24 June, 2016

The Convict's Wife

Mikhail gazed upon his wife from across the room.

Shura’s assignments often varied according to the wants of the camp. She would attend the hospital ward one day, work the kitchens the next, as many of the wives did. She would cook in vast quantities, clean endlessly. She swept, organized rations, and maintained as reasonable a level of sanitation as possible, often to no avail.

But just now Mikhail caught a flash of the girl he had first encountered. He smiled to himself. How they had kept their guards up! Never had Mikhail felt so strongly for a woman, and it had frightened him.

So many men had encountered her and been intimidated by her passions, by the strength of her will and shrewdness of her mind. She clearly expected him to be the same. Shura was proud and vain, often contrary; but despite her limited knowledge of the world, there burned a flame within her of a kind of universal wisdom.
He was captivated.

In her presence he felt free to not simply recant and debate the academics of his ideals, but to open up his heart and release his overwhelming passion for them. He had been teacher to her little sisters, but truly he learned from her.

Mikhail had known women, oh yes, but here was another kind of creature altogether. She would ask illuminating questions, challenge him with a fire that would ignite him. It was intoxicating. It was real. Once he felt what it meant to love as he knew to love Shura, he was incapable of anything else.


Shura made him feel, even at the height of their arguments, almost indescribably understood. When Shura threw her eyes upon the world she saw what he saw, and he, in turn, shared her visions too.

It was not political. It was human. Their intimacy felt familiar from the very first moment. They would wake, and, despite their bleak surroundings, would wake happy and warm. They spoke of a future filled with fruit trees.  They touched each other’s hands, enfolded in each others' company. Then, they would pour over the newspapers and wonder what their friends were doing now. We shall change the world, they vowed, and we shall do it together. There were no more games, no proud veneers, no wonderings or hesitations. They were clear.

His love for her was a reverence, not a worship.
It was a joy received from her very existence.

    “You taste sweet,” he whispered that evening as he came up for air after making love to her. They were buried beneath a collection of woolen blankets in the dead of the night, silver moonlight reflecting off now thawing river and falling through the threadbare curtains.

Mikhail didn’t cling to, clutch or embrace her. He held her—her long, radiant hair, her crowning beauty, surrounded them in a perfumed blanket. He caught its fragrance and was breathless.

They were in this, together, for a long time to come.


17 June, 2016

Day-off Rituals: a List

1. Tea with my [*adorable*] teapot
You know that thing you experience every once in a while where you see a belonging a friend possesses and you quickly become Gollum-level-obssessed with owning it too? You get all “myyyy preeeecioooousssss’ about it and MUST own the thing or you will surely turn into a shriveled up old Hobbit? Yeah. That is exactly how I felt about Lara Pulver’s teapot when I stayed with her in London last September. I saw that she owned, used and loved a perfect PERFECT little teapot and basically I TURNED INTO SMEAGAL. Frankly, I’m surprised I didn’t put it in my luggage but I resisted and simply did the next best thing: I turned it upside down, wrote down all the information, and bought my very own that I now covet beyond all reckoning. I adore both it and the tea it makes.

I use it every morning, but on days off I am able to indulge in it even more.


2. Walking without “purpose”
Nothing clears my head, organized my thoughts, and fills my lungs with goodness better than walking. What began as a family tradition (going on “The Walk” —walking from our front yard, up the hill to Cranbrook Road, around the bend and back again on the border of Birmingham and Beverly Hills, Michigan), is now a way of life. I live in New York City now, which offers better city-walking than almost any other place on earth, but I don’t discriminate—take to the streets and the mind will clear, calm and steady itself. Rain or shine.

Sometimes I walk to music, more often these days to podcasts or audiobooks, sometimes to silence, or simply making myself available to the sounds of the streets themselves.

And there is no time to enjoy walking more than when there is no time table to keep— one can utterly trust their instincts, follow their gut wherever they wish to go, and allow fate to blow you where you “need” to go.

Afterall, I live in New York City! There is always something to take in. But you don't have to live in the city that never sleep to find an adventure. 


3.  Reading
Reading for leisure is a true luxury nowadays, and while I enjoy an audiobook like you cannot believe, there is nothing that can compare to holding a real book in your hands—its weight, feeling each paper page between your fingertips, and the joy of a margin note or the carnal love of the crack of a book’s spine.

