22 May, 2017

Ask Al: Vocal Health Part 2: MAINTENANCE

Dear Al,


Yay! Healthy vocal cords!
Once you get the hang of protecting your vocal health, and actively preventing disease, how do you go about maintaining that quality of health day to day? 

Thank you!

Max

*

Dear Max,

Such a terrific question!

Norman Hogikyan and his colleagues at the University of Michigan Health System state quite rightly that "Your voice is your ambassador to the outside world. It portrays your personality and emotions. People make assessments about you based on your voice, so it is very important when you're speaking or singing to think about what people are really hearing. Problems with your voice also can have a tremendous impact on your life."

Protection / prevention and maintenance are healthy cousins, different but related, but both lead to the same goal. So let's keep learning!

Also, I want to be clear: I mention a few specific brands in this post. Know that I am not sponsored by any of them! The products I mention and link are genuinely what I use and believe in!
 
Good health to you, and happy singing,

Al

*

PART 2: MAINTENANCE

COMMON SENSE
•    Rest, moisture, and muscle tone are the three key ingredients to good vocal health.
•    Remember always: your singing voice is an extension of your speaking voice.
•    If you abuse your voice speaking, your singing will naturally, be negatively affected. Never yell or scream in conversation, especially in dry climates.
•    In the same spirit of prevention, maintenance requires you to get a lot of sleep, drink plenty of water, and participate in exercise.
•    Going in and out of changing climates (cold/dry/warm) irritates vocal cords—always be prepared.
•    Smoke is the biggest enemy. Aside from all the obvious health issues associated with smoking, it immediately dries and irritates the throat. Talking while smoking is exceptionally damaging.
•    Alcohol dries the throat. It is a major enemy to the singing voice.
•    Caffeine is a drying agent. Avoid it or limit your intake.
•    It is in your best interest to have an ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) Doctor that you trust and believe in. They will be able to guide you through your personal journey of vocal health, scope you when necessary to judge levels of inflammation, possible damage and make informed suggestions to help you plan ahead and stay on top of your health. Just like any medical situation, it is always preferable to have a doctor you trust before you are in crisis, not when you are. Ask around, meet a few, and never stay with a professional that doesn't make you feel 100% at ease.


HYDRATION AND CIRCULATION
•      Circulation is a very important health consideration for singing, especially in the morning. Doing some light aerobic exercises (and supplementing it by drinking plenty of water) will hugely help if you have to sing early in the day.
•      The human body is all about flow, and singing and speaking are no different. Blood and fluids must FLOW to the throat. 
•      Too much coffee and tea can not only dry you out but can also make you a little anxious. 
•      Be sure to check THOROUGHLY the side effects of any and all medications that you take (including over the counter medications and herbal supplements).


MOISTURE
•    Moisture is the key to maintaining healthy vocal cords.
•    Drink adequate water intermittently all day. 
•    Use a vaporizer when living in dry climates, every day.
•    Place a vaporizer about two feet away from your head when you sleep.
•    And, don’t put and fragrances or additives in the vaporizer- never eucalyptus – which dry out the voice.
•    Cool mist vaporizer is better than hot mist because it does not promote bacteria growth.
•    I could not recommend using a Neti Pot more. I use mine twice a day to lubricate, cleanse, naturally clear my sinus passages (which are prone to infection). Follow all the instructions carefully and know that it can take a few trys to get your system down, but it is worth it! It has been a game-changer for my overall health, not just my singing. To quote the Himalayan Institute's website:
a Neti pot
"The Neti Pot naturally cleanses, refreshes, and protects the nasal passages, one of our body’s first lines of defense against illness. Recommended today by doctors and pharmacists worldwide, the Neti Pot™ has been used for thousands of years in ayurvedic medicine to alleviate sinus and allergy problems."

•    Drink plain water to keep your vocal cords moist (the cords need to be hydrated from absorption through your system, and there is nothing that replaces consuming a lot of water!)
•    Sip water on breaks when singing.
•    Water dilutes and flushes mucous in the throat, so it will prevent immediate “garbage” build-up on the vocal cords.

•    For a dry throat, use glycerin based lozenges such as Grether’s Black Currant Pastilles, Pine Brothers Honey, or my favorite of all products: the Olbas pastille. 


STEAMING
•    When we drink water it doesn’t ACTUALLY pass over our vocal folds (if it did we would choke) and when we drink it, the moisture benefits do not actually get to your vocal cords for quite a while because our body needs time to absorb it.
•    Therefore, steaming is the best, most-direct, and most efficient way to get direct hydration to your vocal cords ASAP. As you breathe in the steam the moisture will reach your vocal cords and help to re-hydrate, soothe them, help reduce pain and swelling in over-used chords, and generally help to improve the condition of your voice.
•    The most efficient way to steam is with a steam inhaler (every singer owns a steamer—or two!), you can get them either very inexpensively or more expensively, depending on the model, available online or at a pharmacy. For an investment purchase I love MyPureMist and the very simple Vicks steamer is my dressing room go-to. 
•    When you steam you don’t want to use boiling water, you want it just off the boil.
•    Make sure to create a good seal with the steam inhaler with your mouth to ensure you inhale as much steam as possible.
•    Be sure not to add any oils or menthol/eucalyptus to the water as this can aggravate the voice.
•    Some say not to whisper for at least 20 minutes after, I recommend light humming after steaming to encourage the voice’s elasticity.
•    Steam showers and steam rooms help, and,
•    you can easily boil a pot of water, remain at a safe distance and sometimes utilize a towel over your head to contain the vapors. Breathe the vapors by coming over it slowly and carefully to make sure you are not close enough to burn. (Old school methods work just fine!)
•    Always remember you are working with very hot water! Just. Guys: don't be that person in the emergency room...

