Anxiety and the Arts: Post #1

I have dealt with anxiety consciously for about three years now, although it always had different names to me: nervousness, upset stomach, butterflies, fighting, sabotaging relationships, control issues, power issues, fear, etc. etc. etc.

Anxiety disorders are very real things, and they’re very scary things. And more people are affected by them then you would think. It saddens me that mental health has long been a taboo thing to talk about, although I think that stigma is finally dissipating and conversations are being had.

From all the books I’ve read about the subject, the definition of anxiety can be crudely boiled do to simply: the fear of the future and unknown.

I’ll be open with you to start this dialogue: I have anxiety, and mild depression. Rather, I have anxiety and I used to be mildly depressed. I went at those problems with focus and dedication and consider myself extremely lucky that I tackled one of them. Not everyone is so lucky. Although I continue to take an anxiety medication, the beast still rears its ugly head regularly. And in these moments, I struggle and fight through and afterwards look back and reflect how I can cut it off at the pass.

I’ve tried all sorts of approaches to bolster my wits. Some of them worked and continue to do so, some of them faded out of my journey…lol journey I hate using that word. It’s about the journey not the destination… *eye roll* YET I can assure you for people struggling with anxiety they’d MUCH rather prefer to be at the destination.

(side note I really do believe you should enjoy the ride and stop worrying about the future… ironically see above definition)

Crystals, diet, yoga, running, Kung Fu, Reading books and testimonies, Klonopin, Beta Blockers, Breathing, Mediation, Wellbutrin, therapy, SSRIs, alcohol, weird herbal teas, reiki, acupuncture, massage, aromatherapy… the list truly does go on, but you get the gist. One important one that I forgot to add is TALKING TO PEOPLE ABOUT IT. When you are given a voice to talk about the demons in your head then you gain power over them. My wish is that everyone finds this power to wield. Find the people in your life that will listen and open up to them.

The answer for me was a strong combination of several of those on the list. Finding the right person(s) to talk to, finding a pharmaceutical that would work for me, maintaining some semblance of exercise – even with a demanding constantly changing schedule – and a few other little things here and there – namely embracing my druidic past, and meditating with crystals. Find your power. Find your people.

Let’s get this dialogue started! I’d love to hear from other people about what works for them and what they’re working on! Consider this the first of many posts about this subject. I’ll go into more details about individual things I’ve tried, successful or not, in the coming weeks!

On Finding New Music…

So you’re unhappy with your book? You want a new pop rock song but don’t know where to start? You’re sick of singing the same old Golden Age tune. It happens. Here’s what you can do: put in the work.

Go online and spiral into a youtube.com rabbit hole and find the songs you’ve been searching for. Go on Spotify (you should have Spotify, it’s almost 2018).

Find songs that bring you joooooyyyyy. You should probably NOT audition with the song you stared out the window and cried to for hours, that seems like NOT setting yourself up for success.

Start with the artists you love, and artists that are similar. Listen to their music. Start small, set yourself a time frame, 30 mins a day searching for music. If that seems like a lot to you then think about it this way: you’re investing 30 minutes of time into the business of you, and into finding the perfect fitting new audition song for your career.

Don’t stress too hard about finding a rare hidden song that’s unknown, or worrying that the song you connect with MOST is overdone. As I’ve said before, most songs are overdone to a casting director, they’ve heard them all a million times. The person who’s going to book the job is the person who acts the song the best. Unless it’s a singing job… then obviously be the best singer.

I play enough classes where I hear: “I’m just like soooyyy bad at finding music… like … I don’t know how to do it… or like… what’s good.”

-_______-

You KNOW how to get online and listen to music,  don’t play…    You are just being lazy and not putting in the work.

What’s your favorite musical? Who wrote it? Go online and see what else they have done and the songs of theirs people are singing. Who’s your favorite pop rock artist? Spotify who is similar. Don’t listen to pop? Ask a friend, go to Billboard and see what’s big and what people are listening to. Sometimes it takes trial and error, trying things out and them not working. Ask a friend or a coach to go thru the song with you and see if it works, if it shows you off enough, if there’s a cut in the song for auditions, IF IT WORKS ON A PIANO, ya know, just a few things.

Put in the work. Don’t be lazy.

On Sides…

This one will be quick and short.

There are sides and there are cuts. Cuts are music, sides are script.

