31 December, 2016

The Fiddler Plays…

The fiddler plays and grows ever thinner, thin and thinner,
already thinner than the fiddle-bow, thinner than a string.
In place of its master, by itself the fiddle plays thinner, ever thinner,
and its master burns for his faith on a white pyre.
The fiddle plays alone now ever thinner, thin and thinner,
the fiddler cannot pass it a sip of water; On their own
the sounds play and they play thinner, thinner.
until sounds glow on the pyre, sounds glow.
Sounds glow on the pyre, glow thin and thinner,
now the darkness plays without fiddle and without bow.
It plays without sounds and its playing: thinner, thinner, thinner,
until we sparkle all through its black eyes.
Oh, darkness, for whom do you play ever thinner, thin and thinner,
for us, the small tears? Are your favors destined for us?
Music from tears. Tiny tears. Thinner, thinner, thinner,
together with the white pyre and the dark earth.

30 December, 2016

05 December, 2016

Ask Al: Cherish the Climb

    The other day I had an incredible conversation with one of my former students. I realized that instead of the traditional “Ask Al” format, I would preserve the conversation in its dialectic essence, so you could see how beautifully the thoughts progressed.

    I also feel that the subject matter, though specific to acting, is utterly universal to anyone meeting difficulties in pursuing a dream of any kind. It could be about family stuff, relationships, work, or a major life event. In general, anything that is difficult, unconventional, or described as really “going for it” will always carry personal shame and self-doubt. It will also likely carry jealous, controversy, fear, and often total misunderstanding from the most well-meaning (and sometimes not-so-well-meaning!) of people.

    When we are in pain or distress we want the discomfort to ease right away so we look for familiar “fixes.” These might work temporarily, but ultimately discomfort is necessary in order to truly grow.

    My student was in the middle of a true growing pain, and they made what I considered to be a slightly impulsive decision to go to back to school, perhaps without examining all the emotional “evidence.”

    Here is a modified transcript from our conversation. When I tell you that teaching has brought richness into my life, I mean it. This conversation helped me hugely, maybe as much as it did my student. I hope it helps you too.

(And yes, you theatre nerds, in the tradition of Richard Boleslavsky’s Acting: The First Six Lessons, why yes I did decide to name my student “The Creature.”)


Grad School?!

The Creature:
     Honestly I thought I would never want to go back to any type of school ever. But I had the thought today and I figured why not apply and at least see if I get in? The most I have to lose is the cost of the application.
    These past couple months have been very eye-opening and challenging for me and I realized that straight acting and TV and film is what I really want to pursue. I also feel a huge amount of pressure from my parents to book acting work right now, and that's just been really hard.

    Would it be okay to talk about this a little bit more deeply? Especially if I'm going to write a recommendation. I really just want to understand what you're looking for. My word means a lot to me, and I want to put it to good use. You know how I feel about your talent, I just want to make certain you're applying for the right reasons. When a person just sees a request for a recommendation in their inbox without any prior knowledge, it can be a little arresting. It just makes me want to ask some follow up questions!

The Creature:
    I totally understand... To be completely honest I think in underlying reason for me wanting to go back to school in particular is because I've been missing the opportunity to express myself every day.
    Perhaps it's also subconsciously a way to prove to myself that I'm still worthy of this career?
    I've been doubting myself lately which is hilarious because I really haven't been going on very many auditions. It's been very slow, Al, I just feel like something is really off and I don't quite know how to put my finger on it..

    That's okay. What I'm hearing is a sense that this choice is coming from a place of fear and distress, not a place of peace. So I think if we talk more deeply, we might address the underlying situation before you take the next step forward.

The Creature:
    I think you're right. I think my fear is coming from the sudden reality of this as a business and the ability to make it a living. Especially financially.

    My sweet, you know this career has ups and downs. It gets slow. Sometimes very slow. You truly need to cultivate patience more than ever now.
    The golden question is this: HOW CAN I TAKE CHARGE OF MY *OWN* ARTISTIC EXPRESSION? You are capable of expressing yourself every day, just not necessarily in a formal performance setting. There are studios, notepads, classes to take, plays to read out loud alone or with a group of pals, poems to write, dances to choreograph. Part of this adjustment period out of school is figuring out how you scratch that itch for yourself without being given "permission" to do so by others.

The Creature:
    I know. I'm the worst at patience. I need to get more practical too... Okay... Now I'm starting to think that maybe grad school was more of an impulsive fear based/retreating decision... But there's also a part of me that really does want to get more core training. I feel like I went into this with really no plan I guess.

    You did not have a plan, no. But sometimes that is good! It is always in our toughest moments that we really become ourselves.

The Creature:
    All I had was a strong gut feeling. This is definitely a low, but I have learned a lot of things about myself and its been a test of my spiritually and faith and purpose.

    That’s all good. You know, sometimes in life we fall in love with the Result of a dream: the feeling of being on stage in front of people. But we must also being in love with the process of getting there. The crappy auditions, the dark days of despair, and the stupid things we do for money. If we never try hard enough to really Fail, then we have to accept that we didn't like to climb, we just liked to imagine the summit. We want the victory, but not the fight. We must Cherish the Climb, so to better appreciate and deserve the view from the summit. In life, we are all defined by what we are willing to truly fight for.