        

19 May, 2017

"The Stillness of the Office" from After Anatevka in Concert

Jessica Fontana and Ellie Fishman
"The Stillness of the Office" from AFTER ANATEVKA IN CONCERT at Symphony Space, 2017 based on and read by AFTER ANATEVKA by ALEXANDRA SILBER from Pegasus Books

Music by Juilanne Wick Davis, lyrics by Maggie-Kate Coleman

Performed by Jessica Fontana (Hodel) and Ellie Fishman (Irina)

*

Chapter 37: Gone

     Hodel used to find The Gentleman’s office quite peaceful in its near silence—the imposing regulation clock with its harsh utilitarian angles, audibly ticking as if it echoed the sonorous heartbeats of the hutch’s inhabitants. But tonight, as she and Irina worked side by side, the quiet unnerved her. Everything was stillness but for the etching of the fountain pens, the gentle thud of books as they were stacked. A flutter of papers, a drawer closed, a breath. Tonight, the din felt constant. The air was taut with it. Only the drained color in Irina’s face indicated the fretting of her mind; every other gesture maintained her customary efficiency.

THE GENTLEMAN: Irina, the Irkutsk export files, please.  
IRINA: Yes, sir

     Hodel watched the scene as if she were watching it from very far away. She observed The Gentleman in all his flawless machinations: the compulsive starch of his shirts, the shining shirt buttons, the blinding polish of his boots.


[The Gentleman’s voice brings them back to the work at hand:]

THE GENTLEMAN: Hodel—my inkwell is low. Fetch replacement and do be quick about it.
HODEL: Of course, sir.

     [Irina held a bundle of letters, hiding them from view. As the Gentleman left the main office, she thrusts them at Hodel.]

HODEL: I do not work for or with my husband. I know nothing about—
IRINA: They are not for him. They are for you. Letters from your family, Hodel. I thought it time you had them.
HODEL: How?
IRINA: Officers often intercept personal post—I found them a while back, in the storeroom in the post office. I saw they were addressed to you, so I set them aside. I could have given them to you earlier, but...one never knows how one feels about their family. Especially when one is interred.
HODEL: Thank you. 

16 May, 2017

Adult-ing: Part 5

21. Limit your exposure to toxic, unhelpful and un-supportive people.
    In Robert Greene’s The 48 Law of Power,  Law #10 states “Avoid the unhappy and unlucky:”
There is are, of course, caveats, but first read Greene’s word:
    “You can die from someone else's misery—emotional states are as infectious as diseases. You may feel you are helping the drowning man but you are only precipitating your own disaster. The unfortunate sometimes draw misfortune on themselves; they will also draw it on you. Associate with the happy and fortunate instead.”
    Human behavior is very infectious, and on the opposite end of negative, miserly and miserable-by-choice people, are those people who attract happiness through their outlook, good cheer, natural buoyancy. They are not only a source of pleasure, but associating with them is to share in the prosperity they draw upon themselves. All positive qualities can infect us, but taking advantage of the emotional side of this osmosis is an active choice.
     Now, this is not a permission slip to be a jerk! There are people out there who genuinely need our help, support, and guidance; a shoulder to cry on, or sometimes very serious professional help. Some of these people are the people we love and cherish the most, and often cannot be avoided.
    But I believe the principal here is to limit how much we allow, permit, and sometimes even enable their negativity and toxicity to be “dumped” upon on, and when to self-protect, delegate, and offer suggestions for better helping options.  Taking on other people’s toxic garbage is not only the opposite of genuine empathy, it can make the “dumpee” anxious, stressed, negative, and sometimes (and this has happened to me!) physically sick. We are no good to anyone on this planet if we are constantly fighting to energetically get back on top.
Which brings me to…


22.  Just like on the airplane with the oxygen mask— take care of yourself before assisting others.
    Self-Care is not only not self-ISH, it is vital and necessary to living a full and rewarding life. You’ve been there: you are on the airplane, and the flight attendant goes through the motions of the safety procedures, instructing you to always put your oxygen mask on first, before assisting others.  Why is this an important rule for ensuring survival?  Because if you run out of oxygen, you can’t help anyone else. You no good to anybody IF YOU ARE PASSED OUT DEAD GURL.
    This is an important metaphor for those of you who run around taking care of everything and everyone else except yourself. It is not altruistic or noble, it is a false sense of “busy” substituting for “important meaning.” At a certain point, self-sacrifice can become self-indulgent.
    People have deep problems with self-care—believe me, 2 years ago I was one of them— now I have the zeal of the converted! And I have been infinitely better able to offer the world my gifts because of it!
    If you don’t take care of yourself, you can experience burnout, stress, fatigue, reduced mental effectiveness, health problems, anxiety, frustration, and total inability to sleep.


23. Don’t Shoot the “Second Arrow”
The Buddhists say that any time we suffer misfortune, two arrows fly our way.
The first arrow, the pain, is the actual bad event.
The second arrow, the suffering, is our reaction to the bad event, the way we chose to respond emotionally.

It looks like this inside our heads:
    Arrow #1:  “I am crying"
and
    Arrow #2: “AND ONLY A WEAK GIRLY TOTAL WRECK OF A HUMAN WOULD CRY."

The first arrow often is unavoidable.
The second arrow often is self-inflicted.
The "second arrow" isn't actually helpful-- it is full of our judgements about our thoughts and feelings and prevents us from
    1. truly feeling them or
    2. learning anything from those feelings.

One does not avoid the second arrow by denial, but by being fully present, acknowledging and truly (and I mean actually not faking it) experiencing the difficult emotion, maybe even befriending it? Then allowing it to crest and ebb like a wave. Avoiding blaming yourself for having emotions/the second arrow requires some toughies: self-love, acceptance, emotional vigilance and a healthy dose of self-awareness. The best antidote to the second arrow is self-awareness, self-permission to BE A PERSON, stop punishing, judging, and wallowing,
Then? Simply make the gentle correction.

And example of giving yourself permission:
    “Wow. My boss was genuinely disrespectful to me in that meeting and I feel humiliated and ashamed. His behavior might not have been about me, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. I am reacting appropriately to this situation. I will experience my humiliating feelings, maybe cry, primal scream or hit a pillow, and then I will move on an address the behavior from a place of peace. But there is noting wrong with my very human, emotional response.

Or, the drama school version:

    “That feeling drained and thoughtful after an emotional acting class is a totally appropriate response to unpacking big, personal and emotional subjects through my art. That we should allow these feelings to just exist instead of beating ourselves up about it. If we cry in later in ballet class or at dinner—then so be it. No biggie! We’ve never done this before, we’re in theatre school this is how it goes!

