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


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