So, for a couple hours every day off, I’ll just be over here snuggled up with my cat, reading Anna Karenina, thanks.Speaking of which...


4. Snuggling with Tatiana
...Who wouldn't want to snuggle up with THIS GOOSE?!


5. Calling / connecting with / touching base with close friends
I try to have a meaningful interaction with at least one person on my “apocalypse list.” It doesn't have to be long or particularly meaningful, just a little "Hello, I'm glad you are in the world."

It keeps me grounded and in touch with what matters.


6. Cooking
I like to cook the majority of my own meals, and when you are on an 8-shows-a-week schedule, cooking for yourself can be a real humdinger. Luckily I have a SYSTEM!

The first part of said system is buying a bunch of delicious organic meats and vegetables and things in bulk about twice a year, bagging them up with labels and putting them in my freezer.

Second, on my days off I look ahead at the week to come and pull out a few bags of frozen delights, combine them with a few recently purchased goodies and do a great big cookout (because it takes the same amount of time to cook one chicken breast as it does to cook seven…)

It’s also a great way to relax, invest in your health and well-being, and to listen to lovely music or a good book, all while making magic in my lovely kitchen. Then Ta-DAAA! A week’s worth of delights are ready to go!


7. Writing
Nothing brings me greater creative joy than engaging in creative writing.
Here are a few of my favorites:

14 June, 2016

Things I've Broken - A List

- Countless glasses
-    and Plates
-    and Mugs
- …a fast
- Concentration
- Some promises

- In, shoes
- I’ve taken a break
- I’ve seen dawn break
- I’ve broken
-    “Through”
-    “Down”
-    and “Out” … all countless times

- My middle finger
- My front door
- The hearts of a few

The Magic Garden, Philadelphia



04 May, 2016

'Secrets of Adulthood' - Part 2

6. Use 100% of what you have TODAY.

In The Four Agreements, Miguel Ruiz tells us to “always do y/our best.”

“Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.”


7. You can’t change anyone other than yourself
Ever.


8. THERE are no victims, only volunteers.

You have to be okay with not being a victim. There are a lot of benefits to never getting your shit together and feeling sorry for yourself and your lot into infinity.

First of all, you get to be right all the time because ‘poor you.’ Next, you get heaps of attention. Then, add a heaping scoop or two of never having to take any risks because you’re such a sad sack, plus ignoring the sometimes super-annoying responsibility of truly dealing with your own life. What a drag. Maybe being a victim and ignoring reality, having your friends pay for lunch, and your parents do your laundry ’til you’re 40 is just like, ya know: better.

I jest of course, but these benefits aren’t really all that laughable— many people set up camp inside these benefits for weeks, months, decades at a time because, frankly, it is nice to not ever pay for lunch— not to mention taking responsibility for your existence is really hard work! Victim benefits aside, there are even more positive results if one chooses the other route. Acknowledge that you are benefiting from the victim mentality, reject its rogue benefits, and move forward like a grown-ass person.

Remember: it is not about what happens to you, but what you choose to DO WITH what happens to you that truly defines who you are.

So what are the alternatives?
I recommend
     radical self awareness
     tons of gratitude
     outward-focused goals and concerns
     and a life full of forgiveness.


Which brings me to:


9. Forgiveness sets YOU free

    “When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.” —Catherine Ponder

It’s easy to get wrapped up in thinking that forgiveness is just about something you “should do.”
But forgiving is a gift you gift yourself.

An ‘unforgiveness’ lingers like a nasty wound—you are linked to the Unforgiven; your thoughts will return to the person who wronged you over and over again. The emotional link between the two of you is so potent, and continues to inflict suffering in you and (as a result of your inner turmoil) most often, in other people around you too.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu says:
"To forgive is not just to be altruistic.  It is the best form if self-interest.  It is also a process that does not exclude hatred and anger.  These emotions are all part of being human.  You should never hate yourself for hating others who do terrible things:  The depth of your love is shown by the extent of your anger.
However, when I talk of forgiveness, I mean the belief that you can come out the other side a better person.  A better person than one being consumed by anger and hatred.  Remaining in that state locks you in a state of victimhood, making you almost dependent on the perpetrator.  If you can find it in yourself to forgive, then you are no longer chained to the perpetrator.  You can move on, and you can even help the perpetrator to become a better person, too.”

