Tag: musical theater

Theater People: The Best Audiences in the World

I meet David for coffee on a Saturday afternoon. The building is strangely shaped; there’s a pocket behind a wall where customers can surreptitiously sip their drinks. If you don’t walk around it, it’s easy to miss whoever’s behind it. Without thinking, I staked a spot at a corner table by a window and didn’t check to see if he had already arrived. A few minutes after the hour, I text him and he emerges laughing from around the secret coffee corner, his drink already half-consumed.

“Sorry about that,” I say. Usually I’m more careful with things like this.

Our paths have crossed a few times in recent years; we share a mutual network of musician friends, actors, and creatives, but have only interacted in person a handful of times. One of these was a voice lesson, in which I supposedly intimidated him, and the other was an awkward encounter at the local grocery store at 7 or 8 pm on a Saturday, and I’m pretty sure I was wearing sweat-soaked yoga pants, purchasing oranges and tampons, and he was with his mother. While we haven’t really come to know one another personally, there’s a familiarity to to our conversation, like we’re old friends who don’t really know much about each other other than that he likes to sing and I like to eat and menstrate.

David’s story fascinates me. He’s 49 years old and he just gave his first voice recital. It occurs to me that technically, he has given the same number of solo, formally prepared recitals as I have (maybe I should step up my game). The son of two musicians (one of them a professor of voice…no presure), David played trombone in college, but put music away for 20 years as he studied psychology, occupational therapy, and education. He’s works in the health field, but he took up voice four years ago so he could audition for musicals, and was cast in one role after another in the community theater scene. They’ve all been supporting parts, but he holds a certain reserved hope that his feature role will go down soon. After all, he’s male and can sing. Without undercutting the work he’s done, that’s pretty much the only requirement for guys in community theater, other than the ability to match pitch (even then, that’s negotiable, especially if they can buffalo or lift women in the air).

His program was impressive and varied, with regards to musical theater: Andrew Lloyd Webber, William Finn, Mel Brooks, Jason Robert Brown. Fifteen pieces in all. He shared with his audience the personal connection he felt with each piece. Trained musicians should really do this more. He brought in a guest vocalist to break up sets and give him rests. His voice teacher, also a pianist (and the subject of a later interview…most fascinating) accompanied him.

With musical theater, he says he’s found his tribe. “I feel totally in my element.” He calls theater people the “best audiences in the world.” They want to see others do well. They root for the people onstage. They came to his recital, where he passionately forgot the lyrics to a part of one song, but committed to the mistake and ran with it. Teaching this skill is like to teaching astrophysics to a sixth grader. How do you say to someone, “it’s okay, just rewire your neurons to fire in the face of adversity…oh, and by the way, if you mess up, just keep going. It’ll work, trust me.”

It doesn’t always work. I’ve witnessed pianists shut down during a performance. I once had a middle school gentledude really not do so well at a recital, and afterwards he told me he would never perform again. He did, and he’s cool now, but still…the only way to fix it is to do it, and it takes significant effort to convince a middle-schooler they should try again, because that could happen again. The task at hand was to basically unbraid his bodily chemistry, which you can barely do with a high-functioning adult, let alone a hormonal preteen, let alone a male hormonal preteen.

David and I have both forgotten lyrics; that is our common ground. We both have found a niche in musical theater, and we both get what it means to be vulnerable in front of an audience. We both have decided how music should function in our lives. David is a testament to the fact that you can have complete control over how to make art, and no voice professor, father, voice professor/father, or chosen career path can totally dictate that. Influence, yes. Control? No. If anything, David’s path is really more convincing of this fact than my own, because of course, a trained musician would power through mistakes. The only thing that separates us is a piece of paper, really. That, and coffee preference.

David is a community engager and a late bloomer. I haven’t interviewed many of his kind yet, but they’re everywhere. They are the unsung interactors. They carry communities with willing flair, but books aren’t written about them. Anju says these are the kind of people who will give up four hours of their Thursday night to rehearse motown (read that story here). They don’t have music degrees, but they’ll catch you at Hy-Vee on a Saturday and tell you what a good job you did in your latest leading role. They understand the plight of singing Jason Robert Brown, and the struggle of musical consistency (“my low notes sound like Dean Martin, but my high notes sound like Jerry Lewis.” His words.)

