16 November, 2014

The Sound of Music: NEVER FORGET.

Allow me to tell you about the one singular attended performance that I will never forget.



                            . . . ready . . . ?



                                                                   . . . really?


. . . Cuz I don't think you are.



[WARNING: I’m offering this answer in numerical points to prevent you from having a stroke whilst reading.]

PICTURE IT:

1. In Seventh grade.

I went along to a

2.  middle school production

of

3. The Sound of Music

at

4. Hillel Day School

because

5. my friend Shira (yes, really), 

from

6. ballet class

was playing

7. Max Detweiller…

And Five seconds after the curtain went up I realized the entire production was…

8.    …in Hebrew.

It was also happened to be

9. Groundhog Day.





 . . . Scene.



22 October, 2014

The Cat

There are some things we just cannot explain.


It was now late October, and (despite the slow passing of each unbearable day), unseasonably warm for Michigan. The trees (which should have been mostly bare), were a glittering amber aglow in the humming street lights, made all the more lustrous by the deep cobalt blue of the sky behind them, like pieces in a velvet jewel box. There was a knowledge we could feel in our skin that the dew would be heavy in the morning.

Kent and I were on The Walk. Silent and solemn, we strolled hand-in-hand along the curves and reaches of Fairway Drive, taking in the oddness of warmth in the evening sky, the strange intensity of the colors, and an unshakeable feeling that something was happening. There was mystery in the air—we could feel it on our cheeks as the humid breezes lightly gusted. We could smell it like a spice, and could faintly taste in the back of our throats. Uncertainty hung.  And we were alone.

    —I am going to openly admit here that I do not, nor have I ever possessed a particular faith. Prior to that evening, I had never given significant thought to, what we’ll just call, the world beyond—

Kent and I walked on, blanketing ourselves from the evening. Without discussing it Kent began to sing—quiet and low, light but solid. His voice was distinctive, it cut through the dark as I linked on to the song, my own voice dancing on top and then below, weaving in he harmony that was our specialty.

—Things I did have in place:
I believed everything happened for a reason.
I believed that forces, invisible and unnamable were at work in the universe.
I knew that my mother was raised Catholic, my father’s family supper-club Jews (which I supposed made me a “Cashew”??) raised in a largely secular home.
I had gone to Jewish pre-school (and kindergarten!)
I had played Golde in Fiddler on the Roof in High School and was deeply excellent.
I had read Macbeth, and I knew not to fuck with the ouija board—

All at once there was a gust so strong I buried my face in Kent’s chest. He wrapped his arms around me, hands clutching along my back, his own face shielded from the wind within the mass of my hair.


—I believed in good and evil.
I accepted that good and evil was just how the world worked.
I was afraid of unknowns.
There was no one to pray to, there was no structured religion to comfort me, but an inner self-reliant religion of the spirit—

When we looked up, there it was, plain as day.
The cat before us was a silent ginger thing: collarless, and almost impossibly orange with white markings on his face, paws, and a bright white front as if he were wearing a formal dress shirt. He—for you could just sense that it was a he—sat looking upward, paws together, his tail curled perfectly around his feet. One could not deny—no matter how many times you blinked or shook your head—that he was smiling.

Kent and I stared in silence. We looked at the cat. Then at one another. Is this happening? our expressions whispered. My heart twisted in my chest thrusting blood through my entire body but not, for whatever reason, to my brain, which still could not fully comprehend the nature of the creature before us.

Kent crouched down and reached his hand out toward the cat. Psssst psst pssssst, he cooed, rubbing his fingers together, beckoning. The cat walked in a grand circle, making the dramatic entrance of a great actor perfectly catching his light, and approaching, he nuzzled lovingly into Kent’s outstretched hand. Kent smiled. He nuzzled back, scratching under his ginger jowls much to both of their pleasures.

Soon the cat caught my eye and stopped. What? No nuzzling from you? his expression said. I hesitated, but leaned down and stroked the cat along the length of his back. He responded differently to my touch, twisting thoughtfully and placing his head in the crook of my elbow, as if he were doing so with great, overwhelming feeling. It was so intense a gesture that it startled me. I stood, and seemingly having satisfied the cat's needs, quickly backed away and turned toward home. My feet carried me swiftly, practically running from the encounter, Kent rushed up behind me, taking my hand as we moved through the darkness. 

