30 September, 2016

'Sorrow Everywhere' by Jack Gilbert

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that's what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

23 September, 2016

Back to School with Tevye's Daughters

As Tevye’s oldest daughter, Tzeitel, I wanted to offer some relevant and toootally up-to-date back-to-school advice, and provide some gifts to our beloved youngest sister, Bielke, played by Haley Feinstein.

On a personal note, I am so proud of Haley for choosing to commit herself fully to her sophomore year of high school. As a huge supporter of education, I recognize that nothing compares to the life experience of a being in a Broadway show, let alone in an original cast. But school, real learning, and having the experience of being a real teenager is more important than anything. She has made a difficult choice to leave an original company and focus on her academic goals, and her self-awareness, intelligence and tenacity are so inspiring for a 15-year-old. 

Happy back to school everyone!

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 the perfect ginger 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.



05 September, 2016

Authenticity on "Show People" on Broadway.com

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” ~ E.E. Cummings
     In August I was honored to do a super fancy "Show People" interview with the lovely Paul Wontorek of Broadway.com.
     Initially, I was nervous. Often in purely Broadway industry interviews (and this is not a reflection on those interviews or interviewers, just on how I feel within those situations) I find it hard to be all of myself. Almost as if there is a "palatable" or "vivacious" or "Broadway" or "Alexandra Silber Person," that is a thin slice of the whole story, and "she" is the only person welcome to the party. It is not that I feel fake, for those components are all parts of my story and parts of who I am, they are just a narrow slice of the whole story. Sometimes, my heart longs to strip away the pure personality and share more my quieter, more thoughtful, most authentic self. The self, in fact, that I share here on this blog.
     And while I may choose to share a certain percentage of myself, say at stage door, or on a red carpet, I guarantee you that none of what I ever share is a lie. You might not get all of me, but you will get the truth, however little of it you receive that exact day. I believe it is not only healthy but essential about keeping one's dearest and most inner thoughts, feelings and intimacies for our closest friends and family. But utter exposure and revelation is not what authenticity is. Authenticity isn’t the presence of something, but the absence of everything that is not authentic. If you think about the moments in your life that are meaningful—I mean truly meaningful—you will always find a degree of realness, of truth and of this elusive quality of "authenticity." Those heartfelt compliments, tough conversations, honest job reviews, and actually enjoyable first dates: all of them involve at least some degree of authenticity. That is to say, all of those moments drop some form pretending and pretense, give up the need to make things "okay" and allow them to be exactly what they are.
     This interview was all of me. It was authentic Al in all my colors—bright and muted. Paul was a hoot, but he was also honest, curious, open, welcoming, smart as a whip, and willing to go there. It was such a victory for authenticityin the business or anywhere.  
     As Oscar Wilde said:
“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
FIDDLER ON THE ROOF star Alexandra Silber on being #TheCutestPregnantWomanOnBroadway, her enduring obsession with Rebecca Luker, her upcoming books and what she didn't want to tell Angela Lansbury when they met.Alexandra Silber on Her Broadway Prom Date, Writing Fiddler Fan Fiction & Why She’s Fancy AND Fun:

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