Now this is just all my opinion. When you’re reading sides in the room especially for a first callback, HOLD the sides. You may be the most memorized that you’ve ever been on any gig ever, but still… hold the sides. You never know what brain obstacle will appear when you’re in the room reading with a reader who you’ve probably never met before and given an adjustment you’d probably never thought about. Or have them in your pocket for easy access.

When you’re in for a second callback or for a Broadway show, MEMORIZE the sides. When you’re balls deep in a scene, working in front of the director, and getting all the way into a character, you probably don’t want to be taken out and have to call for a line.

I’ve heard from many a casting director that when actors aren’t holding the sides in a scene it can actually make them nervous, and that’s all they’re thinking about. I’ve also heard from some Broadway directors that they hate when people hold the sides, it distracts them. You will inevitably go up on a line, someone in the room will think: “well… you should have held the bloody things in the first place…” (they’re British apparently) You literally can’t please everyone all the time. (I’ll refrain from the Aesop fable about the donkey and the boy and the man…)

So the answer is… don’t stress about it. If you’re nervous then hold the sides, if you want to not hold the sides then don’t, but only if you’re legitimately off book.

Also: MEMORIZE and LEARN the music cuts. It’s impossible to tell if you can sing the sides if you’re still reading the music and not sure of what note comes next. Period.

That’s all today!

On Musicality and Ear Training…

Hey Everyone!

I hope you’ve enjoyed the things I have to say thus far on this blog adventure. Today’s post has less to do with direct things you should do in the room and more to do with your success as a musician.

Singers so often get grouped into a group separate from musicians. You’ve heard it, “I’m a musician and a singer…” “Yeah they’re a singer, but not a musician.” And you’ve all heard the singer jokes. They get tired, especially when it comes for the intelligence of a human being. That being said, the voice is the easiest instrument to pick up by ear, and when we’re young and start singing, the first way we do that is by listening and mimicking. This is all great, and the same can be said for many pianists and other instrumentalists. The difference that we come across, is that in order to have a blossoming career as a trumpet player, for example, (especially in theater or commercially) you need to be able to read music and study music. There are of course exceptions to everything, sitting there arguing semantics will get you nowhere and in fact is time you could be learning something…*eye roll* (I like eye rolls)

I believe that every singer or vocalist, or whatever you identify as, should start TODAY learning and practicing the theory of music. I don’t care if you think it’s boring, you’ll be a woke musician and music directors and others will find you more appealing. I can’t tell you how many times in a room that someone has been hired over another because “they’re a phenomenal musician.” I say it often myself in rooms. That reference given to a team in the audition room, especially in a musically difficult show, or any show that involves a lot of ensemble singing, is GOLDEN. And those little references can come from anyone and anywhere; the reader, the accompanist, the choreographer, the assistant director, the friend of the casting director that’s just sitting in…you never know.

Ok great, practice and get better at music. But how you say? Easy, pick up a theory book. You can order one online, you can buy one at Sam Ash or Guitar Center or the Julliard Book Store. There are many options. Buy a beginner (or intermediate or advanced) theory book and really learn about music.

SECONDLY AND MORE IMPORTANTLY FOR SINGERS:

Ear Training. It may sound boring to some. When I went to Berklee College of Music part of the REQUIRED curriculum was ear training. We were required to take four semesters of it unless you tested into a more advanced class from the get go. I ended up taking an ear training class every semester I was at school. Ear Training 3 and 4, Advanced Ear Training, Advanced ear Training 2, Advanced Modal Ear Training, Atonal Ear Training, Microtonal Ear Training…I’m a music geek sure, but also it gave me invaluable tools in pursuing my career as a musician.

I like to think of my music schooling as Hogwarts curriculum… Ear Training is definitely the Transfiguration of Berklee. It’s maybe boring and banal to some, but it’s MASSIVELY helpful in the future of your music career.

Pick up some ear training books. Listen to music and pick out the melody on a key board. Practice with a friend. Sight read some music. Do all the things or some of the things. If you want some specifics on ear training, please comment or reach out, there’s so much good material.

SINGERS NEED TO KNOW MUSIC. It makes you inordinately valuable to a production when you can learn hard harmonies quickly.

That’s All. Keep singing and learning!

On Song Baggage…

Let me start this by letting you in on a secret:

To a casting director, every song is overdone.

Let that sink in.

They hear music constantly, and they hear probably the same 400 songs over and over and over. You’re not reinventing the wheel by bringing in the theme song from “Pokémon” or singing that cut song from The Rink or the Opening of Act 2 of Merrily... They’ve heard it. And if they haven’t heard it then they’re probably more focused on the song then your audition. That being said there’s a major topic that isn’t spoken about enough: Song Baggage.

