15 September, 2016

Mentorship: Modern-day Alchemy

Introduction

Some mentors are easy to spot: they work for the Y, they have an office, a piece of paper that says they’re “allowed” to be looked up to and followed.

Often, they also have a specific connection to a vocation, like the apprenticeship model of ye olden days.  A young up-and-comer with reasonable potential, a fair amount of chutzpah and a spark of fire in the their belly dutifully reports to the workplace of Ebenezer Scrooge to learn a trade (hopefully with more coal and fewer ghosts…)

In modern times we have less and less of these relationships. The internet has become our universal teacher and connect-er— an “apprentice” can learn almost anything from the world wide web— from make-up tutorials and de-husking corn, from tiling your own bathroom to the intricacies of complex computer fixes. We no longer look to others we know— but to helpful, anonymous strangers.

I’m not complaining. I’ve credited YouTube countless times for assisting me in getting shit done (thank you for helping my mom reverse flush her engine core The Internet!)

But what gets lost is palpable— a relationship cherished and nurtured since Ancient Greek times, ingrained deep in the mire of our culture: true mentorship.

And what, truly, is mentorship? Traditionally it is defined as a relationship in which a more experienced or knowledgeable person helps to guide a less knowledgeable or experienced apprentice (sometimes also called a protege—or, in contemporary times even referred to wryly as a “mentee”), so that the master’s knowledge and mastery becomes that of the protege, giving them a launching pad with which to create their own path to individual mastery.

A great mentor knows where to focus attention, how to properly challenge the protege; providing the most productive and meaningful kind of insight. Great mentors provide immediate and realistic feedback on the protege’s work, so they can refine their skills in a streamlined and often, transcendent manner.

But those are all big fancy words.

True mentorship is above all, an interconnection based on Ye Olde Human Interaction; a learning partnership between someone with vast experience and someone who wishes to learn on a deeper level. One in which the tribal elder exceeds the practical role of teacher—that is to say, one who passes on factual information—but goes beyond to the highest reaches of human connection.

In essence: the way one can spot a mentorship is that in its presence, both parties are forever transformed.

*

Tyne and I

I first met Tyne Daly in March of 2010, when I was fortunate enough to be cast as Sophie DePalma in Terrence McNally’s Master Class at The Kennedy Center as part of a festival titled “Nights at the Opera”—a trilogy of McNally plays about McNally’s greatest passion.

A gaggle of beautiful actors were all gathered together in our Nation’s capital, and little did I know that what was to be a period of extraordinary personal change, transformation and adversity, was also a period of the same for everyone in our company, including our leader, Tyne. On day one I learned my first lesson from Tyne:

    “Hey kid: breathe. It’s free.”

The details of that are unimportant, suffice it to say everyone (and I do mean every single person) was going in through it, looking-up-to-see-the-bottom kind of struggles. Heart-broken, grief-stricken, stupefied and God-oh-God: out of town, we all made the choice (lead by our fearless leader Tyne) to come together, rather than isolating ourselves in the hotel rooms of our individual miseries.

The climate of tenderness that surrounded that rehearsal process and run was a kind of an aperture into the deepest recesses of human vulnerability.  It was then I learned my second lesson from Tyne: what does it mean to truly be a leading lady?

    “Two things only: a leader, and a lady.”

We were brave because she helped us to be, and because she encouraged us to be and bring our highest selves to the process, it lead to our greatest work, a Broadway transfer, not to mention  lifelong relationships.

But what happened between Tyne and I specifically was magical— we had a connection in our eyeballs that I lack language to express. We shared something on a deeply spiritual level. And as Sophie learned from Callas, so did Al from Tyne, and all the combinations therein.

The day we meet Sophie DePalma in Terrence McNally’s beautiful play, she has a great deal to prove—to the Julliard faculty. To her classmates. To Bellini. To that hateful ex-boyfriend we know nothing (and everything) about. But the day we meet her, all of that is secondary. That day Sophie has everything to prove to herself. And when I first met Sophie, so did I.

Tyne trusted me enough to bestow upon me the honour of truly playing with me.  Playing in the fencing-master-tossing-a-rapier-at-the-student-who-has-some-potential sense of the word.  She picked up her blade and challenged me with a valiant, open heart and a wry smile. To this day, it was the best match of my life.

She treated me like an equal (on and off stage), and I endeavored to deserve that honor. Her “game” improved mine, and what we alchemically created together is, without exception, my greatest, and most precious creation. We played the kind of “Deep Chess” Lawrence Ferlinghetti talks about in his poem of the same name:
“For you must play deep chess
Like the one deep game sparky won from fisher
And if your unstudied opening is not too brilliant
You must play to win
Not draw”
Her Callas was towering, tender, monstrous, human, vulnerable, honest, and ultimately, incandescentfr. As long as I live, I shall never forget it.

*

Mentorship: Modern-day Alchemy

It is known fact that when we admire people, we become more impressionable to everything they say and do.  We pay a fervent attention, deeper kind of regard, and because our souls are engaged, allowing for a more powerful kind of learning.