All at once Kent’s clutch grew tight. He stopped dead in his tracks. “Al…” he whispered looking beyond my shoulder. I turned.

It was the cat.
—In the same smiling, perfect position.
It was following us home.

We opened the door to 1367, eyes locked on the cat. He hesitated only a moment before walking inside.
    “What's going on?” said Mom, sensing something as she came upstairs to the foyer. Catching sight of the cat she stopped dead.
    “Who is this?” she asked.
As if she knew what we all knew.
We all knew.

We made way for the cat—the very real, tangible cat—as he slowly surveyed the entire house, placing his paw contemplatively upon the walls, nuzzling up against the corners, soaking the place in with his oddly human eyes. He thundered downstairs in a too-familiar tempo, then thundered upstairs to peak into the office, the bathroom, my bedroom. Finally, he stood before the entrance of the master bedroom. He stared inward through the door left ajar; absolutely still, not breathing, not twitching, frozen in a kind of resolve.

He entered.
He jumped up onto the bed of Death, circled the side that days ago had been Michael’s, and settled into the spot, head down, eyes closed.
The three of us had followed the cat throughout his house tour—down and up the stairs, and now we lingered in the doorway, agape.
No one made a sound.

    “...Mike?” Kent said—it was as if the word fell out of his mouth without the will of the speaker. But the cat opened his eyes, lifted his head, and stared directly at me.

Suddenly he bolted beneath the bed, struggled with an invisible adversary, screeching, mewing, and without any warning, thundered down the stairs and out the still-open front door, never to be heard from again. Like a comet, one moment vivid and dazzling, the next vanished; away on its own journey through the endless dark unknown.

But these things happen.
They do.
Happen.


*


Nights later, I dreamed: Dad was back, and no one thought it was peculiar or remarkable but me.  I made my way downstairs and a particularly well-fed, healthy-looking Dad was leaving the shower in his favorite green velour bathrobe. I did a double-take, stopping him on the landing with sheer joy.

    “Dad,” I cried, “Oh Dad, you’re back!”
    “Hi Al” he said, smiling hugely, neither confirming nor denying my previous statement, "It's good to see you."
    “Oh yes…” I cannot stare at him hard enough, cannot suck in enough of his smell which is so pungent, and real tears fill my eyes, “Papa, we've all missed you.”
He nodded, and with only the slightest tinge of sadness he gathered his green robe close around him and moved to make his way up the stairs.
    “Wait! Dad!” I said, “The cat.”
I had to know.
He smiled.
    “The cat, Papa. Was—was that…?”

Dad came down a few steps and got as close to me as I could sense he was "allowed."
He laughed a little,
    “Of course” he said, eyes sparkling, “but you knew that" 
I nodded.
    “I knew you’d be afraid of a ghost or an angel, anything like that. I knew you would need to know that you had seen it, touched it.  And I just had to make certain everything was okay.” He  turned to go again.
    “Wait—Papa!” I cried, not wanting him to go just yet, “Please. What’s it like?”
    “Al…” he sighed, “you know I can't answer that.”
I nodded again.

He turned to go again, but stopped himself.  Then, looking down at me looking up to him doused in the soft, warm glow of my dreams he said,
    “It’s everything you hope it is...”

I woke in tears.
Comforted.
Certain of nothing.
Certain only, that we know nothing about the world beyond.


...So why not believe?
    Why not?

Because it happens.
These things do.
Happen. 




  

10 October, 2014

THIS IS NOT A DRILL

17 September, 2014

Ask Al: Just Ask.

Dear Al,

I have a quick professional question. As you know after the New York Showcase I connected with a great manager. We seem to be working loosely together — I'd say he is more "mentoring and helping" me with the transition rather than me being a traditional client. 


I am wondering if it is okay to ask his help with being seen for a specific production? I have every intention for going to the EPA [Actor's Equity open audition], but should I still ask? I am more than anything afraid to step on his toes- more out of ignorance than anything else.