When you forgive you do not only release the other person, you set yourself free too from agony; it is not forgetting, or dismissing accountability, or condoning a hurtful act; it’s the process of taking back our lives so we can move forward and truly live. 


10. Don’t wash wool.
Just … just trust me.

03 May, 2016

May 3, 2016

This morning I celebrated the Fiddler on the Roof Tony Award nominations with my students at Pace School of Performing Arts.

What a joy.

I could not be more honored or feel more privileged to be ANY part of the Broadway community—to recognize the present, and all it offers in this incredibly landmark season.

But what will always linger in my memory for years to come...?

The simple fact that it was actually a greater joy to be in the presence of the future of our art form, hard at work with them on a day we didn't even officially have class. 

On this "study day" we all agreed to meet anyway—that is how driven we all were to grow together... 

Sometimes people lament the future of "The Industry," but I have peered into the time capsule of the future, and let me tell you: if my babies in that room today are any indication?

The future is bright indeed.


02 May, 2016

In My Life: The Original "Babies"

My original babies (my "Origies") are Seniors in college.
As of today they are out in the big bad world as real-life human actors and people-to-be.

I love them I love them I love them.
And I'm so proud to have been any part of their journey.


Pace University Musical Theatre Class of 2016
New York, NY
©2013
 

18 April, 2016

from 'In the Shadows,' Sonnet 1 by David Gray

If it must be if it must be O God!
     That I die young and make no further moans 
That underneath the unrespective sod 
     In unescutcheoned privacy my bones 
Shall crumble soon then give me strength to bear 
     The last convulsive throe of too sweet breath!
tremble from the edge of life to dare 
     The dark and fatal leap having no faith 
No glorious yearning for the Apocalypse 
     But like a child that in the night time cries 
For light I cry forgetting the eclipse 
     Of knowledge and our human destinies 
O peevish and uncertain soul! obey 
The law of life in patience till the Day.

© hula seventy

12 March, 2016

Ask Al: Keep it Up!

Hey Al,

I was the 'Tzeitel' that emailed you a while back. I had a really hard time getting the tempo right on my 'Matchmaker' solo. My director decided to give half of it to Shprintze about three weeks ago and now on opening night she is trying to give her the rest of it... What do you do when you struggle with a song so much? How do you handle knowing that you are disappointing your director on opening night? I just worry about being able to do this as a career if my first time as a lead role is ruined.

Thank you, 

Tabitha

 *

Dearest Tabitha,

Hey girl. Well you know what? Ouch. No way around it: that legitimately stinks. You are allowed—I give you a hall pass AND a permission slip to be sad and hurt about this. It is a painful, icky thing that you will have to endure and get through. But you WILL. Because you are a person of character and dignity and you are going to choose to use this experience to grow, rather than to wilt!
Right? OF COURSE RIGHT!

But how? I know I know, that part is hard.
Your ego has taken a beating and you don't know how to proceed.
Never fear, AlSilbs is here.

1. HELP IS ON THE WAY! 
The good news is – you reached out for help and look! You’re getting some! Asking for guidance from a select handful of people you trust is not weak or “silly—“ it is responsible and brave.

My father always told me that the surest path to ignorance was PRETENDING to know— by asking, sure you risk not looking like an expert for 3 seconds, but then, when the question is answered? YOU ACTUALLY KNOW THE ANSWER. Don’t go polling every acquaintance’s grandmother, or random sage on the subway, but have confidence that asking appropriate people for advice, guidance, and assistance is part of being a responsible adult human who has a modicum of self respect.

As I’ve told you before: JUST ASK. And you did— good job.


 2. Career-Scmha-reer 
You are probably writing to me because of an interest in theatre. Luckily this part of me was encouraged in my childhood and teens (by mega-supportive parents and mentors and teachers extraordinaire – thank you Nina Machus, Ailie Crockford, David Montee, Robin Ellis, and many many others) and eventually, through a lot of innate ability, skill-honing, research, countless hours of passionate hard work, and a Universe-smashing moment of good fortune in my final year of college, it became a career.

