Lessons of Leadership, Starting the Intermediate Run (#246)

With my dear friend, leadership coach Edwin Vega, who has supported me so far every step of the journey. Our glow after an amazing 3-day intensive.

Where do I even start? Last month, I began my training in life coaching with the Coaches Training Institute. I will go through the entire, intensive certification course – as part of my journey to coaching others, writing a book that’s been burning inside me, doing some public speaking, and learning to inhabit the leader that’s been somewhat dormant inside of me.

What can I say? Whew! What a course. Now, coming out of my first of the intermediate-level three-day intensives, I feel energized like a teenager and more open and present than ever. Hanging out with twenty-five to thirty other engaged, intelligent, compassionate people learning to use their intuition, fully listen, and dance in the moment kind of has that effect.

My big takeaways this time, in addition to my personal growth and to learning and sharpening my already wonderful skills as a coach:
1. Life purpose matters and is a birthright. Identifying and owning it makes life more full. Ask me mine, and I’ll tell you.
2. We all have voices that try to sabotage us.
3.We also have voices that lead us and voices that know how to appreciate the beauty in everything (the full picture). We get to decide how to listen and whose volume to adjust when.

An incredibly heartfelt thanks to all the participants, instructors, and volunteers. You have left me whole today. So much more to come. In the meantime, happy holidays. Love, joy, and peace to you all, these present days and the many to come.

A Deep Inhalation of Values

You might not guess it by reading the sparsely scattered posts I’ve written since September, but I just began week seven of an eight week course called “The Actor’s Business Breakthrough” by Dallas Travers. She says that a feeling of discomfort and overwhelm can sometimes accompany making a big change in one’s life, and I suspect I should just move forward with the faith that she’s right and breathe. With seemingly unlimited options and tasks, I thankfully drew in a big inhalation at this week’s class discussion: values.

First realization? All of my values are worthy. On the other hand, when I disproportionately focus on my fourth or fifth most important value, my first value (emotional balance) suffers terribly. So, I need to reshuffle my priorities (a great regular exercise) to keep numbers one, two, and three on top.

Second realization? Also my second value: contribution. Happily, I realized I make many contributions in my career and life: egg donations, meaningful performances, and participating to help further the careers of others. This week, I had the opportunity to work with Kara Morgan on episodes of The Kara Morgan Show and film for an upcoming Today Show (watch for it this week!) to discuss my experiences with Investidate! I can’t wait to show and tell those opportunities to chip in and help out these two talented women.

When I first auditioned for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, I commented to my dear friend Leat Klingman that I wanted to free myself of debt so that I could make a contribution to society. She insisted on making me see how many priceless contributions I already make as an artist, a perspective I now gratefully appreciate and cherish. As I ride the subway home tonight, I also remember Skydiving for Pearls and my joy in contributing here. Like so many things often brought to the forefront and then reshuffled, writing, exercising, and maintaining a bedtime elude me from time to time when change comes to play. Remembering what matters to me most and welcoming its impact? The perfect deep inhalation of peace I needed. Thank you Dallas, for the opportunity to prioritize and re-balance my values. For the record, it didn’t hurt me one bit, if anyone else considers giving it a try.

Peaceful Pandemonium: Reflections on Tableau Vivant

Once upon a time, several of my readers asked, “Why?”  They continue to ponder, “Why the nudity,” “Why the Bulgarian music,” “Why you (a question more likely uttered by acquaintances or colleagues)?”

Rehearsal for Tableau Vivant
Rehearsal for Tableau Vivant

My answer, written in January but as yet unpublished, seems all the more poignant to me as we prepare for our upcoming, much grander, longer (less than an hour), and far more ambitious performance this coming Monday and Tuesday, May 23 and 24 at 7pm and 8pm, respectivelyWithin this tableau, one will find weddings (yes, actual weddings), dance, improvisation, Bulgarian folk singers, a string quartet with a few additional players, opera singers, new compositions (none of mine in this production), classic opera arias, and just about every body type imaginable, both clothed and exposed. Within this preparation time and Tableau Vivant itself, I hope to find the peaceful pandemonium of life so perfectly expressing the imperfect we all discover each new day.

My answer:
The Peaceful Pandemonium of Tableau Vivant
By Abigail Wright

In September, at our first rehearsal for the current incarnation of Sarah Small’s Tableau Vivant, a large circle of fascinatingly varied introductions confirmed my role as the only nude singer. Although CJ Body joined me in my exposed expression as an unclothed upright bass player for our fall tableau as part of the DUMBO Arts Festival, I bore that undertaking alone in January’s Bathhouse Studio performance. Rima Fand, a brilliant composer I’ve had the extraordinary joy of knowing in three separate artistic endeavors, entered into the equation and introduced an unusual task for most of the models as well. As musical director, she and Sarah Small designed an aural tapestry that placed almost every performer equally far from their comfort zones by layering voice upon voice (mostly untrained), until each added his unique sound to the swelling chorus of suspended, sighed, and soared tones.