All the best and Thank you,

M


*

Girl I hear you!

These first few years after graduation can be super awkward in regards to how one talks to their representation, etc. Don't feel the need to be overly formal or cautious.
Just ask. Most people are nice, relatively not-crazy people who want to help (unless they truly can't, or are truly BURIED in workwhich happens).

I realize it is scary. It is new. You have to get used to adult life where people don't cater to your needs in the same ways they do in college. But with absolutely zero effort you have the power of choice: do you
A) unravel into a freak-out of nail-biting, high pitched crazy-lady screaming colossal-ness? 
or,
B) ...not.
 
For the most part (unless the request is outrageous) follow this "JUST ASK" format:
1. BE CASUAL BUT PROFESSIONAL
     "Hi Scott this is M" is great.
Versus say,
     "Scooooootty. DUDE, my MAAAAAN..."
Or,
     "Hello Mr. Berowitzensteinenberg this is Madame Michelle McGiver, BFA, of Weeblywoo, Iowandia, inquiring in regards to..."
Or whatever.

2. BE DIRECT
Basicallydon't be SHY, and if you FEEL shy, fake it til you make it. You're an actress.

3. BE SPECIFIC
     "Hi, I'm calling about the tour of 101 Dalmatians: The Musical Extravaganza. I think I'm a good match for the project and was planning to go the EPA but if you could get me an appointment, that would be great. Let me know and thank you so much."
Bazinga!

4. BE BRIEF.
     "This is what I need help withhave a good one, okay bye!"
Done and done.

5. BE SANE.
If you don't get your way, just move on.
Don't take it personally. Don't go nuts. Don't quit the business or move to Guam.
In all of life, but particularly in a tough business, disappointments have to roll off like water off a duck's back.
Move on to the next project, goal-post, or dream.
It's out there for you.

20 August, 2014

Ask Al: Nerves

Dear Al,

Any advice regarding performance nerves? I'm a pretty experienced young performer, but recently the more and more I seem to know about acting, the theatre (and all that can go wrong), my stage fright has really taken control of me. 


Any insight and/or tips to combating nerves would be much appreciated.

Thank you!

A


*

Great question. And a great big one.

Before we talk about techniques to combat nerves, let’s talk about anxiety itself— for often, understanding the science and logic behind a condition is an empowering step to combating it.


First, I want to talk about nerves. Actually talk about it. More accurately, ANXIETY.
Because LOOK: anxiety and fear are real. They are actual things. Anxiety and fear are critical parts of being a human! And we all experience them from time to time. Most people can relate to feeling tense, uncertain, and fearful at the thought of taking a test, going into the hospital, facing an interview, starting a new job, or indeed any unfamiliar life situation.

So first and foremost: NERVES ARE NORMAL. (I personally believe that a few nerves are incredibly healthy, and prove that you care about your work!)

Most of us don’t enjoy feeling uncomfortable or foolish, and in turn, those worries can affect our sleep, appetite and concentration. Sometimes this type of (what is called) “short-term anxiety” can be very useful! For example: feeling a bit nervous before an exam can make you study harder, feel more alert, and overall enhance your performance. However, if anxiety overwhelms you, your performance may likely suffer.

All of this said, “public speaking” (in all its forms) is said to be THE biggest fear reported by American adults.

[*…PAUSE*]

Um. Let’s just take that in for a second:
    that means speaking in public beats fears of flying, sickness, financial ruin, and even death. DEATH, people. Death is number two.

[*ANOTHER SPEECHLESS PAUSE*]

That means people would ACTUALLY rather DIE than perform in public.

Well…I dunno. I personally think that’s super intense. (You may have heard the trope that some people would prefer to be in their own coffins than give a eulogy at a funeral…? Apparently it is statistically accurate.)

AH! SHADOW PUPPET DANGER!

Ever hear of the ‘Fight or Flight' reflex? It’s evolutionarily critical! The “Fight or Flight” reflex can protect you from danger!