His breed does, indeed, like to lurk behind walls and curtains. They share secrets that trained musicians keep, for fear of embarrassment or compromised profile. They emerge when you least expect it, of their own accord, ready to take on the world.

And armed with caffeine.

Teach is back

I’m not dead. But I am two weeks away from a creative showcase that’s been almost a year in the making. Some fellow composers, performers, and a playwright (and even I) have all created brand-new musical and dramatic material and we’re gonna do some proverbial stuff-strutting very soon. The throes of event assemblage are not always pretty, though. Here are things I’ve done recently in preparation:

  • Put in, at minimum, two hours of fake vagina-examining. *
  • I penned a musical theater song about a tyrannical school principal in no less than ninety minutes. It just came out of me like…poop. Like toxic, sarcastic, relief-ridden poop. How it possibly could have been that easy, I’ll never know… ::shrugs, smirks::
  • Recited no fewer than three spells a day to avoid catching this wretched ebola-flu-sickness that is circulating mid-Missouri. People close to me have had it. Considered walking around with a mask in public. I’m not there yet, though.
  • “Baptized” this suspiciously secular song and performed it in a church service. It’s all about what you make of it, right?
  • I got back into hooping because it’s pretty, my knees give me significantly less flack, and all that makes me feel 2% less like a blithering ogre.
  • I lost five pounds (see above). WERK.
  • Decided to attempt some professional theater auditions this season. WHAT.
  • Designed a personal webpage because we are all our own self-marketers and I’m a little vain.
  • Failed to login to this very site because simple captcha math confuses me. Leave me alone.

All this is to say I’ve been keeping busy and things are solid.

– Your Merry Maven




*I’m playing a gynecologist in a ten-minute play.

8 True Stories I Did Not Make Up to Make You Feel Better

This is a follow-up to my most recent series, “Lessons in Drama,” in which I dutifully recount ways to think about and deal with drama whilst avoiding the urge to slap people in the face. THE FACE.

In case you missed them, go do yourself a favor…

Part 1: Don’t Discrimin-hate
Part 2: Better, Not Bitter
Part 3: Five Reasons It’s Not You
Part 4: It Never Ends (and how to deal)


If that advice wasn’t satisfying, I’m going to finish off with a list of painfully true performing stories to drive the point home (as promised). Consider yourself epilogue-d…

1. I didn’t get a lead role until I was 28 years old.

2. The first two shows I ever auditioned for were Oliver and The Music Man. I was 8 and 9, respectively. Did not make it in.

3. In high school, it was tradition for the directors to come up with all these individualized awards for each cast member and deliver them at the cast party. It was a sort of kitschy ritual, and the awards were usually based off of the real-life rehearsal and performance shenanigans (the “you had to have been there” sort of goings-on). The poor souls who didn’t do enough to stand out would end up with a “super trooper” award for being good. I got the trooper badge two years in a row. My senior year, I was finally recognized for my bit role as a stripper in Singin’ in the Rain. My fame as a stripper was short-lived.

4. I was confident that my high-school drama director had no idea I existed until the last month of high school. She passed me in the hallway without a glance, then stopped and turned to tell me what an outstanding job I was doing in the show. The Me from ten years ago died of happiness; the Me today would deliver a sassy hair-flip and saunter off with an over-confident, facetious “I know…”

5. Performing never came naturally. I always had to work at it. It takes every fiber of my being not to writhe with jealousy at the people who don’t have to work as hard. Unfortunately, there’s no check-box on audition forms that says “did you work really hard for this role?” So I take comfort in the fact that I am better (than I used to be, not than other people) for this.

6. One of my friends just auditioned for a show. She was a shoo-in for the lead, but it went to a weaker singer / actress who had “put in her time” in the chorus. So my friend respectfully turned down a chorus role for a myriad of reasons, but also to show them what’s what. That’s self-respect.

7. I have debilitating performance anxiety, deeply rooted from a long history of attempting to please people and falsely associating my personhood with my abilities. Until I was 24 years old, I don’t think I actually ever gave a performance that lived up to my true potential.

