That would be me

That would be me

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Reflections on the nature of feedback

Feedback is by definition “information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc. used as a basis for improvement.”   

Feedback is what we use to get better at just about anything. When we were learning to walk we got our feedback from sore bottoms as we toppled to the ground. As teenagers we got our feedback from the approval (or disapproval) of our friends and classmates. In relationships feedback takes the form of returned affections or smacked faces. Once in the workforce we got our feedback from bosses and co-workers in the form of quarterly reviews, raises or office gossip.

Feedback is how we learn. How we grow. Life, without some form of feedback, becomes stagnant.

I have always sought out feedback regarding my acting work. Whether I was taking a class or practicing a monologue in front of peers or requesting feedback from directors, I have always felt that any form of feedback allowed me to take that information and use it to fix any issues with my performances or store it away for future use.

Recently (as is my practice), I asked a local director for feedback on my audition. I usually wait until AFTER casting decisions have been made so they do not feel that I am in any way trying to press for an answer. Keep in mind that I ask for feedback whether or not I have been cast (although if cast, I wait until a few weeks into the process or after opening to get that feedback). I know when asking for feedback that I won’t always like what I hear – I have been told I am too vulnerable in one audition only to be told weeks later that I wasn’t vulnerable enough in another or I get very specific feedback on monologue or song choices that may not be what I want to hear. I take these all in stride though because I know full well that my auditions aren’t perfect (which is why I ask for the feedback in the first place).

I expected a harsh assessment of my audition (it was a singing audition after all and I admit to not being the strongest singer on the planet) but what I received felt just short of a character assassination. This director seems to dislike everything about me. My personality, my decision to be friendly and personable at auditions (as opposed to business-like), my use of recommended marketing strategies (as advised by a NYC casting director), my Facebook activities and even my admittance to fears and nervousness. 

What I thought would be a blunt criticism of my skills turned out to be a harsh and somewhat mean-spirited criticism of ME.

I felt as though I had been punched in the gut. Asking for feedback is a scary proposition. Most actors I know just plain don’t want to know. They want to go under the assumption that the director is an idiot and move on to the next thing. THIS is what most actors FEAR they will receive. THIS is the boogeyman.
And I came face to face with it.

What was most sad about it was that in the middle of all of the vitriol was a rather positive critique of my audition itself. That almost got lost in the maze of ugliness. Fortunately, the writer was kind enough to bold that particular section so it popped out a bit.

After catching my breath again (and showing it to a few trusted friends – just to make sure I wasn’t blowing it out of proportion), I sat down and dissected it. I was advised to throw it in the trash. I was told to ignore it all.

But it was feedback, wasn’t it? Isn’t that what I asked for? 

I gathered a few things from it that I felt I could use and apply to my life and auditions, threw out a bunch of stuff that didn’t make sense for who I am as a person and then chose to focus on the good aspects of it.

And then I deleted it.

My friends asked me if I planned on never auditioning for this director again. They all assumed I would be scared or intimidated or feel that auditioning for this person would be a waste of time.

“Are you kidding me,” I responded. “It takes more than that to scare me away.”

Realizing that I could know someone feels that way about me and yet not back down proves just how far I have come and how much more comfortable I have become in my own skin and THAT is the best feedback of all.

Monday, October 10, 2011

No such thing as a “sure thing”

I get a lot of flack for psyching myself out before auditions by telling myself I have “no shot in hell” at a particular role/show/film. Friends and acquaintances feel that this is bad self-esteem or false modesty on my part but truly it is a self-defense mechanism. This allows me to go into auditions without any real expectation of actually getting cast so I might as well have fun. When I have fun – it usually works out in my favor. The lack of nerves allows me to relax and permits me to take chances and make choices I might not have otherwise.

Sometimes though there is a show/role/film that I want REALLY BAD.  Sometimes there are shows/roles/films that I make myself crazy thinking about/scheduling around/prepping for because I want them. Sometimes it is because I just really like the show or the director but on a rare occasion it is because I feel I am absolutely right for it. I think so and all of my friends thinks so.

Never in my life have I encountered this as much as I have in recent weeks. A show came up that I wanted badly (mostly because of my profound respect and admiration for the director) and everywhere I went I heard how excited people were to see me in that role -  as if it was already mine. One friend even mentioned that a lot of actresses she knew weren’t even auditioning because they all assumed that role was mine. I will admit – that was an amazing boost to my ego. I mean, who doesn’t want to hear that?