When the pain comes to mind, acknowledge it in its fullness, embrace it. But then bid it adieu and move on with your day.  What you truly accept, without over-thinking, will eventually dissipate of its own accord.  It’s like really allowing a massage therapist to get into your muscle tension without fighting them. Deep breaths, working with them, through the pain, not against it.  Time does heal many wounds if only we allow, and do not continually re-open the wound with anger or resentment or guilt or other dysfunctional “coping” mechanisms brought on by a sea of Second Arrows.

Pain is certain, suffering is optional.” – Buddha


There is a huge distinction between
    PAIN - an affliction
and,
    our SUFFERING from pain— how we experience of pain.
Pain is often inevitable, but the suffering is a choice. Our choices and energy around our pain can discomfit, frustrate or agonize us.

Don’t do that.
Make a different choice.
Don’t shoot the second arrow.
Why get hurt twice?


24. “Act 3.”
Years ago, my very first leading lady, West End star and dear friend Ruthie Henshall taught me all about “Act 3.” What she believes is that the stage door experience is a vital and important part of being gracious with the fans courageous enough to meet you face to face, and express their appreciation and gratitude for your work. You’ve done Acts 1 and 2, this is Act 3. When it is complete, you can fully relax and head home.

Her use of the term “Act 3” provides an interesting and important boundary however— the concept being that it is PART of the work. You are not being fake, dishonest or disingenuous, but what is being provided in those personal but work based situations is not the full 100% of you that you would offer your intimate friends and family. There is a difference between being friend-LY and being friends. For me, I call this person Alexandra Silber” — she is me! In a slightly fancier outfit! Just a very narrow percentage of the Me Pie Chart—she is who you meet at stage door and on a red carpet. “AL” — there vulnerable Al, is reserved for my intimate people, those who truly have seen and held my inner world. And the people on that list is actually very small. All people can experience us as authentic and genuine, but not everyone needs our full shame story, or has earned our intimacy.

It is important to maintain a healthy boundary in all of life’s “Act 3” moments, and I encourage you to identify and stand up for them.



25.  Moisturize
— and don’t forget your neck.
You’re later-in-life mug will really thank me. Trust.


Adult-ing - Part 1
Adult-ing - Part 2
Adult-ing - Part 3
Adult-ing - Part 4



12 May, 2017

Ask Al: Vocal Health Part 1: PROTECTION

Dear Al,

I am a young singer studying vocal performance. I am constantly having vocal issues navigating everything from allergies to phlegm, to hoarseness and dryness, and of course, the subsequent tension and unhealthy compositions that come with it!

How do you keep your voice safe?

Sincerely,

Natalia


*

Dear Natalia,

A fantastic question! And a wonderful opportunity for me to record my top tips!

Below is as comprehensive a list of remedies, exercises and solutions I have come up with, but first a few thoughts on general vocal health. 

I will focus this post (Part of one of the Vocal Health 'Ask Al' series) on the concept of Protecting one's Vocal Health (Part 2 will be Maintenance, Part 3, Healing) .

The difference between protection/prevention and maintenance isn’t always crystal clear, but the main point is to marry healthy prevention-focused behavior like avoiding not talking or yelling too much, getting enough sleep and staying hydrated, with maintenance-based thinking like avoiding inflammatory foods and good vocal practice habits. There is a Venn-diagram of behaviors that are common sense, but I try to break them down and be almost overly specific here.

I hope it helps!


Sincerely,

Al


* * *

PART 1: PROTECT

People who use their voices professionally as singers, musicians, teachers, public speaker and actors are susceptible to numerous vocal disorders. Vocal health is important for everyone, and thinking long-term is absolutely essential to lifelong health and success. So many vocal disorders and conditions are preventable and/or treatable, and learning how our day-to-day decisions impact our vocal health, both now and in the future can be the difference between a lifelong joy and a lifelong struggle.

When we are young, we often don’t “need” to stretch before we exercise, but we feel the lack of good habits as we age. Start those healthy habits early in your life, and they will become second nature. Prevention is better than any cure.


PRACTICE & REHEARSAL
•      Remember that rehearsing and performing speech and music is incredibly physically demanding. Never over-exert.
•      Sufficient warm-up time is important. Know what works for you.
•      Begin warming up mid-range, and then slowly work outward to your vocal pitch extremes.
•      When working on said extremes, know that correct coordination is always preferable to perfect “result.” If you have good coordination and technique, the results will likely fall into place eventually. There is no need to strain or deliver when warming up. This is after all, the warm up, not the work out.
•      Good posture, adequate breath support, and correct physical technique are essential.
•      Regular breaks during practice and rehearsal are vital in order to prevent undue physical or vocal stress and strain.
•      Constantly hydrate.
•      It is important to set a reasonable limit on the amount of time that you will practice in a day.
•      Avoid sudden increases in practice times.
•      Know your voice and its limits, and avoid overdoing it or misusing it.


THE ‘VOCALIST’ LIFESTYLE
•      Maintain all practical healthy habits. Safeguard your physical and mental health.
•      Drink plenty of water in order to keep your vocal folds adequately lubricated. Limit your use of alcohol, and (obviously) avoid smoking.
•     Avoid shouting, screaming, or other strenuous vocal use.
•      The right team is important from coach (repertoire expert), teacher (technique expert), and medical professionals (ENT). If you are concerned about your vocal health in relationship to any of the above, discreetly consult the appropriate contact person and address the issue quickly and responsibly. There is no need to remain with someone who does not serve your ultimate best interests. Use your judgement and follow your intuition.
•      If you are concerned about your personal vocal health, talk with a medical professional.


DIET
•      Healthy proteins that are hopefully organic can include lean poultry, fish, meat (not necessary), legumes, beans, with brown rice or quinoa combined with greens and favorable vegetables.  All of these will provide stamina and sustained energy for performance and maintain stable blood sugar levels. 
•      Low blood sugar and the resulting drowsy fatigue is caused most often by white foods, especially refined sugars, flours, breads, white rice, potatoes, corn, or any high-glycemic indexed foods, including sugary cereal, oatmeal, honey, bananas, etc.
•      Every human body has different needs, I myself am a Paleo eater, but it is vital to marshal your own needs and be self-aware about what works best for YOUR body and no one else’s. Once you figure out the best “fuel for your machine,” be vigilant about maintaining it. 
•      For some people, avoiding dairy products helps significantly.  Others are bothered by various foods before singing which can cause reflux and throat congestion. The trick is to calmly observe and know what affects you and to become aware of the relationship you have with diet, sleep, exercise, and even things such as fresh paint, chemicals, fabric dyes,  preservatives, additives, hormones, food coloring, air-conditioners or heaters, dust, eating late at night, pollen, air pollution, etc.


