Posts Tagged ‘Rent’


On wanting unreasonable things

December 6, 2011

When I was in sixth grade I tried out for Peter Pan – not just the play, the role itself. It didn’t occur to me that a scrawny shy kid with buck teeth and huge glasses wasn’t lead material, or that I hadn’t developed the breath support to sing a convincing high F, or that I couldn’t dance. (Still can’t.) I just knew I loved to run around the house singing “I Gotta Crow” and “Never Never Land.” I saw something I wanted, I showed up, and I asked for it.

I didn’t get the part. I was cast as the only 6th grader in the pirates’ chorus, while my prettier, more agile friends got to play Indians and Lost Boys. But I got to wear a parrot on my shoulder and “play” a prop cello that my dad made out of foam core, dowels, and twine. I was totally intimidated by the older pirates, especially this redhead named Eric who kept trying to talk to me, though I did eventually become friends with an 8th grader named Jen who would tell me about her obsession with Bono while we waited to go onstage. (By the time I reached high school, she’d become locally famous as a guitarist and singer/songwriter in her own right.)

Five years later, having lost the braces, gotten contacts, and discovered Rent, I listened to “Another Day” about sixteen times on repeat before getting up the nerve to ask my crush to the junior prom. No day but today, I told myself. Give in to love or live in fear!

He said no. He’d planned to ask a friend of mine — a friend I knew had plans of her own, though it seemed wrong to say so. My track teammates, a year younger and perhaps living vicariously through me, insisted that even if he came crawling back, I shouldn’t go with him. But I thought that was silly; I did still want to go, and why sacrifice that for the sake of pride? He asked. I accepted. My track friends jumped up and down and hugged me when I told them.  I got my hair done and wore a dress my mother made, and I had a great time, even though I would’ve rather ditched the dance for a midnight showing of Star Wars Episode I. Which we actually did attend after prom, a bunch of us in our dresses and tuxes, practically falling asleep the whole time, and that was just as well, because the movie was awful.

The thing is: I like to think I’ve gotten braver in the last few years. But I don’t have guts anything like what I had when I was 12, or 17. Today I would carefully analyze my vocal range, size up the competition, and try out for a featured ensemble role, all the while secretly hoping the directors might see something special in my audition and upgrade me to the role I actually wanted. Upon meeting a guy I really like, I’ll tell myself all I want is friendship; nobody that talented/attractive/awesome could be interested in me, anyway. And then I try so hard not to betray my feelings that I probably come off as pretty uninterested myself, and a lot colder than I mean to be.

I have musician friends who send out unsolicited resumes all the time, hoping somebody will just happen to need their skills — heck, I hired one of those friends in the first place because of such a submission, figuring I was better off grabbing someone who already wanted the job I hadn’t even posted for yet. So I know that strategy works sometimes, and yet I haven’t tried it myself since college, ostensibly because I don’t want to pester anybody. I limit myself pretty much to responding to explicit job postings, and even then I often don’t bother if I think my schedule will be too difficult to accommodate, or I don’t have the right experience, or I might not live up to the employer’s expectations.

I played a show this weekend that was one of the most joyful experiences I’ve had in a long time, and I almost didn’t apply for that gig, primarily because it was in Rhode Island and I didn’t think I had the time to drive out of state every day for a week. Too many students to reschedule, not financially worth the commute, blah, blah. I probably would have overlooked the posting completely had it not been specifically brought to my attention by a friend who checks the same pages I do, but more often, and with a more flexible sense of what is possible or worthwhile. I thought about it, and I realized it was stupid to sacrifice what I actually want to do — make music with awesome people — just because it would be easier to not inconvenience my students or my boss.

Also, the job ad said they needed “a proficient, detail oriented sight-reader” who could also “completely let loose and rock out.” At the risk of sounding massively arrogant, I read that description and thought it sounded like me. And then I felt bad for thinking that, and tried to mask those thoughts by telling myself that there must be someone else out there who could play the notes more perfectly, AND rock harder, and they probably even lived in Providence.

Stupid. I can psych myself out so easily. But here’s what I would have missed out on if I hadn’t done it: The opportunity to watch some talented, committed kids pour their hearts out onstage, and to see them grow even in the single week I was involved. A couple of potentially useful business connections that I didn’t even ask for — I just told one person in passing that I was moving to New York, and he told someone else who told a bunch of someone elses, and suddenly everyone wanted to help me. A really humbling amount of encouragement and appreciation for the work that I did, which mostly didn’t even feel like work. A small revelation about the benefits of a focused warmup. And a much-needed reminder of the sheer, unadulterated joy of playing the best I know how, in the company of some of the best collaborators I’ve had the pleasure to know.

I think what I’m trying to say is that there’s always a reason not to try something that seems difficult or inconvenient, that requires too much talent or self-assurance. Most of the things I want are irrational and unreasonable; I don’t deserve them; possibly nobody does. But if I don’t dare to want unreasonable things, I’m excluding myself from the chance to be blessed in amazing and unpredictable ways.


No other choice, no other way

June 7, 2010

Yesterday was the final performance of Rent, the last day of four weekends and fifteen performances, and it felt good. The tempos were where I wanted them (mostly), the sound balance was solid, and the energy level was amazing, everybody giving their performance that little something extra. Yes, there were a few silly ad libs that hadn’t been there before. But there was a sense of rightness that I hadn’t felt, at least not consistently. I was relaxed, but also tuned in to everything around me — I felt sharp, aware, alive. This is a feeling I only get from two things, theater and hiking, and in theater, I only get it when I really feel like I’m at the top of my game. Which has not always been the case for me with this show, because there’s been so much to think about. Rent is not a difficult show to play, but it’s hard to conduct, a lot harder than I expected. Thankfully I had four excellent musicians to work with, who stuck with me through all the little wrinkles that happen in theater — missed entrances, skipped lines, battery-powered stand lights that die mid-performance (thankfully, the tech staff figured out how to wire the offending lights before the second weekend).

