29 December, 2015

Ask Al: Stay on Your Own 'Mat'

Dear Al, 

I am an acting student at a prominent American conservatory, and one of the things I find so difficult and frustrating is avoiding comparing myself to my peers! For example, I happen to be a little bit more well-read than my classmates, but have two left feet and no singing voice. I get so jealous of their skills, and so down on myself for being “behind!” It often makes me hopeless! Any guidance? I feel like my mind if so full of comparison, I’m losing track of my own journey. 

Thank you! 



Dear Ilana,

I will open with one of my favorite quotes of all time, from our brilliant 26th President Theodore Roosevelt:

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” 

[*Mic drop*]

Okay so hold on: what does this mean exactly?

We are creatures of competition—that’s natural— everyone from Darwin to The Amazing Race has displayed countless times that human beings are just fighting to survive and we want to be The Best whether not being eaten by a bear or $250,000 are on the line.

Thing is, MOST of the time we are NOT being eaten by bears or running to the top of an Incan temple for prize money. We are just living our lives and trying to grow. Yet, we cannot help glancing across the lawn at the dude with the fancier car, or sitting beside the couple at a dinner party with the “better marriage,” and the lady at Starbucks with perfect hair. Or perhaps the mom with the better behaved children, the girl in class who can belt a Z without warming up, or the bastard people who stole your career.
You get it.

 Now this is where we get into analogy territory (which I like to call, that’s right, an AL-nalogy…) If you have ever taken a yoga class, you know that it is easy to get caught up in what other people are doing on THEIR mats. As one allows their eyes to stray, you get an upside-down glimpse at that bastard-woman next to you who is doing a perfect triangle pose and you behold your own crappy inabilities and feel a deep twinge of envy and hatred of Perfect-Triangle-Pose-Lady who, now that you look even more obsessively, is also wearing cuter yoga clothes, dammit.

On the flip side, you might see someone struggling with a pose that comes easily and naturally to you, and feel a sense of self-righteous atta-girl pride. Both of these things are completely:

     1. Normal
     2. Unhelpful. 

The beauty of yoga is that it is a space to get away from competition. Yoga recognizes that we all come to our practice (and yes, it is called a "practice" for that is exactly what it is) with different abilities, strengths, and flexibility.

But hold up, wait a minute: why do we have to keep that mentality exclusively for yoga class? Can we not expand ourselves juuuuuuust a touch and take that mindset into the actual freakin' world? Of course we can. We just have to get a grip.

We all compare ourselves to others (yes, even me: who you are asking for advice; and even theatre-famous people, and even really famous people who are Michelle-Obama-famous) Ultimately, the end goal is not to live our lives flawlessly (or to be just like our neighbors), but to listen to our individual bodies, heart and souls, and to find our own pace of growth, learning and expansion. In our careers, as in yoga, there’s a tendency to let our ambition—and our own egos—guide our decisions according to other people’s success.

 If it becomes difficult to stay focused on your own progress and to be present with where you are in your life here are a few things to remember:

1. Don’t Compare 
Did your roommate get a date with the cute guy you like?
Did your boyfriend book the crappy musical you were using to define your entire sense of worth and you did not?
Is your best friend skinnier/more stylish/cuter/better at life than you are?

Don’t panic: you are not a loser, they are on their journey, and you are on yours. It is more than likely that they sometimes look over at you and can’t believe how annoyingly perfect you are at something that you don’t even value because you are too busy being a meany-pants to yourself. Worth, value, marketability, humor, beauty, intelligence, coolness, and pretty much EVERYTHING else are RELATIVE.
In fact, ever heard the phrase “everything’s relative?”
Oh yeah, that would be because it IS.

It’s one thing to look to others for inspiration, but we have to be careful not to measure our entire sense of worth based on others’ accomplishments. In moments like these you must recall (and possibly recite) Teddy Roosevelt’s genius quote like the mantra it clearly is, center yourself and get that grip! If we fill our minds with comparisons we will completely lose out on truly living—the joys of being in the moment, the celebration of our uniqueness, special gifts, and personal callings.