After the run of (the aptly titled,) Master Class in Washington, I was at a loss for what to do with my life, more specifically, where to live next. I had spent the last eight years in the United Kingdom, and did not have a base in any American city…

…What did Tyne suggest? Why moving in with her of course. What followed was (yes, as you probably dreamed) a series of Auntie Mame-like tales of absolute joy, friendship and epic learning—a back-and-forth dynamic that fueled us both. An electric spark that only burned brighter as I gazed deeply into her mirror.

Lessons like going for walks:

    “How about we walk from the top of Central Park to the bottom? All we need is the right shoes and the right ATTITUDE. Which, come to think of it, is all we ever need…!”

Lessons like, believing in your own longevity:

    “Long after the world has forgotten so many, I am going to come see you play Cleopatra. Just keep going kid.”

Lessons like:

    - day trips
    - poetry recitations
    - how to make ginger the perfect beer
    - Countless trips to concerts and the theatre (naturally)
    - Poker night
    - Twelfth Night
    - The listening of radio plays
    - Writing
    - Discussions of theatrical greats of yore
    - The moving of my 110-year-old Chickering piano to her New York apartment, where it currently still lives.
    - Tarot card readings

And, when my heart broke recently in the presence of another theatrical life lesson, she offered the following:

    “You are gonna be heartbroken, beaten to death, crushed to a pulp, disappointed and obliterated. But other than that? You’re gonna be okay.”

*

Life is ephemeral. So is the theatre. We cannot hold it in our hands. We all love that which vanishes. The play must end. The company shall disband, life will march on.

And just like the ephemeral theatre, thus is life: our time here on earth for learning and growth is finite. Nowadays we often think it is admirable to “become ourselves” all on our own, to DIY the apprenticeship phase of development and emerge fully formed as if artistry and mastery hatch out of an egg with no visible signs of effort or training.

I encourage you to humble yourself to the apprenticeship process, for without role models, teachers, parental figures and mentors, we can waste valuable time attempting to gain knowledge from unserviceable sources.

Further, be courageous enough to ask for mentorship. There is always a quivering ego involved in asking for help from those we admire, but trust that those with lessons to offer more often than not, truly wish to have the opportunity give back in a meaningful way, they are merely waiting to be invited to do so. Have faith that the process will be mutually beneficial, and remember: no matter what there is nothing to be lost by complimenting a master, and asking for their guidance. 

Above all, while we must always strive to grow beyond those who came before us, we must revere and learn from those that broke the ground originally, and endeavor to honor their legacy; then continue it in our own vision.

*

A Moment


Hours before our first preview on Broadway, Tyne asked me to come down to her dressing room to run our lines together in an "Italianne”— a run of the lines at increased speed. Italiannes are like calisthenic warm-ups for your brain, and with so much talking and nerves high, they are a great tool in moments such as these.

We settled down, placed our bags, zipped our cardigans, and sat down in her room—not yet moved into, not yet her own.

And then, without ceremony, we began.

There was no music. There was no one else. It was just us and the words.

Throughout this experience, I had accustomed myself to criticism—I needed Tyne’s feedback to be a realistic appraisal of who I was as a human being and actor; through that kind of evaluation, we all develop a confidence that is much more tangible.

One might  think that in that dressing room—flourescently lit and unceremoniously dressed—that  this little exercise of the run would be dry, hollow.  But the words were so powerful, and our feelings for those words, and above all, for each other, so unutterably potent, we both directly went ”there."

Tears fell.
Hands were grasped.
It was our own little theatre, our own magic, right there in that sterile little room.

It is in this sacred moment that I realize I have chosen, and been chosen by, the perfect mentor according to my dreams and Life’s mission—the future artist I aspire, endeavor, and dream to become.  The mentor you choose must be allied in the same way.

    "... I want you to imagine you are Amina. This is opera Sophie. You're alone on a great stage. Make us feel what you feel. Show us that truth..."

That's it.
We finished.
There was a silence and in it, we both looked away.

Then she leaned in, held my hand and uttered,

     "I love this. And you."


©clinton brandhagen




13 September, 2016

Ask Al: Lightning Round FAQs! - Part 1

Dearest Readers,

As time goes on I have noted and collected many a FAQ from friends, students, fans and the generally curious. I thought it might call for a new little series of Ask Al called LIGHTNING ROUND! 

[*KAPOW!*]  

Enjoy, and as ever, if you have questions, please feel free to reach out in the comments section or via email!

* * *


1. How long have you been a performer? From where did you get started?
The first performance I ever participated in was a ballet recital. I was a butterfly.
The first play I ever did was in 3rd grade— I played Miss Hannigan in a school production of Annie. You heard me. And yes. There’s a video.


2. Leading male roles you've been dying to play:

Captain Hook. [*achem*]— hand down.


3. Is there anything you strive to actively improve upon as an artist?
I am always striving to be more truthful, and to gain human experiences that can help me serve different kinds of people and characters. I actively search for understanding of people who see and experience the world differently from me in order to expand my capacity to reflect life more realistically and passionately.


4. Have you ever had a character or play (scene) that gave you difficulty? How did you approach it?
I found it very difficult to get inside the head and heart of Julie Jordan (in the last West End revival, and Los Angeles productions) of Carousel. I think, if I’m honest, I judged her with my 21st century sensibilities about what women “should” and “shouldn’t” endure in a relationship and thus kept myself from being open, from having truly exposed and generous empathy. From that place, one cannot connect, and it took me opening my mind before the enormous gifts of what we had in common flooded my heart.