IMMUNITY
•      We all get run down, and singers are the first to get colds in the chest, ear, nose and throat. I have benefitted hugely from the use of Zinc, as well as Airborne and also Wellness Formula available at most pharmacies and online. These should be used as soon as you experience symptoms of a cold or a sore throat, or prophylactically if there is a risk of being exposed to a myriad of new germs (such as on an airplane, subway, or with children). 


Happy Vocal Health!


Read More (coming soon!):
     Part 2: Maintenance
     Part 3: Healing


09 May, 2017

TodaTix Campaign

I am so excited to announce that I (me?!) am one of the faces of the fresh new TodayTix campaign.

It was an unspeakable honor to be included in this ground-breaking new platform, a digital theater-loving company that wants theater to be accessible to everyone! TodayTix t is a brand I know and really love (and actually use in real life, by the way!)

This new  campaign is focused on diversity, affordable culture, accessibility, bringing new energy and new theater-goers into theaters across the globe, and all done in an absolutely stunning aesthetic, with photographs by acclaimed international photographer Billy Kidd.

I am so honored to join New York theater luminaries Ariana DeBose, Darren Criss, Gideon Glick, Eva Maria Noblezada, Sophia Anne Caruso, Tonya Pinkins, and Ramin Karimloo. (Nooooot sure what I'm doing on the list but, I'll take it! Also I got to wear a plastic bag dress and a giant purple sheep skin coat and the hair stylist extraordinaire cut my hair LIKEABOSS.)

Information about the campaign is below, and please let me know if you how you #SeeTheaterDifferently!

* * *

From: NEW YORK--()

Theater Ticketing Platform TodayTix Surpasses $100 Million in Sales and Unveils New Visual Identity

TodayTix, the international ticketing platform on a mission to redefine the way people see theater, today announced it has surpassed $100 million in sales and has unveiled its new visual identity. Extending on its mission to connect the next generation of culture lovers to theater, TodayTix’s refreshed brand and mobile apps make discovering and attending extraordinary performances even more accessible - and now include the ability to plan theater-going adventures up to 30 days ahead of time.

Since launching in 2013, the arts-meets-technology startup has upended the $50 billion yearly global theater industry initially by launching the first and only free mobile apps for iOS and Android and subsequently launching the industry’s first mobile lotteries on Broadway and in the West End - offering steep discounts to the most anticipated shows. In this timeframe, TodayTix has also expanded rapidly to 10 regions across the U.S. and U.K. and bolstered its partnerships to over 450 leading theater institutions around the globe.
“Reaching over $100 million in sales is an incredible milestone that underscores the growing demand for seamless access to theater,” said Merritt Baer, CEO and Co-Founder of TodayTix. “We’re thrilled to have helped nearly three million customers access the best shows in their cities, and look forward to further connecting with culture enthusiasts through our fresh visual identity.”
TodayTix New Mobile App Features:
  • Starting today, customers can now purchase tickets up to 30 days in advance to one hour before show time.
  • Kicking-off first in New York City and London, users can leverage the new “Discover” recommendation feature to uncover the show that's right for them based on their interests - whether they're seeking the perfect play for date night or a family evening out on the town.
TodayTix New Visual Identity:
  • A new brand logo with an eye-catching “X” graphic.
  • Working with noted photographer Billy Kidd and tapping a breadth of muses from Glee star Darren Criss and pivotal Hamilton cast member Ariana DeBose to up-and-coming actors such as Miss Saigon’s Eva Noblezada and 15-year-old actress and singer Sophia Anne Caruso, the brand’s new photoshoot and creative assets celebrate diversity and inclusion in theater.
“Bonded by a deep appreciation of the arts, we set out to reintroduce theater to our fellow millennials. Our new visual identity, developed by some of the minds behind our generation's beloved brands including Shake Shack, Sweetgreen, Warby Parker and Saturdays NYC, continues to push the envelope of creative expression,” said Brian Fenty, Co-Founder of TodayTix. “Whether you're interested in fashion, photography, movement or literature, culture lovers of all ages and interests now have even better access to what they love most - great shows at great prices.”
This momentum comes on the heels of TodayTix launching its successful “Broadway Backstory” podcast in partnership with Theater People’s Patrick Hinds, which surpassed over 100,000 downloads in just three months.

For new brand imagery, logos and mobile app screenshots, download TodayTix’s press kit here: https://www.todaytix.com/content/press/PressKit.zip



About TodayTix
TodayTix is an international ticketing platform on a mission to redefine the way people see theater. Through effortless access to the best shows, insightful guidance to the world of theater, and thoughtful service at each moment along the way, TodayTix enables people to discover the best that their city has to offer. As the first and only free mobile app for iOS and Android connecting the next generation of culture lovers to theater, TodayTix is disrupting an established industry that is ripe for innovation.

Operating in the world’s most iconic theater markets, TodayTix secures the best discounted and full price tickets available for the hottest shows in New York City, London’s West End, the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Seattle, Philadelphia, Connecticut, Boston, Washington DC and Chicago.

To learn more, please visit www.todaytix.com, tune into the TodayTix “Broadway Backstory” podcast, or download TodayTix for iOS or Android.



04 May, 2017

"The Waiting World" from After Anatevka in Concert

Enjoy this incredibly beautiful battle cry from the AFTER ANATEVKA concert at Symphony Space in March. I am so grateful to all of the friends that participated in this incredible evening. To have close friends write music based on my creation, then performed by dear friends Santino and Ryan to embody it with such vigor is a dream beyond imagining.

Enjoy.

*

"The Waiting World" by Eric Price and Will Reynolds

Based on Alexandra Silber's AFTER ANATEVKA from Pegasus Books

Performed by Santino Fontana (Perchik) and Ryan Silverman (Dmitri) at Symphony Space, NYC,
2017

30 April, 2017

I've Been: Jan - April 2017

- Participating so meaningfully in my constitutional right to protest. I've joined marches with and for women, science, the arts, alongside my friends and colleagues at the ACLU, Planned Parenthood and Actor’s Equity.