 2. Don’t Judge. 
Listen to me: the more you judge others, the more you fear and feel judgement.
This was a big one for me to come to grips with.
Think about this: what are the insecurities that come your mind right away?
Thunder thighs?
Thinning hair?
Money woes?
Relationship drama?

Whatever it may be I’d wager that a part of your consciousness goes through life silently (or sometimes not-so-silently) picking apart, envying, and ultimately judging eeeevery skinny bitch in a magazine, every girl in an ill-fitting dress on the subway, assessing every head of hair, picking apart every belted D, everyone else’s relationship, wardrobe, GPA, income, or whatever.

Come on...
... Am I right?

I’ll own that this used to be me. Until one day I had a major epiphany, took stock of my inner dialogue and and had to admit it: I had lost DAYS OF MY LIFE thinking about how other people’s asses look in a pair of jeans [*sad trombone*]. I vowed to snap out of it. 

Now think about the things you are confident about (or, if you are really messed up, the things that are “fine” about yourself so you basically don’t really give them a lot of thought).
Do you have really pretty straight teeth?
Great legs?
Did you win the hair lottery?
Are you talented at stuff?
Are you #blessed with great skin/nails/style AND YOU JUST FORGOT ABOUT THAT?

Here’s the thing: I guarantee you that the things you don’t focus on (like your banging legs you never have to work on) you NEEEEEVER judge about other people. If you have great skin, you often don’t even notice other people’s skin—it is not on your mind, it has no currency for you. Am I right?

Thus, you can assume that most people don’t give a hoot about your jeans size or acne scars or the fact that you don’t have a boyfriend. Most people are too busy obsessing over their own bad hair day.

Now look: some people are judging, just like you were— but screw em. They don’t need to be scolded, they mostly need a hug, and frankly, so do you. Hug that hug and move on.

The lesson: The less you JUDGE, the less you FEEL JUDGED. If you take that ticker tape of judge-y nasty-talk out of your own head, you simply become accustomed to a life in which that kind of internal dialogue is not a part of your existence, and you also come to assume it is not a part of anyone else’s.
That is called inner peace.
It is a crucial component of acceptance.

The challenge: for the next week, try to be aware of every single time you internally judge another person based on your own insecurities. Just take note of how often you do it. The following week, note it, and consciously change the internal dialogue to something neutral or positive.

Keep that practice up and before long, that ticker tape of negativity will be neutralized and TA DAAAA! You’ll have your brain back.

3. Practice a Lil’ Self-Compassion 
On the mat, the body is boss. If our hamstrings are screaming out in pain, we don’t go all “mind over matter” on that sh*t. We listen. We accept our body’s limits. We must show ourselves the utmost compassion when it comes to growth. Yogis accept that the body knows best, and therefore don’t attach to the yearnings of the ego, which can often sound a little something like this:

     “Why the hell did you get into that handstand?… You were thiiiiis close to nailing it!!”

Translated? Don’t worry about:
1. What Perfect McBlondiePants has achieved
2. What you achieved yesterday
3. What you hope to achieve today
4. What any of it mean for your uncertain future

 It is all about what you are capable of right now—accept whatever that is completely.
So, Be kind to yourself.
Release all expectations.
Honor yourself for simply showing up.

4. Focus on YOUR practice/ process, Focus on YOUR mental and physical experience/growth 
Yogis use the sensations of their body to guide their practice. Bringing awareness without judgement to all that we see, feel, smell and hear helps to focus our attention on the mat, back on the Now.  So… when you feel yourself all up in yo’ head – Stop. Look around. Listen to the sounds. BREATHE. Focus on your breath. Take a big whiff of your surroundings. Take stock of what you are feeling, experiencing. Respect and appreciate it all. When you focus on the basics, your psyche gets right back into alignment. The “Crazytown bus” takes a detour back to Sane-ville.
Inhale… exhale…
Welcome back to the mat, my friend.
Your mat.
Your life and journey and no one else’s.