When I got a grip, I realized we had much more in common than we didn't. The only way forward was to throw away my judgments and search for the things that we shared; to view Julie as a teacher.

I learned from Julie all about the nature of my mother’s loss (of my father in 2001 after 30 years together)— what it means to be incredibly principled about love and to lost not only your husband, but the only love you will ever know.

Ultimately, Julie Jordan gave me the greatest gift of all time. It has been a blessing to revisit her a few times, and continue learning.


5. Something about you that surprises people:
I am an introvert.
I am an introvert in the classic sense in that I "recharge my batteries" in solitude rather than in the presence of others. I prefer long days alone, quiet time, and one-on-one conversations to group dynamics, and above all: I require lots and lots of time alone to process life so to better be ready to face the our extrovert-biased world in all my developed going-out-in-public shininess! My out-going self is not an "act" or a lie, it is an element of my personality I often enjoy, it just is slightly against my inner nature.

My introvert claim surprises many people because I have highly developed extrovert behavior: I am friendly, outgoing, warm, good at parties, etc., but it doesn't mean that that behavior is not energetically 'expensive."

There is nothing wrong with Introversion. It is also not the same thing as shyness or aloofness. It is merely as simple as where one derives their energy.

A classic Extroverted (by necessity) Introvert:
"Many introverts realize that they must become experts in personal appearances and self promotion in social settings.  Many of us realize that simply being ourselves won’t cut it all the time. We can’t remain quiet, reserved or autonomous.  We must function by igniting connections with people.  And in order to do that we need to exude the energy and charisma of extroverts.

So while it can indeed be practically helpful to channel our “extroverted selves” in our work lives, friendship circles and family lives every now and then, many of us introverts fail to set healthy boundaries.  If we have not developed enough self-awareness, our extroverted selves can wreak havoc in our inner and outer lives." —
Top tip: if someone claims to be an introvert and you do not perceive them that way, don't say "No you're noooot." It isn't very polite to insinuate that someone doesn't know themselves. Instead, I encourage you to get curious! Perhaps ask something along the lines of "How fascinating! I perceive you as quite extroverted, do tell me more..." Just a little feedback from someone who gets that comment a lot. ;)


6. Can you offer any specific “tip” to being an actress?
Always, always, tell the truth.


07 September, 2016

Zoya's Goodbye

It was moments before dawn.

Shura's eyes blinked wearily. The light from the sky was a dark, heavy blue, scarcely light enough to see the contours of his face. Zoya lay beside her fully clothed, wrapped tightly in a scarf held in place by an unfamiliar fitted overcoat. Propped upon his arm he gazed down upon her, the familiar sad smile spread across his beautiful face.

    “Another trick, my Ochi Chornya,” he whispered, brushing hair from her face and kissing her forehead. He moved to the corner where his packed magician’s trunk was resting upright and taking it up, he moved it across the room and nestled it inside the now vacated wardrobe.

Stepping inside the wardrobe himself Zoya turned toward her. He smiled gazing at her from inside, his eyes flickering. “Now you see him…” His nimble hands tossed her a small purple parcel which she caught and instantly examined. Velvet and tied with a small red ribbon, she swiftly pulled and emptied it’s contents into the palm of her hand. Inside was a card. It read, simply, ‘…now you don’t…’

Confused and bleary, Shura looked up to him for his explanation. But when she glanced upon the wardrobe he, and indeed any trace of him ever having been there, had vanished.  Gathered in sheets she shot up from the bed and searched frantically around the room.  Then she saw it.

There, upon the floor of the starkly empty wardrobe was another card. She stooped to pick it up and read the words scratched in Zoya’s child-like scrawl:

    ‘Farewell, Shura.’

Just like that, he disappeared.



31 August, 2016

I've Been: August 2016

- Writing writing writing...

- Basking in short hair!

- Taking great joy in doing even the littlest of tasks with excellence

- Learning to totally rock Self Care:
  • Allowing people to help and love me
  • Sleeping (like an Olympic Sleep Gold medalist)
  • Introvert-ing (like a pro)
  • Journaling constantly
  • Enjoying Paleo delights (like my homemade Paleo granola whuuuut)
  • Detoxifying my home (welcome Himalayan salt lamps! 

- Still meeeeeelting in the NYC summer heat.

- More health rumbling. Oof.

- Having a blast singing "Oh My Mysterious Lady" with Tony Sheldon for the Transport Group's Peter Pan in Concert

- ...and connecting with some incredible friends

- The camaraderie of the dressing room, combined with the feeling of true belonging after all these years was very powerful. And true. It is possible to be true to yourself in this business and in this world. The Transport Group often reminds me of that.

- Returning to London. Again. Ah beloved home away from home.

- Witnessing my oldest and best friend, Tony-nominee Michael Arden get married.
  • Reading Sonnet 116
  • Dancing the night away
  • The entire "congregation of heathens" wearing matching onesies
  • ...and singing along with Darren Criss (as he plays 90s songs on guitar... in the forrest... everyone singing along...in the onesies...)
  • Doing magical spells in the forest
  • Reuniting with my oldest friends on earth
  • Engaging in not one but three costume changes
  • Alexandras take EUROPE!
  • Seeing glorious Bath 
  • ...with old and new friends
- Deep talks with new friends in foreign cities. The kind you can only have whilst traveling. 