8. …when I finally did, it was my first performance on beta-blockers. I was the understudy for this  piece, for which I was ridiculously well-suited:

P.S. You haven’t lived until you’ve reached 4:05…

8. Almost none of the kids who got lead roles when I was in high school continued on as professional musicians.

::last laugh::

I’m sane and healthy, I promise. I am a self-actualized adult.

::repeats to self, calmly strokes cat on lap in evil-genius manner::

Lessons in Drama, Part 4: It Never Ends (and how to deal)

Welcome back to the trenches. The long-awaited finale to my series, “Lessons in Drama” is HERE.

In case you missed it, here are the other parts:

Part 1: Don’t Discrimin-hate
Part 2: Better, Not Bitter
Part 3: Five Reasons It’s Not You

A ten-word recap: drama can be ridiculous / toxic. Let’s work through it together.

This next part is hard, but short (that’s what she said)…

The Drama will NEVER End.

Yes, the lessons we learn in the high-school / community / professional drama world will chase us (with knives) forever. I so wish I could end this series with “be impervious to drama and you’ll win forever!” The reality is that it will never go away. I think it’s because on some level, people thrive on it. They want conflict so there can be resolution, because with resolution comes peace and purpose. Is it how we are truly built? Like the elusive tootsie roll pop, the world may never know.

I’m yelling because I’m mad.

Think about your life. Consider all its facets: work, school (where applicable), family, friends. If you can’t think of one instance where drama and pettiness has occurred, congratulations, for you are officially a part of the world’s first cyborg community (and we all know that they actually do develop feelings later on…)

So how do we deal? How do we balance our need for conflict with things we must have in order to be better, like love, contentedness, and calmness?

Gravitate Towards the Cool Folk

I don’t mean the popular crowd. I mean the handful of level-headed people who are relaxed and chill. They do exist (outside the pot-smoking crowd) and they avoid drama like the plague. Go ask them if you can be their friend. Chances are high that they will accept you and love you. For some, these people may be people you already know, but never thought to hang out with. Others may find these people in other unexpected places, like family. Either way, be near the people that will provide you a sense of calm and purpose.

Take a Break

The business of drama can be a soul-sucking, heartless enterprise. Taking a break will be easier for the introverts. Sometimes I need serious recovery time after interaction, and even more so if those interactions are high-strung. In the throes of a show / audition / other drama-influenced situation, that need for recovery can be impossible to appease. Here’s how I manage: take a walk, find a quiet place, meditate (I have to do this with my eyes open because I’m 28 and still care what other people think about me…). Pick one activity that has absolutely nothing to do with drama and get to it. For me, it’s hooping. For others, it’s running, painting, or yard work (all equally productive, though it doesn’t have to be). Just take a break and recharge.

Deeply Reflective Practice 

One of the questions that surprises new students and people who have not worked with me is “how did that feel?” When I ask that, I mean that question multi-dimensionally, as in “how did that feel…in mind? Body? Spirit?” It always catches people off guard because they weren’t actually thinking about answering those questions a second ago. They were just going through the motions and accepting my directions as fact. Inevitably, discovering the answer involves another go-around, one in which they are denying their inner cyborg and actively thinking about what they are doing. That, at the heart of it, is practice, an art that is second nature to musicians but elusive to so many others. When the questions turn inward, the drama reduces. It doesn’t dissipate altogether, but become much more manageable. When you’re frustrated that a lead role is behaving egotistically, the questions “how did he/she get to be that way” and “how can I not be like that” will lead you down the ridiculous-free path of enlightenment. Think on that.

To drive this point home, one of my next posts will be a List of True Stories I Did Not Make Up to Make You Feel Better (which should be the second tagline of this whole blog). Look for it soon.


In the meantime…

Drama-free love and peace,


Lessons in Drama, Part 3: Five Reasons it’s Not You

Several years ago, I got a call for my first musical theater directing gig: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. The girl we cast as one of the lead females, Kaitlin, was quite possibly one of the sweetest, intelligent, most humble people I’ve ever worked with. She ended up touring the country and performing professionally in musicals as a dancer and singer.

When I think back to our interactions, I consider her thick skin to be the thing that sets her apart from the masses who succumb to everyday drama. Yes, there’s somewhat of a twisted, wretched guessing game involved when auditioning for a show; the ultimate round of Get Inside the Director’s Head and attempt futilely to figure out what they’re thinking.