Many MANY others are not so lucky.

But this does not make them less valuable human beings, or less worthy of doing what they love, somewhere, somehow.

Our society has a LOT of MYTHS about creativity and what is and is not “legitimate” and “good enough.” (In fact, Elizabeth Gilbert has written an entire (amazing) book about this subject that you should go buy and read right now). But here's the gist: whether you consider yourself an “artist," a definite "NON-artist," or anything in between—feeding your creative hungers is one of the PRIMARY concerns of our basic humanity thankyouverymuch and it doesn’t matter one solid scrap whether it is the label on your tax return.

If you ask me (and you are), I am a huge believer in, and supporter of, the concept of The LIFE LONG ARTIST. Tabitha? If you don’t become a professional actor, if no one EVER pays you to act, that DOES NOT MEAN YOU ARE NOT AN ACTOR, nor does it mean that you have no value on planet earth. You are still a valuable and a creative human being with lots to offer this  planet of ours.


3. Keep creating. 
Our society is filled with horrible stories of little kids being told by their mean teacher that they sky is BLUE not purple, and their drawing of the Mantigriffopottamus is TERRIBLE—cue the the mournful John Williams soundtrack as the camera zooms in upon that child’s devastated face, indicating that that child is currently vowing never to draw or create a single “weird” or “terrible” thing EVER. AGAIN.

Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up” – Pablo Picasso 

We all have some kind of story like this. My 8th grade Art teacher told me I wasn’t allowed to do the 'special' art projects/be good at visual art because I “had my singing and my theatre stuff” and that was what I had a right to enjoy and be good at in life ONLY.
Right.
Cool.
Thanks Mrs. Whateveryournamewas.
Ya now, she was probably a very ordinary and perfectly nice lady with her own very real baggage about being an 8th grade art teacher and not a [Insert Thing Mrs. Whatever Thought Was Better HERE]. But she shamed me really thoroughly, and I
     1. Never forgot it
and
     2. Pretty much never legitimately picked up a pen to draw anything in earnest ever again.

Expression of creativity is key to living a contented, passionate, life. You don’t have to have “ARTIST” listed on your tax return to give yourself permission to play the tuba in your living room. Heck: you don’t even have to be ‘GOOD’ at what you love. You simply have to love it. AND? Do it. That’s the biggest key: to just DO. Create.
Make things!
Bake those gluten free cupcakes!
Counter-cross stitch the face of President Garfield!
Blow Gabriel Blow’ that trumpet in your weekend Indie band!
Whatever.
Do something creative in your own way, EVERY. DAY. SUCK at it—suck RULL HARD. Who CARES? What? Are the Creativity Police gonna come and drag you away to Suck-at-Drawing-A-Traz? The point is to to give yourself permission to enjoy the basic human RIGHT of creative flow.

Love your art, take pleasure in getting better at it every time you practice, and ultimately, have fun with it. You can be the best gosh darn [Enter Kick Ass Adult Role Here] EVER, and do plays in your living room, or sing in the garage, or write poems no one ever reads, or teach little kids, or KILL IT as Ado Annie in community theater and LIVE YOUR BEST LIFE. As I’ve said before, success is not about what you do, it is how you FEEL about what you do.


4. “KEEP IT UP”
AKA, Keep your frequency high.

“Keep it UP” is a phrase (and little hand gesture thingy where your hands flutter up toward your face) gifted to me by the great Billy Porter: Tony, Drama Desk, Grammy Award winning actor, musician, artist, and general artistic warrior extraordinaire. This man knows ALL about trying and failing, and trying again. After Carnegie Mellon, Billy spent years (years) making art, writing, teaching, and being generally misunderstood by the industry, rejected over and over again, and then one day? Boom. Kinky Boots. Tony, Grammy, stardom.  And if Billy Porter can wait until he is 46 to get that validation from the world, if Brittany Spears can get through 2007, and if all of us can just get through this 2016 election, well girl, I’m banking on you getting through your college production of Fiddler.
I believe in you. So: KEEP IT UP.

What does this mean? Well, to be very specific, it means AlSilbs is giving you get exactly 48 hours to wallow in your fully-catered self-pity party before you pull up your big girl pants and get a grip.

