels when she suggested reminding each other about important goals, from sleep schedules to marketing. Sorry Ariana, but I have stayed up way past my bedtime tonight and will have to work on that one yet again tomorrow. In the meantime, I have spent a bit of time thinking about my successes with Skydiving for Pearls and realized that with a few small exceptions, I have not accomplished the very longtime and important goal of increasing my number and quality of auditions, one of the many demons I still hope to face here. Enter Super Maren.

Maren Montalbano sings and writes, brilliantly, in Philadelphia. While that somewhat places us in different markets, we each have sung in the other’s city, share the same voice type and interests, and could shy away from encouraging the other to succeed in order to maintain some kind of edge. Not for a second. Instead, we decided to keep each other motivated and auditioning with a pact. Actually pinky swearing, we pledged to initiate a minimum of five contacts per month, either applying for auditions or completing them. While this number pales in comparison to some incredibly motivated actors in New York who manage to audition at least that many times per week, I find it both realistic and a less overwhelming place to begin.

Born with a desire to perform in almost all aspects, I find my career bewildering at times with choices, options, obstacles, and rejections. On the docket for ways to improve my career this new year includes far more time in deep practice, improved preparation, and increased visibility in networks, auditions, and media. I sing, act, and write. Apparently, in the new year, I also research and learn as much as necessary to act as my own agent, publicity and press manager, and perhaps most importantly, strategist. Already swimming with infinite possibilities and fears, my brain has much to assimilate, understand, and initiate. Still, I hope it helps you as my readers if I share sort through some of it here, reporting my progress and findings along the way. In the meantime, I thank God for my friends who share my burdens, goals and dreams. In the end, you make each year and every day worth the reinvention and resolution.