Once upon a time, when humans were being, say, mauled in the jungle by hungry tigers on a fairly regular basis, it was SUPER useful for the Fight or Flight reflex to send the body a tsunami of a common hormone called adrenaline! (WOOHOO!)
Adrenalin causes the heart to beat faster to carry blood where it's most needed!
Adrenaline heightens your senses and makes your brain more alert!
Adrenaline tells your body to breathe faster to provide the extra oxygen required for energy!
It makes you sweat to prevent overheating!
It slows your digestive system down to allow more blood to be sent to your muscles so you can either FIGHT that tiger or FLIGHT, aka RUN LIKE HELL to avoid a messy hungry-tiger-death!
YAY ADRENALINE!  
SCIENCE IS AWESOME!

Today when a non-jungle-dwelling human feels under threat, anxiety and fear trigger the release of the same exact tiger-death hormones. Sometimes we need them! This ‘FoF’ response is useful for protecting you against physical dangers; for example, it can help you cope with sudden on-coming traffic, dangerous attackers, fires etc. very quickly.

But sometimes we DON’T—the FoF response can be triggered by nonphysical or even imaginary threats. The response is not so useful if you want to run away from tests, a difficult conversation, an important medical procedure, and of course, any kind of public speaking or performance. Scientifically it stinks even more because, if  you have no need to physically run away or fight, the effects of adrenaline subside more slowly, and you may go on feeling agitated for a very long time.

[PLEASE NOTE: I am obviously not a medical professional, and this exploration of Anxiety is VERY basic—only here to present a backdrop in addressing performance nerves. If you experience Severe Anxiety (where you stay anxious for a very long time and feel powerless and out of control), or even experience what might be a Panic Attack (an exaggeration of the body’s normal response to fear, stress or excitement in the form of a rapid build-up of overwhelming physical sensations) talk to a medical professional ASAP! No need to suffer in silence y'all!]

*

In addition...
FYI: Some people feel more anxious than others.
Juuuust how it is.
That’s life. It’s natural. People are wired differently.
Some people are optimists. Some can’t take anything seriously.
Some have a fear of commitment.
Some are allergic to dogs. Or conflict. Or gluten.
Some people REALLY LOVE NEIL DIAMOND. Some do not.
Whatever.
Don't go labeling yourself as "crazy" because then you'll be anxious AND ashamed, and that's even less fun.

If you worry more than others, it could be for several reasons:
Personality (extremely empathetic, an active imagination, generally pessimistic or fretful, or plagued by a fear of losing control)
Lifestyle (caffeine, excess sugar, poor diet, drug misuse, exhaustion, stress)
Current circumstances (stress, grief, life pressures)
Past or childhood experiences (from learned family behavior to trauma)
—or it could be a combination of any these.

More important than any of the reasons though is your response TO these reasons, and the fact that you are willing to look at fear triggers and address them rather than ignore them is crucial to overcoming anxiety and fear. (Watch ANY hero movie--it’s super scary but it’s crucial).

Okay. Here we go.

*

COPING WITH NERVES

Part 1: Before the Event

1: Be Prepared.
It is essential to always be well prepared and well rehearsed in order to feel confident.
Repeat after me: PREPARATION IS FREEDOM. Now write it backwards on your forehead so you see it every time you look in the mirror.

The less you leave up to chance, and the fewer “unknowns” you have to deal with, the better you are going to feel.
This means the more true preparation you have done on character, place, relationships, actual learning of lines and running of quick changes. The more familiar you are with the theatre (with the actual ins-and-outs of the building itself), where the props are located, the acoustics on the stage, the slipperiness of the floors, the location of all the bathrooms, etc etc etc, the more room you have to “breathe” and “play” inside the actual work.
So make a checklist and then? Check it off.
Props: CHECK!
Quick changes: CHECK!
Warm up: CHECK!
Make-up: CHECK!
Preparation means you have earned the right to feel more relaxed and natural inside the world of the play, and the easier everything will feel.

I promise: PREPARATION IS FREEDOM. Do your homework and 50% of the anxiety flies out the window.

2. Try to get to sleep early.
I’m not saying that nothing useful was ever achieved by the sleep-deprived, but it is statistically proven that human being operate best when they are fully rested. This is a no-brainer.
SET THE STAGE FOR SUCCESS.