Ask yourself how you can learn and grow from this difficult situation rather than allowing it to totally torpedo you.
What got hurt: Your pride? Your ego? Your dreams?
How can you truly heal it and make it / yourself stronger?
I'm actually asking. And when you answer, be specific.

If we use bad experiences as hard-core “evidence” of our suck-i-ness, and if we get aaaallllll jealous, comparison-y and meany-pants about our friends and colleagues, well then we are signing ourselves up for a life of misery (and zero lesson learning!)

But! If you USE this situation to be a gracious, grateful human being, I promise you the Universe WILL reward you with showers of rainbow-colored-unicorn blessings. (But seriously.) When we keep our “frequency high” we attract lessons, blessings, goodwill and every possible happiness our way no matter what crap is slung at us. So KEEP IT UP, girl!

Hang out with visionary people.
Read blogs, books and websites about things you are passionate about, and that inspire you.
Read a self-help book (or three) anchored in Truths you dig (recommendations HERE)
Do things that you love (this includes rocking out to Bernadette Peters in the shower)
Engage with people and things that invigorate you
Exercise and Meditate (both)
Laugh yer ass off
Basically? Go to the spiritual gym.

 Finally? Let’s end with a kick ass quote:

"The ego is a living, active individual, and it's life consists in making its individuality real in its own eyes and those of others, and expressing itself, and bringing itself into appearance. For every man, by living, tries to realize himself and does realize himself. Now in relation to beauty and art, this acquires the meaning of living as an artist and forming one's life artistically. But on this principle, I live as an artist when all my action and my expression in general, in connection with any content whatever, remains for me a mere show and assumes a shape which is wholly in my power." — Hegel

10 March, 2016

Recording "Matchmaker"

©TheaterMania
TheaterMania goes inside the recording booth with Alexandra Silber, Samantha Massell, and Melanie Moore.

Since opening the latest revival of Fiddler on the Roof, Alexandra Silber, Samantha Massell, and Melanie Moore have become Broadway's favorite sisters. As Tzeitel, Hodel, and Chava, respectively, their familial chemistry is evident when they sing Sheldon Harnick's signature trio "Matchmaker" on the stage of the Broadway Theatre. However, their bond is even more palpable when the women deliver the number while scratching longingly on the glass walls of a recording booth. Go inside the making of the Broadway cast album — available March 10 exclusively at the Broadway Theatre and in stores March 18 — and see history in the making as these powerful ladies lay down another "Matchmaker" for the books.


08 March, 2016

"Dear Sweet Sewing Machine"

“Dear Sweet Sewing Machine” was cut from the original Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof before it opened in 1964 and did not appear in subsequent Broadway revivals. When the current production of Fiddler hit the recording studio for the cast album, they decided to add the Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock tune back into the mix. The song finds Motel and Tzeitel pledging their fealty to a newly purchased (and formerly mistreated) tool that will allow them to make a better life for themselves. In this exclusive music video, Adam Kantor and Alexandra Silber perform as Motel and Tzeitel both in the recording studio and onstage to bring the oft-overlooked tune to life. The video features a special appearance by Harnick and was directed and edited by Ben Gettinger. The song was arranged by Oran Eldor and produced by David Lai for Broadway Records and features Ted Sperling on piano, Mairi Dorman-Phaneuf on cello, Kelly Hall-Tompkins on violin, Joshua Camp on accordion and Jim Hersh on guitar and mandolin.

19 February, 2016

'Secrets' of Adulthood: Part 1

1. Have integrity.
C.S. Lewis said:
Integrity is doing what is right even when no one is watching.
And Brené Brown defines integrity as:

    Choosing courage over comfort
    Choosing what is right over what is fun, fast or easy.
    Practicing your values, not just professing them.


At any and every age we wrestle with being true to what we CLAIM our values to be, and struggle with ACTING upon what we believe to be right. Integrity is easy to admire in others, but desperately difficult to fight for and maintain firsthand.


2. Things ALWAYS look messier before they look tidier.
Ever try to clean out a “stuff” drawer? Yeah. You start with vigor! Zeal! Then slowly you realize just how stuffed to the brim with utter crap it is, and after about half and hour the contents of said drawer are all over the room and you wondered why you began in the first place… for some, that is the moment when they give up. But if you persevere, and embrace the temporary mess, moments later you have ditched the unnecessary “stuff,” reorganized the contents, and the entire project has been worth it.