You know what it means, you know the RENT lyric. You can’t go into a room singing “Meadowlark” without a considerable amount of baggage. There are dozens of songs that this goes for. Basically any song that was made famous by a diva or a dangerously brilliant performance.

Everyone has their favorite version of “I Dreamed A Dream.” And when you bring it into the room every person behind the table is going to be comparing your performance to Patti’s or Laurie Beechman’s or Carmen’s or Lea’s or heaven forbid Ms. Hathaway’s

If you’re smart, or alive, then you know what those songs are. “Memory,” “Bring Him Home,” anything from Wicked, “She Used To Be Mine,” anything from Les Miserables, anything from Phantom, “Out There” from Hunchback (honestly I think this song doesn’t work for ANYTHING, it’s a specific song to that specific moment, and it just rarely works in the room and I just think she’s gotta rest for a bit), “Pretty Funny” from Dogfight, “Waving Through A Window” from Dear Evan Hansen (actually anything from this show),most of the older lady beautiful ballads by Sondheim, all of Chicago, the LIST GOES ON and ON.

This isn’t to say that you should never sing these songs, (WHEN THEY’RE APPROPRIATE) but it does mean that you should be cognizant of the baggage that comes with them, and that sometimes people want their coffee how they want it.

On Preparing 8, 16, and 32 Bar Cuts…

I know. It’s the worst. You walk into this call and you wait for hours and then when your time is approaching you hear that they want 16 bars… And then by the time you are lined up they tell you they want 8 bars.

This industry is flooded with talent, there are so many performers and you’re all specific and talented and beautiful flowers. That being said, I can HONESTLY say that pretty much anyone sitting behind the table can get everything they need in 4 bars of music. I’m serious. They hear your voice, they see you act, they see if you disappear or if you pull them in in literally 4 bars. The rest is a gift, and I know it doesn’t seem that way.

So when you are asked for 8 bars, yes it sucks, yes it seems pointless, but if you go in and give your best damn 8 bars then they see what they want and call you back.

You should have 32 bars, 16 bars, and 8 bars prepared for your songs, you don’t have to have them marked (I think you should) but you should know them.

Don’t get caught off guard by a stressed-out monitor telling you for a strict 8 bars and you go into a tizzy, that helps no one.

Here’s where things can get a little vague or grey or whatever term you want to use. I think 16 bar cuts are 30 seconds to 45 seconds. I think 32 bars are a 1 minute to 1 minute 20 seconds. There are differing opinions out there as to what constitutes a cut length, but I think the length of time method is becoming more and more popular.

I could go on about EPAs and appointments for days. There is literally NO POINT in coming in and SINGING A FULL SONG; In fact, it looks bad on you. These people have been sitting all day listening to people audition, and it’s not to say that you don’t do “Bring Him Home” the best in the city, but we don’t need to hear all 4 minutes of it. It looks like you haven’t had the chance to perform in a decade and auditioning is your only opportunity, or that you literally don’t know what a cut is.

LEAVE THEM WANTING MORE, NOT WANTING YOU TO LEAVE.

This post is fueled by Beaujolais but essentially what I’m saying to you all is that you should have SOLID CUTS prepared at all times and marked clearly.

On Treating Your Pianist Like a Person…

Hi. My name is Rodney. I play piano. I am also a human being.

Actors so often walk into the room and forget that actual fact about the pianist. That person sitting behind that big scary machine is actually a human. And they will respond (usually) like a human.

I’ve had actors walk into the room and smile at the table and set their binder on the piano without even acknowledging my existence. They turn to the piano while looking into the mirror at themselves and open the book and talk directions at me, all without saying hello or looking at my face, and then snap a tempo at me and walk to the center of the room….like, how gross…

Yes, you the actor, you’re right. The pianist usually isn’t the most important person in the room. They’re usually not the music director of the show. They’re not the director, or casting, or assistant. But they are in the room and they do have the ability to talk to those important people about what just happened. That’s not a threat, it’s just the truth. Be a human and talk to a fellow human like a human. 

Walk in, yes say hello to the important people, then say hello to your accompanist, look them in the eye and say hello. Smile and be genial. If the accompanist is short and snappy and over it, don’t be offended, they’ve been playing “Life I Never Lead” or “Watch What Happens” or “Waving Through a Window” all day, give them a break. More often than not they’ll smile back at you and then you can continue on with your normal pre-audition interaction. Such a small step, such a major effect.