- Ringing the gong!(A tradition at my acting agency where you ring a giant gong when you "book" a job!)

- Singing with my "DooDoo" and little sissy Samantha Massell at 54 Below (living out our BEST DUET LIFE GOALS!)

- Doing a beautiful reading of a new musical
 

- Visiting my hometown! Yay Detroit, Michigan!
     - Returning to the legendary Greek Islands
     - Catching up with old dear friends
     - Driving!
     - Buying a REAL winter coat
     - Loving the Michigan cold
     - Waiting outside in the freezing February Detroit cold to see my first gathering of The Moth downtown!
     - Celebrating my Mom’s birthday!


This. CAST!
- “Wintero-verting”

-ALL ABOARD! McCarter
    - Costume HEAVEN
    - Loving the beauty and history of Princeton
    - Making some great new theatre pals
    - Daily yoga
  
    - Loving being a part of the McCarter family

-  LEARNING MEGA LESSONS
     - personal and energetic boundaries
     - About being an 'INFJ'
     - Being an *Empath*
     - Making some serious inner peace
     - Working 2016 “out”
     - Learning allllll about psychic stress
The Countess, courtesy of William Ivey Long
     - Letting go

- Cooking!

- Doing a top secret photo-shoot for a major theatre platform (news coming soon!) with super fancy people on a dream come true kind of day. (Pssst - keep your eyes peeled on the Time Warner Center for giant crazy images of yours truly)

- Making peace with solitude

- Rumbling with health again

- Resting and Healing

- Learning even more about health (which is so much ore than the mere absence of disease)

- a true and complete 5-hour Hassidic seder on Passover at the wonderful internet sensation, Rabbi Mordecai Lightstone’s in Crown Heights. It was an honor to be at his table with his wife and four sons, and the collection of people from all across the internet he has welcomed into his circle and literal home.

- Deep (and I mean DEEP) cleaning

'After Anatevka' at Symphony Space
- 'Introverting'

-  Enjoying possibly the most overwhelming night of my entire life at Symphony Space. In an evening that felt not at all unlike my freakin' Bat Mitzvah, my close friends and colleagues came together to bring After Anatevka to musical life, in a manner I have no words to express.

- Singing with Doc!

- Loving on this: Good Earth Sweet and Spicy tea. (Holy moly Batman...hot. iced. Get it!)

- LOVING ON AND BEING LOVED ON BY TATIANA SO SO SO HARD

Writing:
- Submitting my manuscript!
- Completing the editorial process on my first novel
- The book cover victory
- Proofreading coincidence
- Seeing my novel as a novel for the very first time


Reading:
- The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon
- You are a Badass at Making Money by Jen Sincero
- Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes
- Theatre of the Oppressed by Augusto Boal
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (read beautifully on Audible.com by Claire Danes, prepping for the Hulu series!)

Seeing:
- Hamilton
- The Humans 

- Yours Unfaithfully at The Mint
- Picnic and Come Back Little Sheba in rep, at the Transport Group
- Significant Other
- San Francisco Symphony at Carnegie Hall (with Lilly!)

Symphony Space: pure joy.

29 April, 2017

'I Am the People, the Mob' by Carl Sandburg

I am the people—the mob—the crowd—the mass.

Do you know that all the great work of the world is done through me?
I am the workingman, the inventor, the maker of the world’s food and clothes.
I am the audience that witnesses history.
The Napoleons come from me and the Lincolns.
They die. And then I send forth more Napoleons and Lincolns.

I am the seed ground. I am a prairie that will stand for much plowing. Terrible storms pass over me. I forget. The best of me is sucked out and wasted. I forget. Everything but Death comes to me and makes me work and give up what I have. And I forget.

Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red drops for history to remember. Then—I forget.

When I, the People, learn to remember, when I, the People, use the lessons of yesterday and no longer forget who robbed me last year, who played me for a fool—then there will be no speaker in all the world say the name: “The People,” with any fleck of a sneer in his voice or any far-off smile of derision.

The mob—the crowd—the mass—will arrive then.




13 April, 2017

#FakeDad

I met up with Fiddler Fake Dad Danny Burstein (and for a hot second, Fiddler Fake Mom Jessica Hecht!) today, and we forgot to take a selfie, so he drew this:


and i drew this:

We're a really special fake family.

03 April, 2017

"My Perchik" from After Anatevka in Concert

Santino and Jessica Fontana
Song by Ben Toth and Alexandra Silber

Performed by Santino Fontana and Jessica Fontana, based on Alexandra Silber's novel "AFTER ANATEVKA"

From AFTER ANATEVKA : IN CONCERT at Symphony Space, New York City, 2017

*
Chapter 3: Hodel’s Longing

    Sat low, the daughters of the dairyman crouched beneath the cows and pulled the milk from their udders, as they had every day since the age when they were first able. It was more regimen than routine. The mechanical sound of each rhythmic tug and the subsequent tinny splash accompanied by the incessant groans from the beasts themselves was the music of home— its dull cadences almost soothing.
    But the sound was accompanied by a stillness — a feeling of unbearable emptiness that had been growing there for as long as she could recall. It was a longing as insidious as the odor from the stables: oftentimes unnoticeable, but a particular turn of the breeze, a sweltering afternoon, or in returning from inhaling the clean air of the river, and the feeling would grab a hold of her consciousness before she was permitted to continue on.
    Her eyes were intent on the milk rising in the pail, when the repetitive music of the work came crashing to a halt. She suddenly felt void of more than just her energy; it was a collapsing of life purpose, as if the oil had run out, extinguishing her flame.
    “What is it Hodelleh?” Hodel did not even notice that Chava’s concerned hand was upon her shoulder.
    “Nothing…” Hodel dismissed the feeling, brushing it away, “Nothing at all.”
    But of course it was something—and she wanted it gone. To feel once more, even for the briefest of moments, the fellowship of her community, her faith, and above all her affinity with Chava and the rest of her family. She longed to grow— inward, outward, taller still. She longed to burst through the barn doors and run toward any kind of rescue, across vast distances, through the mists of the morning, until the collapse of her body matched that of her spirit.  All of a sudden she was quite nauseous with it. Hodel shook herself, threw back her head, and smiled with reassurance at her sister before returning to the udders with a forced resolve.
    That was the summer she turned sixteen—the summer before she met Perchik.