I prepped that role as if it was already mine. I researched it and worried over it and learned it and internalized it and I was just shy of performance ready.

I am perfect for that role.

I don’t say it often but this time I knew I was perfect for that role. I knew it in my gut. My friends knew it. People I don’t even KNOW knew it.  I think even somewhere down deep the director knew it.

Yet, I didn’t get that role.

Casting is such a slippery thing. I have been to many auditions where I was by far the strongest one there and don’t even get a callback and the opposite has also been true where I was sucking the air out of the room and yet somehow managed to land the role. Who knows why that is. Having directed shows myself, I have made casting decisions that have confused even me only I somehow knew that it was the right choice.

I feel that I gave a very strong audition. It is one of the few auditions where I left it feeling confident and sure that I did the best job I possibly could.  At the end of the day, it wasn’t what the director needed or wanted. I am disappointed but I can’t be angry. It is no one’s fault. Really. Maybe I was too tall/short/redheaded/strong/weak/heavy/thin for the dynamics of the casting pool. Maybe it just wasn’t my time. What I do know is I WILL play that role someday. I just know it.

That much IS a sure thing.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Perfectly Pink Day

Or how a song and some yarn helped make a “meh” day better.

I have been feeling “off.” I can’t think of a better way to describe it. Things have been going great (maybe a little TOO well – the cynic in me is getting suspicious) and yet I just can’t seem to get “happy.” Maybe it is the weather, maybe it is stress, who knows. All I know is that for the last few weeks, I just have not felt “normal.”

This morning I awoke cranky and achy. I just was not “feeling it.”

The goodness started almost immediately. The Bruce woke in a cutesy, lovey dovey mood and showered my sour puss with kisses and giggles. Then we hear Lorelai flitting about the living room. Lorelai had woken up in a deliciously good mood and ran to us excitedly for early morning snuggles.

“I wake up dry,” she hollers proudly.

Breakfast was accompanied by a side of songs and “I love you, Mommy.” The kids were singing the song I had spent all week working on and, let me tell you, there are very few things cuter than a 2 year old singing “I am gorgeous.”  I looked across the table at The Bruce and the kidlets and my heart just about burst. Here were three amazing people looking at me with such love and admiration. How did I get so lucky?

Later I had a planned excursion to the local yarn purveyor to pick up some wool for a skirt that I have been DYING to attempt. Lorelai wanted to come with me and have a “mommy/Lorelai day” so the two of us walked hand in hand the 4 blocks to the yarn store. The entire walk she chatted and sang and giggled and plotted.

Once at the store she excited walked beside me as I sifted through the yarn saying that she was looking for the “perfect pink” yarn so that she could “make something.” She talked to the store employees and regulars excitedly about what she was going to make and showed off her new belt and asked them questions about what they were doing. They were all obviously smitten. Suddenly, she squealed excitedly and ran down the aisle.

“There it is! Momma, there it is!!! The Perfect Pink.” 

She bounced up and down and pointed at a small skein of raspberry yarn which was both inexpensive and the perfect weight for my looms. Of course, I had to get it for her.

The walk home was filled with chatter about all of the many things she was going to make with her Perfect Pink yarn. I know that more likely than not the yarn will be turned into a hat and scarf for her but it was so cute seeing how excited she was about making things for her friends and family. Suddenly she stopped and turned to me.

“Momma,” she said, suddenly looking very serious. “I need to tell you something.”

“Okay, what’s that?”

“I just love you.”

I just love you too, Lorelai. I just love you too.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Making a claim

I am trying to publicize my blog. In order to do that, I have to write this - 4YZQH5KWA9C4 - so that some remote computer can read it.

Let's see what happens, shall we?

A Sense of Accomplishment

Or How Sami Conquered a Second and a Half and Lived to Tell The Tale.

First off, I have been a post slacker. I will apologize for it in detail soon but first I had to tell you about my week.

I have decided (in a continuation of my “I am now a quote unquote adult so I need to stop being scared of everything” trend of recent months) that February is Fall Flat on My Face Month. This means that everything I am doing I plan to do with full abandon knowing that the potential for utter failure is a real threat ESPECIALLY since February round these parts is “audition season.”