It’s all for naught, though. Because the final decision could be based on something completely out of your control. Like a bad breakup, it really isn’t you. 

is your head on YOUR shoulders?
is your head on YOUR shoulders?


Here are just some real-life examples to drive this point home, some of which I’ve been a part, others I’ve only heard of or witnessed:

It’s not you, it’s…The Budget

Picture this: two candidates for the lead role who equal each other in acting / dancing / singing ability. The role may go to the girl whose main costume (which is already available to the company and is ridiculously intricate and high-maintenance) wouldn’t have to be taken in, costing a significant portion of the costume budget. If the truth fits…

It’s not you, it’s…The Other Guy’s Height

I’ve heard tell of an instance where the male lead had likely already been cast, and so subsequent decisions for female opposites were made by lining all the candidates up by height. The award went to the one whose height paired best with the male opposite. Damn you, genetic sequencing.

It’s not you, it’s…Precast

The seedy underbelly of the drama world. Yes, pre-casting happens, sometimes directly (as in, only specific roles are even open to the public), other times indirectly (the director won’t even look at other candidates if he or she already knows who they want in the role). See my previous post that refers to “Director’s Favorites.” It’s not really about favoritism. It’s about vision and risk, and unless you are the most fantastic dark horse candidate in the history of candidates, there’s not a lot you can do to change this except give a memorable audition (preferably one that doesn’t involve showing up naked).

It’s not you, it’s…A Totally Arbitrary Professional Factor

I’ve been in the lucky situation of having multiple awesome candidates for a role. Sometimes the decision came down to a combination of totally unrelated professional things: who was early, who had a performance resume, who attended a second round of auditions (even if it was unnecessary), who had the right shoes for the dance audition, who said “thank you” afterwards…the little things really do matter, and if a toss-up situation occurs, it’s likely that we’ll go with the person with the “it” factor. So get “it” together if you want to measure up.

It’s not you, it’s…Someone Else

This one seems the most obvious, but is the least controllable. Sometimes someone else just has it, and you are not there yet. Other times, you may actually be better, but the role might go to someone else because the director is willing to take a chance on one who has “put in their time” and appears ready for the challenge. Try not to cry yourself to sleep. It’s not you.

It’s not you, it’s…well, it might be you

Notorious drama-inducers do not please me. I’ve purposefully avoided casting someone who was a strong candidate (up against other equally as strong candidates) because of their history with the company. I was even approached by two other people during auditions that professed they did not want to be in the show if she was the lead. This is just the type of drama I try to avoid like mad, but at the same time, I couldn’t blame them, and all they did was vocalize what I was already thinking. Survey your contributions to any creative project – are you helping or hurting? If it’s the latter, it might be you. Read my previous posts and consider being better.

The moral of the story: make like Kaitlin, grow your skin, and don’t take it personally. It’s probably not you.

Lessons in Drama, Part 2: Better, not Bitter

I’m back and still spewing brain matter onto my computer keyboard. Yesterday’s post ended up turning into a much lengthier matter and I didn’t feel comfortable slapping my thoughts together in one hit. Lesson One: Don’t Discrimin-hate. The Competition is Fierce can be summed up in one word:


There’s a lot of it, and I get tired of it. I wish I were immune to it, and in many ways, I believe I’ve set up my life so that I’m better distanced from that sick stressor.

Yet, it still exists.

Let the Maven’s School of Hard-Knocks continue…

Lesson Two: Be Better, Not Bitter

a wise woman once said: Let It Go
a wise woman once said: Let It Go

Let me be the first to admit that I am still a work-in-progress in this regard. A few years ago, I made a conscious decision not to return to a public school music teaching job because I wasn’t happy and found it increasingly difficult to live with the knowledge that I couldn’t even nick a seriously flawed system in my given situation. I decided my abilities were better utilized independently and elsewhere. I live 2.6 miles from the school where I used to work and can’t say I don’t drive by sometimes and give the building a lengthy, gangster-esque staredown, which is sort of ridiculous coming from a 28-year-old white woman. I try to wear the right sunglasses for the occasion so as to appear more menacing.