- International Alexandra Sister trip!

- Seeing my lady-pals in Showboat at the New London! I wept!

- ...then grabbing a proper catch-up and feast after the show.

- Writing lots and lots of postcards! It is so wonderful (and easy!) to send simple missives of love and thoughtfulness via good ol' snail mail.

The leading ladies of Showboat

- SEEING HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD IN THE WEST END AT THE PALACE THEATRE AND GASPING AND CLAPPING AND LAUGHING AND WEEPING.

- Going out with the cast of Harry Potter after the show. Fabulous and bizarre. Making some new pals! Reuniting with old ones! (Ah the theatre! The great democratizer of the arts!)

- Being met and flooded with the WEDDING PARTY!! And making a NIGHT of it. (A hostess said in total earnestness "Are you with the group of 'kind of famous' Americans...?" I was. And we were clearly on #BRAND).

My Anatevka Family forever
- Re-connecting with my original Anatevka family for the entire Sunday of August 21st. My heart filled with the kind of comfort and happiness you feel in the presence of family. Next year in the Holy Land...

- Trekking through the grounds of Alexandra Palace after lunch with Bev and Tomm and feeling more at peace than I have all year. True  friends are healing.

- Being bold and reaping the emotional and energetic rewards. Fortune favors the brave.

- Seeing my dearest Pineapple and friend Michael Bernardi fulfill his destiny as Tevye on The Broadway stage (not to mention actually SEE my own show!!)

- Weekending in Bucks County with my friend and Julliard voice teacher and dear friend Doc White.

SO. THAT HAPPENED.
- Planning for the future

- More reading!

- Falling in love with Tzeitel all over again...


Ahhhh August...


27 August, 2016

#ChangeOfPlans from Today Tix

Hello Readers!

Greetings from London, where I just had one heckuva week seeing friends, visiting my favo(u)rite places, restaurants, hot spots, and of course, seeing world-class theatre.

But sometimes we don't always plan ahead, and let's face it: being spontaneous is often part of the fun of a weekend in the big city. Thanks to the great app TodayTix, you can do just that!

TodayTix got me to buy tickets to see all my pals in Showboat in the West End at the very last second I logged in to the app ON A BUS from Bath, a bus with terrible signal along the great British motorway, and despite technical challenges, within 60 seconds I had house seats to Showboat in the West End for 7:30 that night. Hours later, I checked my bags at the New London, walked up to the box office, collected my swanky seats and enjoyed West End theatre at its very finest. So simple and straightforward.

I was such a fan, that TodayTix and I got in touch and now, they have teamed up with my humble little London Still, to not only give me a great night out, but to offer YOU one as well thanks to their #ChangeOfPlans campaign, encouraging you, and everyone, to be spontaneous, get out, and visit the theatre!
 
About TodayTix




Founded by two Broadway producers, TodayTix is the first and only free mobile app for iOS and Android that provides access to the best prices on last-minute theater tickets from more than 40 Broadway and Off-Broadway shows in New York City and more than 40 shows in London’s West End theatre district. Now operating in the world’s two most iconic theater markets, the company plans to move into additional U.S. cities by the end of 2015, including Chicago, D.C. and San Francisco. 

How TodayTix Works

  1. Select your show of choice – from Wicked on Broadway to War Horse in the West End – and purchase tickets directly via the mobile app. Tickets can be purchased in 30 seconds or less! One week to one hour before show time! Wahoo!
  2. Depending on the production, you either meet the TodayTix Concierge agent outside the theater (who will hand deliver your tickets within 30 minutes of the show’s start time) or you just waltz up to the box office and collect your tickets at the theatre’s box office on the same day as the show. Basta! 

It is truly THAT simple and easy.
 
So how can you enjoy the same fantastic night out in London? Simple. 
 
Thanks to TodayTix, we are offering you the chance to win a £50 voucher to see a West End show (sorry readers, London only this time! But perhaps we can team up for other cities in the future!) on them
 
Here is how to enter: 
  1. Follow @TodayTixUK and @alsilbs on Twitter and Instagram.
  2. Compose a tweet tagging @TodayTixUK and @alsilbs, telling us which West End shows you would like to see, then use the hastag #ChangeOfPlans. 
 
It is that simple! The winner will be selected September 2, 2016 and announced on Twitter. 
 
Good luck readers! And I hope you enjoy your night out in Blighty thanks to TodayTix and #ChangeOfPlans!

23 August, 2016

Summer Reads: A List

Knowing you have something good to read before bed,” Vladimir Nabokov wrote, “is among the most pleasurable of sensations.

What's one of the fastest, easiest, most delicious ways to be transported?
Read a stunner of a book.

When I was a a child, I always viewed books as a means of pure, unadulterated escapism—not like It’s-a-twister-head-for-the-storm-cellar escape, but more along the lines of flying out my window into the wider world (or hopping on a magic carpet, or a Eastern European freight train, or stowing away on a pirate ship, or ya know: whatever…)

Combine that sensation with that of summer vacation? Paradise itself. Knowing you’ve got a few fine books tucked away for the nook of a tree, the beach or a patch of green lawn is akin to absolute bliss.