The Creature:
    ...You just dropped the mic.
    And I think you just fixed my problem

    Tell me why we just fixed your problem. Teach it back to me.

The Creature:
    - We fall in love with the result of a dream (such as the feeling of being loved by an audience.)
    - Rather, we need to fall in love with the process of getting there, part of which is about accepting failure.
    - Right now I feel like I have a strong sense of purpose that I'm meant to act, I just don't know how I'm going to get there, and the fear of not knowing how is terrifying. (That's something I've realized about myself—that I hate not knowing the answers. I have to constantly remind myself to live the questions)
    - Getting a survival job does not mean I'm submitting to failure.
    - And, no one “gives me permission" to express myself. All I have to do it give myself permission (I think that goes back to me always wanting to please authority figures and teachers), I have to learn to please myself.

    A+. This is huge.

The Creature:
    Thank you Al. I truly don't know what I would do without you. I feel like I've lost all touch and connection every everyone and everything. I'm grateful for my connection with you because I've never felt so on my own more than I do now. But it's all good for me.

    Well I am always here.
    You don’t need a new school. At least not right now, or for these reasons.
    You need you.

The Creature:

    After exploring this, do you see how going to grad school might just be postponing feeling these exact feelings, just in a few more years?

The Creature:
    I do. I see it clearly now.
It would be like keeping my fears at bay and remaining "safe” by replicating a familiar environment. It was my subconscious way to maintain a known, and a structure, because right now I feel a lot of fear and uncertainty.

    Exactly right. You no longer have authority figures and teachers to please, so you are scrambling to get that heroine-like stream of approval and validation from external sources. When all the while, the TRUE source of approval is available within you. Self love and self approval is a real thing. It is not arrogant, it is you accepting yourself for all your truths—good and bad!

The Creature:

    This pattern is so real and so valid. It happens to almost everyone (well, at least every self-reflective person) in some form or another. People use food, relationships, over-working, drugs, sex, exhibitionism, even social media to find that feeling. The answers are not “out there.” Truuuust me.

The Creature:
    I can definitely relate. I've used food and people in the past.
Okay. Wow. I’m feeling much better now. THANK YOU.

    I’m always proud of you, but this was a really big moment.

The Creature:
    I'm really glad we talked today. I have been hiding lately; I've been hesitant to ask for any help from anybody because I feel ashamed.

    And listen: a few final things.
1. Go get a survival job without shame.
    We’ve all had them in whatever form. Get one that allows you to enjoy your life and gives you time to do the stuff that makes you happy.
     My best friend plays oboe at American Ballet Theatre, then she pops over and subs for us at Fiddler, and is pursuing her doctorate in music from Rutgers. She was the principal oboe of the Chilean National Orchestra for 8 years for gods-sake. You know what she also does? She works at a jewelry store Uptown. Why? Because she likes books and food and coffee and groceries and ya know, not growing a huge fear-based tumor about rent. She also likes the people, and it means she can enjoy her life. My best friend is NO loser. She's feisty, talented and also? Pragmatic. People who make time to enjoy their lives…ya know, enjoy their lives.
    Shame has been your big demon for the first 22 years. Let’s kick shame in the teeth. You don’t need that jerkface anymore.
     In addition,
    -  [Tony-nominee] is working is getting his masters in Social Work at Columbia.
    - [Broadway friend] makes websites and sells electronics.
    - [Other Broadway friend] is pre-med online and does PR work on Instagram.
    - And let's not forget that I teach. I taught YOU.
    - Plus! Great story: one of our amazing Fiddler vacation swings STILL WORKS AT A RESTAURANT. One day he was even in the middle of a shift, no longer technically at Fiddler, and lo and behold, Fiddler called him in a total panic and begged him to play Mordcha the Innkeeper at 2pm. He covered his restaurant shift and made it to the theatre just in time. Broadway called. Rockstar moment.
    All of the = bye bye shame!

The Creature:   
Wow!! This is all very inspiring.

    Okay second of the last “things:”
2. Don’t talk to anyone in your life who does not totally understand the lifestyle of being an artist.
    At least for a little while, while you are getting your sea legs. Most adults are used to a somewhat steady income, and not a lot of job related passion or strife. But an artistic life is very unconventional: income is volatile, disappointments are many, auditions come and go, and they sometimes go badly, and all of this can make the (very sweet, but totally ignorant) worry-worts panic, and this sends the artist into any number of spirals.  If this is your mean Aunt Edna, schmeh, fine. That's easier to overlook...
     But it might also be your truly loving parents (or friends, or partner, or whomever). That is okay. There is a lot to talk about with them while you are figuring this part out. But going over every little bump in the road is just going to cause their fear monsters to attack them, and via them, you. Talk to supportive artsy or showbiz people who already know the ropes and will say helpful things.
    It is not their fault that they do not fully get it— heck, I don’t know how to do their jobs! I also can’t go to space, or teach chemistry, or properly dye hair. I can’t drive a subway, or run a farm, or file paperwork without getting a mini ulcer. Hell, I can barely feed my cat on a schedule, and in 2010, I absolutely set fire to my towels attempting to dry them in the oven, then 24 hours later shorted the electricity in my building whilst installing a ceiling fan, then did a solo show at Feinstein's that evening. Ah the highs and lows of the Glamorous Life! 
    I’m comfortable with these truths. Strengths or weaknesses, I’m at ease with allllll the things I don’t know how to do. Ah, the sense of peace I feel about requiring the services of a hairdresser and electrician; of letting the astronauts do their space thing without my interference.
    This is no different. It is hard because they are your parents, and you are their precious golden child, and right now you are all in that very difficult transition of you being an adult, and them learning how to appropriately parent an adult child. That is legitimately hard for them—not just on you. It is tricky and takes a lot of time to get right, and sometimes (a lot of times in fact) people don’t get it right. Families just end up screaming at one another about decade-old grudges on Thanksgiving, or worse, they stop talking altogether, then they pass the pathology on to their own poor unsuspecting children. Fun!
    The point is: every emerging child, at any age or stage, needs space to figure life out.