That drawer metaphor? Yep. Just like life. Usually, when you attempt to “fix” something, things gets a little messier before they get tidier— meaning, they get more complicated before clarity arrives. Don’t panic. See it through. Persevere. It’s worth it.


3. True ladies (and gentleman) can fit in anywhere.
Whether you are at home with your cat watching Columbo, on the red carpet, playing poker in a basement, feeding the hungry, eating humbly in a soup kitchen or dining in a penthouse at the top of Manhattan, TRUE ladies and gentleman can fit in anywhere.
They are not concerned with class or creed, they are not fearful snobs or hateful of plenty.
     They wear a tuxedo as easily as a set of work clothes
          and see humanity and universality in everyone and everything.

THAT is the definition of gentility.


4. Quit sugar.
Guys. Guys. Sugar is EVIL—and we are the victims of a very powerful Sugar Machine because it has been scientifically determined that sugar is more addictive than COCAINE. Health circumstances forced me to face this universal human addiction, and the results were life-transforming. Trust me.

Let’s review some reasons why you should do everything in your power to quit sugar YESTERDAY:

SUGAR:
Slows you down
Is expensive
Disrupts your metabolism
Hampers mental activity
De-activates your immune system
Destroys your liver, kidneys, heart and skin,
Leads to cardiovascular disease
Is the primary cause of diabetes,
Makes you smell bad
Makes you moody and sluggish
Makes you fat
Ages us
IS A LIAR (makes you think you are hungrier when you are not)

Quit.


5. A painful truth is better than a pleasant lie.
It might be true that you are angrier, fatter, more judgmental, crueler, messier or WRONG-ER than you hoped. Bite that bullet and hear the truth, for no matter how painful that truth may be to stomach, when you deal in and WITH The Truth, you deal with REALITY, rather than operating in a fantasy that will truly keep you from your best life.

As the Russian proverb states,

    Better to be slapped with the truth, than kissed with a lie.

© hula seventy

14 February, 2016

The Archipelago of Kisses by Jeffrey McDaniel

To love, dear readers.
To love.

Happy Valentine's Day. 

*

We live in a modern society. Husbands and wives don't
grow on trees, like in the old days. So where
does one find love? When you're sixteen it's easy,
like being unleashed with a credit card
in a department store of kisses. There's the first kiss.
The sloppy kiss. The peck.
The sympathy kiss. The backseat smooch. The we
shouldn't be doing this kiss. The but your lips
taste so good kiss. The bury me in an avalanche of tingles kiss.
The I wish you'd quit smoking kiss.
The I accept your apology, but you make me really mad
sometimes kiss. The I know
your tongue like the back of my hand kiss. As you get
older, kisses become scarce. You'll be driving
home and see a damaged kiss on the side of the road,
with its purple thumb out. If you
were younger, you'd pull over, slide open the mouth's
red door just to see how it fits. Oh where
does one find love? If you rub two glances, you get a smile.
Rub two smiles, you get a warm feeling.
Rub two warm feelings and presto-you have a kiss.
Now what? Don't invite the kiss over
and answer the door in your underwear. It'll get suspicious
and stare at your toes. Don't water the kiss with whiskey.
It'll turn bright pink and explode into a thousand luscious splinters,
but in the morning it'll be ashamed and sneak out of
your body without saying good-bye,
and you'll remember that kiss forever by all the little cuts it left
on the inside of your mouth. You must
nurture the kiss. Turn out the lights. Notice how it
illuminates the room. Hold it to your chest
and wonder if the sand inside hourglasses comes from a
special beach. Place it on the tongue's pillow,
then look up the first recorded kiss in an encyclopedia: beneath
a Babylonian olive tree in 1200 B.C.
But one kiss levitates above all the others. The
intersection of function and desire. The I do kiss.
The I'll love you through a brick wall kiss.
Even when I'm dead, I'll swim through the Earth,
like a mermaid of the soil, just to be next to your bones.

— Jeffrey McDaniel

Image: © Nick Bantock

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