Monday, July 30, 2007

An Aura of Aroma

Today my sixth sense awakened. I saw an aura. Or at least what I thought was an aura.

Let’s see how defines an aura…ah, here’s a good definition

Au-ra noun
-A distinctive but intangible quality that seems to surround a person or thing; atmosphere
-A distinctive but intangible quality surrounding a person or thing; "an air of mystery";

Yup, that about describes it. I walked into the local down town Taco Bell to get my guacamole fix for lunch. My first reaction to the essence I sensed as I entered was, “hey, that’s not the smell of delicious seasoned ground beef.” The aroma was sickening, almost to the point of hurling. What could it be coming from? Did they actually kill a cow and it is decaying right now in the back room?

But my sixth sense went to work and I peered to my left and saw, yes I SAW, the source of stink. There, sitting in a booth all by himself, was a man wearing a ratty trenchcoat, fingerless gloves, munching on a burrito of some meaty variety. The man’s “aura” looked much like Pigpen from the Peanuts cartoon. I could only suppose that he was one of the local homeless beggars who hustled enough kopecs to buy himself a burrito but not enough to shit, shower & shave at a local hostel.

Funny thing about the beggar: on his head he wore what appeared to be brand spankin’ new fancy Sony headphones and was jammin’ to a beat. I reckon the begging business ain’t so bad. But one must have the aura of pathetic helplessness in order to be successful, so a clean beggar is a broke beggar.

As broke as I’ve been lately I may just bite the bullet & take a second job as a beggar. But I’m a clean evil baritone so I MUST shower, but lucky for me I’ve got lots of good stage makeup and can pull off the aura without the smell. I’ll just carry a loaf of limburger in my ratty trenchcoat when I’m on duty.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Applause and the Blahs

How do you get motivated to do a performance on a day you wish not to be there? Happened to me on Wednesday. At 8:00 sharp the curtain rose for COLE, I looked at the audience, 600 pairs of eyes stared back at me, and I just could not find the motivation I needed to give them an uplifting performance. I was tired. I had low energy. My voice was being a pest and would not warm up. Not to mention the pesky distracting blister on my heel. So I switched to autopilot and after curtain call I felt I gave a robotic performance. Mid-weekday performance tend to be a little low energy anyway, and there are tricks for getting prepared and getting through an unmotivated performance.

Was I so robotic that the audience did not enjoy? Not at all. I sang well, but realized my vocal limitations and know I can do better. I felt like lying down & taking a nap, but I danced my little dances with the obligatory wide smile.

So how does one pull off a professional performance when none of the right elements are in one’s favor? Here are some tricks from the Evil Baritone bag:

1. Drink water.
Constantly! Water is life. You must stay hydrated. Start drinking water at least 2-3 hours before the performance. Water is great for keeping the vocal folds from becoming inflamed and irritated.

And the subtext of this statement is:
a.) Avoid alcohol & caffeine. These dehydrate the body, working against your optimal performance mode. I failed to do both before the performance. I didn’t drink enough water & consumed coffee, soda and partook of the free beer provided at the summer company picnic. My performance suffered.
Oh, and since you drank so much water, make sure there is a toilet close offstage – or just pick a pack of Depend underwear and simply get onstage and “just go”.

2. Stretch
A few minutes of quiet meditation and stretching the poor, tired achy muscles will help prepare the body for it’s journey the next few hours. Of course this does nothing to help the aging and creaky joints of a weary thirty-something. I can usually be heard in the back of the stage bending my body and complaining that “I’m too old for this shit…”

3. Be prepared
That means know your stuff! Inside & out! Your songs, arias, dialogue, character, whatever, need to be ingrained and rehearsed so that they flow freely from your mouth. Being completely able to immerse yourself into a natural performance is better than the stress of thinking, “oh, shit, what’s the next word/phrase/dance step?” When switching to autopilot this is essential.

4. Focus
Number 3 above is no good without focus. Sometimes in situations when you are unmotivated on stage you need to focus even MORE! Focus on your next entrance. Focus on putting one foot in front of the other. Focus on keeping distractions at bay! Sometimes, as I did for a moment last night, I see an audience member wearing odd apparel such as a scarf, earmuffs and goggles. Distracting? You bet! But realize quickly that if you don’t drop it right away you are likely to make an embarassing slip in the lyrics to “Let’s Misbehave.”