27 December, 2015

'Unending Love' by Rabindranath Tagore

I seem to have loved you in numberless forms, numberless times…

In life after life, in age after age, forever.
My spellbound heart has made and remade the necklace of songs,
That you take as a gift, wear round your neck in your many forms,
In life after life, in age after age, forever.

Whenever I hear old chronicles of love, its age-old pain,
Its ancient tale of being apart or together.
As I stare on and on into the past, in the end you emerge,
Clad in the light of a pole-star piercing the darkness of time:
You become an image of what is remembered forever.

You and I have floated here on the stream that brings from the fount.
At the heart of time, love of one for another.
We have played along side millions of lovers, shared in the same
Shy sweetness of meeting, the same distressful tears of farewell-
Old love but in shapes that renew and renew forever.

Today it is heaped at your feet, it has found its end in you
The love of all man’s days both past and forever:
Universal joy, universal sorrow, universal life.
The memories of all loves merging with this one love of ours –
And the songs of every poet past and forever.

© Nick Bantock

26 December, 2015

Self Portrait: 26.Dec.15

That's right. It's the Murder, She Wrote BOARD. GAME.

20 December, 2015

12 December, 2015

Tzeitel's 8 Nights of Hanukkah

Happy Hanukkah readers, from me, Al(exandra) Silber.
I wanted to escort you through the eight days of the Festival of Lights — with a little bit of Broadway razzle dazzle to keep the butts in the seats. So sit back, relax, grab your dreidel, prepare yourself for an onslaught of latkes and songs in Db minor, and get ready to raise a glass and drink L'Chaim to life.

© Joan Marcus
This year, on the evening of December 6 in the secular calendar—Jews the world over will light a single candle in their eight-branched Hanukkah menorah (also called the Hanukkiyah- חנוכיח). The Jewish community commemorates a miracle of the burning oil by lighting candles on the menorah every night for eight nights—one the first night, two the second, three the third, and so on. There is a ninth candle in the middle of the called the shamash, which is the “servant light,” in that it is lit first, then used to light all the other candles.

The appeal of a ‘festival of light’ in the season when the sun makes its briefest appearance is obvious: the kindling of light brightens up not only the night but also our moods, and symbolizes the hope of the sun's return in a few months' time. By the eighth night the spirit of joy and celebration that has been building all week comes to its fullest expression.

But you know what full expression means in the theatre world: it means big feels.
It means a production number about what you really really want at the close of Act 1.
Thing is, in Fiddler on the Roof, the close of Act 1 is a pogrom…Thus! I give you what we at The Broadway Theatre’s have as our own relationships to candles and light.

Macy's Parade Rehearsal
Jews are of course not the only people to celebrate light around the the winter solstice.
Light features prominently in many winter festivals, such as the Hindu festival of Diwali, Kwanzaa, Yalda, and of course, the lighting of Christmas trees.

And what is the best way to celebrate winter in NYC? Why! to cozy up inside a nice warm theatre and take in a Broadway show. And why not make that Broadway show one where everyone is bundled up in the Pale of Settlement in the dead of winter?

After lighting the candles, the whole family says a special prayer and sings traditional Hanukkah songs...(See what I did there…?) TRADITIONal Hanukkah songs like “Dreidel and Dreidel” and…um, well, an encore of “Dreidel Dreidel…”

At least at Fiddler we can sing “Tradition” over and over again, supported by our incredible orchestra lead by shiny genius Musical Director Ted Sperling.

Our Orchestra!

Oh! And what would Hanukkah be without music and dancing? Like this shtetl warm-up to “Moves Like Jagger” before the show with Tzeitel and Hodel:

What UP, internet?