Since September, the larger group of artists composing Sarah’s tableau has grown closer in companionship and familiarity, and something about the quality of the picture and drones of the sonic landscape feels more cohesive and powerful as we join together again, now at Bathhouse Studios. The Black Sea Hotel, a hauntingly beautiful Bulgarian folk quartet fully clad in bright crimson wool dresses, ever-powerfully intones a stirring folk song about a man waiting for his friend’s death in order to marry the woman for whom he pines. Sarah Small, whose musical arrangement they sing, enters into the living picture to enliven selected groups of models, static poses beginning to unfreeze and interact with one another.

As eventually the motion quiets and our once crescendoed chorus comes down from the swell, this photographer/composer/creator adds her voice as a soloist which then melds with the folk quartet to conclude the perplexing but poignant song. Almost ominously, as the melodic love story ends on the Bulgarian word meaning “death,” each of us personalizes it, as chanted, spoken, shouted, and vibrated pitches echo a resonant “umre” throughout the space. Upon this scattered final iteration, each person in tableau releases her individually held pose, engages the eyes of a random audience member, and waits for the first note of my aria after extended silence as a signal to fade away and drop her head.

In September when Sarah and I first met to discuss which aria I might perform to conclude her Tableau Vivant, I had a comparatively vague sense of the profound nature of her living picture as a whole. After hearing her focus for the tableau as a means for exploring life and death, I chose music and a text that would minister to her spirit as the creative energy behind such a feat. In “C’est l’amour vainqueur,” commonly referred to as “the violin aria” from Jacques Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann, the character of Nicklausse sings this song to the poet E.T.A. Hoffmann, imploring him to write. Referencing the beauty of music, its transforming power, and finally triumphant love, Nicklausse exclaims, “It is all-conquering love, ah, poet, give your heart!” Little did I understand at that moment how much the aria and tableau as a whole speaks not only to Sarah Small as the creator of the concept, the musicians and the models inhabiting it, and the audience in the room, but especially to everyone as a microcosm of life as a whole.

In my brief but meaningful experience with the art of tableau vivant, I have enjoyed an insider’s view of her “Delirium Constructions” as a means to explore in public all of the common human experiences most hide. Fusing truly implausible combinations of the primal with the classical, musically and visually through the clothed and bare, static and engaged, healthy and deformed (some models in particular have body paint and positions to indicate bruises, rashes, and injury), proud and meek, this odd concoction of life without pretense explores some of the most profoundly universal themes in a short twenty-minute span. Reminiscent of the musings of Shakespeare as Hamlet tells Claudius how “a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar,” this photographer brings to light in one small space a truly living picture of the simple complexities of humanity, seen and unseen. By insisting upon such an unapologetic depiction of existence, Sarah Small presents the most honest public offering in which I have ever taken part. As society imbues her art with love, death, life and its intricacies, may she continue to inspire audiences in the peaceful pandemonium of her Tableau Vivant.

A Night at the Museum

Times in my life quite like the present don’t present themselves terribly often. Never before have I had so many varied jobs and gigs at once. Within the coming month, I rehearse and perform an intensely musical puppet play, prepare and perform April in Paris (my French-themed recital featuring Eugene Sirotkine and Benjamin C.S. Boyle), rehearse new music written by Sarah Small for our Tableau Vivant and a music video, and begin rehearsals at the Metropolitan Opera to revive our production of Orfeo ed Euridice with Mark Morris.

Meanwhile, because many of these gigs still leave me mostly unemployed, I’ve taken a side job or two in art modeling, in focus groups, and with the charity auction ibidmobile team mentioned in last week’s post. With little money and only two fully open spaces on my calendar between now and April 25, every second, penny, and friendly face feels almost painfully precious. Given the recent news of earthquakes, tsunamis, radiation leaks, and explosions, all from one unexpected event, perhaps I ought to continue this attitude throughout and beyond each of my busy days.

Last evening, I had the chance to earn a little money again with ibidmobile, a somewhat tiring but important job helping to facilitate silent auctions for charities. Five hours on my feet with an ipad, talking over music and hundreds of guests? Not a situation I generally would seek out as a singer who needs to rehearse in the morning. I could have grumbled about at least a handful or two of things, as any work provides such an obviously tempting atmosphere for complaints. I may have even heard one or two from other employees in passing.