The Creature:
    Yes. My family is just so concerned about money, which is fair. I keep telling them that they are technically saving money compared to what he would be spending on my more tuition! But of course their main point is that I need to find a side job as soon as possible so I can at least start making money for myself. Of course I understand. I have just been hesitant to do that because...well, I'm realizing just this second that subconsciously, I guess I had a lot of shame around the idea of a side job. Like it was somehow indicative of my failure. But now after this talk I now realize that is not true. It is a part of my path to success!

    Yes! Tell your parents you are on the job hunt and that you trust it’s all gonna be okay.
     Then? Go on an actual job hunt. Start by looking in places you wouldn't mind hanging out anyway: like my BFF and the jewelry store. Don't be too picky, just start somewhere and get a little experience and some rent money, and take it from there, one day at a time.
     Trust me on this: if you are indeed living under a bridge eating insects with trolls in 2018, I will call your parents myself, and then we can all discuss your life in finer detail..
    This is going to be okay. You just have to start.

    And now, the third  and final “thing.”

    3. The next time me you’re in a place like this, raise your hand and express yourself to those you love.  Say “help please! I’m feeling fear and shame and discomfort!” Do this before you start making impulsive decisions to heal the immediate pain of the unknowns.  
    Applying to grad school was NOT going to solve this.
    This conversation was.
    Try to give yourself permission to not only ask for support/help, but to feel less shame about asking at all.

The Creature:
    You just dropped the mic again.
That was the lesson of tonight.
    I’m feeling determined and inspired and tomorrow is the start of a new me. THANK YOU AL.
    I am cutting and saving this conversation for ever.

Me too.

30 November, 2016

'Day in Autumn' by Rainer Maria Rilke

After the summer’s yield, Lord, it is time
to let your shadow lengthen on the sundials
and in the pastures let the rough winds fly.

As for the final fruits, coax them to roundness.
Direct on them two days of warmer light
to hale them golden toward their term, and harry
the last few drops of sweetness through the wine.

Whoever’s homeless now, will build no shelter;
who lives alone will live indefinitely so,
waking up to read a little, draft long letters,  
and, along the city’s avenues,
fitfully wander, when the wild leaves loosen. 

25 November, 2016


Grigory had tried. He really had.

Eva, being the premature bride she was, had been given the benefit of the doubt more times than her wonderfully patient husband cared to recognize; and patience came easily, for her overall manner was so utterly mild, agreeable, pleasant.

But all of this turned to mud when it came to the matter of her appalling cooking. It stands to reason that all Jewish women live and breathe to cook, yes? They never get tired of stirring and peeling and kneading and chopping. They go to sleep at night spooning the crock-pots, and awake each morning to find a skillet under their pillow and a rainbow arching serenely, magnanimously, over the stove. But the truth is, there were many days when Eva would have done anything to avoid the culinary perils of her kitchen. Anything. Hit-herself-over-the-head-with-the-aforementioned-skillet-from-under-the-pillow anything. Anything.

For the first few years of their marriage, Eva had many of those days. At first, she thought it was because of her recent run of bad secular recipes: she had trouble with preparations, non-kosher foods that seemed not only foreign but forbidden. She felt pornographic palpitations when handling dairy and meat on the same chopping board, and lost concentration removing the tails from shellfish, or chopping fine pieces of streaky bacon. Her palpitations notwithstanding, she jumped in with both feet, (for, as her mother had always said, if one is going to eat pork, one might as well eat a belly-full). Nonetheless, it was a challenge to feel enthusiastic about cooking after she had botched a number of meals in a row. And, by a number, one means to say, all.

Grigory, however, bless his sanguine heart, believed that she was still capable of redemption, and went about staging something resembling an intervention. He told Eva, quite simply, that she had to stop buying loaves of bread and pre-prepared vegetable dishes from the green-grocer and passing them off as her own. Eva nodded solemnly. Not long after, she successfully made her very own loaf of dark rye. The next day, she made soup[1]. Progress.

* * *

Eva’s challenges were not simply cultural and dietary; she had considered herself to be the passive victim of Sarah's natural ease in the kitchen, and, having identified her deficiency quite early, had somehow always skillfully managed to hand the majority of actual cooking duties over to her sisters. Eva claimed she was more of a food preparation sort of a creature: she cut the carrots, kneaded the dough, chopped the onions, slyly handing these things over to those who knew what in the world to do with them.