3. Eat. 
Good food. Real food. Not too much, not to little.
I mean, at least eat a banana (it will lower that empty/nauseous feeling but won't make you feel too full). 
Don’t be a martyr. Don’t be a rock-star. Don’t be an idiot:
You need fuel. Eat.

4. Visualize success.
Picture everything going right, instead of worrying about everything that can go wrong. Actually do it. Go through the whole day, show, afterglow, etc.
What you focus on becomes your reality!

5. Get some exercise.
Exercise releases tension and gets your endorphins (super feel-good body chemicals) going. Make time for at least 20-30 minutes of exercise on the day of your performance, or at least take a thirty-minute walk. It can help you use some of that adrenaline and channel it for good focus rather than crazy-tiger-death agitation.

6. Avoid caffeine.
Don't have extra caffeine on the day of the performance. You may think that it will make you all awesome and super-human and perform with Ninja-Turtle-like energy, but it will actually dehydrate you and make you even more jittery. Insteeeaaaaad make sure you...

7. Drink Water
Water is LIFE! Adrenalin can cause a dry mouth, which in turn leads to getting tongue-tied. Theatres are usually hot, and more often than not you are working hard and/or wearing Elizabethan get-up (or whatever) and sweating, all of which leads to dehydration. Have water handy and take care not to take large gulps of water.

8. Set a "stop time" for your anxiety.
Try this: on the day of your performance, tell yourself (possibly out loud if your brain will listen more intently) that you are going to allow yourself to be appropriately nervous for a certain amount of time. However, that after a set time—say, 4 PM—anxiety is no longer welcome.
Simply making the promise to yourself will subconsciously make it much more likely to happen.


Part 2: At the Event

9. Create a ritual. 
Come up with a little ritual for the day of your performance. This could be a three-mile jog on the morning of your performance, the same "last meal" before the show, or even reciting a certain phrase or poem, or putting on your lucky socks. Do whatever you have to do to gear yourself toward success! Some people call this “superstition,” but it has actually been proven that positive, repeated behaviors release feel-good chemicals into your bloodstream that tell your body everything is going to be okay, and that you are ready. (Incidentally, one of my personal rituals is repeating the phrase "I am ready" three times. It works. For me.)

10. Get there early.
Showing up early will ensure you feel less rushed and more at peace. I don’t know about you, but I want to make sure I have plenty of time to do all of the above. I want to SEE my props. I want to check all of my costumes and quick changes. I want to go through the tricky lines. I want to warm up, properly, on stage, long before the audience arrives. You are much more likely to feel in control if the building is filling up long after you have completed your “check-list.”

11. Don't "catastrophize."
Remember this:



12. Relax your body.
Easing the tension from your body can help steady your voice and relax your mind. Here are a few things you can do:
    •    Gently hum to steady your voice and mind (—you might scoff at this one but it works. There's a reason chant-like humming is such a vital part of mind-focusing and body relaxing practices such as meditation and yoga.)
    •    Stretch. Stretching your arms, legs, back, and shoulders is another great way to reduce tension.

13. Commit to the "Stress-Free Zone."
Draw a little invisible 'Zen-garden circle' around yourself and commit: "Stress is not welcome here!"


Part 3: During the Event

14. BREATHE.
Breathe: it’s free. It is easier and cheaper than aaaaall the drugs.
Adrenalin causes your breathing to shallow. By deliberately breathing deeply your brain will get the oxygen it needs and the slower pace will trick your body into believing you are calmer.

Count to ten as you breathe in, hold your breath for a count of ten, and breathe out to a count of ten. Keep doing this until you feel calm once more. It works. It is, in fact, the MAIN thing that works. (My advice is to practice when you are calm so you are prepared when you NEED to breathe.)

15. Stop Thinking About Yourself
This isn't about how you look in a costume—this is about your character's life being lived in their own clothing.
This isn't about the perfection of your singing voice—(after you have done all your preparation!) it is about the truth pouring from the heart and soul of your character.

Try to put your nerves aside and think about communicating your story as effectively as possible, and while you are at it remember to...

