Archive for the ‘New York’ Category

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31/13

September 7, 2013

A little over a year and a half ago, I had the great pleasure of playing the piano for a production of Tick, Tick…Boom!, a semi-autobiographical musical by the late Jonathan Larson, better known for writing Rent. The first song in the show is called 30/90, referencing the lead character’s impending 30th birthday (in the year 1990) and related uncertainty about his future as an artist in New York City; facing down my own 30th as well as a move to that city, I considered the upcoming year. 30/12 didn’t have much of a ring to it. 31/13, now, that was a little more interesting, especially since I was born on March 1st. The numbers were clearly telling me that turning 30 would not be such a big deal (and it wasn’t; I spent a pleasant, rainy evening in my Queens apartment with six good friends, drinks, and a plethora of tasty snacks), but I had better make the next birthday count.

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Thirty wasn’t a bad year. I spent five months in two different sublets in New York, where I taught some piano lessons, worked on two shows (one of them brief but exhilarating, the other much less so), saw (and loved!) Once and the revival of Godspell and a lot of smaller things, traveled to Providence for Cabaret, and wrote the music for a new production called Little Red and the Wolf, as well as a couple of other songs for my own amusement. I flew to San Antonio for a cousin’s wedding, read Miles Davis’ autobiography, and watched 5 1/2 seasons of Doctor Who. I landed a summer job in a cute seaside town in Maine; as the season wound down, I applied to jobs in Boston, New York, and elsewhere but only got nibbles from places back home, which was what I’d secretly hoped for. I’d missed my family, friends, cat, and a particular friend who had told me he couldn’t handle a long-distance relationship, but who I hoped might give me a second chance if I came back for a while. He did, and two weeks before I turned thirty-one, we drove to Toronto to audition for future productions of Once, a completely ludicrous adventure that I never would have expected, yet one that forced me to think seriously about singing in front of people, and also got me to listen to a lot of female singer-songwriters I hadn’t known very well.

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I spent the last day of 30 – the year I got paychecks in four different states – helping my boyfriend move from Providence back to Massachusetts: one good reason for me to limit my ramblings. And the reasons keep coming. In April I played second keyboard for a not-very-good college production of a show I had already played and programmed before; it was easy money but there was nothing artistic about it, except that the trumpet player was excellent. His program biography told me he was also a contractor for a handful of local theaters; when I asked if I could send him a resume, he said sure, though he doubted there’d be much work anytime soon. Not two weeks later, he called me to ask if I could accompany a rehearsal that afternoon for the Huntington Theatre‘s annual Spotlight Spectacular. Their music director had missed his flight from New York and would make it in time for the performance, but they needed someone to run songs with the singers. Of course I agreed, but when I got there they asked me to stay for the gala too, which is how I ended up accompanying Laura Osnes and Santino Fontana.

Then I was hired to music direct Bernarda Alba, Michael John LaChiusa’s dark, flamenco-tinged adaptation of the Lorca play, for Stoneham Theatre‘s summer youth festival. I was already excited to work with a small cast of high-school aged girls on this challenging piece, and even more excited when I got to know the rest of the artistic team, who were hands down the most supportive and truly collaborative group of people I’ve ever gotten to work with. The girls were also extremely talented and committed, diving headfirst into the complex rhythms, tonalities, and difficult subject matter with no complaints. I think they all grew in the five weeks we worked together, and I did too.

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I hit the halfway point of being 31 a week ago, which was also opening weekend for the production of Ring of Fire that I’m currently music directing in Grand Lake, Colorado. The job started the day after Bernarda closed; they’d had a mid-season opening in their staff, so I sent my resume, interviewed and auditioned via Skype, and got on a plane for the mountains. The theater itself is beautiful and very professional, with a company of seriously talented actors, technicians, and musicians. I was lucky enough to see all three of the summer productions before they closed, and was astounded by how well the shows were cast and how spectacular they looked and sounded. And now that Fire is open and I have some time off, I’ve gone hiking twice this week, and while I am woefully out of shape (more so than I can blame on the altitude), the incredible views are easily worth all the wheezing and muscle fatigue. I look forward to another three weeks of performances and wilderness adventures. And another six months of unexpected journeys.

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This week’s very small existential crisis

May 7, 2012

It ‘s a cold, rainy, gloomy day, as it has been five of the last six days, so what I’d really like to be drinking right now is a large mug of smoky Russian Caravan tea, crowned with a little steamed milk. But this is not possible, because most of my tea stash – as well as my beloved green Beehouse teapot – is still in Massachusetts. I’m not about to buy another teapot (I do at least have an infuser spoon) and I really can’t justify buying more tea when I already have so much back home. And therein lies the central dilemma of my life at present: I Can’t Possibly Live Another Day Without [insert kitchen implement or food item here], Yet I Already Own It And Refuse to Buy It Again. I have already succumbed to buying a few such things in the last week, since moving to a new sublet that lacked a vegetable peeler and a pot big enough to make soup or cook long pasta. And I already have a replacement bottle of Sriracha, because really, people, I’m only human. But I’m trying to travel fairly light for now, so I’m making do without a lot of seemingly-crucial things.

At root, though, the dilemma is not what to buy or not buy on a daily basis. It’s how long I can wait before “real life” starts – the kind of life where I know where I’m living more than a couple of months in advance, where I feel settled enough to import things like my piano and my cat and my blue cast-iron pot. Right now I feel like I’m only pretending to live in New York, and as much as I’m embarrassed to admit it, it seems what it will take to make this city feel like home is Stuff. And routine. And, you know, a job that takes up more than a few hours a week and is both artistically and financially rewarding. Or at very least, the discipline to structure my independent work (practicing, writing, etc.) so it feels more like a job.