5. Smile!
Look at my face….I’m dancing! That’s a non-dancer’s mantra. I’m not a trained dancer. Never had a tap/jazz/ballet class in my life. But I move well and I have rhythm. But to keep an audience from realizing my lack of grace and an occasional moved caused by two left feet, a toothy smile is the best thing to let them know I’m having a great time, even if I’m unmotivated. If you’re having fun, the audience has fun. If you’re not having fun, let your professionalism take over and smile anyway.

6. The show MUST go on!
Your fellow cast, tech crew, directors, designers, not to mention a paying audience all are depending on you to do your part. It’s a tremendous responsibility. Don’t blow it! Or you may end up never working for that company, or in that town, again. How’s THAT for motivation?

Ok, be my guest to leave your tips & tricks for getting through an unmotivated performance. I’m too unmotivated to leave you with anything witty so I’m gonna have a beer & pass out on the recliner.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Don't Sing, this is a MUSICAL!

A quote and words of wisdom from our director, Sharon Maroney, while discussing a few final stylistic notes before opening night last Friday. After three weeks of intense music, staging and dance rehearsal Sharon imparted upon us before going onstage the importance of “showmanship” over musical quality when performing musical comedy numbers. Sharon is a brassy, loud and fabulous character performer and belter with years of New York stage experience. Mix in her deep Wisconsin dialect and scatterbrain train of thought, and she makes for one very amusing, confusing and diffusing director.

But me? I’m too legit to quit. Ah, the fate of the classically trained singer. In fact, I think one Sharon’s quotes to me during a rehearsal of this charming Cole Porter musical review was, “you’re so goddamn TRAINED!” Thanks, Sharon. I’ll take that as a compliment!

Besides, it was my “training” that had the audacity to interpret all those little black & white notes, rests & time signatures on the musical staves as music. Cole Porter wrote MUSIC along with the words, right. Cole tells a great story, and his clever word play and play on words make great songs. But my training instinctively informed me that Monsieur Porter added the music for a reason.

So if I end up singing my way through this musical review, I’ll just say,

My Training made me do it!!!

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Deep in the Hallows of Death

On a whim and fueled by an intense marketing frenzy, I acquired my copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at 1 am Saturday morning. Things just worked out in my favor. After a tremendously successful opening show of COLE Friday night the cast, crew & band went out for a few soft drinks...alright, I'm sure I can't pull that wool over your eyes. We had cocktails, alcoholic beverages, sinful sips of Satan's libations at the local pub, ok?

Well, by the time we completed our celebratory toasting the clock hands had moved well passed midnight. As I drove home (completely sober, of course) I decided on a whim to just pass by the Barnes & Noble and see if the Potter feeding frenzy was still going on. It was. The mall parking lot reminded me of the final Christmas Eve rush. Packed like sardines, they were. "What the heck," said I, and pulled into the lot and screeched into a spot just emptied by a jumping 12 yr old and his weary eyed mother.

I entered the store to discover stacks of the final Harry Potter books behind the registers and a line that snaked throughout the store, past the magazines, through the history section, between the biographies & Sci Fi, and ending in the self help isle. At least as I took my place in line I could read up on exactly why the hell I was behaving like a lemming jumping off a cliff and following the crowd at 1 am in the morning.

It took about 10 minutes to wind through the store and end up at a register where the unusually cheerful sales rep asked, “how many copies?” I felt like saying, “I just need the new issue of Playboy Magazine, please.” But I figured it was 1:10 am and her cheerful smile was merely plastered on her face and she wouldn’t appreciate the humor. Well done, self censor.

So I received and paid for my one copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, went straight home and read the first two chapters before falling into a deep opening night slumber. In her usual style, J.K. Rowling has opened the book with a bang, jumping right into conflict and putting Harry in severe peril. Oooo….what will happen? After reading 175 pages this weekend I still have only cracked the book. Only about 600 pages to go! I better stock up on chocolate. This is going to take a while.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Cole Porter...and the Deathly Hallows

Tonight is opening night for the Cole Porter musical review. And the final book in the Harry Potter series is open to the public beginning at 12:01 am tonight! Decisions, decisions. Do I fulfill my contractual obligations and attend the opening night performance to 600 muggles, or skip out to get in on the Harry Potter Midnight Madness book release party at the local Barnes & Noble? I gotta get this book and find out HOW DOES IT END!? I don’t want any spoilers ruining my book reading experience. I won’t have it! My greatest fear is that after the release tonight there will be so much hype, talk and discussion that everyone will know the ending whether they read the book or not tomorrow morning.