16. SERVE.
Serve. Serve. Serve. Never forget that this great, great art of ours is a service job. We are SERVING the our character's life story and we must do so to the best of our ability. By serving the story and the character, your priorities fall perfectly into line. Work on truly inhabiting the actions, thoughts, and goals of your character because this isn't about you! This is about the character. Allow the character to use your vessel to tell their story, then get out of your character's way. Remain in tune you are with the character you're portraying, and the more likely you'll be to forget your own personal anxieties.


Part 4: All Else Fails?

17. Medicine.
I am neither an expert or a doctor, but I do know that many people find medication very helpful.
Over the counter.
Behind the counter.
Prescription, homeopathic, Chinese medicine, fairy incantations, magic incantations, shamanism, or whatever—WHO CARES! As long as it works for you!
Mostly, know that there is a lot out there to calm the mind and body.

DO NOT be irresponsible (i.e, DO NOT do anything illegal, don't finish a bottle of single malt, smoke an entire pack of cigarettes, or inhale your little brother's weed stash), but certainly don't be afraid or ashamed to check out your legitimate medical options.

If you ask me (and you are), you have a job to do, and if your chemicals are out of whack, get thee to a doctor and help yourself. That's not "weak," that is taking personal responsibility for your body and mind.

Finally, remember... 



 

12 July, 2014

03 July, 2014

Thirty-One

Thirty-one is...
and,
  • the code for international direct-dial phone calls to the Netherlands. 
Also...

  • In Buddhism, there are believed to be 31 planes of existence
  • There are 31 days in the months of January, March, May, July, August, October and December.
  • In ice hockey 'goalies' often wear the number 31. 
  • Messier object M31, is a magnitude 4.5 galaxy in the constellation Andromeda. It is also known as the Andromeda Galaxy, and is readily visible to the naked eye in a modestly dark sky.
    In music, 31-tone equal temperament is a historically significant tuning system (31 equal temperament)
  • 31 is a London bus route running through Camden Town
And of course,


*

Having spent my 30th in San Francisco onstage at Davies Symphony Hall singing the role of a lifetime, then quickly following it up with a weekend with my amazing family, last year sure does seem hard to out-do...

Oh: but out-do-it I shall.
Why, do you ask?
Because this thirty-one-derful year I am spending my birthday returning to London (a place I have not spent it in five years since birthday number 26). I can't officially tell you why I am here yet (sigh), but rest assured it is for a fabulous, exciting, bucket-list-esque singing-related reason that thrills me to my core.

But beyond a working identity, London is about the origins of my adulthood, and above all, about the friends I made and continue to love here.

It shall be a day of big reunions
Of revisitations with people
and places
     and a chance to truly look at how far I have come...

To quote my younger self,

MAN: I hate birthdays.
Well, no. That's not true.
I don't hate birthdays.
I love birthdays.
There is nothing that gives me greater pleasure than reminding people how glad I am that they were born.
     I hate my birthday.
We know this. (Remember the Nietzsche-an spiral of 24? The way I tried to get a grip at 27? The way I kiiiiinda got that grip at 29?
It's a passage-of-time thing. (I think it is also why I don't like New Year's Eve, and cut flowers for opening night...I dunno...)
I'm working on it. 

Poor little younger Al. (I wish I could give her a squeeze and tell her it all gets so much better, and life gets so much richer and calmer and deeper once she turns 30...) That said, looking at the list of "31s" above, I have to say, this number is on point: this birthday year I feel truly in my prime, as well as centered and thirty-one-derful.

I own who I am.
Fully. Deeply. Truly

Alexandra Silber.
Al.
Woman.
Friend.
Traveler.
Adventurer.
Believer.
Artist.
Actor.
Singer (a hard-won self acceptance title!).
Teacher (the most thoroughly fulfilling aspect of my life thus far).
Writer.
American. 
Story-teller.
Listener.
Forever-learner.
Homebody. 
Taker of photographs.
Maker of kick-ass salads.
Handbag-rummager.
Lover of road trips.
     and crime drama.
     and books.
     and radio. 
     and baseball.
     and carnivals.
     and meteorology.
     and one-on-one talks.
     and vegetables.
     and hand-written correspondence.
     and the ocean.
     and Angela Lansbury.
Aunt.
Daughter.
Human being.

Here's to another year. 




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