One’s life can get bigger inside a good book. If you don’t have the time or money to go on that summer vacation of dreams, books can take you places! When I walk into a bookstore or a library (my absolute happiest of 'Happy Places'), I am flooded with the sensation that I am at a train station, boating dock, airport— a myriad of vessels just beckoning to carry me away… If you want to travel by book, know that the trains are always leaving the station, one just needs to hop on board.

Books take you further into the glorious mysteries of life than even the very deepest conversations or friendships, for they take you inside minds and hearts of strangers who become friends. For a moment, you not only see the world through the senses of another, you experience the profundity of their feelings as well. The art of being your most generous, visionary self is fed by empathy. I believe the closest we can get is in literature: where we experience the internal, psychological lives of others.

That said, I understand that summer is the last season one wants to sign up to puzzle through a pile of dense academic tomes, and to that end, I have done the legwork for you! Assembled here is a list of perfect summer reading with one goal in mind: worthwhile books that also promise wild entertainment.

Now that’s my kind of summer.

*

1. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
Summer is the perfect time to revisit children’s classics for there is always a day or two when you recall the ever-more-remote joys of “summer vacation,” when finishing a book (not on the “summer reading assignments” list), possibly in a tree, was the only major responsibility we had.

Norton Juster's bored and listless boy Milo is the reluctant protagonist of The Phantom Tollbooth— as much an adult as a children's book.  I'm a sucker for a brilliant pun, a detailed fantasy map, and lovable characters with snappy dialogue, and although I loved the narrative as an adolescent, the tale grows more meaningful as I get older thanks to absolutely genius wordsmithery, deep universal messages, and ya know: nostalgia

For Milo, everything's a bore. When a magical tollbooth mysteriously appears in his room (complete with toll money and snazzy car), he drives through only because he's got nothing better to do…

But on the other side, things are different.
Milo visits the island of Conclusions (you get there by jumping)
Learns all about time from his companion “watchdog” named Tock
Makes noise with The Awful Din
Floats around with the Whether Man
Quells a war between Words and Numbers
…and even embarks on a quest to rescue Rhyme and Reason.

Somewhere along the way, Milo realizes something astonishing: life is far from dull.
In fact, it's exciting beyond his wildest dreams...

A gorgeous phantasmagoric adventure story with a very real heart.


2. The Matisse Stories by AS Byatt
Summer is all about lazy days, vacations, and short jaunts to not-the-city. To that end, it is my favo(u)rite time of year for the unsung hero of literature: the short story. There is nothing better than spending a weekend away and finishing a short story on your brief excursion (that is, incidentally, why I always leave collections of short stories in my guest room— I want my guests to have the joy of a completed story during their visit!)

In my opinion (and the opinion of, like, the known literary universe), there is no living short story writer like A.S. Byatt.:
A.S. Byatt (Antonia Susan Byatt) is internationally known for her novels and short stories. Her novels include the Booker Prize-winning Possession, The Biographer’s Tale and the quartet, The Virgin in the Garden, Still Life, Babel Tower and A Whistling Woman, and her highly acclaimed collections of short stories include Sugar and Other Stories, The Matisse Stories, The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye, Elementals and her most recent book Little Black Book of Stories. A distinguished critic as well as a writer of fiction, A S Byatt was appointed CBE in 1990 and DBE in 1999.

DAME (That’s right!) Byatt writes beautiful novels, but in my mind her short stories are peerless.

The Matisse Stories were brought into my life by the great Lady Chu, my high school British Literature teacher, turned pen-pal, turned life-long friend.  Each of A.S. Byatt's tales is in some way inspired by a painting of Henri Matisse, each is also about the intimate connection between seeing and feeling—about the ways in which a glance we meant to be casual may suddenly call forth the deepest reserves of our being.

If there is one thing to be said about this exquisite trilogy of stories, it is that you can tell that A.S. Byatt herself is a visual artist. Her mastery of color emerges as she describes the slightest details in the most peculiar of scenarios. Byatt also has a glorious insight into the psyche of ageing women, drawing empathetic and deeply human portraits, in this collection, told through the lens of the intensely visual. Powerfully written, fiercely observed, The Matisse Stories is worth every brushstroke.

Byatt is one of my favorite authors, and while I am an avid fan of all her work (but particularly her short stories), this collection is my favorite.

Byatt is an expert at conveying the insecurities of a woman who feels her looks are starting to go (which are really everyone's insecurities) and gets lost in the fantastic tales of her flamboyant hair stylist. Color and texture are important in all the stories and I love how you can see and feel them through her words. Everyone should read at least one Byatt novel or collection; this is a stunning place too start.


3. Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli’s
Another short! Ever since a reviewer said Rovelli’s breezy “tone would give Brian Cox a run for his quarks” I’ve been salivating to devour the just-88 page shock bestseller which began, (briiiiilliantly) as columns in Il Sole 24 Ore, the Italian newspaper. Better yet, they appeared in the paper’s Culture section, eventually outselling Fifty Shades of Grey in Italy (…You heard me.)