She thought her approach stealthy, and believed it would serve her a few more years, and indeed it might have. Had she remained in the shtetl, these shortcomings would have revealed themselves in due course, and their ever-insistent mother would have, with vigorous severity, whipped her flightiest daughter in to a cook one could at the very least describe as solid. Unfortunately for everyone’s sanity and general digestive health, Mother never got that chance. And perhaps regardless of missed opportunities, Mother’s efforts might have been in vain, because for Grigory, it was Eva’s knowledge of exclusively Jewish cuisine that proved the initial barrier during their first few months together.

First off there was cholent. This combination of noxious gases had been the secret weapon of Jews for centuries, and the unique combination of beans, barley, potatoes, and bones or meat was meant to stick to your ribs and anything else it came into contact with. His wife attempted something unusual for their first house guests: She made cholent “steaks” for Sunday night supper. The guests never came back.

Next there was kugel, which, although usually considered a dessert of some description, Eva chose to prepare as a savoury main dish. “The very first kugels were savoury, you know!” she informed him, proudly plopping the heavy dish down before him, expectancy in her eyes. The dish heaved a plethora of noodles, onions and salt and was, apparently, meant to be edible at room temperature, which, Grigory discovered to his grave disappointment, was not entirely the case. As the weeks progressed, Eva, inspired, skipped the noodles, and substituted everything from potatoes, to matzah, to cabbage, carrots, spinach and even to cheese for the base. Grigory soldiered on, with love.

Finally, there was kreplach, which sounded much worse than it tasted. Eva informed him with a certain frenzied air that it could be soft, hard, or soggy, and the amount of meat inside its sturdy folds depended upon whether your mother or your mother-in-law had cooked it! She laughed maniacally at her own joke, but Grigory was too frightened to laugh—both at his wife and the soggy mess before him. Yet, despite Griogry’s attempts at pretense, and despite Eva’s valiant efforts, he never succeeded in fooling her, and she never succeeded in feeding him. Every meal ended with an emotional meltdown.

The truth was, Eva longed to provide for Grigory, to be his perfect partner in life. So complete was this longing that she focused her overall value to Griogry exclusively on her command of the kitchen, forgetting her virtues entirely in favor of the crippling solitude of self-flagellation[2]. She would therefore burst in to a fit of childish temper if he attempted to assist, teach, or comfort her.
It was beyond them both.
He didn’t have a prayer.

[1] Eva made Ukha soup. Ukha is a warm, watery fish dish, though calling it a “fish soup” would not be completely correct. Beginning from the 15th century, fish was more frequently used to prepare ukha, ergo creating a dish that had a distinctive taste, but Ukha as a name for fish broth was established only in the late 17th to early 18th centuries, prior to which the name was given to thick meat broths, then later chicken. Today it is more often a fish soup (prepared with preferably freshwater fish), cooked with potatoes and other vegetables. Chava’s attempt at Ukha, for what it is worth, was tremendously noxious and tasted of feet. At least she had tried.

[2] Well, you can take the girl out of the shtetl…

18 November, 2016

things that got me through the last 10 days

1. my closest friends
2. leftover halloween stuff
3. my beloved student babies
4. joe biden memes
5. trees and leaves
6. the healing of communal grief with the company of Fiddler (the Wednesday matinee after the election is a performance I shall never forget as long as I live).
7. the cooking of things
8. tati
9. sleep
10. mama silbs
11. kittens
12. puppies
13. New York City
14. episodes of togetherness

Union Square Post-It Wall, NYC.

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,


10 November, 2016

A Letter to my Beloved Students

Beloved babies, 
You have all been on my mind in the most profound way the last few difficult days. I can only imagine how shocking and frightening it has been for you, seeing your world churn in this way, feeling unsafe, and I am certain, afraid. 

I do not blame you. 

I want you to know that I keep my promises: you shall always have complete safety with, and and ally in, me.

So many of our shared memories have flooded through my mind in the last 72 hours: the now ever-more relevant themes of Electra and her struggles, the house of Oedipus, our ever-more prescient Trojan Women, the Hope remaining in Pandora's jar. Every single one of the plays we made together are ancient, and the ancients have been warning us of life's joys and horrors  for 4000 years.

But above all, I thought of Spoon River. 

People. Just people. Ordinary Americans with a myriad of pasts, needs, goals, myths, and pains--Americans who have just endured the First World War, with differing views, beliefs, politics and outlooks... yet there they all are, sharing the hill.

I am so proud to have been any part of your lives; you know how much you have always meant to and given me, and it is an honor to start to call you friends and not just students. Our paths are intrinsically intertwined and I felt compelled to share this moment with you. You are the future. 
Every night this week, the themes of Fiddler have been chilling in their relevance, but still we serve, and the catharsis of that collective, shared service has been a source of healing for the artists and the audience. That is what theatre has always been there for in society. You are the lucky servants, and we are the creators of the present and future. We have a job to do, we must serve to change the darkness that seems to swallow our world.

For freedom isn’t free, my loves. It blooms by the blood of those who seek it, and those who protect it against forces that would take it away. Artists have just been given the greatest role of all: to fight with our stories, our acceptance, our empathy. To lead with our understanding, our temperance and our tolerance for and of others, but intolerance of hatred and evil. That is NOT political. That is human. And as artists we are tasked by representing that humanity. 
Do not despair, create.
Do not destroy, serve.
Do not raise your fists in anger, reach your palms across the divide in an attempt to understand.
That takes courage, that takes dignity.
Be bigger than your opponents.
Love more than you could ever be hated.