The “better, not bitter” reaction is usually brought about by the following instances:
“I could have done a better job at that song/dance/monologue than he/she did”
“they don’t even appreciate what they’ve been given,” which is sometimes disguised as “they’re not taking that role nearly seriously enough”
and, finally:
“He/she doesn’t deserve that role,” which is used interchangeably with “I deserve a bigger / better role”

Let’s pick these apart.

I could have done a better job at that song/dance/monologue than he/she did

As humans, we are built to defend at the first sign of threat. When you perceive that someone else is doing better than you, it is likely because…well, they are are, and your thought process is a reaction to that. Maybe you can do a better job;  triple threats are hard to come by, so chances are you probably are better than someone else in any one of the singer / dancer / actor categories. Consider surveying the room when you give your audition in your strongest area and peruse the reactions. Now imagine you are in their shoes…because you are, right? Otherwise, you wouldn’t be questioning someone else’s abilities. Voila: this is called perspective.

So the proper reaction, instead of bringing down others, is to be self-aware. Know your strengths and weaknesses and know those of your competition. Work to make yourself better so when it you are on-par with someone else, someone vying for your role, and both of you are strong singers but you move (or sing / act) better, the role will (in an ideal world) go to you. Then when the role doesn’t go to you, you can’t say you haven’t done everything you can to be better. 

They don’t even appreciate what they’ve been given
They’re not taking that role nearly seriously enough

This is a hard one, and you may just once see a side of the Maven that you rarely get to see. It’s easy to assume we know people’s thought processes based on how they act in rehearsal and real life (I just tried to make a list of three things, but what is there besides rehearsal and real life?). The only thing I can liken this to is bullying. Bullies are usually the ones who need more and demand those things in socially unapproving ways. Egotistical actors/singers/dancers really aren’t any different. They’re just insecure.

I’ve come to understand that if someone gets a role and you don’t, some universal force has created an alignment of events that caused someone else to get the role you want, which on some level means things are supposed to be that way. This thought used to frighten me, but now I find that thought comforting. Unless you’re behind closed doors, you may never see what a lead does for someone else, how it shapes them as a person or creates their future. If others appear nonchalant or unappreciative, take solace in the fact that their behavior will probably only contribute negatively to their future.

Consider yourself on your own path, where your lack of lead role is creating your person. It may be that you are supposed to take the chorus role because…the universe wants something else for you (that’s about as psychedelic-religious as I will ever get. Enjoy it while it lasts). No amount of bitterness, frustration, or wine can change that fact, so you may as well just enjoy the wine.

“He/she doesn’t deserve that role”
“I deserve / want / need a bigger / better role”

Call me an idealist, but the last I checked, everyone deserved the same thing as everyone else. By that logic, you don’t actually deserve a role more than anyone else, even if you have never had a solo, or you really need that role for your resume / portfolio. Nobody owes you anything. Organizations do not owe you lead roles, institutions do not owe you raises, and the further you move away from that mentality, the happier you will be (and, as my own history has proven, the more opportunities you will receive). For me, this was and continues to be the most difficult issue I face: how not to resent people / organizations / groups / etc. When you work your ass off, It’s hard not to expect (or, in some instances, demand) that the universe somehow compensate you.

If you are “promised” something, like a role, promotion, or raise, and you don’t receive it, the alternative is simple: go somewhere else or choose to be better. Go where you are appreciated, where you are wanted, where you are needed. You do not have to accept a chorus role if you don’t want it; your time is precious. If you go into a project choosing not to be better, you are actively contributing to a poisonous, toxic environment. Nobody wants that (despite what “reality” TV or a scorned chorus may lead you to believe). There is something to be said for holding out for better, which is not a copout, and usually pretty difficult to do in high school (peer pressure is a volatile, unforgiving thing), but also as an adult. It would be better to appreciate what you’ve been given and emote positive support for those who have been given what you want. Besides, It’s better in the chorus, anyway...


Stay tuned for parts 3 and 4:
“It’s Not You, it’s Me” and “The Drama Never Ends.”


Until next time…


Lessons in Drama, Part 1: Don’t Discrimin-hate

High School: The Trenches.

Wretchedly deep, sometimes un-navigable, the stench of broken dreams and lost souls wafting hopelessly amidst tear-soaked books. I only wish I were exaggerating.

