11 November, 2016

Ask Al: You Have ONE Voice

Hi Al!

     My question for you is: do you have any advice for being a legit soprano in theater today? I've studied classical voice since I started singing, but Musical Theatre has always been what I love and wanted to pursue, and why I'm majoring in it now.
     My program is very focused on doing contemporary, experimental theater, which I enjoy, and think is important to have experience in. However, next semester's season doesn't include a single musical revival, and that terrifies me as a legit soprano looking to actually have a career. I chose to come to this program to be exposed to theater that is outside my comfort zone, to be more rounded as an artist, but that doesn't change the fact that my instrument is more well suited to sing Rodgers and Hammerstein than Pasek and Paul. 
     You are such a big inspiration to me because you are able to be successful doing the type of theater I would like to do, and I just wanted to know if there were any thoughts on the topic you could share?

Thank you!

* * *

Dear M,

A very big and often-asked question! Here are some thoughts.

1.  The only limitation on yourself, is yourself.
     When you look back in however many years, you might look at your body of work and realize you're not really doing a lot of musicals. In time you might realize you love watching, but don't enjoy being IN them! You might be a comedienne. You might be a huge TV star. Or doing a zillion dramatic plays on regional theatre. Or you might be doing a smattering of all of the above. Or! You might be a lawyer or a chef or running the state of New Hampshire or in a punk band or kicking ass with your a bungee-jumping business. Or whatever. You can also be all these things.

     Again, if you would have told teeny Al that one day she'd be a NOVELIST?! Puh-lease. Little Al would have laughed in your face. "I can't even spell!" she'd say. Thank you spellcheque spellcheck. Nevertheless, here we are: Writer. In fact, when I protested to my literary agent that I couldn't do this because "I'm a actor," she took a deep breath and calmly replied "Well, that may be so, but... I don't represent actors. So you must be a writer." I almost wept. Take that Masters in Creative Writing I don’t have--haters gonna hate. I'll just keep plugging away and doing me, thankyouverymuch. My literary agent's words prove that we are only limited by the labels we place upon ourselves.

     I’m sure a lot of people out there think I faked it, that I didn’t put in the "right kind" of work to become myself. But does a marathoner have to have a masters degree in Sports Medicine? No. They must hit the pavement every single day and run, DO, learn from their mistakes, get better, run longer and more efficiently. That’s what I did.
     In college, I snuck away from the Drama School halls, and listened to open masterclasses; I sang in the Opera School practice rooms. I wrote every single day on the subways, trains, airplanes, and in every single dressing room, and then one day? An epic novel was sitting on my desktop. That’s how it is done.
Running 26.2 miles tomorrow is not possible.
Running it in a year could be.
Writing an epic novel by tomorrow is not possible.
Writing it bit by painstaking bit over 7 years? Is.
I know. I ...did it.
Without training. Just a little talent, some of brains, but mostly a lot of grit, discipline and above all passion.

     My passion for theater and my acting training is the bedrock of my artistic life because the message is that I can be/transform myself into anything I need or choose to be. The world might want me to label or limit myself, but the only people that can ACTUALLY label or limit us is ourselves. We give others permission to limit us—we allow them to get into our head. Ignore those people.
     When I taught my kids a Pace, I harped on about this all the time. "Yes, girl who thinks she isn't pretty, yes you can play that bombshell. Don't tell yourself you can't do that, let the director decide." If we obsess about the "I cants" we completely lose track of the "but what if I CANs?!"
     ...Don't be that girl. Try it all. Do it all. Sing 'Many A New Day' AND 'Out Tonight,' then after that go to microbiology class, read Anna Karenina, be in Twelfth Night, bake gluten free cakes, and go to the baseball game. All of it will make you better at being a person, and that is the thing that matters most in any creative career. If we as artists are meant to reflect life, but we don't have a full and true life to reflect, than what are we doing?
     I've seen so many young talented people strangled to death by the voices telling them "how it is" in the business, and that they have to narrow in on a market, know their brand, etc etc. And while I don't deny the legitimacy of, and respect that as a possible path, I'm not a ruthless business person, I'm an artistic soul and I suspect you are too. The best way for an artistic soul to survive in the arts long term is not to prioritize "knowing their brand and then marketing themselves well" but to know themSELVES deeply so they can be authentic in every move they make from personal to business. It is my deepest belief that good work and an authentic person is the best business card there is.

     Don't limit yourself. Be brave enough to question, to not know, and not be good at it all; to learn, grow, and BE, everything you CAN be.

2. Not every caring person is the Voice of Reason.
  Sometimes people who love us very much get very nervous when we try to break free of our tiny familiar comfort zones in an attempt to live huge. Sometimes that is because they are afraid for us, wanting us to be responsible an practical, wanting our safety and happiness and believing with all their hearts that being "careful" is how that is achieved. But often, there is a small component of their own ego resenting your chutzpah and courage to bust out, and they want you to stay small so they can be more at ease with their own life choices. I am here to tell you: those reactions have nothing to do with you. These reactions to your mega plans sound like this:
     "Why would you want to leave your secure job and start a business you're passionate about? That's insane!" 
     "But only 1% of actors in Actor's Equity are working."
     "You want to pursue the arts in this economy?!"
     "But what about your responsibilities? You have a family to look after." 
     These people make excellent points, and of course one should always assess whether one is being impulsive or truly being passionate; but fretting over every worry-wort's opinion about your life goals is not productive. Those comments come from care, and from their fear, not from the absolute truth. Surround those people in the hug they need, and keep making courageous leaps. You may fall on your face. You may break a few ribs. But nothing worth having is not worth fighting for.

     Your voice is your instrument, yes, and you are limited by your anatomy, sense of pitch, training, natural capacity, musicality and and and— but! The human voice is not a bassoon, limited by it's player as well as its structure. The voice a remarkably versatile thing.
     I am a legit soprano but you'd never know it listening to me belt my face off in Kiss Me Kate's ‘I Hate Men,’ or belting a D as Tzeitel every day. I can do that too! So can Benanti and Osnes and Boggess. You're a soprano, but not just a soprano, you are a singer, and thus, innately versatile! Opera views versatility differently, and that is okay too. In the opera world, you find your voice known as your facht, and those are the roles you are available to sing (lyric soprano, dramatic soprano, spinto, etc). But one of the beautiful things about theatre is the ability to shapeshift! The industry might not always behave that way but it doesn’t mean it is possible. Just because we can sing 'If I Loved You' doesn't mean we can't sing 'Gimme Gimme.'
     The same holds true for you. You have ONE voice, ONE instrument, made up of infinite colors.

I really hope this helps. All the best and let me know how you're doing,



  1. love this whole post!

  2. Yay! I love blogging. I have two but I haven't used the old one in a while. It was a blogspot too.



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