It’s not hard to see why: few writers, let alone physicists, capture the beauty of nature and the excitement of its discovery in such clear, rich prose. And once you join the Italian masses? Hold on to your inertia, kids, you’re going on a helluva ride fueled by world-class carbs, espresso, and SCIENCE.

Aimed at “those who know little or nothing of modern science” Rovelli’s Seven Brief Lessons, are nothing like suffering through AP Physics junior year. You breeze through mind-bending topics in physics. Time dilation, black holes, particles existing in multiple places at once (and all are covered in the first 20 pages), it then goes on to examine...ya know, the casual stuff. Stuff like the heat of black holes, the big bang, global warming, gravitational waves, and quantum gravity.

The result is beyond breathtaking, it is downright poetic.


4. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, by Fannie Flagg
During the Great Depression, rural Americans witnessed the steady erosion of their farms, towns, and lives. It is shattering to draw the parallels to today’s worldwide financial crisis, and on the home front, observing how it has affected middle class Americans is chilling.

Trying to read about such experiences is never easy. Attempting to write well about them may be even more challenging. Enter Fannie Flagg—a talented radio personality, television comedienne, film actress, and most recently novelist, general Renaissance woman and Southerner extraordinaire—who gives it a glorious whirl.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café is the story of the town of Whistle Stop, Alabama, and its residents over the course of three generations. Most of the story centers on Ruth Jamison and Idgie Threadgoode, two best friends (and implied lovers) who impacted the lives of everyone in their community. The story is told both in present tense, from the 1920’s – 1940’s, when the events occurred, and in past tense, when Ninny Threadgoode relives those events by retelling them to her friend, Evelyn Crouch, in the 1980’s.

Flagg exhibits that endemically Southern gift for storytelling—spinning tales at the deceptively easy going pace of the rural American grapevine that only seems to grow south of the Mason Dixon Line.
    "Of course, most of the house is all boarded up and falling down now, but when we came down the street, the headlights hit the windows in such a way that, just for a minute, that house looked to me just like it had... some seventy years ago, all lit up and full of fun and noise... I guess, driving by that house and me being so homesick made me go back in my mind... "
While there is a beautiful (slightly watered-down) film version from the early 1990s with gorgeous performances by some of our greatest actresses, it robs one of the joys of Flagg’s distinctive prose stylings, her quirky, feminist humor, and a total poetic individuality stemming from her unusual and fly-in-the-face-of-life personality (in her teens, Flagg wore a wet suit, mask, and flippers in the Miss Alabama swimsuit competition…I think that pretty much sums it up…)

Perfect summer reading for its description of heat, love, scandal, history, wild hunger, and boundary-crossing social politics, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café is an ideal summer companion. It’s exactly the kind of book that will make you feel as though you’ve traveled the world and made dear friends along the way.


5. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Listen up, readers.
I have a Top Ten List of Favo(u)rite Books (which, I hope you have ascertained at this point, is a wide-spread, carefully selected and highly cultivated list).  And, on that Top Ten List, if I had the guts to create a slot that was in some way a “Super Slot—” an unparalleled slot that held within it a superpower; one that could blow the other nine books up into tiny little pieces of book shrapnel in a single bound! ...Well anyway, weak metaphors aside, this book would be it.

As it is, I tend to declare this book’s power thus:

"On my Top Ten List of Favo(u)rite Books, East of Eden takes up the first three slots."

(No blowing-things-up required.)

Am I making myself clear?
This is not hyperbole.
This is fact.
East of Eden is not a joke.
It is, in my opinion, the most important book I have ever read.

DO NOT WATCH THE FILM.
DO NOT WATCH THE TV MINISERIES.
Bypass these perfectly decent attempts at dramatizing something that cannot possibly be dramatized because you might as well be dramatizing the BIBLE (which, let's face it, never really works out either...) and go for what Steinbeck considered to be his masterpiece.
Steinbeck.
America's greatest writer.
Felt this was his MAS-TER-PIECE.
Why are you even still reading my blog?
Why aren't you purchasing it right now?

I religiously re-read East of Eden every four years, and every time I find something completely new within it.

Don't hesitate to read what I consider to be the most important book in the world.