And if you haven't heard, J.K. Rowling herself has asked the entire world to "ignore the misinformation", and "help preserve the secrecy" of the final outcome.

But alas, I cannot shed my stage obligation. 600 sold out ticketholders depend on my stage presence. I shall be a trooper and yes, the show MUST go on! But in order to shield me from this nemesis of my Harry Potter revelation fear, I shall be diving underground, shutting out the world until I get my hands on a copy of The Deathly Hallows. That means no more internet. No evening news. No newspapers. And no more bubble gum wrappers. Any of these are prime media candidates for Harry Potter spoilers.

And may Dumbledore have mercy on your blackened heart if you even THINK of posting the HP resolution on my comments!

Mischief managed!

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Who The Heck is Father Knickerbocker

And does he have anything to do with the stylish yet comfortable baggy knee trousers I’m wearing?

The answer is…yes! Read on…

In a little Cole Porter number I’ve been rehearsing for Broadway Rose (opening Friday for a limited engagement – seats are selling fast!) I sing the lyrics: “Due to landscape gardeners gifted, Father Knickerbocker’s face is being lifted.” The line is from Porter’s song, “Please Don’t Monkey With Broadway” written in 1940. Being the intellectual performer, and ingrained with that classical signer trick where I must know and understand every word and phrase I sing, I did some research. First I asked all five other cast members, director, choreographer, stage manager, costumer and two random schmucks passing by the theater on Durham Road, and got the following possible answers:
  • A famous restaurant in N.Y.
  • Inventor of Knickers
  • Owner of the NY Knicks
  • #10 Walt Frasier of the Knicks
  • A Manhattan hotel
  • A statue in Central Park
  • A grilled sandwich with ham and Gouda cheese on Dutch bread served with a Heineken.
No. No. Nope. Wrong. Wrong again. Incorrect. Sounds delicious, but not the correct answer. BZZZZZZ!!!! Thank you all for playing. We have some lovely parting gifts.

If you think that’s one of those had-to-be-there lines, you are probably right. Back in the 1809 Washington Irving, famous for this penning of Legend of Sleepy Hollow, wrote a fictional history of Manhattan describing the Dutch inhabitants of New Amsterdam. Irving wrote A History of New York as a fictional autobiography with the pseudonym of Diedrich Knickerbocker, a socialite and ‘descendent’ of the Dutch settlers. For years New York residents believed Irving’s historical Dutch tale as truth and began affectionately calling him “Father Knickerbocker”. They also began calling the short men’s trousers remnant of the Dutch style as Knickerbockers.

19th Century New Yorkers began referring to their city using the historical allegory of “Father Knickerbocker”. The name stuck for many years, even through the age of Cole Porter who used the term as simply an allusion to the city of New York much the same as it is today called the “Big Apple”.

Now that you’ve had your history lesson for the day, please pass that hot ham & cheese sandwich, and don’t touch my Heine!

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

When It Rains It Pours

It seems a plethora of bad news has been trickling in regarding bad news of famous and well regarded opera singers such as Regine Crispin and Beverly Sills. Today I learned of another, Tenor Jerry Hadley, now on life support after an attempted suicide yesterday at age 55.

Tenor jokes withstanding, Jerry was one of the few tenors I enjoyed listening to, with many of his CD's on my shelf. My favorite is the Famous Opera Duets sung with baritone, Thomas Hampson. "Au Fond du Temple Saint" from The Pearl Fishers strikes a deep chord within my operatic soul. It is simply beautiful music by Bizet and admirably performed by Hadley & Hampson with graceful phrasing and superb blend.

Another CD, The Age of Bel Canto with the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Richard Bonynge, shows Hadley's lyric tenor roots with favorite Romantic era composers Donizetti, Rossini, Delibes, and more. A demanding, yet grand and gorgeous collection of tenor arias.

Get well, Jerry. You have many years of singing left.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A Five-Six-Seven-Eight....