31 March, 2017

'This is Prophetic!' from Nixon in China

'This is Prophetic!'
from Nixon in China 
Music by John Adams
Libretto by Alice Goodman

PAT
The children in the U.S.A. all say hello.
I used to be a teacher many years ago
and now I’m here to learn from you.

(Smiling and waving, Mrs. Nixon and her entourage
leave the commune and proceed to the next stop on her
tour: the Summer Palace where she is photographed
strolling through the Hall of Benevolence and
Longevity, the Hall of Happiness in Longevity,
the Hall of Dispelling the Clouds, and the Pavilion
of the Fragrance of Buddha. She pauses in the gate
of Longevity and Good Will to sing)

PAT
This is prophetic! I foresee a time will come when
luxury dissolves into the atmosphere like a perfume,
and everywhere the simple virtues root
and branch and leaf and flower.
On that bench there we’ll relax
and taste the fruit of all our actions.
Why regret life which is so much like a dream?
Let the eternal plan resume.
In the bedroom communities let us be taken by surprise.
Yes! Let the band play on and on,
let the stand-up comedian finish his act,
let Gypsy Rose kick off her high-heeled party shoes;
let interested businessmen speculate further,
let routine dull the edge of mortality.
Let days grow imperceptibly longer,
let the sun set in cloud;
let lonely drivers on the road pull over for a bite to eat,
let the farmer switch on the light over the porch,
let passer by look in at the large family
around the table, let them pass.
Let the expression on the face
of the Statue of Liberty change just a little,
let her see what lies inland:
across the plain one man is marching...
the Unknown Soldier has risen from his tomb,
let him be recognized at home.
The Prodigal. Give him his share:
the eagle nailed to the barn door.
Let him be quick.
The sirens wail as bride
and groom kiss through the veil.
Bless this union with all its might,
let it remain inviolate.




29 March, 2017

Seeing my novel for the very first time...

Yesterday, I received the advanced reading copy galleys of 'After Anatevka.'

It is the very first time I have seen my book as a BOOK. In the shape, weight, texture, and smell of a book.

There are no words to explain what this feels like. A bit like birth. It is certainly the most significant and enduring offering of my soul to ever emerge from me, and will last longer than any play, will last longer than me.

Dear hardworking dreamers, keep going.

23 March, 2017

Be right back!

Dearest Readers,

I know that I have been a liiiiiiittle MIA in 2017, and it is only because birthing a book out into the world is a lot like, well, birth! Conceiving the idea is the fun part, then there are months of morning sickness and achy joints and hormonal rages, then the pain and ouch and crazy of birth itself, and then BAM! A miracle!

I cannot wait to share After Anatevka with all of you. The amount of learning and growing and discovery and gratitude has all been overwhelming.

All of this is to say, I know I have been neglecting dear London Still, and I'll be right back!


Love,

Al

x


28 February, 2017

'My guardian angel is afraid of the dark...' by Charles Simic

My guardian angel is afraid of the dark. 
He pretends he's not, sends me ahead, tells me he'll be along in a moment. 
Pretty soon I can't see a thing.

     "This must be the darkest corner of heaven," someone whispers behind my back. It turns out her guardian angel is missing too. 
     "It's an outrage,” I tell her. "The dirty little cowards leaving us all alone," she whispers. 

And of course, for all we know, I might be a hundred years old already, 
and she just a sleepy little girl with glasses.


03 February, 2017

Ask Al: You Contain Multitudes

Dear Al,

Honestly, I am a little embarrassed to ask this question because I suspect you are asked it all the time, and possibly not with total seriousness. But I am actually asking in earnest: How do you get to Broadway?

I am a sophomore musical theatre student in a great American MT program and I’m a soprano just like you! It is my one and only dream to be a performer on Broadway someday, and I literally can’t see myself doing or loving anything else as much, but all I ever hear is how impossible it is to get “there,” how hard, how tough, how the odds are against us all. If that is true, then I don’t think I understand why training programs even exist for such an “impossible” profession! Because, well, you are “there.” You did “it.” You proved that this impossible thing, is not, in fact, utterly impossible. Somebody is doing it! So I figured I might as well ask what makes you tick, what motivates you, and how, if possible can others hope to be in a position like yours one day?

I know there is no real secret, I do. I know you have to work harder and be better than the rest. But what does that mean? What does that look and feel like?

You are such a big inspiration to me, and I just wanted to know if there were any thoughts on the topic you could share.

With gratitude,

Tara


 * * *

Dear dear Tara,


You’re not only a smart cookie, you are bold! This is a great question, and I sincerely thank you for asking this with such a genuine spirit. You are right, one does have to work harder and always strive to be the best they can possibly be in order to work at the top of any profession. But, assuming that that is obvious, let’s start by breaking up the mysteries of “making it” into a few points—all of which are not about specific “How To-s,” but about outlook.
 

1. No more “Never”
    Ah platitudes!  
    I love your logic because YES: Somebody is doing it. They have to cast someone, so “Why me?” Well, why not you? I like to think of Broadway as the “Special Forces” of the Theatre, and thus, by that logic, yes, it is an extremely rare, special, and thus, difficult achievement to make the cut. The reality is: you might not. Most people don’t. But? Some people do. And you could be among them. You have to be talented, bold, very resilient, and more than a little lucky.

    But you are correct: someone is out there doing it. People are also winning medals at the Olympics, going to outer space and this year the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. So take away those “Never” platitudes and replace them with language (and thus, thoughts/beliefs!) that stay open to possibility, even if the possibility is indeed slim.

Instead of
    “I’m never gonna make it,”
    “I’m never the lucky one,”
or
    “I’ll never sing like that”

Try phrases like
    “They have to choose someone!”
    “It might as well be me!”
Or,
    “Every day I am improving my skills and capacity!”


2. Athletes of the heart
    You are correct, “How do I get to Broadway” is a question I get asked all the time. It is matched in frequency to “How do I know when I’ve ‘made it.” And “What is ‘Success?’” Whoa Nellie. These questions all garner a similar response.