The major “fall on my face moment” I wanted to accomplish was regarding singing auditions. Now, those of you who have paid attention know that singing and Sami are NOT friends. Sami is a complete singing coward. I have gotten significantly better in recent months (thanks in no small part to the support of The Bruce and the whole Last 5 Years business) but I was still playing it really safe in auditions singing only low to mid alto numbers that could be “acted” over being “sung.”

I am sick of making excuses. Sick of being scared. Sick of playing it safe.

Time to Fall on My Face.

I was looking through some music books looking for potential audition songs and I came across the song “Gorgeous” from the show The Apple Tree. I instantly fell in love with both the song and the show (and Barbara Harris who sang it on the YouTube video I had found). Now, in the sheet music, the song’s highest note was a D4 (the D in the middle of the music staff – highish “belt” territory) nothing ridiculous and well within my range. However, even this relatively easy note was one I would not even ATTEMPT in an audition usually. (Like I have said – Sami = Chicken). WELL, in the Broadway versions of the song that same D was sung a full octave HIGHER than was written in my music. Holy crap. This is entering glass shattering, Phantom of the Opera territory. Normally, I would run screaming away, but like I said . . . Fall Flat on My Face Month . . . which means only ONE thing . . . .

Sami is going to attempt THAT note.

(Have I mentioned that I am a mezzo-soprano? As in MIDDLE soprano? As in Holy Heck that note is way out of my range??? No? Well, I am.)

Well, the TPS Generals are coming up soon and I had already scheduled an audition for Into The Woods so I decided that I was going to prep THAT note for those auditions. You know, two of the BIGGEST auditions of the month because THAT makes sense. First thing I had to do was hit the damned thing. That’s right, I wasn’t even sure I could hit it at all.

Last week, I was trying to get the kidlets to brush their teeth so we started singing in silly opera voices “brushing the teeth . . . gotta brush the teeth . . . get the ones in . . . back.” You get the idea. Well, during the course of this opera silliness, I hit a note that sounded vaguely like THAT note. “Could that be right?” I thought. I went and listened to the song again. Holy crap. That WAS it.

Knowing that That Note was in there . . . somewhere . . . was a positive sign. I asked my beautiful bestie if she would help me by playing the song for me before auditions to help me practice and decided if I could hit it 10 times during the various rehearsals that I would ‘whip it out’ for the auditions.

Rehearsal time – set. Auditions – set. Go.


Then there’s Sweeney Todd.

The Bruce and I had decided WEEKS ago that we were NOT going to audition for Sweeney because Lakewood is pretty far away. More than an hour in each direction and since my pitiful self does not drive . . . well, you can imagine the HASSLE. Cue the day of auditions and all of the Friends of Sami were Facebooking about THEIR auditions and how well they went and if they got a callback or not and Sami CAVED.


Then The Bruce caved.

So Sami shot off a quick email and scheduled an audition (as did The Bruce) for a few days later. What to sing? What to sing?

Why, THAT note, of course.

The Bruce made me an mp3 of the accompaniment and I set to work. Shockingly, not only was the voice behaving, it was acting as if hitting That Note was something we did all the time. I was able to hit it before even warming up as if That Note had just been sitting there all along and was just waiting for me to pick it up. I made a HUGE announcement on Facebook that I was going to sing it so I had external accountability (because I have NO problem letting myself down – letting my friends down is a different story entirely).

The day of auditions nerves began to settle in. I kept running outside to attempt to hit it just once more to make sure I had it.” All told, I must have sung the song in the parking lot of Lakewood Playhouse about 15 times. 15 times!

I went into the audition and put on my best Confident face. After explaining the pace of the song to the accompanist, I began.

And I nailed That Note!

My hands were shaking. The director (knowing me from a previous show) was puzzled at what had just happened.

“Aren’t you a mezzo?”

“Yes, sir.”

“That was decidedly NOT mezzo.”

“Yes, sir.”

And then I left the room.

I was gathering my belongings when the stage manager came out to inform me I had gotten a callback. How about THAT??

Later in the car with a friend, the realization of what just happened hit me. 30 years. 30 YEARS of being afraid of something that took about 1.5 seconds. 30 years of terror for THAT? I burst out giggling and then crying. She must have thought I had completely lost my mind.

30 years of fear and I had conquered it.

And I get to do it two more times. Bring It, Note, You don’t scare me.

Not anymore.