And on the note of love:
I love you.
I love you truly.
I think love is the best super power we have, and I am sending all of mine to you for you each are beautiful beacons of hope; there will never be words for the gifts you have given me, and I hope I have given you a 1/100th in return.
Remember my babies;
The good we do.
How much we create.
The respect we bestow.

How hard we love—no one gets to vote on these.

With every last fiber of my heart,



Song of the Builders by Mary Oliver

On a summer morning
I sat down
On a hillside
To think about God

A worthy pastime.
Near me, I saw
A single cricket;
It was moving the grains of the hillside

This way and that way.
How great was it's energy,
How humble it's effort.
Let us hope

It will always be like this,
Each of us going on
In our own inexplicable ways
Building the universe. 

09 November, 2016

'Resume' by 
Dorothy Parker

Razors pain you;

Rivers are damp;

Acids stain you;

And drugs cause cramp;

Guns aren’t lawful;

Nooses give;

Gas smells awful;

You might as well live.

03 November, 2016

Ask Al: FAQs! - Part 2

1. Do you ever think that you could have done a bit better in any particular role?
It is easy and very tempting to doubt oneself no matter what one does for a living, but I try to adhere to the motto of giving “100% of what I have that day.”

We don’t always have the same amount of energy, emotional wherewithal or inspiration, but as long as you use everything you have in the “tank” available to you in that exact moment, you can’t fault yourself. You know you did your best.

That said, I played Rosalind as my final role in High School at the Interlochen Arts Academy. Now that I know a great deal more about love and loss (and have a kick ass boy haircut!), I would die for another crack at Shakespeare's wordiest and (according to Harold Bloom) most glorious heroine.

2. Which has been your favorite character you have ever preformed?
This is a very difficult question to answer because I view my characters almost like friends who have given me lessons and gifts. I like to believe that something called for us to be brought together—that a force from the Universe guided us to serve one another: the character's story gets told specifically by my mind, heart, body, voice and soul; and I, in turn, get to learn from their narrative, circumstances, and choices.

For example, 
- I learned from Hodel (in the 2008 West End revival of Fiddler on the Roof) how to say goodbye to my deceased father.
- I learned from Julie Jordan (in the 2009 West End revival of Carousel) all about the nature of my mother’s loss—what it means to be incredibly principled about love and to lost not only your husband, but the only love you will ever know.
- I learned from my beloved Sophie DePalma (in the Broadway production of Master Class) about being enough, and overcoming self-doubt.
- I learn daily from Tzeitel (in the current Broadway revival of Fiddler) all about marriage, faith, and family, and my feelings about all of those subjects at this stage of my life.

I always try to look to my characters as teachers.

3. What do you feel has been your biggest achievement in acting?
I think my greatest achievement is continuing to view acting as a service industry—serving the audience, serving truth, and serving my character’s story so that all that bear witness to it may be moved by, hopefully learn from, but ultimately be affected by, them.

4. Any dream roles?
Yelena (her magnetism and ugliness are both things I have a great deal to "say" about)
Rosalind (We're not done with one another)
Eliza Doolittle(nor are Eliza and I)
Mary Queen of Scots (underdog + history + beloved Scotland + poetry = bliss)
Antigone (Everything.)
Helen of Troy (for many of the same reasons I long to play Yelena)
Lady MacBeth (I have a shocking ready-access to this woman)
Hedda Gabler (I can't imagine a woman less like me, thus, a thrilling challenge)
Jenny  (in The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahogany...I love a singing whore...)

5. Do you remember a point when you knew performing would be your career rather than a hobby?
Hm, this is a very interesting way to phrase the question—both words don’t entirely resonate with me. Even though I was never a child professional, I don’t believe I ever viewed any form of artistic expression as a “hobby” or had specific dreams about a “career.” In some way my relationship with the arts always felt lifelong. I still feel that way: that my life is dedicated to a lifelong artistry that includes all the facets of my life.

6. What would your advice be for young actors for breaking into the business?
Know yourself thoroughly.
Then, never betray yourself.

© hula seventy

31 October, 2016

I've Been: Autumn 2016

Family Squad GOALS.
I’ve Been…

- Loving loving loving 'Autumn in New York'

- Singing  at the Mandarin Oriental with the "fam"

- Pranking Kantor
     (Kantor was out sick (?) for the first time, and thus I decided to start a prank: the entire cast wrote "Dear Adam" get-well notes, ranging from the sincere to the deeply inappropriate and his understudy Matt Moisey and I taped them ALL. OVER. HIS. ROOM.) 

Pranking genius.

- At the Mayo Clinic:
     - Getting answers
     - Meeting some of the best doctors on planet earth
     - Getting off the evil evil medications that were ruining my life!
     - Healing healing healing
     - Swimming in mega-steroid withdrawal! (SUUUPER FUN!)
     - Sleeping 9-14 hours a day.

- Introvert-dating to The Strand Bookstore with my beloved introvert gals Nikka and Ashley...