    'Broadway' is just like any other dreamy life goal. If I were an Olympian, people would assume that the view from the summit took years of early mornings, sacrifices, fierce commitment and bone crushing work, but somehow, society doesn’t always view artists in the same way. Believe me, the rigor required is identical, it just takes different forms. As Antonin Artaud said, artists are “athletes of the heart.” Artists of all kinds, but particularly interpretive artists have to do emotional gymnastics that turns their heart, minds and souls inside out to serve a story. But performing artists are also? Actual athletes. Just ask any performer doing 8 shows a week. Of anything.You ask what rigor "looks and feels like." That is, of course, different for every individual, but here are some ideas that I adhere to. These thoughts do not apply to and for everyone, but they are a guideline for me. (Also, if you are not an actor and you are reading this blog anyway, I welcome you to find the corresponding parallels in your own profession and life!)

    - Rigorous self-exploration (you are the only personal human experience you will ever have)
    - Incredible discipline (of diet, exercise, rest, study, class, physical therapy, skill improvement, health maintenance, vocal rest)
    - Empathy (you have to constantly expand your heart to be able to understand and portray without judgement, people very different from you)
    - Curiosity (about humanity, relationships, history, culture, and people who are different from you)
    - Voracious, rigorous study (read plays, books, see theatre, take classes)
    - Practice Practice Practice (you have to DO it actually warm up, sing, stretch yourself, sight-read, Read out loud, or freaking finger paint I don’t care— but you have to DO your art— every single day)
    - Exercise (your body is your instrument)
    - Feed yourself real food and actually sleep (depravity is overrated, and seriously uncool/not to be bragged about)
    - Constant skill improvement and expansion

Finally,


3. “Broadway” is special, but it also just geography
"Broadway" only made up of a few criteria:
    - The size of the house
    - The geography of the address.
     There are 41 qualifying Broadway theatres, all of which have to have over 500 seats, and located in the Theater District and Lincoln Center circling along the street “Broadway,” in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. It is also, not unlike church or marriage or the right to vote, much much more than just that the basic criteria, but in essence…that’s it...

     Yes, Broadway (along with London's West End) is widely considered to represent the highest level of commercial theatre in the English-speaking world. But, while that is amazing, and a wonderful goal to aspire to, there are many many places in America, and across the planet to create, perform, participate in, and enjoy, the theatre.

    Off Broadway services more New York city tourists in a calendar year than the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island combined!

     And that is just New York! What of London’s West End, National and International Tours, summer stock, semi-professional theatres, and last but certainly not least, incredible, award-winning regional theatres across the country (like the Guthrie, McCarter, Goodman Theaters, the Mark Taper Forum, and of course, The Kennedy Center)? See where I am going with this? Essentially: There are lots of places to work that are not Broadway.

     These incredible venues are not only the birthplaces of many original works, and Broadway shows before they reach New York, but the majority of regional theatres like to revisit the past and cater to the audiences (just like you!) that love classic plays and musicals as much as they enjoy the new stuff, not to mention: they are the sites of many of my (and hundreds of thousands of other actors’) very favorite artistic experiences.

     In 2016 there were also over 500 amateur productions of Fiddler in America alone, along with 20 professional American productions, and countless international professional productions (did you know Fiddler has been professionally produced in Japan over 1300 times in the last 50 years?!)


Which brings me to the ultimate point:


4. Work is the Goal; and Work is Work
     I am no less playing Tzeitel than Haley Bond was at The Muny last summer, or Teagan Wouters continues to do in the Australian National Tour; or any number of Tzeitel’s across the country and world in regional, amateur and high school theatres. I get paid—and yes, a Broadway production usually gets recorded into an album, which is eligible for a Grammy; but the words themselves, the songs, and the life Tzeitel Kamzoil lives? Every actor with “Tzeitel” next to their name in the program says the same words—at varying levels of professionalism, artistic depth, exposure, technique, experience and capacity, yes—but we all still do it.

     And so can you, dearest Tara! If you possess talent and grit (and I’m just going to assume you do!) you can play Laurie and Carrie and Magnolia and Maria and allllll the yummy sopranos you want—they just might not be on Broadway. But honestly…who cares? You might thrill, entertain and move the good people of St. Louis or Sarasota or Minneapolis and that’s wonderful! Some of the greatest artistic experiences of my life have been in Edinburgh, Washington, DC, Sheffield, Manchester, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Los Angeles. These lovely roles are out there in the world to be played, and you might just play them. 

     For work is work. That is the nature of an functional actor’s life/a performing career. Working. Not working in a highly public, salary-and-fame-and-award driven way. Fame and fortune are hollow goals, and their pursuit (I promise, I've witnessed it) will make you miserable. Not every screen actor is a movie star, nor every musical theatre performer a Broadway legend. Some are both (ohai there Bette Midler, Bernadette Peters, Carol Burnette, and Mandy Patinkin)!
    But most of us actors are just going from job to job, and while often those jobs are quite rewarding, though sometimes they are not. That's okay. We go about this work regardless of the fancy address; we pay our bills, collect our insurance weeks, and when we are lucky, make new friends and fill our souls. But above all, working is truly about providing for ourselves as artists. That alone is a difficult goal to achieve (only 1% of all the actors in the Actors Equity Association, work) thus, being a working artist is truly the ultimate artistic dream. If notoriety and shiny awards come your way, how wonderful. If not? That’s okay too. Someone has to, nay, gets to play Hedda Gabler in Philadelphia; someone gets to play Valmont and Mama Rose and Coriolanus in Whereverville. Be honest: wouldn’t it be magical if that could be you?


5. “I contain multitudes”

    Walt Whitman said:
    “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”
    Whoa boy, Walt. Steady there. You nailed this on the head. Human beings are vast creatures, containing multitudinous textures, capacities, and qualities all of which make up who we are, and the stories of out lives.

     Broadway is a wonderful life goal, and I feel beyond honored to have “made it” to both the West end and Broadway myself—I count my blessings every single day.

    However, “Broadway” is, in actuality, just a goal like any other. It is like making partner, losing the weight, winning the medal, etc. There is no train station of “Success” one pulls into where when they depart, everything is perfect and grand. There is no magical wand that waves and voila you are all set. No no no. You achieve the goal, pop the champagne and celebrate! But then? Life proceeds.

