Facemyfear

Here’s the thing about singing. It puts the performer, and some might say the audience as well, in a very vulnerable position. There is nowhere to run, no place to hide. Sound is emanating from the mouth of the person singing the song. Is it good? Well, that’s subjective. Is it difficult? You bet. Why? Because the person onstage is telling the truth. They can’t hide behind a funny joke, a witty remark, or complex dialogue. They simply have their voice. Sure, instruments can buffer the nature of the actor’s natural instrument, but the audience didn’t come to hear a muffled tune, they came to hear a song.

Over the past 8 weeks or so, I have been taking a musical improvisation class at the People’s Improv Theater, the PIT as it’s fondly called. As I have written before, it has been one of the most challenging things I have ever done as an actor. I am forever grateful to have had the opportunity to have taken the class, studied with the teachers, and performed with my fellow classmates.

Singing has always been something that I have loved doing even though I know that I will never be the next Maria Callas, Kristen Chenoweth, or Idina Menzel. Frankly, I wouldn’t want to be. So why do I do it? I’ve always loved music. I’ve always studied music. Ever since I was little and my mom got me a Muppets keyboard that taught me how to play “Rainbow Connection”; Ever since I was 7 and sang in choirs at church, and later in high school; Ever since I was in various musicals like Oliver!, The Wizard of Oz, and Godspell, music has been a central part of my existence.

It’s also funny that something I love to do so much can bring with it an element of uncertainty and fear. But, it’s that vulnerability which I find to be compelling. It has helped me get over hurdles in life, and this experience with musical improv is no different. I am facing a fear. Fear, by its very nature comes with negative connotations. However, I think there is such a thing as “good fear” and I have certainly come across it over the past two months. I am not the best singer in the world, but I am embracing a part of myself that I have stifled for a long time and it’s nice to bring that part of myself out again.

I know my strengths. I am good at: Acting, making people laugh, and writing. It’s only fitting that I get to merge all of those elements into improvisation. As an improviser, I am using my skills as an actor to emote and create something which I am essentially writing off the top of my head through listening to my scene partner (or partners.) This makes us writers, actors, and directors of our own material. Now, add the element of librettist (the person who writes a script for musical) and lyricist to the mix. Congrats, you now have musical improvisation.

It’s not just making stuff up for the hell of it either. There are specific rules, and a certain structure that we follow in order to make it work as improvisers. From song structures, to the format of the actual show, there are rules that are followed. It is within those confines that the show comes together, making it one of the most interesting forms of improv and pure entertainment.

What will the libretto be this Saturday at 7:00 down at the People’s Improv Theater? Only time will tell. But wait…what are the lyrics?! Oh right, we’ll have to come up with those too.

Follow myself and my fellow musical improv classmates on Twitter:

Follow Your Fear

                         –Del Close

Last night, my good  friend Sarah, who appeared on the first episode of Rants Reviews and Reels: Live!, and I  went to our local bar. We were avoiding the thunder and lightning by consuming some good craft beer in a very lively environment.  Whenever we get together, I find that I have some of the most profound and meaningful conversations about life. We were talking about things that make us happy; things we love doing, performing, the insanity of show business, everything. During our conversation, I had brought up the fact that music has always had a profound impact on my life. Like many, I have an innate visceral reaction to songs. Growing up, I was exposed to all types of music, and learned about an array of artists. I remember taking my first music  lessons on my Muppets-themed keyboard. Then, that transitioned to the violin, piano, clarinet, guitar, and in high school, vocal lessons. I listened to classical symphonies, I listened to my parents records of The Beatles, Janis Joplin, Patsy Cline, and Frank Sinatra. I wanted to know everything there was about music in all its forms. There was even a program on Microsoft Encarta (remember that?)  I was obsessed with that showcased music from around the world. Music feeds my soul. Sarah and I talked about how we both have a deeper connection to music than anything else creatively. Not to say that acting and writing don’t fill spaces in our beings, but music is at a whole different level. There have been studies done on the benefits of singing. Both emotionally and physically, it has been proven that singing promotes community, releases the same endorphins as exercising, promotes learning in children, and evokes emotions.