- ...and buying 8 squillion children's books (and a catnip owl for Tati, duh) for our mutual pal Laura Benanti's baby shower:
     - Lyle Lyle Crocodile
     - Eloise
     - The Phantom Tollbooth
     - The Secret Garden
     - A Little Princess 
     - The Chronicles of Narnia
     - Little Women
     - Anne of Green Gables
     - A Wrinkle in Time
     - East of the Sun West of the Moon
     - Frog and Toad

 - Enjoying Lilly playing in our Fiddler orchestra!
     (Can you believe Lilly and I have never, in our entire lives as performers and BFFs, performed together? This was one of the most incredibly special days of my life. Lilly and Al making their performance debut on Broadway. The feeling of having Lilly playing gorgeously, supporting me underneath my feet as I played Tzeitel was a dream beyond imagining.)

- Celebrating the Jewish High Holidays. 
- Adult-ing (I bought a shredder! And shredded things!)

- Exploring in NYC (Have you checked out The Oculus?)

- Experiencing major Fiddler understudy love!
(for instance, reveling in the magical day Adam Kantor was out, Jeffrey Schekter was on vacation, And Aaron Young was sick so JACOB GUZMAN HAD TO EMERGENCY GO ON FOR MENDEL!)

Happy Anniversary Hub!
- Celebrating our one-year anniversary at Fiddler on the Roof! Marking all the little "one year agos" as a company:
     - First day of rehearsal
     - T-shirt day
     - Staging Matchmaker
     - Our first Kamzoil date.
Happy Anniversary Fiddler!
- Finishing my book edits
     (Joyfully. It was a pleasure returning to these familiar characters I now see every day once again, and revisiting my new friends. I can't even express how extraordinary the priviledge is to share all these people with you on July 4).  
The cover!

- Dropping my jaw at the book cover! (It is REAL!)

- Coming apart at the seams that the book is available for pre-order on Amazon!

- Standing up for myself!
     (A very opinionated woman who is the hostess at Cosmic Diner on 52/8th avenue asked me "What did you do to your hair?" followed by her rolling her eyes, shaking her head and telling me it looked "terrible.")

- More and more Reading reading reading:
     - The Great Courses: Becoming a Great Essayist
     - Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
     - The Five Keys of Mindful Communication
     - The Great Courses: World Mythology
- Auditions auditions auditions
     ...and then?
- Getting a new gig!

- Long autumnal walks in the park

- Making new friends!

- #TheCutestPregnantWomanOnBroadway SHENANIGANS

- 6 show weekend

- 5 show weekend

     - Binge-watching Hawaii Five-0 (...aaaaand WEEPING)
     - The Grinder
     - Bones
     - Family Guy
     - Chef's Table: France
     - Bloodline
     - The Roosevelts
- Reveling in Tati’s NOT *AT ALL* OVERBLOWN fame:

- Fighting for a #FairWageOnStage!

- Bonding with my lovely older neighbor Christian in apartment 12, as he attempts to give me his very last piece of precious baklava. I refused, but my my was he sweeter than the Aegean treat!

- Attending and singing at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland's American soiree

- Attending my very first ever BOARD MEETING! For the RCS, a true honoUr.


- Collecting for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids

- Coaching incredibly talented students, friends and colleagues

- Watching Astoria (adorably!) trick or treat

- Having an impromptu Halloween Party with beloved pals ElStans, Max and Daniel with drinks, memories, laughter
- the epics carving of pumpkins!

30 October, 2016

'Zilpha Marsh' from The Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters

from The Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters

AT four o’clock in late October
I sat alone in the country school-house
Back from the road ’mid stricken fields,
And an eddy of wind blew leaves on the pane,
And crooned in the flue of the cannon-stove,
With its open door blurring the shadows
With the spectral glow of a dying fire.
In an idle mood I was running the planchette—
All at once my wrist grew limp,
And my hand moved rapidly over the board,
Till the name of “Charles Guiteau” was spelled,
Who threatened to materialize before me.
I rose and fled from the room bare-headed
Into the dusk, afraid of my gift.
And after that the spirits swarmed—
Chaucer, Cæsar, Poe and Marlowe,
Cleopatra and Mrs. Surrat—
Wherever I went, with messages,—
Mere trifling twaddle, Spoon River agreed.
You talk nonsense to children, don’t you?
And suppose I see what you never saw
And never heard of and have no word for,
I must talk nonsense when you ask me
What it is I see!

24 October, 2016

The Visit

September 1910

That night, she dreamed.

Lying next to a fitful Maxim, she became aware of the unmistakable briny smell of the ocean air. Moments later, she felt Mikhail sit beside her on the floating bed, and then, in an instant, she knew he was there. She felt his gaze on her like the heat of sunlight through their shabby window. She opened her eyes and smiled at him. He smiled back.

“Gorky?” he chuckled.
“Well…” she shrugged.

He looked so well: as vibrant and rosy-cheeked and healthy as he ever had in life. His skin had a lustrous glow, as if a lambent flame deep within him was radiating a brilliant light of serenity, warmth and comfort.

“So,” she asked, smirking a little, “How is it?” she was overwhelmed with joy in seeing him.
“It is everything you hope it is.” He paused and thought for a moment. “That is all I should say…” He inclined his head, smiling, surveying her face, regarding her with love.
“I delivered the document, Mikhail. I succeeded.”
“I know, my love” he nodded.
“The journey was so treacherous. Thank God Dmitri found me in that alleyway, I never would’ve survived.”
“Well,” he glimmered “he had some help…”

And then they sat there a while. She bathed in his light, basked in his luminous presence, while he appraised her with a compassionate distance that simultaneously discomfited and soothed her. He was changed. But the change suited him. The signature resolve, the fight and pluck that so accompanied Mikhail’s every gesture seemed quelled; as if his fight had not been extinguished in death, but won.