18 August, 2016

'Scientific Romance' by Tim Pratt

If starship travel from our
Earth to some far
star and back again
at velocities approaching the speed
of light made you younger than me
due to the relativistic effects
of time dilation,
I’d show up on your doorstep hoping
you’d developed a thing for older men,
and I’d ask you to show me everything you
learned to pass the time
out there in the endless void
of night.
If we were the sole survivors
of a zombie apocalypse
and you were bitten and transformed
into a walking corpse
I wouldn’t even pick up my
assault shotgun,
I’d just let you take a bite
out of me, because I’d rather be
undead forever
with you
than alive alone
without you.
If I had a time machine, I’d go back
to the days of your youth
to see how you became the someone
I love so much today, and then
I’d return to the moment we first met
just so I could see my own face
when I saw your face
for the first time,
and okay,
I’d probably travel to the time
when we were a young couple
and try to get a three-way
going. I never understood
why more time travelers don’t do
that sort of thing.
If the alien invaders come
and hover in stern judgment
over our cities, trying to decide
whether to invite us to the Galactic
Federation of Confederated
Galaxies or if instead
a little genocide is called for,
I think our love could be a powerful
argument for the continued preservation
of humanity in general, or at least,
of you and me
in particular.
If we were captives together
in an alien zoo, I’d try to make
the best of it, cultivate a streak
of xeno-exhibitionism,
waggle my eyebrows, and make jokes
about breeding in captivity.
If I became lost in
the multiverse, exploring
infinite parallel dimensions, my
only criterion for settling
down somewhere would be
whether or not I could find you:
and once I did, I’d stay there even
if it was a world ruled by giant spider-
priests, or one where killer
robots won the Civil War, or even
a world where sandwiches
were never invented, because
you’d make it the best
of all possible worlds anyway,
and plus
we could get rich
off inventing sandwiches.
If the Singularity comes
and we upload our minds into a vast
computer simulation of near-infinite
complexity and perfect resolution,
and become capable of experiencing any
fantasy, exploring worlds bound only
by our enhanced imaginations,
I’d still spend at least 10^21 processing
cycles a month just sitting
on a virtual couch with you,
watching virtual TV,
eating virtual fajitas,
holding virtual hands,
and wishing
for the real thing.

Zombie love. © Patri Balanovsky

16 August, 2016

Tzeitel Tzeremony

I am going on vacation this week from my beloved Fiddler on the Roof, and in my absence, the lovely Tess Primack and Jennifer Zetlan (not only talented colleague but friends!) will be stepping into the wedding dress.

I wanted to give them a special "bridal shower" to pass the torch for their week of shows.

After all, how could I not offer them the (achem) traditional
     Something Old
          Something New
               Something Borrowed
                    and
                        Something Blue?

Below is the "Tzeitel Tzeremony."

Enjoy!
From Broadway World:

"Based on the treasured writings of Sholem Aleichem, the classic Joseph Stein, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick musical FIDDLER ON THE ROOF is a show that celebrates traditions as well as celebrates the need to change them now and then. As Tevye and Golde's oldest daughter, Tzeitel, in the hit Broadway revival, Alexander Silber is the first to challenge her community's tradition of arranged marriages. She also may be the first Tzeitel to make an event out of handing the role over to her two understudies while she takes a vacation. Watch the fun as Silber engages Tess Primack and Jennifer Zetlan in the 'Tzeitel Tzeremony.'" 

11 August, 2016

'Secrets of Adulthood' - Part 3

11. Emotions are not a choice. Behavior is.
     People ask me really smart questions all the time.
Questions like:
    “How do you deal with being afraid of failure?
or
    “How do you not worry about being rejected?
or
    “What if you get really really really out of control sad and you lose your mind not on stage where you might win a Tony, but, say, at the bank where you might get escorted away by security?
or
    “How do you not lose your mind screaming at really ignorant/ meany-pants/ stupid/ entitled people that all want a piece of you?

I’m aware that this is a fairly irritating answer but: I deal with fear, worry, sadness and anger by actually dealing with fear, worry, sadness and anger. Most of us (those that aren’t very psychologically ill) feel the same feelings everyone else does; thus we must try our darnedest not to identify as the emotions, but to accept, incorporate, learn what we can, and move forward in the face of those Big Feels.

In short: we can’t always chose what we feel, we can chose our actions in the face of those feelings.


12.  “Comparison is the thief of joy” — Theodore Roosevelt
     Our 26th President was more than a great orator, explorer, soldier, and environmentalist… he was also so correct about comparison. And being brave.
He also had a very fetching moustache.


13. DONE is better than PERFECT.
     Just do the thing.
Finish it.
Press send.
Print.
It will never be perfect.


14. Prioritize your health. Take it seriously.

     There are two things in life we do not respect and appreciate until they are no longer with us— money and health. When you have money, you don’t think about its absence. But when you don’t: Whoa Nellie. There is no teacher white like an empty pocket.

Same holds true for our health. One day you are in your teens and twenties, hot and a little clueless, frolicking around the world like you own the place, filing your liver with vodka tonics and ice cream like there’s no tomorrow because let's face it: There isn't! You are young! You are sooo healthy! I mean, you will be once you karate-chop the crap out of this hangover but come on: you can still see your abs so who needs that stupid BS called “Health Insurance?!” That shit is for old people and SUCKAAAAS...

Then one day? You’re a mess. (Truuuuussst meeee...) You’re wake up one day and you are on the phone with some totally unsympathetic healthcare “provider” named Linda who doesn’t give a f*** that you missed the Obamacare deadline and just got kicked off your parent’s plan and— What? how much is that medication I suddenly need to take for the rest of my life? Uhhhh right. Whoops. Maybe I should have taken better care of myself. Run a few more laps and lived a few less days fueled by coffee and enthusiasm

You hear me?

Reader, we get one ride and one vehicle, so taking care of your ONLY SWEET-ASS RIDE ON PLANET EARTH EVER is not only a freakin’ miracle, but your highest responsibility.

     Feed your body good and real food.
     Give it long and decent sleep.
     Hot, safe, (hopefully at least vaguely) meaningful sex.
     Give it fun and life-affirming exercise.
     Say nice things to it.
     Dress it the heck up.