When I was in high school and college, I sang nearly every day. Now, in my adult life, I find myself keeping tight-lipped, unwilling to bring someone into my vocal world. At theater school, we did this exercise which is rather simple in concept called “The Sound Exercise.” During the exercise, the actor starts to sing a simple song such as “Mary Had a Little Lamb” only singing one note at a time.  As the exercise progresses, it actually becomes a very emotional experience because you are open and vulnerable. I try to use that exercise whenever I feel I’ve hit a wall emotionally during scene or monologue work. It’s benefited me greatly as an artist.

Last night, just like  acting class, Sarah and I sang our hearts out. We were vulnerable, emotional, and joyous. We sang as if we were the only two people in the room (we weren’t) and we didn’t care who heard us belting out “Me and  Bobby McGee.” we just sang.  We weren’t on a stage, there was no paying audience or accompaniment, but it was one of the most fulfilling artistic experiences I have ever had. We sang slowly at first, and it evoked memories of that sound exercise. At that moment last night, I was happier than I have been in a long time. By the end we had tears in our eyes, and we belted out more songs after that. Sarah told me to I should sing more often, which was really amazing to hear. Do yourself a favor, sing with someone sometime. The connection is more powerful than you might think.

Janis Joplin’s music has always stirred something deep inside me that I have trouble expressing outwardly, but I have always had a connection to her music. Last night was no exception to that rule. Through the music of a fantastic talent who was gone too soon, and one of the best friend’s a girl could have, I reawakened something inside me that I’ve buried deep for a long time–my voice.

I was watching interviews featuring the cast of Orange is the New Black, after finishing the second season in its entirety and came across something interesting. Cast mates were complimenting each other’s singing skills, and Lea Delaria’s name came up. Delaria, who plays “Big Boo” on the show has been an actor, stand-up comic, actor, and acclaimed jazz singer for years. Jazz singer! So, that led me to research, because, as always, I love research. Holy moly, I did not realize that Delaria has been on Broadway: Twice. How cool is that? In most interviews with the OITNB cast, Uzo Aduba’s name has become synonymous with “Broadway vet.”

However, many actors, especially New York actors, have theater training and may even have some Broadway experience. Delaria has appeared in the 1998 revival of On the Town with Modern Family star, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and in the 2000 revival of The Rocky Horror Picture Show as Dr. Scott and  Eddie.  Her jazz skills are quite amazing. Here’s a clip of her on the Rosie O’Donnell Show performing “I Can Cook Too” featuring Jesse Tyler Ferguson.

She’s active in the NYC jazz scene, and her website is pretty cool too. Fab voice Lea Delaria! You rock!

Bonus: She does an amazing jazz cover of “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd”

UPDATE: Lea Delaria herself tweeted me after reading my article: 

bardybunchphotothread

 Picture it: Shakespeare, Partridge Family music, and Brady Bunch punchlines–in one show. That’s what happens in the musical,  The Bardy Bunch written by Stephen Garvey and directed by Jay Stern. Their tagline: In the summer of 1974, the Brady and Partridge Families, recently canceled by ABC and no longer under America’s watchful eye, met in a blood-soaked, passion-filled, vengeance-fueled, very special episode of Shakespearean proportions. 

Boy, is it Shakespearean– and musical in the best way possible.  Writer Stephen Garvey has managed to take two of the most popular shows of 1970s, and the most popular playwright of all time, and make a seamless musical theater experience. Broadway vets Sean McDermott (Miss Saigon/Grease/Starlight Express) , Lori Hammel (Mamma Mia!), and Kristy Cates (Elphaba in Wicked) lead the Brady and Partridge kids in a mash-up of Shakespeare’s classics (Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, and Macbeth, just to name a few) backed by groovy music like, “I Think I Love You” and “Sunshine Day” (complete with the best Brady bicycle sequence since the 1995 movie adaptation) and my personal favorite, “It’s One of Those Nights (Yes, Love.)” Young talents like Erik Keiser, Annie Watkins, Cali Elizabeth Moore, and Mitch McCarrell give stand-out performances. The show itself is so unique in concept and construct, that it must be seen and heard! Shakespeare would be proud. So, if you’re in the NYC area, groove on down to the Theatre at St. Clements for a serious nostalgia fix. 