Instead of joining in, something came over me tonight in a very exciting way that required no alcohol whatsoever, and I hope to take it from last night into each of my every endeavors this month. No, at last evening’s Nightingale-Bamford School charity event, I chatted with friends about fun auction items near NCG 1350 and the Andromeda Galaxy at the American Museum of Natural History while waiting for the guests to arrive. I helped at least a few people win their coveted experiences, wines, and lunches, ran into a friend who works at the school, and met a drummer interested in hearing me sing for his world music group. When for a brief moment signal interference paused the auction, we danced with incredibly fun and generous guests under the blue whale. At the end of definitely my favorite of these events thus far, a great girls’ school had raised a very significant amount of money for tuition and scholarships.

Tomorrow brings more recital rehearsal and an evening of running from a puppet with a club. I hope you’ll join me here and in person for the rest!

Soon = Wolfy’s Journey DVD Release
March 31 – April 10 = Don Cristóbal
April 16 = April in Paris, A Recital with Abigail Wright and Eugene Sirotkine/
(April 17 = Private Music Video Filming with Sarah Small)
(April 23 = High Fall Stunt Class)
April 29-May 14 = Orfeo ed Euridice
May 23, 24 TBA = Tableau Vivant at Skylight One Hanson
(June TBA = Skydiving trip #2 – join us!)
July 29-August 7 = Das Liebe der Danae

Dear Mom, I Heart Peer Pressure ~ 177

Flashbacks of brightly-colored public service announcements, Hallmark-like after school specials, middle school health class lectures, and visiting high school students to preach the dangers of drugs to our elementary schools flooded back one Sunday during the first phone conversation I’d initiated with my mother in weeks. Between several voiced concerns about nudity in tableau vivant, she warned of the dangers of drugs, potentially for the first time, at least in my memory. I can only assume this lecture of concerns around thirty years in the making signaled an overabundance of party photos on my Facebook page. Who knew social media geeks (myself included) could worry a mother so? Didn’t she reach her early twenties in the late sixties, after all?

Admittedly, I’ve found myself more regularly in the company of folks who attend Burning Man (via social media friends, not tableau). While I may have learned my low tolerance for alcohol the hard way on rare occasion, their free, happy, and non-judgmental attitudes encourage me to embrace the most positive version of myself that I daily seek to find. Furthermore, although I do have close friends who have done LSD, Coke, or Ecstasy, I personally haven’t ever seen anyone doing hard drugs, nor has anyone ever offered me any. Aside from the obvious fact that I love life and don’t need hard drugs to “enhance”/ruin it, I really truly couldn’t afford to buy illicit substances once, no less support an addiction.

No, fortunately for me and my sometimes worrisome yet loving mother, I happily benefit from the very best forms of possible peer pressure. Financially, many of my close friends and colleagues suffer with me in a painful recession in the arts. With varying degrees of difficulties among us, several can’t even use credit and struggle to eat while still burdened by debt. We cook for each other, recommend each other for gigs, help find work for each other whenever possible, and brainstorm together to find ways to survive well in the city and keep performing. One of the most supportive groups of people I know, the artist community in NYC really knows how to stick together and encourage other artists to work hard and spend less. Even strangers I’ve met here, through social media and Internet Week NY last year have helped me out with financial motivation. Having met some amazing folks from Mint.com at the after party for the Webby Awards, the best suggestion planted itself and germinated until today, when I finally bit the bullet and created an account at Mint. What a great site and company… The services people offer together to help motivate the world truly astound me.

In a few short weeks, my good friends Amy Armstrong and Maren Montalbano travel to the city to attend a free seminar bymarketing/career coach Dallas Travers. We’ve formed an accountability and brainstorming team of writers, singers, and actors (each of us does all three) to keep one another on task, focused on furthering our futures as performers, and persistently putting ourselves forward in auditions and contacts with companies, regardless of success or rejection. We call it “The Diva is in the Details,” and I hope we keep it and ourselves forging ahead for a long and productive time ahead.