Hanukkah has also been given a historical narrative, for, in contrast to the other major Jewish holidays, Hanukkah is not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. Rather, its origins are traced back to mid-second century BCE. King Antiochus IV forbade the practice of Jewish laws and customs, and violated their Temple. A small Jewish army led by Judah Maccabee to fight the powerful Greek army and won.

Now that you know Hanukkah’s history, why not indulge in a few historical points from our Fiddler company. Here are some company members in shall we say “vintage” productions of Fiddler:

This isn’t Lori Wilner’s first Fiddler rodeo! She played Golde in both the last Broadway and recent Goodspeed productions:

And who is that? Whyyyyy that would be ME, giving you my 15-year-old Golde:

Michael Bernardi is Fiddler on the Roof royalty— as the son of the late great Hershel Bernardi (one of history’s great Tevye’s), he is (literally) wearing his father’s boots, and carrying on not just a tradition, but a legacy:

And let’s give the Greeks a little shout out with this photo of our resident Greek, George Psomas (who plays Avram the book seller):
George Psomas: GREEK PERSON

The Temple then had to be re-sanctified to the worship of the God of Israel. According to the Talmud, olive oil was required to keep the menorah ablaze within the Temple. But when the Jews returned to their oil supply, they found that there was only enough oil to burn for a single day. Eight days would be required to prepare a new supply of oil. The light in the temple would be doused long before then.
But a miracle happened…The oil in the temple lasted eight incredible days: exactly the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil for the menorah. Thus, Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, came to be. The miracle is a reminder to all of us about endurance and sustenance against all odds.

And, who better to represent said “miracle” than our own, and MY own Motel Kamzoil, Adam Kantor, who I have the honor of listening to every night as he sings “Miracle of Miracles” to me. This. This is us:

©David Gordon
©Allison Stock

6. FAMILY & ANCESTRY!Hanukkah is also a wonderful time to bring light into the lives of those around us. At Fiddler, we try to celebrate with our nuclear theatre family, which we, naturally, call “The Bursteins.” 
©Bruce Glikas
7. TRADITIOOOOOOONS! TRADITIONS!Traditions are important to all Jews… so important that we open one of the greatest musicals ever written with a song entitled, um, “TRADITION.” So what are the Hanukkah traditions?
We eat a LOT of food. I mean— we always eat a lot of food, but holidays are usually pretty spectacular. On Hanukkah it is customary to eat foods that are cooked in oil, such as doughnuts, called sufganiot, and potato pancakes, called latkes to commemorate the miracle of the oil, as are the oily foods traditionally prepared for the festival.
You hang with your family.
You light the menorah.
You sing songs (like “Dreidel”…on repeat…).
After all, without our traditions our lives would be as shaky and a Fiddler on the Roof.
Right? Of course right!

Hanukkah is a special holiday to connect with your loved ones — both blood-related and chosen. It is all about coming together to celebrate, and what better way to celebrate than with those you adore?
The six Fiddler "lovers" call ourselves the “Mishpucha,” which literally translates to “family,” and often means “extended family, and then some.” Well, there couldn’t be a better definition for the way the six of us feel about one another.
We go on triple dates.
And indulge in an on-going text chain.
And laugh and laugh and laugh.
And, as you can see from these diabetes-inducing photographs taken by Playbill at our Press Day, the love is real, and just like Jacques Brel, the love is alive and well and living in Anatevka. 


Finally, remember wonderful Playbill readers, the true meaning of Hanukkah:
Beyond all reason or logic, we, too — like the light in the ancient Temple of Jerusalem — are inextinguishable. In the darkest and most desperate hours, when we mine ourselves for more than we ever could conceive was possible, the fuel is there. So that we may continue on.
Hope may be fragile, but it is there.
Like light. . .

Sometimes blazing, sometimes merely a tender, trembling flicker that regardless, cannot be extinguished, that flame winking even in the darkest hours. So we continue to learn again and again as time churns ever onward.

Happy Hanukkah, Playbill readers. May we all mine ourselves for more — tonight and always.


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