The Bardy Bunch enjoyed its original run during the 2011 New York International Fringe Festival and opened March 20th, 2014 Off-Broadway. For ticket information and to learn more about the show, visit: http://www.thebardybunch.com.

And on a personal note: Stephen, yes, I am a groupie.

Anne Hathaway showed too much nipple;  Jennifer Lawrence didn’t show any; And Oscar host Seth MacFarlane sang a song about it all. Oh, and Daniel Day-Lewis won. Surprise! <—We DID see Jennifer Lawrence trip on her way up to accepting the Best Actress award for her work in Silver Linings Playbook and the internet went crazy creating memes, gifs and bad jokes related to the Hunger Games.  Granted, if I was dressed like I was a bride-to-be on my wedding day, I’d probably trip too. Nonetheless, Jennifer Lawrence handled it with grace and humor like she always does even at the tender age of 22. She even gave a shout-out to fellow nominee Emmanuelle Riva who was celebrating her 86th birthday on Oscar night (making her as old as the Academy Awards themselves.)

Daniel Day-Lewis became the first actor EVER to win 3 Oscars in the Lead Actor category for his work in Lincoln. Even though no one was surprised, what I found the most heart-warming was the gracious, humorous and utterly breath-taking acceptance speech that DDL gave. Not surprising, given the fact that he’s won every major award for that role this season, he’s probably had a lot of practice and time to think about what he’d say on Oscar night.

Anne Hathaway took home an Oscar for Les Miserables which surprised no one as well. The fellow nominees in that category were actually looking directly at  Hathaway the entire time the category was being announced. Everybody knew. No one was shocked. Sally Field was really happy for Anne. Awesome. Did anyone notice that it was Captain von Trapp who presented the award to Fantine? Yep.

Christoph Waltz took home Oscar number two in 3 years,becoming one of the most bad-ass Oscar winners ever in my book, for his stellar work in Django Unchained.

What was most surprising of the night was the win for Best Director. The upset over that category was already brewing due to the fact that Argo director Ben Affleck was snubbed and everybody knew it. Ang Lee took home the statue for his CGI-heavy direction of Life of Pi, shocking everyone, even Lee himself.  Life of Pi, unbeknownst to me, has been the subject of quite a controversy.Since my own knowledge on the subject is foggy, you may read more about it here.

Argo won Best Picture (again, not really surprising, but really really awesome) and Ben Affleck finally got to get back up on the Oscar stage. What I find most surprising, and I’m going to play devil’s advocate at the moment, is that the First Lady, Michelle Obama, helped announce the winner for Best Picture. Ironic? I think not. Some have even been saying that Argo is a propaganda film and to be quite honest, I can see why. I can also see that had Argo NOT won, the First Lady would have been in quite an awkward position and it might have been a tad uncomfortable.

All in all, the awards were good. Not great. But good. There was a solid opening by Seth MacFarlane who ending up hosting quite a long show. For those of us on the east coast, it got over the next day, but it was still fun to watch. Something tells me he’s going to be getting a lot of calls from Broadway producers in these next few weeks due to his kick-ass singing voice.

Speaking of singing, Shirley Bassey brought down the house and showed us all what a real DIVA can sing like with the tribute to James Bond. Side note: Where were all the Bonds? I mean, they had the perfect opportunity to bring them out onto one stage.  Jennifer Hudson showed us just why she got an Oscar for her first film and Catherine Zeta-Jones tried to relive her glory days by re-creating and lip synching to “All That Jazz” from Chicago. Adele is reaching for EGOT status with her win for penning and adding her sweet vocals to the theme from Skyfall. All she needs now are the Tony and Emmy awards. Barbara Streisand matched the backdrop as she sang “The Way We Were” during the  In Memorium segment. Like Michael Buckley said in his recap, “The mirror has two face-lifts, and I like them both.” Truth. She can still sing and she looks good while doing it.

The most awkward moment of the night was when those who won awards in the minor categories seemed to come out of the wood-work. Literally. Did they shove them all in the coat room? What was with the booths to the sides? Were they not worthy enough to sit in the main area? Come on.

Kristin Chenoweth should also host the Oscars next year simply due to the fact that I wanted to hear her sing more. They truly save the best for last, and her send-off duet with Seth MacFarlane was the best.