Sometimes students arrive to their lesson awash in exasperation and proceed to re-live their most recent woes for me, so many of which have occurred as a result of one thing:



scary mask man say NO MORE DRAMA
scary mask man say NO MORE DRAMA

If only I were talking about Commedia Dell’arte. If only. Sometimes I envision my high school girls and boys dressed up, prancing around in those freakish masks of yore. Sadly, the behavior of too many high schoolers wouldn’t actually deviate far from the distorted, anti-human tendencies of this antiquated art form. Listening to some of my high schoolers’ stories makes me slow-blink repeatedly…

Yes, the struggle in the trenches is real. I wish I could say I was impervious to it when I was alive in it, but because I’m not a saint, I remember it all too well. Here are the things I keep hearing (the shit I lived, the shit we all lived and continue to live), and here’s my advice…

(High schoolers…listen up)

Drama Category 1: Competition is Fierce

Most notable in phrases such as:
“He / she isn’t really a very strong (vocalist / dancer / actor / actress)”
“He / she is the director’s favorite, so I don’t stand a chance.”
and my personal favorite:
“He / she didn’t even want that role”

Let’s dissect.

“He / she isn’t really a very strong (vocalist / dancer / actor / actress)”
There is a small chance that your personal judgment on things like character, vocal analysis, and ability to piourette may be a teensy bit clouded because you are an unwilling vessel for jealousy and contempt. I only know this to be true because 99% of the females in my senior musical were teeming with annoyance that the only lead female role was given to a girl that was not in choir, had zero vocal or dance training, and whose only redeeming stage quality (at least it seemed at the time) was her characterization of her role. In other words, she was an “actress / singer / dancer,” in that order, not a “singer / dancer / actress.” Halfway through the run, I distinctly remember looming backstage before an entrance, watching the lead do her song and dance and, in a moment of stunning clarity, I realized she didn’t sound half-bad. Did I want to admit it? Of course not; doing so would admit weakness, but the moment existed nonetheless. Was she as strong as say, someone with years of voice and musical training? Probably not. That’s drama. Welcome to it.

“He / she is the director’s favorite, so I don’t stand a chance.”
Directors have favorites. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

Are you done throwing your kid-fit? If so, proceed to the next statement and prepare to have your mind blown.

You could probably replace the word “favorites” with the words “anchor,” “rock,” or “non-liability” and be none the wiser. Yes, “favorites” exist not because directors are evil, satanic, opportunity-hoarders. I promise you this is not the case (not always, at least). The alternative reality is far more likely: directors, teachers, bosses, and humans appear to favor certain people because they depend on them, despite their vocal background, tap ability, weight, height and hair color. They know they won’t falter onstage. They know they can hand a script / score / some choreography to a person and they’ll get it done (whether they have to work at it or not, which is a whole other can of worms). Could they take the risk on someone else? Sure. Does that always happen? No. Casting decisions are like a gamble, and not every director wants to take the risk. Is that your fault? Absolutely not. Does it mess with people’s psyche 100% of the time and scar them for life? You bet. It’s a tough business. Best to just go in knowing that and develop your thick skin ahead of time.

“He / she didn’t even want that role”

What people say and what they mean can be two very different things. I wish I could say that as you grow older, you will come to only interact with self-actualized adults who say what they mean and mean what they say. Alas, those people are the unicorns of people: elusive and quite possibly not real.

If someone says they “don’t really want the lead role,” what they probably mean (if the words were even spoken out loud at all) is “I won’t allow myself to want that role,” or “the logistics of receiving that role are too frightening for me to think about.” DO NOT BE MISTAKEN. Just because someone did not openly profess to want” a role does NOT mean they don’t deserve it, shouldn’t get it, or won’t do well with it. Remember that, kind folks.

If you DO find yourself thinking the words “they don’t deserve that role,” consider this instead: do you see all the work they may or may not be putting into a role? Are you there with them, in their lives, surveying their thoughts, habits, and patterns? Until you are, you really don’t have a perspective on the work they are doing. You probably have no idea what is going through their heads, and everyone handles lead roles differently. So in theory, until that happens, you shouldn’t discrimin-hate.


This turned into something much larger than intended. Thanks, brain, for vomiting all over my computer screen.

With that image, stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 of this series…
“Better, not Bitter”
“It’s Not You, it’s Me”
“The Drama Never Ends”

…coming soon to a blog near you.