She had kept her promise, and here, in her dreams, he was keeping his. How she missed him. Sorrow and yearning began to well up within her, and she turned away for a moment, allowing tears to fall down her neck and onto the pillow. Then, as if he had read her mind, he placed his hand on hers, and she felt a sudden, quiet, serenity. Turning back to face him she recognized there was heat and energy, but no weight or pressure in his touch.

Suddenly she felt herself rising, her vision sharpening, a wakeful consciousness pushing away the foggy mists of sleep. She wanted to sit up, alert, to be with him in waking life. But when she tried to move her she was frozen still, her limbs locked to the mattress. She fought and struggled to rise.

“No, Shura…” he whispered.

But she willed it to be. She pressed on, pushing through delirium with a wild force of love. His hand still on hers, his eyes locked on her struggling frame, he spoke easily, but his voice echoed from a far away place, as if in a tunnel,

“Look for me, Shura…” he counseled.

“Wait! Mikhail!” and she shattered through her paralysis, breaking through the immobilized cloud with a great force and sat up, breathless, at last.

Strikingly sober, she blinked the moisture from her eyes as they swept the room, observing with a great, clean, waking clarity, every corner and shadow as the first light of dawn began to caress the horizon. The hand he had touched was gripped atop the pounding of her heart.
He was gone.

Slowly, deliberately, she placed her hand on the spot where he had been and  and drowned in the ribbons of silence. Nothing remained save the cold of the dawn, the distinct scent of ocean air; and, fixed to the palm of her steady hand, a small collection of salt.

22 October, 2016


Sierra Boggess
East Hampton, NY

19 October, 2016

Adult-ing: Part 4

oh hey.
16. Every encounter counts.
    ...So always do your very best. Even if you don’t have a lot to give, give what you have and what you can, and do so with an open and glad heart.
    The number of jobs I have been offered because my reputation preceded me, or because I had done great work in previous audition rooms that didn’t require as much to prove in the ultimate room, all connected to original positive encounters. Good work is always your best calling card
    In addition, the number of friendships I enjoy because of meaningful encounters I thought would be casual, are many.
    You might not be the very best 100% you have ever had in The History of Ever, but give all you have that day, and if you genuinely think you are going to be better off at home, there is nothing wrong with staying home and recharging those batteries (believe me, I've done it). Why? Because every encounter counts.

17. Self-advocacy is not always about advocating for yourself to others, but, more often than not, advocating for yourself to your Self.
    When we are crushed into a corner, we are often willing to advocate for our safety, our rights, or for the rights and comforts of people, groups or causes we care about. One is much more likely to advocate for a convicted cybercriminal before we say to ourselves “I need to say No to this. Not because I am incapable, or, an inherently selfish grouchy pants, but because I can’t do this task well, nor will I be good to anyone if I don’t advocate for my health/rest/nutrition/downtime.”
    Why do we do that? Even though we would never actually allow anyone to speak to us the way our inner voice speaks to us multiple times a day, we tolerate it anyway, letting our best-worst-friend Inner Vampire drive the car.
    We also very rarely stick up for ourselves when our inner voice is being a big ol' jerk. The inner voice says things like:
    “You were stood up on that date because your thighs are thick and you can’t hold a conversation. You should spend at least three days fretting that you are un-dateable and un-lovable.”
Then it says
    “Your boss addressed a work issue with unnecessary venom, accompanied by a total character assassination: you totally deserve to be spoken to that way, and not only a bad employee but a bad person.”
Wow. Keep it down inner-jerk-voice!
Your inner self-advocate is also equally capable of saying:
“If I made a mistake, a person has every capacity to calmly express their disappointment or address my error without attacking me personally. If it continues, I have the power to ask it to stop, leave this situation physically, or try to prevent it from hurting me so deeply.”
    Lesson: Sometimes it isn’t about standing up for yourself to your boss or to your mother-in-law or that jerk face at work. And that is challenging.
     But more often than not, it starts deeper: self-advocacy is more often than not about reminding yourself that you are a human being who deserves respect and that that respect had to start by actually respecting yourself. (None of this lip-service self-respect but still keeping Inner Vampire on the payroll! I know that game...) You have to do your personal homework so you get to a place where you know and believe, that you possess worth.

