To Sing?

What makes  good lyric?  Is it something that sticks in your mind long after the song is over.  For that matter, why do we sing?  In musicals there are points where the characters can no longer speak (supposedly), which then justifies the singing.

Whenever I find myself talking about this with other writers, performers, theatre-goers, there are varied thoughts.  Should a lyric be poetry set to music?  Is it the same thing as poetry?  The biggest difference I can think of is you can read and reread a poem; a lyric is sung, meant to be heard, and meant to be understood upon the first hearing.  If it’s too complicated or too poetic, we can’t understand it.  We get caught in the song, contemplating that one line, and the rest of the song is completely lost to our ears.

I question the lyrics that could be sung or spoken; when it feels like the lyric is completely conversational, or a run-on thought, I wonder if it wouldn’t be better as a spoken line.  Such decisions are for the writers.  I don’t know about you, but when I listen to a song in the context of a show, or out of context, I wonder why sing that line, and does the lyric merit the music?

Thank You For Being A Friend

When you work in a field long enough, you develop relationships and a familiarity with the same group of people.  As far as we may travel or move from place to place, we end up in the same circles, the same list of names and faces we’ve come to know.

In theatre, where the work comes and goes, ebbs and flows, the ability to pay it forward, although seemingly altruistic, is necessity.  Talking with colleagues in various capacities and situations, I venture to say I’m not the only person of this opinion.  It such a  small community, it becomes apparent when we have opportunities to assist each other in connecting to jobs or other professionals.

This is true in many professions, but I think it is particularly true in the performing arts because there is little to no job security.  We try to support one another because it can feel like there is no other support; gigs can end suddenly, and work can slow down.  In essence, we become each other’s resource of finding work and working through situations.

Reap What You Sow

Dorothy Parker once said, “I hate writing, I love having written.”  Ain’t it the truth.  It is so comforting to be rewarded the feeling of satisfaction comes after writing.  Usually before and during (and after), there are a lot of blood sweat and tears that go into the process.  When we get to see a new work on it’s feet, or a tried-and-true piece of theatre, we are seeing the one step in a long line of steps from start to finish.  And even then the work is not over.

After a show is written, there is still anxiety and fears: what if it’s no good?  What if they hate it?  But as Parker suggests, it sure beats being in the middle of the process.  As a colleague pointed out recently, however, one feeds the other.  When you hear what you’ve done, it encourages the process; see what can be accomplished if you keep writing?  The fruits of the labor are what make the labor worthwhile.

I’ve heard many times that we should create for the sake of creating.  This is true.  But as we don’t live in a vacuum, neither do we create in one. When something should be heard aloud, performed, staged, that requires leaving the safety of the writing room, and venturing out into the world.  And it needs to be experienced by a group of people to see how the material stands on it’s own.  And why not reap the benefits of the work after it’s written?

Practice Performance Practice

When we are in the process of learning a new piece of music or a monologue, particularly for an audition, we drill it to perfection.  There is the comfort in seeing vocal coaches and acting coaches, running through the material and practicing.  Then comes the audition.

Preparing for the audition and actually being in the audition are two very different feelings.  The adrenaline in the audition kicks in, the nerves and energy can be different from when you’re calmly running through the song or scene.  When there is a long stretch between auditions, it’s perhaps helpful to practice the performing.

Having played auditions for others, and had my own auditions, it can be a very stressful nervous experience.  Practicing the performance is a part of the preparation, and a step sometimes overlooked.  Within the slow, disciplined practice, the time taken on all the difficult passages, there needs to be time to simply run through it all, and walk away.  In practice we start and stop, analyzing every move.  And we should.  But there needs to be a time, as the audition approaches, to run through it all, as if you’re auditioning, no self-criticism, no judgements or starting over.  Just do it, and accept it.

The Real McCoy

I think there is a strong desire for every artist to be an original.  An original actor, writer, director.  Yet it’s impossible.  Nearly everything we do and say, everything that we create can somehow be linked to something in the past; there is somewhere another piece of a cultural reference from history, screaming out, “it’s already been done!”

At least that’s how it feels.  Writers experience this constantly.  Whenever I’ve been in a room with other writers, as helpful as that can be, many times there is the one or two voices who say, “this sounds an awful lot like [blank].”  While this has been viewed as a negative at times, I’d like to think that influence by previous works is a positive thing.

When you’re working on something new, but can’t seem to find the right direction, finding similar works can aid the process.  This is also where adaptation can enter the creative process: taking a work and reworking it into a different medium or genre.

Writers and directors can agonize when they see their work and realize some bit of influence seems to be blaring through.  One measure of music sounds like another composer’s work.  That position in that dance routine strikes a similarity to another choreographer’s work.  Without plagiarizing someone else, we need to accept the influence, accept the seeming unoriginality that we face, and create.  Within that, there is room for finding an original voice, however influenced.