Although not convinced my mother believes this a positive or productive influence, I likely never would have gone skydiving without my sister having tackled if first or without the insistence of my dear friend Sarah Giardina, and it changed my life. While I have diligently moved forward on my own toward finding challenges to enhance my life, writing here gives me an instant source of peer pressure, knowing that anywhere from one to hundreds of people per post daily check in to see if I remain on track. Something as common as my recurring television addiction can derail me for a long time. Then, I go on a few dates with someone who reads a great deal and rarely watches television, or I witness first hand the productivity and excellent work ethics of my friends who don’t have a TV set, and I pledge once more to forgo repeats of mind-numbing sitcoms for practicing, working, marketing, networking, exercising, or doing necessary paperwork (in other words, actually living). I head to Planet Fitness as we speak, following a morning job and breakfast with a good friend…

Serendipitously, I ran into a great friend and colleague I hadn’t seen in almost a year while working out today. He told me all about his new successes as an extra and featured performer on Boardwalk Empire and Gossip Girl, sharing with me his passion for diversifying life as a singer and actor. Recommending his casting agency, he further went on to tell of recent solo concerts he gave in China, and we chatted for nearly an hour about possibilities of working in Europe and ways to work well at the trades we love so much. Don’t get me wrong. Some singers in the city do not play as nicely, especially in the audition halls like NOLA Studios, where “old friends” trade recent credits and upcoming gigs like status symbols to make themselves seem bigger and more successful than the competition, aka their friends. Not mine.

My friends root for one another, keep each other motivated, and attend each other’s concerts wherever and whenever possible. We recommend each other for gigs, remind our friends and colleagues when their behavior has gone a bit astray, and alert them when gossip has turned to focus upon them in a negative way. Finding ways to party, relax, and have a good time together, the very best friends I could imagine keep me happy, healed, and having the time of my life while enjoying a great career that, though difficult to maintain, offers the best rewards I can imagine. You’re right, Mom. I have a lot of peer pressure living here in the city, and I enjoy a better existence because of it every day.

Whose Life is This? Day 123

After only eight months of revising the role of Yes Man, pursuing like Alice the white rabbit down his hole, I find myself seriously asking, “Whose life is this?” Tonight, I stood soaking wet on a crowded bus to the Bronx, surrounded by screaming passengers as lightning struck nearby on my way to discuss modeling for a body art and face painting workshop at Frank Bee Clown Studio. Before dying, my phone delivered to me an email from Chrissie Rouse (Program Manager for Sarah Small), informing me that Sarah wants to use me as a nude singer in her Mini-Tableau Vivant next weekend. Losing the blog post I had written for Thursday (now Friday) when my phone died, it seemed every odd accident happened around me this evening. When we finally passed an MTA bus on fire on the third leg of my trip, my mind exploded simultaneously, landing somewhere between feeling overwhelmed and unbelievably blessed.

Somewhere in the midst of the madness of embracing change, I’ve stumbled upon a surprising stability previously unknown. Sleep sometimes escapes me as I try to balance learning new skills and abandoning excuses in my life with actually earning a living and paying bills. With little room for recollection of upcoming events, I rarely know what tomorrow holds for me until just before bed when I remind myself with Google Calendar. Strangely, it doesn’t matter; I feel safer, stronger, healthier, and happier than ever (knock on wood), not in spite of my newly open-minded and action-packed lifestyle but as a direct result of it. I even felt more confident at an early music audition on Wednesday because of the nude audition I performed on Friday for Sarah Small.

Moving to New York City three years ago, I felt a certain desperation to land a full time job or a lasting relationship. When I couldn’t seem to achieve either goal, I maintained the expected “young opera singer” appearance physically and relationally and felt uneasily unlike myself spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. Now even I sometimes don’t recognize my life on the outside! Yes, actor and singer still dominate my career definition and personality, but nude model? Skydiver? Puppeteer who likes to frequent social media events? Musical theater singer and member of Actor’s Equity?

I love it! Internally, I have never felt better, and the energy I’ve gained opening up my life to so many new possibilities leaves me breathless and yearning for more. A chronic abuser of excuses, I used to fear the unfamiliar and sometimes still do; yet, somehow change has become my constant, and that gives me more peace than I could have ever expected to feel. My advice to anyone still afraid of change (including myself as I prepare to sing, nude, for an audience on the 25th of September):

  • Acknowledge your weaknesses (including fear)
  • Realize that you can almost always find a way to overcome or subvert them.
  • Make a plan that will inspire you to seek change beyond your excuses. I chose writing with a goal each day to leave my comfort zone. Milton Sheppard started a clown studio in the Bronx to teach others how to bring joy to their own lives and the lives of others while earning a living. My talented friend David Michael continues to learn to master photography and creates a new business for himself on top of his opera career while helping to raise his family. To each his own. Find yours.
  • Keep going. Phyllis Greene, at ninety, writes a blog to keep life joyful and productive during hospice care.

I have a lot to learn. Life presents its difficulties, and one never knows the future. Somehow, direction changes everything though, and optimism enters my mind even at the end of this bizarre and never-ending day. May tomorrow always be as fruitful .