Take charge of your health and happiness, and you'll lower your stress, become more productive, and have more energy.

Other people will doubtless benefit from your "me time," too. Prioritize spiritual resilience and do things that truly nourish you mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, and you'll bring greater patience and a more positive attitude to every aspect of your life including your relationships. You cannot help but become a better parent, spouse, team player and general citizen of the world.


and, to conclude, one of my favorites:


15. Courtesy costs nothing.
Thank you Anthony Andrews for one of the first lessons of my career. I will never forget Anthony's final performance as Count Fosco in The Woman in White in London. Anthony filled our Palace Theatre lobby with delicacies, beverages, music and decorations, and invited every single person who worked in the theatre from our leading lady to the people that worked the box office and cleaned the bathrooms. When I asked him how on earth he could even consider being so incredibly generous, his reply was a calm and heartfelt "My darling, courtesy costs nothing..."

...And wow is he right. The best things in life are free. Even if you don't have pockets full of money, a smile, a thank you, and pleasantry, is a gift you can give every day.

31 July, 2016

I've Been: June-July 2016

Ahhh The Hamptons...
- Performing on the Tony Awards. Dreams comes true.

- Indulging in adult learning thanks to The Great Courses on Audible.com

- Exploring NYC

- Weekending in The Hamptons. Casual

- Visiting with beloved old friends

- Reveling in the magic of my new (and scarcely plausible) two-book-deal from Pegasus Books.

- Dreaming of a possible life in the country...

- Meeeeelting in the NYC summer heat

- Turning 33


- Eating more watermelon than should be legal 

- Sharing and collaborating in art with people that matter to me

- Celebrating the courage and genius of my new but soulmate-of-a-friend friend Megan Kane...

- Switching from iced coffee to iced green tea. Yum!

At Google with Melanie Moore
- Standing on top of New York City at the Google building with baby sister Melanie Moore...

- Singing

-  Walking walking walking
 
- Reading more than ever (It’s only July and this year I’ve already read about 140 books—Lordy loo, and thank you Audible!) Some faves:
 - Having dinner between our Broadway shows with two of my childhood acting idols Peter Scolari and Judy Kaye. (If you had told my 16-year-old self that one day they would be beloved friends and colleagues, I never would have believed you...) 

- Giving authentic interviews that with incredible journalists. Interviews can often be a little silly, often very fun, but these have actually reflected who I am inside, and it means the world to me:

- Mentoring

- Rumbling with my health. (Really rumbling.)

- Celebrating one year of being "Tevye's Daughters!"

- Treating the "difficult" people in my life as teachers

- Loving Tatiana more every day

- Re-evaluating ev-er-y-thing...

- Basking in the glory of S U M M E R ...

Summer. Word.







27 July, 2016

The Passage of Time

Time, it seems, has a funny way of imprinting itself on your memories.

Time, it seems, has a funny way of imprinting itself on your memories. The grey land of Nerchinsk, with its worn roads, its forests, fences, and horizons laced with countless metallurgical operations—all of it had altered.

Or perhaps it hadn’t.
 Perhaps it was merely their perception, altered.

The sky, once leaden was now a luminescent blue—heavy as eyelids fighting sleep. Clouds of smoke came belching up from little chimneys in great billows, where once there had been only threads, fading into night. The already stark landscape of the taiga with its muddy hills and lonely trees, obliterated into swamp and shrub and an undergrowth of rubble. The barrack sheds and village shacks once only smudges of blackened wood, now betrayed faded shocks of color—window shutters, painted doors and makeshift murals. Silence had been pumiced by sounds of picks and carts and heavy hammers, creaking gates, cows and chickens, silverware and screeches. Above all, the wailing whistle as the train approached from the parallel tracks of the ever-growing Great Railway.

Eastern winds that once wafted smells from deepest Asia, now blew only minerals from the ever-expanding mines: the sour sickness of sulfur, the sharpness of silver, and the harshly cleansing scorch of salt that burned the nostrils as you searched to define it further.

Not to be forgotten, was all of them—memories, shadows and friends alike. They had been rubbed down, they lay worn and raw like scraps of glass washed up upon the shores by the frigid waters of the Nercha. One could see what could never have been seen before: that Nerchinsk indeed held good men, and dark ones, and those so torn apart by madness they scarcely knew themselves. Time leached all that was impure from the companions until all that remained was the world-weariness, the churlish tempers, and the intricate psychological scaffoldings, which could not be kept up or down under the pummeling of Siberian days.

It was these little things.
Nothing can compare to the first moments one realizes that time has more than simply “passed,”
     but indeed, that things are older.
And they were.
Older.
Days passed and grew to weeks, weeks grew to months, which succeeded each other one after the other, and swiftly grew to years.

They were nearer to ash, to dust, to eternity, than they have ever been before.

06 July, 2016

Interview for AOL Build Series

A wonderful afternoon at the AOL Building with @BroadwayGirlNYC, Laura Heywood. 

 "Grammy Award® nominee Alexandra Silber (currently starring as Tzeitel in "Fiddler on the Roof" on Broadway) stars in this intimate musical, "Arlington," which focuses on a young Army wife trying to keep herself from a nervous breakdown as her husband fights overseas.

For full schedule and more videos go to http://aol.com/build"

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