On The Other Hand… 

Do you believe everything you read?  What about everything you hear?  When actors prepare for roles, it’s a good idea to see the character from different angles, creating a fully realized and three-dimensional representation of the character.  Likewise, in real life there are many ways to look at circumstances and situations involving colleagues and co-workers.

There are two sides to every story.  In fact, there are probably more than two sides.  I have no doubt that gossip and hearsay are much a part of other professions as they are in theatre; we all love a juicy story.  How can we not be tempted to get the details from a trusted friend?  No matter how old or how experienced we get, it seems a little gossip goes a long way in reducing us to giggling school girls.  No offense, school girls.  Continue giggling, please.

No matter how much we can argue, or point fingers, and say who is in the right and who is in the wrong, there are at least two sides to every scenario.  Whether it’s between actors, or directors, deciding how to stage a scene, or choreograph a dance, we have as much ability for creativity as we do to jump on each for our imperfections.   The more we can consider each other’s position, the more we can find common ground.  And I find consideration is key to a positive working relationship.

Advisors, Aweigh

We should never be too old (or too young) to receive advice.  Every time there is a life decision, be it college, a new job, a move to a new location, weighing out the options, seeing the pros and cons is an important part of the deciding process.  But with every person, and every piece of advice, they come with their personal experiences, and that shapes the way they view the situation.

In an effort to discuss issues and topics relating to the performing arts, the freelance life, I realize that my point of view on the topics of discussion stem from my own experiences.  I also realize that not everyone will agree with my point of view, because not everyone has had my life experiences.  Thank God.

And that would be true for anyone expressing their opinion.  Recently I heard a discussion regarding higher education: do artists need to go to college, if they are hired to perform professionally?

With the never-ending increase to college tuition, or so it seems, it’s hard to pass up the opportunity to be paid to perform on stage, instead of paying to perform in school.  Having gone to a four-year program and receiving training in music, I can’t say that I would change that for anything; but there are situations where performers have been granted the chance to start their careers early.  For each individual there is an individual situation that warrants their own decision.  Deciding something as major as which college to attend, let alone whether or not you are going to go to college, is both unique a shared experience.

If you’re unsure about considering college, or a similar program, or going out and auditioning for performing jobs, ask around and get advice.  Each person handing out advice is also conditioned by their own experiences and backgrounds.

With Songs They Have(n’t) Sung

When actors audition there is the hope that, after the first song, they might get to sing another.  “What else do you have in your book?”  I get that sense that having sat in numerous auditions for performers, this is a welcomed question; a chance to show another side to the performer’s talents.

And then there are the times, though rare, when there is a song in the book that is not prepared.  The accompanist sees a song, or the casting team requests it, and the performer hasn’t looked at that particular song in their audition book for ages.  I hesitate to say it is the worst feeling, but that hope and confidence can be punctured by forgetting the lyrics and/or melody to a song in their book that otherwise shouldn’t be there.

When actors audition they generally use the same handful of songs for many different auditions; yet when they walk in the audition room, they keep a three-ringed binder two-inches thick with songs they haven’t sung in years.  Danger zone.  Never keep songs in your book that you don’t know cold; you never know when we might want to hear it.

Day By Day

When there is an empty page, or empty calendar, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by not enough written, or enough scheduled.  Self-discipline is hard, especially when the only person holding you accountable is yourself.  As another writer expressed, as many of us do, so much lives in your head, and very little can get on the page.

Make a list, set goals.  This is the reoccurring advice both given and received.  Days can slip by before something gets accomplished, even the smallest of tasks.  Writing the email to the business contacts, setting about the draft of a new idea.  We all go through it, at every stage and every age.

With the daily routine, or checklist, it’s satisfying to look back and see the slow but steady output.  And it helps stave off the feeling that nothing is getting done.

Making the Cut

Every actor wants the perfect audition cut.  They hope to find that cut of a song that hits all the requirements: the high note, the long note (hopefully one and the same, killing two birds with one note), and that bit of personality that tells us everything about the actor in 30 seconds.

Finding a perfect cut in a song can feel like finding the needle in the haystack.  Many times over in many auditions and coachings I’ve gone through books with actors, searching for the song, and once finding the song, searching for the right cut.  So what makes the cut?

If you’ve only got a short amount of time to sing, that helps narrow the cut; usually 45 seconds to a minute, depending on the audition breakdown.  After sitting through several auditions of several high notes, it’s helpful to look for an interesting song, or something that stands out from the previous 25 belters.  Don’t go for the high note simply because it’s high.  Make it make sense to you and the audition cut.

That said, every situation is different, every audition is different.  If a song is working, don’t change it.  If it’s not, then change it.  No matter what, time and again, I find the more personal and genuine a take on a cut of a song, the more memorable the audition will be.