18. Not choosing is also a choice.
Remember that.

19. You don’t have to LIKE everyone and vice versa.
Ronda: scene of cliffs, sangria, and arguments
     Well, what do ya know? High School is never over.
     I recall the very first time this lesson really hit home for me. I was away on a 10-day artist retreat in Spain (I know I know) with my artistic idol leading workshops at a beautiful Spanish mill during the day, while at night we ate and drank (and sometimes sang) our way through glorious Spanish delights, and socialized with the other artistic types. I initially withheld my profession and performance abilities. After all, I was on holiday, and I also thought it might a point of over-fascination for some (long lines of questioning and requests to perform, etc), outright threatening to others. And anyway it didn't really matter to making collages in Spain.
     Here's what I discovered:
  1. I was the youngest person there by about 25 years.
  2. The only single person.
  3. The only person who wasn’t (ostensibly) a Canadian mother (or, tag along husband)
  4. Socially, I had never dealt with ANYTHING like this situation, and I was
     Some of the Canadians immediately associated me with their children. They responded to my 24-year-self, full of curiosity and youth with delight. Those folks scooped me up and adopted me instantly.
     Then some were suspicious. What was a 24-year-old American actress doing here exactly? What could she possibly want out of this experience other than attention? After the first few days, when those people realized that I was genuine, they relaxed and accepted me too.
     And then there was… well let’s call her Vanessa. Ahhh Vanessa. Vanessa was roughly sixty, a prominent person of British Columbia, mother of a 23-year-old son, and a retired television producer. Quite pretty for any age, Vanessa had lovely skin, a nice figure, and a shock of long, bright white, perfectly manicured hair that was once a shock of red.
     Vanessa was also incredibly intelligent, charming and cultured, but she also behaved as if she had grown used to being the star of every social scene. And I? Well, tiny-fetal-poreless-West-End-actress-living-in-London ME was not what she was expecting. Or hoping for. Or enjoying. Not one bit. Just by showing up, just by existing, I was taking up her oxygen, her role, and all the “star quality” real-estate in this social circle and WHOA BOY: look out. Vanessa wanted, nay, almost required my expulsion. Not physically, but her behavior insinuated that she needed everyone to at least dislike me at least as much as she did, and she needed this deeply in order for her to feel at ease.
      Now that I think about it,  I suppose there is something in the transformation of Vanessa's once-red hair now a shock of white that perfectly captures Vanessa’s (perhaps not entirely perceived?) crisis; a crisis I don’t even dare attempt to understand, for even now, I suppose I am still a relatively young woman. But people--particularly woman--in transition, are beings I have great compassion for. A part of me just wants to go back in time and hug her.
     Even though I didn't actively do anything wrong, I understand that my presence alone must have pushed some of her buttons, and I genuinely felt for her. I have now been on the other side of that situation (in less intense ways), and it smarts! It is genuinely painful and terrifying.
     That said, Vanessa's behavior was mean! Her behavior only slightly more refined than a high school bully (and believe me: I endured my fair few of those), but likely only because she'd had more practice than a teenager. Some days I stood agape at the things that came out of her mouth—the mouth of a grown-assed, adult, human being. Yadda yadda, I'm a big girl, and the details aren’t important but truuuuust me: Vanessa was a super-meany-pants and a bully.
     Crucially: at twenty-four, I suppose I had never even considered that “grown-ups” could behave like this! I guess I thought that there was a sort of magical kingdom or “finish line” grown-up people crossed at 40ish that meant they were "done cooking." This secret School of Adulting BFA (Bachelor of Fine Adulting?) made them infinitely wise, compassionate, tolerant and kind. This Adult Ivy League paradise is where they learned to drive, do taxes, do laundry, take out mortgages, change diapers, bake bread, write poems, join the PTA, and obviously, have all the answers! What a sucker I was (the same sucker that used to think elementary school teachers slept at school...) I didn’t expect Vanessa to pull punches that would make my sophomore-year group of Mean Girls HIGH FIVE her…before stuffing me in a locker.
     Well. I know better now. BWA-HA-HA.
     Having reached my own "adulthood" I now know that every single adult out there is both "winging it" and, truly, doing the very best they can. After all, despite feeling like a total nobody-loser (which, by the way, I promise you all “together” people still feel constantly), in reality I was (I suppose) young, kind of pretty-ish, relatively successful, fairly glamorous (at least to a group of Canadian non-urbanites?), living in London with my cute Australian boyfriend, etc etc— and yeah: sitting here just writing that run-on sentence, my existence sounds annoying even to me...

Spanish pottery neither Vanessa nor I bought.
    Anyway wow: Vanessa did not like me. And you know what? I didn’t much like her. But we were stuck in the middle-of-nowhere-Spain together making art, riding buses, and going on day trips together, and what Vanessa gave me was more valuable than the piles of art and lifelong friendships I came home with. It was this: you don't have to like one another. And more important: you certainly don't have to like one another to still have a good time! (I think Vanessa and I even ended up having a mostly-silent, but not-altogether-unpleasant glass of sangria in Ronda together before agreeing to disagree about Moorish influences on the local architecture and moving right the heck along to go see an ancient bullfighting rink. Or not-buy pottery. Or something.)
     It was evident that I'd done nothing wrong in this scenario, I was merely an unwelcome mirror that Vanessa did not welcome or expect.
     This happens to everyone at some point, on both sides of the coin. What counts is how we choose to respond. I truly had (and still have) compassion for Vanessa, and while I did not love her behavior, I understood and had compassion for where it came from. But crucially? I knew it had nothing whatsoever to do with me.
My heart softened and I was able to un-skewer myself from blame and release my need to be liked by a person who was never going to like me.
At least not right now.
As the kids say: haters gonna hate.

That conflict taught me valuable lessons in:
    Staying true to yourself
    Endowing yourself with the right to exist
    Letting it go
    Making the best of it
    Focusing on the good
and it set me free from
    the social “necessity” to be universally liked and/or approved of.
So, truly: thank you, Vanessa!

And finally,

20. Success isn’t about what you do, it’s about how you FEEL about what you do.
Full Stop.

Adult-ing - Part 1
Adult-ing - Part 2
Adult-ing - Part 3
Adult-ing - Part 5

©hula seventy


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