Early in the second act, thunder began to rumble overhead, and it was raining hard. I actually thought this had a nice atmospheric effect, reaching its peak in the scene before “Without You,” which takes place in spring and has to do with longing. And then the power went out.

It took me a couple of seconds to notice. My stand light batteries were still running strong, so that stayed on even as all the lights around me disappeared. And it was well before the keyboard part enters, so I wasn’t trying to play, just keeping time for everyone else. But suddenly there was no bass, just an unamplified acoustic guitar. The guitarist kept playing in the dark, the sound engineer switched on his flashlight and pointed it down to the stage to replace the missing spotlight, and the actress playing Mimi began to sing again. In another couple of seconds I had formed a plan: I was already reaching to hand the guitarist my stand light, and I would grab my own flashlight to hold for the drummer when his part began. Since this song is built around the acoustic guitar, it would be missing some important components, but it would work.

And then, after only ten seconds or so, the power came back, the audience applauded warmly, and the show went on. It took another few seconds for my keyboard to reboot so I could find the correct sound patch, and a few more for the stage manager’s computer to load the lighting program (I’m told the conversation on the headset was a little bit X-rated for a while). But soon all these elements came back together, and the thunder quieted. By the end of the show the sun was bright, there were tears and laughter and hugs and pictures and silly dances, toasts and awards and a giant pan of lasagna that was demolished with astonishing speed. I may or may not have been forced to wear a piece of the set on my head. I don’t know if there are pictures to prove it.

When I finally left the theater nearly four hours later, the convenience store across the street was still dark, and the stoplight at the corner wasn’t working either. So it’s a little bit extra magical that our power was restored so quickly.

Thank to you to all of the fabulously talented cast, crew, and band for being part of that magic.


Adventures in Lexington

May 6, 2010

Not that anyone’s keeping track, but it’s been a few days since I’ve posted, and I’ve been feeling oddly anxious about not having the time to sit down and write anything. Thursday I was gloriously, happily busy, but Friday I wasted a lot of time quietly freaking out about a tick bite (more on that later), and Friday night through Sunday afternoon were spent almost entirely in the service of musical theater, since City of Angels closed Saturday and then I had a five-hour music rehearsal for Rent, which opens in less than two weeks. And the usual days of teaching and more rehearsals, and being grouchy about the lack of clean water (a water main burst west of Boston, leaving some 30 communities without drinkable tap water for two days). So now I’m catching up.

Thursday morning I met my friend Meghan for coffee at a new place in Lexington called, a one-stop coffee-and-bicycle shop. So far their website is mysteriously mum on the cafe side of things, and when Meghan called to ask about their hours, she was treated to the following reponse:

“We’re not really sure yet – it varies from day to day. When were you thinking of coming in?”


“Oh, yeah, we’ll be open tomorrow.”

Initial appearances to the contrary, they do seem to know what they’re doing. The shop smells of bicycles tires and two-thirds of the floor space is taken up by bikes and related gear, but everything looks clean and shiny, with huge, sunny front windows overlooking Mass Ave. I ordered a pot of chai (they serve MEM teas, like parent cafe Diesel) and it was enormous, enough to fill a big, wide mug three or four times; the sturdy metal pot kept the tea piping hot without oversteeping. Meghan’s latte was capped with some very respectable-looking foam, and we shared a huge pear-cranberry scone. I didn’t notice any pear flavor, sadly, but there were plenty of tart, juicy berries.

While in Lexington, I went for a walk up Fiske Hill, which is notable in part because of its role in the Revolutionary War, but more importantly because it’s a short, easy walk with some lovely scenery. And, apparently, snakes. I nearly tripped over a garter snake, who seemed quite affronted at my clumsy approach, drawing back in dismay before he slithered haughtily off the path. I hardly blame him; I’m sure I’m a good deal larger and noisier than most of what he usually encounters.

here there be ticks

I am far from the most physically fit or active person around, but when I come across a field like this — yards and yards of space, and no one around to see me — I have only one impulse: run. And so I did, avoiding winter-brittle bushes and animal burrows. I nearly squashed another garter snake, but this one fled much more quickly than the first. I ran, arms pumping, mouth open to the wind, until my chest burned from all that cold air and I had to stop and catch my breath. It felt wonderful. I think maybe there’s still an athlete in me somewhere, but one who loves the thrill of the wild sprint too much to bother with the tedium of actual training.

Disclaimer: In the shower the next day, I found a tick. I swear I passed second grade, but it was an awfully long time ago, and I guess I forgot the part about checking yourself for tiny little carnivorous arachnids after frolicking in tall grass. Besides bearing scary diseases, ticks are pretty repulsive, and I failed to remove mine correctly, resulting in a visit to the doctor – a round, pleasant Russian woman who at first declared she didn’t know how to remove the remaining black speck, then warned me that I might not like her after she finished. She was wrong: it didn’t hurt at all, and I liked her quite a bit when she finally succeeded. Bottom line: I do not regret running in the grass. But next time I will look for ticks.

You see flowers in these weeds