    Ask any Olympian what life is like 3 weeks after they win a gold medal. I guarantee you they are watching movies and ordering takeout. My version of that is this: 40 minutes after my Carnegie Hall debut was I in a fancy champagne bar raising a glass of Veuve Cliquot in Manhattan? Nope. I was in Brooklyn Diner getting a strawberry milkshake with my mom, manager and two of my best friends. I was still in my ballgown. Then? I ran home, fell dead asleep, and woke up early to teach my 9am acting class for the next 6 hours the next day down at Pace. Why? Because I contain multitudes!  (Incidentally, not one of my students gave a damn that I’d made my Carnegie Hall debut the night before. They were too busy feeling their feelings and being chickens…). I reveled in the dichotomy of my activities—because life is ridiculous! And hilarious! And beautiful! All of the these activities heightened the celebration of the other, and of the richness of life itself.

    The point is: once you climb the mountain/achieve your dreamy amazing goals, yes, you absolutely get to enjoy the view from the summit! But then you have to realistically go about life with humility. That means maintaining and hopefully often expanding your standards; it means setting new goals, getting new dreams, falling on your face again and again (just in higher heels…) and on you go, living your life. You still have to vacuum, do the dishes, get sick, feel grumpy, bloat after eating salty stuff, get caught in the rain, and have bad hair days. #SorryNotSorry: big dreamers and high achievers are people too.

    Part of “making it” is not only accepting, but celebrating that your best life achievements and your greatest successes will come in may shapes and sizes. When I think of my Carnegie Hall debut, I do think of the orchestra, the gown, the sight of the hall, and that high C that soared over the crowd. But I also think of the strawberry milkshakes with my closest people, and the class I taught the next day at 9am. When I think of that achievement, it contains the multitudes of all of those details— not just the shiniest one. I was proud to be at school the next morning after the evening I’d experienced. I was proud to be celebrating the greatest artistic achievement of my life thus far with my dearest friends in a place that felt true to myself. Because I contain multitudes.

Work. Sing. Soar. Be yourself.
Whatever and wherever that lift-off point may be.
For you, too, contain multitudes.

31 January, 2017

The Sentence
 by Anna Akhmatova

And the stone word fell
On my still-living breast.
Never mind, I was ready.
I will manage somehow.
Today I have so much to do:
I must kill memory once and for all,
I must turn my soul to stone,
I must learn to live again—
Unless…Summer’s ardent rustling
Is like a festival outside my window.
For a long time I’ve foreseen this
Brilliant day, deserted house.



11 January, 2017

"I never met a man who wasn't in love with her..."

     “Olya…” she wiped her nose, “poor little thing, like a bird with a broken wing she was.”

Madame Solovyov moved to leave, lifting her purse and adjusting her jacket as she made her way to the aisle.

      “You know,” she said, addressing Dmitri her back still toward him, her gaze fixed upon and lit by the setting of the sun, “I never met a man who wasn’t in love with her. Not one.” She sniffed lightly. “Not until I met you.”

Her eyes closed in contemplation. Dmitri remained motionless but felt a surge of heat beneath his overcoat.

     “To think,” she mused, her eyes cold and dead, “the one man she truly gave her heart to treated it like a rag.” She readjusted the lace at the collar of her bodice, “What men would’ve done for a scrap of her love…” then, giving him a sobering stare, “What you did with a diamond.”
      “But I have done nothing.”
      “Indeed,” she said.

She eyed him over her shoulder, before glancing once more upon the grave then disappearing into the mist of the morning.

01 January, 2017

I've Been: Nov-Dec 2016


- Taking Tatiana to WORK! (Shhhh don't tell....)

- Trying to get involved in Snapchat (@alsilbs) and finding my ouvre in the "Sad Series" (posted as Sad Reindeer and Tzad Tzeitel on Instagram.)

- Making history with my fellow Americans

- Voting for our first female president of the United States of America! (#ImWithHer)

- Gathering myself, my personal and communal missions, and my hope, post-election.This is going to be hard, but I feel galvanized and motivated to care about my world in new ways. As Pericles stated, "Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you."

- Truly starting to feel like myself again, health wise...

- Enjoying the fruits of our labor (union) when our union won a #FairWageOnStage!

- Basking in the sheer, unadulterated badassery of my mom, MamaSilbs

Fiddler LONDON cast!
- Singing at Joe's Pub with (the Noel Coward to my Gerturde Lawrence) Lance Horne

- Enjoying a Fiddler-London reunion at Joe's Pub!


- Bidding farewell to our original Mama extraordinaire, Jessica Hecht

- Welcoming the one and only (4-time Tony nominee, original Broadway Cosette,Betty, Svetlana and Mrs. Bechdel, VOICE OF POCHA-FREAKIN-HONTAS, and good friend) Judy Kuhn as our new Golde.

Don't be jealous.
- Reading reading reading:
     - The Art of Seduction by Robert Greene
     - The Magical Chorus by Solomon Volkov
     - The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr
     - Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
     - The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander , Benjamin Zander 
(I highly recommend listening to the authors read this on Audible.comthere are dozens of musical examples that are present in the audio version that enhance the experience immensely!)

 - OMFG OMFG: Enjoying my 'Murder, She Wrote' makeup bag (purchased from Etsy)

- Having the honor of witnessing my soulmate friend Amy Jo Jackson get married in NYC. She was an authentic and glittering bride. 


- And also sharing some wonderful memories with dear friend Nikka Lanzarone (which included going over her maid-of-honor speech in the creepy AF train car of The McKittrick Hotel...)

- Decorating my "Christmakuh tree" with a dozen beautiful owl ornaments!

- Beholding the antics of MamaSilbs' Chloe the Cat


- Reveling in the final chapter of #TheCutestPregnantWomanOnBroadway!

- Closing Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway (GUYS: ...can you believe I was in Fiddler on the Roof ...on Broadway?)
. Saying goodbye to a very real and very dear new family that shall forever remain a part of the fabric of my psyche.



- The glow of Christmas

- The miracle of Hanukkah

- The joys of a New Year

- Mega New York City Snow!

- Starting a new chapter, with new values and lesson, in a new year of 2017

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