I guess I’m saying I want to have already arrived here, to have my life established and settled, to have paid my dues in the business and found myself a niche. Except that’s also not what I want at all. Because I love knowing that I could, theoretically, take a touring gig tomorrow. I could, theoretically, drop everything and go visit a friend on a whim. And as exhausting as it sometimes feels to have to learn a new neighborhood and a new set of transportation parameters every couple of months, I also really enjoy the discovering. I just came back from a brief reconnaissance walk (goal: try a new coffee place and find some vegetables for dinner, taking note of interesting-looking restaurants along the way), and while I should probably not take too many of those on rainy days, lest the weather cloud my view (ha!), I did have the pleasure of being asked by the man who made my latte if I was a dancer. I always enjoy this question, though I normally only get it when I’ve just started working with a new theater company who doesn’t know me yet, and therefore doesn’t know how emphatically I am not a dancer. I just stand like one sometimes.

There’s a certain pleasure in not being known yet, not being defined or limited by anyone’s expectations. This is something I love about working in theater: you meet new people all the time, people who don’t yet know who you are and what you can or can’t do. Every show is a chance to impress someone, to exceed their expectations, to try on new skills and stretch the boundaries of the ones you already have. That’s true even with a company you already know, but it’s so much easier to just keep fitting into the concept of you that you think they have.

So I do like a certain amount of uncertainty – not just trial by fire, but a different fire every so often. What I’m working on now is finding a balance between the uncertainty and the things that make me feel rooted, even a little bit. Those things currently include: leaving my closet door open because the clothes inside are about the only things in this room that are actually mine. Taking pride in the fact that the one solely decorative item here is a prop from a show I was also involved with (I’m subletting from a Weathervane actor from two seasons ago). Improvising ways to make my favorite foods even without the exact right perfect pan or knife. And allowing myself to be loved by the two intensely snuggly cats that live here, even though they are not my cat.

And while I may occasionally lament the absence of a certain beverage, I’m expanding those horizons, too. Because I’m pretty sure that my dinner (pasta with the brussels sprouts I just bought at one of the ubiquitous fruit-and-vegetable markets around here) will be accompanied by a bottle of the extremely delicious Wolaver’s coffee porter I purchased from the New Happy Deli & Grocery across the street. And while Massachusetts may have many things to boast about, it does not have New Happy Deli or its many convenience-store brethren, where you can run out and buy either a six-pack of really interesting beer, or a bottle of OJ to chase your morning omelet. Or a roll of electrical tape or a lottery ticket or a pint of overpriced Haagen-Dazs. It’s still a little startling to walk through a grocery store and find an entire aisle of alcohol right between the Triscuits and the cat food, but I’m starting to get used to it.

I guess I’m starting to get used to a lot of things, including the fact that I can’t ever really get used to anything for long. And that’s exciting, in a way, even though it’s also pretty unsettling. As eager as I am to eventually “make it,” I’d also be extremely reluctant to skip this phase, and I hope I never become too goal-oriented to enjoy at least something about where I am at any given moment.

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Rejection!

February 25, 2012

The truth is, I have a lot to be thankful for right now. I’m lucky to be staying in a safe, cozy apartment with a roommate who’s kind, outspoken, and hilarious. I teach seven piano students on Wednesdays, and for the next three weeks I’m also covering someone else’s Saturday lessons, which means an extra 12 students. I have a favorite grocery store, the laundromat I patronized last week is the least sketchy I’ve ever seen, and the bartender at the place on the corner has a lovely accent and a knack for good conversation.

I still have some terrific friends, with whom I have played Skee-Ball, watched dozens of episodes of Bones, visited the Jim Henson exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image, enjoyed great theater, and dabbled in terrible jazz. Friends who, when I despair that no theater will ever hire me ever again, remind me that not only am I good at what I do, but also I’ve only been here three weeks and I’m not allowed to be discouraged yet.

But right now I am a little discouraged, anyway. It seems true that things move faster here, and that means sometimes I can rack up two or three rejections per week, and that’s not counting the places I apply to that never write back. This week I wasn’t hired for a college production of Sweeney Todd for which I felt extremely qualified (I’ve done the show twice before), and I’m pretty sure I blew my audition to music direct Company, which I’m really unhappy about because the group putting it on seems like they’d be wonderful to work with. And because while learning “Another Hundred People,” I was astounded by how perfectly the accompaniment — essentially four separate lines that coexist, all moving in the same direction, to form a solid palette of sound without ever really coalescing — amplifies the lyrical content. Guys, I am finally on the Sondheim bandwagon after years of respecting but not loving the man and his work.

I want so badly to dive headfirst into this show, to tease apart all the musical secrets, to figure out the best instrumentation for the space and the budget and the director’s intentions. And I will be really surprised if I get to, because I played so much worse on their nice baby grand than I do on the out-of-tune spinet in my sublet. All those separate lines that I worked to bring out, choosing fingerings that would boost my accuracy while highlighting the most interesting parts of each phrase — none of that happened in my audition. I got through the piece fine, but it was muddy and indistinct, lacking the colors I had gotten so excited about while practicing.

I know I’m supposed to believe that I’m missing out on these and other opportunities because God has something even better planned. Sometimes I do believe that. But also sometimes I wonder if I’m just not good enough to be worthy of any of the things I want. Which is stupid, because whatever about me is or isn’t “good enough” comes from God too. Even the desires of my heart, small and misdirected as they may be, reflect the things He has created me to want, to thirst for.

I know what it feels like to be in exactly the right place, using my talents and fulfilling that thirst. Right now it just seems like so long before I’m in that place again, and who knows how long I’ll keep fumbling for the right chord, the right thing to say to the right person, before I find it. Or it finds me.