Let’s compare and contrast breathing and support, shall we? I’ve sung opera and I’ve performed musical theater. Let me tell you something, opera singers have an enormous advantage when it comes to breath support. Not to say opera singers have it easier. Opera singers must research and learn a role, same as musical theater, sure. But the opera role it typically sung in a FOREIGN LANGUAGE, with a much heftier and vocally taxing score, over a 60 piece orchestra and in front of a 40+ member chorus into a house of 3,000 seats with no amplification. Am I saying opera singers have it easy? Absolutely not.

But let’s take a typical staging for any opera. Stand here. Sing. Ok, move over there. Stand. Sing. Wander back over there. Stand. Sing. Oh, you’re a lyric coloratura? Ok, lie down there on the stage and sing all your high notes. You’re a tenor? Ok, plant your feet, grow roots to the stage and emote with your hands palms up with elbows bent at a 45 degree angle. Typical tenor staging since their mind doesn't wander much past a concentration level of, "look everybody! I'm singing a high B-flat!!!"

This kind of opera staging fundamentally allows a singer to consciously align and support the vocal production, even from a prone position. A singer can make minor adjustments as necessary to enhance resonance, concentrate on phrasing, and literally bust a gut if necessary.

Recently I’ve observed a definite contrast in support techniques while rehearsing for COLE. This musical review is jam packed with Cole Porter’s famous, funny and cleverest songs. Each number is choreographed by local former Broadway dance captain, Amy Palomino, who tests the coordinational limits of all six cast members through elaborate footwork and Fosse-hands, all while singing in tune and in harmony.

What goes through a singer’s mind while singing and dancing an ensemble number of “Anything Goes”? It ain’t breath support, and clear vocal production. In my mind, at least, it goes something like this….

(A five six seven eight)
“In olden days…"(step left turn)
(hands in the air, now do the Charleston)
(Step kick, step-ball-change, now we’re trucking)
"…looked on as something shocking" (DON’T FORGET TO SMILE!)
(box step left and don’t poke your neighbor do a little time step)
“Anything Goes!”
Whew! Ever see A Chorus Line? Compare what I just wrote to a few lines of the first song of that soundtrack:

Step, kick, kick, leap, kick, touch...Got it?
Going on, turn, turn, touch down,
Back step, pivot step, walk, walk, walk!

Sound familiar? After wiggling through a full number with my pearly whites gleaming and ending full blast on a high “E” I’m proud to say my operatic vocal training and a worthless music degree comes in handy for something. Next stop…Broadway?

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

These Shoes Were Made For Walkin’

You ever get that fuzzy feeling after purchasing a good pair of cheap sneakers and realize that these are some really comfortable shoes that are going to take you places? That’s how I felt about this pair two and a half years ago. These were good shoes. Comfortable shoes. Shoes with….oh, I’ll just say it, “Soul”. I bought these khaki sneakers as an accessory to my cruise director garb to wear during our daily excursions. I bought them knowing I would wear them to the nub, but certainly sooner than 2-1/2 years later. These shoes were made for walkin’. And that’s just what they did.

With this trusty pair I have walked into the Snake River “Hell’s Canyon”, through fern covered trails of the Columbia Gorge, a zillion laps across up and down the Queen of the West from bow ramp to stern, tens of thousands of yards across fairways and greens, countless miles through Disneyland and California Adventure, thousands of stomps on the practice set of Wagner’s Flying Dutchman, and of course, thousands of rainy puddles in downtown Portland.

The most surprising thing about these shoes is the fact that I purchased them from Payless Shoesource. To be perfectly honest, and to make a jab at Payless, I have not had the best luck with my Payless source of shoes. In years past the men’s footwear I have purchased have turned out to be of quality leaning toward, oh what’s the word, CRAPPY?! If top of the line Nike shoes are produced by underpaid peasant stiffs in Vietnam, I can only imagine the Mens’ footwear usually sold at Payless have been manufactured by a disgruntled one-eyed fingerless frozen Siberian sweatshop worker. Typically the shoes cause blisters, rip at the seams, and cry “uncle” at the first sign of wear on the tread. But not these babies. Oh, no.

But now it’s time to retire these poor, wretched tired holey soles. Goodbye, my trusty sneakers. Adios. Vaarwel. Sayonara. Getting rid of a really comfortable pair of shoes is akin to putting down your old dog, or bidding adieu to a fine cast of singers after final curtain, or hurling a tasty greasy cheeseburger after a night of vodka shots. It may not be easy, it may leave a bad taste in your mouth, and it’s certainly going to happen with or without your consent.